Wednesday, 19 October 2016

BSBI Training grants help botanists in 2016: Part One

Chapel Fell
Image: D. Wallace
Earlier this year, more than 20 budding botanists were successful in applying for a BSBI training grant. 

Below we are delighted to share the first of this year's guest blogposts by a grant recipient. Over to Debs Wallace to tell us about the course she was able to do this year thanks to her BSBI training grant:  

"This summer, receiving a BSBI training grant this year enabled me to attend a three day course 'Identifying Grasses' led by Sarah Watson-Jones at Malham Tarn FSC.

Grasses on Chapel Fell
Image: D. Wallace
Some of the participants were studying for the Manchester Metropolitan University MSc or University Certificate course in Biological Recording, others were ecologists and some attended just for the pleasure of learning more about grasses in a stunningly beautiful location. 

Sarah's great knowledge and experience really helped us all to gain confidence in identifying a range of grasses and it was lovely to see many typical limestone habitat species such as Sesleria caerulea (Blue Moor-grass), Koeleria macrantha (Crested Hair-grass) and Trisetum flavescens (Yellow Oat-grass).

Visiting a variety of different habitats enabled us to see over 40 different species in the field. 

Malham Tarn
Image: D. Wallace
Recording and comparing the species in a series of quadrats up the slopes of Chapel Fell allowed us not only to identify the species present but to understand the ecology and changing geology as we gained height (and the views were beautiful too).

Learning about the floral characteristics of several genera of grasses was really useful. 

Auricles of Giant Fescue
Image: D. Wallace
Discovering why an Oat-grass is an Oat-grass, understanding the difference between dimorphic spikelets and dimorphic florets, appreciating the importance of observing the origins of awns, the shapes of lemmas and the lengths of glumes were all really useful in using identification keys. 

Although it was tricky, using microscopes to dissect the florets of Agrostis (Bent) grasses to compare the lengths of paleas really helped in identifying these species, particularly when (as we discovered) characters such as the presence or absence of awns can be variable and make this a difficult group to identify.

At Grass Woods and Bastow Woods we became familiar with field characteristics of many woodland species such as the lovely big purple/red auricles of Schedonorus giganteus (Giant Fescue) and the leaf sheaths of Melica uniflora (Wood Melick) terminating in the characteristic bristle opposite the ligule.

Wood Melick
Image: D. Wallace
Spending our final morning exploring the grasses of the beautiful habitat at Malham Tarn Moss and Fen consolidated our previous learning and introduced us to some of the wetland grasses. 

Surrounded by so many other lovely plants, it was really hard to concentrate our attention solely on the grass species and I have promised myself a return visit to look at the other treasures.

Attending Warrington Plant Group's field meetings (a BSBI affiliated group lead by Gail Quartly-Bishop) has provided opportunities to apply the knowledge gained during this course and I am looking forward to practising some vegetative identification as summer draws to a close.

I also attended my first BSBI Summer Meeting at Blencathra this year and I absolutely loved it and I will be back for more next year. 

Malham Tarn Moss and Fen
Image: D. Wallace
It was a wonderful opportunity to be out in the field with really experienced and knowledgeable botanists and I learnt a great deal from this.

It was also fantastic to be able to contribute to BSBI Atlas 2020 recording and I have been out on my own in my local area carrying out Atlas recording since then".

Many thanks to Debs for telling us how a BSBI Training grant helped her sharpen up her botanical ID skills and get more involved in recording. 

If you are interested in applying for a grant in 2017, you'll need to keep an eye on our Training page. Grants go live on 1st January each year so check the criteria for eligibility and get your application in quickly!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Aliens are coming to the Scottish Annual Meeting!

Prof Mick Crawley (on left) and John Faulkner,
BSBI President, at the 2015 AEM in London.
Image: Waheed Arshad 
Have you booked yet for BSBI's Scottish Annual Meeting

It's being held at the Battleby Conference Centre, Perth, on the 5th of November. 

There will be lots of botanical exhibits to enjoy and a full programme of talks and workshops.

The keynote talk is by Mick Crawley on Aliens in the British Flora. Mick gave a similar talk at last year's BSBI's Annual Exhibition Meeting at the Natural History Museum, London, and it was very well-received.

