Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Celebrating Ireland's first female botanist II

Ellen Hutchins Festival: Meeting point
for the lichen foray in Ballylickey
Image: C. Heardman
Following a recent post by Robin Walls, giving a glimpse into what sort of things a BSBI County Recorder actually does, here is another example from Clare Heardman, County Recorder for West Cork. 

Clare has been busy organising this weekend's Cork Recording Event but below, she offers an account of another botanical event she has been involved with recently in her day job as NPWS Conservation Ranger

Over to Clare: 

Fucus capillaris collected by
Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay, 1808.
Reproduced with the kind permission of
The Herbarium, Botany Department,
Trinity College Dublin.
"The second annual Ellen Hutchins Festival has just finished in West Cork. Ellen (1785 - 1815) is widely regarded as Ireland’s first female botanist and the inaugural festival took place last year to mark the 200th anniversary of her death. 

"The festival proved so popular that the organisers - me, Madeline Hutchins (Ellen Hutchins’ great great grandniece) and Angela O’Donovan (BantryHistorical Society) - decided to make the event an annual fixture.

"This year the festival started with a seaweed event on Whiddy Island, which was one of the places Ellen visited in the early 1800s, recording and collecting seaweeds. 

"Her finds included species which were first described from Bantry Bay and have thus been preserved as type specimens. 

Pelvetia canaliculata
collected by a participant in
the seaweed event 2016 Bantry Bay
Image: C. Heardman

"The event was led by Dr Susan Steele (Sea Fisheries Protection Authority), who walked us in Ellen’s footsteps, collecting and preserving samples early-1800s style by floating them on to paper. 

"Ellen pre-dated photography and posting specimens of fragile algae to botanists in the UK was a fraught task, so she turned her hand to botanical art, producing some exquisite illustrations. 

Art workshop in progress, Bantry House Stables
Image: C. Heardman
"Most of Ellen’s original artworks are held in  institutions in Britain, but last year permission was obtained from the museum at Kew Gardens to reproduce some of her seaweed drawings. 

"This year the framed prints were displayed in an art trail that stretched from Bantry to Ballylickey and Glengarriff. 

Live botanical art demonstration
with Shevaun Doherty.
Image: C. Heardman
"Also displayed in shop windows and other premises, were exhibition panels and prints of some of her specimens, reproduced with the kind permission of institutions such as Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

"Continuing the art theme, award-winning botanical artist Shevaun Doherty gave a wonderful two-day workshop in the atmospheric location of Bantry House Stables and Gardens. Like Ellen, Shevaun produces the most exquisite and accurate watercolours of plants. 

"The workshop was followed by a live art demonstration by Shevaun in Organico Café. Meanwhile budding artists aged 4-14, took part in a nature art event which including doing leaf rubbings.

"Another workshop which took place during the festival was a two-day introduction to cryptogams, the branch of botany that Ellen specialised in. 

A rubbing of a fern during one of the
children’s nature art events
Image: C. Heardman
"Dr Howard Fox, a botanist based in the herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin, and his partner Maria Cullen, took the participants on a journey into the world of lichens, bryophytes and algae at Ballylickey House, where Ellen was born, and Ardnagashel Estate, where she spent the last few months of her life.

"At a panel discussion later in the week, Howard, Shevaun and Madeline were joined on the stage by Sean Moffatt. Sean is a scriptwriter for television and radio who became fascinated by Ellen’s story and produced a piece for RTE last year about the discovery of some of Ellen’s specimens in TCD. 

Looking at lichens on the shore
at Ardnagashel with Dr Howard Fox
Image: C. Heardman
"The contributions of the four panellists were complemented by a pop-up exhibition of photos, letters, books, prints and other Ellen-related memorabilia which is owned by the Hutchins family. The pop-up exhibition also proved a popular attraction at Bantry House during their open garden day as part of Heritage Week.

