Many thanks to everyone who came to see us at the Birdfair, and to the volunteers who staffed the stall. For those who attended Clive Stace’s talk, we promised that the Powerpoint presentation would be available on the web site, so here it is...
>> Berries for Birds (pdf 8 MB)
Photo competition (30/7/12)
From Louise Marsh: a plea to all members with a camera and a feel for what BSBI is and does: we need a display panel for use at public events like Birdfair and Gardeners' World Live and, while there are many fabulous plant photos that could be used, it would be great to have one image that really represents the Society in action, and could stand being blown up to 2 metres tall! If you think you have such an image (or could capture one), and would be happy for it to be used (with photographer credit) to promote the Society, then please forward a jpeg to me. Our intention is to produce a shortlist of images and then put them up on the website so you can see the strongest contenders and vote for your favourite.
Jazzing up the web site (24/7/2012)
If you are a computer techie, you’ll have noticed that as a web site designer, the coordinator is a pretty good botanist. Our web site has been pretty popular over the last 15 years or so that I have been running it, largely because we’ve got loads of useful resources for your common or garden field botanist. It has also been hugely successful this year in attracting new members since we started taking subscriptions via Paypal. But with numerous linked web sites and complicated functions, we think it is time to get some professional help, so to speak. We are therefore appealing first to our members and supporters to see if we have any friends who are skilled in the web site design side of things.
Specification: someone skilled in the use of suitable website design software, preferably Net Objects Fusion, and possessed of elegant and stylish design tastes. Ideally, you are interested in botany to some extent and willing to give us more commitment than we would expect from a purely commercial designer. If you would like to know more or discuss it with us, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
Mimulus peregrinus: a new species, recently described by Mario Vallejo-Marin. Read the paper and the press release.
When did you first see Miscanthus x giganteus in Britain? We are trying to find out when it was first planted - email David Pearman if you have any information.
Gardeners’ World Exhibition (22/6/2012)
Our display at Gardeners' World Live at the NEC last week - which we ran jointly with BRC & CEH - was rated "Highly Commended" by the Royal Horticultural Society. Many thanks to all the volunteers who contributed to this success.
More about GM crops (8/6/2012)
We had this missive from Rothamsted today...
Dear Friends and Colleagues
The scientists at Rothamsted Research want to record their sincere thanks for the amazing, spontaneous outpouring of support for safeguarding their research on aphid repellent wheat. As you all know, this project represented years of painstaking discovery research and the careers of a number of dedicated scientists. The idea that a self-appointed group would decide to destroy this was unconscionable and the researchers felt that they had to reach out to reasonable people for support. No-one expected such enthusiastic and heartfelt support, but it had a number of very positive effects.Â
You brought the discussion about the research into the realms of sensible debate. Your support really affected the attitude of commentators, who realised what strong support there is for public sector researchÂ even when it involves transgenic plants. It also had an effect on those threatening the work and certainly helped to reduce the size of the demonstration that was intent on destroying the experiment. Finally, it was a great source of encouragement to our scientists, even in the depressing period leading up to the direct action, when everyone was feeling under siege. They would read some of the comments and were re-energised to go ahead and struggle for the right to do good science despite the threats.
As you now know, the day of the action went by peacefully and the demonstrators were well behaved. We still live under the threat of another night-time raid, but we are doing our best to safeguard the experiment. Our ecologists and field entomologists are in the field (in the pouring rain!) most days counting aphids, ladybirds and parasitic wasps that live off the aphids. But they are even more enthused to perform this work because of your support. They feel like they are members of a much larger team. This is a reminder of why we do science. It isn't to produce scientific papers (although we must...), but it is to improve agriculture and all that depends on it.
So thank you, each individually, for your support, your comments and your suggestions. We have learned a great deal though this process, much of it due to you and your help.
The researchers will keep this list apprised of the progress of our work and invite any and all to contact us directly at Rothamsted.
With best wishes to all,
Director and Chief Executive
Millennium Seed Bank appeal (27/5/2012)
The following is an appeal from the Millennium Seed Bank:
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, located at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex holds the largest and most diverse collection of wild-origin seeds in the world. More than 50,000 seed collections from over 31,000 species are stored at low temperature and can be kept alive under these conditions for decades or even centuries to come. The project commenced with a major effort to collect and conserve the UK’s own native flora. With the help of many organisations and individuals, including the BSBI, more than 90% of our native plants are represented in the Seed Bank collections, with many of our threatened species conserved.
We now plan to strengthen the conservation value and usability of the UK collections held at the MSB. The collections will be a vital resource for research and restoration of native plant communities through Kew’s innovative UK Native Seed Hub and other conservation initiatives.
We continue our endeavour to collect and maintain seed samples from at least one population of each of the bankable UK native species. Below is a list of species which are likely to be storable and not yet represented in the collections at the Millennium Seed Bank. These are therefore a priority for collection from UK origin. If you are able to help by harvesting seed from any of these species, or if you know of any suitable populations and are able to monitor seed development in the coming season, please let Stephanie Miles at the Seed Bank know using the contact details below. Some species will never be collected, either because to do so would compromise their survival in the wild, or because their seeds do not survive the banking process, or in a few cases because they have given up on sexual reproduction altogether and these have been removed from the list.
In addition to the above, we also wish to strengthen our existing collections for which we have low seed numbers. Please contact Stephanie if you wish to see a copy of this list.
In response to the growing national demand for seed for restoration, we also aim to hold multiple samples of as many native species as possible from across their UK range. If you have the opportunity to make collections from any locally abundant species in connection with your other fieldwork, please let Stephanie know.
We will provide collecting equipment (for seed and associated vouchers), a freepost facility and a comprehensive collection protocol for your guidance.
If you think you may be in a position to help us with this work, please contact: Stephanie Miles, UK Collections Coordinator, Seed Conservation Department, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Wakehurst Place, Ardingly, West Sussex, RH17 6TN. Tel direct: +44 (0)1444 894129. Fax direct: +44 (0)1444 894110.
List of species needed
GM Crop trials (7/5/2012)
I’ve put an appeal by Rothamsted Research on our website for people to sign a petition asking the anti-GM people not to trash an experimental plot. It has not been very controversial - two people have questioned whether BSBI should support GM technology, and I’m not sure whether they are opposed to it or just concerned that the BSBI should not take sides in a debate.
Personally, I think GM is rapidly becoming a non-issue. GM crops are everywhere, and the protestors must be very ill-informed about scientific research if they think they can put this little genie back in the bottle. Manipulating genes is one of the things that the human race now does on a global scale, and although it isn’t anywhere near as powerful a technique as its proponents once claimed, it is also evidently less harmful than was feared. In fact, it is becoming rather mundane, isn’t it?
Anyhow, sign the petition if you like. My opinion (if you care) is that if people want to protect society from the dangers of misused technology and corporations trying to establish monopolies, collecting and sharing information is the only effective means of accomplishing that.
Pasqueflower on the BBC (4 May 2012)
The BSBI will feature on Radio 4's Living World programme on Sunday 13th May. Its broadcast at 6:35 am but it will be available for listen again on the BBC iPlayer once the programme has been broadcast. The programme focuses on pasqueflower and Kevin Walker and Chris Gardiner (Natural England) talk about its history, ecology and conservation.
The programme is now available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01hdpld.
Viola x bavarica (V. riviniana x reichenbachiana) (April 2012)
The field work for the Viola Mini-handbook is nearing completion but some hybrids still need attention. Over the years Viola x bavarica has been recorded from many sites in England and Wales but, due to its variability and the similarity of its parents, it remains difficult to identify with certainty.
I would be very grateful to hear from anybody who feels they have got the measure of this notoriously tricky hybrid, particularly if they have ready access to the plant in the field. I attach a photo of a plant I have been growing in my garden for some years which I am confident is this hybrid (very vigorous, extremely floriferous, highly but not totally sterile and combining characters of both parents) but not fitting in with some descriptions which have appeared in print and which seem to be equally valid.
>>> Mike Porter (email@example.com)
Conference in Mainz on September 16-19 2012.
>> Open the flyer (3 MB pdf)
More Mapmate videos (15/3/2012)
Martin Harvey sends the following...
As you know, I've been compiling some more MapMate training videos for the BSBI website, and they are now available at:
The nine new videos cover:
- Updates and patches
- Compact/repair operations
- Custom queries
- Text file import 1
- Text file import 2
- Generation numbers and archiving
- Mapping hydrology features
- Mapping contour features
- Using picture maps
We would like to acknowledge Scottish Natural Heritage for their support.
