Saturday, 16 December 2017

Can you help the North West Rare Plant Initiative?

One of the few remaining plants of Genista anglica
at Highfield Moss, 2017
Image: J. Styles
Back in August, we brought you a report on the new North West Rare Plant Initiative (NWRPI) which had just been set up by botanist Josh Styles, known to News & Views readers as a BSBI Plant Study Grant recipient and one of our keenest next generation botanists.

The idea behind the initiative is to earmark species on the cusp of regional extinction, with the intention of reintroducing them into areas where suitable situations exist. 

So the NWRPI has a lot in common with a similar project in Leicestershire called Genebank55.

Joshua exhibited a poster about the initiative at the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting - if you missed the meeting, you can download Josh's poster from this page.

Gnaphalium sylvaticum
Image: K. Walker
I asked Josh how he was getting on with the initiative and if there was anything BSBI botanists could do to help support him. 

Josh said: "Most species that are considered to be a priority (see a full list of species and their conservation status on my websitehave been obtained and are now in cultivation including species such as Utricularia minor (Lesser Bladderwort), Wahlenbergia hederacea (Ivy-Leaved Bellflower) and Trollius europaeus (Globeflower). 

"I am currently discussing collaboration with Chester Zoo. 

"Though many species have been obtained and are now in cultivation, others cannot be obtained as they are either extinct, or very near extinction regionally. 

"These include: Gnaphalium sylvaticum (Heath Cudweed), Genista anglica (Petty Whin) and Gentiana pneumonanthe (Marsh Gentian). Without intervention, these species are or will soon be extinct in the entire north-west region.

3 of the 5 plants of Gentiana pneumonanthe
left in the region, Highfield Moss, 2017
Image: J. Styles
"Therefore, anyone who could source seed from any of these species would be very much appreciated (any postage and packing charges can be covered by myself). Please email me at to discuss. 

"Find out more on the North West Rare Plant Initiative on my website or download my poster from the BSBI Exhibition Meeting webpage." 

Many thanks to Josh for this update on the North West Rare Plant Initiative - fingers crossed that some of you can help him source seed for some of his target species. We're obviously talking here about seed that has been legally collected and sustainably harvested. If you're in any doubt about what this means, the BSBI Code of Conduct will prove helpful - you can download it from the BSBI Resources page here

If you'd like to find out a bit more about Heath Cudweed and Globeflower, you can download BSBI Species Accounts from this page

Friday, 15 December 2017

Note from the Stoke Herbarium

Always a pleasure to hear from Martin Godfrey who sends notes from the Stoke herbarium, where he is a regular volunteer, whenever he spots something of interest to News & Views readers. Over to Martin:

"A continuing project at the Stoke herbarium is to review and catalogue a lot of non-Staffordshire specimens which haven’t been looked at since their arrival over 30 years ago. The bulk is, as might be imagined, very ordinary material but there are a lot of really rare things collected from the first half of the last century and the final decades of the 19th. If every botanist collected rarities like this I am surprised that there is anything left growing on Ben Lawers!

"However I thought I would like to show you a specimen of a species which I have certainly never seen before and until now had barely heard of – Crassula aquatica (as Tillaea on the sheet). This specimen [photo on right] is from the site of its discovery in Britain and this record, at least, isn’t in the BSBI Database.  

"It is extinct at its only site in England – discovered in 1921 it was gone, according to Peter Sell, in 1938 and, according to Clive Stace, 1945. It was rediscovered in 1969 at a single site in Scotland. Its status seems a bit odd too. It is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere but gets only a note in the back of Pete Stroh’s England Red List as a naturalised neophyte, whereas in Crawley and Stace’s Alien Plants it is noted as probably a self-introduced native.

"The irony of this is that this odd little plant appears to be extinct in England and very rare in Scotland despite the rather “predatory” habits of its relative Crassula helmsii."

Thanks to Martin for bringing this "odd little plant" to our attention - here's its distribution map so you can play 'spot the dot'!  

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Genebank55: conserving plant species at local level

Packed exhibition hall at BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2017
The Genebank55 poster is on the left.
Image: J.  Mitchley 
For anyone who was unable to attend the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting, we are starting to upload some of the 38 exhibits to this page and have invited exhibitors to tell us a bit more about their projects, latest books, interesting plant finds etc.

