Thursday, 12 January 2017

New Year's Honour for BSBI County Recorder

BSBI would like to congratulate Robert Northridge, BSBI County Recorder for Co. Cavan and joint County Recorder for Fermanagh, on the award of an MBE in the New Year's Honours List.  

Before retirement, Robert was Vice-Principal of Portora Royal School, Enniskillen (alma mater of Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett). We understand that the primary reason for the MBE was Robert's involvement with rowing and coaching, rather than his botany, but botanists will know him as the co-author (joint with Ralph Forbes) of the Flora of Fermanagh which won the BSBI/Wildflower Society's Presidents’ Prize a few years ago. 

Robert has been a driving force in the Irish rowing scene for decades and continues to have a significant input. BSBI members familiar with the energy and drive he brings to the botanical scene can well imagine him bringing that same positive 'can do' attitude to his work in the rowing community. Robert's contributions to BSBI and botany are not limited to recording: he is currently serving as Chair of BSBI's Committee for Ireland and attends BSBI Council meetings in that capacity (below, next to BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker). He was also one of the team behind the extremely successful BSBI Summer Meeting in 2015.

He has also taken on being County Recorder for Co. Cavan in the run-up to Atlas 2020, as the former VCR had retired and no one was doing any recording there. That's typical of Robert - he sees that something needs to be done and he gets on with it himself if nobody else is available. As well as all this, he has been Chair of the Fermanagh Field Club for as long as anyone can remember!

Robert's rowing prowess has proved extremely useful on botanical expeditions - the image below shows him ferrying a BSBI party to survey the islands of the Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, in June 2012. Robert's wife Hannah (also a botanist) is in the rear of the boat and fellow botanist Margaret Marshall is in the prow. The fern in the foreground is Osmunda regalis.

Robert is also at the oars in the image above right, also taken on Lough Derg, with Station Island Monastery in the background. Many of you will have heard of Station Island as the subject of one of Seamus Heaney’s better known poems.

If you are wondering why it took us until 12th January to report this award to you, that's because Robert, with typical modesty, didn't tell anybody so we had to find out by circuitous means. That gives you the measure of the man. 

BSBI is delighted to see Robert's many years of volunteering and service to the rowing community in Ireland acknowledged by this award of an MBE. It is richly deserved and we'd like to thank him for his equally impressive services to botany. Congratulations from all at BSBI to Robert Northridge MBE.

Monday, 9 January 2017

BSBI Training Grants help botanists in 2016: Part Four

Admiring Carex pauciflora
As the name suggests, there aren't many flowers!
Image: P. Flood 
Applications for BSBI Training Grants for 2017 are now live and you can download an application form here

So what better time than to find out how a BSBI Training Grant helped yet another botanist in 2016? 

Following on from Richard's story of the Identiplant Course he was able to attend thanks to a BSBI Training Grant, here is Pete's story of how his grant award helped him get to grips with identifying sedges and their allies. 

Over to Pete:


Carex magellanica 
Image: P. Flood 
"I’m a drummer in my day job, so I spend a lot of time with musicians (I’m sure you’ve heard the joke), who’ll happily spend hours chatting about Flying Vs, nickelharpas* and minimoogs, but look at you as if an alien has landed in their midst should you profess an interest in the extraordinary green stuff that forms the basis of most of the world outside our doors. So I’m used to getting metaphorical pats on the head whenever I enthuse about botany. 

"In the run up to this course however, all I got was blank looks whenever I told people I was going to spend the weekend learning how to identify sedges and their allies. “So - basically, it’s grass” was one response; “can anyone be a sedge ally?” another.


Carex pulicaria
Image: P. Flood
"The previous year I felt much the same way when I found myself taking a FISC exam (Field Identification Skills Certificate) in which the lab test (in which plants from all over the British Isles can turn up in the specimen trays) was essentially a showcase of family Cyperaceae, with occasional light relief from assorted Poaceae and Juncaceae. 

"In their feedback, the examiners wisely suggested I spent some time getting to know these important families, which I duly tried. But the chalk grasslands of my home on the Hampshire Downs are not the best places for these plants, and it wasn’t long before I realised that for a proper introduction to all things Carex I needed to broaden my horizons, preferably with expert help.

