Tuesday, 18 July 2017

BSBI Training Grants helping botanists in 2017: Part One

Sedges collected and displayed by Lynda
Image: S. Brien
Another year, another round of BSBI training grants awarded to budding botanists keen to improve their skills

The first of this year's grant recipients, keen to tell readers about the course they were able to attend thanks to that BSBI training grant, is Shane. Last time we heard from him, he was volunteering with BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long. Now he's brushing up his sedge ID skills. 

Over to Shane:  

"I took it upon myself to attend a course on the “Introduction to sedges” with the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) in Co. Waterford. I was highly interested and enthusiastic in learning more for this group, the different structures, how to key them to species level, and ID tips that may help in the field. Also, when I heard Lynda Weekes was teaching it (after her amazing talk on rushes at the Irish BSBI conference 2017), I put my name on the list instantly.

Schoenus nigricans, one of the "other sedges"
Image: S. Brien
"The morning session involved a slideshow presentation on the differences between sedges, rushes, and grasses (the saying I was taught before this course, “sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses have nodes right to the ground). It can be confusing to a person learning this group for the first time, but once shown the different characteristics of sedges first hand it becomes engrained in the mind afterward. Sounds simple from a presentation than an actual specimen.

"The next segment looked at the number of different species found in Ireland. Mainly observing the differences between other sedge and true sedge groups. This interesting part involved looking at some specimens that were brought in (thanks to Lynda), which were held up in bottles and arranged per habitat type. We worked in pairs, due to the limitation of handouts, using draft copies of the sedges & rushes book being devised by the NBDC that will have a similar format to the grass guide (Fitzpatricket al., 2014). The other sedge specimens brought in for the day included Eleocharis palustris, Schoenus nigricans, Schoenoplectus lacustris, Trichophorum germanicum, Eriophorum angustifolium & Bolboschoensis maritimus. After looking at these specimens, everyone dispersed for lunch as the afternoon session started the true sedge (Carex) fun.

Carex otrubae, one of the "true sedges"
Image: S. Brien
"I found the afternoon session very helpful when trying to distinguish Carex species that looked very similar in the field, it only takes a bit of practice to figure things out eventually. It started off with some of the more notable species such as Carex pulicaris and C. otrubae, with the obvious inflorescence they both possess. The key was needed for the next specimens which possessed an inflorescence of the terminal spike on top and other spikes on the stem below (appressed or hanging). Everyone struggled at the first obstacle in the key with “are the utricles flat?”, and most answers being “maybe”, “possibly”, “I don’t know”. Lynda said “they shouldn’t be” then grabbed another specimen to show us the flat utricles in comparison to the specimen we were keying out. 

Groups looking at and keying out sedges
Image: S. Brien
"She boosted our confidence after that to work from there on, having each pair work at their own accords or collectively as a working group. I and my partner worked through the specimens quite well but stumbled from time to time. One specimen (C. laevigata) we worked with was slightly immature which made it difficult to key. Lynda was extremely helpful in pointing that out and highlighted the need to look at several specimens when in the field.

"The final part involved a walkabout around the data centre in search of a few sedges in the overgrown grassland area and Waterford IT campus. Carex sylvatica and C. pendula weren’t picked purposely because Lynda wanted the pairs to find them in the field and see how different sedges looked in the field aspect. 

"I found this course extremely useful and would like to thank the BSBI grant scheme for funding this. I have already put my knowledge gained into practice. The BSBI Dublin group went to Clogherhead, Co. Louth where I pointed out C. distans and C. otrubae while scanning through the sand dunes, salt marshes, and rocky areas".

Many thanks to Shane for telling us about the course he was able to attend, thanks to a BSBI training grant.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Training sessions for the NPMS

How are you getting on with your monitoring your plot for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme?

If everything is going swimmingly - thank you for taking part!

If you feel that you need a bit more support - have you checked out all this year's free training sessions available only to people who have already registered for the Scheme? The image above right shows a recent training session on ferns, led by top botanist Nick Law. Find out about the 2017 programme of training sessions, which are held across the country, here.

There are still lots more squares to survey, so if you haven't registered yet, you can check here to see what squares are available in your area.

And if you'd like to find out more about the data collected so far, click here for the NPMS dataset 2015-6. 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Botany at the Cambridge Conversazione

Vince has his eye on Roger's live specimen!
Image: R Horton 
Cambridge botanist Monica Frisch has been in touch to tell us about the botanical exhibits on display at last month's Conversazione.

