Friday, 18 May 2018

Distillery behind Byron's Gin wins international trade award

In recent posts we've told you about some of the botanicals - such as Juniper and Bird Cherry -  used in Byron's Gin, the official gin of the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI). 

We've also explained that for every bottle sold of Byron's Gin, a donation is made to BSBI's training programme, helping us train and support the next generation of botanists

This month we'd like to tell you a bit about the distillery which produces Byron's Gin, its history and some of the people who work there. 

We'd also like to congratulate Speyside Distillery on becoming one of only six companies in 2018 to win a Board of Trade award, presented to them last night by Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.

Speyside Distillery (image above) can trace their history back even further than the BSBI! We've been around (under several different names) since 1836 but unlike the Harveys, founders of Speyside Distillery, BSBI has never had to face Prohibition

We both have royal connections - BSBI's former patron was Her Majesty the Queen Mother and you can read about Speyside's links with both King George III and Lord Byron here

Speyside Distillery is nestled within the Cairngorm Mountains and many of the botanicals used in Byron's Gin come from the distillery grounds and surrounding area. Sandy Jamieson (image above), Manager at Speyside Distillery, worked closely with Andy Amphlett, BSBI's County Recorder for Banffshire, to create Byron's Gin which comes in two 'expressions': Melancholy Thistle and Bird Cherry.

A few 'firsts': 
  • Byron's Gin is Speyside Distillery's first venture into spirits other than the single malt whisky for which they are famous.
  • BSBI's sponsorship agreement and adoption of Byron's Gin is also a first for the society - we've never had an 'official gin' before!
  • When Speyside Distillery's CEO John McDonough and Managing Director Patricia Dillon picked up their award from the Secretary of State last night, they became the first distillery to receive a Board of Trade award.
So, congratulations to the team at Speyside Distillery - let's raise a glass of Byron's Gin to them and support the next generation of botanists in the process! 

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Wild flowers on road verges

Image courtesy of Plantlife
Our colleagues at Plantlife have been doing a great job in recent days drawing attention to roadside verges which can act as refuges for wild flowers. Dr Trevor Dines (Plantlife's botanical specialist and a longtime BSBI member) has been on television and radio, and several articles have appeared in the newspapers. 

BSBI's Head of Science, Dr Kevin Walker, has been quoted in some of these articles, such as this one in The Telegraph and another in BBC Science News

Plantlife have also put together some guidance for local councils about mowing regimes for road verges - there's a pdf you can download -  and they are running a campaign which you may wish to take a look at. 

Monday, 14 May 2018

Éireannach: Celebrating Native Plants of Ireland

Front cover of the new book
Image courtesy of ISBA
As part of the exciting Botanical Art Worldwide Project, members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists (ISBA) have mounted an exhibition of paintings depicting Irish indigenous plants at the National Botanic Gardens titled Éireannach: Celebrating Native Plants of Ireland, Glasnevin. 

Artists from a total of 25 countries are taking part in the worldwide project, which has been spearheaded by the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), assisted by steering committees in each participating country.

Ireland has taken the project a step further by producing a book that features the 43 paintings in the ISBA exhibition, along with the story of each plant, researched and written by the artists themselves and edited by well-known author and wild plant enthusiast, Zoë Devlin, who was a mentor for the project. 

Marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in Ireland
Image: M. Long
Also included in the book is information and a sample illustration from each of the other countries, along with contributions from four of the organisations that work tirelessly to conserve Ireland’s native plant heritage - BSBI is, of course, one of those organisations. The book is available online at for the pre-publication price of €20 until 27 May, after which it will revert to the full retail price of €25. 

The exhibition will run until the 27 May, and on the 18 May – the official Worldwide Day of Botanical Art – the ISBA will hold an open day at the exhibition, where artists will provide demonstrations of how they work; Zoe Devlin will provide a tour of the exhibition, and there’ll be a chance to see a digital presentation of paintings from all the other exhibitions around the world. 

