Sunday 31 December 2023

New Year Plant Hunt 2024: Day Two

The second day of the New Year Plant Hunt dawned and it was still miserable weather for many of us. But there were group hunts planned in many locations; a glance at the Results board this morning showed that only c300 species had been recorded on Day One, so there was obviously more to find; and botanists are a hardy bunch so.... a-hunting we went!

Botanising with friends and family, or in organised groups, is always a real theme of the Hunt and today was no exception. Michael Jones' 8-month old daughter was wrapped up warmly and (judging by the image on right taken by Michael) seems to have really enjoyed using our spotter sheet of Top 20 plants to check what to look for during the Hunt! The spotter sheets were new this year and first-time plant hunters of all ages have found them very useful.

On the Results page, where you'll find the list of most frequently recorded plants (the ones we used when compiling the spotter sheets), a new feature for this year is that our IT wizard Tom Humphrey has put little arrows in to show whether a species is being recorded in bloom more or less frequently than last year. So it looks as though Hazel, Winter Heliotrope and White Dead-nettle are going 'up the charts' but Red Dead-nettle, Shepherd's-purse and Hogweed are going down. Is that what you're finding in your area? Daisy retains it's supreme position as number one on the list. 

So who else was out hunting with friends and family? In Co. Cork, the Glengarriff team notched up 35 species in bloom, more than the Sligo team yesterday - but Sligo botanists had a rainbow for compensation! The Cornish botanists had a great day out in Mevagissey today and found 76 species in bloom. Their list is here, at the top of the list of longest lists (for now!) Fewer species to be found up in in Newcastle, where James Common was out again - it's only Day Two but he was on his third Hunt, this time with partner Matt and they found musk mallow blooming by a bus stop (image on left). Urban and suburban habitats like this often yield the most interesting plant finds.   

Community is an important part of botanising - to enjoy great company and also for sharing ID tips. In Hertfordshire, the Grow Community - Sopwell team (image on right) enjoyed botanising together on their group hunt. There are still quite a few group hunts scheduled for the next two days so do check them out if you'd like some company on your hunt.  

But many of us also enjoy a solo Hunt - a bit of quiet time to recharge our batteries. In Lancashire, Rose Edmondson did her first ever New Year Plant Hunt, inspired by Leif Bersweden's book and armed with the Top 20 spotter sheet

Neil Forbes was out in Arnside and found Spring Sandwort (image below left). With a handlens, he could see anthers sticking out so that counted as 'flowering' and was therefore eligible for the Hunt. Neil also noticed the impact of both microclimate and proximity to the coast on the abundance and status (native or non-native) of the species blooming in the various locations he visited. 

Southern locations tend to have more species in bloom - for example, Kate Gold found 31 species in bloom in East Sussex yesterday, following the same route she's been going since 2016 - whereas further north today, Margaret Cahill in Offaly and Joanie McNaughton in Edinburgh both found slimmer pickings. 

But understanding more about which wild and naturalised plants manage to bloom where, and how this correlates with autumn and winter weather patterns, is what makes the New Year Plant Hunt so interesting. So well done to those northern plant hunters who braved the cold and went out to see what they could find in bloom. 

By 10pm, when we had just about reached the halfway point of this year's Hunt, the Results board showed that plant hunters had uploaded details of more than 700 surveys and the total number of species recorded in bloom had risen to 439. Great work everyone!

What will tomorrow bring? I'm leading a hunt around a Leicester industrial estate in the afternoon and look forward to seeing how our count compares with previous years at the same location. My colleague James Harding-Morris, the mastermind behind those great spotter sheets, will be here in the evening to summarise Day Three findings for you. 

Happy hunting and fingers crossed for decent weather!

Saturday 30 December 2023

New Year Plant Hunt 2024: Day One

Our thirteenth New Year Plant Hunt kicked off today and at just a few minutes past midnight, the first record pinged in: the inimitable Ger Scollard recorded Ivy-leaved Toadflax in southwest Ireland by flashlight and that became the first record to light up our interactive results map

Last year Ger did the same thing but with Red Dead-nettle. There's no stopping this man! 

