Thursday, 11 September 2014

First England Red List for Vascular Plants

Pete (on left) and Kevin with NPMS volunteers 
The first ever England Red List for Vascular Plants will be unveiled at Kew Gardens next Wednesday, 17th September, at a BSBI press launch with lead author Pete Stroh (BSBI's Scientific Officer) and his co-authors, fellow botanists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Natural England, the Natural History Museum, Plantlife and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Now that's what you call a botanical all-star line-up!

But that's all I can tell you about the England Red List today because its contents are, as you might expect, strictly embargoed until next Wednesday. 

Recording our wild plants this summer
Image: B. Barnett
I can, though, tell you that Pete and his team have been working on this analysis for almost two years and some of their findings will surprise you. 

And I don't think anyone will mind if I tell you that both Kevin Walker (BSBI's Head of Science & Research) and former President David Pearman (co-author of the New Atlas of the British & Irish flora2002) were also on the team and are ERL co-authors.  

Pearman, Preston & Dines: the New Atlas team reunited
Image: L. Marsh
I can certainly tell you that several generations of BSBI recorders have played a huge part in collecting the data used for the analysis. That's all of you who go out and record what grows where on your local patch. 

So if the England Red List proves a useful tool for better targeting our conservation efforts towards wild plants - and we think it will - then its success will be down to all of you botanical recorders. We salute and thank you and so, perhaps, will posterity! 

I think you will all be extremely interested in the results of the analysis and many of you will want to take advantage of some of the many ways that you can get involved now in mapping and monitoring our threatened wild plants. Click here here and here to find out more.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Bramble Workshop and other botanical delights

One of the tricky Brambles
Image: G. Quartly-Bishop
Looking through the various Blogs by BSBI members - there are 38 of them now! - is a great way to find out which plants BSBI members have been looking at this summer. 

There is an excellent post here from Gail Quartly-Bishop about BSBI's recent Bramble ID Workshop. Gail agrees that "brambles are pretty tricky" but is now feeling more confident about telling them apart and will be looking out for interesting Rubus sspp. on her local patch.

Welsh Officer Paul Green has been surveying Impatiens noli-tangere sites in in north Wales, S. J. Thomas looked for x Agropogon robinsonii in Aberystwyth, the Breconshire Group found the invasive alien Crassula helmsii and in Llanelli, Gower Wildlife found that Cabbage Palms seem to be "jumping the garden fence". 

Paul Green was also out plant-hunting in Co. Wexford and his specimen of Epilobium x confusilobium has been confirmed by BSBI's Willow-herb Referee

Trifolium micranthum was recorded for the first time in Dunbartonshire, and Stephen Bungard and Carl Farmer refound Alchemilla wichurae, Arabidopsis petraea and Euphrasia ostenfeldii on SkyeThey also found new sites for Juncus biglumis near the summit of the Storr. 

Trifolium micranthum
courtesy of
You already know about the Oxfordshire Flora Group (including new member Oli Pescott) whose recent findings are reported here

And Ambroise Baker is back from fieldwork in northern Ireland (looking at aquatics) and has posted about his finds here. His Blog also includes this report on conserving an endangered population of Festuca altissima, rediscovered in Sheffield. 

Ambroise and Oli are also mentioned in this post by the South Yorkshire Botany Group - they all had a great day out and found plants such as Hirschfeldia incana and Catapodium rigidum on the site of an old nursery. 

So, keep an eye on our members' Blogs (list on right) to find out which plants BSBI botanists are recording across Britain and Ireland. And let us know what you are spotting too!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Birdfair plant ID quiz: the winner

Visitors enjoyed trying to ID the mystery wildflowers
Image: L. Marsh
All the participants in our Birdfair Plant ID Quiz have now been contacted and a copy of John Poland and Eric Clement's Vegetative Key to the British Flora will soon be winging its way to our first prize winner. 

So, congratulations to Gillian Boreham, who said "I am delighted to have won 1st prize in your competition as I do not have a copy of this book. I have been interested in wild flowers since I was about 8 years old and received my first copy of the Observers Book of Wild Flowers, and this interest has progressed into an interest in all forms of wildlife. 

"I am currently a member of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Plantlife and Woodland Trust and enjoy going on wildlife holidays (mainly plants/birds). I am very much looking forward to receiving my book".

Cheshire-based botanist Jack Riggall tries the quiz
Image: L. Marsh
Gillian, it sounds as though you will be able to make good use of the 'Veg Key' to help identify the wildflowers you see, and thank you for allowing us to use your name here. 

Maybe Gillian will also consider adding BSBI to the list of societies she supports? Especially if there is a local botany group that she could go out with. They will be able to help her use the 'Veg Key' in the field for the first time!