"As it turned out, Chris and Hazel Metherill’s 'Identifying the Sedges and Their Allies' course at Rhyd-y-creuau Field Centre was far more than a simple roll call of various sedge species with the occasional Isolepis or Eloecharis thrown in for good measure. 


Botanists at Cwm Idwal
Image: P. Flood
"The course was centred around learning to confidently use the key in A.C. Jermy’s Sedges of the British Isles - first among BSBI Handbooks

"Returning to my battered and splattered copy nearly six months later, I’m struck by the volume of marginal notes that I took during those four days, encompassing everything from how to best see stomata with a cheap handlens, some handy tips for measuring ligule length and a wealth of useful identification shortcuts, such as the fact that Carex binervis looks as if it needs a haircut.


Dactylorhiza incarnata
Image: P. Flood
"After an introductory chat on the Friday evening we started the Saturday in the wonderful mires of Anglesey, learning how to distinguish two common yellow sedges - Carex lepidocarpa and C. demissa (if their names haven’t changed once again), meeting the rather lovely Carex limosa and the initially indistinguishable Carex lasiocarpa, which soon became much easier to differentiate with Chris’s advice to look for the pronounced v-shape between the lowest bract and the stem. 

"Textbook examples of both Isolepis setacea and I. cernua were found but we were cautioned not to rely on bract length to differentiate the two, but to check seed sculpturing instead. Great beauties of other botanical families such as Dactylorhiza incarnata and Gynmadenia densiflora were swept past in the search for Carex canescens, which remained elusive.

"In the afternoon we stopped at various wetland sites, finding the impressive Carex pseudocyperus and the murderous Cladium mariscus, before heading back into the hills of Snowdonia. After dinner, we piled into the van once again for a visit to a moorland site. Perhaps it was the fading light, or the big views, but the two sedges we found that evening made a biggest impression on me of all the marvellous species I encountered on the course. 

Close-up on Carex pauciflora
Can you see those flowers yet?
Image: P. Flood 
"The beautiful and mysterious Carex magellanica is one of those plants which seems to carry its own invisibility shield until one manages to find a single plant, and then it turns out that the whole area is full of them, whereas a mossy hummock of Carex pauciflora, despite the diminutive size of the plant, is visible from surprisingly far away, looking like a tiny model wind farm.

"On Sunday we returned to Anglesey, but the weather had taken a turn for the worse, so we had a cursory look at some coastal sedges, then made for higher ground. That afternoon, on the trail up Cwm Idwal, we met Carex echinata, a single male spike of Carex dioica, and plentiful Carex hostiana (thoughtfully growing near C. demissa so we could learn to distinguish it by its hyaline glumes) and C. pulicaria, with guest appearances by Isoetes lacustris, Lobelia dortmanna, Cryptogramma crispa and Lycopodium clavatum. Carex leporina turned up in the hedge at the car park, a couple of steps from the minibus.



Sedum anglicum spotted during the sedge hunt
Image: P. Flood
"The course gave me all the confidence and momentum I needed to continue studying under my own steam, and the following month was spent tracking down elusive local sedges - Carex elongata in the New Forest and C. divisa in Farlington Marshes to name two; obsessing over differences between members of the notorious Carex muricata group; and preparing my own herbarium sheets. 

"Whilst I wondered, prior to taking this course, whether the study of sedges merited an entire four days, Chris's teaching made a convert of me, and set me on the path to being a lifelong appreciator of all things trigonous and utricle-bearing".

Many thanks to Pete for sharing his story of how a BSBI Training Grant helped him learn to love sedges. If you'd like to improve your botanical skills in a perticular area this year, please check out the BSBI Training page for grant forms and links to long and short botany courses in Britain and Ireland. 

Saturday, 7 January 2017

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt 2017 in the media: Part One

Ivy-leaved Toadflax in bloom,
Donegal 1/1/2017
Image: O. Duffy
Some early coverage of the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt in The Times today. You can read it on-line if you have a subscription to The Times. It was written by journalist Melissa Harrison who is also the editor of the very popular Winter: an anthology for the seasons.  

