Tuesday, 24 April 2018

In Ruskin’s Footsteps – Linking people to plants through botanical art

Click on the image to enlarge it and
find out more about the Exhibition
Good to hear from Sarah Morrish of the Association of British Botanical Artists, whose stand at last year's BSBI Exhibition Meeting proved so popular. Sarah is looking forward to the  Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition, taking place this year at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University. 

The Exhibition is called 'In Ruskin’s Footsteps – Linking people to plants through botanical art' and runs from Friday 18th May – Friday 8th June, weekdays only 12-5pm, with Special Event Open Days on Saturday 19th May and Saturday 9th June 10am-4pm

Over to Sarah to tell us a bit more about the Exhibition:

"Our native flora has been depicted using a variety of methods over the centuries, but the one that has been used the longest, is that of art and illustration. Botanical art and illustration is a marriage of art and science and has seen a resurgence in recent years.

Botanical artist Claire Ward in her studio
Image courtesy of C. Ward
"Many botanical artists spend a great deal of time in the field studying our native flora before even putting pencil and brush to paper, indeed some have worked and continue to in the areas of science and conservation.

"One such artist is Claire Ward who illustrates many of this country’s native orchids and other wild plants, lichens and mosses, near to her home in Wales. 

"The main subject in her painting for this exhibition is the Marsh helleborine Epipactis palustris, a plant of damp grassland, which also occurs at several sites in Lancashire. The stems of this orchid are often covered in up to 20 flowers in July and August.

Marsh Helleborine Epipactis palustris
© Claire Ward 2018
"The field notes and illustrations that artists produce are often used to document those plant species that are rare and declining. The depiction of plants and their habitats within this genre can really help to raise awareness of the fragility of the plant kingdom and the habitats that support it.

"To raise this awareness further, the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA), are delighted to bring a new major exhibition to the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University from Friday 18th May to Friday 8th June.

"The exhibition itself is part of a worldwide initiative which incorporates the Worldwide Day of Botanical Art on May 18th, a day on which 23 countries will be promoting and exhibiting botanical art focused on the native plant species from each of those countries.

Click on the image to enlarge it
and find out more about the
special event open days
"As well as 40 paintings from some of this country’s top botanical artists at the Ruskin Library, there will also be the opportunity on May 18th, to view a slideshow which will showcase the paintings of native plants from the other countries taking part.

"ABBA and the artists are very honoured that the exhibition will take place at the Peter Scott Gallery in association with the Ruskin Library, where there will also be examples of Ruskin’s work on display alongside the botanical paintings.

"For more information about the exhibition, opening times, artists and paintings please visit the ABBA website or Facebook page."

Many thanks to Sarah for telling us about this exhibition and the Worldwide Day of Botanical Art. We hope to bring you more on this subject in the coming weeks.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Bird Cherry: in folklore and in Byron's Gin

Image courtesy of J. Crellin/ Floral Images
Bird Cherry Prunus padus has a long history as a flavouring for spirits in Scotland, according to Milliken & Bridgewater's Flora Celtica: Plants and People in Scotland. So it's no great surprise that one of the two gins in the Byron's Gin range, launched earlier this year by Speyside Distillery, is called Bird Cherry. 

The tree is one of seven botanicals selected by Andy (BSBI County Recorder for Banffshire) and Sandy (master blender at Speyside Distillery) as key ingredients in this delicious new gin, along with Juniper of course. 

Flora Celtica also tells us that Bird Cherry was venerated in Wester Ross for its "ability to dispel evil" and that walking-sticks made from Bird Cherry were believed to prevent people from getting lost in the mist. But we don't have any evidence for this so if you are heading out on the hills, we'd recommend the map and compass approach rather than trusting to a magic walking-stick! 

One thing we are fairly sure about is that Bird Cherry is attractive to wildlife - bees and flies are attracted to the flowers, while birds seem to be quite partial to the berries. 

