Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Rare Plant Register coverage update

For anyone who was hoping to watch the item on Heno (S4C), it was actually shown a day later than I was originally told. An iPlayer link is here. A transcript (with translation at your own risk - apologies for any errors) is available here.

Friday, 7 April 2017

More Rare Plant Registers/ Rhestrau Planhigion Prin

It's been great to see the response to the Rare Plant Register launch.

Following the event in Aberystwyth and the interview with Good Evening Wales, I went to the BBC's Wrexham studio to record an interview with Rachel Garside for Country Focus - the link is available here (until 3rd May 2017, you can start about 7 minutes), and a transcript can now be seen here.

This week I met Gerallt Pennant at Loggerheads Country Park, to show him the Rare Plant Registers (also to be known as Rhestrau Planhigion Prin).  After some discussion I recorded a few soundbites (in Welsh) to be included in an item on Heno on S4C. We expect it to be broadcast on Tuesday 11th April 2017 at 1900, and after that it should be available on iPlayer. English subtitles are available for those who need them.

You can read more about it over on the BSBI News and Views blog.
Rare Plant Registers for 13 counties of Wales

Monday, 27 March 2017

A Welsh first - the launch of the Rare Plant Registers

Today in Aberystwyth we celebrated a tremendous Welsh achievement. This year we have completed the series of Rare Plant Registers, making Wales the first country to have a Register for each county, showing the locations for all the rare plants.

The project was begun in 1978 following a request from Glyn Jones of the Nature Conservancy Council to Arthur Chater, for a list of the Rare Plants in Cardiganshire. Arthur gave the matter serious thought, and after significant discussions, produced the first Rare Plant Register in spring 1979 (for me, the year of my birth). In the next 20 years, while I was growing up, rare plant registers were published in Carmarthenshire and Radnorshire. Then in 2005 the Committee for Wales met and decided these documents were so worthwhile that they should work towards a Register for all the counties in Wales. In 2005-2009 a further five Registers were produced. In 2011 I was appointed as the BSBI's first Welsh Officer, and was able to support three (fairly newly appointed) vice-county recorders to produce Registers in 2014. Finally, this year in 2017 we have managed to produce Registers for the missing counties, making a complete set.

Map of Wales showing the vice-counties with the year in which their Rare Plant Register was first published.
This achievement makes us the first county in the world to be able to list the locations for all of our rare plants - there are some other Rare Plant Registers in England, Scotland and Wales, but we are not aware of more beyond Britain and Ireland. The Rare Plant Registers provide a very important resource for those working in conservation.

Today in Aberystwyth we had a welcome from Emyr Roberts, the chief executive of Natural Resources Wales, who talked of the achievement and how Wales can punch above it's weight!
Emyr Roberts
Then Kevin Walker, the BSBI's Head of Science, talked about the value of the BSBI's data collection to conservation - from Atlas recording to the Rare Plant Registers but also the Threatened Plant Project.

Kevin Walker
Later Andy Jones and I shared a platform and a talk on the Welsh Rare Plant Registers as a Domesday Book of plants.
Polly Spencer-Vellacott (me) and Andy Jones
As if the day hadn't been busy enough, I finished off with a live (if short) interview on BBC Radio Wales. If you want to hear it you can follow this link and start about 1:54 to hear me.

I would like to congratulate all the vice-county recorders of Wales who have dedicated so much work to recording the flora and to producing the Rare Plant Registers. It really has been a labour of love for them.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Caernarvonshire 2016

Next in the series of county reports - Wendy McCarthy writes: 

Recording is currently aimed at trying to update records for Atlas 2020 and Polly helpfully produced useful lists for each hectad of species recorded in the last date class which need re-finding. In early March I set off, with Mari Roberts and Lesley Ball, to search for Stellaria pallida (Lesser Chickweed) in SH24. Ann Conolly had recorded it in all 6 monads so it is curious that I had never found it as I have visited the delightful Porth Dinllaen area many times. Eventually Mari spotted a tiny patch of plants at the sandy edge of the golf course, proving to be the only sighting that day too. We were pleased also  to update Artemisia verlotiorum (Chinese Mugwort) as it apparently hadn’t been seen here since Ann  first found it in 1978, on a bank by the car park. We spent some time looking at Whitlow grasses (Erophila sp.) but could find only E. verna s/s. A few weeks later I visited a sandy hill known as the Vardre in Deganwy  SH77 and found a patch of plants along a grass bank which fitted perfectly the description of E. glabrescens, looking quite different to E. verna s/s which was plentiful nearby. Also here was Vicia lathyroides, (Spring Vetch) with much Aphanes arvensis (Parsley Piert)and Torilis nodosa (Knotted Bur-parsley).