"The festival was rounded off by a fascinating walk in Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve led by the passionate and knowledgeable Dr Padraig Whelan of University College Cork. Padraig knows the woods very well, having been bringing students to the Reserve for at least 20 years. He has inspired a generation of students and was equally inspirational to those who attended his walk.

Group at Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve
with Dr Padraig Whelan
Image: C. Heardman 
"Next year’s Ellen Hutchins Festival will once again take place in West Cork during Heritage Week 19th-27th August 2017. In the meantime, thanks to botanist Professor John Parnell, TCD is hosting an exhibition about Ellen opening on 9th February, which is the date Ellen was born. Put the dates in your diary!"

Many thanks to Clare for this account and fingers crossed that the weather is kind this weekend to her and all the other botanists attending the Cork Recording Event. Watch this space for updates on which plants they find, or follow the action on Twitter!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Long-term site monitoring

Nice to hear from regular News & Views reader/contributor Martin Godfrey, who says:

"There has been quite a lot on the blog recently on the subject of recording and recording trips and I thought that it might be interesting to briefly mention another aspect of botanical recording – repeat long-term site monitoring.

Recorders in the pose so typical of
both botanists and bryologists!
Image: M. Godfrey
"In the middle of July the time came round once more for repeat monitoring of the Fenns and Whixall, Bettisfield and Wem Mosses NNR to add some more results/ data to English Nature’s long-term management work at the sites. 

On Monday the 15th the volunteers assembled at the NNR HQ at Whixall for a briefing and some refresher training on the monitoring technique – it is quite intensive, involving the recording both of plant species presence and their percentage cover in a number of fixed 2m square quadrats, each in turn subdivided into 25 smaller square plots. 

"As well as recording plant species a number of habitat variables are measured including a member of the English Nature staff checking ground water level in permanent dip wells. Following the training, teams of 3-4 people were put together and recording began.

The Recording Team at the end of the day:
 bryologists standing upright at last!
Martin 2nd from right in white hat.
Image: M. Godfrey  
"Now one of the potential snags in all of this is that there are more than just flowering plants growing on mosses – some ferns and indeed there are “mosses” too, sometimes forming a substantial amount of the ground flora – and these include members of the genus Sphagnum and many small liverworts which tend to make botanists rather nervous. 

"To help get around this problem, English Nature talked two individuals into being specialist advisors who could identify the bryophytes and help others to do the same. So Martha Newton and I ended up with a group of survey teams each to “advise” – great fun although involving rather a lot of trekking between quadrats  over rather dodgy bog. 

"I must say that it is a great tribute to the skills of the recorders that after about a day most of them had sorted out the main bryophyte species leaving Martha and me to confirm IDs for the less confident and identify the really small liverworts and scruffy bits of moss – frequently in the evening with the microscope, and in my case with an accompanying glass of wine. 

The relaxed approach!
Mind you, if this was Martin...
that coffee would be replaced by wine!
Image: M. Godfrey
"The four days of recording passed smoothly, and in good weather - I certainly enjoyed myself and judging from the general chat so did everyone else.

"I find that there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in recording in this way, not just from the seeing and identifying of interesting plant material but in knowing that what you are doing is contributing to robust data on long term change and site-management effectiveness. I would recommend it to anyone as an interesting change to 'square bashing'." 

Many thanks to Martin for reminding us that, although recorders are currently in 'full steam ahead' mode towards Atlas 2020, long-term monitoring is also worthwhile and enjoyable. And fair play to him for managing to sneak some lower plants on to this page, which is very naughty! Martin knows perfectly well that BSBI's brief is the study, understanding and enjoyment of vascular plants and that bryophytes are considered non-vascular - they just don't have the advanced plumbing systems enjoyed by higher plants. But those "scruffy bits of moss" do have a certain charm and engage the interest of many a botanist during the winter months, when many higher plants are thin on the ground (due in part to that fancy vascular system!)    

