Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Recording aquatics at Loch Glow

Potamogeton crispus
Image: J. MacKinnon
Another report in from Jay MacKinnon who is managing to attend many BSBI field meetings in Scotland this year and is kind enough to share her thoughts with us. 

A plea to all News & Views readers: if you attend a BSBI field meeting, please let us know what you saw and if you enjoyed it!

Meanwhile, here is Jay's report on the meeting held on 15th August around Cleish Lochs, in a part of West Fife which needed to be re-surveyed for Atlas 2020:

Botanists at Loch Glow
Image: J. MacKinnon
"As promised, some notes on the Loch Glow meeting: it was fantastic! 

Thanks to those present - we were only six so we had every opportunity to pass around, share, explain and learn about the specimens we found. 

Callitriche hermaphroditica
Image: J. MacKinnon
Particular thanks to joint County Recorder Sandy Edwards for organising and to Claudia Ferguson-Smyth for really high-quality teaching and quizzing about aquatic plant ID, including potential ID errors and how to avoid them. 

We had intended to walk all the way round Loch Glow and then perhaps explore some of the other nearby lochs and bogs but we found so much that we only got halfway round Loch Glow. 
Isoetes lacustris: the whole plant...

It was rather windy, and waves were washing up bits of broken plant along the shore. 

Scooping them out, we found pre-picked specimens in amazingly good condition, including Isoetes lacustris, Potamotgeton alpinus, P. praelongus, P. perfoliatus, P. crispus,  P. gramineus, Myriophyllum alterniflorum, Elodea canadensis, Callitriche hermaphroditica  and, of course, masses and masses of stringy Juncus bulbosus. 

I. lacustris: the quadrifid hairs...
Callitriche was particularly exciting because it was in fruit, and had several large healthy fruits clearly showing the character which distinguishes it from other translucent-leaved water-starworts: a wide wing all around the margin of all four seeds. 

Rooted and growing in and around the loch margin were Sparganium spp., Carex rostrata, C. demissa, Montia fontana, Littorella uniflora, Eleocharis palustris, Juncus tenuis and Sagina subulata

Littorella uniflora (left) vs I. lacustris (right):
leaves with indistinct hollows vs 4 large hollows
All images: J. MacKinnon 
An absolutely fantastic haul on a sunny day and to top it off, ospreys soared overhead (we are near the famous bird reserve at Loch Leven) and I managed to refrain from wading in over the top of my wellies. Perfect!"

Thanks Jay, it sounds as though this field meeting really helped you hone your ID skills for plants of wet and windy places. I'm glad to hear that your feet stayed dry!

Juncus bulbosus
Image: J. MacKinnon
Jay's images (on left) show some of the characters which help botanists identify aquatics; these plants can look annoyingly similar to each other until you know what to look for (like the 4 hollows in Isoetes spp.).

One of the best ways to build up your ID skills for a challenging group of plants like this is by attending a BSBI field meeting and learning the tricks of the trade from more experienced botanists.

Having been fortunate enough to spend time in the field with Claudia Ferguson-Smyth, who is incredibly knowledgeable about aquatics, a patient and supportive teacher and a delightful human being to boot, I can quite understand why Jay rated this BSBI field meeting as "fantastic!"

Friday, 28 August 2015

Daffodils (native & non-native) on Radio Four

Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Courtesy of Floral Images
Have you noticed that we are starting to hear more botany on Radio Four? Earlier this month, Dr Mark Spencer was on the Infinite Monkey Cage talking about forensic botany and now here is another Natural History Museum botanist (and BSBI member) taking to the airwaves!

Dr Fred Rumsey was on 'Natural Histories' on Monday and you can catch the programme again here on iPlayer. Fred was talking about Daffodils - which of the ones we see outside gardens are native and which are naturalised garden plants? Where do the wild daffodils grow? 

How about the Tenby daffodil, a "botanical conundrum"? Fred checks out historic herbarium sheets and refers to Gerard's Herbal and Sowerby's English Botany to tell us about the first UK record of this plant.

Mick Crawley (centre) with Lynne Farrell & Peter Marren
Image: L. Marsh
Identifying daffodils to species or cultivar level can be very tricky but fortunately Prof Mick Crawley put together this excellent ID key on his Daffodil Site. It's free to download (non-commercial use only) so next spring, why not try out Mick's ID key on any Daffodils you find in the wild? 