Stellaria pallida (Lesser Chickweed)

Our first recording meeting of the year found us at Porth Ysgaden SH23 on the Lleyn peninsula. The best find here was a small colony of Inula crithmoides (Golden Samphire) on rocks above the sea.  Debbie Evans found a new site for Crassula tillea (Mossy Stonecrop) in gravel at the edge of a small lay-by.  A week earlier Martyn Stead, Mari and I had found a new site at Borth y Gest SH53, making these the 4th and 5th records of this tiny plant which is an alien in vc 49.

In May Martyn and I went to Pwllheli SH33 and managed to update records for several species. An unexpected find was a small patch of Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley) in dunes above the beach, undoubtedly a garden throw-out but very attractive none the less. Later that month we were pleased to find 100’s of fronds of Ophioglossum vulgatum (Adder’s Tongue) in three separate colonies on a grassy slope above the sea at Porth Llanllawen SH22. I had previously made several searches in Ann’s location at Porth Oer in this hectad without success. Another pleasing update was a small patch of Carex acuta (Slender Tufted-sedge) almost lost in a sea of Carex acutiformis (Lesser Pond-sedge) at Bont Newydd SH22, only the second currently known record for this species.

Ophyioglossum vulgatum (Adder's Tongue)

One of the aims of our recording meeting in May was to check up on Sanguisorba officinalis (Great Burnet) in SH85, where it grows on a damp shaded lane bank near Padog. We were pleased to see it thriving, with at least 60 plants counted, as this is one of only two sites in the county. An unexpected bonus on this meeting was a single Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort) just pushing through on a bank in the neighbouring square SH84, a new hectad record. All of the party were pleased with good views of a Cuckoo calling on a fence post.

Sedum forsterianum (Rock Stonecrop) and Vicia sylvatica (Wood Vetch) were two species which needed updating in SH75 and in June we scrambled up a couple of steep gulleys above Llyn Crafnant, finding the first in one gulley, along with Geum x intermedium (Geum rivale x urbanum) new to the hectad and Adoxa moschatellina (Moschatel) the latter also a good update, and the vetch flowering nicely on a high ledge in the second gulley. Further up the hillside, on a single basic rock in otherwise acidic ground, there was a fine display of Hieracium carneddorum (Carnedd Hawkweed) which proved to be another update on checking at home later. 

Hieracium carneddorum (Carnedd Hawkweed) above Llyn Crafnant

We are fortunate in Wales to have had some excellent training workshops with experts and these of course help us to produce new records with our new-found skills! Fumaria purpurea (Purple Ramping-fumitory) is now recorded in 11 monads, 4 of these found in 2016. Rubus records are slowly accumulating, although it should be said that, in my case at least, these are mostly of easily recognisable ones such as R. lentiginosus, R. nemoralis and R.incurvatus. The alien R. procera is turning up all over the place and could prove to be an invasive problem in the future. Two garden brambles were found this year, R. loganobaccus (Loganberry) and R. laciniatus, in different sites near Caernarfon SH46. Also at Caernarfon a pond below a derelict farm had Crassula helmsii (New Zealand Pygmyweed) and a nearby pool by a stream was full of Hydrocotyle ranunculoides (Floating Pennywort) an undesirable third county record. The Dryopteris training meeting with Fred Rumsey was a great help in learning the differences in the D. affinis group. Martyn, Mari and I were fortunate to follow this up a week later with a day out at Nant Gwrtheyrn with BPS local organiser David Hill. He showed us D. affinis, D. cambrensis and D. borreri, all good updates for SH34, and it was good to see these three again, helping to consolidate what we had learned from Fred. Another good Dryopteris find was that of D. aemula (Hay-scented Buckler) 9 plants amongst boulders on the shore of Llyn Cwm Silyn, which proved to be new for SH55.

