Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Paul Green - Acting Welsh Officer

I have now been working as Acting BSBI Welsh Officer for 3 days.

Don't have much news to report as of yet.

Polly gave birth yesterday to a son Jay.

I will be based in the National Museum Wales, Cardiff for the next 9 months. Hopefully more time will be spent out in the field than it will be in the office.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Christmas card update

Most of the cards have now been sold, and as I'm off on maternity leave and no longer holding a stock, we've removed the web sales link. There are still some which will hopefully be available at the Scottish AGM and at the Cambridge AEM, or a few from certain members of the Welsh Committee - so if you are really desperate for some more try contacting Paul Green. The good news is, this makes the Christmas card experiment a success and hopefully it will be repeated next year - so for all you photographers out there, this is your warning to start trying to find an equally good image for next year. Perhaps next time we could even have two designs.

To judge from this year, photographs are likely to be popular if they are truly botanical images (e.g. not too abstract or landscape); reflecting the work of the BSBI (native flora); but also in at least some way seasonal/ Christmassy - but preferably original as well! Nothing like setting the standards high...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Handover time

Unfortunately due to medical circumstances beyond my control I am having to start my planned maternity leave a little earlier than I expected - and as I am currently confined to hospital I don't think I'm going to have much of botanical interest to report!

Hopefully Paul Green, who is going to take on the Welsh Officer job for the next nine months, will have some interesting stories before long - and he will also be able to post on this blog.

In the meantime, I'd just encourage everyone who hasn't yet to think about whether they would like some BSBI Christmas cards! If you've been filling in TPP forms this year don't forget to send them to Kevin, or copy them to me/ Paul if they are electronic.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Rockrose - hoary or otherwise

Yesterday I visited Prestatyn Hillside SSSI with the CCW Conservation Officer for the site, to undertake some monitoring/ mapping of Helianthemum oelandicum, hoary rockrose. We were hoping that despite the lateness of the season we would be able to tell this species apart from the closely related Helianthemum nummularium, common rockrose. In fact once we got our eyes in it wasn't too difficult, with a significant difference in the size of leaves and prostrate-ness of the plant, the presence of stipules on H. nummumlarium but not on H. oelandicum, and the more dense hairiness of H. oelandicum. The small, low clumps of H. oelandicum were fairly easily picked out even when surrounded by large areas of H. nummularium. 

H. nummularium is common in calcareous habitats, while H. oelandicum is scarce in Britain and is restricted mainly to coastal areas, with North Wales being one of its hotspots. On Prestatyn Hillside it seems to favour areas around limestone outcrops, where the soil is thinner and presumably competition is less intense. H. nummularium is found throughout the site including in moderately coarse grassland where it is able to hold its own.

Helianthemum oelandicum, hoary rockrose

Helianthemum nummularium, common rockrose

 We were able to identify three areas with H. oelandicum, and another, steeper outcrop which we were unable to visit may well provide habitat for a fourth area.

The greatest threat to this site (which is designated for an assemblage of rare or scarce plant species) may be from invasive scrub, including several Cotoneaster species. As it is very steep and not fenced grazing presents multiple challenges and is unlikely to be a practical option, so the continuing scrub clearance which is being carried out by hand is probably the only option. Some areas of good habitat, however, would be lost if this scrub clearance (which appears to have been successful in recent years) was not continued.
Cotoneaster spp. together with native scrub spreading over the hillside

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Gelli Grin and Bryn Bedwog

This visit was one of the Merioneth Nats series and Sarah Stille will probably also write a report on her blog so mine will be brief.

We visited several different monads, starting in Gelli Grin where we hoped to find interesting base-loving flora around a small quarry, although in fact we found little. A patch of Galium odoratum, woodruff, was nice to find and a reasonable list but nothing spectacular.

Later we moved on towards Bryn Bedwog, past a lake where we found another new record of Glyceria maxima, reed sweet-grass, and also encountered some interesting wildlife during our lunch break! I still have the snout marks on my car.

