Thursday, 23 June 2016

Five Island Bioblitz Part Two: Bere & Clear Islands

Bere Island
Image: Clare Heardman
Following on from Mairead Crawford's recent post about the Five Island Bioblitz on Tory Island, we now offer a report from Clare Heardman, Vice-County Recorder for West Cork. 

Over to Clare: 

"In mid-June, I was on Bere Island, Co Cork, the least known and least recorded of the five islands taking part in the first inter-island BioBlitz to take place in Ireland

Marsh Cinquefoil
Image: Clare Heardman
"Joining me were a variety of botanists including the joint vice-county recorder for north and south Kerry (H1 & H2), Rory Hodd, who was focusing on bryophyte recording; Caroline Sullivan, a botanist from Beara who works mainly on High Nature Value (HNV) farmland; and Finbarr Wallace who normally records in Cork city.

"The island (17.68km²) is composed of a ridge of old red sandstone and is located off the south shore of the Beara Peninsula in Bantry Bay. 

However, despite the previous shortage of records it soon became apparent that Bere Island has a lovely variety of habitats, from saltmarsh, shingle and rocky shores, to dry heath, blanket bog, fen, lough and semi-improved grassland. 


Lighthouse on Bere Island
Image: Clare Heardman
"Although with no woodland as such, there were luxuriant hedgerows, patches of scrub and a few small plantations.

"While no particularly rare species were recorded, it was good to see many of the south west Ireland specialities well represented e.g. Yellow Centaury (Cicendia filiformis), St Patrick’s Cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis), Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna) and Large-flowered Butterwort (Pinguicula grandiflora). 

Twiggy Mullein
Image: Fionn Moore
"Most of these are so called Lusitanian species, found mainly in south west Ireland and the north western part of the Iberian Peninsula. 

Also in this Lusitanian group is Kerry Slug (Geomalacus maculosus) and Bere Island is possibly the only offshore island where it’s been found. It took Rory and myself a trip at dusk after a spot of rain to find it during BioBlitz! 

"Another non-plant highlight was dozens of Marsh Fritillary on the unspoilt heath at the eastern end of the island.

German Ivy
Image: Clare Heardman
"New species for me, were two non-native garden escapes: German Ivy (Delairea odorata), a native of South Africa which is scarce in the wild in Ireland and Britain, and Twiggy Mullein (Verbascum virgatum). 

Bird's-foot
Image: Clare Heardman
"It was nice to find some quite scarce or restricted native species such as Allseed (Radiola linoides), Wilson’s Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum wilsonii) and Lesser Skullcap (Scutellaria minor).

"In total, 366 vascular plants were recorded. As with Tory Island, it was interesting to see that some of the common species of the mainland were hard to find or missing from the list e.g. Bugle (Ajuga reptans).

"Meanwhile, Paul Green (VCR for Wexford H12) was recording on the other Co Cork island taking part, Cape Clear in outer Roaringwater Bay. He reports as follows:

Large-flowered Butterwort
Image: Caroline Sullivan
"I had two days recording on Cape Clear with Jim FitzHarris. As Jim knew the island well, he was able to take us to all the various habitats. 

"Virtually all the rare species known on Cape Clear were found.

"Bird's-foot Clover (Trifolium ornithopodioides) was abundant along the grassy centre of a number of the roads on the island. Bird's-foot (Ornithopus perpusillus) was found in one location, on the side of a path on a small area of rocky open ground. 

Irish Marsh-orchid,
Cape Clear, 12/6/2016
Image: Paul Green
"A special effort was made to visit the very southern tip of the island as this was a different hectad (V91) to the rest of Cape Clear. The BSBI Database had no records for this hectad. We found 77 species. 

"On low rocky sea-cliffs, by the east quay, we had (Sea Rush (Juncus maritimus) and Pale Butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica) growing side by side which must be a very unusual combination! 