Many New Year Plant Hunt participants have already published blogposts on how they got on. Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group recorded 14 species at Nose's Point, while in the west country, children enjoyed some 'wild time' thanks to the New Year Plant Hunt's similarities to Pokemon Go!


Wild Carrot blooming in Sidmouth 3/1/2017
Image: K. Woolley 
BSBI members who have published blogposts so far include Oisin Duffy reporting from Donegal where he and Mairead Crawford carried out four Hunts; ace photographer Karen Woolley whose images are also featured here; John Crellin's account of the Brecknock Hunt is here; and Dave Morris's account of his solo Hunt in Oxfordshire is here.

Craven Conservation Group even posted a video on YouTube showing how they identified Red Valerian in bloom. 

If you have New Year Plant Hunt records that you haven't yet uploaded via the new app or emailed to the team at nyplanthunt@bsbi.org then please send them through by midnight on Monday 9th January for inclusion in Kevin Walker's preliminary analysis, due out later this month. Watch this space! 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Irish recorders leading the way

Dublin Botany Group's Plant Hunt at Killiney
Image: Mies Stam
Anyone who has been following the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt via social media or keeping an eye on the Results page will have noticed how many Irish recorders have taken part this year, from first-timers to the BSBI President, based in northern Ireland.

We've seen images of smiling botanists out recording in groups, close-ups of interesting plants spotted by solo recorders and enthusiastic comments from first-time New Year Plant Hunters.


Arenaria leptoclados in bloom (just),
Enniscorthy, 2/1/2017
Image: Paula O'Meara
All this activity is due in no small part to the efforts of BSBI's Irish Officer, Dr Maria Long, who has encouraged so many botanists to take part and has supported them throughout the process. Great work from Maria and the Irish botanists!

But Irish botanists don't just record plants at New Year. A new Red List for the vascular plants of Ireland was published at the end of 2016 and is dedicated to BSBI's Irish County Recorders. The foreword says:

"This work could not have been undertaken without the huge contribition made by the BSBI Vice-county Recorders, past and present, whose records, gathered both in the field and from the literature, form the bulk of the BSBI's vascular plant database... to them this book is sincerely dedicated."

You can download the Irish Red List here, follow Maria on Twitter here and keep up with what Irish botanists are up to via the BSBI Ireland Facebook page here.

Winter Heliotrope blooming at Bantry Bay, 2/1/2017
Image: Clare Heardman


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The President's New Year Plant Hunt

Fatsia japonica in bloom
Glengary, Co. Wexford
1/1/2017
Image: Paul Green
Today was the fourth and final day of BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt, so recording has now ceased, although records from the past few days are still coming in. The results so far are here.

We still have quite a few lists to input from people who didn't use the new on-line app: most of you liked it and used it, which saved us a lot of time this year compared to last, but some of you didn't get on with it at all. We will be making some tweaks to the app before next year, based on the feedback you've given us so far, and we hope that you'll all have a go with version two.

Meanwhile, the New Year Plant Hunt team has lists to input and identifications to check, so we'll leave you with this account by BSBI President John Faulkner:

"This year, we decided to go somewhere unfamiliar for our New Year Plant Hunt. So Gilly and I got on a train, and headed south for 30 miles to Dundalk in County Louth. Getting out into the sunshine, the station area looked bare at first sight, with most surfaces devoid of all signs of vegetation. Indeed, despite it being a Bank Holiday, a Station employee was busily scraping away the few remaining clumps of moss in one corner of the yard. Not a promising start. 

John at St. Patrick's Church, Dundalk,
searching in vain for open flowers
 on Hairy Tare Vicia hirsuta
Image courtesy of J. Faulkner 
"But as ever, on closer inspection there were nooks and crannies here and there where the herbicides, shovels, scrapers and brushes had not penetrated. Before we emerged from the station forecourt we had found 12 species in flower including a Hawkweed (Hieracium). Now, I find Hieracium is a difficult genus at the best of times, and “scraggy winter fragment with undersized tattered yellow flowers” is not a diagnostic description in any of my keys. The specimen will have to go to the relevant BSBI referee for identification. 

