Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Behind the scenes in herbaria

Herbarium tour, AEM 2014
Image: L. Marsh 
If you missed out on the very popular guided tours of the University of Leicester Herbarium which so many attendants at the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting enjoyed, you may have read yesterday's note about Peter Sell and the decades he spent volunteering in a herbarium, and thought... yes, but what exactly was he doing in there? And, more importantly, why?

There are some excellent videos around which answer those questions, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what goes on at two national herbaria. This video is from RBGE and this one and this are both from Kew

What goes on in any herbarium is basically the same, whether it's a national collection or a cupboard in your bedroom. You are preserving a plant for future use and reference - whether that's to help your personal ID skills or for internationally-important research. That's the 'why' of herbaria - and the supporting data you include on your herbarium label covers where the specimen was found, when, by whom, growing with what... all the things you and your fellow botanists need to know about the plant you collected in the field!  

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Publication of Volume 2 of ‘Sell & Murrell’

Image courtesy of
Cambridge University Press
Philip Oswald has been in touch to share his pleasure at receiving the most delightful early Christmas present: a copy of the newly-published, and long-awaited, Volume 2 of Peter Sell's and Gina Murrell's Flora of Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 2 is the penultimate volume of the five.

Philip told me “A small group of Peter's friends have collaborated to see this volume through the press and will soon be starting on the necessary work on the final volume of the five, Volume 1.

“This volume of 588 pages – very slightly less than in the previous one – covers the 18 families from Capparaceae and Brassicaceae (Cruciferae) to Saxifragaceae and Rosaceae, the last occupying pages 135–518 and including 173 pages with descriptions of 354 Rubus taxa.

Sarah Holme has joined Gina Murrell in providing the line drawings for this volume, including three plates of elegantly drawn leaves of all the twenty Alchemilla species.”

Gina Murrell and Peter Sell, 2011
Image: P. Oswald
You can find out here about Peter’s many years spent in the Herbarium at Cambridge University Botanic Garden. You can also read an obituary of Peter Sell (1931-2013) and see some of the many tributes paid to him by his friends and colleagues here, here and herePerhaps the finest tribute is the way they have collaborated to bring this Volume 2 to press.

For any British or Irish botanist keen to identify taxa below species level, the volumes of ‘Sell & Murrell’ are indispensable, so the publication of Volume 2 is certainly a cause for rejoicing. It is now available from booksellers, and Summerfield Books has it on special offer here at £105 (usually £125).

As Philip points out “The bright red cover of this volume, including a photograph of hawthorn berries, seems especially appropriate at Christmastide”.

Many thanks to Philip for the details above and to Katrina Halliday at Cambridge University Press for providing an image of the front cover of Volume 2.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Getting started with ferns - the Garnett approach

George and his exhibit at the AEM
Image: L. Hawthorne
Another of the exhibits from last month's BSBI Exhibition Meeting has been uploaded and is available here. It is a report by George Garnett on his fern finds for 2014. 

George visited sites in Wales and on his home island of Guernsey to view ferns in-situ, collecting specimens where necessary to help with identification and to add to his private herbarium collection. As a (junior) member of BSBI, he was able to consult our Fern Referee Fred Rumsey for help with identifying the trickiest specimens. 

While in the field, George was careful to adhere to Arthur Chater's guidelines on Collecting. If you want to get to grips with a plant group such as ferns, George's example would be an excellent one to follow!  

Worth pointing out that George first got involved with BSBI via last year's New Year Plant Hunt and hopes to participate again this year - as I hope you will?  

Friday, 12 December 2014

Ken Thompson: Do Plants have a Gender?

Dog's Mercury
Image: R. Clark
BSBI is in the media spotlight again today thanks to BSBI member and Telegraph Gardening blogger Ken Thompson. His column 'Do Plants Have a Gender?' was published this morning and is available here for your delight.

Ken mentions BSBI in the column (he often does this!) and quotes from several articles published in BSBI News - as he has done in previous blogs for the Telegraph. Keep up the good work, Ken, your fellow members love reading your occasional columns

It would probably be quite brazen of me to include a shameless plug here for Ken's most recent book, so instead here's a link to the previous one which is also excellent.  