Lanceolate Spleenwort,
Cape Clear, 12/6/2016
Image: Paul Green
"Overall some 260 species were recorded for Cape Clear, some of these being new for the island such as Barren Brome (Anisantha sterilis) and Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata)".

Many thanks to Clare, Paul, Caroline, Rory and Fionn for their contribution to the Five Island BioBlitz and especially to Clare for telling us all about the day's recording. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Pubs and botanists

Image courtesy of M. Jennings
Usually when we talk about Pubs on these pages, we are referring to BSBI's Publications Committee, which admittedly does like to head to the nearest pub for refreshment after one of our committee meetings. 

But did you know that there are at least two pubs (as in places to get a drink) named after botanists?

Malcolm has been in touch from the excellent Robert Pocock Herbarium Project, who reported last year on the pub named after Pocock. Well now he has discovered one named after William Withering! Read Malcolm's report here.

He also offered a quick update on how Team Pocock are getting on with tracking down and cataloguing the last few Pocock herbarium sheets. Over to Malcolm:


Image courtesy of M. Jennings
"Our project rolls on. Just before the end of last year we discovered that the NHM had a list of plants collected by Pocock – made in the 1960s perhaps. But it had been forgotten and “lost” in a cupboard. There were lists of plants by other collectors too. 

"So the last few months has seen us go back to search mode for those plants listed that we did not find during our previous search. They were not particularly ones that we had overlooked but rather plants that had confusing taxonomic changes or were collected outside of Kent. 

"Anyway we found about 30 more and we should be collecting the image scans next week. So we will have lots of new web pages to construct over the next few weeks".

Keep us posted please Malcolm - and let us know if you spot any more pubs named after botanists!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Five Island Bioblitz: Part One - Tory Island

Tory Island
Image: Oisin Duffy
Reports are coming in from Ireland about last weekend's Five Island Bioblitz, which proved incredibly successful and attracted huge support from BSBI's Vice County Recorders (VCRs) - no fewer than seven of them were involved in recording on Tory Island alone! 

One of those VCRs is also BSBI's President, John Faulkner. With support like that, it's hardly surprising that botany in Ireland is so vibrant right now and gaining so much media attention

Donegal coastline seen from the ferry
Image: Oisin Duffy
So I asked Mairead Crawford, one of the seven VCRs, to put together a report for News & Views readers, and she very kindly agreed. 

The images which illustrate her report were taken mostly by Oisin Duffy, who shares with Mairead the recordership of the historic vice-county of East Donegal

Over to Mairead: 


Tory Island II
Image: Oisin Duffy
"Tory Island sits off the North-west coast of Donegal, at 14.5km from the mainland, it is Ireland’s furthest offshore island and a 40 minute ferry trip away. 

"It’s approximately 4.5km long by 1.5km wide and is the only island off the coast of Ireland to still have a king! His name is Patsy Dan Rodgers (Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí) and we all had the pleasure of meeting him.


The Anvil, Tory Island
Image: Oisin Duffy
"For those of you who are unaware of what a BioBlitz is, it is an event in which biological records are collected from a specified area over a specified period of time. 

"This BioBlitz included five islands off the coast of Ireland (Cape Clear, Bere Island, Tory Island, Clare Island and Inis Mór) and was organised by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. The main chunk of recording took place from 12:00 midday on the 11th of June to 12:00 midday on the 12th of June.


Carpets of Bird's-foot Trefoil
Image: Oisin Duffy
"Tory Island is a wonderfully scenic place and is relatively easy to navigate as it only has one road! 

"There are no fully grown trees at all on the island and there are so many rabbits you have to avoid stepping on them.

Common Spotted-orchid
Image: Oisin Duffy
"The habitats on Tory include: shingle, rocky shore, coastal lagoon, heath and cutaway bog, lake shore and grassland (wet, dry and improved).

