Monday, 15 January 2018

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt on BBC Countryfile!

Leics. botanists ready to hunt plants in the rain!
New Year Plant Hunt 2018
Image: J. Clough
We're delighted to let you all know that BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt is going to be featured on BBC Countryfile this coming Sunday 21st January at 6.30pm!

The Countryfile team travelled up to Leicestershire ten days ago to film two Plant Hunts, one in the countryside and one in the city

Where do you think we found most species in bloom? 

It was in the city - but the reason why that might be is one of the things that the New Year Plant Hunt aims to discover. 

Ellen Goddard, PhD student at
Univ Loughborough & member of
New Year Plant Hunt Support Team
Image: C. Sugrue
We also want to know how our wildflowers across Britain and Ireland are responding to changes in long-term weather patterns.

And of course the New Year Plant Hunt is also about getting outdoors in the middle of winter, whether alone, with family and friends or with a local botany group, to brush up on ID skills, see what's in bloom and generally just enjoy being out and about.

Members of the Leicestershire botany group and the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team really enjoyed showing presenter Anita Rani and the rest of the Countryfile team some of the wild flowers that were in bloom, despite some pretty awful weather in the preceding weeks. 

First we visited Sence Valley Forest Park, where Ranger Alan showed us all how this site has been transformed in just twenty years from a former opencast mining site to a wildlife reserve

Richard Kelly, Anne, Rosie, Hannah and Mike
Did I mention that it was raining all day?
Image: C. Sugrue
We were joined by botanist Kevin Widdowson and his daughter Elizabeth, the official recorder of the biggest Shepherd's-purse plant in the world so far! Elizabeth found these particularly big plants while helping her father during the 2016 New Year Plant Hunt.

Then we headed into Leicester city centre where Assistant Nature Conservation Officer Richard Kelly and other local botanists managed to find a total of 43 species in bloom on two city-centre brownfield sites and surrounding streets.

We were helped by Brian 'Eagle-eyes' Laney from over the border in Northants - that's not cheating, Brian is such a keen botanist that no one county can contain him - he often joins Leics. botanists on plant hunts and recording for Atlas 2020.

Russell, Anita and more rain.
Image: J. Clough
Ciara and Ellen, who have done such amazing work behind the scenes on the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team, were able to show Anita and the film crew how our online recording form worked and how important social media is to get people taking part in the Hunt. 

Leicester botanist Richard Mabbutt, also on the Support Team, was able to tell Anita how going out with his local botany group has helped him manage a diagnosis of stress and anxiety, and showed her the cornflowers blooming in Leicester at New Year - yes, honestly!

Herbarium volunteer Russell also showed Anita the Austrian Chamomile in bloom and she picked a specimen to take up to the University of Leicester Herbarium for pressing. 

She was also due to meet Anna Farrell of Genebank55 fame and Prof Pat Heslop-Harrison at the Herbarium, to find out a bit about what herbaria are for (and why botanists love them so much!).

Anna and Anita in the Herbarium, Univ. Leicester
Image: P. Heslop-Harrison 
We hope that Anita also found time to hear about some of the fascinating work Pat is doing on genetic diversity, agricultural ditches as refugia for threatened wild plants, Dandelions... you could film a whole programme just in Pat's lab. 

Ooh Countryfile, there's a suggestion for you...

As the Countryfile team were preparing the programme, they needed to know about some of the other wildflowers recorded during the New Year Plant Hunt and to see photographs of them. 

Pat shows Anita some specimens
in the Herbarium at Univ Leicester
Image: T. Schwarzacher
So, many thanks to Ciara and Ellen again for pulling out some interesting records from the 9,539 records of 646 species submitted by more than 1000 botanists across Britain and Ireland.

Thanks also to BSBI members Rosemary Lincoln (in Suffolk) and Dave Steere (in Kent) for sharing their photographs.

Thanks also to BSBI Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker for carrying out his analysis in record time so that highlights can be included during the broadcast on Sunday.

So please put the date in your diary, Sunday 6.30pm, BBC1 for the New Year Plant Hunt on Countryfile. 

You'll also be able to catch it afterwards on iPlayer where the announcement is already live. Just in case you thought I was making this all up!  

Sunday, 14 January 2018

BSBI President and New Year Plant Hunt Support Team join the Hunt!

We estimate that more than 1000 people took part in this year's New Year Plant Hunt, from first-timers and beginner botanists to BSBI President Chris Metherell. Chris followed the Hunt on Twitter and the volunteers on the Plant Hunt Support Team were delighted to receive a message of support saying how much he appreciated our hard work!

