Sunday, 21 August 2016

BSBI Plant Referee on the case

Last week I spotted an interesting post on Twitter from BSBI member Martin, with a photo of an unusual looking Horsetail. I asked Martin to tell us more and he very kindly offers us this guest blogpost:

"I was walking through one of my local ancient woodlands back in June preparing for a “Woodland Explorer” day I was to be leading for a group of local eight year-old children (which you can read about here) and noticed something odd out of the corner of my eye. It seemed to be a Giant Horsetail but there was something not quite right about it; I didn’t have the right reference book with me so I took a photo of it.

"When I got back home I looked at the pictures in my reference books, which is usually the quickest way to ID something for me, but Giant Horsetail it seems has single whorls only. 

"Read the descriptions – to be honest I’m not the best at following all the technical words - Wood Horsetail does the many small branches thing, but some of the bits weren’t right and my plant was way too big. I discovered there were hybrids *sigh* and tried the image search on the internet. 

"There’s a Bowman’s Horsetail (who knew?) that looked similar – Giant horsetail hybridising with Wood Horsetail. I guessed at that, but as it’s so rare and obscure I thought I’d missed something really, really obvious somewhere. I did my usual trick of waiting for second thoughts.

"Six days later, whilst doing the washing up, I remembered that the BSBI had a whole load of experts you can ask". [LM: Only if you are a BSBI member, sorry!] "A quick hunt for the BSBI Yearbook and I had an email address for the Horsetail Referee. I sent the pic and suggested it might be Equisetum x bowmanii. 

"I got a lovely answer, thanking me for sending the photographs and saying 'No, it’s not the hybrid (I can send you a sample of it if you wish to compare) but it is very interesting, if you wouldn’t mind sending a pressed stem as then I can check for absolute certainty'.

"To cut a long story short, about a month later I collected more, photographed and pressed them, and now I’ve sent them off and so we should know what it is in a couple of weeks or so".

Martin has promised to send an update once he hears back from the Referee. All 106 of BSBI's expert Plant Referees are volunteers, just like our 186 County Recorders, and they provide their services to members as part of the membership package. A very important part too!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Rare chance to see Francis Willughby's herbarium specimens

Chris Preston has been in touch to tell us about an interesting exhibition which opens in Nottingham this week. 
Chris (on left) and Philip (centre) receive their
Thackray Medal from Hugh Torrens, then
President of the Society for the
History of Natural History
Philip holds a copy of
John Ray's Cambridge Catalogue.
Image courtesy of P. Oswald

This is a unique chance to see some of Francis Willughby's herbarium specimens on public display. Willughby was a 17th Century naturalist and the friend, colleague and patron of John Ray, who is often dubbed 'the father of English natural history'. 

The specimens were included after Willughby's death in an interleaved copy of John Ray's Historia plantarum and some of them are also annotated by John Ray. 

This is the first time that Willughby's volumes of herbarium specimens and examples of the plant drawings he collected on the Continent in the 1660s have ever been exhibited in public.

Much of the exhibition draws on the recent book (2016) edited by Tim Birkhead: Virtuoso by nature: the scientific worlds of Francis Willughby FRS (1635-1672)

The exhibition opens on Friday and runs through to December - details here

Many thanks to Chris for alerting us to this exhibition. Chris and Philip Oswald translated and edited John Ray's Cambridge catalogue (1660) for which they were awarded the Thackray medal in 2013. Chris is also a co-author, along with Clive Stace and David Pearman, of the celebrated Hybrid Flora of the British Isles.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Hebrides Recording 2016: the boat trip

This year's Hebridean recording bash culminated in a week-long boat trip  to survey the flora of some of the uninhabited islands off the coast of Lewis. Here is Paul Smith's final Hebridean dispatch for this year:

"The start of the BSBI field meeting to Scarp and Loch Resort was dominated by the weather; we did leave on Saturday, but were largely boat-bound in Force 10 winds on Sunday. 

"But the next day as the winds eased off the Hebrides did that glorious sunshine thing , and we got a whole day on Aird Mhor. [The image above, taken by Paul, shows the boat, MV Cuma, moored off Tarain Mor, and two of the team botanising on the shore].

"It was very acidic but there were some nice patches - some Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) in the lochs had (hollow) stems as thick as my finger, and there was a wee woodland nestling on a hilltop among boulders, with Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum).

"Aird Mhor and Scarp both had tiny plants of Solidago virgaurea - ssp minimus in Sell & Murrell, one of the infraspecific taxa that keep the interest up in places where there are relatively fewer species. [image on left]. 

"Some islands are very species poor - we went to have a look at some rocks north of Scarp in two tetrads, up to 8m above high tide, but absolutely no species, because the sea regularly breaks over the top.

"Lots of plants take the opportunity to hide from grazing, and Scarp had both sheep and deer, so the geos (ravines in sea cliffs) were good habitats for interesting species - Sedum rosea, Silene uniflora, and Ligusticum scoticum. 