Over to Monica:

"The Cambridge Natural History Society’s annual Conversazione on 16th & 17th June 2017 attracted, as usual, a wide variety of displays on many aspects of natural history, including plants, from local organisations and individuals.

"Trees were the main feature for three displays:

"Roger Horton put together a display about Black Poplars, often called “Britain’s rarest tree” which reported on his efforts to refind Black Poplars in the Cambridge area. As well as maps and photos he even had a small Black Poplar which he is growing.

Roger was tweeting from the Conversazione:

16/6 Vince looks at my P. nigra betulifolia poster! : He wants to plant my live specimen!

Gwenda Kyd with her display about
Bountiful Birches
Image: M. Frisch
"Another CNHS member had recorded an A-Z of trees – mostly planted – on the Science Park on the edge of Cambridge. 

"From Apple to Zelkova (a genus related to Elms) he had pictures and brief descriptions of trees for almost every letter of the alphabet. X was an exception (excuse puns) though it was suggested Xylem could justifiably be included. 

"Gwenda Kyd focused on Birches and their many uses, with a display including products made from birch bark, bottled birch sap, which could be tasted, and birch wine (which was being saved for a special occasion).

A tank of Floating Pennywort
 with the Cam Valley Forum display
 about this invasive weed
Image: M. Frisch
"Invasive species were part of the displays of the Cam Valley Forum, who had a tank of Floating Pennywort extracted from the Cam, from which they are trying to eradicate it, while Cambridge Conservation Volunteers had a large specimen of Himalayan Balsam.

"Pam Butler and Sandra Chapman, from NIAB, had a display about seeds, including information about the history of seed testing in the UK.

"Many other displays made passing mention of plants, from the Bird Cherry trees which have been infested with Ermine Moth caterpillars, to the species found during the CNHS field surveys of sites around Cambridge.

"Photos of many of the displays are in the Conversazione 2017 album on the CNHS Facebook page here." 

Many thanks to Monica for telling us about this year's Conversazione in Cambridge.

Friday, 30 June 2017

BSBI Summer Meeting: typing up the recording cards

John Faulkner, BSBI President (on right) &
David Morris, County Recorder for Oxfordshire
at the BSBI Summer Meeting 2017
Image: P. Spencer-Vellacott
As we heard yesterday in Shane's post about digitising biological records, wherever there are botanists in the field, recording cards are sure to follow, and the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) was no different! 

Over to organiser Jon Shanklin, now back in Cambridge:

"The hard part of the ASM has started and I'm about half way through typing up the record cards that I have. So far I've typed in 1468 records from ten sheets, and most cards have had new post 2000 hectad records. Quite a few have included plants rare in the county, and there have been some new post 2000 county records. Prize in this respect so far goes to my group which had the nice day at the seaside, with eight.

Gronant Dunes, one of the field excursions
 during the BSBI Summer Meeting 2017
Image: L. Gravestock 
"However I only have post 2000 county records on my computer, so it remains to be seen how many new species we've actually found. I've also had quite a lot of help from other recorders who between them have already typed in a couple of thousand records and there are more to come. Thank you! Once the typing is complete the records will be sent to the county recorder for verification and incorporation in the BSBI DDb.

"Some of the records are probably artifacts - I was quite surprised to find Carex caryophylla and Helianthemum numularium as new to Graig Fawr, but perhaps the records were never submitted. Some finds were quite strange, for example Convollaria majalis on the dunes - there are only two other locations in the county shown in the Flora.

"I suspect that it will take me at least another week to finish the typing as I am now back in my vice-county Cambridgeshire, where I am one of two County Recorders. So in the diary for the next few days are: a Cambridge Natural History Society meeting; the CNHS Conversazione; an astronomy talk on Saturday; and an outing with Cambridgeshire Flora Group. As always, in my 'spare time' I’ll be out recording in spare moments for Atlas2020!" 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Volunteers I: supporting BSBI in Ireland

The words 'volunteering with the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland' might conjure up days out in the field, recording wildflowers for Atlas 2020 or monitoring a patch for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. That's exactly what many of our amazing volunteers do, but there's also a lot of essential work to be done indoors throughout the year and BSBI is also very grateful to volunteers who help behind the scenes. 