"In wall to wall sunshine (at this time of year the low sun really does shine more on the walls more than on the ground!), we spent 3 delightful hours wandering around the streets, parks, and any waste ground we could find. An obvious place to head for was that part of town known as “The Marshes”.  Neither in terms of botany nor of hospitality did it disappoint. Its eponymous shopping centre had the only cafe in town that was open that day, and we enjoyed a much-needed lunch and coffee there. It also had acres of flat land in various stages of development or redevelopment, and it was here we came across the best botanising, with a good collection of urban weeds, some in flower and some not so. 

Annual Mercury
Courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
http://www.floralimages.co.uk/page.php?
taxon=mercurialis_annua,1
"Of particular interest to me were Keeled-fruited Cornsalad Valerianella carinata and Annual Mercury Mercurialis annua. Both of these have only one previous record for Co. Louth in the BSBI Database, and neither has ever been noted in my own vice-county of Armagh, which adjoins to the north. The former required us to reach at full stretch through impenetrable railings onto the bank a stream to pluck a small sample. 

"Fortunately, some of its tiny bluish flowers were open, and hidden among the lush green shoots were some of the fruits required for identification. Had it not been on a herbicide-treated patch of ground, it would have been tempting to munch it as the salad component implied by its English name of Cornsalad.

Dog's Mercury
Courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
http://www.floralimages.co.uk/page.php?
taxon=mercurialis_perennis,1
"The Annual Mercury had me stumped at first. It is a south-eastern plant in Britain and Ireland, and I had never knowingly seen it before, despite it being relatively common some 50 miles further south in Co. Dublin. Dundalk, it seems, is on the north-western limit of its distribution

"Only on close examination back at home did I realise it was dioecious and its inflorescences were so similar to its woodland cousin, Dog’s Mercury.

"By the end of the day, we had found 37 species in flower and various others of interest too. From the train home, we enjoyed a wonderful orange-purplish glow from the horizon above hills of the Ring of Gullion and the Cooley Peninsula".

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2017: Day Three

Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus
Image: Karen Woolley
Day Three of the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt 2017 and botanists were out again in force across Britain and Ireland, adding new records via the New Year Plant Hunt app.

Refreshing the Results page became the new pastime for any botanist remaining indoors, ie within reach of a computer! 

The running totals as of midnight on Day Three, and compared against last year's totals, are:

229 lists received vs 432 by the end of last year's Hunt - more than half. 

Considering the foul weather which kept many of us at home on New Year's Day, that's probably what we could have expected.


Thyme-leaved Speedwell
Veronica serpyllifolia
Image: Karen Woolley
BUT only 3,569 records on those lists, whereas last year we had 9,265 in total - well below half. And many botanists doing repeat routes, often for the third or even fourth year, recording fewer than half the species they saw last New Year.

411 species vs 653 total in 2016. So:

Has the weather over the past few weeks prevented many species from flowering at New Year? 

Are there more species out there blooming away and we just haven't spotted them during the first three days of the New Year Plant Hunt?

Are there just not enough recorders out there hunting for us to get a clear picture?

The only way to find out how our wild and naturalised plants are responding to recent weather is to get out there and do a New Year Plant Hunt. 

I'll be doing exactly that tomorrow afternoon with members of my local botany group, which includes two other members of the New Year Plant Hunt team, Ciara and Richard.

Don't worry, you can still contact the rest of the team (Tom, Kevin, Ian and Ryan) if you hit any problems submitting your records. 

One prize was awarded today, the Phil Collins Tribute Award, named in honour of the 80s pop star who famously jumped on Concorde to perform at the same concert, Live Aid, from two continents. Phoebe O'Brien won the prize for recording in both England and Ireland during the 2015 New Year Plant Hunt. Botanist Joanne Denyer has gone one better and is this year's recipient:



Recorded flowering plants in England and Wales this morning - now on ferry to Dublin to make it three countries


Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra
By the bus stop in Sidmouth
Image: Karen Woolley
Congratulations to Joanne, it will be fascinating to read how her accounts differ across the three countries, but as the fabulous images on this page, taken in Sidmouth earlier today by ace photographer and New Year Plant Hunter Karen Woolley, illustrate clearly - you don't necessarily have to travel too far to find wild flowers. They are blooming all over the place (frosts notwithstanding) and in many different habitats, from your local park to the seaside to that bank behind the bus stop. You just have to get out there and look - and then record your finds.