Women Botanists (1/3/2012)
The National Botanic Garden of Wales quite rightly remind us of the contribution women make to botany in a new exhibition.
New Journal of Botany online (6/1/2012)
BSBI members are entitled to online access to papers published in NJB. We have just set up the link and are testing it with various web browsers. If you would like to give it a try, email me for a password and then follow the link below to get to the NJB web site. Anyone who is not a member can see abstracts, but they can’t get the full text without paying.
>> Go to the New Journal of Botany
Reprieve for biological recording programmes (19th December 2011)
The University of Birmingham has granted a temporary reprieve for the biological recording programmes in 2012, thanks to concerted lobbying from just about every organisation involved in ecology in the UK, and to the vociferous protest by students. So there will be recruitment this year for the Certificate in Species Identification. However, the search is on for another university or educational institution to host these programmes in future, as they do not fit into the UoB’s research profile. We will be advertising the courses as usual, when details are available.
Jim’s blog from Tristan da Cunha (7th December 2011)
Jim McIntosh, our Scottish Officer, who is currently on a year’s sabbatical in Tristan da Cunha, sends this link to his blog for anyone who wants to follow his adventures.
Biological recording programmes to close (7th December 2011)
The BSBI is dismayed to learn that the University of Birmingham plans to close its centre in Shrewsbury and the biological recording programmes associated with it. These courses were started in the 1990s as a result of a survey by our then president, Frank Perring, which found that there was very little academic training in species identification in Britain. Since then the programmes have become enormously successful, with 50 people a year undertaking the species identification certificate, 30 starting the Masters level course, and hundreds more on day schools or FISCs, which the university runs on our behalf.
The move seems to be a response to the government’s slashing of funding. Universities won’t receive a penny of subsidy for professional development traning from next year, and the UoB is probably worried that its profits from the programmes will decline. But this will leave the UK with no academic route for ecologists to learn species identification - something which is no longer taught on most undergraduate courses. It also leaves the BSBI without its library and operations in Shrewsbury, which have been mutually beneficial.
Our president, Ian Bonner, has written to express his dismay. There is no evidence that the cuts to government funding will leave these programmes in the red, as most of the students are supported by their employers. It is also a blow to other universities, such as Liverpool, which sends its undergraduates and post grads to Birmingham for these skills. Many BSBI referees and experts also teach on the courses. If you want to express your opinion, or find out more (tutors have not yet been informed of the planned cuts), visit the Save Bham web page on Facebook.
Crab Apple seeds wanted (4/11/2011)
East Malling research has a long-standing research programme developing apple rootstocks for the amateur and professional markets. Rootstocks primarily control the vigour of the tree, while also promoting early cropping. Rootstocks must also be simple to propagate, as many apple varieties do not take readily from cuttings. There is an increasing need to develop new rootstocks, resistant to replant diseases, insect pests (woolly aphid) and able to tolerate a wide range of environmental stresses, from drought to flooding as our climate changes and becomes more unpredictable. Our continuing efforts in the rootstock breeding programme will address this broad range of problems, using cutting edge molecular techniques. It may be that Malus sylvestris is better adapted to the European climate than either the domestic apple or its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii. However, to date, very little work has been carried out on this species, to evaluate its characteristics.
The apple genome sequence, which was published just over a year ago revealed that the majority of the domestic apple genome was derived from Malus sieversii. However, a subsequent reanalysis of the data by scientists at East Malling research highlighted certain regions of the genome that were more similar to Malus sylvestris than to Malus sieversii. This could be for a number of reasons, including the hybridisation of Malus x domestica with Malus sylvestris in the past. This is plausible, as Malus sylvestris is an abundant species in Northern Europe. However, more data is needed to verify whether this is indeed the case, or whether other processes unrelated to hybridisation are confusing the issue. In collaboration with the Nova Scotia Agricultural college (NSAC) EMR plan to address this question.
What we need: seeds from accessions of Malus sylvestris and, if possible, scion wood. Accessions must be as morphologically consistent to Malus sylvestris as possible, as hybrids will confuse the issue. Also clear location data, and if possible a photograph of the tree and the fruit would be of great help. Furthermore, please attempt to collect seeds from trees that are part of M. sylvestris stands, or are away from large plantings of M. xdomestica.
Please send clearly labelled seeds to: Dr Richard Harrison, East Malling Research, New Road, East Malling, ME19 6BJ
Flora of Cardiganshire (26/10/2011)
Since the introduction of information technology there has been something of an arms race between Flora writers to produce ever bigger and more elaborate county Floras, often supported by electronic information in some manner. The process was kicked off by Dorothy Cadbury and the crew at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s with the Computer-mapped Flora of Warwickshire. A big step forward came in 1999 with the CD included in the Flora of Cornwall. Since then there have been web sites and other associated materials, but this is the first time that I am aware of that someone has had the perspicacity and organisational skills to prepare an electronic version of a full county Flora and make it available to the public. This most impressive and valuable of county Floras is now available in full, for free, to anyone who might want to read it. Go to the Cardiganshire page...
New Journal of Botany (6/9/2011)
I got the following from Maney: “The launch issue of the New Journal of Botany was mailed to members of BSBI and to subscribers last Friday. It has also been available online to institutional subscribers for the past few days. The first issue has appeared rather later than was originally intended and it is very likely the second issue will not appear to schedule either. However, we hope it will be possible to improve the flow of submissions through the refereeing system to enable the journal to appear on schedule in 2012.”
A new finance team for the BSBI (5/9/2011)
The BSBI wishes to thank Terry Swainbank and his assistant Anne Wilson, his Office Manager at Synergis Technologies for their work on the Society’s finances over the last year or two. The Society has now appointed two of its members, Antony Timmins as Hon. Treasurer and Clive Lovatt as Administrative Officer.
Clive has recently returned from over 20 years as an auditor and tax advisor in Africa and is best known for his research on the Avon Gorge and the history of Bristol botanists, who as he has explained at the BSBI’s November 2010 conference in Birmingham were recording plants by grid squares as far back as 1868.
eNews for September 2011 (1/9/2011)
We’ve just sent out the eNewsletter for September. It is aimed at county recorders, but we don’t mind if anyone else wants to read it (although we might call you nosey...). Here you go: eNewsSept2011 (pdf 30 KB).
Woodland Advisor at Plantlife (28/8/2011)
The conservation charity Plantlife is advertising for a woodland advisor, and they want someone who knows their plants. Here’s the job description. If anyone is interested, follow this link to Plantlife.
Recorders’ Conference 2012 (12/8/2011)
The Recorders’ Conference is one of the main events of the year for serious botanists in Britain & Ireland. There are talks on taxonomy, recording and other matters of interest, and workshops, posters and displays about the latest developments and projects. It is aimed primarily at County Recorders and Referees but many other people - not just BSBI members. Beginners would be out of their depth, though, so do ask us for advice if you are not sure it would be for you. The conference takes place over 3 days and is largely residential at Preston Montford Field Centre, near Shrewsbury, with the main event taking place at the University of Birmingham’s base in Shrewsbury. One theme for 2012 will be DNA barcoding. The cost is around £200 - we shall advertise the booking form presently. If you are interested, put the date (Friday 13th - Sunday 15th April 2012) in your diary and you can email us to reserve a place. (NB this is right after Easter, so check that you will be free.) Email Alex for more in formation.
Rhododendron Survey (12/8/2011)
Arthur Chater sends the following snippet: The paper by James Cullen based largely on the material of naturalised Rhododendron sent in by BSBI members has now been published in Hanburyana 5: 11-29 (2011). It is available as a free download from the Hanburyana website. As expected, the conclusion is that naturalised populations commonly identified as R. ponticum in fact represent parts of a complex variable hybrid swarm involving that species and R. catawbiense and R. maximum, and perhaps R. macrophyllum. Many individuals show morphological characters from these other species, but even those that do not are distinguishable from wild R. ponticum in its native areas mainly in variation in corolla and corolla spot colour and in physiological vigour and invasiveness. The name R. x superponticum Cullen is proposed for our naturalised plants. A key and descriptions of the relevant species are given, and these enable one to record in more detail the extent to which characters of the other species are present in any particular plant or population of what we have up to now been calling R. ponticum.