At Bryn Bedwog we headed for some crags; apparently there were old lime kilns in the area and again we were hoping for some calcareous species. We did find an interesting Hieracium which is as yet undetermined...
Unknown Hieracium at Bryn Bedwog
Still, it was a nice day out if late in the season. Its interesting to note how different some familiar species are when they are beginning to fade in autumn.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Telegraph!

Breaking News: the Telegraph likes the BSBI... a short article in the national press... are we going to be besieged with new members? 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Christmas cards available online

Alex has now set up an online payment system from the Wales page of the main BSBI website so you can order cards that way and pay using PayPal. If you aren't able to do this email me and you can arrange to send a cheque. Hopefully we'll sell some in Edinburgh this week but I'm looking forward to seeing some orders coming in. The cards look nice printed in a silk finish, at A6/ approx 4" x 6" (we are an environmental charity so nothing too big - think of the trees).

Jobs advertised at CCW

Just a quick note to say that CCW have got a new Life project - a significant amount of new funding for a series of projects carrying out maintenance and restoration on Natura 2000 sites (the sites protected under European legislation - SACs and SPAs). There are a number of jobs advertised (2 year fixed term contracts) which could be of interest to anyone trying to work in conservation in Wales. See this link.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Christmas card competition - the result is in!

So after considerable deliberation and debate we have a winner for the Christmas card competition. Three out of four judges included this in their top three choices - and such was the quality of the entries that no other photograph came close. Lots of the entries were selected by one or two of the judges in their top three so congratulations to all the photographers! 

I (acting as judging coordinator) have to admit I was surprised at this choice at first, as I was, I now think, too predictable in considering the more traditional seasonal plants - especially the photos with a red/ green theme. But I have now agreed with the judges who valued this highly; I think it provides a striking and unusual image, with perhaps a Christmas starburst/ bauble quality to it, and what is more, it represents the BSBI's interests in vascular plants, and looking at plants in great detail. 

"Time" - Taraxacum agg. - Dandelion - Dant-y-Llew
Photographer: David Hill
Congratulations to David Hill, from Rhyl. David will be receiving a complimentary pack of these cards once we get them printed, and they will be available for all to buy. They will hopefully be on sale at the BSBI conference in Edinburgh (20th-21st Sept) and at the conference and exhibition meeting (and EGM to discuss the changes in BSBI's corporate structure) in Cambridge (23rd-24th Sept). I will also bring some to the Welsh Committee meeting in October. If you will be able to attend one of these events that will probably be the easiest way to buy them; however if not please get in touch to buy them directly from me - email me and I will let you know how to pay. I am anticipating receiving cash in person or cheques through the post but hope to also arrange online payment. 

The price will be 

  • £3 for 5 cards + envelopes
  • £5 for 10 cards + envelopes
  • £8 for 20 cards + envelopes
This is to include postage, and any profits will go direct to the BSBI.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A day out in Cwm Penmachno

On Friday I joined Wendy McCarthy and a group of Caernarvonshire botanists for a visit to Cwm Penmachno. Wendy had recorded in this tetrad before, but wanted to take a different route through the quarries and see if there were any interesting plants around a couple of lakes marked on the map.