Most other people waited until the sun was up and then the records started to flood in, despite wet and windy weather in many places. 

James Common led fellow Tyneside botanists on two Hunts, one in "soggy" Tynemouth (image above right) and one in Heaton where, he tells us, it rained again. But James was undaunted and at least he didn't have to endure the heavy snow which prevented Sarah Watts from going out hunting! 

Charlotte Rankin also braved unpleasant weather in Carlisle to notch up 20 species including Narrow-leaved Ragwort (image on left) which, as Plant Atlas 2020 tells us, is a naturalised South African species which is spreading rapidly, especially in England and in the Dublin area. 

This is the first New Year Plant Hunt since the publication of Plant Atlas 2020 so plant hunters have been able to access up-to-date information about the plants they are seeing and any trends driving changes in distribution, e.g. climate change, habitat loss etc. 

Plant Atlas 2020 is such a great resource and so are the summary reports for Britain and for Ireland

The weather didn't look too bad for Tim Rich who, with Sarah Whild, carried out the very first New Year Plant Hunt over a decade ago. 

Little did they know that their 'hmm I wonder what we'll find in bloom around here at New Year' would turn into a citizen science activity that attracts thousands of people across Britain and Ireland! 

This year Tim, one of Britain's top botanists, was out hunting in Cardiff with Julian Woodman, one of the
East Glamorgan County Recorders. They notched up 54 species between them, including Bulbous Buttercup (image on right) and you can see their list here

As the day went on, records pinged in from locations across Britain and Ireland. In Chandler's Ford in Hampshire, Tristan Norton, Martin Rand & co found Jersey Cudweed (image on left showing it in characteristic habitat between paving stones). Jersey Cudweed is another species that Plant Atlas 2020 suggests is spreading northwards, perhaps due to climate change.
On the Kintyre peninsula there were five species in bloom, including Herb-Robert which, surprisingly, proved elusive further south, while in Castlegregory in County Kerry, Olly Lynch and Hannah Mulcahy found 24 species in bloom, including a rather nice Valerianella corn-salad (image below right). 

The habitats that our intrepid plant hunters visited in their search for wildflowers ranged from a wall in Northamptonshire, where Brian Laney, Alyson Freeman and their team found Annual Mercury, to a drainpipe in Uckfield, Sussex, where Plant Hunt regular Wendy Tagg spotted Yellow Corydalis in bloom, to school grounds in Worcestershire, where the fabulous BHA Potting Sheds team recorded 21 species in bloom including the lovely but diminutive whitlow-grass (image below left). 

Those tiny white members of the Cabbage family can be tricky to ID but fortunately there is an excellent cribsheet by the amazing Moira (aka Nature Lark) to help you - it's free to download here

Of course some of the longest lists came from southern and coastal areas: 67 species in Alderney, 64 species spotted by Jo and her team in Cromer. Jo had no sooner got back from her Cromer Hunt than she was on the Support Desk and on social media (Twitter and Bluesky) helping with plant ID - there's dedication for you! 

But as ecologist Joni Cook, volunteering on the Support Desk for the first time this year, quite rightly pointed out, the New Year Plant Hunt isn't just about longest lists: we are also keen to hear if you hunted but found absolutely nothing. 

It all helps us build up a clearer picture of how wild and naturalised plants across Britain and Ireland are responding to a changing climate. 

So, on to Day Two of the Hunt - we can't wait to hear how you get on and the Support Team is ready to help if you run into any problems! Goodnight, we'll leave you with this lovely little whitlow-grass.

Thursday 28 December 2023

British & Irish Botany: issue 5.3 published

Ian browsing a copy of 'Stace'
Image: L. Marsh
It's been six months since we published the last issue of British & Irish Botany, the Botanical Society's online, Open Access scientific journal. We are about to press publish on another issue and this one marks a milestone in the journal's history: this will be the final issue under the editorship of Ian Denholm.

Ian took over the editorship of British & Irish Botany's predecessor, New Journal of Botany, in 2015, just weeks after his term as BSBI President ended; he oversaw the setting up of British & Irish Botany and has been at the helm for the last five years. So this really is the end of an era! 