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Importance of Ivy to Insects

Hoverfly Eristalis sp. feeding on Ivy
Image: R. Clark
The Holly and the Ivy, when they are both full-grown... are very useful to insects! Don't know about you but I hadn't realised quite how many insects rely on Ivy, especially at this time of year. 

This short piece by Ryan Clark is an eye-opener and the images are gorgeous. Ryan also gives a link to an academic paper on Ivy as an under-appreciated key resource to flower-visiting insects in Autumn.

I guess Holly is important to insects too - if a greedy Robin keeps scoffing berries, he'll be too full for even a wafer-thin insect! 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Boosting biodiversity: Three Hagges Jubilee Wood

Viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare,  June 2014,
much favoured by bumble bees
(12 spp. recorded this season).
Image: L. Hawthorne
BSBI member Lin Hawthorne exhibited at the recent Exhibition Meeting and there was a great deal of interest in the work she is engaged in, so I'm delighted that Lin has offered us this guest  post: 

"The BSBI AEM was a much-appreciated opportunity to bring the work of Hagge Woods Trust at Three Hagges Jubilee Wood to the attention of the botanical community.

"Three Hagges Jubilee Wood had its origins in the campaign in 2012 to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee by planting 6 million trees. The simple mass planting of trees may well produce a fine forestry stand, but is unlikely to create the priceless diversity so valued in ancient woodland. Function and motivations are entirely different. At the outset of the project, our particular motivations included concerns about the losses of floral diversity during the last century in our own predominantly agricultural landscape, and it became clear that we must develop radical strategies to address those concerns. 

Every child should have an opportunity like this.
Surveying Hagge Woods meadow at close quarters.
Image: Tango Fawcett
"Our first decision was that if we were to create something more complex than a plantation, it must, at least, include the vital ground flora - so frequently overlooked in new woodland planting. Our ultimate decision to create a wood-meadow ecosystem distilled the essence of all our concerns regarding the losses of meadow, hedgerow and ancient woodland since the Second World War.

"The decision was reached in discussion with a multi-disciplinary team of expert ecologists, botanists and conservationists, including Prof. David Gowing, of the OU Floodplain Meadows Partnership, and Prof. George Peterken, OBE, Forest Ecologist, who has generously agreed to become a Patron of Hagge Woods Trust.

Some 22 environmental scientists joined us
 in May 2014 to contribute to our developing plans
 for the wood-meadow.
Centre, our Patron, Prof. George Peterken.
Image: Tango Fawcett
"The creation of a woodland ecosystem on former arable is not a simple undertaking, however, and there is no adequate literature to help achieve it. Hagge Woods Trust  was set up to research, develop and communicate best practice in the creation and development of such new ecosystems. The long-term ambition of the Trust is to formulate methodologies and publish our findings on the creation of new wood-meadow ecosystems. 

"We have sought strategies that, if applied in tapestry across the landscape, would create corridors of diversity to link fragmented habitats, without significant depletion in area of productive land. They should have potential for building a cohesive network of high-value habitats, especially in rural/arable areas, and should ensure that implementation is achievable by farmers and other land managers. The principles in microcosm could be replicable on a national scale, providing opportunities to create an interwoven mosaic of small-scale, biodiverse woodlands on farms, in communities and schools.

The meadow in June 2014, a year from
sowing in May 2013.
Image: L. Hawthorne
"In planting Three Hagges Jubilee Wood as wood-meadow, the Trust has created a prototype and research base that combines permanent grassland and coppice woodland, with meadow margins that transition through a graduated woodland edge of flowering and fruiting shrubs and small trees, to a high canopy of forest trees. Although wood-meadows are now rare in the UK, those extant now provide some of the most biodiverse of wooded habitats. Their importance is more widely recognized in continental Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, and in Eastern Europe. They include some of the most diverse plant communities anywhere: 70 plant species per m2. These are our models and target. 

"Early analyses of costs suggest that simple implementation is possible within existing grant frameworks. The Trust has in place long-term management plans, unusual continuity of personnel and security of tenure and a commitment to monitoring changes in diversity over a minimum of ten years. The essential work of this research, data collection and information management, however, depends on fund raising activities by the Trust. 