For more details, check

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Threatened Plants in Britain & Ireland: book reprinted

Copy of Threatened plants in
Britain and Ireland
sitting on Pete's desk
Image: P. Stroh
When Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland was published by BSBI late last year and the book sold out in a matter of weeks, nobody was really very surprised! 

This long awaited title summarised the results of five years of survey work for BSBI's Threatened Plants Project by 800+ BSBI volunteer members. They monitored 50 wildflower species which BSBI's Science Team believed might be in decline. 

The book also included analysis and comment by the Science Team, who found that many species had, as suspected, declined dramatically since the 1970s.  

Today we are delighted to announce that Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland has been reprinted and is once again available to buy from Summerfield Books and other natural history book-sellers. 

Pale dog-violet Viola lactea
Image: John Crellin
Pete Stroh, BSBI Scientific Officer and one of the book's three co-authors, said "The results from the Threatened Plants Project survey have shown how and why some of our most threatened wildflowers have declined since the 1970s, and sets out how such trends can be reversed. 

"It was very encouraging that the initial print run sold out within a matter of weeks and illustrates how our flora, and the work that BSBI volunteers do, is so valued."

Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland will be of use to conservationists, ecological consultants, land managers and plant-lovers across both countries. It tempers a gloomy picture of declines in some of our wild flower populations with helpful practical suggestions as to how such trends might be reversed.

You can read more about the book in this interview by Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science and another of the book's co-authors. 

Spreading Bell-flower Campanula patula
Image: Bob Gibbons
The third co-author was Bob Ellis, recently retired as BSBI's Projects Officer. Bob played a crucial role in liaising with the BSBI volunteer members who went out surveying for the Threatened Plants Project and whose results fed into the book. Huge thanks to Bob, Kevin, Pete and all the 800+ volunteers for their amazing achievement producing Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland.

So if you didn't manage to get hold of a copy last time, can I suggest that you do so now, because we expect this second print run of this excellent book to sell out as quickly as the first!

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Interesting opportunity for a botanist

I had an interesting email last week from a colleague at the Oxford English Dictionary. They are looking for a person to join their team of science editors. They are especially keen to find a naturalist to work on plant and animal entries.

Does this sound like your sort of job? Would you (or do you know somebody who would) love to be a lexicographer? This is a dream job for somebody whose knowledge of and passion for plants/ wildlife is equalled by their love of words! 

Take a look at the job advert and see if this one is for you - or consider forwarding it to any friends or colleagues who might be interested:

Monday, 30 April 2018

Irish BSBI Spring Conference 2018: a huge success!

Maria opens the day's proceedings
Image: S. Brien
The Irish BSBI Conference 2018 was held last month and reports filtering through via social media suggest that it was a resounding success and yet another feather in organiser Maria Long's cap! 

So I asked Jessica Hamilton, who gave a talk at the conference about the BSBI Kerry group (Jessica is the guiding force behind the group) to send us a short report and to include any comments she'd heard from fellow delegates. 

Over to Jessica: 
Mike Porter's talk on violas
Image: J Hamilton
"The best one yet!" / "Lovely mix, well done" / "Getting people together".

"One month ago now, (how fast is time flying this year?!), the Irish BSBI Conference was held at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, in Dublin on the 24th March. Once people had gathered and received their programme for the day, the day’s events kicked off with a warm welcome from the ever enthusiastic Maria (BSBI Irish Officer)

"Throughout the day people used the hashtag #IrishBSBIconference to tweet the ongoings of the day on social media and give the conference a presence online.

Mike (in blue fleece) leads the viola workshop
Image: J. Hamilton
"The talks kicked off with Mike Porter (author of the BSBI Handbook on Violas). He gave an elated and comprehensive talk on violas. 

"I think many people appreciate these spring beauties, but Mike spoke about them with such infectious passion that after ten years of preparing the handbook he had the same love of this group of plants that I’m sure he had on the first day he clasped eyes them.

