Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Irish BSBI conference: last chance to book!

Dactylorhiza kerryensis var. occidentale
Irish botanists are gearing up for one of the highlights of the year - the Irish BSBI conference takes place in Dublin this Saturday at the National Botanic Gardens and it looks an absolute corker, whether you're an experienced botanist or an absolute beginner!

The day kicks off with Ian Denholm (who wears many hats but is also one of BSBI's two expert referees for orchids) talking about Dactylorhiza in Ireland. Having attended one of Ian's orchid talks, I can promise you that he makes even beginner botanists feel that identification of these beautiful but notoriously tricky wildflowers is actually... well, if not easy then at least not impossible!

The Rough Crew in action
With workshops and identification sessions on rushes, aquatics and other tricky taxa throughout the day, and an ID table where you can bring along difficult specimens and pick the brains of some of Ireland's finest botanists, delegates should leave the conference feeling that they've learned a huge amount - as well as having a really fun day in great company!

Also on the menu are talks about Atlas 2020, the celebrated C20th Irish botanist David Webb, the famous Irish Rough Crew and a chance to meet and network with County Recorders from across Ireland, such as the new team in County Cork: Clare, Edwina and Finbarr.

We've extended the booking deadline to give everybody a chance to book - but you'll need to move quickly! Just head over here and get your payment in by Thursday. 

There's a special low rate if you're a student or unwaged, and there's also a reduced rate for County Recorders (a wee thank you for all the amazing work they do!). But even if you have to pay the full non-members' rate - well, at 30 euros for the whole day it's still an amazing bargain!

If you really can't make it, you'll be able to follow all the action via the event's Twitter hashtag #IrishBSBIConference but there's no substitute for being there with all the friendly Irish botanists. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Nitrogen deposition and 'native thugs'

Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
Our colleagues at Plantlife have been on radio and TV today spreading the word about how Nitrogen pollution is impacting on our wild flowers.   

Dr Trevor Dines (Plantlife's Botanical Specialist and a longtime BSBI member) blogged about this here, and if you click here you can catch his interview on BBC Breakfast this morning. Starts at 1 hour 21 minutes in.

You can also catch this interview with Jenny Hawley of Plantlife on this morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4 (starts at 1 hour 24 minutes in), or download Plantlife's report here. You can also see what Trevor had to say in the Huffington Post a few hours ago, or check out how the story was covered in The Telegraph and The Scotsman

BSBI members may also want to check out this paper by Rob Marrs et al. published in 2013 in New Journal of Botany, which flags up the impact 'native thugs' like nettles are having on the ground flora of our woodlands.  

As Trevor pointed out on BBC Breakfast, one of the plants affected by the Nitrogen-loving 'thugs' is the delicate Harebell, once a common wildflower and now classified as Near Threatened on the England Red List

Celebrating the life of Jean Bowden

Jean Bowden
Image reproduced from the Alton Herald.
Spotted in yesterday's Alton Herald - an obituary of Jean Bowden, who held various posts at Kew during a period when such opportunities were hard to come by for female botanists. 

She was higher scientific officer at Kew Museums of Economic Botany, from which she was apparently the first woman to be sent abroad on a field excursion. Jean was also the author of a book on John Lightfoot, whose herbarium specimens she worked on while at Kew. 

Later on she "worked in the editorial department of the Kew Bulletin 1984" and ended her career by becoming the curator of Jane Austen's house

Do click on the links and enjoy reading about Jean Bowden's fascinating career, whether cycling twenty miles a day to the Herbarium at Kew, or making sure that the cut flowers in Jane Austen's house were historically accurate!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

State of the World's Plants 2017

Abstract submissions for State of the World’s Plants 2017 is now open! The Symposium will be held at RBG Kew from 25th –26th May 2017.

Now in its second year,The State of the World’s Plants Symposium coincides with the publication of a cutting-edge annual report highlighting our current knowledge of the Earth’s plant diversity, the global threats that plants face and the policies dealing with them.

Abstracts are invited from delegates wishing to present a poster and a one-minute oral presentation. Prizes will be awarded for the best early career researcher posters.
Deadline for abstract submissions: Friday 21 April 2017

You can also register now to attend. The cost is £150 and this includes lunch and refreshments on both days, a drinks reception and behind the scenes tours of Kew’s collections.
Deadline for registration: Tuesday 25 April 2017

For more information, to submit an abstract or to register for the meeting, please visit: www.kew.org/sotwp-symposium 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Botanical University Challenge

The Edge Hill team, breakfasted
 and awaiting entrance to 
the Jodrell lab at Kew.
Paul Ashton of Edge Hill University tells us about Botanical University Challenge, which took place last year and is happening again this autumn. If you are interested in taking part, please get in touch with Paul.

"University Challenge typically involves images of knowledgeable young men and women sweating worriedly under the combined glare of the studio lights and Paxman’s questions. 

It was with the aim of imparting such torture and of raising the profile of botany in UK universities that Jonathan Mitchley and John Warren developed the idea of Botanical University Challenge last year.

As a result of this initiative, the early hours of 10th March 2016 saw a car load of expectant students leave Edge Hill University with their Head of Department cum chauffeur. Discussion along the way predominantly focused upon the meaning of scientific Latin and speculation about what other rounds may feature. That and which services we were stopping at for breakfast.