"The 10ha site is now home to 10,000 woody natives, set in traditionally managed meadow based on NVC MG4 (wet) and MG5 (dry) lowland meadows, currently with over 50 perennial and 12 grass species. The range of flora will benefit diverse fauna; it does not have a single-species conservation focus. The target is to achieve 150+ meadow species, by further introductions from wild-collected seed.

Three Hagges Jubilee Wood, a bare, recently-
harvested barley field in late September 2012.
Image: L. Hawthorne
"The primary ecosystem service we wish to provide is an increase in biodiversity on formerly arable land. All selected flora have known virtues as invertebrate hosts. Together, trees and grassland form the botanically diverse base of a food web that will serve a huge variety of birds, mammals and insect life including, critically, our threatened pollinators".

Many thanks to Lin, who is Project Designer and Manager at Hagge Woods Trust, for telling us more about the project. Do check out their website - Lin's blog is superbly written and posts like this one give you a real insight into what she is trying to achieve. No wonder Prof George Peterken agreed to become a Patron of Hagge Woods Trust!  

If you are in the area, why not drop in and see for yourself? Send us some pix if you do! And here is the pdf of Lin's poster at the AEM. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

New Year Plant Hunt 2015

Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium recorded in flower
New Year 2013/4
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
It's getting near that time of year again, building up to the winter's big event ... Dr Tim Rich's announcement of the details of this year's BSBI New Year Plant Hunt! The annual hunt, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of Tim and Dr Sarah Whild, Chair of BSBI's Training & Education Committee. Over to Tim to tell you all about it:

"For the 4th year running you are cordially invited to join in our BSBI New Year wild flower hunt. The aim is to record as many wild species flowering as you can in up to 3 hours over the New Year period.

"The idea for an annual hunt originated on 1 January 2012 when we discovered an amazing 63 species in flower in Cardiff in the very mild weather. This was a real contrast to 2011 when even the gorse flowers were frozen under snow. New Year 2013 was much less floriferous than 2012, but 52 species were still found in flower in Cardiff (see BSBI News 123:40) and seven other groups joined in.

Musk Stork's-bill Erodium cicutarium flowering
in Lincs, New Year 2013/4
Image: S. Lambert 
"The survey caught on. Last New Year was amazing – we had 48 lists from all over Britain and also from Ireland, with a total of 221 species in flower (164 of which were natives). Cardiff and Leicester both had 66 species recorded in flower contrasting with the Outer Hebrides and Central Wales which had only 2 species. And for the same areas recorded in 2012/13, there were 40% more species in flower last year.

"Although the survey is for fun, it does generate some surprising results. As 2014 is the warmest year on record we are expecting higher totals than ever if the frosts keep away. 

VC55 Team (plus secret weapon Brian Laney!)
ready to start the 2013/4 Plant Hunt
Image: L. Marsh
"The rules are simple to try to keep data comparable between different areas and over different years:
1. Pick one day over the New Year weekend between from Thursday 1st –Sunday 4th January 2015, when the weather is decent enough to record in.
2. Record wild and naturalised plants (but not planted or garden species) in flower. Please check plants are actually flowering – that catkins are actually open, grasses have open florets, stigmas or anthers are on show etc.
3. Record for up to 3 hours. 
4. Send us details of what you saw: species recorded, names of the botanists who saw them, time and location. You can email a list to and/or post your finds on the BSBI Facebook page and/or tweet them to us at @BSBIbotany. 

German-ivy Delairea odorata flowering
in Cornwall, New Year 2013/4
Image: Elise O'Donnell
"You can contribute as many different lists as you like from different areas (we did 3 last year), and please send us pictures, especially of the more interesting finds." 

Don't worry about swamping us with records - after the success of last year's Plant Hunt, Tim has an assistant this year! Ryan Clark joins the Plant Hunt team this year as Assistant Co-ordinator so when you email us at you will be contacting Tim, Ryan, Sarah and me. We all look forward to hearing from you on 1st January.