In June I went to some species-rich grassland near Bangor and was delighted to discover 7 flowering spikes of Epipactis palustris (Marsh Helleborine) new to SH57 and bringing the total of orchid species at this site to 8. Juncus subnodulosus (Blunt-flowered Rush) and Galium uliginosum (Fen Bedstraw) were also present.

An excellent record of Neottia cordata (Lesser Twayblade) was sent from Ian & Linda Fraser, 88 plants in total, some flowering, from the slopes of Tryfan and, rather surprisingly, a new record for SH65. In August I received a message from Lesley to say that she had found ‘a huge blue spike’ which on checking turned out to be a magnificent specimen of Echium pininana (Giant Viper’s-bugloss) undoubtedly self-sown in the middle of brambles on a piece of waste ground near Ysbyty Gwynedd, needless to say a new record for SH57. Julian Driver sent a good list of mostly upland species with several updates, the best of these being Asplenium obovatum (Lanceolate Spleenwort) near Yr Eifl SH34, last seen there in 1988.

Our September meeting to explore the village of Llithfaen SH34 was hi-jacked by Iwan Edgar, with promises up a nearby hill of Hymenophyllum wilsonii (Wilson’s Filmy Fern), Phegopteris connectilis (Beech Fern) and Melampyrum pratense (Common Cow-wheat), how could we resist? We were pleased to find the first two, along with Cryptogramma crispa (Parsley Fern) but dismayed to find that a cairn had been erected at the summit eradicating the third.

My thanks go to everyone who have attended meetings, accompanied me in the field and sent me records. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Glamorgan 2016

These are some extracts from the Glamorgan Botany Group 2016 Excursion Report - with thanks to David Barden (main author), Karen Wilkinson and Julian Woodman.

Cwm Dare & Daren y Dimbath – Saturday 26 March 

There are two species of filmy-fern in Glamorgan, Hymenophyllum wilsonii (Wilson’s Filmy-fern) and H. tunbrigense (Tunbridge Filmy-fern), and our aim on this excursion was to survey their populations at two sites – the first discovered in 2014 by Tim Rich, and the second known for about 100 years.

The recent site is in Dare Valley Country Park, so it was here that nine of us met on a cloudy and occasionally drizzly morning. After a brisk walk up through the park, Tim indicated to us the area high on the screes where four patches of H. wilsonii had been found in 2014 (see Wild flowers of Dare Valley Country Park by T. Rich and C. Gait).

Having listened to Tim describe what we were looking for, Caroline Langdon said “is this it?” and pointed down at the rocks in front of us, where to the astonishment of all some fronds were present! We quickly found lots more, giving us a total of 52 patches, even though we only covered about a third of the area of scree in the time available.

The delicate fronds of Hymenophyllum wilsonii (Wilson's Filmy-fern) at Cwm Dare

The initial idea had been to measure the size of every patch to assess the population dynamics (patches increase radially by about 1–2 cm a year). However, it was very hard to define an individual because the ferns crept through moss, plants and leaf litter between and around boulders, so a crude census was made by plotting GPS locations. Most patches were fertile, and ranged from dense mats on edges of exposed rocks with dwarf fronds 1–2 cm long, to more luxuriant plants with fronds 3–5 cm long in the deep crevices. The patches ranged widely in size too, indicating a long-established and healthy population, and the largest known one in Glamorgan. Other interesting plants seen on the screes, also previously recorded by Tim, were Dryopteris oreades (Mountain Male-fern) and Huperzia selago (Fir Clubmoss). Moving on to the well-known site at Daren y Dimbath, our group of eight botanists contended with some heavy rain to examine the populations of both species there. These appear to be doing well, with a combined total of 22 patches of H. wilsonii and 29 of H. tunbrigense being seen.