Shane's work set-up
Image: S. Brien
One such volunteer is Shane, who has been assisting BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long. Here Shane tells us what he's been doing - and why! 

"It is hard to believe that I contacted Maria Long over a year ago to discuss possible volunteering options. I came up with this initiative as part of my academic studies in trying to further promote my botanical skills, network, and gain that much-needed experience in the area I wish to pursue. After my masters, I have not had much joy of finding work placement but I still carrying on volunteering for the BSBI when I can. 

"Maria has been nothing but supportive whenever I have asked her questions about botany or ecology. She has given me such joyous and interesting tasks to undertake during my time volunteering. My main tasks usually involve data entry, which may seem tedious and long winded but someone must do it and I always find it interesting to see what people found & where. 

Old records of Co. Westmeath
Image: S. Brien
"Recently, I entered Maria’s record cards from the Kerry recording event which I was unable to attend. Reading through some of the plant records they stumbled upon and the wonderful scenery of Kerry, I was quite jealous. 

"However, it was great to hear of what they found, the new attendees to BSBI events, and the number of plants records over the five days. My primary task has been digitising Co. Westmeath (VC H23) pre. 2000 records mainly from Con Breen (Vice County Recorder). 

"There is a lot of records (I mean A LOT) to enter into Excel format, but this particular task requires me to act as a sort of botanical detective. The maps and GPS devices that many people would use nowadays, weren’t as available then. Townland names and a description of the area recorded were the next best thing and being eager botanists, as members in the BSBI would be, a lot of ground was covered in a day or two. The record card would be assigned a grid reference at hectad, or if we are lucky, tetrad level, after searching through both old & new maps, and referred to Con for changes or confirmation. 

Shane out with the Dublin BSBI group -
he's the one in the purple hat.
Image courtesy of A. Murphy
"The use of Stace (2010) acts as my trusty sidekick whenever old names need to be updated to the current botanical names, providing less confusion for new eager botanist’s in the future. It can be laborious at times, Con’s wealth of knowledge (especially with Carex species) can put down nearly 200 plant species on one record card, and typing them out takes a bit of time. Sometimes at the end of the day, I feel like an encyclopaedia for botanical names in Westmeath.

"Taking in this experience from the voluntary work helps me remember botanical names in the field, usually because people still use the old name of a species. The best way to learn any of these species off is to go out with other enthusiastic botanists and help with the valiant effort BSBI recorders do every season toward Atlas 2020. Maria and the Irish vice county recorders encourage others to go out and learn to increase their botanical knowledge. 

"I have been on a couple of outings across the country and encourage others to partake in upcoming BSBI events".

Many thanks to Shane for telling us about his volunteering experience with BSBI, and for all the volunteer hours he's already given to our society. If you'd like to find out more about volunteering opportunities with BSBI, please email us here

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Grassland Conservation Conference: book now

Stanley Bank
Image courtesy of A. Lyons
Great news from our friends at Edge Hill University - they are to host the inaugural Grassland Conservation Conference. Over to organiser Ashley Lyons:

"Following the successful Conservation Management and Research Conference hosted by Edge Hill University in 2014 they are pleased to announce that they will host the inaugural Grassland Conservation Conference (14th-15th August, 2017).

"The conference aims to overcome the major challenge of dissemination of applied ecological research to conservation practitioners by providing a platform for the development of collaboration and knowledge exchange between scientists and practitioners.

"Held over two days the Grassland Conservation Conference will feature oral presentations from academics, conservation practitioners and policy makers along with a poster session sponsored by the George Stapledon Memorial Trust and a series of parallel workshops and field visits.

"The call for abstracts is now open and there are a number of conference fee waiver bursaries available for students and those working for conservation organisations".

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Kerry BSBI event: a short report

The view from base camp
Earlier this month Irish botanists enjoyed one of the highlights of the year - the #KerryBSBIevent, organised by Rory Hodd of Rough Crew fame. 

He asked one of the participants, Jessica Hamilton, to write up a report about the event and here it is, illustrated by Jessica's photographs: 

"This day last week, the #KerryBSBIevent was coming to a close. 5 days full of breathtaking scenery, rare and not so rare botanical treats and great company in my home county - the Kingdom! [Ed.: Note for British readers: Jessica is a Kerrywoman, just in case you were wondering!] 

