Monday, 5 September 2016

BSBI Recorders' Conference in full swing

Chris Metherell leads an Eyebright ID workshop
Image: S. Townsend
Sarurday was the second day of the BSBI Recorders' Conference in Shrewsbury, and 74 keen botanical recorders gathered at The Gateway in Shrewsbury.

They were all ready for a jam-packed day of talks, workshops, catching up with old friends and making new ones (or, if you want it in management speak, taking advantage of networking opportunities!) and of course spending their money in the Summerfield Books pop-up shop. 


Extract from a French Flora
Image: L. Marsh
Martin Rand (County Recorder for South Hants.) kicked off the day's proceedings with a talk about the Floras of other European countries and some resources arising from his presentation should soon be available via the BSBI website's Overseas page. We'll also be sharing Powerpoints from the Recorders' Conference here.

Next up was Claudia Ferguson-Smyth, well-known to News & Views readers from her Dandelion workshops; her co-authored paper in New Journal of Botany describing Taraxacum pankhurstianum, named for our late and much-missed mutual friend Richard Pankhurst; her recording and underwater filming of Hebridean aquatics; and her fabulous photography which features on the covers of early volumes of New Journal of Botany. In recent years Claudia has curated the cover, this year using images from the very successful BSBI photography competition which she also helped to build up. 


A slide from Claudia's beautifully illustrated talk
 - illustration drawn by her daughter Megan.
Image: L. Marsh
Claudia stepped into the breach after co-speaker Nick Stewart sadly had to pull out at the last minute and she did a fabulous job. 

By the time we broke for coffee, she had convinced her audience that we could - and should - go out looking for charophytes in suitable habitat (she told us where to look!) and that with the aid of Nick's key we would be able to make a stab at IDing them. And it would be fun! 

Facebook was soon buzzing with people asking if Nick's key would be made available via the BSBI website and the answer is - it's already there! Columns 1&2 on the Identification page have links in alphabetical order to Plant Cribs for many taxa but column 3 has all the other resources and Nick's key is at the top of the column.


Rich Burkmar in action
Image: R. Mabbutt
After coffee, we enjoyed a QGIS demo by Rich Burkmar which again left us all buzzing with ideas and keen to have a bash. A bit more info here for us to follow up. Then a fascinating talk by BSBI Scientific Officer Pete Stroh about recording rare plants in his county (Northants.) and issues around detectability. 

It was very thought-provoking and full of funny asides and observations, but an alarm bell was sounded when Pete flagged up some of the less common species which really do seem to be in decline, just as he and co-authors of the England Red List stated in their analysis. A reminder that you can download the List free of charge here.


Poring over the book bargains with
Paul O'Hara (in red) of Summerfield Books
Image: L. Marsh
Lunch break and a chance to visit the Summerfield Books pop-up shop. Some great secondhand bargains to be had there, alongside the glossy new stock. Several newly-joined BSBI members were delighted to pick up copies of early editions of the celebrated Sedge Handbook for only a few pounds. 

Paul O'Hara of Summerfield Books says the Sedge Handbook has the highest sales of any of the BSBI Handbooks, and one look through makes it clear why - it really is indispensable if you are getting to grips with sedges. 

The latest edition has lots of hybrids in and of course a BSBI distribution map for each taxon but I confess to a fondness for the lightweight 1st and 2nd editions which slip so easily into the pocket whenever you head out into the field. Edition 3 stays at home on the shelf! 


Vegetative ID workshop
with John Poland (standing)
Image: R. Mabbutt
 
In the afternoon, people were able to choose any two workshops from the six on offer. I opted first for a vegetative ID session with John Poland and even as a seasoned user of this amazing book, I picked up some new tips from John, who had brought in a binliner full of leaves and stems, each specimen demonstrating a different ID character used in the key. 

So the dendritic hairs of a Verbascum leaf were cooed over (like tiny trees!) and praised afterwards on Twitter, and we all enjoyed a comment from Arthur Chater that the best way to confirm medifixed hairs is to poke one end with a pin and see if the other end wiggles!

A fellow botanist who has only recently started using the Veg Key also found the session a delight and later posted this on the BSBI Facebook page


Standing room only at
Mark Duffell's aliens workshop
Image: L.Marsh
The final session was a workshop on IDing alien plants, led by Mark Duffell. It was standing and perching room only as Mark produced specimen after specimen of live material of various aliens, some invasive, with native taxa for comparison, and he guided us expertly through what to look for. Mark has built up a serious reputation as an excellent tutor and his skill was certainly in evidence on Saturday. An excellent close to a fabulous day.

Some of us had to head home at this point, inspired and buzzing with ideas, but those staying on for the Sunday field trip headed back to their accommodation at FSC Preston Montford and an evening of after-dinner workshops. Watch this space for the next report from this year's BSBI Recorders' Conference.