Tuesday 3 January 2023

New Year Plant Hunt 2023: Days Three and Four

Dave points out one of three
lovely species of Fumitory
found by the Mevagissey
Image: D. Ryan
Days One and Two of the 2023 New Year Plant Hunt were fairly quiet, with miserable weather keeping plant-hunters at home across much of Britain and Ireland, but on Day Three (Monday), the sun came out for many of us, so the Hunt was well and truly on! 

A good job too, because those hunters who waited until Day Four got very wet, when the rain came back with a vengeance. 

In Cornwall yesterday the sun shone and Dan, Dave and the Mevagissey plant-hunters found 52 species in bloom, including Field Madder, Scarlet Pimpernel (which many other hunters have found elusive), a hybrid Viola (the cross between Field and Wild Pansy) and no fewer than three different fumitories. 

By today, the Cornish weather had turned -  David Pearman and the Botanical Cornwall Group found some nice Field Woundwort but got "absolutely sodden" and it was the same story on the east coast of Ireland, where the Balbriggan Climate Club got drenched recording 20 species in bloom.

Strawberry Tree in Dublin
Image: E. Gallagher 
Despite the weather, people have still enjoyed getting out and about for the Hunt across Britain and Ireland, even when they found slimmer pickings this year. Jessica and the Kerry team recorded 21 species in flower yesterday, "missing a few usual suspects" but the famous Strawberry Tree at Muckross in Killarney was in bloom, as in previous years. 

Eanna Gallagher also saw Strawberry Tree in flower in Dublin during one of his Hunts; Olly Milner notched up 11 species at Lough Gur near Limerick and Martine Brennan found 16 species blooming in south Laois, although again this was "probably the lowest number ever" for her. A similar story from the Glengarriff team in Co. Cork, and just look at the frost on some of their 19 species in bloom! 

The Hunt has been going for twelve years now and many hunters try to follow the same route each year, which makes it particularly interesting to hear their observations on what is, and isn't, flowering from year to year. Eminent meteorologist cum botanist Jonathan Shanklin (yes, the 'Man who Found the Hole in the Ozone Layer' is also one of BSBI's top botanists!) carried out four Hunts in Cambridgeshire, where he lives and is BSBI's County Recorder. Jonathan emailed us that he was only seeing "roughly half the number seen in the same area last year".

Simon Harrap's team hunting
in a weedy field in Norfolk
Image: S. Harrap

Simon Harrap, author of the much-loved 'Harrap's Wild Flowers', tweeted that for him and his team, "a weedy field and a building site were the top locations this year, most of our 'hangers on' had been zapped by the cold spell" and Wendy Tagg told us that her total of 22 species in bloom in Uckfield was also "much lower than recent years".

It was also interesting to hear which species people weren't seeing this year - author and broadcaster Trevor Dines, based in north Wales, tweeted "just 10 species in flower... less than half my normal count for the usual route", and noted that last month "the lanes had more Herb Robert in flower than ever before, but now there's not a single bloom". 

Annual Knawel in Pattingham
Image: A. Roberts

There were a couple of long lists from south Wales however; County Recorder Steph Tyler notched up 43 species in bloom including no fewer than four different fleabanes, while in Glamorgan Tim Rich who, with Sarah Whild, carried out the first ever Plant Hunt back in 2012, spotted 41 species including Goat's-beard and Four-leaved Allseed. There were also some nice plants spotted at locations across England - Andy Roberts, for example, saw Annual Knawel in Pattingham and in Wiltshire, Fran Sinclair found a garden escape in bloom - we think it is probably a Calibrachoa, one of the 'Million Bells' cultivars, which has rarely been recorded naturalised in the wild before, let alone blooming at New Year! But our experts are still double-checking this record. 

Gorse blooming in frosty Killin
Image: S. Watts
Several plant-hunters, such as Sarah in Killin and David in Kent, found only one species in bloom- usual suspects such as Gorse and Groundsel - and some found none at all but as Leif Bersweden, regular New Year Plant Hunter and author of 'Where the Wildflowers Grow' says, that's "still valuable information for BSBI" so "if you've done a hunt & like me failed to find anything, still submit on their website". You can either use the app and enter the 'nil records' field or email us the grid ref where you hunted and let us know that you didn't find any wildflowers in bloom. 

Some people were joining the Hunt for the first time this year - Kate Wright and the Church Fenton Environment Group; Malcolm Smith; and Sam Amy. Thanks to all of you and we hope you will take part again next year. Lots of people thanked us for getting them out and about at New Year. It was also lovely to see the return of some plant hunters after a few years away - great to have you back Karen Woolley and to hear that the bus stop near you is still supporting some great winter-flowering wildflowers, even if there were fewer this year. That bus stop is right up there with Mick Lacey's Mecca Bingo car park as top New Year Plant Hunt locations! 