A range of sizes of plants were recorded, both species showing the classic exponential declines in numbers of patches with increasing size. However, one medium-sized
patch of H. wilsonii and one huge patch of H. tunbrigense were peeling off the rocks under their own weight, leaving fragments of rhizome in crevices, which were then regrowing. As a result, small patches may not necessarily indicate regeneration from spores. Also found on the rocks were the rare ferns Dryopteris aemula (Hay-scented Buckler Fern) and the gametophytes of Trichomanes speciosum (Killarney Fern) in dark shaded crevices.

Newton Burrows - Sunday 15 May

Fourteen enthusiastic botanists gathered in the car-park at Newton Burrows on a sunny but breezy day, and soon set about investigating the area of rough grassland to the immediate north, where according to online photos, large rocks for sea-defences had been stored in the not-too-distant past. Trifolium scabrum (Rough Clover) was abundant here, and there was also a little Trifolium arvense (Hare’s-foot Clover), Fumaria bastardii (Tall Fumitory) and F. muralis (Common Ramping Fumitory), but a greater prize awaited! A tufted grass with very diffuse panicles got the attention of Tim Rich, and realisation rapidly dawned that we were looking at Poa bulbosa (Bulbous Meadowgrass).

Quite possibly the find of the year! Poa bulbosa (Bulbous Meadow-grass) was frequent-abundant over a substantial area on sandy gravel near Newton Burrows car-park. Unusually for this species, none of the plants were producing plantlets within the spikelents (proliferation). The abundance of the plant meant that we had no qualms about detatching a few of the destinctive basal bulbils for examination. 

Dunes and woodland provided a range of species, and even the lunch stop provided Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort). At the end of the day the coastal shingle just landward of the dune edge provided easier botanising, with the highlight being Valerianella locusta var. dunensis (Common Cornsalad) to round off an enjoyable day.

Valerianella locusta var. dunensis (Common Cornsalad) 

Morfa Ystradowen - Sunday 5 June

On a warm summer’s day with light winds, our group of eight met to examine the western part of Morfa Ystradowen (a former SSSI), with the permission of the landowner at ‘Vale Holiday Homes’. Almost immediately, we found Trifolium micranthum (Slender Trefoil) on a track, but we were forced to pick up speed through the fields to the north-east because of the presence of some rather
curious horses! 

Beyond the old railway, we saw Verbena officinalis (Vervain), a small amount of Adoxa moschatellina (Moschatel), and some typical woodland species, including a range of ferns that permitted a quick training session! Here too, Karen noticed the signs of Ash Dieback, which seems to have become considerably more frequent this year.

The old railway itself was clearly regularly mown, affording a pleasantly shady walk. The wet woodland to the west looked promising (but, we reckoned, probably better in spring), while Berula erecta (Lesser Water Parsnip) was noticed in a ditch on the eastern side. Scrambling down the bank, we emerged into an area of very tussocky grassland that had been subject to a light burning, probably early in the year. Dryopteris carthusiana was again abundant here, but more interesting was plenty of Ulex gallii (Western Gorse), a 2m × 2m patch of Comarum palustre (Marsh Cinquefoil), and a tiny remnant of Sphagnum ‘bog’ with typical acid-loving species.

Comarum palustre (Marsh Cinquefoil) 

Moving off the old railway, a shady track took us through woodland back up to our starting point, where we came across a variant of Blechnum spicant (Hard Fern). Some of the group returned to their  ars at this point, but the rest decided to finish off by examining a field adjacent to the main road. This had presumably been heavily grazed by sheep in the past, because the flora was rather poor and also remarkably uniform. However, Rhinanthus minor (Hayrattle) was abundant, while a few Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid) were found, and the southern end held a population of Myosotis discolor (Changing Forget-me-not) amongst a stand of Bracken.

A lobed variant of Blechnum spicant  (Hard Fern)

Merthyr Common - Sunday 18 September

Meeting at Morlais Top on a largely fine day, our group of eight headed briskly north along a rough track, in order to waste no time in getting to one of our target monads... but we had time enough to notice a clump of flowering Sanguisorba officinalis (Great Burnet) on a roadside, and a few ruderal/waste-heap weeds including Brassica juncea (Chinese Mustard) on the way through Pengarnddu.