Our second-prize winner has not yet responded to my email, but if/when they do, I will be able to tell you who has won our second prize, a copy of Harrap's Wildflowers. Thank you again to everybody who took part in the quiz.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Oxfordshire botanists out recording for Atlas 2020

The Oxfordshire Flora Group and the Tricky Fescue
Image: O. Pescott
Good news for plant-lovers in Oxfordshire, which has become the latest county to have its own BSBI webpage - click on the interactive map on our homepage to find out if your county has its own page yet. They are a great way to find out what's going on (botanically speaking) where you live. If you want to get involved in learning more about wildflowers, or you've just moved to a new area and want to get out in the field and meet some fellow botanists, there really is no better introduction than to go out with a local botany group for the afternoon and see if it appeals to you.

Oli Pescott did just that in Oxfordshire recently. Having relocated to work for the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at Wallingford, he hasn't been able to go out with his old muckers in South Yorks this year, so he joined the Oxfordshire Flora Group on a recent excursion. You can read about the meeting here - the aim was to "bash a square" and record as many species as possible for the forthcoming BSBI Atlas 2020.

OFG in distance, white Knapweed in foreground
Image: O. Pescott
They found some nice things on the oolite, agonised over a possible Epilobium hybrid, saw a white Centaurea and braved the rain to reach an abandoned quarry where they found Basil Thyme. Sounds like a great day out and each of those 200+ plant species they saw and recorded will work its way through the BSBI process and, if accepted as valid, will show up on a map like this but with a differently-coloured dot, indicating that the plant was recorded between 2010 and 2020.

Oli said "The Oxfordshire Flora Group excursions are a really fun way to get to know other local botanists and to improve your field ID skills as a part of a supportive community -- botanists of all abilities are welcome! It was my first time out with the group, and I was made to feel really welcome. Atlas recording is a fantastic way to force yourself to look hard at everything you find, and the next few years recording for Atlas 2020 are going to be a great opportunity for up-and-coming botanists to cut their teeth on a really worthwhile project".

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

BSBI at British Science Festival 2014: working with partners again :-)

Winterbourne Gardens
Image: courtesy of Society of Biology
When the invitation came last spring, for BSBI to participate in this year's British Science Festival, we were delighted! 

This prestigious week of interactive science events, which travels around the country, comes to Birmingham in 2014. It is co-ordinated by the British Science Association, in partnership this year with the University of Birmingham and in association with Birmingham City Council and Birmingham City University and headline sponsor Siemens.

The Festival offers an unrivalled opportunity for the West Midlands to showcase its science and technology credentials to the UK and around the world. And that includes an opportunity for botanists to shout about the work they are doing...

Ian Trueman in the field in the Black Country
Image: courtesy I. Trueman
So, what did BSBI decide to offer? You have probably realised that we like developing partnerships with other organisations with similar aims, so that we can exhibit together at high-profile events like this (just as we collaborate on many of our research projects). It helps us demonstrate how much common ground we have and how much stronger we are working together for botany and conservation. 

So Events Organiser Penny Fletcher of the Society of Biology, longterm BSBI member Sara Oldfield and I put our heads together - Sara is also Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International. Then we contacted another longterm BSBI member - Prof Ian Trueman from the University of Wolverhampton, co-author of the recent and much-acclaimed Flora of Birmingham and the Black Country. 

Winterbourne House
Image: courtesy of Society of Biology
And between the four of us, we think we have come up with a brilliant day which tells some important stories about botany, whether local, national or global. And should be great fun to boot!

Botanists, I will let Penny, who has put so much hard work into organising this event, announce it. We offer you: 

"A trip to the beautiful Winterbourne House and Botanic Garden, Birmingham on Monday 8th September, from 10am to 4pm, with a guided tour of the Botanic Garden, including glimpses behind-the-scenes; talks from botanical experts from BSBI and BGCI on local and global botanical topics; refreshments; and transport between Birmingham University main campus and the venue. More details here and tickets can be booked online here." 

Those tickets cost just £6 and there are some still available!

About those botanical experts: first Sara and Asimina from BGCI will talk about the role botanic gardens play in global plant conservation and also why they are so very important for human wellbeing. They are both excellent speakers. Then Ian Trueman will touch on plants which are now rare in the countryside but can still be found growing in botanic gardens, and then... he will share a little of his jaw-droppingly extensive knowledge of the flora of the West Midlands and will also show how the work of BSBI botanists underpins nature conservation in the 21st century. 

Ian and fellow botanical recorders in the field
Image: courtesy I. Trueman
First, he will explain how BSBI members across Britain and Ireland survey systematically whole counties and conurbations for their spontaneous floras, and then Ian will focus on some of the remarkable features of the Birmingham and Black Country conurbation in relation to the recently completed 1995-2013 botanical survey. 

These include the survival almost intact of the botany of a huge mediaeval deer park six miles from the centre of Birmingham, fragments of ancient woodland throughout the Black Country, no less than a dozen types of native orchids and unique floras which have developed on waste land after 250 years of industrial history. 