Don't worry about the future of the journal - Ian has overseen the succession plans and we'll be announcing the new Editor-in-Chief very soon - but for now, I'd like to hand over to Ian to tell you about what's in this latest issue of British & Irish Botany:

"Publication of Issue 5(3) of British & Irish Botany (B&IB) completes the fifth year of the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland's online scientific journal. Over this period there have been 18 issues containing 136 papers covering the taxonomy, history, origins, ecology and conservation of the British and Irish flora. The appearance of each issue has traditionally been accompanied by a blogpost from Louise Marsh summarising the contents and highlighting findings of particular significance. On this occasion, in light of my retirement as editor-in-chief, she has graciously stepped aside and delegated this task to me!

Hieracium elizabethae-reginae
Image: T. Rich
"We commence with a paper from Tim Rich, one of B&IB’s most prolific contributors, who with co-author James Warren adds a new endemic species of hawkweed (Hieracium) to the British flora. The significance of this development is heightened by the taxon being named in honour of our late Queen Elizabeth II. Careful reading of the paper will disclose the connection! Anyone who was an active botanist in the ‘pre-Stace’ era will no doubt retain great affection for the preceding Flora of the British Isles by Clapham, Tutin and Warburg (CTW). A paper by David Wilkinson and Laura Jean Cameron centres on a lunch held to launch the first edition of CTW in 1952. They speculate on the identity of the person caricatured on the cover of the lunch menu, and provide a fascinating image of the menu itself signed by most of the botanical illuminati of the day.

"Ridha El Mokni and Duilio Iamonico explore aspects of nomenclature within the genus Gypsophila which, although not native to Britain and Ireland, contains several species that have been reported as garden escapes or casuals from other sources, and may become more frequent under changing climatic conditions. Frank Horsman investigates in detail the contributions of the 17th century botanist Edward Morgan, to knowledge of the Welsh flora in particular. Morgan emerges from this account as something of an unsung hero whose work and influence on contemporaries deserves much more recognition and respect than it is presently accorded.

Artemisia campestris subsp. maritima
Image: J. Twibell

"The theme of Welsh plants extends through the remaining two papers in the issue. Field Wormwood (Artemisia campestris) is a rare, iconic and native component of the Breckland flora, but also grows as a distinct subspecies (maritima) on the Sefton coast in Lancashire and at Crymlin Burrows in South Wales. Andy Jones and Fred Rumsey review evidence from various sources that collectively tip the balance in favour of maritima plants being recent arrivals on our shores, in direct contrast to their Breckland counterparts. 

"Fred Rumsey (again!) and Chris Thorogood (authors of the BSBI Broomrapes Handbook) detail the history, distribution and ecology of Picris Broomrape, Orobanche picridis. This has proved a challenging taxon due to nomenclatural confusion and morphological similarity to Common Broomrape, Orobanche minor. Most botanists to date (including me) have sought it on chalk in east Kent and on the Isle of Wight. While confirming its continued presence at these locations, the authors also report the discovery of a huge newly-discovered (and presumably previously overlooked) colony on private land in South Wales.

Orobanche picridis
Images: C. Thorogood
& F. Rumsey

"Editing the journal for five years has been a fair commitment of time, but also rewarding in that I have learned a great deal from the contents of papers and have enjoyed stimulating and productive interactions with authors. I thank Louise Marsh for exceptional editorial assistance, Jonathan Shanklin for meticulous proof-reading, and all who have supported the journal by reviewing manuscripts and contributing papers. May British & Irish Botany continue to thrive under new management!"

Huge thanks to Ian for all he has done to establish British & Irish Botany - it has been a delight to assist him! 

I hope he will enjoy having more time for all his other botanical interests, including being BSBI's joint County Recorder for Hertfordshire, BSBI's joint referee for orchids, sitting on BSBI's Science & Data Committee.... he's not so much retiring as re-calibrating! 

So it just remains for me to point you to the latest issue of British & Irish Botany and say "watch this space" for news about Ian's handover to his successor.