Atlas of British and Irish Hawkweeds (10/6/2011)
Another triumph from the Tim Rich / National Museum of Wales stable - an up to date atlas of hawkweeds (Hieracium and Pilosella spp.) throughout the British Isles. The book has maps and silhouettes of all the species listed in Peter Sell’s Flora, together with county checklists. It’s a simple little book, but one that is based on a lot of hard-earned data, laboriously and expertly accumulated by David McCosh over 30 years of fieldwork and poring over herbarium specimens.
An interesting thing about this publication is how it was produced. All over Britain there are museums, records centres and charities whose work involves natural history studies, but the National Museum of Wales beats them all hands-down when it comes to productivity. The best you can get from a typical records centre is an out-of-date compilation of relatively easy data such as common plants or popular animals like butterflies. There is simply no other organisation that produces hard research like this (whatever you might think of critical taxa, they are hard). The secret is Dr Rich’s unique approach, where he works with naturalists to support them with the difficult tasks that they want help with, rather than displacing them for the easy jobs such as compiling data. He puts on his walking boots and trudges to the tops of mountains to refind species that have not been seen for ages, and he curates the voucher specimens professionally at the museum. These are things that people want help with, so the outcome is synergistic. If all government money was spent complementing the work of voluntary naturalists like McCosh, rather than competing with and displacing them, we would all be getting so much better value for our tax money.
So congratulations to Tim, and David, for this splendid cooperation, and to the authorities at NMW for setting such a fine example. To everyone at a records centre, museum or wildlife charity, we would say: get a copy, read it and learn. This is what you should all be doing. And if you’re not, then be concerned for your future because new standards are being set.
NB, the Atlas is available from Summerfield Books for £17.50. Inevitably, perhaps, a few errors have been spotted already, and are listed in the corrigenda section on the Pubs pages.
The mystery of Bloxam & Hayes (7/6/2011)
Chris Liffen is puzzling over the biographies of ‘Bloxam and Hayes’, whose names appear on numerous sheets at the University of Birmingham. Bloxam is fairly easy, as Andrew Bloxham (that was his name but seemingly not how he liked to spell it) is well known, but who was Hayes? There was a Sutton Hayes who was a botanist who contributed some sheets to the Sloane herbarium, but also a Rev J. Hayes who apparently found Dryopteris aemula in Coalbrookdale some time before 1878 (according to William Phillips’s Filices of Shropshire). Of course, the initials S and J could easily be confused. But why are the sheets at BIRM labelled ‘Hayes or Bloxam?’ A curious confusion. Anyone have any ideas?
For more on this and many other biographical issues, visit Chris’s excellent web site Meiosis.
Species accounts (13/5/2011)
How I wish we could solve the species accounts problem... The desire is to have a web site where all the plants of the British Isles are listed, along with correct ID photographs and succinct but interesting accounts, and where people can add their observations, link to documents etc. I started doing these back in the 1990s, but never got more than 50 or so rare plants done. And the technology keeps changing, making it easier and, in some ways, harder. Anyhow, we have recently deleted our NetObjects species accounts pages and completely replaced them with a Drupal version that users can log onto and edit. But very few people do. The government people will be launching their own version, complete with the text from the New Atlas, presently, but unless they find a way to get people to contribute it may not be much more successful. Perhaps we should all just contribute to Wikipedia - but they have issues, too, with very few species covered either on Wikipedia or Wikispecies.
Anyhow, users who linked to our old species accounts might want to update their links to the newer ones.
Garlic Mustard (8/5/2011)
Invasive aliens are such a bore these days. International treaties have given a huge boost to the industry, and money is pouring into projects that really seem to do very little good at all. It’s easy to see why. Faced with the complexity of managing important sites for fragile habitats and endangered species, or trying to reconcile the interests of food production with wildlife protection, it must be so appealing to have something simple to do like chop down some Japanese Knotweed. No-one’s going to protest about that, are they? It doesn’t really make the world a much better place, but it pays the bills.
One such project is the Global Garlic Mustard Field Survey, which starts off with many of the same exaggerated claims about threatening natural resources as all these other projects. But if you read on you find that they do actually seem to be trying to collect some useful information. Not on whether Alliaria petiolata actually causes any real harm, seemingly (that’s taken for granted as true because there is a lot of it in some places) but at least they are doing some research on the plant itself. I’d like to see what happens to it as a demonstration of international cooperation, too.
Have a look at the web site and help out if you too believe that aliens are evil, if you are interested in research, or you feel like doing things for other people out of the goodness of your heart: www.garlicmustard.org.
New sedge book (6/5/2011)
Jacob Koopman tells us about the imminent publication of his book, Carex Europaea. There is a flyer with a prepublication offer. It doesn’t give any example pages, as we tend to do with BSBI Handbooks, but Jacob would be happy to answer questions and promises to send some samples when they are available. Here’s the flyer (pdf 800 kb).
Proofreader wanted (6/5/2011)
Anna Montin, who is studying English at Helsinki, has translated the university’s Botanical garden Guidebook into English and would like a native speaker to check it for her, specifically the common names of plants. If anyone would be interested in helping her with this, email me and I’ll forward your email to Anna (to avoid wasting people’s time by having multiple offers). OK, no more offers needed. Thanks!
Calling all taxonomists (24/4/2011)
Quentin Groom sends this intriguing suggestion...
The name changes of Trichophorum cespitosum and T. germanicum make a mockery of taxonomy. Latin names are intended to provide a unique, relatively stable and universal name to a taxon concept. Issues of priority, to give credit to authors, should always be of secondary importance. After all taxonomists are providing names for everyone in the world, not just for their own credit. In this case, what constitutes one taxa or another has never changed, only the names. The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) has a mechanism that could have been used in this case, that of conservation of the established name. However, this wasn’t used and we will forever be in a mess.
I suggest that the ICBN has a new rule. When names get so tangled up that it is impossible to use a name without confusion, then two totally different names should be chosen and all new literature should use these names. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to force taxonomists to sort this out and it is frustrating that it was so un-necessary. Please, taxonomists, think of the people that have to use your names.
BRC workshop (7/4/2011)
The UK Biological Records Centre is holding a workshop for schemes and societies on 7th May to discuss future support for recording and demonstrate some of the projects that the BRC is currently undertaking. It seems to be open to anyone who might be interested. It occurs to me that winter might have been a better time to hold it if they want naturalists there, but it looks like it is more for computer geeks, really. Here’s the leaflet (pdf 41 kb).
Another dodgy taxon (7/4/2011)
Mick Crawley spotted that our Maps Scheme map for Carduus acanthoides was clearly just erroneous records of Carduus crispus. It was almost wall-to-wall in some counties, such as Devon, but completely absent from most areas. It turns out that acanthoides is an old name for crispus, as well as being the current name for a rare non-native taxon. Please check your database to make sure your records of acanthoides are what you intend them to be. Any old records of acanthoides can confidently be changed to crispus unless you have overwhelming evidence that that species really was intended (by which I mean a properly determined specimen in a public herbarium). Until we get some good records of acanthoides, we shall remove all the dots from the map.
More about The Plant List (20/3/2011)
Clive Stace contributes the following thoughts about the new web site:
“The Plant List is a very useful and comprehensive listing of all known plant names, which seeks to highlight the names which are accepted (i.e. are considered to be ‘good species’), to list the synonyms of each of these, and to provide a third category of unresolved names which might be treated as acceptable or as synonyms when enough evidence has been accumulated. A word or two of warning is necessary. This is very much a working list, not a finished document, and it should not be cited as an authority on genus or species limits. To test it I looked up two taxa with which I am familiar:
“The entry for Combretaceae is not up to date and does not reflect the classification of the family as laid out in The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants, Volume 9 (2007). Since this is now 4 years old it must have been available, so it would be interesting to know why the compilers of The Plant List have deviated from it so much. Several of their ‘accepted’ genera are unsustainable.
“The treatment of the genus Vulpia (Poaceae) is, in contrast, much more acceptable. However, the generic limits are very questionable, and the most recently described (2002) species, V. alpina, from Tibet, is treated as accepted. I wonder how the compilers decided that they had sufficient information to come to this conclusion. I am told by Robert Soreng (Smithsonian Institution), who saw the type in 2004, that it is Vulpia myuros. At the very best it should have been treated as ‘unresolved’, especially as one would not have expected a new species of Vulpia to be found in Tibet.
“This is not meant to be a criticism of The Plant List, but a warning that it should not be considered authoritative.”