First up is a poster by Anna Farrell and Richard Gornall (University of Leicester Botanic Garden) about Genebank55, an initiative to conserve the seeds of locally threatened plants with a view to re-introducing them at some point in the future into suitable local receptor sites. 

Richard said: "We have been losing plant species from our two counties, Leicestershire and Rutland (VC55) at an average rate of 1.5 per year. Some are down to a few individuals. One conservation approach is to take seeds of threatened species into the protective custody of a genebank. This allows the storage of large numbers of individuals from different local populations. 

Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem
Image: Pete Stroh
"This is important because it preserves locally adapted genotypes, valuable for scientific research and possible re-introduction. The initiative complements on a local scale the largely international work of RBG Kew's Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place.

BSBI members can read more about Genebank55 in the September 2017 issue of BSBI News, which focuses on one of the first beneficiaries of the initiative. It tells how twelve bulbs of what appears to be the last population in VC55 of Gagea lutea (Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem) were taken (with the landowner's permission and full co-operation) and have been grown on at the University of Leicester Botanic GardenAlthough Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem is listed as of Least Concern on the England Red List, it is on the Rare Plant Register for Leicestershire & Rutland

As the BSBI News article, by Richard, Anna and Dr Geoffrey Hall, County Recorder for Leics. & Rutland, points out, "Although there is a strong case to be made for better protection of wild plants by means of habitat management, there is also a good argument for ex situ conservation, either by growing the plants in botanic gardens or by storing seeds in gene-banks". 

Take a look at the poster, which you can download from this page, and see what you think about this initiative. Leave a comment below! 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

What Kevin did next: Part Two

On Wednesday we brought you news of botanist Kevin Widdowson's poster (on right) showing the fruits of some British and Irish wild flowers and asked if you could guess what they were.

The list giving names of all the plants featured is shown at the foot of this page - did you get many right? Click on the images to see them at full size.

We also featured photos on Wednesday of two extra mystery fruits, just for News & Views readers. They are shown on this page again today, but this time we can tell you what they are! 

One of the mystery plants is a Kidney Vetch (below) and the other is a Shepherd's-purse (on left) which has a special significance for the Widdowson family.

Elizabeth Widdowson, one of Kevin's three daughters, is officially The Measurer of the Tallest Shepherd's-purse Reported to Date in the World, as confirmed in January 2016 by Dr Tim Rich who wrote the BSBI Handbook on this family of plants (Crucifers of Great Britain & Ireland). 

Head over here to read the whole story and find out why Dr Tim thought that Elizabeth, then aged seven, should have double pocket money for her excellent work on Shepherd's-purse.

Kevin's fruity poster has been a huge success - he's been inundated with requests and keeps having to reprint another batch! I asked Kevin how he felt about this success and, modest as ever, he said:

"I'm completely overwhelmed by the response to my fruit poster. I can't quite believe that over 100 people have shown enough interest in it to buy one. I've got a real sense of achievement in having made something that people enjoy both looking at and learning from".

If you'd like to own your own copy of Kevin's poster, best head over here quickly before this latest batch is sold out. You can also follow Kevin on Twitter here and enjoy his wonderful wild flower photos free of charge whenever you like!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

What Kevin did next..

Back in 2015, we brought you news on these pages of a new support group on Facebook aimed at guiding beginner and improver botanists through the use of keys to identify wild flowers. 

The brainchild of Notts. botanist Kevin Widdowson, 'Botanical Keys and How to Use Them' had amassed 439 members in its first few months and we added it to the list of 'Helpful Hints for Getting Started in Botany' here and invited Kevin along to the 2015 BSBI Exhibition Meeting to demonstrate how the Facebook group worked.

Two years on and Kevin's Facebook group has 1982 members, the blogpost about it has been viewed 1336 times and Kevin has just come up with another fabulous idea! Over to Kevin to tell us about it:

"Now that the main flowering season has come to an end I have been looking for ways to continue my botanical study through the late autumn and winter. I really enjoy winter botany, it gives me a reason to get out and about in the cold weather. 

"Usually my interest is in winter tree identification but recently identifying plants by their fruit character has caught my attention. What has really inspired me is the weird and wonderful ways plants have evolved to protect and disperse their seed. 

"With this in mind I have been taking photographs of any fruit I can get my hands on and attempting to capture their function and intrinsic beauty. After a while I had built up quite a collection and decided to put some of my favourite ones together on a poster. 

"Now, after much persuasion I have decided to make this poster and an accompanying identification sheet available for purchase."

