Thursday, 23 October 2014

Botanical training event of the year!

If a meteor had hit Shrewsbury's Gateway Centre yesterday afternoon, Britain would have lost the cream of its botanical trainers... fortunately it didn't and reports are filtering in via social media about how useful and enjoyable this Training the Trainers workshop was! 

Those of us who couldn't make it can only weep and rend our garments - at least until the presentations are uploaded to the Training page next week and we can see exactly what we missed. Then we can weep a bit more. 

For now I'm afraid you'll have to make do with these images and many thanks to Peter Gately for taking his camera along - trust a member of BSBI's Training & Education Committee to come prepared! 

If you have attended any botanical training events, or been on a BSBI field meeting, you may want to play 'Spot the Botanist' at this point. I can see at least three members of the Hebridean Recording Team in this pic (on left) with County Recorder Paul Smith, smiling as he does when surrounded by plants and botanists, and (far left) there's Mags and Sally Peacock, the Utricularia Queen

And you can see Sarah Whild (standing), the driving force behind Training the Trainers, presiding over the day's proceedings, and Tim Rich (on right of pic). Tim is a BSBI Referee and author of several BSBI Handbooks, including ones on Hawkweeds, and he was offering a session on difficult plants and "How to fall in love with apomicts". 

You may also spot Chris Metherell, who gave a talk about identifying Euphrasia species & hybrids and - according to Oli Pescott - is throwing out a few teasers in advance of the AEM, where he is due to spill the beans on all things Eyebright, with a talk about work towards the new Euphrasia Handbook, an ID workshop and some big plans in the offing. Here's what Oli and Chris tweeted: 

Inspiring talk from at Training the Trainers meeting. Plans afoot for a Euphrasia 'ID Cadre!'

 Just finished my talk at BSBI training event. Maybe the next Euphrasia referee is in the room!
2 retweets2 favorites

Oli also tweeted about a very enjoyable session by the excellent Ros Bennett (pic on right) about the benefits of genus level lateral keys for training. Ros's masterful Plant Families presentation in 2012 is still mentioned in botanical circles! 

Do keep an eye on the Training page for the presentations from this year's event, and for more info on botany courses in general. 

You can also find out more about training opportunities at this year's AEM, where Sue Townsend and Brenda Harold are offering an exhibit on the IdentiPlant course.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Promoting BSBI Publications at the AEM in November

John Poland, Chair of Pubs
Image: L. Marsh
To London on Wednesday for the twice-yearly meeting of BSBI Publications Committee aka 'Pubs'.

These meetings may not sound earth-shatteringly exciting but they are essential if we are to make sure that BSBI-supported publications continue to serve the needs of BSBI botanists and the wider botanical community.  

And I had ulterior motives at this meeting of Pubs: there is a bit of a publications theme at next month's Annual Exhibition Meeting, so I hoped to firm up a few details about what will be on offer. [It worked - see below!]

Pubs in action: John (Chair) next to Chris Boon (Secretary)
Image: L. Marsh
BSBI's publications history over decades is pretty impressive (just look at our ground-breaking Atlases and best-selling Handbooks, not to mention our journals) and Pubs is keen to maintain that high standard while ensuring value for money. 

With seven BSBI Handbooks at various stages of development, Committee members had to deal with questions about page lay-out, inclusion of maps, bookbindings... We hope that when a new Handbook is published, you will find it not only a great help in identifying difficult plants with confidence, but also robust enough to use in the field and ideally also a pleasure to own. The illustrations should obviously help you see the diagnostic characters and  ID that plant, but it's nice if they're also easy on the eye!

Chris Preston & draft page from
forthcoming Hybrid Flora
Image: L. Marsh 
So, Chris Metherell joined us at Pubs to offer an update on progress towards publication of his forthcoming Euphrasia Handbook - and he has kindly agreed to give a Euphrasia talk at the AEM and also to run one of his famous Euphrasia workshops, using herbarium specimens from the University of Leicester Herbarium to trial the keys for the forthcoming Handbook. 

Mike Porter (also New Journal of Botany's Plant Records Editor) has agreed to offer a poster about progress towards his Viola Handbook, due out next year.

Clive Stace in the Herbarium, University of Leicester
Image: L. Marsh
But there's more to Pubs than Handbooks and we are gearing up for a major new publication: Clive Stace's Hybrid Flora is due for publication next March, and Pubs member Chris Preston offered an update and showed some sample pages. Pubs thinks this new Flora will "revitalise the way members record hybrids". Clive will be giving a talk about the Hybrid Flora at this year's AEM. 

Richard Gornall (New Journal of Botany Editor-in-Chief) was also in the spotlight at Pubs, offering an overview of the first four years of the journal and laying out options for the future. 