Sunday, 21 August 2016

BSBI Plant Referee on the case

Last week I spotted an interesting post on Twitter from BSBI member Martin, with a photo of an unusual looking Horsetail. I asked Martin to tell us more and he very kindly offers us this guest blogpost:

"I was walking through one of my local ancient woodlands back in June preparing for a “Woodland Explorer” day I was to be leading for a group of local eight year-old children (which you can read about here) and noticed something odd out of the corner of my eye. It seemed to be a Giant Horsetail but there was something not quite right about it; I didn’t have the right reference book with me so I took a photo of it.

"When I got back home I looked at the pictures in my reference books, which is usually the quickest way to ID something for me, but Giant Horsetail it seems has single whorls only. 

"Read the descriptions – to be honest I’m not the best at following all the technical words - Wood Horsetail does the many small branches thing, but some of the bits weren’t right and my plant was way too big. I discovered there were hybrids *sigh* and tried the image search on the internet. 

"There’s a Bowman’s Horsetail (who knew?) that looked similar – Giant horsetail hybridising with Wood Horsetail. I guessed at that, but as it’s so rare and obscure I thought I’d missed something really, really obvious somewhere. I did my usual trick of waiting for second thoughts.

"Six days later, whilst doing the washing up, I remembered that the BSBI had a whole load of experts you can ask". [LM: Only if you are a BSBI member, sorry!] "A quick hunt for the BSBI Yearbook and I had an email address for the Horsetail Referee. I sent the pic and suggested it might be Equisetum x bowmanii. 

"I got a lovely answer, thanking me for sending the photographs and saying 'No, it’s not the hybrid (I can send you a sample of it if you wish to compare) but it is very interesting, if you wouldn’t mind sending a pressed stem as then I can check for absolute certainty'.

"To cut a long story short, about a month later I collected more, photographed and pressed them, and now I’ve sent them off and so we should know what it is in a couple of weeks or so".

Martin has promised to send an update once he hears back from the Referee. All 106 of BSBI's expert Plant Referees are volunteers, just like our 186 County Recorders, and they provide their services to members as part of the membership package. A very important part too!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Rare chance to see Francis Willughby's herbarium specimens

Chris Preston has been in touch to tell us about an interesting exhibition which opens in Nottingham this week. 
Chris (on left) and Philip (centre) receive their
Thackray Medal from Hugh Torrens, then
President of the Society for the
History of Natural History
Philip holds a copy of
John Ray's Cambridge Catalogue.
Image courtesy of P. Oswald

This is a unique chance to see some of Francis Willughby's herbarium specimens on public display. Willughby was a 17th Century naturalist and the friend, colleague and patron of John Ray, who is often dubbed 'the father of English natural history'. 

The specimens were included after Willughby's death in an interleaved copy of John Ray's Historia plantarum and some of them are also annotated by John Ray. 

This is the first time that Willughby's volumes of herbarium specimens and examples of the plant drawings he collected on the Continent in the 1660s have ever been exhibited in public.

Much of the exhibition draws on the recent book (2016) edited by Tim Birkhead: Virtuoso by nature: the scientific worlds of Francis Willughby FRS (1635-1672)

The exhibition opens on Friday and runs through to December - details here

Many thanks to Chris for alerting us to this exhibition. Chris and Philip Oswald translated and edited John Ray's Cambridge catalogue (1660) for which they were awarded the Thackray medal in 2013. Chris is also a co-author, along with Clive Stace and David Pearman, of the celebrated Hybrid Flora of the British Isles.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Hebrides Recording 2016: the boat trip

This year's Hebridean recording bash culminated in a week-long boat trip  to survey the flora of some of the uninhabited islands off the coast of Lewis. Here is Paul Smith's final Hebridean dispatch for this year:

"The start of the BSBI field meeting to Scarp and Loch Resort was dominated by the weather; we did leave on Saturday, but were largely boat-bound in Force 10 winds on Sunday. 