"There was a healthy population of BSBI botanists on the island: John Faulkner (BSBI President and VCR Armagh), Maria Long (BSBI Irish Officer), John Conaghan (VCR West Galway), Ralph Sheppard (VCR West Donegal) and Oisín Duffy and myself (Joint VCRs East Donegal). Graham Day (VCR Down) was on the island recording earlier in the week.

"A total of 710 species was recorded on the island, 223 of which were plant species. 


Some of the most commonly recorded plants were: Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris), Bog pimpernel (Anagallis tenella), Sweet Vernal Grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), Daisy (Bellis perennis), Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca), Common Sedge (Carex nigra), Common Spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris), Sea Plantain (Plantago coronopus), Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Lesser Sprearwort (Ranunculus flammula). 

Moonwort
Image: Oisin Duffy
"Common plants like Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus) were hard to find and botanists were sent out on missions to specifically search for these species. Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) formed carpets over a lot of the island.

"My botanical highlight of the trip was finding Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) with Oisín Duffy. There was just one plant that we could see but as it was my first time coming across the species it was a special treat.

Adder's-tongue fern
Image: Maria Long
"Maria Long and John Conaghan came across a large stand of Adder’s Tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum) on the west of the island. Meadow Thistle (Cirsium dissectum) was also found on the island by Therese Higgins. 

"A few different species of Orchid were recorded: Dactylorhiza fuchsii, D. purpurella, D. kerryensis, and D. maculata subsp. ericetorum. We didn’t manage to find the Scot’s Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) but you can’t have everything!

"A few public events were held on the island. On Saturday a butterfly and bumblebee walk was led by Oisín Duffy, 3 butterfly species (Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Common Blue) and 1 bumblebee species (Moss Carder Bee) were recorded, a plant walk was led by botanist Therese Higgins and that night a bat walk was led by Tina Aughney but unfortunately not a bat was to be found. 

Elephant hawk-moth
Image: Oisin Duffy
"Early on Sunday morning a dawn chorus was led by Niall Keogh, this was followed by the opening of the moth traps by Ralph Sheppard where this stunning Elephant Hawkmoth was found. 

Opening the moth-trap
Image: Oisin Duffy
"One of the most amazing things about being on Tory Island is hearing the constant calling of the Corncrake, a sound once common in the Irish countryside and now rarely heard. 

"Tory Island is a stronghold for these threatened birds and approximately one sixth of Ireland’s breeding corncrakes live on Tory.

"The atmosphere on Tory was magical and the people were more than friendly. We were honoured to have the King make a speech just before the results were announced. 


"Tory may have lost out in the main award to Bere Island (most species recorded) but won the species richness award by a mile and came second in the running for most conservation species.

Tory Lighthouse 
Image: Oisin Duffy
"While on the island, Oisín and I completed a site for the Irish Plant Monitoring Scheme which is a pilot project run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre. More information can be found here

"I would like to thank the National Biodiversity Data Centre and Úna Fitzpatrick for organising this event. I would also like to thank the people of Tory for welcoming us onto the island and making us feel at home".

Sunset over An Loch O Thoir 
Image: Oisin Duffy
Many thanks to Mairead for telling us all about the Tory Island Bioblitz and I'm delighted to hear that she finally got to see Moonwort - it is a beautiful fern! Here's a great post by ecologist Dan about his lifelong love affair with Moonwort - with some gorgeous photos for Mairead to feast her eyes on! 

Our next Five Island Bioblitz report will come from Clare Heardman, Vice County Recorder for West Cork, who was out recording with her team on Bere Island, winner of the award for most species recorded. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Surprising find in Cambridgeshire

Marsh Pennywort leaves (they are peltate
 like a Nasturtium leaf)
Image courtesy of Floral Images
 http://www.floralimages.co.uk/page.php?
taxon=hydrocotyle_vulgaris,1
Just in from Cambridgeshire co-recorder and BSBI Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin:

"Cambridgeshire botanists are out recording across the county for lots of projects - Atlas 2020, Fenland Flora, Cambridgeshire Flora and a Natural History of Cambridge. 