"Mike’s talk on violas was definitely a highlight for me, as was his workshop which he carried out later on that day (more on that later) and others agreed with me:

Clare Heardman talks about Ellen Hutchins
Image: J. Hamilton
“Viola talk- very funny and informative”.

"Next up was Clare Heardman, County Recorder for West Cork, who gave a heartfelt and fantastic talk on Ellen Hutchins (Ireland’s first female botanist). It was fascinating- yet moving - to learn about how, despite her struggles and tragedies that she experienced, she was still able to pour herself into her love of botany and accomplished so much as she did. 

"As Clare pointed out, botany definitely appeared to be a safe place for her from which to escape from all of life’s woes and troubles. This is something I - and I’m sure others - can relate to.

Jessica talks about the BSBI Kerry group
Image: M Long
"Next I was up to give my talk on some of my BSBI experience and a rundown of what the BSBI Kerry local group has been up to so far. Around this time last year was when I attended my first ever BSBI conference so to have been asked to speak this year was such an honour. 

"After I wrapped up my talk I was followed by Aoife Delaney whose talk 'Environmental drivers of biological communities in dune slacks' was received with great interest.

"As Edwina Cole, County Recorder for East Cork, said “Aoife’s presentation was particularly interesting- a much needed reminder of the complexities of ecosystems and how one group alone cannot predict its wealth” Very well said. 

Colm talks about the BSBI Dublin group
Image: J Hamilton
"After a lunch break, there were a series of flash talks by six enthusiastic speakers - Robert Northridge OBE who spoke about Trichophorum - identifying the various species and their hybrids. His enthusiasm and drive are particularly admirable -  anyone who has been out recording in the field with him will instantly pick up on this seemingly endless energy and passion.

"Elaine Moore Mackey of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists told us all about the work of the society and promoted their upcoming exhibition Éireannach’ – which opens on the 5th May and looks to be absolutely delightful and coincides with the launch of their book, also called Èireannach, which will contain a collection of paintings of plants that are native to Ireland. [Ed.: the book also has a 2-page feature about BSBI, written by Irish Officer Maria Long.] 

Rory talks about the Killarney Fern
Image: J. Hamilton
"Colm from the Dublin BSBI local group gave a roundup of the local group he leads in Dublin. Local groups such as this are important ways of getting people involved in recording and looking at all the wonderful botanical delights one can find.

"Maria also gave a quick talk on lycopod surveys and Rory Hodd (of Rough Crew fame) spoke about the benefits of peering into dark crevices in search of the Trichomanes speciosum (Killarney Fern) gametophyte. I have only seen the gametophyte a handful of times and both times were as a result of Rory diving into a dark crevice, so keep up the good work Rory :D 

Horsetail specimens in the Herbarium
Image: J. Hamilton
"We were also lucky to have a talk by Pauline Campbell who gave us the lowdown on the National Plant Monitoring Scheme in Northern Ireland.

"All six flash talks were all equally as interesting and captivating. 

"The five minute limit may seem quite short- and it flies by, but in those five minutes what was great to see was that all speakers in that short period, as well as giving informative talks, were able to portray their enthusiasm for their particular area they were speaking of.

Mike's viola workshop in the herbarium
Image: J. Hamilton
"While the County Recorders had a computer workshop, for the rest of us, John Conaghan gave a fantastic talk on horsetails which also featured herbarium specimens that were absolutely beautiful and look like hand painted works of art, I definitely looked at horsetails in a different way seeing them like that. 

"Towards the end half of the day there was a very successful and popular viola workshop with Mike Porter which was one of my many highlights and it was great to get hands-on practice looking at specimens both live and from the herbarium. 

In the Palm House at NBG Glasnevin
Image M. Long
"One of the herbarium specimens which was particularly interesting was Viola rupestris (Teesdale violet), which Ireland has no records of, but Mike wants us Irish folk to keep our eyes peeled for this miniscule beauty.