Hannah and I were so pleased to find this
Lady's Bedstraw blooming in rainy Leicester!
Image: C. Sugrue
I asked Chris to tell us what he thought about this year's Hunt and he said:  

"I had a great time doing the New Year Plant Hunt this year. For the first time we went out on two consecutive days. Day one was just a walk round our village - 27 species. But on day two we went up the coast to Alnmouth expecting to see rather more plants in flower. Surprisingly the totals were almost the same - in fact just 24 for Alnmouth. However perhaps equally exciting was sitting in the warm with a glass of mulled wine when we got back and watching the results roll in and dots appearing on themap. Can't wait to see this year's analysis".

We hope to publish the analysis here very soon and members of the Support Team are just as keen as you are to find out what BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker makes of it all! 

Ellen was delighted to get outdoors and find
Gorse in bloom after 4 days on the
New Year Plant Hunt enquiry desk!
Image: C. Sugrue
Ellen, who joined the Support Team this year, told me: "Working with the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt team this year has been a great experience! Seeing the amount of enthusiasm people had for finding wild flowers across Britain and Ireland has been really inspiring for me to get more involved in citizen science and outreach projects. 

"Helping on Twitter was really exciting, seeing how motivated people were and the range of people that got involved with the social media (from families joining for the first time to life-long botanists). There were even some cases of people battling the elements in order to complete their Plant Hunt - witnessing such dedication really inspired me to get out and join the Hunt too! We finally made it out on 5th January and found 7 species in bloom on our rural Hunt compared to 44 species in bloom in Leicester city centre - interesting contrast there which we hope Kevin's analysis will help explain!

Ciara had to look really hard to find
Hazel in bloom in Leicester at New Year!
Image: E. Goddard
"Volunteering behind the scenes on this year's New Year Plant Hunt has made me want to communicate with a wider plant community about how they can get involved with other research projects that BSBI is undertaking. Everyone on the Support Team and involved in the Hunt was so welcoming that it made volunteering with them a really fun experience!

"I hope to have the opportunity to get involved with them and the New Year Plant Hunt again next year and maybe help train up other volunteers? If more and more people keep joining the Hunt each year, we'll need more volunteers to support them!"

Ciara, now in her second year as a volunteer on the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team, is being interviewed about the Hunt today for the latest #wildflowerhour podcast so keep an eye on this page to hear Ciara's report.

And watch this space for some very exciting news about media coverage of the Hunt!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Mistletoe growing on Oak

Bunches of mistletoe on a tree
Image: J. Box
Readers of BSBI's monthly eNews for botanical recorders will have spotted a note in the January 2018 issue (downloadable from our publications page here) by ecologist John Box about Mistletoe growing on oak trees.

John told us:

"The earliest known report of mistletoe on oak in Britain is the poem attributed to the 13th century Scottish poet, Thomas the Rhymer, describing the mistletoe-oak at Errol in Perthshire. It’s a rare association and there were only eleven existing oak trees with mistletoe that I knew about in 1996-98 in Britain". 

Bunch of mistletoe hanging from a branch
Image: J. Box
BSBI recorders and local records centres gave John a huge amount of help to find those locations and he went on to publish a paper in Watsonia, then BSBI's scientific journal, in 2000. Now almost twenty years later, John is updating that paper and turned to BSBI recorders again for help finding out about new records of mistletoe on oak, hence the note in eNews. You can find John's original Watsonia paper here.

John said "Five new locations have already been reported. Definite identifications of oak trees with confirmed mistletoe should be sent please to

He also reassured us "Full descriptions of the locations of the oak trees with mistletoe will not be given in the short paper that I hope to publish. This is because there have been financial offers to reveal locations of oak trees with mistletoe in Britain, especially on English Oak Quercus robur and Pedunculate Oak Q. petraea - for which, you can thank Pliny the Elder and his account of Druids in Gaul collecting mistletoe on oak with a golden sickle".

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: Day Four

Gorse and one Sea Campion
Hartland Quay
Image: Sue Young
The fourth and final day of the New Year Plant Hunt and even though all the data are not through yet (the deadline for submission is midnight on Friday 5th January), we can already report:
  • 617 species recorded compared to 529 last year.
  • 532 lists received compared to 462 last year.
  • 7,984 unique records compared to 7,347 last year.
Ciara and Ellen are sifting through to remove any duplicates so these totals may change but already it looks as if at least 1,000 botanists took part!