"This last prompted me to see if a local golf course would let me have a quick look round as I was passing. It proved a worthwhile diversion - in a marshy area I found Marsh Pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris, apparently last recorded in the area by Relhan in 1820 on "Trumpington Moor" - Trumpington is just a mile from the site. 

Marsh Pennywort in flower
Image courtesy of Floral Images
http://www.floralimages.co.uk/page.php?
taxon=hydrocotyle_vulgaris,1
"Although not yet rare in Britain & Ireland, today it is only known from a few SSSIs in Cambridgeshire, and is assessed as Near Threatened on the England Red List, so the find clearly needed further investigation. A return visit allowed a chat with the director of the course, who recounted an interesting story. 

"The golf course had been created from farmland about 20 years ago, and originally had three lakes. One of these proved a bit more of a hazard than was desirable, so had been partially filled with soil obtained from British Sugar at Bury St Edmunds, and then landscaped to form a marshy depression. 

"The plant had been spotted previously by an old lady golfer, who had exclaimed "Fen Pennies - I haven't seen those since I was a child". The origin of the plant however still remains a bit of a mystery - the soil from Bury would presumably have been sugar beet washings, so an unlikely source, and recovery from the seed bank after 200 years seems equally unlikely. 

"Maybe we should be looking more closely at other marshy sites where it has been historically present!"

Friday, 10 June 2016

Wildflower of the Month: Buttercups

Meadow buttercup: flower stalk is not at all groovy.
Probably indulges in "dad dancing" when
nobody is looking!
Image courtesy of Floral Images
http://www.floralimages.co.uk/page.php?
taxon=ranunculus_acris,1  
Lots of Buttercups in bloom right now - they are our Wildflower of the Month and I'll be talking about them this afternoon to the #OutFortheWeekend team on BBC Radio Scotland.

But why Buttercups? They are not beautifully scented like the Sweet Violet, threatened by an alien invader like the English Bluebell or essential for the survival of rare invertebrates, like Bird's-foot Trefoil. You can't eat them, use them to starch ruffs (!) or make a herbal remedy out of them - they are poisonous. So, to be brutal - what use are they to humans apart from looking pretty?

Well, knowing which Buttercup you are looking at can tell you a lot about the site where it grows - how wet or well-drained a garden is, how a meadow may have been managed centuries ago. So if you are a keen gardener and buying a new house, checking the identity of the Buttercups in the garden will give you a good idea about your soil and might even save you money!

Bulbous Buttercup: flower stalk is
groovy; sepals point downwards.
Image courtesy of Floral Images
http://www.floralimages.co.uk/page.php?
taxon=ranunculus_bulbosus,1
There are three common Buttercups you are likely to see growing wild in lawns and meadows. Creeping Buttercup and Meadow Buttercup both grow right across Britain and most of Ireland, whereas Bulbous Buttercup becomes less common in the north and west of both countries. Click on the names to see BSBI distribution maps for each plant.

Bulbous Buttercup likes old meadows, preferably ones that have never been ploughed, and good drainage - got to make sure that bulb doesn't go rotten over winter!

Meadow Buttercup is a bit less picky (no bulb to worry about) but still likes fairly well-drained soil and, like Bulbous Buttercup, is often found alongside other much-loved wildflowers on nature reserves.

Creeping Buttercup is a different matter: it can cope with much wetter conditions than the other two but is also a rampant invader of bare, dry soil. You'll find it growing between the cigarette butts and sweetie wrappers on bits of bare ground near bus stops as well as in damp rushy meadows.

A garden full of Creeping Buttercup signals either heavy claggy soil and lots of hard work ahead for a gardener, or recent digging which has allowed a bothersome weed to take hold, i.e. lots of hard work ahead for a gardener. A garden with a Creeping Buttercup patch 6 feet long and 2 feet wide would make me wonder why the owners dug it up and what on earth they had buried under there!

