Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Training the Botanical Trainers

Deb Muscat demonstrates her giant grass flower
at a previous Training the Trainers
Image courtesy S. Whild
Bookings are now being taken for next month's Training the Trainers, a biennial event held at the Gateway in Shrewsbury which has become a fixture in the calendars of everybody involved in passing on botanical skills. 

The event is free but you do need to book, so head over to our Training page here and take a look at the flyer. I see that Chris Metherell, Tim Rich and Ros Bennett are all scheduled to lead sessions this time - each one would be worth the entrance fee alone. If there was an entrance fee. 


Sarah with the remains of another excellent
lunch at the Gateway!
Image: L. Farrell
Training the Trainers is organised by Dr Sarah Whild, Chair of BSBI's Training & Education Committee. I asked Sarah to give us one good reason to attend this event, apart from the fact that it's great fun, you learn a lot, you meet other botanical trainers and lunch is always excellent. And not only is it all free, but you may even be eligible for a travel grant. 

Sarah scratched her head and said “It’s a fantastic opportunity to share skills and tips with other botanical trainers – whether you lead wild flower walks or you are a lecturer in HE, there will be something useful for you to take away (including the Training the Botanical Trainers Handbook!).”

Ok, a better question might be: if you are involved at all in teaching, training or lecturing in botany, or you are actively passing on field ID skills at local group level, why on earth haven't you registered yet for this excellent training day? Did I mention that it's free? And how good the lunch is? See you in Shrewsbury on the 22nd October!

Monday, 29 September 2014

September issue of BSBI News is published

It's that time again. Gwynn Ellis tells me that he started mailing out copies of BSBI News #127 to all our members this morning, so tomorrow you may hear the distinctive thrice-yearly sound of the latest issue dropping through your letterbox. The difficult bit is always keeping your hands off it until there's time to read it properly. If you can take a peek during teabreak and then put your copy of News away until after work, you have more willpower than me!

Gwynn has once again allowed News & Views a sneak preview of the contents, and among the delights to look forward to are:

A report by Mike Chalk of Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredenifera on the Dorset coast rather than its usual hang-outs much nearer the Med! Mike's pic also graces the front cover.

A report on a volunteer survey of Parnassia palustris on the Sefton Coast - as previewed in News & Views last year. Thanks to Mary Dean for that sneak preview - now you can read the whole story. With tables! 

Volunteer recorders from ENHS helped Michael Braithwaite
at Brander Heugh, Berwickshire
Another Michael - this time our former President Michael Braithwaite - talking about how his project to repeat-record every square in Berwickshire fed into his Berwickshire BSBI botanical site register. 

The good news is that Michael's excellent work mapping plant distributions at a finer scale across his vice-county is attracting considerable media attention in his homepatch. The bad news is that Michael's previous findings - that individual populations of rare and scarce plants are being lost at an alarming rate - are confirmed and refined to an average rate of about 14% decline per decade. We are getting very good at recording, mapping and monitoring the decline in our wild plants - if only halting it were as achievable! The new England Red List may be a useful tool here... 

Pete Stroh and David Allen (BSBI historian
& author 'The Botanists') snapped at ERL launch
So it's great to see Pete Stroh reporting in News on the new England Red List and we can read the results of applying the ERL threat categories to relevant species in the Cornish dataset and comparing with the same species under the 2005 Red List for Great Britain. Does Colin French think the new England Red List will be better suited to the needs of wildlife conservation in Cornwall? You can read Colin's conclusions on pages 47-51 of BSBI News #127. A glimmer of hope?

Click on the image below to enlarge it and read more about the decline of wild flowers in Berwickshire. This may tide you over until your copy of BSBI News arrives. It is from a recent edition of Berwickshire News - they gave over a full page to Michael Braithwaite's Flora and to the decline of wild plants in the county. Anyone spending £25 on Michael's Flora is getting 37 years worth of local plant knowledge, including the results of an unpaid decade spent repeat-recording Berwickshire's wild plants at a finer scale. And anyone clicking on this link benefits from Michael's incredible generosity in making a version of his Flora available free to everyone. What a nice man!