In the end most of the interest of the day centred on non-flowering plants, beginning with rustyback, Asplenium ceterach, on walls, and then moving through other ferns and also clubmosses (at least one member of the group was also looking at the bryophytes as well). Maidenhair spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes, has several subspecies; ssp. quadrivalens is typically found on walls where mortar leads to base-rich conditions while ssp. trichomanes is more typical of acidic habitats. We found a putative hybrid between the two, much more vigorous and larger than usual. We also spent some time looking at the male-ferns, Dryopteris spp., in order to identify the different species, including (I think) D. oreades, mountain male-fern, D. affinis, scaly male-fern and D. borreri, Borrer's scaly male-fern. I must admit I am not very confident in the identification of all of these, but one of the benefits of spending a day out with other botanists is always the chance to learn more about the species you encounter and Friday was no exception - especial thanks to Wendy, Martin and Paul.
Maidenhair spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes - putative hybrid between subspecies?
 We also found two species of clubmoss - the fir clubmoss, Huperzia selago, and stag's-horn clubmoss, Lycopodium clavatum. This was found in some spectacular patches, and also exhibiting the typical forking fertile shoots.
Stag's-horn clubmoss, Lycopodium clavatum
As well as botanical interest, we had some great views, although a brisk wind kept our coats on the sky was clear for much of the day and views down the valley were lovely.
View from the quarry down Cwm Penmachno
 We made our way to this lake hoping to find a range of aquatic plants. Sadly it turned out to be a flooded quarry without much marginal vegetation. However, what it lacked botanically it made up for in scenery, especially with the rocky (and dripping) overhang at one end.
Flooded quarry lake 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Edinburgh conference

Hopefully most BSBI members will already be aware of the conference we are organising this year: A Great leap forward – Biological Recording since the 1962 Atlas of the British Flora. It should be a fascinating two days with a great range of speakers and topics lined up. I will certainly be going, and I know of a few other Welsh botanists planning to travel up too. It is at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, on 20-21 September 2012; all the details are available via the BSBI website including the ability to register and pay online! It would be good to see lots of people there!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Christmas card competition... closing now!

With a grand total of 24 entries (unless more come in tonight) I am now closing the competition. Please comment on the entries and suggest which one you think should win. The judges' decision will be final but they will try to take into account any views expressed...

Please have a look at the entries here. 

Hunting for bog orchids...

On Monday a few of us visited part of the Cadair Idris SSSI, partly in order to search for Hammarbya paludosa, bog orchid. This hasn't been recorded since 1975, and was not numerous then. However, it is a very small and inconspicuous plant, flowering fairly late in the season, and so it is probably easily overlooked. 

Hunting around a flush for Hammarbya
We were not successful in our search, although we did carry out some useful recording in an interesting site. One flush which appeared fairly base-rich included species such as Selaginella selaginoides, Briza media and Crepis paludosa. 

Crepis paludosa, marsh hawk's-beard, in fruit.
As Hammarbya is quite possibly under-recorded we would welcome any recent records - and perhaps it is a good excuse to visit some interesting areas. It is said to grow on Sphagnum and amongst grasses and on peaty edges of streams and runnels in the uplands. Curiously, it is the only orchid in Britain where the flowers are "upside down" - with the lips at the top. It is only a few centimetres high and greenish, so would reward careful hunting (excessive trampling is thought to encourage the bulbils to pop out of the ground).

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Top Ten Families

On Saturday we had a BSBI training meeting which was a first for me - an introduction to the Top Ten Families of wild flowers in Britain.

We had a mixture of attendees including BSBI members, those considering BSBI membership, and local people - some relative beginners while others were wanting to polish up their skills. The venue was the Rhydymwyn Valley Nature Reserve, where we were fortunate enough to be assisted by Joe Phillips and Noreen who are both regular volunteers at the site and were able to escort us round the Reserve.

Members of the course with a range of plant specimens.
The idea behind the course is that within the British flora many of the most common plants belong to a relatively small number of families. By taking the time to examine members of these families in more detail you can become more familiar with them and hopefully for a wide range of plants get to the right section of the book more quickly. Of course, one day is not really long enough but hopefully it was useful.

For anyone that was wondering, the Top Ten Families (for this purpose) are:
Buttercup, Campion, Cabbage, Rose, Pea, Carrot, Deadnettle, Figwort, Daisy, Lily
or if you prefer the more formal names
Ranunculaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Brassicaceae, Rosaceae, Fabaceae, Apiaceae, Lamiaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Asteraceae, Liliaceae.