"But the next day as the winds eased off the Hebrides did that glorious sunshine thing , and we got a whole day on Aird Mhor. [The image above, taken by Paul, shows the boat, MV Cuma, moored off Tarain Mor, and two of the team botanising on the shore].

"It was very acidic but there were some nice patches - some Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) in the lochs had (hollow) stems as thick as my finger, and there was a wee woodland nestling on a hilltop among boulders, with Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum).

"Aird Mhor and Scarp both had tiny plants of Solidago virgaurea - ssp minimus in Sell & Murrell, one of the infraspecific taxa that keep the interest up in places where there are relatively fewer species. [image on left]. 

"Some islands are very species poor - we went to have a look at some rocks north of Scarp in two tetrads, up to 8m above high tide, but absolutely no species, because the sea regularly breaks over the top.

"Lots of plants take the opportunity to hide from grazing, and Scarp had both sheep and deer, so the geos (ravines in sea cliffs) were good habitats for interesting species - Sedum rosea, Silene uniflora, and Ligusticum scoticum. 

"Binoculars are essential botanising gear (unless you can fly!) In the image above right, Martin Robinson is looking down into a large geo on Scarp. 

"Scarp is a big and heavily grazed island, but during the meeting we also visited several islands where there has been no grazing - Mealasta Island has been without for around 10 years, and there was a lot of Juniperus communis regenerating on the moorland parts. 

"The smaller islands Cearstaigh and Liongam have been ungrazed much longer, and it was like walking on pillows because of the depth of the vegetation - with very clear paths made by otters. 

"On Liongam, the Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) was out in the open (in the torrential mist - see image above left), and there was really no difference between the cliff habitats and the the moorland - a clear sign of the effect that grazing normally has, as the best plants always hide in the cliffy refuges.

"A fantastic effort by the participants in this field meeting gave us records (or zero counts) in 20 tetrads, despite the variable weather. Well done!"

I'm just glad they all made it back safely, thanks to skipper Murdo and his crew on MV Cuma, and that the weather cleared enough to allow some good botanising. 

Oh that Hebridean weather... just compare the image [above], taken near the end of the trip, with the view [on left] that the botanists enjoyed from the boat on day one, as those Force 10 winds hit the Hebrides. MV Cuma was safely moored in a sheltered part of Loch Resort, so Paul & co spent the day looking out at the spindrift being blown off the waves and waiting to seize the moment when the winds dropped and the sun came out. Which thankfully they did!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Tim Rich on the hunt for Hebridean hawkweeds

Report in from Paul Smith on a very special addition to this year's Hebridean Recording Team - none other than Dr Tim Rich, author/co-author of several BSBI Handbooks, acknowledged national expert on hawkweeds (Hieracium spp.), co-author of the celebrated Plant Crib, co-founder of the New Year Plant Hunt, the man who found and described Attenborough's Hawkweed and an all-round good egg. 

Over to Paul:

"We finally persuaded Tim Rich to visit the Outer Hebrides, mainly to collect Hieracium seed for the Millennium Seed Bank. But of course he never stands still, so straight off a flight to Stornoway he zoomed down to Harris and found a new county record in the process - Hieracium virgulatorum. 

Then the next day a short excursion to Carlabhagh (Carloway) to search out an old record for H. maritimum instead turned up H. strictiforme (the picture above shows Tim with specimens from two sites 100m apart...and, wouldn't you know it, cunningly in two hectads).

A further day saw Tim and Paul yomping over bits of Uig parish in the sunshine, looking for Hieracium scarpicum (a vc110 endemic named after the island of Scarp). But we started with some gorgeous habitat (see picture on left, with Tim contemplating a dive down the cliff past the sheet of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), and some Hieracium in the H. argenteum group. 

A quick stop on the bridge at Brenais to see H. subscoticum and gather seed, and then to Mealasta to find ravenous (whoops, sorry, ravinous!) habitat of Abhainn Stacageo and refind H. scarpicum; actually the ravine was stuffed with it, and another species, possibly H. hypophalacrum (which you can see staring back at Tim in the photo on the right). 