"Binoculars are essential botanising gear (unless you can fly!) In the image above right, Martin Robinson is looking down into a large geo on Scarp. 

"Scarp is a big and heavily grazed island, but during the meeting we also visited several islands where there has been no grazing - Mealasta Island has been without for around 10 years, and there was a lot of Juniperus communis regenerating on the moorland parts. 

"The smaller islands Cearstaigh and Liongam have been ungrazed much longer, and it was like walking on pillows because of the depth of the vegetation - with very clear paths made by otters. 

"On Liongam, the Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) was out in the open (in the torrential mist - see image above left), and there was really no difference between the cliff habitats and the the moorland - a clear sign of the effect that grazing normally has, as the best plants always hide in the cliffy refuges.

"A fantastic effort by the participants in this field meeting gave us records (or zero counts) in 20 tetrads, despite the variable weather. Well done!"

I'm just glad they all made it back safely, thanks to skipper Murdo and his crew on MV Cuma, and that the weather cleared enough to allow some good botanising. 

Oh that Hebridean weather... just compare the image [above], taken near the end of the trip, with the view [on left] that the botanists enjoyed from the boat on day one, as those Force 10 winds hit the Hebrides. MV Cuma was safely moored in a sheltered part of Loch Resort, so Paul & co spent the day looking out at the spindrift being blown off the waves and waiting to seize the moment when the winds dropped and the sun came out. Which thankfully they did!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Tim Rich on the hunt for Hebridean hawkweeds

Report in from Paul Smith on a very special addition to this year's Hebridean Recording Team - none other than Dr Tim Rich, author/co-author of several BSBI Handbooks, acknowledged national expert on hawkweeds (Hieracium spp.), co-author of the celebrated Plant Crib, co-founder of the New Year Plant Hunt, the man who found and described Attenborough's Hawkweed and an all-round good egg. 

Over to Paul:

"We finally persuaded Tim Rich to visit the Outer Hebrides, mainly to collect Hieracium seed for the Millennium Seed Bank. But of course he never stands still, so straight off a flight to Stornoway he zoomed down to Harris and found a new county record in the process - Hieracium virgulatorum. 

Then the next day a short excursion to Carlabhagh (Carloway) to search out an old record for H. maritimum instead turned up H. strictiforme (the picture above shows Tim with specimens from two sites 100m apart...and, wouldn't you know it, cunningly in two hectads).

A further day saw Tim and Paul yomping over bits of Uig parish in the sunshine, looking for Hieracium scarpicum (a vc110 endemic named after the island of Scarp). But we started with some gorgeous habitat (see picture on left, with Tim contemplating a dive down the cliff past the sheet of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), and some Hieracium in the H. argenteum group. 

A quick stop on the bridge at Brenais to see H. subscoticum and gather seed, and then to Mealasta to find ravenous (whoops, sorry, ravinous!) habitat of Abhainn Stacageo and refind H. scarpicum; actually the ravine was stuffed with it, and another species, possibly H. hypophalacrum (which you can see staring back at Tim in the photo on the right). 

Altogether a grand haul of Hieracium records including several other records during the day".

Many thanks to Paul for this report and for the photos of Tim, also taken by Paul. 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

BSBI events for recorders in September

Blanket bog north of Ballyvourney
Image: Catherine Ketch
Sometimes a BSBI botanist has some hard choices to make. You look at your diary for the first weekend in September and - aargh! - two mouthwatering BSBI training/recording events and you have to choose one. But which?

You could head for Shrewsbury and the BSBI Recorders' Conference, or over to Co. Cork for the Cork Recording Event. To help you make up your mind, here's a bit more info:

The Recorders' Conference runs from 2nd-4th September and is aimed at anyone actively recording for Atlas 2020. The first two days feature seven talks, one demo and five workshops, including a Vegetative ID workshop led by John Poland. There's a fieldtrip to a local reserve on the third and final day.

Strawberry Tree, native in W. Cork -
recorders will be on the look-out for this one!
Image: Clare Heardman
More details here and you'll need to book by 14th August please. 

The Cork Recording Event runs from 1st-4th September, is based in Ballyvourney and is aimed at any botanists (from beginner to expert) who would like to explore some of the best habitats Co. Cork has to offer while collecting records for Atlas 2020. The first day is based in East Cork at one of the largest saltmarshes in Ireland, learning to identify some of the more difficult genera (e.g. Salicornia & Atriplex) with Paul Green (County Recorder for Waterford & joint County Recorder for Wexford). 

The Gearagh
Image: Catherine Ketch
The next three days will be based in the woodlands, mountains & valleys around Macroom and Millstreet, including the famous alluvial woodland of The Gearagh.

More details here and you'll need to book by 28th August please.

It's hard to say which event will give you the best chance of picking up some useful ID tips from BSBI County Recorders, those helpful expert botanists who collate our plant records and do stuff like this. Around 20 of them have already booked in to the Recorders' Conference and some will be leading workshops and giving talks. 