"A group of us also enjoyed a fantastic talk in the getting a tour of the palm house led by the director of the gardens Dr. Matthew Jebb. 

"We first started in the main gardens where he produced a small matchbox, which he revealed that inside it contained a seed of all of our c840 native flowering plant species. Amazing! 

Into the top of the palm house we went and watch a breath taking place it was, both from the views that encompassed us, and the humidity that hit us. 

"While we were in the palm house others got to have a session and updates for Atlas 2020, giving updates no how it’s going so far and throwing ideas around of what to focus on post atlas. "Post Atlas 2020 planning a good idea".

Matthew Jebb's matchbox containing seeds of
every flowering plant species in Ireland!
Image: C. Heardman
"Also throughout day for people to view and was a fantastic Information and identification station which people availed of to ID any mystery plants they had and view some of the live specimens that were also on display such as my favourite, the Rue-leaved saxifrage. 

[Ed: Note that there are also posters on display about Atlas 2020 and about Wild Flower Hour!]

"The day was concluded with final words by our host Maria. I asked Maria to give some feedback on how she felt the day went:

Posters about Atlas 2020 and Wild Flower Hour
Image: J. Hamilton
“Each year we try hard to put on a varied programme, and to keep costs low, but I'm still always nervous that it won't go well, or that people won't come, or that they won't enjoy the day if they do. 

"Thankfully, all the work and worry was worth it, and we've just had another really successful conference. 

"It was a busy, fast-paced day, but there was plenty time too for attendees to chat and catch up over coffee and lunch breaks. 

"Great thanks are due to all contributors, with almost every one of them being mentioned as a highlight by someone in the feedback!”   

Maria's talk about lycopods
Image: J. Hamilton
"To finish up, if you didn’t get a chance to attend the conference you’ll now hopefully have a nice idea of what went on. 

"I on behalf of all attendees want to extend my thanks and gratitude to Maria for organising such a jam-packed fun day that had something for everyone and I look forward with anticipation to next year’s conference. 

"I think it’s safe to say everyone who attended thoroughly enjoyed their day. Feedback is important for events likes this and feedback received was all very positive, so let’s conclude with two quotes from attendees - Kate and Conor:

Plant ID table, posters & leaflets about BSBI
Image: J. Hamilton
“Thanks Maria for putting on such a great conference last weekend - it was really enjoyable, and great catching up with people” - Kate-Marie O’Connor.

“Thanks again for the conference. It was excellent!” -Conor Owens

Hear Hear! JH".

Ed.: Many thanks to Jessica for this report and to Maria for organising another great day! 

You may be interested to know that you can now download presentations from the conference - just head over to the Irish Conferences page.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Oak and Ash and Thorn

Front cover of the book
A new book about trees was published earlier this month by Oneworld Publications and it has already attracted some great reviews. The Observer said of Oak and Ash and Thorn by Peter Fiennes, "It feels set to become a classic of the genre" and the Sunday Express paid tribute to the author as an "eloquent, elegiac chronicler of copses, coppicing and the wildwood". The book even gets a mention in the 'Book Notes' section of the latest issue of BSBI News!

Oneworld Publications have very kindly made several copies of Oak and Ash and Thorn available to any News & Views readers who can answer correctly five questions set by the author. Scroll down to see the questions but first, here is a short extract from the book:

Extract (from Chapter Two)
"Midwinter is the holly’s time, when the leaves of other trees fall and it seems to emerge from the woods. It is, as it says in Gawain and the Green Knight, ‘greenest when groves are gaunt and bare.’ At the winter solstice, holly is the ‘holy’ tree, the Holly King, ruling the sleeping world, only giving up the crown reluctantly to the Oak King, who reigns supreme through the summer. Or so I’m told.