Jane Houldsworth at Pubs
Image: L. Marsh
And then the spotlight was trained on the entire committee, when our Head of Operations Jane Houldsworth gave a presentation on BSBI's strategic plan and we looked at how Pubs contributes to the society's aims, acknowledging our strengths and challenging us on any perceived weaknesses. 

Jane is putting all the committees through this process and it was surprisingly enjoyable, with lots of good ideas flying around. 

Pubs members still talking about publications over dinner!
Image: L. Marsh
Pubs Chair John Poland (yes, he's also the John Poland of Vegetative Key fame) had no sooner closed the meeting and led some of us off in search of a bite to eat than I sidled up to him and asked if he would offer his Plant ID Quiz at this year's AEM. 

I'm pleased to report that he said yes! So if you haven't yet booked for the AEM please take a look here - hope to see you in Leicester next month!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Botanists heading back to Ben Nevis

Mountaineers teach botanists and geologists how to climb!
Image: I. Strachan
In August, we reported here on a survey of the North Face of Ben Nevis involving BSBI botanists Ian Strachan and Jim McIntosh. This first stage in an ambitious project to record the wild plants and map the geology of Scotland's highest mountain was filmed by BBC Scotland's Landward programme and you can see the results here on iPlayer (starting about a minute in).

Jim has been in touch again to forward this interim report on the project which you can view here and to tell us about future plans. Jim said "The dates for next year’s survey are 10th-14th August 2015. If you are a climbing (or scrambling) botanist and would like to get involved then mark them in your diary and ask Ian Strachan to keep you posted. Feel free to forward to other climbing botanists who might be interested. (Training can be given.)

"If you are involved in the management of other mountainous sites then this shows what might be possible on your site(s) and what SNH may be prepared to fund".

Number 4 Gully, where Ian found Alpine Saxifrage
Image: I. Strachan
For the rest of us, we can sit in our armchairs and watch the footage above, gasping at some of the precipitous drops the team negotiated, cheering at the tiny patches of vegetation they came across and the rarities they found, and either envying them like mad or being very grateful to be sitting at home in said armchair! 

I daresay people will be talking about this fascinating survey at the forthcoming Scottish Annual Meeting, which - if you didn't know - is THE big event for botanists in Scotland. It's being held on 1st November this year at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Everybody interested in Scottish botany is welcome at the SAM, whether or not you live in Scotland, are a BSBI member or are an experienced botanist. You can find out more and book here.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting 2014: open for bookings

Botanists at the 2013 AEM
Image: L. Marsh
The leaves are starting to fall so it's time to think about this year's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting (AEM), which is being held at the University of Leicester on Saturday 22nd November.

If you are a BSBI member, you will have received a flyer and booking form inside the latest BSBI News but the AEM is open to everyone interested in botany in Britain and Ireland - you don't have to be a BSBI member to come along and enjoy all the exhibits, talks and workshops that we have planned for you!

BSBI Scientific Officer Pete Stroh & aquatics expert
Richard Lansdowne by the Plant ID table
Image: L. Marsh 
We will also have two natural history book stalls at the AEM - both Summerfield Books (new and second-hand books and a range of hand-lenses) and Acanthophyllum Books (secondhand and antiquarian books). There will be our usual Plant ID stand, where you can get help from our experts to ID that plant  and - John Poland willing - we will be able to offer our ever-popular Vegetative Plant ID Quiz. 

Our exhibitors always come up with interesting things - not just posters. University of Reading's 'Testa yourself' quiz was a big hit last year. You had to beat the clock to match the seed to the wildflower. More difficult than it looked, but great fun! 

Wildflower Society and other exhibitors
Image: L. Marsh 
You can find out more about the AEM here, where there is a flyer with further details and a booking form. The form is so you can book for one of our Herbarium tours (which are usually over-subscribed so act quickly if you want a space!), or if you want to offer an exhibit on any aspect of British or Irish botany, or if you want to book the £10 AEM food and drink package that we have put together for you. 

It's also nice to know who is coming to the AEM (looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones each year is a big part of the AEM experience) so as well as our shiny new AEM webpage (thanks Alex!) we also have a shiny new Meetings Gmail address (thanks Tom!) so you can email me and the rest of the AEM Organising Team from Meetings Committee and let us know if you are hoping to join us next month. 

Univ Reading Team & John Poland's ID Quiz
Image: J. Mitchley
We are still finalising all the talks and workshops (Meetings & Communications Committee met a few weeks ago and ironed out some final details) but we can confirm that Prof. Clive Stace has agreed to talk to us about his forthcoming Hybrids Book. I'll post more details of the day's attractions here, as they are confirmed. 