St Gobnait's Wood, right opposite your
accommodation in Ballyvourney
Image@ Clare Heardman
But the Recorders' Conference only gives you one day in the field vs four in Co. Cork, where you'll be botanising alongside the likes of Clare Heardman (County Recorder for West Cork) and Edwina Cole (caretaker for Mid and East Cork), Rory Hodd (joint County Recorder for Kerry and stalwart of the celebrated Rough Crew), BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long and of course plant-spotter extraordinaire Paul GreenIf you want to pick botanical brains, those are some great brains to pick!

Tough call isn't it? Here are those links again for more details and booking forms: Recorders' Conference or Cork Recording Event? Decision time!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

What do County Recorders actually do?

I was chatting yesterday to Robin Walls, the BSBI's County Recorder for Dorset, and he was telling me what he's been up to in the past few days. It struck me that Robin's account gave a very helpful glimpse into what a County Recorder actually does! So, many thanks to Robin for allowing me to share the account below.  

As you read Robin's account, please bear in mind that all our County Recorders are volunteers who have dedicated a huge amount of unpaid time to collating all the plant records they receive from members and non-members across their county and then entering them into the BSBI Distribution Database

And they also do this sort of thing... over to Robin:

"Been out all day chasing some old records. Cicendia filiformis (pic above) – the smallest I’ve ever seen it  and only a few plants – amongst Agrostis canina with Radiola and one plant of Anagallis minima. Then Illecebrum that turned out to be in the tank training area with forbidding notices, so we had to miss that one. Finally a good stand of Rhynchospora fusca (on left) and some very small Lycopodiella inundata plus a couple of other grid refs where it should be and has now gone. 

"Finally we met up with the Carnivorous Plant Soc. tour to see the Sarracenia purpurea (pic below) in lots of different forms and a few hybrids / vars. (if you believe in all this) in Hyde Bog. It is growing very vigorously here – better than in California according to a participant who is from there; so much so that the Forestry Commission have set up a meeting next month to discuss how to control it. [LM: see also this paper on S. purpurea by Kevin Walker - in New Journal of Botany.]

"So yes, a good day out in glorious weather. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with them again to see the Drosera hybrid recently renamed, which is why I wanted to access New Journal of Botany to read the note on it.

"You might also be interested in Sunday’s jaunt – Lobelia urens (pic below) at the site we bulldozed a couple of years ago. Now superb with over 2000 plants (we counted 2400 last year and an eyeball check says there are at least as many) and a couple of dozen flowers per spike – the most floriferous plants we’ve seen. Three years ago there were only six plants! 

"There are a couple of options to expand the population we are exploring. One is a few km away where quarry restoration has the potential to create the right conditions".

Robin's email also acknowledged all the records he will have to input this winter, but says, quite rightly "That is not a job for warm sunny days!" For now the focus is firmly on fieldwork and chasing up old records for Atlas 2020

I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into Robin's activities as a County Recorder. Many thanks to him for sharing this account and for the images, also taken by Robin. 

But if you yourself are a County Recorder, and you're thinking "Hmm, that's not what I do all week!" then please email me a short account of your recent botanical activities and I'll be happy to post it here. So we can compare and contrast like good scientists!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Hebridean Recording Team Strikes Back!

Nitella confervacea
from Loch Arnol, Lewis
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
Today is the final day of the Shetland Recording Week and botanists are heading home having broken a few records, filled in a fair few Atlas 2020 recording cards and seen some interesting species. Meanwhile, over on the isle of Lewis, Paul Smith and his team have been notching up a few successes of their own. Over to Paul:

"While the rest of the world is working on a macro scale, things have been more micro-level here. 

"Claudia Ferguson-Smyth has been rewarded for many hours effort throwing a grapnel in various lochs with some nice charophyte records. 

"The Outer Hebrides usually have Chara virgata and Nitella translucens in moorland and peaty lochs, but some of the lochs on the NW side of Lewis are on machair, and have yielded Chara contraria and Chara aspera. Meanwhile, BSBI President John Faulkner and Notts. botanist Mags Crittenden managed to find Chara vulgaris in flushed machair at Barvas (a habitat it seems to like in vc110).  

"But star of the show is the minuscule [LM: and rarely recorded] Nitella confervacea which Claudia trawled up from Loch Arnol (BSBI aquatics expert Nick Stewart says it looks like the balls of wool you pull off your favourite jumper). It's so small that you're not supposed to be able to find it except by accident, so full marks to Claudia both for looking and recognising it. And she took the superb picture (above) - the whole thing that you can see is only 5.7mm long.

Anthracoidea limosa
Image: P. Smith
 "Having warmed everyone up with four Anthracoidea smuts on Carex and Trichophorum, today had more excitement as one of the Lost and Found Fungi put in an appearance - I prompted News & Views readers to look out for it, and I have followed my own advice! 

"This one is Anthracoidea limosa on Carex limosa, otherwise known from Rannoch Moor and one site in West Sutherland. And I didn't have to explain to anyone that I was looking for smuts, although I did need my trusty wellies..."

This year's Hebridean Recording Party has another week to run so watch this space for further updates.