Beyond this, the ditch on the eastern side of the track provided some good botanising, with plenty of Triglochin palustris (Marsh Arrow-grass). A stream feeding into this from the east yielded more marsh plants, with highlights being a small quantity of Veronica scutellata (Marsh Speedwell) and more remarkably a population of Persicaria minor (Small Water-pepper). We followed the track up as far as the Nant Morlais, then turned up into the ravine cut by this stream. The cliffs on the southern side looked promising at first, but there was only a very limited tall-herb community here, which included small quantities of Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) and Succisa pratensis (Devil’s-bit Scabious) amongst abundant Luzula sylvatica (Great Wood-rush).

Persicaria minor (Small Water-pepper)

Our next stop was ‘Pitwellt Pond’, which contrary to what the OS map said, we knew to have been drained many years ago. Disappointingly, however, the whole area was a sea of Juncus effusus (Soft Rush), and so we did not spend any time here – instead, we headed west out onto the main area of Merthyr Common. Although not turning up much variety specieswise, this was pleasantly heathery, and in addition we were pleased to find Empetrum nigrum (Crowberry), previously recorded on the Common on just one occasion.

Having previously examined the geological map, we were expecting a transition in rock type as we headed northwest, and passing a couple of ‘shake holes’, it was clear that the limestone was not far below the surface. When it came, the change was remarkably abrupt (see photo), and we then spent some time examining the long-abandoned quarries of Twynau Gwynion. Here we found upland specialities including locally frequent Saxifraga hypnoides (Mossy Saxifrage), and smaller quantities of Cystopteris fragilis (Brittle Bladder Fern), Asplenium viride (Green Spleenwort), and   (Limestone Bedstraw).

Had time allowed, we would have spent longer here, as there was plenty of good habitat in these quarries and on the slopes down to the vice-county boundary. However, we had quite a long walk to get to our cars, so headed back south, crossing the limestone–gritstone boundary again. On the way, we came across a curiously small area of calcareous turf (with typical species) on an embankment next to the cutting of the old tramway that served the quarry. This resulted in the unusual sight of Calluna vulgaris and Cirsium acaule (Dwarf Thistle) growing side by side!

All in all, it was an enjoyable day, with a surprising variety of habitats and some interesting plants too – a good end to the botanical year!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt

Apologies for the delay in posting! 

I thought I'd start the New Year Plant Hunt on 2nd January, when I got out in the garden with my children and recorded seven wild (weed) species flowering in my vegetable garden!  It was bitterly cold and frosty, which made it harder to spot flowers. 
Six out of seven species from my vegetable garden!
On the Wednesday (4th January) seven botanists met at Llanddulas and in a full three hours we recorded 46 species. The weather was kind and dry, if bitterly cold on the shore (but more sheltered as we walked inland and returned to the coast through the village). 
36 out of 46 species from Llanddulas.
Five out of seven hardy botanists at Llanddulas. 
This was the sixth year of the New Year Plant Hunt and was incredibly popular although somewhat fewer flowering plants were found this year than in 2016. In fact the number of lists submitted was very similar (432 in 2016; 462 in 2017), but both the number of records and the number of species was down. For more details and to view the lists, visit the New Year Plant Hunt results page. In Wales, (by my estimation) 26 lists were created, from nine counties. The new NYPH App was a new innovation, allowing anyone to create records and submit them (potentially with linked photographs) from a smartphone (and there was a desktop alternative for anyone without a smartphone!). This allowed us to watch the map on the results page getting covered with markers. Meanwhile those on Twitter and Facebook could rapidly follow stories, and Louise kept the BSBI News and Views blog up to date as well. Of particular note in Wales, John Crellin wrote a blog post for the Brecknock group's visit to Ystradgynlais, and Tim Rich (the founder of the New Year Plant Hunt?) with friends, completed a list of 60 species in Cardiff. Well, it is the capital of Wales, and presumably the urban heat island effect, plus a few aliens - and of course the skills to identify them - contributed to the longest list in Wales. Congratulations Tim - but well done to everyone regardless of the length of their list.