Let's hope this year's AEM is even better than last year's, when 192 of us enjoyed a packed day at the Natural History Museum and we captured the images on this page. See you on 22nd November in Leicester!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Training the Botanical Trainers

Deb Muscat demonstrates her giant grass flower
at a previous Training the Trainers
Image courtesy S. Whild
Bookings are now being taken for next month's Training the Trainers, a biennial event held at the Gateway in Shrewsbury which has become a fixture in the calendars of everybody involved in passing on botanical skills. 

The event is free but you do need to book, so head over to our Training page here and take a look at the flyer. I see that Chris Metherell, Tim Rich and Ros Bennett are all scheduled to lead sessions this time - each one would be worth the entrance fee alone. If there was an entrance fee. 

Sarah with the remains of another excellent
lunch at the Gateway!
Image: L. Farrell
Training the Trainers is organised by Dr Sarah Whild, Chair of BSBI's Training & Education Committee. I asked Sarah to give us one good reason to attend this event, apart from the fact that it's great fun, you learn a lot, you meet other botanical trainers and lunch is always excellent. And not only is it all free, but you may even be eligible for a travel grant. 

Sarah scratched her head and said “It’s a fantastic opportunity to share skills and tips with other botanical trainers – whether you lead wild flower walks or you are a lecturer in HE, there will be something useful for you to take away (including the Training the Botanical Trainers Handbook!).”

Ok, a better question might be: if you are involved at all in teaching, training or lecturing in botany, or you are actively passing on field ID skills at local group level, why on earth haven't you registered yet for this excellent training day? Did I mention that it's free? And how good the lunch is? See you in Shrewsbury on the 22nd October!

Monday, 29 September 2014

September issue of BSBI News is published

It's that time again. Gwynn Ellis tells me that he started mailing out copies of BSBI News #127 to all our members this morning, so tomorrow you may hear the distinctive thrice-yearly sound of the latest issue dropping through your letterbox. The difficult bit is always keeping your hands off it until there's time to read it properly. If you can take a peek during teabreak and then put your copy of News away until after work, you have more willpower than me!

Gwynn has once again allowed News & Views a sneak preview of the contents, and among the delights to look forward to are:

A report by Mike Chalk of Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredenifera on the Dorset coast rather than its usual hang-outs much nearer the Med! Mike's pic also graces the front cover.

A report on a volunteer survey of Parnassia palustris on the Sefton Coast - as previewed in News & Views last year. Thanks to Mary Dean for that sneak preview - now you can read the whole story. With tables! 

Volunteer recorders from ENHS helped Michael Braithwaite
at Brander Heugh, Berwickshire
Another Michael - this time our former President Michael Braithwaite - talking about how his project to repeat-record every square in Berwickshire fed into his Berwickshire BSBI botanical site register. 

The good news is that Michael's excellent work mapping plant distributions at a finer scale across his vice-county is attracting considerable media attention in his homepatch. The bad news is that Michael's previous findings - that individual populations of rare and scarce plants are being lost at an alarming rate - are confirmed and refined to an average rate of about 14% decline per decade. We are getting very good at recording, mapping and monitoring the decline in our wild plants - if only halting it were as achievable! The new England Red List may be a useful tool here... 

Pete Stroh and David Allen (BSBI historian
& author 'The Botanists') snapped at ERL launch
So it's great to see Pete Stroh reporting in News on the new England Red List and we can read the results of applying the ERL threat categories to relevant species in the Cornish dataset and comparing with the same species under the 2005 Red List for Great Britain. Does Colin French think the new England Red List will be better suited to the needs of wildlife conservation in Cornwall? You can read Colin's conclusions on pages 47-51 of BSBI News #127. A glimmer of hope?

Click on the image below to enlarge it and read more about the decline of wild flowers in Berwickshire. This may tide you over until your copy of BSBI News arrives. It is from a recent edition of Berwickshire News - they gave over a full page to Michael Braithwaite's Flora and to the decline of wild plants in the county. Anyone spending £25 on Michael's Flora is getting 37 years worth of local plant knowledge, including the results of an unpaid decade spent repeat-recording Berwickshire's wild plants at a finer scale. And anyone clicking on this link benefits from Michael's incredible generosity in making a version of his Flora available free to everyone. What a nice man!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

BSBI pays tribute to David Pearman

David on sparkling form at Kew, chatting to Peter Marren,
Gwynn Ellis & Mike McCarthy
Last Wednesday's launch of the England Red List at Kew was just one part of a very big day for BSBI, with botanists coming together earlier in the day to pay tribute to David Pearman

Amongst David's many achievements are: co-authoring the 2002 New Atlas of the British & Irish florabeing BSBI President 1995-1998; and chairing BSBI Records & Research Committee until this February, when he handed over to Paul Smith

