Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Botanists to the rescue: John Poland needs your help!

Robin Payne leads botanists into Stormont Woods...
Image: B. Barnett
John Poland, co-author (with Eric Clement) of the Vegetative Key to the British Flora, is no stranger to News & Views. As Chair of Publications Committee, and a regular exhibitor at our Annual Exhibition Meeting, where he runs a Vegetative Plant ID table, he has often been featured on these pages. 

Just click on the links or type his name into the handy 'Search this Blog' box on the right to see all the posts in which John appears.

John told me he was “gutted” that pressure of work prevented him from getting to this year's Summer Meeting in Perthshire - I hope the images on this page, kindly sent in by BSBI members who did attend, give him a flavour of what he missed - and a few challenges! Many thanks to Bert Barnett, Mark Tulley and Jay MacKinnon for contributing such great photographs! Four of the images on this page are tagged as Mystery Plants, so if you think you know what they are, please leave a comment in the box below. No prizes for guessing, just fun and glory :-) Answers to follow in a few days.

John Swindells, Liz Lavery & co visit
 an "excellent acid marsh", Findattie, Loch Leven
Image: M. Tulley
ASM Mystery plant #1 for John Poland - and you! - to ID
Image: B. Barnett
But John Poland hasn’t been to Scotland since 2006 and really needs to look at a wide range of plant material from across Britain, in preparation for a second edition of the Veg Key, so he asked News & Views for help. 

Could we put out a call for material from locations far from John's home on the south coast? Would BSBI members respond to the call and would the notes that John had put together, on what to collect and how to get it to him, be useful? And how could we ensure that people collected responsibly and didn't inadvertently do any damage to wild plant populations?

I tried out John's request by sending the notes to three BSBI members who I knew were attending the Annual Summer Meeting in Perthshire and one of them has come through splendidly with a "bag of leaves" which is winging its way to John as we speak. 

Many thanks to Paul Stevens for being the first to respond to John's request and I hope that more of you will follow suit if you live in, or are visiting, the more northerly or westerly parts of Britain. Take a look at John's notes below and please get in touch with me if you think you may be able to help him. John is incredibly busy with fieldwork right now, so I'll try to handle any questions and he can just have the pleasure of opening the "bags of leaves" and getting a nice surprise! 

ASM Mystery plant #2. Click on images to enlarge.
Image: B. Barnett
But first, please read the BSBI Code of Conduct and this guide on collecting material by the master, Arthur Chater. They tell you what to do and what not to do, and Arthur's guide is very good on how to press a herbarium specimen. 

But you don't need to press material for John - just collect responsibly and send the fresh material as outlined below. 
Botanists still in the woods at Stormont...
Image: B. Barnett
Responsibly means collecting with conservation in mind, so you should really have a population of at least 25 individuals (some of us think 50 minimum) before you even think of taking bits from one of them, you must have landowner permission and obviously you should never uproot a plant or do anything which contravenes legislation (summarised in the BSBI Code of Conduct). 

And definitely no orchids please - they require a different approach and should never be sampled by non-experts. 

Mystery plant #3 from the ASM
Image:. J. MacKinnon
John says: "Basically, I'm after any of the commoner non-southern species so I can re-run through keys and improve descriptions etc. I say commoner species so people don't uproot rarities (no plant should be uprooted anyway without landowner permission as I'm sure you all know) but specimens of localised species in abundance, including a small portion of stem and some leaves, should do no harm if collected in line with the BSBI Code of Conduct and Arthur's paper on collecting

"However, for me, flowers/fruits are not necessarily required! 

BSBI botanists fishing for plants, Loch Cluanie
Image: M. Tulley
"Specimens should be put just in a poly bag (not paper bags) and without wet tissue paper etc (people often send with this and it just speeds up decay). I need a few representative leaves” [LM: maybe one from the top, one basal and one in-between] “and a bit of stem - many ID features are in stems, which may survive the journey better! They don't need labelling - I'll work out what they are (and where they are from) but if I have any queries will contact the sender.

"If highly trained botanists insist on labelling, a piece of paper in the bag with 4-letter codes such as Sa ph will be more than adequate! 

An iconic Scottish species. Do you know Mystery plant #4?
Image: B. Barnett
"Envelopes containing poly bags should be sent 1st class at their earliest convenience (I'll refund over the postage amount for the hassle) but no need for padded envelopes or recorded delivery etc and I don't mind if they're scrunched up! 

"I'll accept literally anything that has a northern British range inc. any Salix and Carex! Anyone assisting will of course be thanked individually with comments".

Heading home... from Stormont Woods
Image: B. Barnett
So, let me know if you think you may be able to help John this year, and I can pass on his postal address and keep a note of what is offered and where from, so we don't all send him the same thing! 

And even if you can't help this year, the two pdfs giving the BSBI Code of Conduct and Arthur's paper on collecting are essential reading for all botanists. 

Worth an annual re-read so you can be sure that your botanical forays never result in any negative impacts on populations of our lovely wild plants! 

Worth a daily re-read if you are a plant photographer - please don't flatten lots of plants in your quest to capture the best one, and never succumb to the temptation to "do a little gardening" around the plant.