Altogether a grand haul of Hieracium records including several other records during the day".

Many thanks to Paul for this report and for the photos of Tim, also taken by Paul. 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

BSBI events for recorders in September

Blanket bog north of Ballyvourney
Image: Catherine Ketch
Sometimes a BSBI botanist has some hard choices to make. You look at your diary for the first weekend in September and - aargh! - two mouthwatering BSBI training/recording events and you have to choose one. But which?

You could head for Shrewsbury and the BSBI Recorders' Conference, or over to Co. Cork for the Cork Recording Event. To help you make up your mind, here's a bit more info:

The Recorders' Conference runs from 2nd-4th September and is aimed at anyone actively recording for Atlas 2020. The first two days feature seven talks, one demo and five workshops, including a Vegetative ID workshop led by John Poland. There's a fieldtrip to a local reserve on the third and final day.

Strawberry Tree, native in W. Cork -
recorders will be on the look-out for this one!
Image: Clare Heardman
More details here and you'll need to book by 14th August please. 

The Cork Recording Event runs from 1st-4th September, is based in Ballyvourney and is aimed at any botanists (from beginner to expert) who would like to explore some of the best habitats Co. Cork has to offer while collecting records for Atlas 2020. The first day is based in East Cork at one of the largest saltmarshes in Ireland, learning to identify some of the more difficult genera (e.g. Salicornia & Atriplex) with Paul Green (County Recorder for Waterford & joint County Recorder for Wexford). 

The Gearagh
Image: Catherine Ketch
The next three days will be based in the woodlands, mountains & valleys around Macroom and Millstreet, including the famous alluvial woodland of The Gearagh.

More details here and you'll need to book by 28th August please.

It's hard to say which event will give you the best chance of picking up some useful ID tips from BSBI County Recorders, those helpful expert botanists who collate our plant records and do stuff like this. Around 20 of them have already booked in to the Recorders' Conference and some will be leading workshops and giving talks. 

St Gobnait's Wood, right opposite your
accommodation in Ballyvourney
Image@ Clare Heardman
But the Recorders' Conference only gives you one day in the field vs four in Co. Cork, where you'll be botanising alongside the likes of Clare Heardman (County Recorder for West Cork) and Edwina Cole (caretaker for Mid and East Cork), Rory Hodd (joint County Recorder for Kerry and stalwart of the celebrated Rough Crew), BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long and of course plant-spotter extraordinaire Paul GreenIf you want to pick botanical brains, those are some great brains to pick!

Tough call isn't it? Here are those links again for more details and booking forms: Recorders' Conference or Cork Recording Event? Decision time!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

What do County Recorders actually do?

I was chatting yesterday to Robin Walls, the BSBI's County Recorder for Dorset, and he was telling me what he's been up to in the past few days. It struck me that Robin's account gave a very helpful glimpse into what a County Recorder actually does! So, many thanks to Robin for allowing me to share the account below.  

As you read Robin's account, please bear in mind that all our County Recorders are volunteers who have dedicated a huge amount of unpaid time to collating all the plant records they receive from members and non-members across their county and then entering them into the BSBI Distribution Database

And they also do this sort of thing... over to Robin:

"Been out all day chasing some old records. Cicendia filiformis (pic above) – the smallest I’ve ever seen it  and only a few plants – amongst Agrostis canina with Radiola and one plant of Anagallis minima. Then Illecebrum that turned out to be in the tank training area with forbidding notices, so we had to miss that one. Finally a good stand of Rhynchospora fusca (on left) and some very small Lycopodiella inundata plus a couple of other grid refs where it should be and has now gone. 

"Finally we met up with the Carnivorous Plant Soc. tour to see the Sarracenia purpurea (pic below) in lots of different forms and a few hybrids / vars. (if you believe in all this) in Hyde Bog. It is growing very vigorously here – better than in California according to a participant who is from there; so much so that the Forestry Commission have set up a meeting next month to discuss how to control it. [LM: see also this paper on S. purpurea by Kevin Walker - in New Journal of Botany.]