Illustration from Oak and Ash and Thorn
"And I also know that if you throw holly leaves (or maybe the branches) at a wild beast it will kneel at your feet. Pliny the Elder tells us that. And you should cut your holly staff or wand with care and only after offering the appropriate thanks and libations: the holly is sacred and does not like to be taken for granted. But if you get it right, the holly provides a powerful witch’s wand, potent with spiky male energy. In fact, men looking to attract a female partner should carry a few holly leaves with them. Holly, as incense or a tincture, can re-energize the stalest marriage bed.

"It’s also worth strewing a few holly leaves under your pillow at night if you want to get a glimpse of your future, but do not do this lightly. Holly can lead you to the Underworld. Nor should you, on any account, leave any holly inside the home after Twelfth Night: you will attract evil spirits. In Ireland it is bad luck to plant a holly tree too close to your home; in England the opposite is true – it will protect you from lightning and malicious faeries. It is bad luck to chop the tree down in either country. Instead, drink a cup of holly tea and you will find your jealousy and agitation subsiding. Do not, though, drink or consume the berries, they are poisonous to children and deeply upsetting to adults, even though John Evelyn, the magisterial seventeenth century author of Sylva: or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber In His Majesties Dominions, suggests swallowing ‘a dozen of the mature berries… to purge phlegm without danger.’ I think we’re on safer ground following his advice on how to plant a holly hedge.

Holly flowers
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"Evelyn is also extremely and unsettlingly detailed about how to make ‘Birdlime’ out of the bark of the holly, a clagging substance which was smeared on the branches of trees in order to trap songbirds. One final word of advice: if you have just been married, then bring some holly leaves over the threshold of your new home. Men should bring the spiky leaves, women the smooth ones. Whoever does that will rule the roost for the rest of the marriage (although if you both bring leaves, it’s not entirely clear what will happen – perhaps you’ll be divorced within a week).

"Holly, then, is king of the winter woods. Its top leaves are generally without spikes (brides-to-be have some climbing to do), but the lower leaves have evolved to grow strong and spiny in order to repel cattle. (But not deer, which munch through the things enthusiastically and must have tongues like hobnailed boots; perhaps the fact that they can do this with impunity should make us doubt the theory – or possibly what has happened is that the deer’s tongues have evolved faster than the holly’s leaves.) Its berries are really fruit (with four stones), and they’re digested and spread far and wide by the hungry winter birds. It’s not really the only sign of green life in a British wood at Christmastime (there’s juniper, yew, box, Scots Pine and ivy), but the holly bears the crown.

Holly flowers (close-up)
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"The wood of the holly grows slowly and produces a heavy, white timber, which is often used for chess pieces or the handles of the whips of coachmen. Like the wood of the box tree, holly sinks in water. Indeed, if you’re travelling after nightfall, always take your holly-handled whip with you to ward off evil spirits. 

"According to H.L. Edlin in British Woodland Trees (1944), ‘holly is of no importance as a timber tree, but is useful for hedges and ornamental planting. It will not thrive in smoky towns, where all evergreens tend to become ‘nevergreens.’’ This may be his only recorded joke, but the holly is a somewhat hysterical tree. Perhaps someone should make Mr Edlin a nice mug of hot holly tea".

Thanks Peter! Now here are those questions: 
  1. Can you name the five native British evergreen trees? 
  2. Who wrote the words ‘hearts of oak’ in his poem ‘The Foresters’? 
  3. Where can you find ‘The Major Oak’ (reputedly the oldest oak in Britain)? 
  4. Which trees’ branches were used by witches for their broomsticks (and, as William Turner put it in 1551, ‘the betynge of stubborn boys’)? 
  5. Which tree produces fruits called ‘checkers’, sometimes used to make a destabilisingly strong alcoholic punch?
Please send your answers to the address below to arrive before the deadline of 20th May and you may win a copy of Oak and Ash and Thorn - good luck!

FAO Aimee Oliver
BSBI/Oak and Ash and Thorn Competition
Oneworld Publications
10 Bloomsbury Street