Images from the BSBI Photographic
Competition 2015 on display in London.
Image: Terry Swainbank
Also at the Scottish Annual Meeting - a chance to see all the entries in the BSBI Photographic Competition 2016 and to take part in the popular vote. 

The winning entries will then come down to Oxfordshire to be exhibited at the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting 2016. Last year there were more than 200 entries, so the exhibit at the AEM was seven metres long and very colourful!

If you'd like to take part in the competition, organised by Natalie Harmsworth, it's open to botanists across Britain and Ireland and there are just two categories this year: rare species or common species. You'll need to get your entries to Natalie before the 21st of October please.

More details here on the BSBI's Scotland page, where you can also find out more about the Scottish Annual Meeting and you can book to attend the event. There's also an option to stay on for the dinner afterwards - it's always a great evening so we hope that you can join us!  

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Cork Recording Event: Report by Clare Heardman

Claragh Mountain: Mary & Oonagh's lunch spot!
Image: C. Heardman
I'm delighted to present this guest blogpost by Clare Heardman, County Recorder for West Cork, about the recent Cork Recording Event

Clare organised the event but instead of simply telling us how successful it was (as organisers often do!), she asked the participants to give their comments - so now you have it straight from the horse's mouth: BSBI recording events really are great fun! 

Over to Clare & co.:

Image: Edwina Cole
"A very successful County Cork BSBI recording event took place 1st-4th September 2016. Nearly 4000 records were gathered during three days in West Cork (H3) and one day in East Cork (H5). 

Over the four days, 37 people of all levels of botanical skill, from experienced Vice County Recorders (VCRs) to almost complete beginners, took part. We asked some of them to share their experiences and their highlights. 

Salicornia in flower
Image: Fiona O'Neill 
The first day involved a trip to the coast at Pillmore, led by Mark McCrory (VCR for Co Laois) with help from Lynda Weekes and Una Fitzpatrick (National Biodiversity Data Centre). 

Edwina Cole says, ‘I learned the most on the first day on the saltmarsh habitat which I am very unfamiliar with and was delighted to see Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) nearby which I hadn't seen before’. 

Others were impressed by the extensive display of glassworts on the saltmarsh, which Jan Wolstenholme said had ‘the biggest Salicornias I've ever seen, and in flower too’. 

Image: Paula O'Meara
Paul Green, although unable to make the event, later identified the main species we saw as Salicornia dolichostachya (pictured).

For some of the more experienced botanists, the excitement was in seeing plants not normally encountered in their own counties e.g. Paula O’Meara (joint VCR for Wexford) said, ‘I must say I really enjoyed the few days in Cork - even passing through and stopping along the way I came across great stuff. 
Irish Spurge
Image: Paula O'Meara

I was only in Co Cork 20 Minutes when I came across Cockspur Grass (Echinocloa crus-galli) at an industrial estate in Youghal - new for me and H5 too. 

Plenty of Annual Wall-rocket (Diplotaxis muralis) and Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola) were nearby too. 
Beech Fern
Image: Rory Hodd

A quarry at Garryhesty in Mid Cork (H4) had Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) and patches of Annual Beard-grass (Polypogon monspeliensis), both still flowering’.

‘West Cork had oodles of the lovely Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) and a proper south western species, Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna). 

Cork folk might not put any pass on those two, but they were worth the visit for me’, continued Paula.

Dutch Rush
Image: Hammy O'Hamilton
Another south west Ireland speciality provided a highlight for the members of the group that were lucky enough to be with Rory Hodd (joint VCR for Co Kerry) when he discovered a new site for the rare Killarney Fern (Trichomanes speciosum). 

Ferns were also a highlight for Rory’s ‘Rough Crew’ on Day 2 as they recorded 17 ferns & allies near Lough Murtagh in the Derrynasaggart Mountains, including Lemon-scented Fern (Oreopteris limbosperma), Brittle Bladder-fern (Cystopteris fragilis) and Beech Fern (Phegopteris connectilis).