And if you are interested in recording cultivated plants which have 'jumped the garden fence' and become naturalised, Mick is running an urban botany field meeting in Welwyn Garden City next month where participants will encounter alien plants "in all stages of naturalisation". Booking details here but act quickly if interested - I think most spaces have already been filled.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Botanical snippets for August

BSBI botanists take a break: Inishowen, 2015
Image: J. Conaghan
Some great stuff on BSBI members' blogs this month!

Oisin Duffy reports on the recent BSBI Recording Weekend which took place on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal

Ryan Clark shares his story of how nature helps him through those low periods and makes a heartfelt plea for children to be encouraged to reconnect with the natural world. 

Gail Quartly-Bishop reports on the recent BSBI Bramble Weekend in Flintshire. The next BSBI training meeting focused on a single genus will be the Atriplex Training Workshop which runs from the 18th-20th September in the Bangor area and on Anglesey. Booking details here.

How to read a Pocock herbarium sheet
(Click to enlarge).
Image courtesy of Robert Pocock
Herbarium Project
Once again the Robert Pocock Herbarium Project shows us how historic herbarium specimens can inspire and inform 21st century botanists.

Great to see high attendance figures at this BSBI local group meeting in S. Yorkshire which attracted 28 people. The interactive map on our homepage shows just how many counties now have a webpage with free local resources for botanists, links to publications such as county Floras and details of local field meetings and recording activity. 

Lycopodium clavatum seen by John Crellin
Image: Floral Images
John Crellin stumbles upon some nice plants while out surveying for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme in Breconshire - like this Lycopodium clavatum.

And finally, a few useful things I picked up via the BSBI Twitter account:

BSBI member Martin Allen points out that there's a new version of Tablefit from CEH which has Stace Ed.3 names. 

JNCC shared this link to the new GB Invasive Non-native Species Strategy.

For anyone wanting to take their first steps in biological recording, the Field Studies Council offers this weekend training course in December. Thanks to a subsidy from the FSC's Tomorrow's Biodiversity Project, this course is particularly good value for money!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Commemorating Oliver Rackham in 2016

A Commemorative Symposium in honour of Prof Oliver Rackham is being planned and the organisers are keen to know if BSBI News & Views readers would like to attend any of the activities. 

Bluebells in Hackfall Wood
Image: K. Walker
The Symposium will be held at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on the weekend of 13th-14th August 2016, and includes a field excursion to Hayley Wood, perhaps the site with which Prof Rackham was most associated. 

Many of Prof Rackham's books - such as this one on ancient woodland - are still in print and are much loved by conservationists and ecologists. He was a BSBI member for almost 30 years, a lifelong supporter of our woodlands and not afraid to speak out when he thought they were not being managed appropriately or valued highly enough.

Click here to view the pdf and express an interest in attending the Symposium.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Viola mini-Handbook: progress report

Viola tricolor at Silloth, Cunbria
Image: M. Porter
Good to hear from Mike Porter about progress towards another addition to the series of BSBI Handbooks. Mike has been working hard on his Viola mini-handbook for the past few years and sends this short report:

"We had our editor, Chris Boon, staying with us a week or two back and he and I went through the editing so far; the introduction and main accounts are just about finished, apart from the difficult Viola tricolor which Michael Foley is finishing off at the moment. Sarah Holme is doing the final drawings and I'm adding some distribution notes for hybrids. We're also working on putting together the best photos we can manage and are aiming for publication before next season".

Mike is doing a great job working on the Viola mini-handbook alongside all the other botanical activities in which he is involved. He is Editor of Plant Records for New Journal of Botany, is heavily involved with the Cumbria Botany Group and is one of BSBI's 108 expert Referees, specialising in sedges, and running workshops on this challenging group of plants. 

One of the photographs in the new Viola Handbook
Image: M. Porter
Mike said "I'm finding that sedges are getting in the way of flat-out Viola work - I've never had so many to determine! Don't know why. I do enjoy looking at sedges for determination - I'm certainly not moaning at receiving so many specimens and being asked to comment on them, far from it, but, especially when there is the possibility of hybridity, it can be very time-consuming. I do tend to get engrossed, to the detriment of other responsibilities - both botanical and domestic!"