I think there is plenty of room for debate about whether they are really the Top Ten but there are good reasons for choosing them...

Photo competition - last call!

All has been a little quiet and I have neglected to round up the Christmas Card competition. As I will be off to Ireland on Friday (first for the Irish BSBI AGM and then for a holiday) I will allow one more day (I believe there may be one or two people who haven't sent me anything yet) and so before I leave I will post up the final entry list and then I will need opinions on which should be the winner.

Do have a look at the entries we've received so far and if you have some lovely (perhaps seasonal?) photographs lurking in your files why not send me one or two - anyone can enter, you don't even have to be a BSBI member!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Caerdeon - the first Merionethshire recording week

Following on from the Glynhir week in Carmarthenshire, a new venture was tried last week with a four-day recording meeting based at Plas Caerdeon in Merionethshire. There were 15 residential botanists, some from Wales but some from as far as Hampshire and Kent. A few more managed to join us for day trips.

Summer seemed to have arrived for North Wales at last as we had fine weather - although one group did get briefly soaked in a shower, the other groups on the same day saw no rain.

Sarah Stille's organisation over the previous months had paid off, as she had a long list of sites to visit, and the group split up each day so that three sites were recorded. This included woodland, coastal, upland and farmland sites, so plenty of variety was available. 

I spent the first day in oak woodland (plus a bit of farmland); the second day also in oak woodland but with some wet heath and a lake; the third day in upland farmland and the fourth day in meadows. 

Hymenophyllum wilsonii - Wilson's filmy fern
Highlights included finding a good population of Wilson's filmy fern (see above) growing on a rock in oak woodland and some new finds (by other members of the group) including a new record of Sedum forsterianum - rock stonecrop. Many records for Merionethshire are only known at hectad (10 km square) level and so this week was an additional chance to record in tetrads (2km squares) and preferably monads (1 km squares). By the end of four days of scribing, I had 785 records to pass on to Sarah (not by any means all my own work - thanks to all those I spent days with) and so when another two groups were also counted we must have added some detailed dots to the map - and passed four days in good botanical company, with a good chance to improve skills and learn from others. All in all it was a great success and we're looking forward to next year already although it might be a bit different for me with an 8-month baby in tow? 

Monday, 23 July 2012

Glynhir 2012

Last week saw what has become over some years a regular gathering of botanists in Carmarthenshire. Around 16 people stayed in comfort at Glynhir Mansion, where excellent home cooking and the screeches of peacocks combine to make an unforgettable setting. While most of the group were there for a full week, I was only able to spend three days there, but still had three fascinating days out.

On Monday we visited part of the SSSI at Rhosydd Llanpumsaint and were fortunate enough to be accompanied by local CCW staff who were able to give some insight into the management. The site is dominated by pingos or ground-ice depressions, an unusual glacial landform, which have allowed the development of a range of different bog habitats. Unfortunately the weather was very wet, although it did clear slightly in the afternoon.

Perhaps the cool weather had confused this lizard who was probably
trying to get warm -and thought Alison's coat a good bet!

Tuesday saw a visit to the National Wetland Centre at Llanelli, where Barry Stewart was requesting assistance to determine a putative new species of duckweed, Lemna valdiviana. The group recorded especially wetland plants in a number of ponds and ditches, with special thanks to Barry who seemed ever willing to wade in and hook out some specimens for inspection. We finished the day with a sticky muddy trip over the saltmarshes to find the Zostera  (eelgrass) beds - to record this curious plant which is the most marine species found in Britain (compared to most saltmarsh plants, this is found lower in the intertidal zone)

