Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year Plant Hunt!

Look out for this one on the Plant Hunt!
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
Here's to a great Plant Hunt 2015 - it kicks off on New Year's morning with Tim Rich on Radio Wales sometime between 7 and 9am and on iPlayer here.

Lots of you have told us that you will be out Plant Hunting - recording all the wild or naturalised species that you can spot in flower within a 3 hour period.

Don't forget to send us your records and pix: email to or post on the BSBI Facebook page or tweet your records to @BSBIbotany

Happy New Year botanists! 

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas to all botanists!

Image courtesy of Ryan Clark
Season's greetings from all at BSBI. Only a week to go until the New Year Plant Hunt :-)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Hawkweed named for Sir David Attenborough

The December issue of New Journal of Botany should be with you soon after Christmas, and in it you will find a description of a new Hawkweed from the Brecon Beacons, Wales. 

Tim and a Taraxacum in the Brecon Beacons
Image: C. Gait
The botanist who described this new Hawkweed is none other than Tim Rich, co-ordinator of the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, and he has named it Hieracium attenboroughianum after Sir David Attenborough. 

Tim said "I have named this species in honour of Sir David Frederick Attenborough whose ‘World about us’ series on BBC television inspired me to study ecology when I was 17. I have watched and admired his work ever since, as have many other people and, in naming this Hawkweed, pay tribute to him for so eloquently educating us about the natural world".

Cover of NJB in 2014
Images by C. Ferguson-Smyth
You will have to wait for the December issue of New Journal of Botany to find out more and see images of the new Hawkweed, but Tim's abstract says "Hieracium attenboroughianum is a member of the H. britannicum group in Hieracium section Stelligera Zahn, related to H. britannicoides P. D. Sell, but differing in cupped, dark green leaves and sparse, medium simple eglandular hairs and many glandular hairs on the involucral bracts. About 300 plants occur on Old Red Sandstone mountain ledges on Cribyn (VC42). It is classified under the IUCN Threat Category ‘Endangered’."

If you are thinking of making a start with Hawkweeds - and be warned, they are notoriously tricky - then you will need this, the appropriate volume of this and a lot of time and patience while you work up to this

If you'd prefer something less challenging, we recommend a mooch around your local patch in the first few days of January and sending in your records to Tim, Ryan, me and Sarah for the New Year Plant Hunt.     

Monday, 22 December 2014

New Year's Plant Hunt on the radio

Steven, Tim & Gorse in flower
Image courtesy T. Rich
Tim Rich, Co-ordinator of the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, was at Cardiff Bay this afternoon pre-recording an interview with BBC Radio Wales, to be broadcast on New Year's morning and then available here on iPlayer

Tim was able to tell journalist Steven Fairclough all about the Hunt, now in its fourth year, and some of the species we might find, based on last year's results

I bet they also addressed the issue of whether the plants we all recorded in flower last year indicated an early spring, or were species which flower all year round, or could be considered Autumn-flowering plants that were still going through the middle of winter. Here's Tim's analysis for last year

Blackstonia perfoliata in flower 22/12/2014
Image: T. Rich
Tim was able to show Steven a few wild plants in bloom today and reports finding Blackstonia perfoliata "flowering again in exactly the same spot in Cardiff Bay as it was last year. Unusual genotype or what?!" 

Apparently Tim found 28 plants in flower in about 30 minutes today. Depending on the weather, many of these could still be blooming at New Year for the Plant Hunt. Watch this space!

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 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 Thursday 1st and 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 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.  

Thursday, 4 December 2014

BSBI supports Young Darwins again in 2014.

Kevin (Young Darwin Scholar) examines a plant
Last March, we brought you this report from Cathy Preston at the Field Studies Council about the Young Darwin Scholarship. BSBI was proud to support this programme again in 2014 so I asked Cathy to tell us about this year's intake of Young Darwins. Here is her report:

 "Fifteen young people followed in Darwin’s footsteps walking, exploring, questioning and identifying flora and fauna during their five day Young Darwin Scholarship introductory residential at FSC Preston MontfordThe Young Darwin Scholarship is an FSC initiative to support and encourage young people who have a real interest in natural history and the environment. 