The unique alluvial woodland that is the Gearagh was a highlight for many. 
Donna & Finbarr at Lisboy More
Image: Paula O'Meara

Local man Kevin Corcoran, who is passionate about protecting this area, very kindly led a group there on Day Two. 

‘My first chance to see the stately Dutch Rush (Equisetum hyemale) was amongst the astonishing wooded islands of the Gearagh. 

I can't thank Kevin Corcoran enough for taking us to see it and I nominate that as my best plant seen’, said Finbarr Wallace. 

Whilst Mary Mahoney said, ‘I always wanted to visit the Gearagh’s wooded islands, but I wanted to ensure that I visited it in a way that was sensitive to the precious eco-system there. 
The Gearagh
Image: Hammy Hamilton

I was reassured when a small group was delicately led by Kevin into part of this system. It was special when Kevin mentioned that the area was visited by Praeger and Braun-Blanquet’.

With difficulty, as he enjoyed all the places he visited, Finbarr Wallace chose the Irish Wildlife Trust’s (IWT) Port Ban Nature Reserve as his favourite site because ‘it was my only full-on wading through fens, fording rivers site, on the far side of which river (The Toon) we found the most picturesque long-abandoned, old stone-walled farm track, now surrounded by woodland’.

Finbarr & Paula at Port Ban NR
Image: Donna Weiner
However, for many people it was hard to pick a favourite site or plant. 

Each place had something unique to offer, so it was more about appreciating the overall experience: “I saw places in my local area in a new beautiful light’, said Mary Mahony. 

‘Magic moments included a feast of freshly-picked blueberries on Claragh Mountain (thanks Catherine!), the special light in the circle of trees near Millstreet and last but not least the rocky outcrop where a beginner like me might easily overlook the stunning stands of Huperzia selago!’ 

Huperzia selago
Image: Clare Heardman
For Donna Weiner, the chance to explore places rarely seen was special and her favourite plant was Devil’s- bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) as seen through a lens.

Although it was a botanical recording events, attendees also took time to appreciate some of the wildlife encountered with the south west Ireland speciality, Kerry Slug, getting a special mention. 

Rough Crew on the hill
Image: Donne Weiner
Also enjoyed, were the bats seen and heard on an evening bat walk led by Mary Mahony.

Of course, a particular highlight was the other people at the event! Here are some of the comments:

‘What a lovely group, and what a great atmosphere! Everyone, from complete beginner/new-comer up to seasoned BSBI member, played their part. 

They brought enthusiasm, laughter, friendly faces, and in some cases, vital local knowledge. I thought this was one of the nicest things... a lovely open atmosphere that I think everyone enjoyed’ – Maria Long (BSBI Officer for Ireland).

Botanists at The Gearagh
Image: Phoebe O'Brien
‘A lasting impression I got from the recording event as a complete newcomer is what an interesting, calm, welcoming, un-snobby and fun bunch of people it was. 

I was a bit daunted beforehand but it was wonderful to see how daft and silly people with lots of academic letters after their names can be, and get valuable work done at the same time! 

As a newcomer it was quite something to realise what a steep learning curve the botany world is but the event was a great example of why it's worth getting to grips with’ – Jan Wolstenholme (Heir Island).

Botanists at Pillmore Saltmarsh
Image: Clare Heardman
‘It was a very friendly group and everyone felt welcome; the experts were very helpful to the novices and I am sure we all learnt a lot. 

Going out with experts like Paula O’Meara, Fiona Devery and Maria Long taught me a lot’ – Margaret Marshall (Belfast).

‘One of the many highlights for me was my good fortune on Day 2 to head off to record with three great botanists. 

Impromptu fern workshop
(l to r): Fiona, Maria & Una
Image: Lynda Weekes
They were incredibly patient with this beginner, and we learned lots from Maria's roadside fern workshop, as well as having a laugh’ – Fiona O’Neill (Bandon).

‘It was all really interesting and enlightening, friendly, fun [and] so inclusive’ - Betty Cummins (UK).

‘This was my first field trip with the BSBI and I found a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere. 

Everyone I met was so helpful and shared many tips and I certainly improved my skills’ – Mary Mahony (Macroom).

Saxifraga spathularis
Image: Maria Long
All that’s left for me to say is a big thank you to everyone for coming along and helping make the event such a success!"