"So yes, a good day out in glorious weather. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with them again to see the Drosera hybrid recently renamed, which is why I wanted to access New Journal of Botany to read the note on it.

"You might also be interested in Sunday’s jaunt – Lobelia urens (pic below) at the site we bulldozed a couple of years ago. Now superb with over 2000 plants (we counted 2400 last year and an eyeball check says there are at least as many) and a couple of dozen flowers per spike – the most floriferous plants we’ve seen. Three years ago there were only six plants! 

"There are a couple of options to expand the population we are exploring. One is a few km away where quarry restoration has the potential to create the right conditions".

Robin's email also acknowledged all the records he will have to input this winter, but says, quite rightly "That is not a job for warm sunny days!" For now the focus is firmly on fieldwork and chasing up old records for Atlas 2020

I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into Robin's activities as a County Recorder. Many thanks to him for sharing this account and for the images, also taken by Robin. 

But if you yourself are a County Recorder, and you're thinking "Hmm, that's not what I do all week!" then please email me a short account of your recent botanical activities and I'll be happy to post it here. So we can compare and contrast like good scientists!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Hebridean Recording Team Strikes Back!

Nitella confervacea
from Loch Arnol, Lewis
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
Today is the final day of the Shetland Recording Week and botanists are heading home having broken a few records, filled in a fair few Atlas 2020 recording cards and seen some interesting species. Meanwhile, over on the isle of Lewis, Paul Smith and his team have been notching up a few successes of their own. Over to Paul:

"While the rest of the world is working on a macro scale, things have been more micro-level here. 

"Claudia Ferguson-Smyth has been rewarded for many hours effort throwing a grapnel in various lochs with some nice charophyte records. 

"The Outer Hebrides usually have Chara virgata and Nitella translucens in moorland and peaty lochs, but some of the lochs on the NW side of Lewis are on machair, and have yielded Chara contraria and Chara aspera. Meanwhile, BSBI President John Faulkner and Notts. botanist Mags Crittenden managed to find Chara vulgaris in flushed machair at Barvas (a habitat it seems to like in vc110).  

"But star of the show is the minuscule [LM: and rarely recorded] Nitella confervacea which Claudia trawled up from Loch Arnol (BSBI aquatics expert Nick Stewart says it looks like the balls of wool you pull off your favourite jumper). It's so small that you're not supposed to be able to find it except by accident, so full marks to Claudia both for looking and recognising it. And she took the superb picture (above) - the whole thing that you can see is only 5.7mm long.

Anthracoidea limosa
Image: P. Smith
 "Having warmed everyone up with four Anthracoidea smuts on Carex and Trichophorum, today had more excitement as one of the Lost and Found Fungi put in an appearance - I prompted News & Views readers to look out for it, and I have followed my own advice! 

"This one is Anthracoidea limosa on Carex limosa, otherwise known from Rannoch Moor and one site in West Sutherland. And I didn't have to explain to anyone that I was looking for smuts, although I did need my trusty wellies..."

This year's Hebridean Recording Party has another week to run so watch this space for further updates. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

Battle of the Islands!

Oysterplant on Shetland yesterday
Image: I. Denholm
Reports are coming in thick and fast from Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, with teams of intrepid botanists braving the elements in pursuit of fabulous plants, fresh supplies of cake and more records for Atlas 2020 than any other botanical recording team on any other island...

Ian Denholm started it! While holed up against grim weather on Shetland yesterday, he emailed: "Reading your blog on Welsh recording reminded me that this trip has so far thrown up only the second and third known sites for Bog orchid on the Shetland mainland (the first was discovered at the end of the BSBI visit last year). 