 Bird Cherry is just coming into leaf at the moment but we'll have to wait another month or so for the distinctive clusters of white flowers and even longer for the shiny lack fruits. Worth noting here that the fruits are quite bitter - definitely better as an ingredient in gin than in a fruit pie! 

This BSBI distribution map shows where you will be able to find Bird Cherry across Britain and Ireland, while this entry in the New Atlas gives more information about the tree's habitat requirements.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Bookings open for ID workshops

Chara virgata fruit
Image courtesy of Chris Carter 
Bookings have just opened for some fabulous ID workshops running in Ireland and Scotland next month:

For the more advanced botanist, BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long has organised two 2-day charophyte ID workshops to be held in Co. Westmeath. 

Charophytes are often overlooked - they are small and have a reputation for being difficult - but these ID workshops offer a chance to learn with two of BSBI's acknowledged experts, Nick Stewart and Cilian Roden.

Head over to the new Charophyte page on the BSBI website to find out more and to book.

And for the beginner botanist, BSBI Scottish Officer Jim McIntosh and tutor Dr Faith Anstey are hosting two of their extremely popular workshops on 'Identifying Plant Families' - one in Aberdeen and one in Dumfries. 

Head over to the BSBI Scotland page to find out more and to book. Or check out the poster on the left (click on the image to enlarge it).

Do hurry if you are interested in any of these workshops - they are likely to fill up very quickly. 

Check out the BSBI Training page for more suggestions of short courses to improve your botanical skills. 

And keep an eye on the BSBI News page to keep up with all the latest news (and to get the heads-up on forthcoming courses, conferences and special offers!)

Monday, 16 April 2018

A new stamp issue: the comeback kids

Some exciting news from Ian Denholm, Chair of BSBI’s Board of Trustees, joint County Recorder for Hertfordshire, one of our expert plant referees and past President of BSBI

Not many people know this but Ian is also a keen philatelist which makes his report below even more fitting!  

Over to Ian:

“Thursday April 19th sees the release of a new set of six GB stamps on the theme of species that have been reintroduced into Britain following extinction or near-extinction in the wild.

“The one concession to botany in this set is Stinking Hawk’s-beard, Crepis foetida, a plant formerly restricted to a few coastal sites in south-east England that reportedly became extinct in its sole remaining locality at Dungeness, Kent, in 1980. 

"A re-introduction programme using indigenous seed from Cambridge Botanic Garden has focused primarily on coastal shingle at Dungeness and at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in Sussex. 

[LM: There's a bit more info about the re-introduction here on the Sussex Wildlife Trust's website]. 

Back to Ian:

“I was consulted by Royal Mail on the design of this stamp, and hope that it is anatomically accurate! 

"Characters that help to differentiate C. foetida from other British species of Crepis, and which can be compared with photographs I took of plants in situ in Kent (on right), are the drooping flower bud and the narrow compressed pappus, fancifully resembling the tip of an artist’s paintbrush (see above). 

"Another notable character that cannot be incorporated into a stamp is the smell, likened by some to that of bitter almonds.

“The other five stamps in the set depict osprey, large blue butterfly, Eurasian beaver, pool frog and sand lizard”.

Many thanks to Ian for telling us about the new stamp and the story behind it, and for providing the images shown on this page.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Is it ok to pick wild flowers and if so, when?

Sometimes it's best to take a photo
 of that plant and share it on social media!
Image: Mags Crittenden
Last November BSBI launched its revised Code of Conduct to help people understand when it's ok to pick wild flowers, when it definitely isn't, and what to do about all the grey areas in between! The Code, written for us by Dr Sarah Whild, botanist and lecturer in plant ecology, and Dr Fred Rumsey, Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum, has since become one of BSBI's most popular downloads. It is used by plant-lovers, whether ecological consultants or beginner botanists, keen to examine wild flowers more closely. Sometimes picking a flower is the best option!

Today our colleagues at Plantlife, with whom we run the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, launch this year's Great British Wildflower Hunt. To help wildflower-hunters, they have produced a short Code of Conduct based on BSBI's fuller version. The Plantlife Code also recommends the Rule of One in Twenty as promoted by Sarah and Fred - if you can't see more than 20 of a particular plant then definitely don't pick it!

