Friday, 30 January 2015

England Red List in action

Pete Stroh at Kew for the England Red List launch
Image: BSBI Publicity Team
Lots of people are talking about the England Red List for Vascular Plants right now. 

The List was published last September, launched at Kew, and is co-authored by a team of 12 top British botanists from 6 leading organisations, led by BSBI's Scientific Officer Pete Stroh. 

Today, RSPB's Miles King said of the England Red List "For anyone interested in conservation or natural history it is worth reading. It is an extraordinarily powerful piece of research" 

Great Sundew Drosera anglica
Red List status: Endangered
Image: L. Campbell
He also very kindly referred to BSBI as "an organisation I have worked with for the past 25 years; and the pre-eminent authority on the status of British wild plants". 

These comments came in Miles' latest blogpost about Rampisham Down, where he refers to 7 species on the List which occur at the site and are classified as Near Threatened on the List, and 2 further species classified as Vulnerable. 

As Pete Stroh points out in his 'Last Word' column for the spring issue of Kew Magazine. "We hope that our results will help to highlight some of the underlying processes influencing our flora and our landscape, and will assist in conserving and restoring some of our most fragile and threatened species".  Kew Magazine is subscription only, sorry - here's the link if you want to subscribe. 

Two recent articles about the England Red List which you can view are this one from The Plantsman and this one from the Orchid Review. Many thanks to journalist/BSBI member Jean Stowe for these.

From left: David Pearman, Chris Preston (England Red List, 
co-authors) & Trevor Dines (Red List for Wales, author)
 Image: L. Marsh
And a reminder that you can buy the England Red List, a BSBI publication, from Summerfield Books here or you can download it free of charge from this page as either a pdf or as an Excel spreadsheet. 

So next time you hear about a development proposal, and are wondering whether to cheer or protest, you can assess site quality by checking any species recorded on the site against the England Red List and make up your own mind, based on which plants grow there and their respective conservation statuses under IUCN's internationally-recognised classifications and criteria. Have a great year, botanists ;-)

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Plant species recorded at Rampisham Down, Dorset

This acid grassland site (above) in Dorset is public access,
 unlike Rampisham Down.
Image: Bob Gibbons
Some of you will have seen reports in the media lately about the proposed development at Rampisham Down in Dorset. Here's a piece from the Telegraph, an article from the local paper and Mike McCarthy devoted his column in the Independent this week to the subject . 

Social media is also buzzing with comments and opinion pieces, such as this guest blogpost by Peter Marren for Mark Avery's blog, and this blogpost from Miles King, and lots of calls to action. 

Here at BSBI Central, we always look first at whatever evidence is available, share it with our members, listen to their responses and then form an opinion. So...

Typical assemblage of acid grassland plants
Image: Bob Gibbons
Rampisham Down was designated a *Site of Nature Conservation Interest last century and was more recently designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, primarily for its lowland acid grassland. For those of you familiar with **vegetation classification, the plant community at Rampisham Down is categorised U4.

BSBI’s Vice-County Recorder for Dorset, Robin Walls, said “We only have about 185ha of this community in Dorset, with most of it in small patches. Only Rampisham Down and four other sites exceed 10ha”.

Betony (in foreground) is recorded
from Rampisham Down
Image: Bob Gibbons
This citation is available to all via the Natural England website and any botanist glancing through the named species will notice some which also occur on the England Red List for Vascular Plants, published last September. I spotted 6 species on a quick skim-read and Miles King just checked the List too (thanks Miles!) and picked up 3 more.

So there are 7 species present at Rampisham Down which are classified as Near Threatened on the England Red List: 

They are Harebell Campanula rotundifolia, Tormentil Potentilla erecta, Heather Calluna vulgaris, Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis, Quaking Grass Briza media, Heath Milkwort Polygala serpyllifolia and Bell heather Erica cinerea.

Two of the species present are listed as Vulnerable on the England Red List. They are Heath Dog-violet Viola canina and Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica.