Many thanks to Clare for putting this report together - it's great to see that people really enjoyed the Cork Recording Event. 

If you've never been to a BSBI field meeting or recording event, I hope that Clare's report encourages you to give one a try next year. 

Our annual field meetings programme is posted here, regularly updated and the full programme for 2017 will be published next month. 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Beginners Fern Workshop in Staffordshire

A ferny bank
Image: M. Godfrey 
Hurrah! Martin Godfrey has managed to drag his attention briefly away from bryophytes and towards ferns - the bryologists' loss is the pteridologists' gain! Below is Martin's account of a beginners' workshop which he led recently at Froghall in his home county of Staffordshire. Over to Martin:

"Ferns are one of those groups that many field botanists shy away from so after a couple of workshops for the Shropshire Botanical Society I decided to take the plunge and do one for the BSBI. 

We assembled in the car park at Froghall on what proved to be a fine dry day after the heavy downpours in the previous 24 hours. The first thing that surprised me was how far folks were prepared to come to the meeting and the level of enthusiasm to sharpen up ID skills

A treat - Phegopteris connectilis
Image: M. Godfrey
"The site is primarily on limestone and quite heavily wooded with a cool shady stream valley running through the middle. It has a good cross section of the more common ferns, and a few of the pesky “Dryopteris affinis group", and just to confuse the ecologists big fertile Blechnum spicant on the base rich terrain – probably in pockets of rather more acid peat from slowly decomposing conifer debris.

"We started off with a chat on the structure of the fern frond and the features needed for ID then off to the woods to start putting things into practice. Once people know how pinnateness in fern fronds works and how sporangia are put together ID becomes a lot simpler – especially when you can discuss what you have in front of you rather than looking at book illustrations.

"A bit of a surprise for some was the idea of dimorphic fertile/infertile fronds and this caused some interesting discussion over lunch. The lunch stop also gave us the opportunity to talk about and see how Bracken produces spores (and how rare this is in practice).

"So that's where bracken spores come from!"
Image: M. Godfey
"After lunch a wonderfully soggy area produced fern gametophytes in profusion – new for many and an ideal opportunity to talk about growing ferns from spores. The treat of the day was a large stand of Phegopteris connectilis followed by the difficulty of sorting out the species in the “affinis” group – Dryopteris borreri was reasonably frequent with a couple of plants of D. affinis itself plus a couple of puzzlers to advertise the need for referees! 

"We finished off looking at wall species on an old lime kiln but, like all good BSBI folks, were distracted by a very odd looking flowering plant – a member of the Apiaceae which had been well chewed about.  Despite looking like a number of different things it turned out to be nothing more complicated than Angelica sylvestris".

Sounds like a great day - many thanks to Martin for telling us about it! Now if we can just keep him away from the bryophytes... 

Monday, 3 October 2016

BSBI News is out!

Fumaria reuteri
Image: A. Shaw
The latest issue of BSBI News is a little late going out, but the mass mail-out to all members has now started - your copy (if you are already a member) should be with you this week.

If you're not yet a BSBI member, this is the best month in which to join - subscribe this month for 2017 and your membership starts at once, but you don't pay for these final months of 2016. So you could get three extra months of membership absolutely free!

Then you'll be able to read:

A paper by BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker called 'Keeping the wild in wildflower' - about wildflower seed mixes.

A paper by Nick Miller called 'Attracting young botanists' and one from teenager Harry Witts called 'The state of nature in teenage society' - BSBI is happy to give a platform to young naturalists with something to say.

Notes on 'A monstrous Scrophularia nodosa' in Dublin; a peloric Fumitory (featured on the front cover and above right); a putative Fragrant Orchid hybrid in the Yorkshire Dales; Tim Rich with a new record for Scotland of Spergularia bocconei; and a note on 'Military Orchid as an adventive weed'. 

And there's much much more in this and every issue of BSBI News, not to mention all the other perks of BSBI membership - New Journal of Botany, access to the BSBI's network of 100+ expert plant referees, pre-publication discount offers on BSBI publications, the chance to benefit from - and contribute to - our research, training and outreach programmes...  Once you're a BSBI member, you'll kick yourself for not joining years ago!

