Monday, 19 December 2016

BSBI Training Grants help botanists in 2016: Part Three

Following on from Colin's guest blogpost about the grass ID course which a BSBI Training Grant enabled him to sign up for, our next grant recipient is Richard and here's his story: 

Borage with the Plant Formula for
the family Boraginaceae
Image: R. Mabbutt
"I've been interested in plants for a couple of years now and have wanted to take it further than just a mild hobby, and when I was told about the Identiplant course, especially being on-line, I thought this was ideal: a chance to study and still work. I'm not from an academic background and have worked as a buildings maintenance engineer; plumbing, electrics etc. for many years. It's not a very well paid job so when I was told I had got the grant I was over the moon. 

"You get an assignment unit once a fortnight consisting of a PDF and a Word Doc Question Sheet. When completed you submit it to your on-line tutor who then marks it, adding notes, corrections and things to try again. Your tutor is there to ask questions all the while. There is also a forum to chat to other students, but being from my sort of background and used to working on my own I never actually used it. 

"The first three units are about classification, names, terminology and keys. These fascinated me as it was all new to my basic knowledge. The rest of the units are working on plant families. I found the strict academic approach a little difficult at first, but after the first couple were done I found myself looking forward to that fortnightly release of the next challenge.

"Learning how to make dichotomous keys I found hard and my tutor was very helpful, but after the first couple I got the hang of it, looking for two features that opposed to make it definitive, like this:.

1  Lvs 1-2 per shoot,  Fl lobes 3 inner and 3 outer..............Galanthus
    Lvs > 2 per shoot,  Fl lobes not 3 inner and 3 outer.........2
2  Lvs < 5mm width,  Peduncle >5cm length........................Crocus
    Lvs > 5mm width,  Peduncle <5cm length........................3
3  Stamen 6,  Adaxial side of leaf shiny.................................Narcissus
    Stamen 3,  Adaxial side of leaf matt..................................Hyacinthus

"The challenge of having to go and find the plants themselves was a highlight of my weekend and/or following week, then showing how I worked through the keys to get to species was so rewarding. I slightly cheated in unit 5 when it came to finding a Water Crow-foot as I had no luck, but whilst on holiday in France that week I found myself wading knee-deep into a field pond to return triumphant with a sample of Ranunculus peltatus. Learning the terminology as a beginner for me was the most difficult part, but I stuck at looking in the glossaries, and before you know it I was using words to describe parts of plants I never knew existed. I found repeating words and scientific names out loud helpful. Probably a throwback from learning sums parrot fashion at school. 

Lamiastrum galeobdolon labelled with
the key characters to look out for.
Image: Richard Mabbutt 
"As the course progressed I became increasingly interested, so much so, that I was venturing out on my own after I had finished work in pursuit of new plants. Towards the end of the course I was finishing things quicker, so my tutor threw me a couple of hard challenges which I relished. These were not part of the course, but I couldn't thank her enough for it. She was an excellent tutor and encouraged me very much. If you don't finish all the units in the first year, they can be completed in year two. 

"In tandem with Identiplant I also did the Botany for Beginners course in Leicester. This course concentrated more on plants in different habitats and using a range of keys. My favourite ID keys are Stace and Poland, and I've recently bought my first dissecting microscope so I can see the diagnostic characters more clearly. Between the two courses, I feel I now have a good foundation base to build on.

"I have also just completed my first year's NPMS and took part in the New Year Plant Hunt, both of which I will do again in 2017.

"Over the past year I have also become involved with my local botany group (VC55), especially on recording days for Atlas 2020. Being out in the field with others is a great way to learn, and those more experienced are very helpful when I have questions. I've had a lot of encouragement from my Botany for Beginners tutor and also my VCR, who recently sent me out on a successful quest for a Populus nigra that had been found on a hand drawn map in the museum.

"I took my first FISC test in June this year which I thoroughly enjoyed. I am currently on the Plant ID course in Leicester which involves dissection and floral formulas, and in 2017 I shall be looking to do a course for grasses, sedges and rushes as they are one of my weaknesses. Perhaps I'll do better in the FISC next June, and then I will be thinking about working towards an MSc in Biological Recording and a career in botany and/or ecology.

"Next year I'm also looking forward to being able to 'give something back' so I'll be volunteering on the New Year Plant Hunt helpdesk in January, I'll be back on the Botany for Beginners course but this time as a Botanical Buddy (volunteer assistant) and of course I'll be contributing to VC55 recording for Atlas 2020." 

Many thanks to Richard for telling us about his experience of the Identiplant course which he was able to undertake thanks to a BSBI Training Grant. It's great to see how he's used that grant to kickstart his new botanical life - and how keen he is to give something back and support his fellow botanists!

The next batch of grant applications will go live next month, so keep an eye on our Training page and get your application in asap - they get snapped up very quickly!