Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Eyes Wide Shut - a Botanical Awakening: Part Three

Scarlet Pimpernel: available in blue as well as red!
Image: D. Steere
We left David Steere walking along the road muttering plant names under his breath! Now we catch up with him for the final part of his botanical journey

Over to David:

"That same year I added Francis Rose's Wildflower Key book to my collection and attempted to use keys for the first time. The keys were simple enough, but the botanical terms used may as well have been in a foreign language. 

Tolmiea menziesii
Image: D. Steere
"Strange new words such as “cuneate, acuminate, crenate, denticular, capitula” and so on were used and I had no idea what they meant. I think it's about now that most people think it's all too much and give up. However, I did my homework and some more internet research and tried to memorise as many of those terms as I could. A pet hate of mine with keys is when you have to look up a word in the glossary which then uses other words you also need to look up in the glossary!

"Regular recording has advanced my knowledge by leaps and bounds and now in 2017, I can routinely identify and record around 100 species per monad from wildflowers to trees and the occasional fern, grass, rush or sedge. 

"I hope to double number that in a couple of years! I also found alien species in the wild, sometimes a first for that Vice County, such as the Pick a Back plant (Tolmiea menziesii) found in newly coppiced woodland, nowhere near habitation. 

Pheasant's Eye: let's hope David sees
 this plant in the wild very soon!
Image: D. Steere
"Becoming aware of the Kent Rare Plant Register gave me a new impetus to my recording: to locate, photograph and record all the species I could find on it as well as the common species. Some are still relatively common such as Wild Strawberry, Field Scabious and Harebells, but others still elude me, with Pheasant's Eye being a dream find I've yet to discover in the wild, only having seen it growing at Wakehurst (Millenium Seedbank project).

"Early in 2017 I added Stace Ed. 3 and recently Poland & Clement's Vegetative Key to my book collection. My old tatty copy of Harrap's is still used almost daily, but there are copied pages from Stace sellotaped into it to expand descriptions. The key to using keys is understanding the terminology and unfortunately, constant practice is the only way to do it, for me anyway.

"So, that is my story of how for most of my 57 years on this planet, I walked around with my eyes wide shut. I saw everything, yet really I saw nothing. I now look at nature in a new light with each wildflower being an amazing gift, each rare habitat a jewel in the otherwise desert-like arable wasteland and urbanisation of Kent. 

Ragwort - common, mundane, but with
its "own special beauty"
Image: D. Steere
"Add in all the other wildlife that I also see and photograph, my journey into botany has incredibly enriched my life. I now see that a Dandelion really is as beautiful as a Lady Orchid and it's now very easy for me to distinguish between a Tussilago and a Taraxacum and so much more.

 "As time went by I joined various other organisations such as local Wildlife Trusts and of course Plantlife to give something back and help the wildflowers that now bring me so much pleasure. I even use my knowledge of rare plants (and other wildlife) to object to planning applications in sensitive areas with reasoned argument – I do my bit!

Salsify Tragopogon porrifolius
Image: D. Steere
"The upside of this awakening is my desire to communicate this to others and hopefully inspire them to also open their eyes and appreciate the wildlife around them. This is why I routinely photograph common, often mundane species, and post them on Twitter. These are species that anyone can find just on a walk to the shops, or those they may find in their lawn if they refrain from mowing for even a short while. They all have their own special beauty but are often overlooked by all.

"The more people who care about nature the better the prospects for wildlife and for the long term protection of habitats. 


"So go on a walk, take the children or grandchildren and start an interest by showing them what things are, how they work, how their seeds disperse and so on. Youngsters are like sponges and soak up knowledge, hopefully to be inspired to be the next generation of botanists and naturalists. Spread the word!

Coralroot Cardamine bulbifera
Image: D. Steere
"Finally, can I just add that it was my partner, Elizabeth, who first got me out walking and then noticing wildflowers. She was the one who encouraged me from the start and supported me in pursuing this new hobby. She is also a member of Kent Botanical Recording Group and has found and recorded plants in her own right. 

"Thank you for taking the time to read this and to Louise Marsh for requesting my account of my own personal botanical discovery".

Thank you David (and Elizabeth!) for sharing your botanical journey with us, let's hope your story inspires others to take up botany. It's never too late to start and it won't take long until, like David, you can start sending your botanical records to your County Recorder who will check them for you, help with any queries and add your records to BSBI's botanical database

This same database is relied on by conservation agencies and policy-makers - BSBI's data and research underpin C20th nature conservation. So, if you want to influence those policy-makers and help conserve our wild flowers, please follow David's example and get involved with botany! PS it's also great fun :-)