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

BSBI pays tribute to David Pearman

David on sparkling form at Kew, chatting to Peter Marren,
Gwynn Ellis & Mike McCarthy
Last Wednesday's launch of the England Red List at Kew was just one part of a very big day for BSBI, with botanists coming together earlier in the day to pay tribute to David Pearman

Amongst David's many achievements are: co-authoring the 2002 New Atlas of the British & Irish florabeing BSBI President 1995-1998; and chairing BSBI Records & Research Committee until this February, when he handed over to Paul Smith


Admiring Rosemary Fitzgerald's amusingly-captioned
photographs of David in the field 
The Society wanted to mark these achievements and thank David for all he has done for BSBI and for British botany. So our Meetings Committee has spent the last few months planning a day of botanical talks and celebrations, and trying to make sure that David didn't get wind of what we were up to! 
Pearman, Preston & Dines: the New Atlas team re-united

We were helped in this endeavour by the excellent Anita Pearman (the secret of David's success!) and BSBI President Ian Denholm paid tribute to both of them, saying "David’s hard work, talent and enthusiasm have been pivotal in expanding and revitalising scientific work within BSBI. We owe him a great debt. He’s also a fantastic guy. As incoming President I benefited hugely from his patient mentoring and (like many others) from the incredible hospitality provided by David and Anita at ‘Algiers’!” 

So, what did we come up with for the fantastic guy? First of all, Ian and Paula Rudall (Kew's new Head of Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology) opened the day's proceedings and welcomed around seventy guests to Kew. 


Chris and Mark before their talks
They included David, several members of his family, and some of the many people he has worked with through the years. Then, Ian introduced a morning of scientific talks. 

Chris Preston kicked off with a talk entitled (with typical Preston wit) 'Hybrids: nature's dross?" 

Then Mick Crawley gave us 'In praise of small-scale Floras' and Mark Gurney (RSPB) closed the morning session with a talk on 'Gains and losses: recent colonisations and extinctions in Britain'. 

Alfred and the "furry seeds"
Next came a buffet lunch in the Jodrell Atrium, and many thanks to Kew for allowing us use of the Jodrell for our celebrations. If you know David and his love of garden plants, as well as wild flowers, I think you will agree that there could be no more suitable venue than Kew. 

And Kew Gardens proved an excellent hunting ground for one budding botanist. Judging by his pleasure in finding Platanus hispanica leaves and "furry seeds", David's grandson Alfred may be set to follow in his forebear's illustrious footsteps! 


David Roy and slide of David P. with a Hogweed in Turkey
After lunch, David Roy gave a talk on 'BRC and BSBI: working together for 50 years and future opportunities'. And then we had short talks about David’s contributions to and influence on botany from some more of his many friends, including Chris Cheffings, Trevor Dines, Gwynn Ellis, Lynne Farrell, Peter Marren, Fred Rumsey and Ken Thompson. 
Gwynn's slide: David shows the New Atlas
to the Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett MP

Some comments were quite irreverent! 

Pete Stroh, who has botanised with David in the Hebrides, said "No matter the weather or terrain, in the field David appears to have endless energy, is a wealth of information, rather too fearless for my constitution, and is someone who will be impossible to replace. He does need to work on his culinary skills though!" 

Hmm, I wonder what strange delights David rustled up for Pete after a long day in the field...?  


Cameras at the ready: David cuts the cake..,
There were no worries about culinary skills when we all tasted the amazing cake made for us by Helen Hesketh of CEH. Meetings Committee had heard that her cake for the BRC 50th anniversary celebrations was scrumptious and looked fabulous, so we asked her for something suitable for David. 

Anita had tipped us off that chocolate cake is a favourite chez Pearman, and Helen managed to recreate the BSBI logo, decorate the cake with gorgeous sugar Bluebell flowers and ice it with a simple message that said it all: Thank you David. 


...watched by Alfred and Anita
The cake looked almost too good to eat... but we are botanists, so we scoffed it and can confirm that it tasted as good as it looked.

Lynne Farrell also presented David with a commemorative plant, Cytisus x kewensis 'Niki', a Broom cultivar which David is rather fond of, and which we hope will flourish in the Pearman garden at 'Algiers'. That's in Cornwall, in case you were wondering! 

And Lynne gave him a big card signed by all present to mark this Red Letter Day and lead us nicely into the launch of the England Red List!  


Lynne, David, "Red Letter" &
Cytisus x kewensis 'Niki'
The final word should go to Kevin Walker (BSBI's Head of Science & Research),  who spoke for all of us: "David’s contribution to the society has been enormous. He has been the driving force behind so many things - the New Atlas, a successful recording network, as well as forging closer relations with our key partners such as CEH, the conservation agencies and Plantlife. This has opened up the resources the Society needed to grow and become the impressive organisation it has become today. I, personally, can’t thank him enough and can’t imagine a BSBI without him". 