Esther photographing the largest
colony of Oysterplant on Shetland
Image: I. Denholm
"Last night Jim McIntosh (BSBI Scottish Officer) expressed the view that yesterday we broke the record for the number of monads (20) covered by any BSBI recording trip in a single day. That’s 19 more than today".

Apparently some of the 32 botanists on Shetland did brave the foul weather and were rewarded by one of our most iconic plants and one which has a special place in BSBI's history

Janet sent the image on the left and emailed: "We have been out in the rain this morning looking for Oysterplant (Mertensia maritima). 

Liz, Amy & Hannah find
Crowberry in among the Heather
Image: J. Higgins
"It was found by Alex at the edge of the shingle on Casho beach. There were three Oysterplants, one was large and flowering, the other two were just rosettes". 

They also fitted in some recording on the heathland and Janet says "The photograph on the right is of Liz showing Amy and Hannah the leaves of Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) mixed in with Heather (Calluna vulgaris) on heathland near Cuckron."

Meanwhile on Lewis, the sun was shining and Paul Smith and his team were out looking at smuts on Deergrasses (as you do...) Paul emailed:

Anthracoidea paniceae -
a smutty Carnation Sedge
Image: P. Smith
"Deergrass (Trichophorum) on the moorland is very occasionally infected by a smut, like the ones that replace the ovaries in some sedges (Carex spp). 

"In 2009 a large area of northern Lewis had infected plants, and this pattern has been repeated this year with a large proportion of plants on the moors east of Stornoway infected. 

"I speculate that there are occasional years when conditions are perfect over large areas, and then many more plants than usual are infected. 

"This smut is Anthracoidea scirpi - we have also had Anthracoidea spp. in Carex echinata, C. flacca and C. panicea this week. Anthracoidea paniceae is extremely common up here this year."

Anthracoidea pratensis on Carex flacca - a smutty Glaucous Sedge
Image: P. Smith
"Look out for these smuts in your patch". (LM: And if anybody asks what we're doing, we have to say we're looking for smut? It's bad enough explaining that we're looking at hairy nodes...)  

Paul again: "And if you can find similar smuts on Carex pulicaris or Carex limosa, then do report them to the Lost and Found Fungi project". 

For images of, and info on, the Target Species of smuts on sedges of wet heathland, click here

Pugsley's Eyebright
Image: I. Denholm
But Tim Rich (of Plant Crib, New Year Plant Hunt, several BSBI Handbooks and Attenborough's Hawkweed fame) and BSBI President John Faulkner have now joined Paul's Hebridean house-party and it's gone suspiciously quiet... as soon as I find out what they're up to, I'll let you know!

Meanwhile over on Shetland, the weather brightened up today, so Ian & co were back out in the field. 

Ian emailed "Dry day today. I went out with Chris Metherell (author of the forthcoming BSBI Handbook on Eyebrights) and Esther Pawley (English Nature) to the area around Urafrith in the north of the mainland. Our first stop was to chase a record Chris had confirmed from herbarium specimens for Pugsley’s Eyebright, Euphrasia rotundifolia. 

"This plant is endemic to Scotland and currently known only from about 10 plants growing on the north coast of Sutherland. We quickly located a colony of plants that Chris readily confirmed as E. rotundifolia. This discovery (a first record for Shetland) increases the number of individuals known in the world by at least 300%! 

Esther and Chris hunting for
Pugsley's Eyebright on Shetland
Image: I. Denholm
"We then chose a strategic stop for lunch, amid the largest colony of Oysterplant in Shetland (many more plants than were seen by Janet & co at another site yesterday). 

"The shingle was carpeted by plants in full flower - this is the site where, on a BSBI visit in 2006, I took the Oysterplant photo used on the BSBI homepage".

So in the Battle of the Islands, Shetland recorders see a carpet of Oysterplant and increase the known global population of Pugsley's Eyebright by 300%, while Paul's team on Lewis has lots of smut... But they also have another week of recording ahead, so I suspect they are just warming up - watch this space!