Red clover at the bus stop!
Image: K. Woolley

So as the sun set on the fourth and final day of the 2023 New Year Plant Hunt, hundreds (thousands?) of plant-hunters across Britain and Ireland were hanging their wet clothes up to dry, basking in the glow of a job well done and submitting their records. 

The Results board shows more than 800 surveys submitted so far, comprising more than 8,000 unique records of 435 different species and there's still a few days left for you to get the rest of your records to us. 

The deadline is midnight on Sunday 8th January so we can start analysing the data on Monday morning. We'll report back to all of you later this month. 

Until then, just a few things left to do:

  • To thank the six volunteers (Billy, Isabella, Jo, Lore, Moira and Ryan) and five fellow staff members (James, Matt, Paul, Sarah and Tom) who have been working shifts on the Support Desk, on social media, entering data and checking plant IDs over the past four days. Great work team! 
  • To thank all of you who took part - there would be no Plant Hunt without you and we are all very grateful for your contributions, from the longest lists to the 'sorry couldn't find anything' emails and tweets. All valuable, all much appreciated. Thank you!
  • To remind you that BSBI's 2023 round of grant applications is now open, so whether you are an absolute beginner at this botany lark and would like to take a training course to learn a bit more, or whether you are a bit further along your botanical journey and would like to carry out some research, we have grants available to help you. Check out the grants page, get your application in and let us help you get ready for a flower-filled year ahead! 

Sunday 1 January 2023

New Year Plant Hunt 2023: Day Two

Gorse on the north Cornwall coast
Image by Kiki
New Year's Day and the second day of the 2023 New Year Plant Hunt. After yesterdays' rain, the sun shone today for some of us, but others experienced rotten weather - Lizzie in the Brecon Beacons and Dave in Wadebridge both endured hailstorms but still notched up some nice records. 

For many plant-hunters in Scotland, Gorse was pretty much the only species in bloom but others, such as Helen in Perthshire, were snowed in and couldn't even get outside to try and hunt down a Gorse bush! 

Solo hunters who did manage to get out today included Eanna who spotted a Strawberry Tree flowering in Dublin; Rosie, Executive Director of the Field Studies Council, who spotted the tiny female flowers of Hazel (currently no. 13 on the list of most frequently-recorded species) and Brian 'Eagle-eyes' Laney, joint BSBI County Recorder for Northants. 

Female flowers on Hazel
Image: R. Teasdale

Brian is usually at the centre of a large group of plant-hunters, watching him carefully to try and work out how he manages to find so many species new for his county, but today he went out to do his first ever solo Plant Hunt and notched up 24 species in bloom in Rothwell.

Some of us had to fit our Hunts in around family commitments: Newcastle-based Ho-Yin managed to spot four species in bloom before being "dragged away by the family" while in nearby Heaton, we hear that County Recorder James resorted to bribing partner Matthew with chocolate! James and his team managed to record 30 species in bloom including the lovely little Fern-grass and some Water Bent, the latter a plant which hardly any of us had seen until the 1990s but since then it is spreading rapidly northwards.

Urban botanists looking for Water Bent
Image courtesy of James Common
One way to get round the quandary over whether to spend quality time over the holidays with loved ones or to look for flowers is to combine the two and go plant-hunting as a family. 

Entomologist Richard, who leads the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's science programme, and partner Kate, Senior Lecturer in Biology at Univ Worcester, took baby Lucy on her first two Plant Hunts in Cheshire. Her parents and grandparents spotted 13 species in bloom, while Lucy slept through both Hunts, but as Mum Kate says, it's the taking part that counts ;-)

Kate & Richard introduce Lucy to
her first New Year Plant Hunt
Image: S. Ashbrooke

Many of the longest lists so far have come from southern and coastal locations, such as the 55 species Paul Green recorded in bloom at Saint Kierans, Co. Wexford,. but micro-climate and exposure can have a huge impact on the number of species in bloom. 

On the more exposed north Cornwall coast for example, Kiki found a glorious Gorse bush (top right) in full flower but no much else; Gorse is a New Year Plant Hunt stalwart - it's currently at no. 9 on the list of most frequently spotted plants, with 100 records so far of it blooming across Britain and Ireland. 

50 miles away in Fowey, however - a more protected location on the southern coast - the Botanical Cornwall group spotted 58 species in bloom, including Betony, Rosemary, Navelwort and Hedge Veronica - the second longest list so far. More pairs of eyes are helpful but so is a more sheltered location.

Thrift in Co. Wexford
Image: P. Green 

The longest list so far is from solo hunter David in Swanage with 71 species, but his Swanage list from 2019 was for 120 species, so maybe even in those sheltered southern locations, and following familiar routes which have yielded many species in bloom in past years, we are seeing the effects of the recent cold snap?

Plant hunters in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire visiting familiar haunts have also said they are spotting fewer species this year but we should wait until all the data are in and analysed properly before we start jumping to conclusions! 

Looking forward to seeing what you all find tomorrow, Day Three of this year's Hunt - fingers crossed the weather is kind to you!