"BSBI have supported the programme for the last two years showing commitment to this initiative which provides ongoing training and opportunities for the young people as they develop.

Sue Townsend (on left) and YDS botanists
"The Young Darwin Scholarship is now in its third year so there are 45 young people who are part of the Young Darwin network and FSC plans to award a further 15 scholarships in 2015.  

"On the first day of the residential, Sue Townsend (Secretary of the BSBI Training and Education Committee) led a guided walk around the FSC Preston Montford Estate bringing to life the links between the landscape, plants and animals. 

"Throughout the walk, she introduced different plants, outlining their characteristics and bringing to life their place in each habitat.  Issues such as invasive species were introduced using Himalayan Balsam which grows on the bank of the River Severn on the estate.

"The Young Darwins were also able to learn about the project to create a meadow on the Preston Montford estate using hay from a species-rich meadow in Shropshire. During their stay, the young people used field notebooks and compiled a species list which they all contributed to. 

Young Darwin Scholar keeping a field notebook
"They visited the Stiperstones and met with Colin Preston, CEO of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. They learnt about the Back to Purple heather restoration project and walked through the Hollies nature reserve – a grove of ancient trees, some of which host Rowan trees growing in cracks in their bark.  

"The Young Darwin Scholars will be encouraged on their onward journey with a reunion and bursaries to attend further training in 2015 and they will also have the chance to meet Young Darwins from 2012 and 2013, which is of mutual benefit. As a Young Darwin from 2012 said following this year's reunion: ‘It is good to get together with Young Darwin Scholars (YDS) – even my friends at University are not as interested in the environment as my YDS friends.’ "

Thanks Cathy! And this what some of the 2014 Young Darwins said about their experience...

Young Darwins line up for their photo-call!
"The Young Darwin Scholarship residential course was fantastic. It included such a broad range of activities relating to the natural world, of which I particularly enjoyed the bio blitz on which over 200 species were found. I made many new friends with the same interest in wildlife, some of whom I am soon going to be meeting up with at nature reserves around the country, and also benefitted from the knowledge of the wide array of experts such as entomologists and botanists who were on hand to give advice or identify flora and fauna. I am looking forward to going on future FSC courses and the YDS reunion next year".  Harry

Young Darwin Scholars Charlotte & Matthew
 "I enjoyed the variety and ability to focus on things that interested you." Charlotte

"‘As for a quote; the YDS helped make my dream of working as a naturalist become more of a reality. It was great to share my enthusiasm of natural history with like minded people."   Alasdair

Applications for the Young Darwin Scholarship 2015 will open in January and you can find out more here. 

All images on this page are reproduced by courtesy of the Field Studies Council.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Irish Species Project (and memories of summer).

One nice thing about the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting is that it brings together botanists from across Britain & Ireland and makes it possible to catch up with what everybody is doing. 

Parnassia palustris - one of the ISP plants
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
So it was great to have both our Irish Officer Maria Long, and the newly-elected Chair of the Committee for Ireland John Faulkner, at the AEM. 

John gave a short presentation about the Irish Species Project and you can download it as a pdf here. Or head over here to see Maria Long's webpage for Ireland and scroll down column 3 to read more about the ISP. 

If you are resident in Ireland, whether in the north or in the Republic, or are just planning to visit on holidays, it's worth getting in touch with Maria and contributing to this excellent project. 

As John says "The Irish Species Project is your opportunity to help give botany in Ireland a big boost. It’s BSBI's first project specifically designed for members in Ireland and for those who aren’t yet members. Visitors can take part too! The 8 species in the project are very appealing and easily recognised, but they are ones we need to know more about. They are widespread around Ireland but we think they may be getting scarcer."

Dunkeld fieldtrip, one of many at the Summer Meeting
Image: B. Barnett
We have also uploaded Ian Denholm's AEM presentation on the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting 2014, held in Perthshire and covered in detail on the pages of News & Views last June

But some of the plants seen are real stunners, so can I suggest you take five minutes out of your busy day, download Ian's presentation here and enjoy some of the gorgeous images taken by Ian and fellow ASM participants such as Bert Barnett and Jay MacKinnon.