Luronium natans - don't pick
this one, it's mega-rare!
Image: Sarah Whild
The Great British Wildflower Hunt joins the New Year Plant Hunt, Wild Flower Hour and Herbology Hunt as another way to get out and start spotting and identifying wildflowers. All these initiatives offer support in the way of spotter sheets or online help or ID tips and advice delivered via social media. You can find out more about how to get started with wildflower ID here on BSBI's Get Involved page which also has suggestions of useful Facebook groups, where to find a handlens (essential to see tiny flower characters) and a review of ID books in print.

But today is all about the launch of the Great British Wildflower Hunt and Plantlife President Rachel de Thame tells us more: "I knew my cowslip from my cow parsley and yes, I used to love picking little posies. So much of our wildlife is untouchable but common wild flowers and plants are different. I’ve gone on to teach my children and to nurture this relationship with our native flora that is fascinating, joyful and yes, important. The Great British Wildflower Hunt, with it’s helpful ID tips, can give us all confidence to identify flowers and also provides Plantlife with much needed information about how well they are doing.

Ambroise gets in there with his trusty hand-lens!
Image courtesy of Ambroise Baker  
"What we know and love we are more likely to conserve. It’s about children starting a relationship with wild flowers. It’s in a child’s instinct to collect, but today that means collecting stickers, toys or those must-have gadgets. Yet it wasn’t so long ago that children were just as keen to collect wild flowers, whether it was to take a posy home, press them, or make petal perfume, they were part of children’s everyday life. We need to ensure that this next generation is just as engaged and passionate so they will understand why wild flowers need to be cherished and protected for not only the beauty they bring to our lives but for their vital role as life support to all our wildlife." 

So please head over to the Great British Wildflower Hunt webpage to find out more. And if you are a more advanced botanist already working flat out recording for Atlas 2020, please consider recommending the Great British Wildflower Hunt to any beginner botanists you know - it's a great way to get involved with botany!   

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

BSBI supporting Young Darwins again in 2018

BSBI is once again supporting the Young Darwin Scholarship (YDS) this year. The scheme is run by the Field Studies Council (FSC) and aims to "support young people to deepen their passion for natural history and find their value and place in our world". 

I asked Jennie Comerford, the FSC's National Grants Officer, to tell us more. Over to Jennie:

"The scholarship continues to attract young people who surprise us with the depth of their passion for the natural environment and the knowledge they have already accrued for their young age. We asked the 2017 cohort what they hoped they would get out of their scholarship and some common themes emerged in their replies:
  • Better identification of plants
  • Learn more about conservation
  • Increase my general knowledge of nature as I usually don’t have an opportunity to do so and help decide whether I want to do ecology at Uni
  • Meet some new people who have similar interests and have fun together
  • Increase knowledge of entomology
  • Get connected with other YD scholars and experts and the FSC
  • Become better at recording field studies and pick up more refined field techniques.
"The group spent time investigating a variety of habitats, management styles and geological influences. They enjoyed visits from a number of professionals in the environmental sector who shared their career journeys and influences. And there was an exciting session looking at the bigger picture with discussions such as the impact of Brexit on the environment and how to involve more young people in environmental campaigning.

"The Scholarship is a unique opportunity and we now have over 100 YDS alumni with the scheme in its 7th year. Our first cohorts have graduated and many are now at early stages of their careers in the sector. They remain involved through various social media platform groups".

One of last year's Young Darwins, Oliver Spacey, wrote a personal account of his experience and he kindly agreed to share it  with News & Views readers. Over to Oliver:

"Have you ever sat alone on a patch of grass, simply watching, listening and absorbing all the environment has to offer? If not, then that is far from uncommon and you may even think it slightly peculiar. I too had not experienced this myself until very recently, when the FSC allowed me to enter the remarkable mind of a 19th century naturalist and reconstruct my perspective of the natural world. If, in fact, you have had the luxury of sitting and observing your natural surroundings for even a mere five minutes, you will empathise with the fascination for wildlife that the FSC inspired in me when I participated in a five-day introductory course to the Young Darwin Scholarship, a unique opportunity offered to keen naturalists to support them for the future.