BSBI President Ian Denholm said "Given these facts, I think BSBI should consider carefully how best to lend its weight to attempts to save this site". 

Many lowland sites supporting acid grassland species
are in decline (see State of Nature report)
Image: Bob Gibbons
Should you feel, on the basis of the evidence above, that you wish to read more about the Wildlife Trusts' opinion on the development at Rampisham Down, then you can do so here and their petition is here.

Should you wish to share your opinion on this issue with fellow BSBI members and readers of this page, please leave a comment below. 

Many thanks to Bob Gibbons for providing the images used on this page of a comparable acid grassland site in Dorset. There is no public access to Rampisham Down.

*This is how county Wildlife Sites are designated in Dorset.
**Rodwell et al. British Plant Communities. Volumes 1-5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Volumes published between 1991 and 2000.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

New Year Plant Hunt 2015 Star Recorder

Erigeron acris, Pagham Sussex 2/1/2015
Image: D. Nelson
RyanTim, Sarah and I (the New Year Plant Hunt Team) were delighted with every record we received during the Hunt and very pleased that more than 300 of you took part and recorded 368 species in bloom. But some people really went the extra mile to get those records. 

Our Star Recorder is BSBI member Dawn Nelson, who went out recording on each of the four days of the Plant Hunt and came back with a great list each time.

Helleborus argutifolius recorded in flower
 in Midhurst 1/1/2015 & Pagham 2/1/2015
Image: D. Nelson
 I asked Dawn to tell us how she got involved in the Hunt and about her recording forays from her Sussex (VC13) home.  

Dawn said "In the winter of 2012/13 Sarah posted on Facebook about her and Tim doing a New Year Plant Hunt in Cardiff the winter before and encouraging others to do it for 2012/13. So I did my first one in Midhurst/Easebourne, my nearest town. 

Pastinaca sativa
Portsdown Hill, VC11
Image: D. Nelson
"In 2013/14 I kicked off with Tim and Ceri in Pagham (a bit of a honeypot place for winter flowering plants being semi-urban and coastal, with a wide variety of habitats). Then, due to my proximity to three other Vice-Counties (VC11, VC12 and VC17), I thought I would get a list from each. 

"This year I decided to cover Midhurst/Easebourne and Pagham again and was joined by a friend and Jill Oakley for those two, but thought I would also do 4 days again so redid Liss VC12 from last year and added Portsdown Hill VC11.

Cornus sanguinea, Portsdown Hill, VC11
Image: D. Nelson
"Next year I will do the same routes in Pagham, Midhurst/Easebourne and 2 of the other previous ones, hopefully with more people - a few more pairs of eyes really does help. 

For 18 years I have been doing a 'Plants in flower in my garden on Jan 1st' list, so this is in a way just an extension of that. I really enjoy it, it’s so good to get out again after the excess of Xmas indoors". 

Erophila verna, Portsdown Hill, VC11
Image: D. Nelson
So that explains why Dawn is our Star Recorder and here are her Three Botanical Wishes for 2015: 

"First Wish: To see more students and tutors taking up the FSC/BSBI online Identiplant course, for which I am about to enter my 3rd year as a tutor. It is excellent for both students and tutors.

"I have learnt a lot from it by seeing plants again from a novice’s perspective, and becoming much more familiar with the plant families. The feedback from students has also been very positive and inspiring. 
Cyclamen coum near Midhurst,
blooming on New Year's Day
Image: D. Nelson
"Second Wish: To let more people know about the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust which has a very active, friendly and informative flora group known as Hants Plants, with a busy varied programs of meetings and courses throughout the year.  Both the BSBI VC recorders for Hants are active members of this group.

"Third wish: I'm eagerly awaiting the BSBI Viola Handbook, due to be published soon".