It needn't be for three hours by the way, that's just the maximum

Nipping out during your lunch break and recording a daisy or a dandelion will still result in a very gratifying red marker on this interactive map and more data for Kevin (BSBI's Head of Science) to get his teeth into. 

He's all ready to get started on his analysis as soon as all the data are in so please - get out tomorrow and take part in Day Four of the New Year Plant Hunt - it's your last chance until 2018!

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2017: Day Two

New Year Plant Hunters
at Glengarriff NR, West Cork
Image: C. Heardman
After yesterday's rain and murkiness over much of Britain, the sun came out today for most of us and the plant records started streaming in to the new Results page for the New Year Plant Hunt.

Verified records so far: 1,790, with a similar number being processed.

People are really enjoying seeing their records appear on the interactive map here. We've also had a few people asking why their records aren't on the map yet but please rest assured that they are working their way through the system. 

The day was cold for many, although not as bad as that encountered by Charles Babington on 2nd January 1854. Before he set out on a New Year Plant Hunt in Cambridgeshire, Roger Horton tweeted the image on the left.

Once at Coldhams Common with fellow botanists, Roger found some dandelions in bud, but only plants truly in flower count for the Hunt - so he put out this plea on Twitter:

😀Aging gent. botanist seeks lady sim. ints GSOH & portable hairdryer > encourage opening of local dandelions

Erodium moschatum in Kerry
Image: F. Moore
We don't know if Roger managed to attract any ladies - he's not the sort of chap who boasts about such things - but he and the group had built up quite a decent plant list by the end of the day.

In Ireland the sun shone (again!) and some very nice plants were spotted, like the Musk Stork's-bill Erodium moschatum on the right, spotted by Fionn Moore on Beara. Check out the distribution map to see why Fionn and the County Recorder were so pleased with this record. 

Local botany groups were also out in force today and you can see many of their finds on BSBI's social media platforms. Links to all of them are here.

Some recorders put together composite images of their finds, like Mel (on left), who also added another list today - it's great to see how many people are following in the footsteps of Gus and James this year and heading out Hunting more than once. 

Unfortunately, some recorders are not finding anything in bloom, despite diligent searching. 

They are encouraged to email the New Year Plant Hunt team to let us know where they hunted. Nil records are also valuable and will help us build up a clearer picture of how our plants are responding to our changing weather. 


Red dead-nettle 
Image: S. Connor
13-year old naturalist and pan-lister James had a fruitless (and flowerless!) Plant Hunt in Surrey for the second year running but took the time to send us the grid ref for his nil records and also helped first time plant hunter Dara (aged 12) with using the app. 

So James is the recipient of the Day Two Valiant Effort Award, which seems fitting on the day New Nature magazine was launched to such great acclaim.  

It's been gratifying to see so many first-timers having a go at recording for the New Year Plant Hunt, and many are taking to Twitter to talk about how much fun it's been and helping each other with IDs.  

Sophie Connor, a student on the Species Identification & Survey Skills MSc course at University of Reading, was pleased to spot ten species on her first Hunt, including Petasites fragrans (Winter Heliotrope), which has been recorded 26 times so far during the New Year Plant Hunt. 


Kidney-vetch blooming in Kerry
Image: Sara Rubalcava
Three generations of wildlife lovers were out in the Chilterns and although they only found 7 species compared to last year's 15 - and no violets! - they did spot robins, lichens and some "cool fungi" and had a "very enjoyable morning".  

Terry, on the other hand, was out hunting in Oxfordshire bemoaning the measly 11 'weeds' he found compared to last year's 21. He blames a colder, drier December (and has the stats to prove it!) and an over-enthusiastic village warden. 

But we are only halfway through and who knows what remains to be spotted in bloom out there? Keep an eye on the new website to find out, and another summary will appear here tomorrow evening.

Fingers crossed the weather stays fair for day three of the New Year Plant Hunt 2017.