Friday, 30 September 2016

Botanising in Co. Derry

From left: Valerie, Dave, Maria, Sharon & John
Image: D. Rainey
At last year's BSBI Annual Summer Meeting, based at the University of Ulster's Coleraine campus, I had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of Northern Ireland's botanists: from stalwart County Recorders such as Robert Northridge and Dave Riley, who have given years of their life in the service of botany and botanists, to keen young ecologists such as Sharon Spratt; from passionate local conservationists like Donna Rainey to the delightful Valerie Macartney who joined the society in 2012 but hadn't attended a BSBI field meeting before.

Everybody got on so well and and had such a great time botanising together in the field, that they decided to stay in touch and meet up again whenever they could. And so it came to pass that... but I'll let Sharon take up the story at this point!    

Drumnaph Nature Reserve, Co. Derry
with Carntogher Mountain in the background.
"On the morning of Saturday 13th August 2016, a small but enthusiastic group of botanists descended upon a lesser known spot of Ulster. Drumnaph Nature Reserve in the Sperrins, south Co. Derry was the location for the V.C H40 field meeting. This part of the country is steeped in Celtic lore, rural culture, natural beauty and Gaelic tongue. 

"It is my pleasure to write a wee piece on this special place as it is a local haunt of mine. The diversity of habitats within it are reminiscent of a traditional Irish farmed landscape and the hard work that has gone into ensuring its conservation is admirable.

Botanists filling in their recording cards.
Image: M. Long
"The botanical party included: John Faulkner (BSBI President and County Recorder for Armagh), Dave Riley (V.C H40 recorder), Maria Long (BSBI Irish Officer), Donna Rainey, Kevin Johnston, Valerie Macartney and myself, Sharon Spratt. 

"We were met by the lovely Kelley Hann in the newly created visitor carpark just off the Halfgayne Road in the townland of Carntogher. Kelley moved to the farm a few years ago along with her husband Glenn White and their two children, in order to take care of the reserve. Kelley kindly spent some time informing us all about this unique community owned nature reserve and its recent history. 

Conservation graziers are used, to maintain
species-rich habitats on the reserve.
Image: S. Spratt
"The site originally contained an area of ancient woodland on the western side which belongs to the Woodland Trust (approximately 80 acres). A significant piece of former farmland adjacent to the ancient woodland was purchased by Carntogher Community Association in 2012 with Heritage Lottery Funding. 

"The site is approximately 130 acres and contains a mosaic of semi-natural habitats ranging from ancient woodland to species-rich wet grassland to lowland hay meadow vegetation and fen vegetation. There is a 10 year conservation management plan in place for the nature reserve which includes extensive conservation grazing practices (see image above left) alongside ancient woodland management techniques. 

Sharon tweeted this photo with the caption:
"When ye don't even get past the spoil heap
in the corner of the 1st meadow,
ye know yer on a @BSBIbotany meeting" 
"This management plan can be viewed on the reserve’s dedicated website here, where there is more information of interest to be found for this unique site. 

"Let’s start with the carpark because that is where all the best BSBI botanists begin! Here I should mention the presence of a rather handsome looking dry stone wall built by local volunteers. 

"Amongst many others, Polygonum aviculare sensu stricto (Knotgrass) and P. arenastrum (Equal-leaved knotgrass) were identified and later confirmed by John Faulkner. Moving into the first field and finding it difficult to lure everyone past the spoil heap in the corner, it became obvious that the whole site could not be covered in one day. Cue the cunning plans forming in one's head to ensure a return visit to this bountiful site in the future!

Foggage field on the reserve
Image: S. Spratt
"The first field we explored was a lowland hay meadow habitat type, which by this stage, had gone to seed. Here, Glenn told us about the term "foggage" which is where a grassland meadow is left uncut and ungrazed and is then grazed in late summer after the grasses have flowered. This is also known as “standing hay”. 

"Here amongst the common hay meadow suspects of Rhinanthus minor (Yellow rattle), Cynosurus cristatus (Crested dog’s tail) and Centaurea nigra (Common knapweed) for example, was an abundance of the Eyebright, Euphrasia arctica (borealis). 