Many thanks to our New Year Plant Hunt Star Recorder. I hope all her Botanical Wishes come true this year and that she joins us all again for next year's New Year Plant Hunt.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Reading material for botanists

This flower graces the cover of
January's BSBI News.
Image courtesy of BSBI
There's so much interesting stuff for plant-lovers to read at the moment, whether or not they are BSBI members

Firstly, there's the January issue of BSBI News which has just been mailed out and should be with you on Wednesday. BSBI News is members-only but you can see back issues here

Secondly, non-members now have a chance to read 10 recent papers from New Journal of Botany, our members-only scientific journal. 

These 'Editor's Choices' are available by clicking here - no log-in or registration necessary. You can read BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker on Pitcher-plant Sarracenia, Sebastian Sundberg on Swedish Hawkweeds, Sean Cole on the elusive Ghost Orchid, Richard Bateman et al. on the Military Orchid and the Bumblebee... 

Finally, we are still seeing a lot of media coverage of our New Year Plant Hunt. This piece was in the Guardian the other day and the second half of this article from the Daily Mail on Snowdrops is all about the Plant Hunt. 

We have also featured in two periodicals with a combined circulation of around 230,000: this lovely article by Charlotte Dear appeared in Country Living and was also tagged here, and the image (on left) shows Kate Green's article which appeared in the latest issue of Country Life (only available in print or by subscription).

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The first flower of 2015

Pyramidal orchid
Image: O. Duffy
When we encouraged people to send in their images of plants in flower for this year's New Year Plant Hunt, we expected the first wave of participants to head out a-hunting as the sun came up on New Year's Day.

What we didn't expect was a picture of a daisy tweeted at us during the first hour of 2015! When Oisin Duffy said he couldn't wait for the Plant Hunt to start, we should have taken him at his word. It was probably not the best photograph that Oisin has ever taken - the images on this page are testament to how good his camerawork actually is! - so I'm not reproducing it here. 

But it was taken at 00.53 on 1st January so is enough for us to give Oisin the award for First Flower of the Plant Hunt. His prize is the chance to share his three botanical wishes for the year ahead. 

Oisin in the field
Image courtesy of O. Duffy
But first, Oisin (24) tells us a bit more about himself and recording in East Donegal (VC H34): "Since July 2014, myself and Mairéad Crawford have been carrying out botanical recording in our home area of East Donegal. 

"My first interaction with the BSBI was on a field trip back in 2013 along the west coast of Donegal and it was a fantastic experience.

"I was still relatively new to botany at this stage and everyone gave their best effort to help with identification in a way that was informative but also easy to understand. 

Parnassia palustris
Image: O. Duffy
"Their enthusiasm spurred me on to become more involved in botany and myself and Mairéad began regularly recording around Waterford (as I was on an internship with the National Biodiversity Data Centre at the time). We then spent a full year engaged in recording various taxonomic groups from bumblebees to butterflies and moths and of course plants. 

"Later in 2014 I noticed that East Donegal had a vacant slot for county recorder and I thought it might be an idea to get involved with recording back home, to help out and maybe fill a few gaps in the distribution maps. A quick e-mail to BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long and I was put back in touch with the wonderful Ralph Sheppard (Vice County recorder for West Donegal H35). 

Lough Mourne, one of Oisin's stamping grounds
Image: O. Duffy
"Neither myself or Mairéad have looked back since, we’ve been given fantastic mentoring by Ralph and we’ve really improved our field identification skills over the last 6 months. We’ve taken part in the Irish Species Project, BSBI Ireland AGM and the New Year Plant Hunt, and we both hope to continue recording throughout East Donegal for Atlas 2020".

And here are Oisin's Three Botanical Wishes for 2015:   

"Wish I – Personally I’ve been greatly influenced and helped along in my botanising by Ralph Sheppard so my first wish is basically acknowledging the great effort he has put into assisting myself and Mairéad with our botanical endeavours. 