Cards all ready, awaiting the draw!
Once breakfasted and arrived we joined similarly expectant teams from Aberystwyth, Kew, Reading and Southampton, ready to do practised battle. Rounds did feature botanical Latin alongside a full range of other areas; plants in the bible, plants and drinks, Welsh common names – the clue was in the descriptions - and a round or two on identification.

James Wong proved a friendly, less intimidating question master than Jeremy Paxman. He also added his own twists to various rounds by adding snippets of information to any ethnobotanical round and providing a final arbiter of the suitability of some questions, “next round is sedge identification, who thought that was a good idea? That’s too difficult, we aren’t having that. Let’s go to the next set of questions”!

The Edge Hill team in action
There were undoubtedly some very knowledgeable individuals representing the various institutions. Though handling the pressure and knowing when to hit the bell were equally important. 

All teams acquainted themselves well before Reading emerged eventual winners. Edge Hill’s pain at failure was eased by one of our graduates appearing on the victorious team. Although, we haven’t forgiven him for such treachery!

The teams are introduced to the audience
Thanks go to RBG Kew for hosting and to Jonathan and John for organising. We look forward to the next one in November 2017. We have already started revising our botanical Latin and our plants in Shakespeare. Roll on autumn".

Thanks to Paul for telling us about Botanical University Challenge. Don't forget to get in touch with him if you would like to take part this autumn. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

New BSBI Handbook for Violas: have you ordered your copy yet?

Sweet Violet
Image: Mike Porter
The latest addition to the BSBI Handbooks series is due out in March 2017 but BSBI members can now order Violas of Britain & Ireland (BSBI Handbook No. 17) at a special pre-publication price of £10 per copy (plus £2 postage & packing for Britain & Ireland). 

After 31st March, the book will be available at the full price of £15 so the pre-publication offer represents a saving of one third off!

The authors, Mike Porter and Mike Foley, will be well-known to BSBI members - they have both given many years of service to BSBI, as expert plant referees, on our Publications Committee, and (in Mike Porter's case) as our Plant Records Editor, responsible for the lists of new plant records which appear in New Journal of Botany.  

Heath Dog-violet
Image: Mike Porter
The Handbook deals with 15 species and 11 hybrids of Viola (violets and pansies) and for each one there are species descriptions, illustrated keys, distribution maps, colour photographs, detailed line drawings showing diagnostic characters, notes on habitat requirements and conservation, first records in Britain & Ireland, related facts... if you are a fan of violets and/or pansies, you are going to want this book!

If you are a BSBI member, just head over to the members-only area to order your copy now, and in a few weeks you will have the pleasure of opening up BSBI's latest Handbook and knowing that identifying violets and pansies is about to get a whole lot easier!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Elm trees on the Isle of Man saved by bad weather!

Dutch Elm at Ballachrink, Isle of Man
Image: P. Davey
A paper published in the latest issue of New Journal of Botany suggests that thousands of healthy elm trees on the Isle of Man have avoided infection by Dutch elm disease thanks to the island's weather being too cold and windy for the pathogen to take hold. 

The island has an estimated 300,000 elms and only around one per cent of them have been lost to Dutch elm disease since the fungal pathogen was first noticed on the Island in 1992. This is a very different picture from that seen on the British mainland, where the disease has eradicated between 25-75 million trees since the 1970s.

Dutch Elm (top), English Elm (below)
Image: M. Coleman
Dr Max Coleman of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was the lead author on the paper and said "The weather appears to be the key to understanding the remarkable survival of these elms thanks to the way it controls dispersal of the beetles that spread disease. Dutch elm disease is a fungus that hitchhikes on the bodies of tiny elm bark beetles and is completely reliant on them to get from tree to tree. These beetles are fairly harmless to the tree on their own. However, when they are covered in spores of the deadly fungus they can potentially infect healthy trees.

“We know the beetles need a temperature of at least 20 degrees to fly and if wind speed exceeds five metres per second flight is inhibited. By analysing local weather data from 1995 to 2015 we found that only one year out of 20 could be regarded as a good year for the beetles and the disease to spread".

The findings of the research have major implications for the future of elms on the Isle of Man. Dr Philippa Tomlinson, BSBI County Recorder for the Isle of Man and of Manx Biodiversity, the partnership organisation that provides a biological records service to the Isle of Man Government, said: "Understanding that the island's elms are likely to be just as vulnerable as elms elsewhere highlights the importance of measures to control Dutch elm disease. Although the cooler and windier conditions experienced on the Isle of Man appear to have kept disease at bay, this cannot be relied upon in the future with the uncertainties of climate change."

Dutch Elm, East Baldwin Valley,
 Isle of Man
Image: P. Davey
Ian Denholm, Editor-in-Chief of New Journal of Botany, concluded: “Combining research on elm genetics with consideration of beetle ecology has led to a convincing and elegant explanation of why the spread of disease has been constrained in the Isle of Man compared with much of the UK. Such inter-disciplinary studies highlight the extreme importance of understanding how climate affects interactions between organisms as well as its impact on individual species. 

"Elms are a complex group; unambiguous identification of types present also helps ensure the accuracy of BSBI’s database of plant records encompassing the whole of Britain, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.”.

New Journal of Botany is usually only available to BSBI members and institutional subscribers - it is one of the perks of membership! - but our publishers, Taylor & Francis, have kindly made this paper available to everybody until the end of March. Just click here to read the paper.