NFBR Conference (10/3/2011)
We have an appeal from the National Federation for Biological Recording to promote their annual conference and AGM on 7th - 8th April. Plenty of places left, apparently. Here is the leaflet and booking form (pdf 280 kB).
Missing papers (21/2/2011)
Occasionally we get requests for papers from Watsonia or other publications where we do not have a copy. If anyone has any of the following and would scan them or lend them to us, I would be very grateful.
- Watsonia Vol. 2, part 4 (specifically Nelmes’s paper, p. 249-252). Done! Thanks, Martin.
- Watsonia Vol. 3, part 5 (specificall Morton’s paper, p. 244-252). Done! Thanks, Martin.
- BSBI Conference Report 1957, Progress in the Study of the British Flora (specifically Goodway, p. 116-118). Done! Thanks, Quentin.
International Botanical Congress (9/2/2011)
It seems a long way away to me, but the organisers have asked us to mention it, so here it is. There will be the 18th International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, Australia, in July this year. Here’s the link. If this information is useful to you, do please drop me a note about it, and I shall make sure similar things get posted in future.
New Rare Plant Registers (7/2/2011)
Graeme Kay has just sent the latest instar of his Rare Plant Register for Cheshire, to add to the increasingly impressive selection that is now available on the relevant section of this web site. One interesting innovation I have noticed in some recent ones is a comprehensive index, listing sites as well as species. Huntingdonshire and Northumberland have this, I see. It addresses the main problem of RPRs, which is that the most useful thing would be to know which rare plants occur on a site - but that is almost impossible to extract from a book that is arranged taxonomically. I think that these indexes will make them much more valuable to site managers and conservationists.
Anyone who has one of the newer versions of Microsoft Office will find these indexes very easy to make. Essentially, you simply highlight a word, click the “mark entry” button, click on “mark all” and you’re done - every instance of that word will be indexed. If you are writing a Rare Plant Register and want further help on this, do email me for detailed instructions, but it is pretty simple to figure out, if you haven’t done this before.
New web site for biographies (1/2/2011)
BSBI member Chris Liffen has produced a new web site to expand upon the biographies in the Herbaria at Home wiki, partly out of interest and partly to help with the computerisation of old records. Herb at Home has revolutionised historical botany, giving us the ability sometimes to plot the activities of famous collectors on a daily basis. And it has transpired that there are many significant botanists who do not feature in the standard accounts such as Ray Desmond’s Dictionary of Botanists. Anyway, enough said: take a look at meiosis, a web site that deserves your undivided attention.
County recorders’ email addresses (10/1/2011)
I have changed the way county recorders are listed on the web site. Until now it has essentially been a list of worthies - all the county recorders’ names but generally nothing useful, like an email address, except for a few exceptions. The reasons for this were varied. Until recently many recorders didn’t have email addresses, or only had slow dial-up access. Putting email addresses on the web generates spam and unwanted requests from consultants, etc.
Over the last few years these conditions have changed. Almost everyone has broadband now and spam filters are free on systems like Google Mail and Hotmail. Consultants and members of the public have learned more about how to get data, so they are less likely to send inappropriate requests. And county recorders have become more sophisticated about how they respond to requests. They know they don’t have to drop everything to deal with a demand from a total stranger - they can just hit the delete button.
So I think it is time to change the recorders page from a passive list of important people to an active page allowing members and the public to contact us, and I shall encourage recorders to either create their own web site, publicise their email address, or preferably both. If you are a county recorder, you might consider setting up a separate email account to keep your normal email address private. If you are not listed yet, and would be willing to be, let me know.
The other change is that I’ve generally only listed one contact per county, to save space. The official list of county recorders is of course published in the Yearbook. So what you will now get on the web site is a list of contacts, who don’t necessarily have to be the v.c. recorder at all, and their listing is not intended to imply seniority or anything like that. It will be up to the v.c. recorders concerned to decide who is listed.
Trichophorum cespitosum (8/1/2011)
It was entirely predictable that name changes in Trichophorum cespitosum would cause chaos. What used to be known as T. cespitosum is now called T. germanicum, and the name cespitosum is now given to what was a very rare subspecies. This follows the rules of botanical nomenclature, but it is very unhelpful for recorders. One consequence is that we get lots of records of cespitosum and are not entirely sure what is meant.
On the Maps Scheme we have therefore had to interpret all recent records of T. cespitosum as germanicum, so we have very few post-2000 records of real T. cespitosum. Therefore, if you have any real T. cespitosum records, could you please send them in with a note saying that you know what you are talking about and you really do mean cespitosum. It is a very northerly plant, found only in the best bogs in the wettest places (as in the photo, here, which is of the Shetland site). Thanks.
>> Maps Scheme map of T. cespitosum
>> Maps Scheme map of T. germanicum
Global Plant List (5th January 2011)
This web site: http://www.theplantlist.org/ claims to have a comprehensive list of the current scientific name, plus synonyms, of all plant species. Sounds interesting. If anyone wants to send comments about it, I’ll post them here.
Mapmate Patch 424 (updated 20/12/2010)
You can now download a patch with the new Hieracium taxonomy, but Dave Broughton has spotted a problem with it. Because the revision of hawkweed microspecies has been so complete, most of the old names have been assigned to a few aggregates. If you download the patch it could be difficult to work out what they used to be. So if you have determinations of Hieracium, you might like to make a full backup of your Mapmate directory before installing the patch, just in case you want to revert to the old names (I’m not entirely sure why you would want to, but it is a lot of effort to get all your hawkweeds re-determined with the new names).
Bob Ellis explains: The few new Sell taxa already in MapMate will not be changed. Other new taxa will not have any records because the taxon was not available in MapMate - they can now be added. The only issue arises with the 'type' taxon that has been split. This is effectively a new taxonomic concept of narrower bounds and existing records with that name are assigned to the aggregate because there is obviously nothing explicit in the old taxon name that distinguishes it from the new splits. Here any that have actually been detemined as the 'type', sensu stricto, need to be manually assigned to the new 'type' taxon. In some instances this is a bit of a chore but I see no other way of handling it and neither could David McCosh. The list of the scopes of the new aggregates is for reference. Where a few taxa have been merged (sunk) this is handled with synonyms.
Digitization of BEC Reports (7/12/2010)
We’ve made great progress with digitization of botanical literature this year, mainly thanks to the super new scanner at the University of Birmingham, which Sarah Whild kindly allowed us to use for free. All of BSBI News, Proceedings and Watsonia are now scanned and I am uploading them on request. Martin Sanford has sent the last volume of Watsonia, so that will soon be the complete run. You might have noticed that we don’t have a very high tech approach - the pdfs are mostly non-searchable. I am rather hoping that a gizmo will appear one day that will take our pdfs and OCR them into nicer-looking documents.
One problem I have had is with the recent Watsonia proofs, which come to us with the printer’s crop marks, and the print is very small on A4. We can now solve that with the aid of a natty little program called PDFill, so I am in the process of chopping 1 inch off the margins of all the recent papers. Let me know if there is one you want that hasn’t been cropped yet.
New membership rules (7/12/2010)
Some people may have spotted that we are no longer offering institutional membership. The reason for this is that Maney will be managing institutional subscriptions to the New Journal of Botany, which are aimed at universities and research establishments, and give electronic access to the journal for all the staff and students at those institutions.
Maney are managing the changeover for BSBI and they should be contacted regarding any queries.
Individual membership categories and subscriptions remain unaltered.
More about the TPP (7/12/2010)
Ann Sankey asks if it is possible to send in TPP reports as Mapmate sync files, as this would be quicker. Well, the answer is no, because the TPP is compiled on a different database, with a whole lot of fields that Mapmate doesn’t handle. Bear in mind that the TPP is a resurvey of a sample of sites, not a standard data-gathering exercise. We have not yet seen an analysis that shows the TPP database is indeed more powerful than just collecting data on Mapmate, so the jury is still out on this one, but it seems fair enough to give Kevin Walker a chance to prove its worth. We are promised an analysis of the first two years’ data presently.
It should be possible to have an electronic data submission system, though, so you could export the basic info from Mapmate rather than copy it out by hand. That would be more efficient. I shall investigate that option and report.
Threatened Plants Report (6/12/2010)
Kevin Walker sends a report on the number of recording cards completed so far, and lists the TPP species for the next two years. The specific sites chosen for survey next year will be available presently.
>>> TPP report on progress to date.
