Friday 30 June 2023

Botanical University Challenge: here come the finals

Contestants at BUC 2022 (held online)
The final round of the 2023 Botanical University Challenge (BUC) takes place at University of Nottingham on 5th July and BSBI is delighted to be supporting this year's event. 

BUC is an annual contest to find the most botanically knowledgeable team of students from across Britain and Ireland; it was first held in 2016 and is the brainchild of Prof John Warren, Dr Jonathan Mitchley and Prof Paul Ashton, all former members of BSBI Skills & Training (formerly Training & Education) Committee. This interview with John from 2019 gives you more background.

The Edge Hill team at BUC 2016:
Josh Styles on the team!
Image: J. Mitchley 

Previous heats took place in February and the four teams who have made it to the finals are: the Ptrinity Pteridophytes from Trinity College Dublin (a last-minute replacement for Team Stone Roses from MMU who had to drop out); Malus Intent from Eden Project Learning; the University of Cambridge team; and the Bad Birches from University of Oxford.  

You can find out more and book here to watch the live-stream or here to attend the event in person. You'll also be able to follow the action on Twitter at #BUC2023 and do feel free to try and answer the questions yourself, that's all part of the fun. 

John Warren (centre) at
BSBI Training & Education Committee:
the breeding ground for many great ideas!
Image: L. Marsh

BSBI staffers will be attending BUC 2023, chatting to students and finding out how BSBI can support them as they get started in their botanical careers. We'll have a display stand with BSBI literature and leaflets, our slide 'What Can the BSBI Offer to Botany & Plant Science Students' (see below) will be up on the screen between rounds, and we're also providing prizes for all the finalists: free student/ paperless membership of BSBI. Of course some of the students (including Billy Fullwood, Chair of BSBI Events & Comms Committee) are already very active BSBI members, so they will be able to carry their prize over to next year. 

As John Warren says, "From its humble beginnings in 2015 as an idea discussed at the BSBI Training & Education Committee, Botanical University Challenge has gone from strength to strength!". 

So keep an eye on BUC on 5th July and be amazed and inspired by those incredibly knowledgeable teams of early career botanists! 

Thursday 15 June 2023

BSBI Summer Meeting 2023: Jessica Hamilton's report

One of the many Summer Meeting excursions
Image: C. Heardman
BSBI's Annual Summer Meeting is a regular feature in our programme of field meetings and indoor events. It's our main summer get-together and the location rotates between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This year it was Ireland's turn and Jessica Hamilton, ecologist, leader of the BSBI Kerry group and member of BSBI's Committee for Ireland, was there - here is her report.

Over to Jessica:

"It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly been a whole month since the #BSBISummerMeeting took place from the 19th to the 22nd May last month!

Aquatics expert Nick Stewart leads an outdoor
workshop during the visit to Ross Island
Image: M. Sheehy Skeffington

This was a special event, not only was it the first BSBI Summer Meeting to take place in the Republic of Ireland in 12 years, but the outings took place predominantly in the environs of Killarney National Park, a place I have a very strong bias and love for, and where I have been lucky to spend a considerable amount of time botanising over the years.

The organising committee for the event was comprised of a local crew (myself, Mary Sheehan, Rory Hodd, Jean Hamilton, and Clare Heardman) along with BSBI Ireland Officer Paul Green, President Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, and Field Meetings Secretary Jonathan Shanklin.

Our base for the weekend was at the Castlerosse Park Resort Hotel which is located just outside Killarney town and provided easy access to the National Park and surrounds. In total we had approximately 80 participants across the four days, with botanists coming from across Ireland, as well as from across the water in the United Kingdom. Over the course of the event, participants were encouraged to engage with social media and use the hashtag #BSBISummerMeeting when posting about the event online.

Minister Malcolm Noonan launching
 the Summer Meeting
Image: J. Hamilton 

Each day there were several outings that ran in parallel to different locations around the Killarney National Park environs. In the evenings there was dinner and evening talk(s), followed by ID sessions that looked at material collected during the various forays.   

Irish botanist Fiona O'Neill said “The weekend had everything.” 

Here’s the rundown of the outings that took place, and some of the highlights:

Friday 19th May

The meeting started off on Friday afternoon as participants began to trickle in and arrive for a weekend of botanising. Two short forays were made through the Park from the Hotel focusing on grassland, woodland and lakeshore. Sedges were a strong feature, including Carex pallescens, C. laevigata and C. vesicaria. That evening we were delighted to have Minister Malcolm Noonan TD who joined us for dinner and then officially launched the event as well as giving a wonderful speech. The Minister attended our Plant Atlas launch in Dublin in March, and we were very happy to welcome him to another BSBI event. We were then treated to talks by Mary Sheehan (National Parks & Wildlife Service) on Killarney National Park and one from Rory Hodd (County Recorder for Co. Kerry) on the flora of Kerry.

Saturday 20th May

On Saturday there were three different outings happening simultaneously

First off Clare Heardman and Paul Green led a walk along the Muckross Peninsula where participants were treated to Marsh Fern Thelypteris palustris, as well as uncommon Whitebeams such as Sorbus anglica, to name but a few.