Ok I admit to being one of the many people who saw Kevin's poster and said, you have to make this available for people, with an option to buy a copy! So he's produced an A3 poster and a double-sided identification sheet printed on A4 card (silhouette on one side, list of plant names on the other). 

You can see the poster (top right) and the silhouette (top left) and two extra close-ups of mystery plants which don't appear on the poster. Why not see how many of the species you can identify by these fruits? 

We'll post the list of names on Saturday night but if you can't wait, you can head over here and buy a print copy! (They also make great presents for botanically-minded friends.)! 

Or you can just download the photos and have fun trying to guess which fruit is which. Kevin's aim here isn't to make his fortune, it's just to get people looking at fruits and finding new ways to enjoy their botany. 

You can also head over here and listen to Kevin talking about his fruity project on the second 'Wild Flower Half Hour' podcast.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Notes from the southern hemisphere

Jonathan Shanklin
Image: L. Farrell
BSBI's Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin is heading to the deep south for the next two months - Antarctica! 

Jon used to work for the British Antarctic Survey and was asked to step in and make ozone observations on this winter's trip, after a colleague resigned. 

He set off on Monday and today we heard that he is enjoying temperatures of 30 degrees in Cape Town, where the team stopped off. Jon reports spotting some plants familiar to the UK, such as Common Rye-grass and Petty Spurge. 

You can follow Jon's adventures here - there is also a link in the list (on the right) of blogs by BSBI members.  

But rest assured that before he set off, Jon posted the programme of field meetings for 2018 - read the list with descriptions here or view a table of national and local meetings here.  

Monday, 4 December 2017

Interview with incoming BSBI President Chris Metherell

Chris looks at Eyebright specimens
in the Herbarium at Univ Reading
Image: A Culham
Last week we brought you an interview with outgoing BSBI President John Faulkner, who I caught up with at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting. Incoming President Chris Metherell was also at the meeting, ready to take up the reins, and I was able to catch up with him too. Although everybody was keen to talk to our new President, he very kindly made time to be interviewed for News & Views: 

LM: So Chris, are you looking forward to being at the helm of BSBI?

CM: I'm not sure that being the President quite equates with "being at the helm". These days of course the Society is run by its Trustees and the role of the President is quite different to that undertaken before we became a limited company.

LM: Before you tell us about your plans, could you tell us how you first got interested in botany – has it been a lifelong passion?

Chris and Helena Crouch, joint County
Recorder for Somerset, hunting
Eyebrights in the West Country
Image: F. Rumsey
CM: I suppose you could say "lifelong". My first real botanical memory is, aged about 10, going into the local library and asking if they had any books on flowers.This was of course in the days before "picture books" were commonplace, the first real example, by Keble-Martin, was still some years away. After some discussion among the staff, they came up with a rather thick book, with no pictures. "You might find it a bit complicated" they said and handed it over. 

Back home I sat in our front garden and tried to identify the first weed I came to.  I failed comprehensively! I now know that the book was Clapham, Tutin & Warburg and the plant was Euphorbia peplus. Not perhaps an auspicious way to start...

LM: So where did you study and what did you read?

CM: I read geography and geology at University of Reading and then went on to work in professional theatre. The latter gave me a surprising amount of free time and that was, I suppose, when I really started driving around country lanes looking at plants. I even got to Ben Lawers. Retraining as a lawyer in the 1980s unfortunately meant much less spare time to devote to botany.

Chris helps a younger botanist spot
 Eyebrights on Shetland
Image: I. Denholm
LM: So when did you first join BSBI and how did that come about?

CM: I had joined the Wild Flower Society in about 2000 I think.I remember seeing my first sedge on one of their field trips to the New Forest. I didn't even have a hand lens in those days. The BSBI was a natural progression I suppose. I joined in 2002. It's interesting, now, to look back and ask why I joined the Wild Flower Society first. I think it was "Wild Flower Society amateur vs. BSBI professional". 

I strongly feel that as a society we need to be less intimidating. It's not a matter of "dumbing down". People who use that phrase are already denigrating the people who are not as knowledgable or even perhaps as well-educated as themselves. 

Chris & Helena look at West Country Eyebrights
Image: F. Rumsey
LM: As you know, I'm all for us being less intimidating and helping beginners get involved via activities like #wildflowerhour and the New Year Plant Hunt! So you became active in BSBI and then you became County Recorder for North Northumberland – when was that? And is that where you do most of your botanising? 