New species accounts website (1/11/2010)
We now have a dedicated web site for species accounts, where users can post comments or log on to add/edit the accounts. Our aim is to increase the number of species accounts available and to make them more user-friendly. See what you think. The site is being worked on, and I dare say there are improvements that could be made, but it is early days. If there is anyone would would like to contribute an account, please get in touch.
Rorippa islandica (1/10/2010)
Can county recorders please help with the map of Rorippa islandica? The map tends to get in a terrible mess because R. islandica is an old name for the relatively common R. palustris, and a lot of people don’t realise this. However, islandica has been spreading recently, and we can’t always tell from the records which dots are for genuine records and which are just mistakes. Please have a look at the Maps Scheme map and send me records that we are missing; also any further corrections to the old records. Thanks.
Recorders’ Conference 2010 (20/9/2010)
Many thanks to everyone who came to the Recorders’ Conference this year and made it such an enjoyable and productive experience once again. Especially our speakers and workshop leaders, who give up their time for free: Fred Rumsey, Richard Gornall, Tim Rich, John O’Reilly, Sarah Whild, Martin Harvey, Michael Braithwaite, Quentin Groom, Kevin Walker, Jim McIntosh, Tom Humphrey, Bob Ellis, Clare O’Reilly, Rose Murphy, Alan Silverside, John Poland and Ken Adams. Various parts of the conference will be written up in BSBI Recorder again, and we shall look into ways of improving our work and services in response to any ideas generated by the meeting. Your feedback on the conference averaged 4.5/5 across all categories which suggests that people were happy with it. We probably won’t be having another full conference like this for three years, but we shall look forward to 2013. Oh, and the vote - surprisingly, perhaps, 2-1 in favour of ranking critical microspecies as varieties not species. Interesting, and probably the correct answer, scientifically. But a difficult thing to do. We shall work on it.
Publication date for NJB (24/8/2010)
It is good to see that we now have a publication date for the New Journal of Botany. This year (2010) will see the end of Watsonia which, in 2011, will be replaced by the new journal. The reason for the change is to increase the scientific impact of the journal which, owing to the structure of the business, was not possible under the Watsonia format. NJB will be published in volumes annually (rather than biennially). It will start with just two issues in 2011, but will rise to 4 issues within a few years. It will also be in the standard A4 format and will be available electronically as well as on paper. Another change is that the content will be more scientific, with fewer non-academic contributions. All this is designed to appeal to the academic audience (both subscribers and contributors) and, to help us with this task, we have appointed the independent British firm Maney to publish the new journal on behalf of the society.
Download the flyer for New Journal of Botany (pdf 3.8 Mb)
What will the change mean for members? Initially, very little. All members will receive the new journal and will have access on-line at no extra charge.
So why are we making the change? The changes are essential to make sure we continue to attract high quality papers and to market the new journal to institutions such as universities, which now want access electronically rather than on paper. The aim is to raise the standard of the journal and improve its finances at the same time.
International Biogeography Conference (19th August 2010)
We were asked to mention the 5th Biennial Conference of the International Biogeography Society in Crete, 7-11 January 2011, so here it is. Download the flyer here.
Fumaria muralis in Stace 3 (9/8/2010)
Clive Stace emails to say he has received helpful comments pointing out that he has mispelled Fumaria muralis ssp. boraei in his latest Flora. However, it is not mispelled. Clive writes:
‘Recent thinking is that boroei is the correct spelling. The problem is that the original was written as a diphthong, when you cannot tell oe from ae, but it is named after Boreau which makes oe much more likely (see Flora Nordica).
‘I’m not saying that it is correct in my Flora, but what is written there is intended and agrees with latest thinking.’
Flora of Cardiganshire (4/8/2010)
Arthur Chater’s long-awaited Fl. Cardiganshire has just arrived on my desk. It is a Flora that will be of real value to anyone with a serious interest in botany, whether they ever visit Cardiganshire or not. There is a vast wealth of information on taxonomy (it is the first county Flora to use the new Stace 3 names) and plants, as well as on Cardiganshire itself. It is lavishly illustrated, not with pictures of flowers, but with images that support the text, such as landscapes, habitats and - unusually, but charmingly, all the people who contributed to the project. This is a big book (it weighs more than half a stone) and, at £40, not a cheap one. But if you can afford it and have room for it, you will get a lot of readable words for your money. It is also effectively a limited edition: just 500 have been printed. I doubt that it is a collectible investment, but I reckon copies will at least hold their value. Essential reading for anyone who is planning a Flora of their own, as well as for anyone who wants to understand plants rather than just list where they occur.
New Floras (15/6/2010)
I received the new Flora of Co. Tyrone today - the first ever for this rather overlooked northern Irish county. It turns out to have plenty of really good species and habitats, but has suffered in the past from not having anything exceptional, or even any mountains or coastline. The book is in full colour throughout with probably the best photographs of any county Flora I’ve seen, mostly pictures of flowers, but also lots of landscapes. It is not highly technical, but it should appeal to anyone visiting the area, not just expert botanists. It’s a great accomplishment by Ian McNeill (and family) to keep pushing the geographical boundaries of botanical recording. I see it is for sale at Summerfield Books for £27.
These are interesting times for local Floras, with many recently published or in the pipeline. Notable ones include Martin Sanford’s Suffolk, which is the most glossy book I’ve ever owned. Not that it is a coffee table publication - it has plenty of good, solid data of many sorts. There is a trend now towards Floras being produced by Records Centres and produced with the nature conservation sector in mind rather than just taxonomic interest. Some traditional botanists might be sniffy about the shortage of critical taxa in this and other recent Floras, but the conservation angle is not well served by phenomenal detail of obscure and sometimes dubious entities such as hawkweeds. I think this is the future of local Flora writing.
By contrast, two highly expert taxonomic Floras in the pipeline are Arthur Chater’s Cardiganshire (now in press) and Roger Maskew’s Worcestershire. The former contains the most detailed observations of plants ever made in a county Flora, whereas the latter is based on the most thorough county survey ever, with complete coverage of every imaginable taxon. Whereas a modern conservation Flora might aim for 200 species per tetrad, the Worcestershire team have gone for something more like 500, and have collected in total some 650,000 records - the largest database for any vice county.
Others we shall look forward to include Ian Trueman’s urban Flora of Birmingham and the Black Country, which will cover planted species in a way no-one has done before, and Chris Boon’s Bedfordshire, which contains exhaustive historical research. There’s always fierce competition to keep these things moving forward, taxonomically, technologically and socially. Keep ‘em coming...
Site Map (10/6/2010)
It’s always nice to receive positive feedback about a web site, and we do get plenty of that (thank you, dear readers), but increasingly I am hearing comments that it is difficult to find things because we have so many resources. I calculated once that we have over 50,000 pages to search, and it is hard to index them all. So I’ve created a site map to the main pages. It shouldn’t be too complex, or it won’t help. Let me know if there is anything I should add or if you have any suggestions for improvements.
Running Recorder 3 under Windows 7 (10/6/2010)
Apologies for being a bit geeky, but I do hear a lot of misinformation on this subject. You can indeed run old Recorder (Recorder 3) and, for that matter, any other Dos program under Windows 7. There are several ways. The simplest is to simply copy your entire Recorder folder and all its subfolders onto the c drive of your new computer (NB, it must be c:\recorder). Then, from the desktop, create a new shortcut to run the program c:\recorder\arev\arev.exe. You have to add a space and comma after the ‘exe’ to get it to launch Recorder rather than arev. Before attempting to run it yu must set it to compatibility with Windows XP (or Win 98) mode and enable it to use ems and xms (right-click on the shortcut icon). This should run Recorder fine, but it will open in a funny window and Plot 5 won’t run.
To get Recorder to run exactly as it did under previous systems, you have to download a program called Dosbox. Read the Dosbox Wiki (http://www.dosbox.com/wiki/Basic_Setup_and_Installation_of_DosBox ) for instructions. I created a folder called dos and put recorder into that (c:\dos\recorder). Then you mount the folder dos as c: and run recorder in the usual way (change directory to the arev folder and run arev.exe ,). The default display option in Recorder (utilities - environment - hardware - display) gives you full screen mode.
Having said all that, it is a pretty clunky way to run an old piece of software. I would recommend it for accessing an old dataset, but not for day-to-day working. If you would like help in extracting your data to transfer to Mapmate, you can email me.