          Crown Vetch spotted near Cardiff Bay
Image: Annie Irving
You can read first person accounts of what some plant hunters found in their blogposts. Check out Wendy's Uckfield Hunt, or Heather's report from Co. Durham, read what Steven found on Skye, what Sarah and Pete spotted in Lincs. or what Oli and David saw in Oxfordshire.

And we can announce a second New Year Plant Hunt prize-winner. Jessica Hamilton from Kerry won the prize on Saturday for the first flower spotted within minutes of the Plant Hunt starting. And today we decided to award the dedication prize to 13-year old naturalist Dara McAnulty who went out hunting with his family in really nasty weather in northern Ireland. They were all set to give up and record a nul count but they persevered and were rewarded with a bedraggled Hogweed and a drenched Daisy. Watch out for Jessica and Dara sharing their three botanical wishes for 2018 on these pages later this month.

Ladybirds expert Richard Comont keying out
plants in Malvern, with a little canine assistance
Image: Kate Ashbrook
There's still one local Plant Hunt to come - four of the eight members of the Plant Hunt support team (me, Ciara, Ellen and Richard) are based in Leics. and if we'd headed out to do our Hunt in the past four days, the enquiry desk would have been seriously under-staffed! 

So BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker gave us special dispensation to postpone our Hunt until Friday.

Kevin is the eighth member of the support team but his role doesn't start until Saturday, when all the data are in and he can get going on his analysis.

We're actually doing two Hunts on Friday, one rural and one urban, and we're looking forward to seeing how the counts differ in both places.

          Ivy-leaved Toadflax in Derbyshire
Image: Alan Roe
What have we learned from the national results you've already sent in?

Well so far, all the Top Twenty most frequently recorded plants are either autumn stragglers, all-year-rounders or winter specialists and the Top Five this year is the same as last year and in the same order: Daisy, Groundsel, Dandelion, Annual Meadow-grass and Gorse.

There are very few records of Sweet Violets, Primroses or Lesser Celandines so this abundance of flowers in bloom does not herald an early spring!

The surprise is really how many plants we are finding in bloom, despite some pretty nasty weather in recent weeks - remember that textbooks from a few decades ago led us to believe that there were only 20 or 30 wildflowers we were likely to see in bloom in midwinter.

Butcher's-broom flowering in Norfolk
Image: Ian Woodward
So, were the textbooks wrong, or were we just not looking closely enough before, or do we have evidence of climate change?

We'll have to wait for our Head of Science to tell us once all the results are in and he's had a chance to analyse them - watch this space.

Can we just close for now by thanking every single one of you who went out plant hunting and took the time to send us your results.

If you haven't sent yours in yet, remember the deadline is midnight on Friday 5th January.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: Day Three

Leif, Sandy, Kath, Nell and Jo (in foreground)
Image: A. Crisp
A slow start to the BSBI Plant Hunt on New Year's Day compared to Days One and Two - presumably people had been celebrating the night before and fancied a lie-in! 

But several organised events had been planned in Somerset, Bristol, London, Dublin, Cambridge... so by lunchtime the records were flooding in again!

In London, a crack team of botanists who had met up and hatched their plans at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting back in November went out hunting at Hackney Marshes. 

Sandy Knapp, Head of the Algae, Fungi and Plants Division at the Natural History Museum, and her NHM colleagues Kath Castillo, Orchid Observers Project Officer, and Alisa Crisp, Interpretations Officer, hooked up with Orchid Hunter Leif Bersweden, Nell Jones (Head Gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden) and archaeologist Jo Wright, who was part of the New Year Plant Hunt support team on Saturday and Sunday.

They found 29 species in bloom, including Black Horehound and three "mystery mustards" which of course they decided had to be taken to the pub and examined over a glass or three of mulled wine (on left).

Rue-leaved Saxifrage blooming in Co. Cork
Image: F. Moore
They decided they had found Hoary Mustard, Hedge Mustard and Black Mustard: we'll soon find out if Dr Tim Rich, BSBI's expert for this group of difficult plants, agrees.

Tim, who co-founded the New Year Plant Hunt back in 2012 with Dr Sarah Whild, has very kindly been helping with ID of the Brassicaceae throughout the Plant Hunt and we are extremely grateful to him. 

Ian Denholm, Chair of BSBI's Board of Trustees, has been advising on all other plant identifications but as Ian says, when it comes to Brassicaceae, Tim is "The Guv'nor"!