CM: I think I became the County Recorder in 2006. Recording there was at rather a low ebb (sound familiar?). The previous County Recorder was by then very elderly, and had operated what at the time was probably a commonplace regime of not accepting any records unless backed by a specimen. Unsurprisingly, this rather put off local botanists who thus never did any recording. The sub-text here is, of course, that there were very few records! We've been catching up ever since.

Chris holds up a herbarium sheet
during an Eyebright ID session
 he gave at Univ Leicester in 2014
Image: L. Marsh
However I do manage to get about quite a bit - everywhere from Shetland to Cornwall and many trips to Ireland. I lead regular trips for the Wild Flower Society and so that means I get to choose to go somewhere really interesting every so often. It was the Burren in 2017. 

Favourite memories? Orkney: It's a fantastic place and botanically fascinating. Glen Clova: sitting half way up a cliff in a huge thunderstorm and listening to the thunder rolling round the Glen while discussing the finer points of Carex vaginata which we had just found. I'm very lucky in that my wife is also a very good botanist and leads trips in her own right for the British Pteridological Society. So we spend lots of time botanising together.

LM: Will you still be able to fit in your County Recorder’s duties alongside being President?

CM:Actually I think it will be far less onerous than being the Hon. General Secretary, a role I filled until earlier this year! Sorry Delyth. [LM: Delyth has taken over as Hon Gen Sec!] I rather think of the President as the "front man" for the society. Schmoozing doesn't take nearly as much time as organising. I hope!

Chris leading an Eyebright ID session at the
BSBI Recorders' Conference 2016
Image: S. Townsend
LM: And how are you getting on with recording for Atlas 2020?

CM: Famously I think. Our overall refind rate is just under 85% (set against records for Atlas 2000).I now have a superb team of recorders and the records just keep flowing in.

LM: BSBI News & Views readers will have followed your progress on these pages towards publishing a new BSBI Handbook on Eyebrights. How is that coming along?

CM: Well! The text was finished in April 2016. Unfortunately the line drawings are proving to be a problem. I've set a deadline for publication of March/April 2018. After that, for good scientific reasons, it would be inappropriate to proceed. Hopefully it will come out as planned.

Chris working late over Eyebright specimens in
the Herbarium at Univ Leicester in 2013
Image: L. Marsh
LM: Regular readers will also have noticed that you are a huge supporter of herbaria! You’ve volunteered in your local herbarium and of course there has been a lot of herbarium work involved in research for the Handbook. Do you think you’ll still be able to spend much time in herbaria once you are President?

CM: I hope so! When I was a child I just loved libraries. I now have a house that looks just like one. Libraries and books are my comfort zone. It's a small step from there to a herbarium. They are such a fantastic resource but tragically underused. If there's one thing I would like to achieve whilst President it is to increase herbarium use. If we don't use them we'll lose them. We've lost some already. Watch this space.

Chris (in hat) teaches Sedge ID on a
Field Studies Course at Rhyd-y-Crethau
Image: H. Metherell 
LM: We also know you as a member of BSBI’s Training & Education Committee, so presumably botanical education is a passion – will that shape your Presidency?

CM: There is no better way of really learning about a subject than teaching it. If we don't pass on field botany in an accessible way no-one else will. Education is now on an equal footing with science within the BSBI. Fine words. Now we have to make the words into reality.

LM: Your diary for next year is probably looking quite busy! Are we likely to see you at many BSBI field or indoor meetings

CM: I plan to get to as many indoor meetings as I can. Presidents need to be visible and available and tea breaks at meetings is such a good opportunity to network. I'm not so sure about taking up valuable places on field meetings.

Chris (in checked shirt) at the BSBI Exhibition
 Meeting 2017 where he assumed the presidency.
That's me (LM) in the violet frock poised to
pounce and interview him!
Image: W. Arshad
LM: Thanks for giving us a taste of what we have to look forward to! Can we invite you to come back once you’ve been in post for a while and give us an update?

CM: Of course.

LM: One final question – will you be taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt in January?

CM: Of course. Not many plants flowering in cold North Northumberland at New Year, but I'm looking forward to using the phone app again. Really easy to use and a great idea. When are we going to get one we can use for regular recording instead of having to rely on bits of paper?

LM: And having thrown down that particular gauntlet, our new President went off to talk to exhibitors and speakers at the Exhibition Meeting. But I'll be taking him up on his promise to come back and chat to us again - watch this space!