Maps Scheme to use Stace 3 names (7/6/2010)
There have been many changes to taxonomy in the last decade or so that we have not passed on to recorders through the Maps Scheme and changes to the checklist in Mapmate. Some organisations have adopted some of them piecemeal, but this is not always wise as changes are occasionally reversed, and without a comprehensive Flora that defines the species and taxonomy, it is difficult to know what plant is intended. However, with the publication of the third edition of Stace’s New Flora, we feel we have a new taxonomy that will last for some time. A relatively small number of changes have occurred in the names of species, but much more profound changes have taken place in the families and the order of the families. These changes are being implemented in the Maps Scheme and will shortly be implemented in Mapmate. We would advise everyone to acquire a copy of the 3rd edition of the New Flora if they are serious about botany.
For your convenience, here is an Excel table showing the changes in the Maps Scheme so far:
>> Name changes in Stace 3
Changes to structure of web site (12/4/2010)
Apologies to anyone who links to particular pages on our web site, but I have changed the structure a bit. The url for individual pages used to contain /html/ in the middle, but no longer do. So a county recorder’s page now has this format: www.bsbi.org.uk/mycounty.html.
This means links need to be updated. Sorry - but I hope you agree it is nicer and more logical and shorter, so worth doing.
Course on wild flowers of the Lizard Peninsula (10/2/2010)
There will be a course on wild flowers of the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall from Friday 11th June to Sunday 13th June. Based in Coverack but also visiting Black Head, Predannack, Kynance, Lowland Point and Godrevy. Led by Dr Gillian Ashworth, retired Professor of botany, aided by local enthusiast, Peter Wood. It is £75 and is suitable for beginners and more experienced botanists.
This course has been organised by Coverack Space 2000, a community group that works to provide events and activities for the local community and the school. Once expenses have been paid, proceeds will go to help run community events and activities in Coverack. Please visit the website www.coverack.org.uk. There are only 12 places so better book up sooner than later! For more details see http://www.coverack.org.uk/pages/flowers10.html
John Ray Meeting (21/1/2010)
The Society for the History of Natural History is organising a meeting later this year to celebrate 350 years since John Ray’s Catalogue of Cambridge plants. They are calling for speakers... have a look at their flyer (pdf 39kb).
Checklists for County Recorders (24/12/09)
Quentin has generated checklists for all vice counties again, similar to those sent out the last few years. What we are looking for most is feedback about errors - usually species that have been accidentally recorded or mistyped. Those who are more advanced in their computerisation might like to compare their date classes for each species and see if they’re getting useful trends. Email me, please, with your corrections - you know the routine.
If you haven’t sent any data recently, the list will be out of date, so feel free to send it now before the annual stats appear in the Recorder Newsletter.
Gladiolus tidings (25/11/2009)
A conference all about the Wild Gladiolus (Gladiolus illyricus) is to be held in the New Forest on 13th March 2010. As advance notice,a flyer for the conference is available here. We shall be promoting the event nearer the time.
Botanical Curator wanted (24/11/09)
This comes from Leicestershire County Council:
- Job Title: Curator - Natural Life (Botany)
- Location: Leicestershire
- Closing Date: 18th December
- Salary/Payscale: £25,497 - £28,638
We are looking for an enthusiastic and dedicated botany curator with proven collections management skills, a flair for exhibitions, a love of communication and great interpersonal abilities to join the Museums Collections Team of Leicestershire County Council. This newly formed specialist team is looking for an experienced curator with a good understanding of systematic botany to manage our botany collections for current and future use, including lower plants.
An enthusiasm for collections development will be essential for contributing in a flexible, exciting and diverse way the communication of natural history, at an exciting time for museum collections in Leicestershire.
- You will be responsible for leading on natural history collections care, with particular responsibility for the botanical element of our natural life collections.
- You will create exhibitions and interpretative material; support public talks and events to promote the collections.
- You will promote access to the collections; and ensure a high standard of collections care, data and information management.
- You will work closely with our dedicated team of volunteers and special interest groups.
- You will have experience of working in an accredited museum, and be able to demonstrate good organisational, communication and I.T. skills.
For more information call Carolyn Holmes, Senior Curator Natural Life 0116 3054102
Wacky plants (4/11/2009)
Do you ever come across unusual plants such as Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia? If so, there is probably someone trying to study them. Visit the Species Accounts pages for details and send your observations to the people concerned. I don’t allow bandwagoners onto the web site, so you can be fairly confident that these people are genuine researchers.
Grasses Handbook (29/10/09)
BSBI Handbook No. 13: Grasses of the British Isles
- The hard-back edition was posted on Monday October 26th
- The soft-back edition will be posted on Monday November 2nd
- Mixed orders (hard- and soft-back) will be posted on Monday November 2nd
- Orders for more than two copies and all non-UK orders of the soft-back will be posted on Tuesday November 3rd
NB - The November mailing dates may change if the postal strike(s) continue.
A little promotion for Australia... (29/10/09)
XVIII International Botanical Congress: Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.
23 – 30 July 2011
Highlights of the Congress
- Nomenclature Section to be held pre-Congress from 18 - 22 July 2011
- 225 General Symposia in addition to keynote and plenary sessions
- Over 4000 delegates expected to attend
- Australia-wide field trips designed to showcase the diversity of Australia and its distinctive flora
- A once in every five year opportunity to re-connect with colleagues from around the world
For further Congress information and regular updates, please register your interest online at www.ibc2011.com
Paul Green wins award (24/8/2009)
BSBI member Paul Green has been given an award from the Irish National Biodiversity Data Centre for ‘best recorder of the year.’ Paul is no stranger to such awards - a few years ago he shared the Presidents’ Award from the BSBI and the Wild Flower Society with his brother Ian and co-author Geraldine Crouch for their Atlas Flora of Somerset. His new Flora of Co. Waterford is another impressive species-mapping exercise. Congratulations to Paul for his all his hard work (the photo, right, show Paul being presented with his award by the chairman on the Data Centre).
Solanum rostratum appeal (23/8/2009)
Mario Vallejo-Marin is studying this strange alien plant and is appealing for records. If anyone has a current locality, please email Mario.
Visit: http://species.bsbi.org.uk/html/solanum_rostratum.html for more info.
New records in Herbaria at Home (1/6/2009)
Quentin has run a new a new analysis of the data in Herbaria at Home comparing it with what we have on the Maps Scheme database. These are possible new records. It has to be used with an appropriate degree of caution. The records in Herbaria at Home have been transcribed by people who are not necessarily experts on every aspect of taxonomy and the geography of your county, so there are details of the records that need to be changed. Also the Maps Scheme is not complete: county recorders may know of records that have not, for one reason or another, made their way through to it. So, being aware of these considerations, the list may be a useful guide to where some new records can be found for your county. You’ll have to log onto Herbaria at Home and look up the specimens concerned, and then you can make use of them if you choose to. The table only lists species that have already been recorded in a 10km square, but not in that date class.
>>> Download the table here (xls 463kb)
Vegetative Key arrives (6/5/2009)
The most talked-about book for a decade has arrived - the Vegetative Key, which is largely by John Poland, but based on an idea by Eric Clement. It is a nicely produced publication, a compact paperback that could easily be taken out into the field. To save space, the paper in thin, the margins are narrow and there is no wasted space. But there are colour illustrations where needed. Anyone thinking this is going to make life easy for beginners is mistaken, though - these are not easy keys to get used to. It will encourage a lot of careful study of plants, which has to be a good thing. I like it very much; but it is scary. If you have bought it already, send me your comments and first impressions, and I’ll post them on this page for prospective buyers...
Carl Farmer (29/5/2009): I've been using the Vegetative Key for about 3 weeks now and am still in a state of shock at how effective it is. About half of all plants seem to key out easily from scratch in a very short time. I would not have believed this possible, given how laborious it is to key out flowering and fruiting specimens from scratch in the keys given by other Floras, on the rare occasions when one doesn't have a clue what family a plant belongs to.
Even when you do grind to a halt using the veg key, you are usually down to a handful of species by then, and can go back to the other books to finish the job off. Equally, when you grind to a halt using one of the standard keys, the veg key will finish the job off for you.
It's made me aware that for years I've been walking past many non-flowering plants which I could easily have been recording, and it will make species lists for a site less dependent on the time of year the site is visited.
Some of its revelations seem too good to be true. Can Aphanes and Atriplex really be that simple? This remains to be investigated, but certainly the book provides a great many shortcuts to identifying plants that are flowering and fruiting as well as those that aren't, and will get plenty of use with both kinds of material.