Oxyria digyna
"Each day saw participants splitting into smaller groups and tackling separate hectads. Over the five days I found myself at Lough Adoon, Glenteenassig, Inch and scaling Mt. Brandon for two of the five days. 

"Every day was so fulfilling in itself and very hard for me to pick a favourite but my favourite outings were probably those up to Mt. Brandon and getting to see an array of rare montane species and hepatic mats.

Saxifraga stellaris
"Some of those species included Oxyria digyna (Mountain sorrel), Sedum rosea (Roseroot), Alchemilla alpina (Alpine Lady’s-Mantle), Polystichum lonchitis (Holly Fern), Carex bigelowii (Stiff sedge), Ireland’s smallest tree - Salix herbacea (Dwarf Willow) and Persicaria vivipara (Alpine bistort). 

"Seeing Roseroot in the flesh was a special treat for me and we saw lots on the second day up Mt Brandon, a species like many of the others I had only previously read about or seen in pictures!

Saxifraga hirsuta
"Also up Mt Brandon, I became acquainted with three new species of saxifrage- Kidney (Saxifraga hirsuta), Starry (S. stellaris) & Irish (S. rosacea subsp. rosacea). 

"Lots of more common species were also seen up in the mountains with shelves of woodland species like lesser celandine, primrose, dog violet and woodrush still in flower.

"I was also very excited to see the gametophyte of the protected Killarney Fern as it was my first time ever seeing either generation of this special species. The location it was found was also a new elevation record for this species which made it even more special! 

"To top it all off, lots of lovely orchids were seen; my favourite however was Listera cordata, (Lesser Twayblade) – Ireland’s smallest Orchid and what an absolute little beauty it is! Thanks for Rory to pointing it out as it really is quite inconspicuous until you get your eye in!

Saxifraga rosacea subsp. rosacea
"Thankfully to top it all off, we were blessed with the weather and it was only the last two days when conditions deteriorated. 

"One such day was when descending Mt Brandon for the second time when our waterproofs were tested to their absolute limits!

"On the final day, we were also treated to an informative presentation by Marina Reneyn of the Kerry Natterjack toad project followed by a quick trip to see the toads and their breeding pools which was great. Another first for me and they were much smaller then I had imagined, especially the tiny toadlets!

Sedum rosea
"Overall this was an invaluable and unforgettable experience with so much learnt and many new friendships made; you really can’t beat first-hand knowledge and experience in the field!

"I know I’m speaking on everyone’s behalf when I say thanks to Maria and Rory for organizing such a great event! J ~ Jessica Hamilton"

Many thanks to Jessica for this account and for the fabulous photographs :-) 

At this point, it's worth flagging up the results from this event: 45 participants who between them collected more than 5,700 records - a fantastic result and every single one of those recorders deserves our sincere thanks and congratulations!

Listera cordata
"A few words from Rory in closing:

"The event was a huge success, with the presence of so many local people very heartening. The fact that so many young and extremely enthusiastic people with a desire to improve their botanical skills came along bodes well for the future of botanical recording in Ireland, and much time was found for teaching and learning each day. 

"Over the five days, many sites throughout the magnificent Dingle Peninsula were visited, from the picture-postcard coastline to the precipitous and lushly vegetated mountains. 

"Many rare plants were encountered, such as Killarney Fern, Alpine Saw-wort and Alpine Bistort, but what struck most participants was the beauty and abundance of some of the local southwestern and western Irish specialities, particularly the Greater Butterwort, Irish saxifrage and St Patrick's Cabbage, all of which were putting on a beautiful floriferous display. 

"Perhaps most importantly of all, lots of fun was had by all and many new friendships were made, to hopefully be renewed at many future BSBI events

"Around the 700m mark before the clouds
(and rain) encompasses us!"
"The records collected during the events will make a huge contribution to recording in Kerry, one of the largest, most topographically complex and botanically rich counties in Ireland. 

"Thanks to all participants for coming along and making it the success it was, and particularly to those who led groups, especially Robert Northridge and Clare Heardman. Finally, massive thanks to Maria, who, as always, was supremely organised and efficient and was crucial to the smooth running of the event."

Hear hear! Let's close with a photo of Jessica taken by Clare Heardman, the County Recorder for West Cork - it shows Jessica in her element, up a mountain on a recent Rough Crew outing!