Kevin Walker (and remains of cake!)
Many thanks to Paula and the team at Kew for enabling us to hold this celebration at the Jodrell, to Ian Denholm, Lynne Farrell and Jodey Peyton of Meetings Committee for co-ordinating the day, to Helen Hesketh for the cake, to the BSBI Publicity Volunteers for taking photographs and tweeting about the day; and to all who came along and raised a glass to David Pearman.

And of course to the man himself, seen here surrounded by some of his many friends in the Society. Thank you, David. 





Friday, 19 September 2014

A botanical perspective on the Scottish referendum

Harebell/Scottish Bluebell
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
One of the BSBI botanists attending the launch of the England Red List on Wednesday was Ken Thompson. He's written an excellent piece here for the Telegraph which gives a whole new perspective on yesterday's Scottish referendum. Trust a botanist to look at the issues of the day with a fresh eye! 

One footnote I'd add to Ken's piece is an observation about Campanula rotundifolia, known commonly as Harebell in England and Scottish Bluebell in Scotland. It is one of the plants that many English botanists have long thought of as fairly common [in a nice way!] and widespread, even in the lowlands, but which the England Red List analysis reveals as Near Threatened.  

Sorry to give you bad news about a much-loved wild flower, but maybe the ERL will act as the wake-up call many feel is needed for greater efforts to conserve all our wild plants across this (still) United Kingdom.  

Thursday, 18 September 2014

England Red List for Vascular Plants: the launch

Botanists assembled in the Jodrell Atrium, Kew,
 yesterday for the launch of the England Red List
Image: L. Marsh 
The first England Red List for Vascular Plants was launched yesterday at Kew Gardens and is now available to download free of charge via the BSBI website here

You can also buy a copy from Summerfield Books here.

Pete Stroh (BSBI's Scientific Officer) is England Red List lead author and project co-ordinator. His presentation yesterday to the massed ranks of some of Britain's top botanists and invited members of the press, and the follow-up talk from co-author Ben McCarthy of Plantlife, made grim listening in places. 

Pete Stroh in Kew Gardens yesterday
Image: Shama/BSBI Publicity Team
Top findings of the England Red List show that a fifth of England’s wildflower species are under threat, with the majority of these threatened species suffering a decline of 30% or more. 

Pete Stroh gets a few words of encouragement from
co-author Mike Fay (Kew) before he goes onstage
Image: L. Marsh
Wildflowers associated with either highly acid or basic open habitats on infertile soils, such as Great Sundew (Drosera anglica) or Burnt-tip Orchid (Orchis ustulata), fare particularly badly. 

The analysis also identifies species that have suffered such severe declines in lowland areas of England that they meet the ‘Threatened’ criteria, despite being still relatively widespread and common in upland areas. 

And many wildflowers which a lot of us still think of as common and widespread across England, are now close to being listed as threatened.

Trevor Dines and Fred Rumsey take the air
Image: J. Stowe
Pete said “The modification or loss of vast swathes of our countryside throughout the past 60 years and more, particularly in lowland England, has been well documented.

"With such rapid change it is troubling - but perhaps not particularly surprising - to find out that species we have long thought of as common in the ‘wider countryside’ and under no immediate threat have declined to such an extent that they are now assessed as ‘Near Threatened’.  In many cases, this equates to a decline of more than 20% during what is, botanically speaking, the blink of an eye.”

Botanists in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre yesterday
Image: L. Marsh
The Q&A which followed the two talks was kicked off by a question from Mike McCarthy of the Independent

The resulting discussion about changes in plant distribution benefited greatly from the presence of so many eminent and experienced field botanists, including most of the England Red List co-authors and both authors of 2005's Vascular PlantRed Data List for Great Britain, Lynne Farrell and Chris Cheffings. 

Lynne Farrell, Prof Mick Crawley and author Peter Marren
Image: J. Stowe
Fred Rumsey of the Natural History Museum (he's also a very active BSBI member) is a co-author of the England Red List and was at the launch. 

He said “Many people may be surprised to see some very familiar plants on this list – the extent of whose decline at an English level has been a revelation. It really shows the challenge we face in the most populous, developed and agriculturally productive areas of our country to preserve healthy ecosystems with flourishing biodiversity.”

Pete tells his fellow botanists about the ERL
Image: Shama/BSBI Publicity Team
lan Taylor, Natural England's specialist for the conservation of vascular plant species, is another co-author of the report and you can read his comment here on Natural England's excellent England Red List webpage.

