Friday, 18 April 2014

Two for the birds

Graham French + sprog drop by BSBI stand at Birdfair 2013
Birdfair is great for family days out!
Image: L. Marsh
BSBI is going to be at two Birdfairs this year. We have booked to attend British Birdfair - the "world's biggest wildlife event" - where we hope to match last year's achievement and win Best Stand (Conservation) again! 

We have a secret weapon to help us this year, but that's under wraps for a little bit longer. Watch out for an announcement in the next issue of BSBI News (if you are a member) and then on this page.

Before that, BSBI members in Scotland will be attending Scottish Birdfair for the second year running, and I hear that Jim (BSBI Scottish Officer) and his team will again be offering plant ID demonstrations and a Plant Quiz. 

Scottish Birdfair 2013
Image: Ken Jack Agencies
Courtesy of RSPB Scotland/Scottish Birdfair
British Birdfair has been running at Rutland Water for over 20 years; RSPB only launched the Scottish event in 2012, but it is already proving very popular, especially with families: children get in free and there is a full programme of activitiesIt's great to see RSPB championing all wildlife, not just birds, and BSBI was happy to be a partner in last year's RSPB-led 'State of Nature' initiative, contributing towards the report and offering a presentation at the launch. 

More info about Scottish Birdfair here, and if you are near Hopetoun House on 10th-11th May and decide to visit Scottish Birdfair, why not send us a photo of the BSBI stand and we'll post it here?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Pitcher-plant: preserve or eradicate?

Pitcherplant established on Wedholme Flow, Cumbria
 Image: Kevin Walker
A final sneak preview of a paper in the new issue of New Journal of Botany, which - if you are a BSBI member - you can head over to the members' section and start reading right now, or you can wait for the print copy to plop through your letterbox, probably early next week. Many thanks to our publishers Maney for getting this issue on-line in time for some Easter browsing!

In NJB 4.1, you can read a paper by Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science, on Pitcherplant Sarracenia purpurea subsp. purpurea. These showy, North American carnivorous plants have been deliberately planted on lowland bogs and mires throughout Britain and Ireland since the late nineteenth century. 

Pitcherplant established on Lower Hyde Bog, Dorset
Image: David Bird
Kevin says "Since then, established populations have been reported from 38 sites where Pitcherplant has often been conserved for ‘scientific’ reasons. Although there are now several large, long-established colonies, any impacts on native species have been localised due to limited waterborne dispersal of seed. 

"Where plants occur at high density, these impacts have included the displacement of Sphagnum and associated flora, most notably epiphytic liverworts. Many small populations have been successfully removed by hand but, on larger sites, significant regeneration has occurred from juveniles and the seed-bank. The relative effectiveness of other control measures (e.g. chemical treatment, turf-stripping) is currently under investigation". 

Pitcherplant clearance;
Wedholme Flow, Cumbria, 2006
Image: Colin Auld
Kevin's paper concludes that "Pitcherplant is unlikely to pose a significant threat to native species if control is carried out soon after introduction and regeneration is carefully monitored, but the removal of large, established populations will be much more challenging. The control measures required (e.g. chemical treatment, turf-stripping) are unlikely to be acceptable on sensitive sites which support assemblages of rare and threatened plants and insects".

Although Kevin, as Head of Science, is at the helm on BSBI research projects, often in collaboration with partner organisations, and is also responsible for liaising with external/statutory bodies, don't assume that he spends all his time behind a desk! 

Kevin has carried out field-based research on a number of species across Britain and Ireland during his seven years in post so far, and observes "I couldn’t have done any of this work without the records that BSBI recorders provide as well as their intimate knowledge of these species ‘on the ground’. Pitcherplant is a good example of where we’ve been able to call upon this expert knowledge base to build up a clear picture of what impact the species is having at a national scale." 

Kevin will also be heavily involved in the forthcoming Atlas 2020 project: find out more about this here and enjoy his paper on Pitcherplant in the April issue of New Journal of Botany.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Botanical snippets for April II

There is so much happening in botany right now, so here is another compendium of snippets:

Sparganium erectum
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
A Herbal History seminar at Kew in June: click here for details and booking form. You may also be interested to see this short video, which goes behind the scenes at RBG Kew and explains the importance of the work they carry out. There is also this recent piece in the Guardian which talks about the ongoing petition against cuts at Kew, which as of today has over 14,000 signatures. The petition page has a nice bit of video showing David Attenborough at Kew. 

A one-day meeting in Oxford in July to celebrate the 350th anniversary of botanist John Goodyer.

Find out what BSBI Science Officer Pete Stroh has been working on in Cambridgeshire: reintroducing Bromus interruptus.