Glengarriff recorders
Image courtesy of C. Heardman
But we are of course the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and in our other capital, Dublin, there was an organised Hunt for each of the four days of the Hunt.

58 species were spotted in the Ringsend area on New Year's Day by Brian Seales and his team, including  Cowslip, Stinking Tutsan, Rock Samphire, Buck's-horn Plantain and a hybrid Speedwell so esoteric that it doesn't even have an English name! They also found garden escapes including Pot Marigold, Snapdragon, Wallflower.

Cowberry flowering and fruiting
North York Moors
Image: C. Myers
On the other side of Ireland, recorders were out at Glengarriff Nature Reserve, Co. Cork, where County Recorder Claire Heardman and her team found 53 species in bloom, including Devil's-bit Scabious, Wild Thyme, Bell Heather, Parsley-piert, English Stonecrop, Slender Rush and Bristle Club-Rush. 

Also spotted in bloom were two Lusitanian species, Strawberry Tree and Portuguese Heath.

Navelwort was blooming in both Swanage & Co. Cork, but hasn't been reported in flower anywhere else yet. One specimen of Iris unguicularis was spotted in bloom on The Wirral, while Cowberry was recorded in fruit and in flower on the North York Moors.

Alan and the Cambs. botanists
Image: R. Horton
Individual recorders, families and small groups of friends were also out in locations from  Sidmouth to North Yorkshire, from the Isle of Skye to Norfolk to the Gower peninsula

Some longer lists started to come in from southern parts and from the Cambridge area, where 88 species were found in bloom by a Cambs. Natural History Society group led by County Recorder Alan Leslie.

Helena Crouch and fellow members of the Somerset Rare Plants Group found 74 species blooming at Clevedon, and 115 species were found in bloom in Cornwall by Ian Bennallick and fellow Cornish botanists - click on the links here to see what was found on some of these long lists.

Ox-eye daisy by the sea, Sidmouth
Image: K. Woolley
But as always, we were just as happy to receive single records from parts of the country where recent foul weather had hit our wildflowers hard.

It was actually quite heart-breaking to see people sharing photos taken from their sitting room windows of torrential rain and snow outdoors and hearing "So sorry, but we may not manage a Plant Hunt today". 

We reassured our lovely botanists that it was perfectly fine to stay at home in the warm and follow the action on social media

There's always tomorrow, the fourth and final day of the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt.

Monday, 1 January 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: Day Two

Flowers seen in Sussex, 31.12.2017
Image: Kate Gold
The second day of the New Year Plant Hunt and the records continued to flood in, as they did on Day One. There were so many red markers on the interactive map on the Results page that they were all stacked up on top of each other and you had to zoom in to see what had been found where.

The New Year Plant Hunt support team were kept very busy, with enquiries coming in to We realised that the online recording form which worked beautifully on some browsers didn't work so well on others. Do we know why? No we don't! Something to look into once the Hunt is over and we sit down to carry out the post-mortem!

Alexanders in Kent, 31.12.2017
Image: Dave Steere
Our volunteers on the support team did an amazing job - Ciara (now in her second year on the team) answered enquiries, tweeted encouragement to first-time hunters, helped people edit their records when they realised they'd overlooked something or got one of their IDs wrong... 

Ellen and Jo, joining us for the first time this year, soon got the hang of what was required and have also been helping and encouraging plant hunters. Over on Facebook Richard was spreading the word and answering any questions people had about how to upload records and what the aim of the Hunt was.

Tom was amazing as always and very patient with the rest of us whenever we had a technical query.

Hazel: male and female flowers
Stroud, 31.12.2017
Image: @anneontheshelf
In the evening, lots of New Year Plant Hunters shared their finds on #wildflowerhour which once again trended on Twitter, as it has every Sunday this year. It was wonderful hearing #wildflowerhour participants talk about how much they'd enjoyed their first ever Hunt - and vice versa! 

Also very gratifying to receive a message from BSBI President Chris Metherell saying how much he'd enjoyed his New Year Plant Hunt, how impressed he was with the New Year Plant Hunt website and the excellent work from the volunteer support team - and how he'll be going out again on New Year's Day to do another Hunt!

Plants seen on Day Two ranged from the usual suspects to some more unusual finds. Ivy Broomrape and Alexanders were highlights, Meadow Buttercup was spotted several times (usually accompanied by "I can't believe this is blooming on New Year's Eve!") and Hoary Mustard definitely seems to be on the increase - it was recorded in London, Bristol, Kent, Cambridge... 

