Thursday, 26 November 2015

Record number of exhibits for BSBI Exhibition Meeting

Orchid Observers: Fred (on right) & historic orchid
specimens from the NHM herbarium
Image: L. Marsh
Blimey, botanists - we asked you for lots of great exhibits for this Saturday's Exhibition Meeting and we expected similar numbers to last year (31) and the year before (32). What did you offer us?

44 exhibits to fit into the Flett Theatre at the Natural History Museum! It was tricky but we've done it, so you should find the hall full to the brim with botanical delights when you arrive on Saturday morning. 

Here's a taste of what we have to look forward to at this year's AEM:

Exhibits from BSBI members on the flora of locations including St. Kilda, South Wales, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire and the Little Ouse Valley Fens. 

Testing NPMS survey methods: Kevin (on right)
Pete (red T-shirt) & Oli (blue hat)
Image: M. Pocock 
For orchid-obsessives we have exhibits about the Ghost Orchid Project and Orchid Observers, the latter featuring historic rare orchid specimens from the Natural History Museum Herbarium. 

If rarities and plant distributions are your thing, you'll also want to check out the BSBI Science Table, where Kevin and Pete can tell you about BSBI's Species Accounts, Atlas2020 and the Threatened Plants Project. And don't miss two exhibits from Quentin Groom based on his New Journal of Botany paper about herbarium networks and historic female botanists

If you want to know more about botanical training courses, or plants to get children and young people involved in botany, or how to get started in ecological consultancy, or how BSBI training grants can help you improve your ID skills, head over to the Training & Education area of the hall. 

John Poland (on right) is always happy to help
with vegetative plant ID!
Image: L. Marsh
Wondering where the actual plants are? John Poland will have some on his Vegetative ID Table (hopefully with one of his fiendishly tricky ID quizzes) and there's also an ID Table where you can bring along plant specimens and challenge some of the country's top botanists to help you identify them.

Combining the old and the new, exhibits on herbaria will sit alongside interactive displays showing how social media can help people get involved in botany. Kevin Widdowson will be showing us his Facebook group which helps beginner and improver botanists work through Plant ID keys. 

Strawberry Tree in flower in Co. Kerry
for the New Year Plant Hunt 2015
Image: R. Hodd
Louisa Armstrong offers a poster on 'Wild Flower Hour', which in just a few months has become incredibly popular. Every Sunday evening from 8-9pm, botanists take to Twitter to share pictures of any wild flowers they have seen in flower across Britain and Ireland during the previous week.  

Two final exhibits to tell you about, tying in with two of our speakers: Oli Pescott will be showing us some of the on-line resources available to participants in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme and exhibiting a poster showing successes from the first year of the scheme, to compliment his talk on the same subject. And Ryan Clark's poster and talk will give you the low-down on the New Year Plant Hunt - successes in 2015 and how to get involved in January 2016. 

Will that do for a Saturday in November? As well as eight talks, fully-booked herbarium tours, a pop-up natural history bookshop, guided tours of the famous NHM Wildlife Garden, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones? 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

BSBI training grants help budding botanists: Part Four

Preston Montford Field Centre: the pond
Image: Copyright Betty Longbottom and
licensed for re-use under
  this Creative Commons licence
Delighted to hear from Marcus, who received a BSBI training grant this year. He will be offering a poster about the grant and what it helped him achieve at next weekend's BSBI Exhibition Meeting but for now, here's Marcus's guest blogpost:

"Each year the BSBI gives out a number of grants to budding botanists. I was lucky enough this year to be the recipient of one of these grants, which allowed me to spend a fantastic long weekend at the Field Studies Council’s Preston Montford Field Centre studying a course on aquatic plants.

Aquatic plants from
Thursley Pool, Surrey
Image: M. Militello
"The course was taught by environmental consultant and BSBI member Nick Law and Sarah Whild, BSBI trustee and Chair of BSBI's Training & Education Committee. Having only studied botany on a casual basis for the previous year and a half I had, prior to the course, next to no experience in aquatic plant identification, so was a little daunted at the prospect of learning the features and names of a whole host of plants that I was unfamiliar with.

"Additionally upon arrival I found out that many aquatic plants spend little time in flower, making things even tougher! For this reason, learning to use vegetative keys was crucial in order to correctly identify specimens. Having in the past focused primarily upon identification via flowers I had much to learn!

"Sarah and Nick did however make things seem much easier than I had expected. The dichotomous key they had created was an extremely useful and easy to follow guide for the amateur aquatic botanist and I was generally able to correctly identify specimens in the classroom. A host of reference books were also supplied and turned out to be very useful, particularly when identifying the harder species. 

"I made much use of Rich and Jermy’s Plant Crib and learnt to use the polychotomous keys in Poland and Clements ‘Vegetative Key to the British Flora’ a book which has now  become one of my field identification stalwarts and is with me at all times in the field.

Thursley Pool, Surrey
Image: M. Militello
"As with any good FSC course there was also a field based portion. This gave all students a chance to experience rural Shropshire and identify the plants in situ, which is something I always find more difficult than identifying within the classroom but is invaluable, since this is where the majority of identification must take place. Sites visited included Bomere Pool, Montgomery Canal and Wildmoor pool, which covered a range of habitats, and each had its own distinctive assemblage of species.

"In the month following the course I took part in the BioBlitz at Moors Valley Country Park, where I was at that time based. I led a small group of families around the park teaching them about aquatic plants. Everyone got to have a go with the grapnel, pulling many a pondweed and hornwort out of the stream. It was great to be able to pass on some of what I learnt on the course to members of the public.

Water Fern Azolla filiculoides 
Image downloaded from GBNNSS and
reproduced under Crown Copyright
"Since then I have moved onto a post with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, something which I believe the course aided me in getting. I have found my new knowledge of aquatic plants has been great when running volunteer groups in pond habitats. I am able to point out and name plant species that will be of benefit to the rarer species of amphibian: Great Crested Newt and Natterjack Toad.

"I would again like to say how thankful I am to the BSBI for their support - through awarding grants of this nature I feel the BSBI effectively nurtures the next generation of botanists and helps spread knowledge about botanical biodiversity around the British Isles. I certainly feel it has enriched my understanding of British botany and has helped me to choose the Masters Degree programme in Biological Recording, which I am now studying".

Many thanks to Marcus for explaining so clearly how his BSBI training grant helped him improve his botanical skills and get the job he wanted in conservation. Find out more at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

BSBI members in the news!

An attentive audience for talks at last year's AEM
Image: L. Marsh
We have a great selection of speakers lined up for the BSBI Exhibition Meeting on 28th November and one of them was on local radio this morning! 

George Garnett was talking to BBC Radio Guernsey about his experience of botanising on the island. He'll be telling us more at the Exhibition Meeting, sharing a slot with BSBI President Ian Denholm who will be talking about orchids on Jersey

We plan to upload their presentations - and those of our other speakers - to the BSBI website early in December.

Ryan Clark in the field.
Image courtesy of R. Clark
For now, you can listen to George here (starts 2 hours 25 minutes in). The interviewer makes much of George's youth and the fact that he will be the youngest ever speaker at a BSBI Exhibition Meeting.

This is true and we are delighted to offer our younger botanists a platform but George was invited to speak because he is an excellent botanist working at the southern limits of BSBI's range and we'd like to hear more about the plants he records on the island! 

Ryan Clark will also be talking at the Exhibition Meeting about the New Year Plant Hunt, which was mentioned in this morning's Guardian. 

Frozen nosegay picked during
New Year Plant Hunt 2015
Image: J.R. Clough
Check out this Country Diary column by BSBI member and journalist Phil Gates, who talks about late-blooming plants and name-checks not only BSBI but also the Wild Flower Society who will also be exhibiting at the Exhibition Meeting. 

Ryan will also be announcing details at the Exhibition Meeting of the 2016 New Year Plant Hunt and how you can get involved. It's a busy month for Ryan - he's giving a presentation today about biological recording at the NBN conference in York. 

If you would like to hear Ryan, George and seven other speakers, including our keynote talk from Prof Mick Crawley, but you haven't yet booked for the Exhibition Meeting, don't panic! You can still book here but the herbarium tours are all full up now, so you will have to settle for eight amazing talks and a record number of exhibits!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Is the next Japanese Knotweed already in your garden?

Houttuynia cordata in Katharina's garden -
she has found it hard to get rid of
Image: K. Dehnen-Schmutz
That's the question that Katharina wants News & Views readers to help her answer! Over to Katharina to tell us more:

 "Most alien plants in the British flora considered to have negative impacts have been introduced as ornamental garden plants. There are often long delays from the introduction to the recognition of a problematic invasive plant. 

"A new project aims to test if the reporting of early warning signs from gardens could help to design more effective prevention strategies at the early stages of the invasion process. 

Crocosmia x crocosmiifolia naturalised in Cornwall
Image: K. Dehnen-Schmutz
"Gardeners are therefore asked to report ornamental plants that are spreading in their gardens and are difficult to control using this online survey. Up to five plants can be reported. 

"People who have taken the survey already say that it takes between 10 and 15 minutes. Time well spent to perhaps prevent the next Japanese Knotweed.

"As this is a pilot I am mainly interested in responses from people who are able to identify the plants they report. In the final version there will also be an option to send photos, which does not really work at this time of the year.

"I will also be at the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting on the 28th of November to introduce the project and hopefully report some first results".

Gunnera tinctoria colonising a
roadside ditch on Benbecula.
Image: F. Donald
Many thanks to Katharina for telling us about this project - the on-line survey sounds ideal for any gardener or botanist who has had a go at the National Plant Monitoring Scheme and the New Year Plant Hunt and is ready for another challenge. You could try out the pilot survey now and offer some helpful feedback or wait until next year for the final version. Or both!

To give you a bit more background, here's a link to a blogpost about alien plants by BSBI member/Plantlife officer Dr Trevor Dines.  

BSBI members have previously drawn attention to the spread of Gunnera tinctoria which has "jumped the fence" of some larger gardens in the north and west of these islands, and is becoming quite a pest. If we can help flag up any other potential problem plants at an early stage, we could all save ourselves a lot of time and expense further down the line! 

If you've already booked for this year's Exhibition Meeting, you will be able to find out more about the survey from Katharina. If you haven't booked yet, you can still do so here.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

BSBI training grants help budding botanists. Part three.

Another budding botanist has been in touch to tell us about the BSBI training grant she received, the course she was able to attend and what she learned. Over to BSBI grant recipient Rozanna Shah:

Wild strawberry with pointed leaf tip -
points out that there will be strawberries here!
Image courtesy of Floral Images
"I was very lucky to receive a grant from BSBI to study higher plants on a Fields Studies Council identification course. I was already undertaking a post-graduate certificate in countryside management with Manchester Metropolitan University and wanted to focus on developing my botany with the FSC courses that were set units as part of the course. I chose a woodland plants course run by Nick Law at Preston Montford. It looked fascinating due to the variety of plants and habitats covered in the course and in the beauty of the Shropshire hills. 

"Nick was an extremely knowledgeable and engaging tutor and ecologist at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. He started out with an evening session on identification skills, using keys and guides and also gave us a couple of evening sessions covering the detail of mosses, liverworts and ferns.

Barren Strawberry with a depressed terminal tooth:
 you will be depressed too if you go to this plant
hoping to find a strawberry!
Image courtesy of Floral Images

"Nick planned a thorough route through some fascinating woodlands including lowland beech, sessile oak woods and then wet alder woodlands, ensuring we stopped and covered any species seen spontaneously. 

"He had a great set of diagrams and lists of diagnostic features to distinguish between other similar looking species and this I found the most useful aspect, I won’t be confusing sessile and pedunculate oak in the future for example. The features were very clear and many were not in ID guides so comprehensive notes were needed.

"I was intrigued to discover plants I wouldn’t have considered as woodland flowers and some of the clear diagnostic features once they were pointed out. For example, Barren and Wild strawberries which could be distinguished by simply comparing leaf tips. 

Early dog-violet with a darker spur
Image courtesy of Floral Images
"And one of my favourite features were the darker and lighter spurs of Violets which indicated whether they were common or the early dog-violet, seemingly simple features but on the surface species appearing very similar. Other great ID tips included dark marks on fern scales and kidney or J-shaped indusia or spores! This I found particularly helpful for collecting specimens for my subsequent coursework on ferns.

Common dog-violet with a paler spur
Image courtesy of Floral Images
"Nick also tested us throughout the course and stopped us at bridges as the ‘Grumpy Old Man’ that wouldn’t let us past until we got a question right, whether it be correcting our Latin names and family associations or diagnostic features to split up associated plants and remember them more easily. 

"As difficult as being put on the spot was, it was a great way to revise on what we had learnt so far as there was so much amount of information to digest.

"We also covered ancient woodland indicator species and over 70 species and 30 families in total over the course of the weekend and it was a fabulous introduction to some difficult groups such as ferns and mosses, which are actually crucial for some detailed woodland surveying I would go on to assist with for consultancy. This includes NVC surveys which rely heavily on ground flora and mosses to categorise habitats into specific communities".

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Botanical recording in the Cairngorms National Park

Field Gentian.
Image courtesy of Floral Images:
Good to hear from Andy Amphlett, BSBI Recorder for Banffshire (VC94), who has been out again this year recording plants in Cairngorms National Park (CNP). Andy also co-ordinated the recording efforts of more than 40 fellow botanists in the Park this year and between them, they have amassed an amazing total! 

Here is a brief update from Andy, and the map below will give you a better idea of where he and fellow recorders have been recording this year:

“The total number of CNP records now in the BSBI database for this year is 27,175 records, of 777 taxa, in 297 tetrads. This includes 1592 records of 152 taxa in the CNP Rare Plant Register. The map below shows taxa recorded per tetrad in 2015.

“98% of the records have been made at 1km precision or better, and 66% of records are to 100m precision or better.

“A small amount of recording is ongoing, but the main emphasis now is on checking and validating records, and ensuring that any remaining records are submitted in a timely fashion. I envisage writing the report on this year's recording in December”.

I asked Andy if there were any notable records and he mentioned 125 records for Gentianella campestris (Field Gentian) and 56 records for Lycopodium annotinum (Interrupted Clubmoss). He also said that the BSBI recording weekend held in VC92 in August yielded around 1,500 records within the CNP, although this was not part of the CNP-supported project.

Many thanks to Andy for this update and congratulations on the amazing number of plants he and fellow botanists have recorded this year in CNP. We look forward to seeing his report when it’s ready. Now here's the map (click to enlarge):

Tetrad map: botanical recording in the Cairngorms National Park, 2015
Image courtesy of Andy Amphlett

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Moving tribute to John Sawyer by young naturalist

This is a very moving tribute to John Sawyer from Ryan Clark, one of the many young biological recorders and nature lovers who were inspired and personally encouraged by John.