An update on Ash Dieback from BBSRC and you can find out here about the FRAXINUS game.

A digital sampler here of Gabriel Hemery's update of John Evelyn's Sylva, also featured here on the BBC website and there is an interview with Gabriel on Radio 4's 'Farming Today' still available here on iPlayer.

Tolypella glomerata
Image: C. F. Carter
A reminder that if you live in Scotland, you are spoilt rotten for plant ID courses this year! There's a full programme of mainly botanical delights at FSC Kindrogan and I hear that there are a few places left on at least one of the BSBI/Plantlife courses on Identifying Wild Flower Families being held in Glasgow, St. Andrews and Edinburgh this spring. 

Booking details on the flyer and the BSBI Scotland webpage, where you can also book to attend the BSBI Summer Meeting, if you haven't already. Don't leave it too late or you won't get a place on your first choice of fieldtrip!

Even though there is no longer a Botany degree course in Britain, there is one in Ireland. The NUI Galway website has details on its Botany and Plant Science page of a 4-year course leading to a BSc (Hons) degree in Botany. 

Some lovely B&W images of flowers here from Cy de Cosse Photography. Just because they are pretty! And this page also shows the third and fourth images which will feature on the cover of New Journal of Botany volume 4: one from Claudia Ferguson-Smyth and one from Chris Carter.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Hunting the Ghost Orchid

When the April issue of New Journal of Botany comes out later this month, you will be able to read about the history of the Ghost Orchid Epipogion aphyllum in Britain. This enigmatic and elusive plant was famously declared extinct and then refound in the same week in 2009. Sean Cole, the author of the NJB paper, has long been fascinated by the plant, so I asked him to tell us when his love affair with the Ghost started.

The diary that launched a love affair...
Image: S. Cole
Sean said "Christmas, 1978:  I was given a “World Wildlife Fund 1979 Wildlife Diary” and it changed my life. It included a section on some of Britain’s rarest wildlife, including two species of Orchid – the Lady’s Slipper and the Ghost. Both were accompanied by delicate monochrome line-drawings. The Lady’s Slipper caught my imagination, especially when I later saw a picture in glorious colour. I became intent on seeing one in the flesh. In June 2000, I was taken to Yorkshire to see the only wild British Lady’s Slipper. It was a truly stunning flower, but my 21 year wait for it ended in disappointment: access to the plant was forbidden, and it had to be viewed from 100 metres distance! We were also given a piece of paper telling us not to tell anyone about it, or indeed to never return!

Sean in the field
Courtesy of S. Cole
"Later that year I was given more information about the Ghost, including site details, so I set about finding out how to see one of those. Maybe that would be more fulfilling. Little did I realise how difficult it would be. This was not like other Orchids, all of which flowered annually and were viewable at known sites. In this case, not only did it not flower every year, but when it did, it could have been any time between May and October!! To make things worse, it never flowers in the same place twice. I wondered how people ever managed to see them.

"The internet proved to be a valuable resource, and the more information I gathered, the more people were willing to impart their extra piece of knowledge, so I collected every morsel I could and began visiting sites, hoping I could beat the odds and win the Botanical EuroMillions Lottery. An unfinished quest itches and itches and never goes away, and finally, in 2005, I saw Ghost Orchid. In fact, I saw over 600! But I had to go to south-west Germany. It was a landmark day in my life, yet still it wasn’t enough. The sheer magnitude of seeing this rarest of things in my own country was the only true satisfaction. But at least I’d “got my eye in” and had a better chance.

Ghost Orchid at Marlow, 1953
Courtesy National Museum, Wales
"On a visit to Leicester University Herbarium, I saw my first ever British Ghost Orchid – a tiny dried specimen taken from Marlow in 1953, at the site of the most amazing Ghostly event ever to happen in British history. The time when Rex Graham lit his pipe, and looked over the bowl of it to see one of what turned out to be 25 Ghosts at a place where they’d never been seen before! More than anyone had ever seen collectively in Britain. I wanted that kind of moment. 

"There followed visits to other museums holding British and continental specimens. I photographed, measured and recorded each, to fulfil my new aim of recording every British sighting of the species – something that had never been done before, partly due to the extreme secrecy surrounding the species. It is understandable, given that some of the specimens were of underground parts dug up by collectors desperate to prove they had the star prize to show to their counterparts.

Sean is also a serious birder!
Courtesy S. Cole
"In 2009 the worst - and yet the best – happened. A Ghost Orchid, by then feared extinct (again!) – was found. By someone else. I got a phone call saying that this time it was almost certainly a genuine find. I phoned the person involved, who had been sworn to secrecy. The day after this plant had been eaten by a slug, a friend who I had alerted to the possibility of its presence, found the spot.