"Great times and great weather!"
Image: M. Long
"We had a cosy, dry, wind-proof and chairs-provided lunch in the recently converted outbuilding on the farm used for various activities including a Wild Gym. 

"Following this, we moved into the wetland site proper of the reserve to explore some of the late summer species of these habitats. 

"This area was quite species-rich, with lots of plants to keep us busy. In particular, Mentha arvensis (Corn mint), got us talking and checking our ID books.

Botanists exploring the flora of Loch Bran
Image: S. Spratt
"The star species of this plant hunt came from the Cyperaceae family. 

"Most of these were found on the bog habitats of Loch Bran. 

"Three sedge species in particular elicited excitement amongst the group given that they have sharply contrasting distributions across Ireland but were all found in this one site: 

  • Carex diandra (Lesser tussock sedge), is characteristic of wet fens, primarily in the centre of Ireland but extending into the north. It is noticeably more widespread in Ireland than in GB
  • Carex limosa (Bog sedge), occurs largely in bog pools in the west but with scattered occurrences further east. 
  • John Faulkner & Dave Riley discuss
    differences between Goat and Grey Willow.
    Image: S. Spratt
  • Finally, Carex pallescens (Pale sedge), has a very pronounced northern distribution, being almost confined to Ulster with a few scattered occurrences elsewhere. 
"We had a brilliant day – the company was great, so were the plants and it was a very interesting site. Thanks again to all who participated - can't wait to do it again!"

Many thanks to Sharon for this account of a great day's botanising with lovely people - and for telling us about Drumnaph Nature Reserve and how it's managed for wildlife. What an interesting site!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

BSBI Plant Referee on the case, Part II

Giant Horsetail - in close-up
Image: M. Allen
Last month, we reported on what happened when Martin found an unusual Horsetail and, as a BSBI member, was able to contact the BSBI's expert referee for Horsetails. Now here's the second part of Martin's story: 

"Thanks to Pat, the BSBI’s expert referee, I now know that what I found was an unusual form of Giant Horsetail. 

When Pat searched the shelves of the Natural History Museum Herbarium (which has one of the most important collections of ferns and other seed-free vascular plants in the world) there was not one there with secondary branching. 

Giant Horsetail - in abundance!
Image: M. Allen
However, recently Pat found one in the field with “most stems having a solitary secondary branch per stem somewhere near around two thirds up and it was on many of the stems” and so had to change his notes from ‘never’ to ‘rarely branches’. 

Pat then told me: “Early this year or last I was sent a specimen that had enormous numbers of secondary branches but right along the branches unlike your ones which seemed to be concentrated around the middle close to the stem … Therefore, I have only seen three in recent years with this condition but it may just be that I never looked before. I always do now.” 

Close-up showing secondary
branching on Field Horsetail
Image: M. Allen 
So, I’m very pleased to have been able to add to the sum of knowledge about our UK flora – hopefully the UK Floras we use in the field will be updated in time with a change of ‘never’ to ‘rarely’ – though I’m still rather bewildered that I never noticed it before in over ten years of visiting that wood, which considering the vast patches that are present next to the path seems to be quite a tricky feat!

Following on from this I started to notice secondary branching in another Horsetail I saw whilst out surveying. I sent a couple of specimens to Pat because I thought they were Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), but again was confused as my field Flora says it is only simply branched. 

Pat writes “I regularly find secondary branching on larger plants of E. arvense with green stems but also a lot on the larger stemmed plants where the internodes are turning or are mostly white.” And that “this is a reasonably common affair in large colonies of E. arvense.”

Secondary branching 
on Field Horsetail 
Image: M. Allen 
It seems to be reasonably common near me too as I noted at least eight different sites locally over the last few months – it made me wonder how many of us note the secondary branching and assume it is Wood Horsetail (often given as the only UK Horsetail with secondary branching): A useful reminder to look closely at other features too before making an identification".

Many thanks to Martin for these useful notes about Horsetails and a timely reminder of how incredibly helpful and approachable BSBI's expert plant referees are! I hope Martin's comments encourage fellow members, whatever their skill level, to use the referee service more frequently.