The millions of botanical records collected by BSBI members over the years provided the data on which the ERL analysis was carried out. David Pearman, Chris Preston and Trevor Dines, co-authors of the New Atlas of the British & Irish flora were also at Kew yesterday to hear Pete explain what happens when you apply the internationally recognised IUCN criteria to all that data. David and Chris are also England Red List co-authors.
Although the decline in some of our best-loved wild flowers is not good news, at least we now have evidence of what is actually happening to our native plants. 

Pearman, Preston & Dines, authors of the 2002
New Atlas of the British & Irish flora
Image: L. Marsh
As David Roy of the Biological Records Centre/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology says, “The ERL is a landmark publication, using innovative analysis of one of the most comprehensive botanical datasets in the world.  It highlights the unique contribution of expert volunteers for identifying conservation priorities and understanding threats to our native wildlife”.

Congratulations to Pete and his co-authors on their tremendous achievement. Now, what can we do to halt the decline in our wild plants?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

First England Red List for Vascular Plants

Pete (on left) and Kevin with NPMS volunteers 
The first ever England Red List for Vascular Plants will be unveiled at Kew Gardens next Wednesday, 17th September, at a BSBI press launch with lead author Pete Stroh (BSBI's Scientific Officer) and his co-authors, fellow botanists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Natural England, the Natural History Museum, Plantlife and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Now that's what you call a botanical all-star line-up!

But that's all I can tell you about the England Red List today because its contents are, as you might expect, strictly embargoed until next Wednesday. 

Recording our wild plants this summer
Image: B. Barnett
I can, though, tell you that Pete and his team have been working on this analysis for almost two years and some of their findings will surprise you. 

And I don't think anyone will mind if I tell you that both Kevin Walker (BSBI's Head of Science & Research) and former President David Pearman (co-author of the New Atlas of the British & Irish flora2002) were also on the team and are ERL co-authors.  

Pearman, Preston & Dines: the New Atlas team reunited
Image: L. Marsh
I can certainly tell you that several generations of BSBI recorders have played a huge part in collecting the data used for the analysis. That's all of you who go out and record what grows where on your local patch. 

So if the England Red List proves a useful tool for better targeting our conservation efforts towards wild plants - and we think it will - then its success will be down to all of you botanical recorders. We salute and thank you and so, perhaps, will posterity! 

I think you will all be extremely interested in the results of the analysis and many of you will want to take advantage of some of the many ways that you can get involved now in mapping and monitoring our threatened wild plants. Click here here and here to find out more.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Bramble Workshop and other botanical delights

One of the tricky Brambles
Image: G. Quartly-Bishop
Looking through the various Blogs by BSBI members - there are 38 of them now! - is a great way to find out which plants BSBI members have been looking at this summer. 

There is an excellent post here from Gail Quartly-Bishop about BSBI's recent Bramble ID Workshop. Gail agrees that "brambles are pretty tricky" but is now feeling more confident about telling them apart and will be looking out for interesting Rubus sspp. on her local patch.

Welsh Officer Paul Green has been surveying Impatiens noli-tangere sites in in north Wales, S. J. Thomas looked for x Agropogon robinsonii in Aberystwyth, the Breconshire Group found the invasive alien Crassula helmsii and in Llanelli, Gower Wildlife found that Cabbage Palms seem to be "jumping the garden fence". 

Paul Green was also out plant-hunting in Co. Wexford and his specimen of Epilobium x confusilobium has been confirmed by BSBI's Willow-herb Referee

Trifolium micranthum was recorded for the first time in Dunbartonshire, and Stephen Bungard and Carl Farmer refound Alchemilla wichurae, Arabidopsis petraea and Euphrasia ostenfeldii on SkyeThey also found new sites for Juncus biglumis near the summit of the Storr. 

Trifolium micranthum
courtesy of http://www.floralimages.co.uk/default.php
You already know about the Oxfordshire Flora Group (including new member Oli Pescott) whose recent findings are reported here

And Ambroise Baker is back from fieldwork in northern Ireland (looking at aquatics) and has posted about his finds here. His Blog also includes this report on conserving an endangered population of Festuca altissima, rediscovered in Sheffield. 

Ambroise and Oli are also mentioned in this post by the South Yorkshire Botany Group - they all had a great day out and found plants such as Hirschfeldia incana and Catapodium rigidum on the site of an old nursery. 

So, keep an eye on our members' Blogs (list on right) to find out which plants BSBI botanists are recording across Britain and Ireland. And let us know what you are spotting too!