My overall impression is that I've acquired a tool that cuts through difficulties like a knife through butter.
Hugh A.P. Ingram (6/5/2009): Our copy of Poland & Clement arrived yesterday. It makes fascinating reading and we look forward very much to ‘firing it in anger’ in the field. Many thanks to the Society for this welcome initiative. I have, however, one considerable reservation about the presentation. It is disappointing that it has been printed in a font without serifs. Having served my time at the publishing end of botany (used inter alia to edit the Journal of Applied Ecology) I am aware that typographers prefer fonts with serifs because compared with sans-serif fonts they are understood to be more readily legible to the vast majority of readers, hence their use in newspapers and most printed books. It is therefore difficult to view the current preoccupation with sans-serif fonts as other than an ill-considered fad from which one would have hoped the BSBI would be immune. In the current context, where there has been justifiable effort to save on size and weight (one remembers with affectionate amusement those comments on the first edition of C,T&W about the ‘poacher's pocket flora’), the need to use smallish type is well understood; but it surely follows that more care should have been taken to ensure the best possible legibility by way of compensation.
What does ‘status’ mean? (1/5/2009)
Whilst compiling species accounts, I’ve often come across the question of what to put under the ‘status’ heading. Status means many different things, and people seem to have very different ideas of what it is for. Not necessarily a problem, but if you are not clear about the precise meaning, then it is possible to come up with what is clearly a wrong answer for what seem like perfectly good reasons.
I’ve come up with a possible solution to this problem by dividing status into four headings:
- Origin - whether it is native or not; sometimes a much more complex issue than you might imagine.
- Rarity - an assessment of how abundant the plant is; again not necessarily simple, given issues such as frequency, abundance and range; also this can vary between countries/counties.
- Threat - rate of decline and/or increase. A simple concept, but sometimes difficult to measure.
- Conservation - any importance the plant has to conservation, not taking into account any of the above. The best measure of this is designation as an axiophyte (indicator of conservation habitat).
The aim is to consider these in isolation from each other. Thus, a plant can have a high conservation value but not be native. Shock horror! But it’s true. A non-native semi-aquatic plant with a low nitrogen requirement is an indicator of mesotrophic waters, which is a BAP habitat in most places, whether you like aliens or not. Alternatively, a plant could be rare but not threatened. By separating out these four factors, you can arrive at a better understanding of the species, and then make a decision about whether to eradicate it, plant it, encourage it or ignore it as you like.
One category I have not included yet is legal protection, which I guess is another type of status. Should this be included? It’s quite complicated, given at least 6 legal systems to cope with and a state of ongoing change. Are there any other components of status that I have not thought of?
Improve your vital statistics (4/4/2009)
Since the Maps Scheme was (re-)launched in 2005 I have worried about the danger of mindlessly pursuing data collection at the expense of real botany. If your county has, say, a 75% resurvey rate, then you could easily run around the remote areas ticking lists and getting the highest possible score. But what a terrible waste of time such an activity could be - pointlessly recording Arrhenatherum in every square whilst doing nothing of any importance.
On the other hand, there is good reason to get to every part of the county from time to time. Whenever I pop out to a remote agricultural region that has dismal numbers of plants recorded, even at this time of year, I invariably come across something at least a little bit interesting. A roadside verge stuffed with thousands of spikes of Equisetum telmateia just emerging; hedges rich in Midland Hawthorn (or is it the hybrid (rows of cuttings lined up on the windowsill should reveal all soon)) or verges laden with Viola reichenbachiana where it has never been recorded before. Probably these lessons are more to my benefit than to plant recording generally, but still it shows the advantage of surveuying the whole county, not just the hotspots. I haven’t come across anyone pointlessly recording yet.
Now Quentin Groom has created an easy way to plump up your stats whilst dealing with the most under-recorded part of your county. The attached Excel table (email me if you don’t have Excel) lists the worst square in DC4 as compared with DC3. If you do no other square bashing this year, then make sure you cover this one for the maximum benefit.
>>> Download the Excel table.
The Future of Watsonia (6/2/09)
Publications Committee is recommending that the BSBI’s journal, Watsonia, be given a makeover and that an external publisher should be appointed. Changes might include a new name (the name Watsonia doesn’t instantly tell potential readers what it is about) and a more academic content. The main issue is that modern scientific journals need to have a high academic standard and an Impact Factor to appeal to academic authors and subscribers, so the aim will be to focus the journal more on these areas.
As a serious contribution to the debate, I had this email from a correspondent:
“Dear Alex. Please don't change the name - every time it pops through the letter box my husband announces ‘Whats On is 'Ere’. I know its a pathetic joke but it makes I laugh! Kind regards. H.”
What can I say?
North vs. south (28/1/09)
Using the Maps Scheme database, Quentin Groom has calculated (on behalf of scientists in Russia studying European species distributions) the most successful species in the north (v.cc. 88-112) and the south of Britain (v.cc. 5-40). There are surprisingly few in common in the top 20, with only Ribwort Plantain being in the top five for both regions. It’s not the most exciting table you will ever see, but I wonder how many of these one would have been able to guess before the analysis was run?
Top 20 species by rank
Festuca ovina agg.
Vegetative Key (27/1/2009)
The long-awaited Vegetative Key, by John Poland and Eric Clement, is now being printed. The concept is new for a published plant identification guide, even though most botanists identify plants vegetatively most of the time. Once you see it, you wonder why no-one has thought of it before: keys to willows, for example, have always been largely based on leaf shape; and identification of agricultural grasses is often done on non-flowering specimens. But extending this to all the vegetation (‘flora’ doesn’t seem the right word) of Britain & Ireland is entirely novel.
The answer, of course, is that it can only work within a fixed number of species. You can’t study taxonomy and name new species without looking at the flowers (or other reproductive parts), because this is what species classification is largely based upon. So it is not a taxonomic approach, but merely a guide to a fixed number of plants. If the British Flora changes much over the next few decades it will quickly become out of date - but that would be true of any identification guide.
Groups practising with the Vegetative Key at recent conferences have all been highly enthusiastic, and John Poland’s sessions are always well attended. So we are all looking forward enormously to publication, and putting it to the test.
What’s this plant, then? Go to the bottom of the page to find out.
Monitoring BAP species (2/12/08)
It is interesting to see what has actually happened as a result of the extra attention lavished on the BAP plants over the last decade or so. One of the requests I have had recently was for data on Luronium natans, Floating Water-plantain, which is as good a choice as any for such an analysis, as it is quite an important plant ecologically (I’m not convinced that all the BAP species were so wisely chosen).
It turns out that L. natans is doing rather well. Part of this can indeed be attributed to the BAP process (and related legislation), as British Waterways in particular has been paying attention to its legal obligations by (a) not redeveloping canals with it in as quickly as they might have done otherwise, and (b) restoring other canals in a way that benefits the plant. To be honest, the only successful example of the latter to date is the Rochdale Canal, where quite a few new sites for it have been created following an apparently successful introduction programme. This is still early days, but if the plant persists for much longer then the project could fairly be hailed a success. No similar luck has held with the off-line reserves along the Montgomery Canal, where only one such site regularly supports a population. But, more importantly, the Monty has not yet been ‘restored’ to navigation.
The other clear benefit of the BAP is that people tend to take more notice of the plant. Some excellent survey work has been carried out in Norfolk by BESL Halcrow and, following its discovery in a new site in Lancashire, by consultants TEP. This is important because it has happened too often in the past that new Luronium sites have been reported but not properly documented before the plant disappeared again – leaving us with some doubt about whether it was ever really there at all.
The conclusion of the analysis is that Luronium natans is increasing its range in Britain. It seems to colonise new sites rather frequently, but often does not last long. This means we have to respond quickly to any new discovery to check that it really is Luronium and not Baldellia or Alisma, which often look just like it; and we need to keep resurveying sites to find out if it persists. Therefore the BAP process could be really useful by drawing people’s attention to the need for a rapid response to any new discoveries. Otherwise there’s not much evidence that conservation work, as such, is making a big impact.
Daily Mail agrees with BSBI, Shock Horror (19/11/08)
The results of the UK government’s Countryside Survey support the view put forward by BSBI member David Pearman that it is native species as much as exotic ones that are changing the British countryside. The Daily Mail was one of the newspapers to pick up the story, and reported it fairly accurately.