BSBI's volunteer Referees, such as Mike, do an amazing job supporting our members. If you'd like to consult one of our Referees, you will need to be a BSBI member and then you can start sending off specimens for checking. The BSBI Yearbook (sent out to all our members on joining and updated once a year) has full contact details and don't forget there are also two Referees who support beginner botanists getting to grips with plant ID.    

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Scottish botanists return to Kittyfield Farm

Carduus nutans Musk Thistle
Image: J. MacKinnon
Scottish botanist Jay MacKinnon is having a busy year! Last month she reported from the BSBI recording week in Ayrshire and now she has sent us a report and some images from a BSBI training meeting she attended earlier this month. 

The meeting was held at Kittyfield Farm, near Melrose (VC80) and was led by Luke Gaskell. It followed on from a successful beginners' field meeting held at the farm in 2011, and this time the focus was on how ‘improvers’ could get more familiar with farmland weeds. 

Botanists at Kittyfield Farm near Melrose
Image: J. MacKinnon
Jay says "The agricultural weeds teaching day at Luke Gaskell's farm was smashing. It's a stunning location, on steep slopes above the flat valley of the River Tweed. We could look down on the traces of vegetation differences in arable fields showing where the river used to meander.

"The location was unusually luxurious for a field meeting: we had ample quantities of tea, delicious home-made scones on arrival and ‘comfort breaks’ that were actually comfortable!

"Cattle and sheep are raised at Kittyfield Farm and fodder crops (kale, silage, hay, barley and others) are grown for them. 

Galeopsis speciosa at Kittyfield Farm
Image: J. MacKinnon
"We saw long-established pasture, nice unimproved grassland, newly re-seeded pasture demonstrating the weeds that had lain in the soil seed bank, seed crops sown for birds and the differences between more acid and more neutral-to-basic grassland.

"Luke worked hard to teach to the levels and interests of all those present. We covered the identification of common grasses and learned which are unpalatable to stock, met five thistles including Carduus nutans (musk thistle/nodding thistle), and I learned that I'm not the only one who can't get rid of creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) by any means fair or foul. 

Botanists on a flowery slope
Image: J. MacKinnon
"We differentiated Geranium pusillum (short hairs on petiole) from G. molle (short and long hairs on petiole); Lamium purpureum from L. hybridum and L. confertum; and Atriplex from Chenopodium. Highlights included Sherardia arvensis, Cerastium arvense, and jammy scones!"

Thanks to Jay for this. I hear that she is hoping to attend the Aberdeenshire Recording Weekend at Ballater/Aboyne on 22nd-23rd August. 

This meeting aims to record across a range of habitats from river shingles, acid grassland and peatland through to native pine-woods and possibly some montane sites - many of the sites lie within the Cairngorms National Park

Let's hope that Jay is kind enough to send us another short report and some more of her fabulous images!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

BSBI Recording Weekend: Inishowen Peninsula, Co. Donegal

Purple Saxifrage, Inishowen 16/8/2015
Image: O. Duffy
Reports are coming in from this weekend's Atlas 2020 recording meeting in under-recorded parts of the Inishowen Peninsula, Co. Donegal

The weekend was organised and led by John Conaghan, Oisin Duffy and Mairead Crawford. John is County Recorder for West Galway (VC H16) and Oisin and Mairead - who have featured on these pages before - are keen young naturalists who are making rather a name for themselves as ace botanical recorders, active across Ireland from Wexford in the south-east to Donegal in the north-west. Our next generation of BSBI botanists in Ireland!

Irish Spurge, Inishowen 14/8/2015
Image: O. Duffy 
Over three days, the team visited habitats including sand dunes, coastal heath and blanket bog and were particularly keen to re-find two rare species known from the area: Purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) and Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna). 

Oisin is a superb photographer and it was difficult to pick just a few images from the many he has posted on his Twitter page over the weekend. So I'll limit myself to his pix of these two target species which the recording team did manage to re-find. Purple Saxifrage had not been seen in this part of Donegal for over a century so re-finding it was quite a coup!

Fingers crossed that Oisin will write one of his excellent blogposts on the weekend's activities. For now I'll leave you with this classic tweet and pic from Mairead at lunchtime today:

  1. Botanists break for lunch beside scots lovage (let's hope no one eats it!)