Common Twayblade
Image: O. Duffy
"In fact the whole BSBI community and the wider community of those involved with biological recording have been extremely supportive and I think it’s important that this supportive and helpful environment has a light shone on it: firstly, just so that those who are helping others with botany (through whatever means) are acknowledged; secondly, it may encourage others to become more involved with recording in their own areas if they know just how much support is available to them; and lastly, if it wasn’t for Ralph, I doubt that I’d be writing this piece for the BSBI right now!

"Wish II – That the Galway Botanic Garden Project maintains the level of support it has had for the last few years but that it also gains new followers and supporters. The project is very worthwhile and I’ve been actively involved since 2013. I am currently on the board of directors and also deal with the social media side of things (which I genuinely love as I get to raise awareness and talk to a great group of interested individuals on a daily basis). 

Lough Gorman, where Oisin goes out recording wild plants
Image: O. Duffy
"I would really like to see even more people becoming involved with the project, everything from becoming a financial supporter to simply following us on Twitter (@GBGproject), liking us on Facebook, sharing ideas and spreading the word further about the project and of course with the actual growing of our native plants. If you have experience with this, your advice would be invaluable. Any and all help we receive will be greatly appreciated.

"Wish III – I am really interested in nature education and showing people the importance and beauty of nature. Personally I try and communicate this through social media. I would love to see an increase in people getting involved with biological recording, be it already interested individuals who want to take the next step and contribute data or complete beginners who have always wanted to become involved but just never had the time/support to make it a reality. 

Bee Orchid
Image: O. Duffy
"In particular I’d love to see a really great turn out for the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting which this year is being held in Coleraine from the 12-16th of June".

Thanks to Oisin for sharing his three wishes - he's certainly a great example of how BSBI can inspire and support our next generation of botanists. You can follow Oisin on Twitter (@OshDuffy) and on Facebook and his blog is on the list (on right) of blogs by BSBI members. 

If you want to hear what he sounds like when interviewed on the radio about the New Year Plant Hunt, click here. If you want to read an article by him, click here. But if you want to meet the man himself, you'll just have to go to this year's BSBI Annual Summer Meeting. Details to follow, but please pencil in those dates!

Our only remaining prize is the big one: New Year Plant Hunt 2015 Star Recorder, whose name should be in lights but he/she will have to settle for appearing here in the next few days. Watch this space!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

BSBI President enthuses local botany groups

If you think BSBI President Ian Denholm spends his weekends reclining on a chaise-longue, while botanists feed him freshly-peeled grapes... well, you couldn't be more wrong! 

Our President likes nothing more than visiting local botany groups and enthusing them about wild flowers, especially orchids. 

He is one of two BSBI Referees for orchids, having studied them for more than 30 years while simultaneously running the now defunct Plant and Invertebrate Ecology Dept. at Rothamsted Research. 

Ian and his co-Referee Richard Bateman have published some of their research on orchids in New Journal of Botany (NJB), the BSBI's members-only scientific journal. A quick note here that NJB Editor Richard Gornall and Maney Publishing have just made ten 'Editor's Choice' papers available to view here and among them is this recent paper on Military Orchids by Prof Bateman & Dr Paula Ruddall. Orchidophiles can also read this paper on the elusive Ghost Orchid.

This afternoon, Ian travelled up to Leicester to talk to 34 members of the BSBI VC55 botany groupAs one of the admins for the group, I had the privilege of organising this visit and introducing Ian's talk. 

His presentation 'From Orchids to Agriculture and Back Again' took us through Ian's botanical life, starting with his arrival at Rothamsted with a shiny new PhD under his belt, and his first meeting with a young lab technician called Richard Bateman. We heard about their early orchid-hunting trips and publications and then Ian took us through his three decades at Rothamsted. 

We heard about the famous Broadbalk and Park Grassland experiments and were treated to images of the rare arable weeds found in some of the trial plots, including the famous species-rich plot which has been monitored since 1843 and has never been treated with herbicide. 