The big debate about alien species is whether they are really a cause or just a symptom of changes in the countryside. Eutrophication, climate change, drainage, disturbance and cessation of traditional management are among the main drivers of change, and some alien species benefit from that. But the BSBI has long argued that some native species respond just as readily. Simply cutting down alien plants does little to help the environment - what is needed is the relatively expensive and difficult solution of careful and responsible land management. Read our discussion paper for more information.
Data from the BM (1/10/08)
A resource that might interest county recorders is a set of records sent by Mark Spencer from the Natural History Museum (BM), partially digitized by Alison Lean. This includes ‘Baldellia, Astragalus danicus & Campanula patula + sundries’. You’ll need a modicum of brainpower to understand their formatting (which is fairly typical of museum databases), but it’s not too much of a challenge.
>>> Download the Excel table (277kb)
Herbarium Originals (15/9/08)
Quentin Groom has analysed the Herbaria at Home database to compare it with the Maps Scheme, and come up with a list of possible exciting new records. These are of taxa in 10km squares where there is currently no dot in the relevant date class. There are over 2,000 of these, but most are localised to one vice county so there’s not all that many for any one county recorder to sort through. But bear in mind that this is only after the first round of digitization - there could be errors in identification, in assigning sites, recorders or dates, etc. However, you can log on to Herbaria at Home to see the original sheets and correct anything that you don’t like.
>>> Open the Excel table (366 kb).
Maps Scheme (8/9/08)
We have had lots of data sets in for the Maps Scheme recently, taking our re-recording level for Date Class 4 (post 2000) compared with DC3 (the Atlas) to 55% for England. With a year of field recording still left, and rather longer for data gathering, we are confident that we will get as much data for 2000-2009 as we did for the decade ending 1999. Bear in mind that the Atlas date class was 13 years and that it often takes years for records to get computerised and to reach us, so we now have much more data for the Atlas period than the Atlas itself had.
The most active county at present is the Isle of Wight (v.c. 10), which has over 180% re-recording compared with the Atlas. This is due to the publication of Colin Pope’s Flora and energetic recording on Mapmate since then by Geoff Toone, Paul Stanley and others. Other counties that are doing rather well now include most of Northern Ireland, which has started sending in records in earnest.
We will be discussing what to do with Date Class 4 at the recorders conference in September, but a sensible strategy for all county recorders would be to use the remainder of 2008 and 2009 to get a reasonable amount of fieldwork done, and then they can have a year or two to computerise any backlog of data and get it through to us. We would advise against getting too enthusiastic – bear in mind that we start all over again with DC5 in 2010, and what we are aiming for is a sustainable, balanced approach to recording from one decade to the next.
Successful species (1/8/08)
Quentin Groom has analysed the Maps Scheme database to find out which species are increasing fastest since 2000. The top 100 are listed below. These include some ‘invasive’ aliens and some previously under-recorded taxa such as Sorbus hibernica, where the efforts of Tim Rich and David Cann have revealed many more plants than were previously known. Recorders are also seemingly paying more attention to garden escapes, crop volunteers and forestry trees. One or two of them are rare ‘natives’, however, that seem to be doing rather well. Here are the plants to look out for...
Acer saccharinum, Alchemilla mollis, Allium cepa, Allium subhirsutum, Alnus cordata, Alyssum saxatile, Amaranthus hybridus, Ambrosia artemisiifolia, Bassia scoparia, Berberis thunbergii, Bergenia crassifolia, Bromus secalinus, Buddleja globosa, Campanula poscharskyana, Cardamine corymbosa, Chamaecyparis pisifera, Chenopodium glaucum, Chenopodium quinoa, Cochlearia danica, Conyza bilbaoana, Conyza sumatrensis, Cordyline australis, Cornus alba, Cortaderia richardii, Cotoneaster rehderi, Crocosmia pottsii, Crocus chrysanthus, Crocus tommasinianus, Crocus vernus, Cyclamen coum, Cyclamen hederifolium, Cymbalaria pallida, Cyperus eragrostis, Echinochloa crus-galli, Echium pininana, Echium plantagineum, Erigeron glaucus, Erigeron karvinskianus, Euphorbia characias, Fraxinus ornus, Fumaria purpurea, Galanthus elwesii, Galanthus ikariae, Galanthus plicatus, Geranium macrorrhizum, Griselinia littoralis, Guizotia abyssinica, Hedera colchica, Helianthus annuus, Helleborus argutifolius, Heuchera sanguinea, Hyacinthus orientalis, Hydrangea macrophylla, Hydrocotyle ranunculoides, Iberis sempervirens, Illecebrum verticillatum, Iris orientalis, Kerria japonica, Kniphofia praecox, Linaria maroccana, Lobelia erinus, Lonicera pileata, Mentha pulegium, Narcissus aggregate, Nicandra physalodes, Nigella damascena, Oxalis exilis, Paeonia officinalis, Persicaria capitata, Phacelia tanacetifolia, Phalaris paradoxa, Philadelphus x virginalis, Photinia davidiana, Physalis peruviana, Phyteuma orbiculare, Pinus contorta, Poa infirma, Polygonum boreale, Polypogon viridis, Pontederia cordata, Populus 'Balsam Spire', Populus nigra 'Plantierensis', Pyracantha coccinea, Rhus typhina, Rosmarinus officinalis, Saxifraga spathularis, Scilla bifolia, Scilla siberica, Sedum spectabile, Senecio inaequidens, Sisyrinchium striatum, Sorbus croceocarpa, Sorbus hibernica, Stachys byzantina, Symphytum 'Hidcote Blue', Tellima grandiflora, Tristagma uniflorum, Verbena bonariensis, Veronica crista-galli, Zea mays.
What is Bocage? (27/6/08)
Bocage is a landscape of narrow, winding lanes, tall hedges and small copses that characterises some parts of western Europe, including Normandy. In May this year Natural England wanted to search for bocage-type habitat in south-western England in order to target agricultural subsidies, and they asked the BSBI to provide distribution data at tetrad scale to produce coincidence maps.
The species they chose were Agrimonia procera, Astragalus glycyphyllos, Epipactis atrorubens, Fallopia dumetorum, Fumaria capreolata, Geranium sanguineum, Lithospermum officinale, Luzula forsteri, Melittis mellisophyllum, Ornithogalum pyrenaicum, Orobanche purpurea, O. rapum-genistae, O. reticulata, O. caryophyllacea, Phyteuma spicatum, Pyrus cordata, Rosa canina x stylosa, R. micrantha, R. stylosa, R. tomentosa, Sorbus devoniensis, S. torminalis, Stellaria neglecta, Vicia bithynica, V. parviflora, and V. sylvatica.
This is the great advantage of tetrad scale mapping. Compared with the 10km data, which shows the range of each species, the tetrad maps give a much better view of the distribution. We need to keep gathering data at tetrad scale or better. The map here shows Stellaria neglecta at 2km scale – much more interesting than at the normal 10km scale, even though some counties haven’t yet recorded it at this level of detail.
What exactly is this distribution pattern, though? Neither westerly nor easterly - it most likes the Welsh Marches and a line down the middle of the British Isles. There are several other species that have this curious distribution, including Fumaria purpurea and Chrysosplenium alternifolium. Can anyone come up with an explanation?
Several new axiophyte lists have been uploaded to the web site recently, including ones for Hampshire, Berkshire and Staffordshire. Some recorders have asked if they can edit their existing axiophyte lists, and the answer, of course, is yes. It is interesting to see which species others have chosen, and I suspect that it takes a few years of using them to really get the lists refined.
Dan Wrench has pointed out that rule 3 for the selection of axiophytes is unnecessary, and perhaps wrong. This is the rule that excludes rarities with fewer than 3 sites. The reason for this was that, traditionally, people tended to confuse rarity and conservation value, so all rare species were automatically considered important. However, some rarities – perhaps most – are virtually irrelevant to nature conservation. A good example of this would be Leersia oryzoides, perhaps – a rare (and possibly non-native) plant that happens to occur in one nice site but is more of a casual than an indicator species (debate!). However, some rare species are rare because they have declined, and are therefore strong axiophytes. So perhaps rule 3 needs to be modified, to say something like ‘leave out rarities unless you are sure they are highly specific to good habitats, rather than just happen to be in a good site.’
Visit the axiophytes page for more information.
Vegetative plant photo: Alternate-leaved Golden-saxifrage, Chrysosplenium alternifolium.