"Having been one of the fortunate fifteen young people that received the scholarship in 2017, I am now part of an extensive network of contacts including experts and other scholars, yet I did not quite realise how invaluable this support would be until I took part in the “What would Darwin do today?” residential at the picturesque Preston MontfordField Centre near Shrewsbury.

"Upon my arrival, any apprehension was soon abandoned as introductions and short team-building investigations revealed the many similar interests we shared, highlighting the mutual passion that is at the heart of the scholarship. In only several hours, it seemed odd to think we had previously been strangers, and our synergy was to be an integral part of both the residential and the scholarship as a whole. Activities over the next few days ranged from the exploration of a disused lead mine at Snailbeach (that was one for the geologists!) to a rather therapeutic walk across the impressive terrain of the Stiperstones, where we kept an eye out for red grouse scurrying about the heath moorland and listened intently to the entertaining folklore behind the mystic landscape. Furthermore, we were collectively rather successful at overnight mammal trapping before canoeing down the River Severn, past the birthplace of Charles Darwin himself, to ‘kick sample’ for aquatic invertebrates. On this adventure we revelled in the deep blue flashes of kingfishers darting past and even got a glimpse of a buzzard from only several feet away! 

"Bat detecting, birdwatching and inspirational talks from ecologists were appreciated by all, and a whole day was dedicated to a fast-paced BioBlitz in which we attempted to identify and record as many species as possible within a time frame. During this investigation, Henry, Adam and I were personally captivated by the revelation of the mysterious world of springtails; microscopic invertebrates that go undetected by the many yet are in truth extremely diverse and unique. After a campfire and much reflection, alas it was time to depart, not forgetting the countless unforeseen things we had learnt.

"As well as enhancing my data recording skills and my ability to identify a whole range of wildlife, the beginning of the scholarship has taught me how to make the most out of being a naturalist, and I only anticipate how it will help me in the future with a myriad of opportunities to come. And if you ever do find yourself sat alone in your garden, or leaning against an oak surrounded by woodland, or anywhere in the vast outdoors, connecting with your environment, then you will learn what the FSC’s scholarship has taught me above anything else; there will always be more to learn about nature, the trick is to never stop discovering".

Many thanks to Jennie and Oliver for these accounts and to the BSBI membership for their continued support for the Young Darwin Scholarship. You can read here and here about how BSBI has supported YDS in previous years, including in 2017 when George Garnett [also the youngest person ever to address the BSBI's Annual Exhibition Meeting] enjoyed the YDS experience and shared his Diary of a YDS on these pages.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Juniper: in Byron's Gin and on the BSBI's Database

Juniper photographed in the Outer Hebrides
Image: Paul Smith 
This month's post about Byron's Gin focuses on a plant without which - well, gin just wouldn't be gin! Juniper is an essential ingredient in gin but did you know that it is a plant in decline across Britain and Ireland? 

This BSBI distribution map shows where Juniper has been recorded over time. It was one of the species studied under the BSBI's Threatened Plants Project (TPP). If you have a copy of Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland, the recent publication which arose out of the TPP, you'll be able to read more about the factors driving the decline of Juniper, especially in lowland areas in England: Juniper is listed as Near Threatened on the England Red List
You can also read more about Juniper in this factsheet from Plantlife and on the Woodland Trust's website.

While most of the botanicals used in Byron's Gin are harvested sustainably in the distillery's grounds and nearby surroundings, the juniper is sourced from further afield to avoid impacting negatively on local populations. So you can drink Byron's Gin with a clear conscience! And don't forget that for every bottle of Byron's Gin sold, a contribution is made to BSBI's training programme, helping us to train and support the next generation of botanists.