Ivy in flower in Edinburgh, 31.12.2017
Image: Gus Routledge
Autumn stragglers and all-year-rounders were seen by many people - check the list of frequent plants here - and a few typical winter wildflowers such as Winter Heliotrope and Common Whitlow-grass were spotted. 

Many people also noticed the flowers on Hazel trees and Ivy, which is a valuable provider of winter nectar - check out this blogpost from Ryan Clark, New Year Plant Hunt Co-ordinator in 2015.

So, what will Day Three bring? The first wild flowers of 2018 - watch this space!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: Day One

BSBI's seventh New Year Plant Hunt kicked off today and the first records reached us before 1am! 

As in previous years, the 'First Flower' prize is awarded to an Irish botanist but this year, it's Jessica Hamilton rather than Oisin Duffy

She spotted the Groundsel on the right.  

For her wonderful effort, Jessica receives one of our opulent, no-expense-spared New Year Plant Hunt prizes... oh I wish! 

I'm afraid our prizes are simply a chance to share three botanical wishes for 2018 on these pages. Watch out for Jessica's three wishes later in the month. 

She was a busy bee today though, because as well as recording the first flower, Jessica then headed off to Killarney to lead one of this morning's first group Plant Hunts! 

The photo above left shows her team of 18 botanists from the BSBI Kerry group just after they had recorded a grand total of 43 species in Killarney. 

Click on the Kerry marker on our interactive map here to see which species they found. 

Recorders were out across Britain and Ireland today and they spotted a wide range of plants. 

There were plants which always raise a smile, like the Butcher's-broom found in bloom in Cambs. by Roger Horton (below left).

There were invasives like Three-cornered Leek, seen in Folkestone by Dave Steere (above).

The good, the bad and the - no there aren't any ugly plants!

Locations ranged from the south coast to the north of Scotland.

Our most northerly recorder reported only three species, Gorse, Daisy and Cow Parsley, blooming in Caithness while Met Office climate scientist Mark McCarthy found it easy to record more than 20 species during a 20 minute walk through Exeter and at Lake Cliffs on the south coast, 72 species were recorded in bloom.

The composite image below shows some of the plants Mark found in bloom. 

This is probably a good time to remind people that the aim of the New Year Plant Hunt is to build up a clear picture of which plants are flowering where across Britain and Ireland so we can see how our wild and naturalised plants are responding to changes in long-term weather patterns.

So it's about the roles played by altitude and proximity to the coast, or whether urban sites provide micro-climates which can support more species in bloom than rural sites, or how alien species fare compared to native plants, or whether we are seeing plants 'hanging on' from autumn vs plants expected to bloom in midwinter vs spring plants blooming early... it isn't about who has the longest list! 

So three cheers for John Fergusson in Ayrshire who recorded Gorse and nothing else, despite having a really good look and then having to endure his phone battery conking out while he was trying to upload his one and only record. 

John reported feeling deflated but I think he should feel proud of capturing a true picture of what's in bloom (or not) in southwest Scotland in midwinter after some particularly nasty weather there in recent weeks. 

Records like this - and reports from people who couldn't find anything at all in bloom - are exactly what BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker needs for his New Year Plant Hunt analysis. 

What he wouldn't want is people cherry-picking hotspots likely to support lots of plants in bloom, but I'm sure News & Views readers wouldn't do that. 

Because you know that it's actually much more fun to contribute meaningful data - such as the plants spotted today for the first time in a particular location, like the inland Danish Scurvy-grass (above left) seen by Paula O'Meara in Taghmon, County Wexford - that one was new for the hectad. A recent arrival? Or just a plant that nobody had spotted before? 

And then there were finds such as Sophie Leguil's quartet (on right) of plants growing on the streets of London, which may prove to support the 'more plants in cities than in the countryside' hypothesis. Or maybe not - we'll see!

Or how about the records of plants we usually see in the spring, like the Sweet Violet (on left) spotted in Suffolk by Rosemary Lincoln? 

How many of those early spring flowers will we see this New Year compared to those autumn stragglers and all-year-rounders which currently fill the list of most frequently recorded plants on the 2018 results page

Lots of questions and only your New Year Plant Hunt data can provide the answers! So here's to three more days of data collection. If you haven't been out yet and don't fancy venturing out on your own, check out the group events here or contact your County Recorder and see if they are planning anything.

And if you have any questions, or you are struggling to use the online recording form, or you want us to help you identify a mystery plant - just email us at or tweet us @BSBIbotany using the #NewYearPlantHunt hashtag.

Here's to Day Two of the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt!