Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A visit to Carmarthenshire

I managed to join the recording group at Glynhir for one day out a week ago. We were assigned a monad with only two post-2000 records, so it was all a surprise. We began walking along a lane and then a footpath across fields - and some lovely fields they were, like this for example with the Carmarthenshire (and South Wales) speciality, Carum verticillatum (Whorled Caraway) turning the field white.
Carum verticillatum, Whorled Caraway, in a meadow.
Eventually having had enough lanes, and to increase our potential species list, we ventured up onto a hillside, which at first glance seemed unrewarding, covered in bracken and coarse grass. But determination was rewarded when we stumbled across a small but delightful bog, where this Drosera rotundifolia Round-leaved Sundew was spotted, amongst a host of other delights. 
Drosera rotundifolia, Round-leaved Sundew, with Narthecium ossifragum, Bog Asphodel
By the end of the day the tetrad had (I think) well over 200 species, so that was one small contribution to the Atlas 2020 coverage for the county. Meanwhile, my children had a great time chasing the ducks at Glynhir!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Eyebrights, cowbane and a busy July coming up...

Last week I met up with a number of botanists in Dolwyddelan who were equally brave or foolish as I am - it was pouring with rain. Luckily some had come prepared with specimens, so after a brief half-hour foray we called discretion the better part of valour and retired with a hot drink to go through some Euphrasia keys. This was for me the first proper attempt since the workshop in February, and there are still some big challenges there! But I do now have some specimens pressing to take to some upcoming events to see if anyone can confirm the identification. We hope to repeat the day, perhaps in Denbighshire in August, so if you are interested in informal Euphrasia identification please do get in touch for more details in the near future.

When I got home (early) the rain was pausing and I decided to investigate a site I've wanted to return to for a while. A new housing estate has been built adjacent to a pond which was the only county site for cowbane (Cicuta virosa). It had been fenced off for a few years during the building works and I was hoping that it would still be there. Luckily, it seems that this time the developers have been advised well, as the pond remains, as does the cowbane, well fenced off and next to a meadow which looks like it may be left for conservation. At least from the point of view of the cowbane, this development does not seem to have been a bad thing.
Cowbane (Cicuta virosa) happily by the pond with new housing in the background.
July is a busy month for botanists in Wales. This week is the annual Glynhir recording week in Carmarthenshire (which I shall be joining briefly at the end of the week). Next week is the Welsh AGM in Brecon. The programme for this looks great, and currently the weather doesn't look bad either. Due to a cancellation, there is a double room (in fact a one-bedroom cottage) available for a late booking! If you can come for several days it is great value - so please contact John Crellin, the organiser. At the end of the following week, the Caerdeon recording weekend in Merionethshire also promises great botanical excursions, a chance to contribute to local recording, and a nice chance to socialise with some friendly botanists. If you are unable to commit to the whole weekend, the organisers will still undoubtedly be glad to see you for a day of botanising.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016


One of the top species we hope to monitor this year is Trollius europaeus, globeflower (cronell in Welsh). Trollius is listed on the Welsh Section 42 list (Section 42 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 lists species of principal importance for conservation of biological diversity in Wales). Trollius is not nationally scarce (it is widespread in northern England and Scotland) and is not red-listed, but it may still be declining.

Trollius likes wet environments, but is not so fussy about pH and nutrient status. However, it seems to be vulnerable to over-grazing, and although it is perennial it may not reproduce easily (it requires a specific fly to pollinate it, seedlings are vulnerable to slugs, and the seedbank is not long-lived. For more information see the BSBI Species Account.

Two weeks ago I visited two sites - firstly a river site with Lucia Ruffino, where we found one site on a small rocky island, and then two more smaller sites upstream. These rocky river sites must be protected from grazing, but they must also be vulnerable to winter floods... they must have deep roots to survive last year. But it is hard to see these small clumps as anything but a relict population. I would envision a scheme to collect seed and reestablish it in riverside pasture, but creating the right conditions for germination and survival would be challenging!
Trollius on a small island...
There are plenty more small riverside plants not far away along the Afon Conwy.

The next day I went out with some of the Merioneth Nats group, on the shores of Llyn Tegid, where we found a much larger population, with hundreds of plants flowering in lakeside woodland. This appears a much more sustainable population; I visited nearly 2km of lakeshore and there was one large population and several smaller outliers. It is hard to imagine it wouldn't be found on other sections of the lake shore.

Trollius widespread in lakeside woodland...
It would be really good to receive details of other populations of Trollius - to get an idea of the different populations in Wales, and how healthy they seem. Please do get in touch if you would be interested. I'll be visiting several sites (especially in North Wales - Caernarvonshire, Merionethshire, Denbighshire) over the next few months and if you'd like to join me just drop me an email! 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

More North Wales Limestone

Still in North Wales on the limestone outcrops, here is the green-winged orchid. The only previous detailed record I had seen said 16 spikes, but last week I found around 70, and a few more just into the next 10km square. This is a great time of year to visit your local populations and check on them - a count is useful.
Anacamptis morio - Green-winged orchid

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A day on the Orme

I had the joy of spending a day on the Great Orme with Wendy McCarthy, the county recorder (and others) yesterday. Wendy lives on the Orme so her knowledge is unrivalled. We began with a visit to the sole remaining plant of Antennaria dioica - mountain everlasting. Another population on the Orme seems to have disappeared - after grazing was reduced the sward is so much longer and thicker. Could Antennaria still be present but invisible? We would hope so, but the reintroduction of sheep grazing is an urgent need. 
Antennaria dioica - mountain everlasting
 We paid a visit to the Cotoneaster cambricus - wild cotoneaster, behind its rabbit-proof fence, which appears to be doing well, although propagation efforts are paused while an investigation into possible hybridisation is carried out. Nearby, we saw the Hieracium cambricum - Welsh hawkweed - spotty with big teeth!
Hieracium cambricum - Welsh hawkweed
 Back at the southern end of the Orme, Helianthemum oelandicum - hoary rockrose - was coming into flower and preparing for a fine show. We visited some of the other specialities of the Orme - although Cerastium pumilum - dwarf mouse-ear - was drying up and past its best.
Helanthemum oelandicum - hoary rockrose
 Hippocrepis comosa - horseshoe vetch - was in fine flower, glorious yellow. We tried a count of flowering plants, although these varied in size from one or two flowering shoots to ten or more. Then we realised there were plenty of small, non-flowering plants, including seedlings - this seems to be a healthy population structure.

Hippocrepis comosa - horseshoe vetch
 Finally, something that is not really a rarity, though it is only found on western coasts. Scilla verna - spring squill. I love this little plant, but I would definitely describe it as blue. The "Rough Crew" in Ireland reported a sighting but described it as a delicate pink. Are Irish squills a different colour to Welsh ones?
Scilla verna - spring squill

Friday, 22 April 2016

Spring is finally here!

Up in the woods in Denbighshire this week, leaves are beginning to appear. Only just out, can you recognise these? I'm not sure I would if I didn't know the spot and wasn't looking for it specifically (scroll down for a more unfurled picture)!

I love this time of year when the woodland spring flowers really are coming out. Bluebells are now beginning to open in their masses, the verges of the A55 are yellow with cowslips, the primroses are everywhere and I do love wood anemones. 

Wood anemone - Anemone nemorosa
 Sadly I can't join the Merioneth naturalists on their visit to Coed Dolbebin today, and I also missed the BSBI meeting at the Great Orme last weekend. But nevertheless the field season is beginning and I do hope to get out a lot more and meet plenty of Welsh botanists in the field this year.

And that seedling I saw at the top of the page? Scroll down if you want to see - one of our really distinctive and certainly not a common plant...

Herb Paris - Paris quadrifolia

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Bright eyes at Treborth...

On Saturday I was amongst a group of botanists - apparently one of us was the 100th to participate in Chris Metherell's introduction to Eyebrights (Euphrasia).

With no prior knowledge of the genus, I was a little nervous about the course, but I was delighted to find the day whizzed past.

Chris gave us an introduction, which largely explained how to look at eyebrights - and there really is a great deal of detail. I have a much clearer idea of the distinction between upper cauline leaves and lower floral leaves, but I think I still need practice in looking at the tips of leaf teeth to discriminate between acute, acuminate and aristate! However, the new keys that Chris has produced take you through which are the most important features.

After the introduction we spent the middle part of the day (with a break for lunch) looking at various herbarium specimens - some fairly old and brown from the Bangor University herbarium, and some still relatively green from Chris' own herbarium.

I began to really look forward to summer, when I hope to test my new-found skills in the field - and I hope that many of the characters will be much easier to determine on fresh specimens.

We were lucky enough to be using the teaching lab at Treborth Botanic Garden, a place familiar to Bangor alumni and locals. And this course was very much aimed at locals, with most of the participants coming from North Wales (a few from North West England). Chris focussed on the species we would be likely to encounter in Wales.

A big thank-you to Chris - who left us all full of enthusiasm - and we hope to practice our skills in the field before long. I for one am also looking forward very much to the publication of the new Euphrasia handbook, hopefully within the next year.