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.

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