"Each year since 2000 I have visited places to try and find Ghosts. All of the places I have found out about over those years, I’ve not just visited them once. One year I went to search 11 times, with no luck. The best possibility, the 2009 site in Herefordshire, has been visited several times each year since then. The problem now is that trees around the spot were cut down in 2012, and now it just isn’t likely that it will reappear. The very secrecy that was supposed to protect the plant has caused its demise.

Ghost Orchid at High Heavens Wood, Bucks., 1970
Image: Courtesy of M.B. Fuller 
"This is why I am publishing the data on the Occurrence of the Ghost in Britain. This is why I am helping to organise a co-ordinated search this year; - to increase the chance that I – and many others like me – will get to make my dream a reality".

Click on the images to enlarge them - like this page from Sean's scrapbook (below) showing newspaper cuttings about the Ghost Orchid. If you want to talk to Sean about his hunt for the elusive Ghost, email us at New Journal of Botany and I can put you in touch with him. And watch out for Sean's paper in the April issue (members only, sorry!).   


Friday, 11 April 2014

Can you help us track down a mystery Rubus?

Martin Godfrey has been in touch about his current project at Stoke herbarium. He is "cataloguing a few boxes of Eric Edees's Rubi which don't seem to have been looked at before.  Nice stuff and a number of isotypes, however I have a folder of material which appears to be of an unpublished species - Edees calls it R. subdurescens as it is somewhat similar to R. durescens"

Edees is responsible for the Flora of Staffordshire (1972). 

Martin goes on "There is an interesting letter in with the sheets from a Roy Smith talking about the features which distinguish the new material. I would be grateful for any information which may be known about this "species" (nothing obvious on an internet search) - if none, then it might be a nice opportunity for a publication for someone keen on the genus.  

"Once I have finished the catalogue, I will get it put on the BSBI web site as I suspect that Batologists will be unaware of this material".

So, can anyone help Martin find out more about this taxon? Leave a comment below if you can help or email me at and I'll put you in touch with Martin. 

He has kindly sent along an image of "what would have to be the "type" specimen [above] plus one [right] of its label".

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Brian's Botanical Finds III

Flower spike of F. reuteri
Image: B. Laney
One of the plants that Brian Laney has managed to find is the very attractive Fumaria reuteri Martin's Ramping Fumitory. Brian recorded this several times in Kent during June 2011 and these are the first records for the county. This is the info that Brian, who is based in Northants (VC32), has sent through:  

11/06/2011 AND 19/06/2011
"On 11 June 2011 it was recorded by BL at TR31173 65723, growing at the base of a south facing bank on the south side of the A299 by Mount Pleasant roundabout. Also on 11 June 2011, BL recorded the species on a south facing road slope of the A299 at TR32577 65513. On 19 June 2011, the fumitory was also recorded by BL at TR31986 65627, on a wide disturbed strip between airport and the north side of the A299".

A single floret of F. reuteri
Image: B. Laney
You can read a description of F. reuteri here and see a zoomable distribution map for it here.

Read more about other species of Ramping-Fumitory recorded in Kent on the BSBI Facebook page and the Kent Botany Facebook page. The photographs on Facebook are gorgeous - I suspect they were taken by Lliam Rooney?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Botanical snippets for April

A few planty things spotted on Twitter this week via the BSBI official Twitter account @BSBIbotany 

If you read the news about the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on the BBC website recently, you may also be interested in this petition.

The three-part BBC series 'Botany: a blooming history', first shown in 2011, is to be repeated. It starts this Thursday and will be on iPlayer here. Watch out for the sections on Linnaeus and John Ray! Or listen again to Radio 4 programme 'The Botanists' here - 15 minutes on the Millennium Seed Bank.

Want to know more about mapping habitats to describe ecosystems? Click here

A new plant conservation course at Bangor University flags up its secret weapon: their herbarium! Under the headline 'Unique herbarium to be resource to train future plant conservationists', the webpage tells us: "The new MSc course aims to redress a shortage of experts needed to conserve our plant resources for the future. 

"This is in response to a growing acknowledgement that a decline in training opportunities in botanical sciences over the last two decades has led to a shortage of scientists with plant conservation skills and knowledge".

Over at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, a project called PROTREE has been launched to find a long-term strategy for tree health.

Some "botanical art" from San Fransiscan artist Alexis Anne Mackenzie

And the third link of the day to Linnaeus - have you ever wished that you could look through his plant specimens? Now you can - click here to browse virtually.

Images on this page are by Claudia Ferguson-Smyth but she did not select any of them for the new cover of New Journal of Botany, so this may be the only chance you ever have to see them. Enjoy this fleeting glimpse ;-)