Creeping Buttercup: flower stalk is groovy;
sepals point upwards
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:
Ranunculus_repens_flower4_ST_(15888487920).jpg
The easy bit is how to tell them all apart - just 2 steps:

Step 1: is the flower stalk groovy? If it doesn't have a long groove running down the stalk, it's probably Meadow Buttercup. If it does...

Step 2: are the sepals pointing up or down? [If you're not sure what a sepal is, think of a rosebud - it's surrounded by green bits that fold downwards once the bud has unfurled - those green bits are the sepals.] Buttercup sepals are yellow like the petals. If they are pointing down: Bulbous Buttercup. Pointing up: Creeping Buttercup.

So now you know your Buttercups, you can stand in a meadow or garden and hold forth with some confidence on whether it was ploughed in the 1900s or how much work the gardener has to do. And you can ask an estate agent to lower the asking price of a house because you've spotted that patch of Creeping Buttercup!

All three Buttercups are in flower now so watch out for them this month and share your photos - please tweet to @BSBIbotany using the hashtags #WildfloweroftheMonth and #outfortheweekend If you missed the interview with Fiona Stalker on 'Out for the Weekend' then you can catch it again here, starting at 01.42.00. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

National Plant Monitoring Scheme: Pete Stroh's plots

Bur Chervil in Hunts.
Image: Pete Stroh
Are you out surveying any plots this year for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, or the NPMS as it's known to it's friends?

BSBI Scientific Officer Pete Stroh (of England Red List fame) emailed to say that he was "out recording my NPMS square yesterday and found lots of Bur Chervil Anthriscus caucalis and Shepherd's-needle Scandix pecten-veneris on a walk between two of my NPMS plots. 

"The former is rare in the county [Ed.: Pete was out near Little Saughton, Huntingdonshire]; the latter is extremely rare - this is the first county record since 2001 and in a new grid square for the species!"

Shepherd's-needle in Hunts.
Image: Pete Stroh
If you are recording for the NPMS this year, please send us photos of the plants you are seeing (either in your plots or walking between them) and if it's your second year of monitoring your plots, why not let us know how you are getting on with your repeat surveys? 

If you haven't yet signed up for the NPMS, you can find out more here and don't worry if you can't identify the rare plants that Pete spotted - you can opt to do the NPMS survey at three different levels, so you can still take part, even if you can only identify a few easy plants. And you get a really helpful free ID key to help you do this! 

In case Pete's happy finds give you the wrong idea - the purpose of the NPMS isn't to find rarities, it's to get a clearer idea of how habitats and plant distributions are changing across the country, warts and all. 

Shepherd's-needle in Hunts.
Image: Pete Stroh
Some people who usually do their plant-spotting in well-managed, floriferous nature reserves have complained that their squares lack any species-rich habitat in which to set up plots; others have struggled, once plots are marked out, to find more than half a dozen wildflowers from the list of indicator species.  

But every plot surveyed will help us build up a clearer picture of how our wider countryside is changing - and if populations of once-familiar wildflowers really are in decline across the country, then data collected by thousands of members of the public will, for the first time, provide incontrovertible and much-needed evidence of this. 

So please take a look at our NPMS page here to find out more about why the scheme is so important, how easy it is to take part and how much help and support you get, from local mentors to videos explaining how to set up your survey plots. Then, if you'd like to receive a survey pack and browse the interactive map to find a square near you, it only takes a minute to register your interest. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bristol botanist on BBC Springwatch Unsprung

STOP PRESS Just in from Tim Rich: 

"Libby Houston will be on BBC2 Springwatch Unsprung at 6:30 tonight.

"She'll be hanging off a rope in the Avon Gorge and talking about some of the rare plants, I think including Bristol Rockcress, and again on the main Springwatch programme later at 8.00 pm.


"Here she is (on right) with the Whitebeam named after her a few years ago."

Thanks to Tim for the tip-off so News & Views readers can enjoy the rare sight of a botanist on the telly!