Winterbourne Gardens
Image: courtesy of Society of Biology
Ian will go on to explain how the botanical survey revealed the existence of a plant-defined ecological network embedded in the city. This includes fragments of the ancient countryside together with elements of the post-industrial landscape and is now connected by the ubiquitous canal system of the conurbation.

I hear that Ian has some pretty good plant and habitat images to illustrate his talk with. Typical botanist though, he found it much harder to find many photographs of himself in the field, but did come up with a couple which are reprinted here.

Winterbourne Gardens
Image: courtesy of Society of Biology
Finally, he will explain how, with the award of national Nature Improvement Area (NIA) status, the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country has applied the findings of the botanical survey to forward planning, with the objective of strengthening and reinforcing the existing ecological network whilst supporting the needs of a great industrial and population centre. 

Ian will offer some examples of how local communities are already being helped and funded, thanks to the NIA award, to make new connections in the existing ecological network. 

So, if you want to hear how BSBI botanists are making a difference at local, national and international scale, and also be shown around a hidden gem of a botanic garden - and if you have £6 to spare and can be in Birmingham next Monday 8th September - there are still tickets available for this six-hour event. Here's that link for booking again. And if you decide to go - how about taking some photographs and/or sending in a short report for publication here at News & Views?

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Strange Bindweeds and unusual wildlife sites

Calystegia silvatica var quinquepartita
Image: S. Hawkins
BSBI member Steve Hawkins saw the post on Strange Bindweeds and emails to say "I don't get out much nowadays, but I've seen a good patch of Calystegia silvatica var quinquepartita along the River Lea, near Walthamstow, and in a few other places. Here is a photograph from Stockwood Park, in Luton from a couple of years ago.

"The patch by the Lea was so attractive that I took a root cutting, hoping to get it to grow as a native alternative to clematis in the garden, but, true to form, weeds never grow where you want them to! I was a bit late coming upon the Stockwood Park patch, and there were not many flowers on it by then, but I still think it is a greatly unappreciated and beautiful wild variety.  

Betony at Stockwood
Image: S. Hawkins
"Stockwood is also one of very few places in this region where there is a nice patch of Betony, and there are some unusual trees dotted around the golf course too.  Not somewhere you would immediately think of for wildlife sites, but very photogenic when the light is right.  Rather sadly being encroached by horrendous earthworks just for a new motorway junction fly-over at the moment, to get people to the airport five minutes earlier!  

"However, as I was dumbstruck on seeing the state of what was once a beautiful meadow scene on the 'gateway' to Luton, I could not help thinking that most of the interesting plants these days seem to be the ones that grow on the inaccessible sides of motorways and, for a season or two, this newly exposed soil will be a riot of Spring flowers, and probably more interesting than the enriched fields were.

Bay Willows Salix pentandra around the Golf Course
Image: S. Hawkins
"Another unusual plant that I was kicking myself for not taking a cutting of, was a blue common mallow, that I once saw at Aldeburgh, where it was likely to be strimmed away by the road.  The only blue one I've seen." 

Thanks to Steve for sharing his views and plant observations with us. His closing comment was "Always good to read your posts, though it does make me rather jealous of what I'm missing!" This prompts me to remind any botanist who doesn't get out much any more - due to ill-health, pressures of work, caring responsibilities or not being as young as we once were - that you can still share your botanical views and any interesting plants you've recorded over the years here on the News & Views page.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Some help with ferns

Looking at Asplenium adiantum-nigrum
Image: M. Godfrey
Martin Godfrey (Staffs.) has been in touch to tell us about a fern ID training session he led recently. He said "On Wednesday 27th August, I went out with a group of Kate Thorne's VC47 recorders and folks from the Montgomeryshire Natural History Society to give them a fern ID training session.  

"Our site was Roundton Hill on the borders with Shropshire - geologically complicated with some nice rock exposures to add to grassland and damp woodland.  

"There wasn't a huge variety of species at the site but they were able to see several species of Asplenium and both Polystichum as well as making an aquaintance with some of those pesky members of the Dryopteris "affinis" complex.  

Sorting out Polypodium cambricum
Image: M. Godfrey
"We were very pleased to refind an old site for Polypodium cambricum - a bit early but it did mean that they could see the difference between that and P. vulgare.  Another nice treat was a patch of Ceterach - unusual here on natural substrates.  

"Sessions like this are quite important I think - it's not so much that people cannot identify things, rather that they feel under-confident in their own abilities and a bit of encouragement and confirmation that they can do it can only improve records for this oddly under-recorded group". 

I agree, going out botanising with somebody who has a little bit more experience in the field, and can pass on their knowledge, makes you feel much more confident about what your plant is the next time you see it. Keep up the good work Martin! 

And a final photograph shows how, even during a fern ID session, a botanist just cannot help but be drawn to any difficult plant spotted en route...

The County Recorder cannot resist Hieracium
Image: M. Godfrey