Admiring Rosemary Fitzgerald's amusingly-captioned
photographs of David in the field 
The Society wanted to mark these achievements and thank David for all he has done for BSBI and for British botany. So our Meetings Committee has spent the last few months planning a day of botanical talks and celebrations, and trying to make sure that David didn't get wind of what we were up to! 
Pearman, Preston & Dines: the New Atlas team re-united

We were helped in this endeavour by the excellent Anita Pearman (the secret of David's success!) and BSBI President Ian Denholm paid tribute to both of them, saying "David’s hard work, talent and enthusiasm have been pivotal in expanding and revitalising scientific work within BSBI. We owe him a great debt. He’s also a fantastic guy. As incoming President I benefited hugely from his patient mentoring and (like many others) from the incredible hospitality provided by David and Anita at ‘Algiers’!” 

So, what did we come up with for the fantastic guy? First of all, Ian and Paula Rudall (Kew's new Head of Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology) opened the day's proceedings and welcomed around seventy guests to Kew. 

Chris and Mark before their talks
They included David, several members of his family, and some of the many people he has worked with through the years. Then, Ian introduced a morning of scientific talks. 

Chris Preston kicked off with a talk entitled (with typical Preston wit) 'Hybrids: nature's dross?" 

Then Mick Crawley gave us 'In praise of small-scale Floras' and Mark Gurney (RSPB) closed the morning session with a talk on 'Gains and losses: recent colonisations and extinctions in Britain'. 

Alfred and the "furry seeds"
Next came a buffet lunch in the Jodrell Atrium, and many thanks to Kew for allowing us use of the Jodrell for our celebrations. If you know David and his love of garden plants, as well as wild flowers, I think you will agree that there could be no more suitable venue than Kew. 

And Kew Gardens proved an excellent hunting ground for one budding botanist. Judging by his pleasure in finding Platanus hispanica leaves and "furry seeds", David's grandson Alfred may be set to follow in his forebear's illustrious footsteps! 

David Roy and slide of David P. with a Hogweed in Turkey
After lunch, David Roy gave a talk on 'BRC and BSBI: working together for 50 years and future opportunities'. And then we had short talks about David’s contributions to and influence on botany from some more of his many friends, including Chris Cheffings, Trevor Dines, Gwynn Ellis, Lynne Farrell, Peter Marren, Fred Rumsey and Ken Thompson. 
Gwynn's slide: David shows the New Atlas
to the Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett MP

Some comments were quite irreverent! 

Pete Stroh, who has botanised with David in the Hebrides, said "No matter the weather or terrain, in the field David appears to have endless energy, is a wealth of information, rather too fearless for my constitution, and is someone who will be impossible to replace. He does need to work on his culinary skills though!" 

Hmm, I wonder what strange delights David rustled up for Pete after a long day in the field...?  

Cameras at the ready: David cuts the cake..,
There were no worries about culinary skills when we all tasted the amazing cake made for us by Helen Hesketh of CEH. Meetings Committee had heard that her cake for the BRC 50th anniversary celebrations was scrumptious and looked fabulous, so we asked her for something suitable for David. 

Anita had tipped us off that chocolate cake is a favourite chez Pearman, and Helen managed to recreate the BSBI logo, decorate the cake with gorgeous sugar Bluebell flowers and ice it with a simple message that said it all: Thank you David. 

...watched by Alfred and Anita
The cake looked almost too good to eat... but we are botanists, so we scoffed it and can confirm that it tasted as good as it looked.

Lynne Farrell also presented David with a commemorative plant, Cytisus x kewensis 'Niki', a Broom cultivar which David is rather fond of, and which we hope will flourish in the Pearman garden at 'Algiers'. That's in Cornwall, in case you were wondering! 

And Lynne gave him a big card signed by all present to mark this Red Letter Day and lead us nicely into the launch of the England Red List!  

Lynne, David, "Red Letter" &
Cytisus x kewensis 'Niki'
The final word should go to Kevin Walker (BSBI's Head of Science & Research),  who spoke for all of us: "David’s contribution to the society has been enormous. He has been the driving force behind so many things - the New Atlas, a successful recording network, as well as forging closer relations with our key partners such as CEH, the conservation agencies and Plantlife. This has opened up the resources the Society needed to grow and become the impressive organisation it has become today. I, personally, can’t thank him enough and can’t imagine a BSBI without him". 

Kevin Walker (and remains of cake!)
Many thanks to Paula and the team at Kew for enabling us to hold this celebration at the Jodrell, to Ian Denholm, Lynne Farrell and Jodey Peyton of Meetings Committee for co-ordinating the day, to Helen Hesketh for the cake, to the BSBI Publicity Volunteers for taking photographs and tweeting about the day; and to all who came along and raised a glass to David Pearman.

And of course to the man himself, seen here surrounded by some of his many friends in the Society. Thank you, David.