Then Ian switched back to his and Richard's orchid research and how DNA analysis had caused them to rethink some of their earlier conclusions. Gasps and sighs were audible as Ian's gorgeous orchid images filled the screen and people noted down where to see these gems. Ian talked us through what to look for in an orchid and almost made us feel that we could make a stab at identifying these notoriously tricky plants ourselves!

A lively Q&A followed. Prof Pat Heslop-Harrison (University of Leicester) was interested in the BSBI maps, showing distributions of the various orchid taxa, which Ian had shown us, and asked "What about fungal mycorrhizal species associations?" Conclusion: more research needed! 

Chris Hill from the local Wildlife Trust asked about the received wisdom that hybrids are always bigger and more vigorous. Ian swiftly dispelled this myth. 

Local entomologist Ray Morris asked about impacts on invertebrates of the various treatments applied to trial plots at Rothamsted and received the kind of detailed response that only a fellow insect person like Ian could give. Apologies that as non-enty I am unable to summarise Ian's response, but Ray seemed happy enough!

Ian & Geoffrey in the pub after a great afternoon!
We also managed to fit in coffee, a nice array of cakes including three baked by local members (thanks Uta, Geoffrey and birthday girl Sue!), lots of mingling, catching up and meeting new people, and finally a visit to a nearby watering hole to buy our eminent speaker a pie and a pint. 

Briefly donning my VC55 hat, I'd like to thank Ian for coming up to talk to the group, University of Leicester Botanic Garden for hosting the event and the 34 local botanists who came along and made it such an enjoyable afternoon. I wonder which local botany group will be next to invite Ian to talk to them about orchids? No promises, but if you'd like it to be yours, drop us an email here.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Euphrasia Workshops at University of Leicester

BSBI Scientific Officer Pete Stroh (on left)
and VC55 botanists examine Euphrasia sheets
BSBI offered two Euphrasia Workshops this week aimed at botanists in the East Midlands. They were a huge success and BSBI would like to thank the University of Leicester Herbarium for hosting both these all-day events.
Anna & Ian measuring and counting internodes 

Participants enjoyed a presentation on Euphrasia species likely to be seen in their local area, with helpful ID tips, and then we all headed into the herbarium to work in pairs at microscopes. 

Using herbarium sheets, we worked through the ID features for each of the target species. 

You may get an idea of the level of support offered if I tell you that participants received nine hand-outs each and one of them was the 28 page ID key that will appear in the forthcoming BSBI Handbook to Euphrasia.

The workshops were led by Chris Metherell, BSBI's acting Euphrasia Referee, author of the forthcoming Euphrasia Handbook and BSBI's new Honorary General Secretary. 

Chris and a herbarium sheet
A busy man, and his work on Euphrasia has taken him to herbaria across Britain and Ireland and on numerous fieldtrips

The workshops followed on from similar ones organised by Chris in herbaria around the country and at BSBI national events such as the Scottish Annual Meeting, the Irish Members' Meeting, Training the Trainers and the recent Annual Exhibition Meeting

At the latter, Chris also offered a very well-received presentation on Eyebrights - part of a three-hander with Alex Twyford and Fred Rumsey. You can download all their presentations from this page.

Russell & James examine key characters
Alex is also setting up a website which is worth keeping an eye on if you are interested in Eyebrights Euphrasia spp. 

He'll be adding more pages over the coming months, while Chris will be working with the newly-formed Euphrasia Study Group, whose numbers have swollen significantly following the two Leicester workshops. 

A trip to Shetland is on the cards :-) 

If you would like to see a Euphrasia Workshop in your area, and can help with organising and/or suggest a suitable venue, drop me an email here and I'll pass your suggestion on to Chris. 

Chatting about Eyebrights over coffee and cake
Judging by the thank you emails that have come in so far, 20 participants on the course had a great day getting to grips with Eyebrights. As the 21st I have to agree - great tuition from Chris and delightful company. Pix here are all by me.

Special thanks to James for bringing along the excellent carrot cake for coffee break! 

I can't wait to get out and look for local Eyebrights this year! Roll on spring...