At the same time, Rory Hodd and Jean Hamilton brought a busload of botanists to explore Glencar Valley. They first visited an acid oak woodland, and the lucky participants got to see an array of fantastic species including Tunbridge Filmy-fern Hymenophyllum tunbrigense, Irish Spurge Euphorbia hyberna and the famous Killarney Fern Vandenboschia speciosa, which is a protected species in Ireland. After visiting the oak woodland, they visited an area of blanket bog and were treated to Atlantic bog species such as butterworts, sundews and Black Bog-rush Schoenus nigricans.

The third outing that day saw Mary Sheehan and Micheline Sheehy Skeffington lead an outing to Lough Leane to do some island botanising. The boats departed from Ross Island in picturesque conditions and took participants to visit both Rough and Inisfallen Islands. Participants saw an array of wonderful species including lakeshore species, as well as a few giant Strawberry Trees Arbutus unedo on Rough Island (image above left). 

That evening, participants were again treated to another two fantastic talks, one from Daniel Kelly on the Woods of Killarney (image on right), followed by Tim Rich, who shared his superb knowledge on Whitebeams

Sunday 21st May

On Sunday, three outings again took place: Daniel Kelly and Clare Heardman led an outing to Derrycunnihy Woods. Clare recaps “Our group, led by Professor Daniel Kelly, took a boat trip from Ross Castle up through the Killarney lakes to Lord Brandon's Cottage and then walked the Kerry Way across the bog and up through the magnificent Derrycunnihy Woods” 

Prof Daniel Kelly &
fern expert Fred Rumsey
admiring epiphytes
Image: C. Heardman

This particular outing ended up being a firm favourite with those who ventured on it - Fiona O'Neill said "The Sunday morning boat trip from Ross Castle across the lakes is one of those lifetime high points” and Dr Jonathan Mitchley also had this to say about the trip: “At the top of my list must be Sunday’s boat trip across the lakes, at over an hour across water as calm as a mill pond past wonderful green vistas it was a trip to treasure”

Not only did they get to see wonderful views, they also saw some pretty fantastic plants, including Spring Quillwort Isoetes echinospora and Pillwort Pilularia globulifera, as well as the ubiquitous Filmy-ferns Hymenophyllum spp., along with the quintessential Killarney Fern. They were also very lucky to get good views of a White-tailed Eagle that was perched nearby.

I led an outing to my neck of the woods, North Kerry, where we walked a section of the Dingle Way and then went onto Banna Dune slack for some coastal gems. 

The Dingle Way excursion, led by Jessica
Image: M. Sheehy Skeffington

Julie Larkin (joint County Recorder for Co. Waterford) had this to say “On Sunday morning Jessica Hamilton led us along the Dingle Way where we walked across the lower northern slopes of the Slieve Mish Mountains with spectacular views over Tralee Bay. Species we encountered along the way included Large-flowered Butterwort Pinguicula grandiflora, Pale Butterwort Pinguicula lusitanica, Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia and other wonderful bog species.  We also saw the dainty Cornish Moneywort Sibthorpia europaea, whose distribution in Ireland is restricted to the Dingle Peninsula,” Julie also got to see her first Kerry Slug Geomalacus maculosus which is a curious species whose range is restricted to the south-west of Ireland.  

Clambering around to see
the Cornish Moneywort
Image: J. Hamilton

We then ventured to Banna dune slack that was awash with Marsh Orchids. Other highlights included Adder’s-tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum, Squinancywort Asperula cynanchica, which is a real western species in Ireland, and the two species of Fern-grass, Catapodium marinum and C. rigidum).  

The final outing that took place that day was to Torc Mountain, along the Old Kenmare Road and was led by Rory and Mary Sheehan where participants saw a mix of woodland and oceanic bog flora, including Brown Beak-sedge Rhynchospora fuscaThat evening I gave a talk on the Flora of North Kerry which featured some nice places to botanise in North Kerry, and it of course featured my two #BotanyDogs Lilly and Ben. 

Monday 22nd May

Although things were winding down, there was still exploring to be done and plants to ID! 

After dinner, poring over a big mystery sedge!
Image: M. Sheehy Skeffington

Paul and Micheline visited Tomies Woods, an oceanic old oak woodland located on the western edge of Lough Leane where participants got to encounter yet more characteristic Killarney woodland assemblages, as well as the scarce Ivy-leaved Bellflower Wahlenbergia hederacea. There was also an outing to Gap of Dunloe led by Jonathan Shanklin, where Nick Stewart collected an unusual very tall sedge in the lake and recorded Awlwort Subularia aquatica last seen in the Gap of Dunloe in 1910!

The montivagant Rory Hodd led a Rough Crew outing up the Macgillycuddy Reeks where participants were treated to a range of montane flora such as Roseroot Rhodiola rosea, Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis and montane Saxifrage species such as Irish Saxifraga rosacea and Starry S. stellaris

Rory and the Rough Crew
Image: C. Heardman

An outing to Muckross surrounds was led by Sean Forde and Mary Sheehan where they measured a veteran yew tree by the Abbey and discussed sustainable farm management, involving the famed Kerry cattle.

To wrap things up, we all had an enthralling few days. You really can’t beat being in the field with fellow botanists and nature enthusiasts. 

We started planning the event and the outings back in the autumn of 2022, so it was great to see everything come to fruition so smoothly and it more than made up for the long Zoom meetings.

As Fiona O Neil says, “After three years of solo or small group outings, joining the 2023 BSBI Summer Meeting reminded me why being with a large group of botanists, and those who love plants, is such an enriching experience.”

Large-flowered Butterwort seen during the 
Summer Meeting
Image: C. Heardman
Thanks to my colleagues for helping organise the successful weekend and to all the participants who came along and shared their incredible knowledge. We are especially grateful to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for providing funding and Minister of State Malcolm Noonan TD for attending and launching the event.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Jonathan Mitchley (Dr M) which I think perfectly summarises everyone’s feelings and thoughts about the event:

“Each day brought new landscapes and plant discoveries, for this visitor from relatively parched Berkshire, huge rocks and tree trunks dripping with epiphytes including filmy ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens was a major botanical highlight. But perhaps even more than this, meeting with so many botanical personalities all generous and giving of their knowledge, experience and good humour was the ultimate highpoint, reinforcing what I already knew, botanists are such wonderful folk, I can’t wait for the next instalment!”

Many thanks to Jessica for this report and to everyone who shared comments and photos, or helped organise such a fabulous event!

Monday 12 June 2023

British & Irish Botany: issue 5.2 published

Sitka Spruce regenerating in
the Lake District
Image: K. Walker 
We are delighted to publish the second issue of volume 5 of British & Irish Botany, the Botanical Society's online, Open Access scientific journal; several of the papers in this new issue have a distinctly northern/ arboreal theme!

First up, Dr Sarah Watts, Chair of the Montane Woodland Action Group, and an active member of BSBI's Committee for Scotland, has previously contributed very popular papers on Snow Pearlwort Sagina nivalis and on botanical records from the Corrour Estate in Westerness, where she is Conservation Manager. Her latest paper 'High mountain trees: altitudinal records recently broken for eleven different tree species in Britain' reports on the findings of a recent citizen science project to document observations of trees growing above 900 metres in Britain. It makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in altitudinal ranges of British and Irish plants who has been following David Pearman's research on this subject. 

One point of note is that more than half the high altitude tree records Sarah collated were of Sitka Spruce Picea sitchensis, whose ability to spread into upland/ moorland habitats was flagged in the recent Plant Atlas 2020 summaries

Creeping Lady's-tresses on a wall
 in Aberdeenshire
Image: T. Norton

Joshua Evans presents the results of distribution modelling to predict the current and future distribution of pine woodland specialist plants, such as Creeping Lady's-tresses and One-flowered Wintergreen, in the Cairngorms National Park, and proposes the creation of habitat corridors to prevent populations of these iconic plants becoming isolated. Adrian Manning et al. consider the wild Scots Pines Pinus sylvestris of Kielderhead, (Northumberland), summarising debates over their status and significance, and conservation efforts so far. 

We move from the trees of northern places to the heathlands of the west of Ireland for a paper in which BSBI President Micheline Sheehy Skeffington and Nick Scott ask, 'Were the five rare heathers of the west of Ireland introduced through human activity? An ecological, genetic, biogeographical and historical assessment'. If you enjoyed Micheline's previous very popular paper for British & Irish Botany, on whether the Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo is native to Ireland or was brought over by Bronze Age copper miners, then you are going to love this one too! 

The prostrate form of Variegated Horsetail
Image: P. Smith

Next we go to the Sefton Coast for Philip Smith's paper on the distribution and ecology of Variegated Horsetail Equisetum variegatum (a tiny thing but surprisingly colourful once you get a handlens on to it: it's green, orange, black and white!) and then we have two papers on hawkweeds: Tim Rich reports on the rediscovery of Hieracium fissuricola, an extinct Lake District endemic, and Jim Bevan considers the history of H. tridentatum and its replacement with H. trichocaulon.

The final paper is a fascinating journey back into botanical history; Chris Preston reports on C19th Cambridgeshire botanist the Reverend Richard Relhan and how his botanical recording activities were 'constrained by poverty'. Relhan was largely restricted to areas he could visit on foot and, like his near-contemporary John Clare, he was affected and saddened by the enclosure and drainage of species-rich habitats in his home county. Chris's fluency, erudition and in-depth knowledge of historical botanists make his papers and talks a 'must' - check out this video of Chris's talk at the recent Cambridge launch of the Plant Atlas, where he held his audience captive with tales of the authors of previous plant distribution atlases. 

We hope you enjoy this latest issue of British & Irish Botany and as always, get in touch with us if you have an idea for a paper you'd like to submit; both seasoned contributors and first-time authors are equally welcome!