Intrepid Barry hooking out pondweeds

Zostera  on estuarine mud at Llanelli
On Wednesday I spent the day with Andy Jones exploring the floodplains of the Afon Tywi. Our aim was to find Persicaria minor, small water-pepper, which has been recorded around ponds at nearby Dinefwr Castle. Logically, we argued, it should also be found around ditches and oxbow ponds elsewhere on the floodplain. We spent a good day (the rain which was torrential at breakfast-time cleared rapidly once we left) searching along the margins and recorded a reasonable number of species. However, there was no sign of Persicaria minor and so the challenge remains. One reason to search for this species is that it is included in the BSBI's Threatened Plants Project this year, so anyone who knows of a population is requested to fill in a form so we can gain a better understanding of this species.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

BSBI represents Citizen Science on BBC Radio Wales

I have just been to a recording at BBC Radio Wales for a programme called Science Cafe, where the topic was Citizen Science. This will be broadcast next Tuesday 10th July at 7pm, repeated on Sunday 15th July at 6.30am, and available for a week on the BBC iplayer. Follow the link to see any details as they come up. 

It is certainly true that BSBI members and other botanists have been carrying out citizen science since long before the term was invented. Without the contribution of amateur (including many expert) botanists  - and botanists working in their free time - there would be no possibility of projects like the Atlases of the British Flora (1962, 2002), and there would be very little data available for national projects such as the Red Data Lists. So thank-you to all our ongoing volunteers and if anyone reading this is not yet actively recording feel free to contact me, or your local vice-county recorder, to find out how you could become involved.

10th July - the programme was broadcast today and is available now on the BBC radioplayer for 7 days. A great contribution from Dr Goronwy Wynne, the retired vice-county recorder for Flintshire. 

23rd July - the programme is no longer available via the BBC. However, an .mp3 file (with the music removed) is now available here - this can be downloaded at 37MB (so don't attempt it on a very slow connection). 

Anglesey - in the rain again!

Yesterday a day out on Anglesey to round up some of the remaining populations of Tuberaria guttata, spotted rock-rose. Unfortunately the weather was not in our favour but the plants were still quite recognisable although no flowers were visible in the morning in heavy showers. Interestingly in the afternoon about 4.30pm (when the petals would usually have dropped off) we did see some flowers which appeared to be only recently opened; perhaps they were stimulated to open late because of the late afternoon sunshine?

We also saw a large patch of Cuscuta epithymum, dodder. This fascinating and curious plant is completely parasitic on a range of species - especially gorse, as was the case here. With no chlorophyll and hardly any leaves, after germination the wiry red stems twine around the host plant and the roots die off. Specialised organs called haustoria are inserted into the host plant allowing the dodder to extract the water and nutrients it requires.

Note: postscript, this appears to be a site where dodder has not been recorded recently although it was mentioned in R.H. Roberts The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Anglesey. However, there was no grid reference.

Dodder - Cuscuta epithymum on gorse - Ulex gallii

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Christmas card competition!

The AGM was also a chance to launch our new Christmas card competition; details are on the page at the side of this blog.

There are already two entries (but currently anonymous to allow blind judging - check back to find out the winners later). I think the standard has been set high and what is more we have some rather surprising candidates for a festive winter theme.

Please send more entries - all you need to do is to email your entries to me at


Last week was certainly a busy one for Welsh BSBI members with the Welsh AGM near Llangollen. Three days with field trips was a slightly daunting prospect given the weather forecast but as usual a good time was had despite the weather. 
On Wednesday I was persuaded at short notice to lead the walk along the canal to the basin at Trevor - not stunning botanically but we did find some interesting thistles - Carduus nutans, musk thistle, and Silybum marianum, milk thistle. And the weather was sunny enough for some members to buy icecreams at the canal basin. 

On Thursday I led a group around the Alyn Waters Country Park, which revealed some great displays of Orchis apifera, bee orchid and Listera ovata, twayblade. The weather was not dry, but mainly misty and drizzly, we had a good walk around much of the site (although there was still more to see) and the sun was trying to come out by the time we had to leave. 

The hotel seemed excellent (although I was not resident) and we enjoyed three-course dinners, plus on Thursday drinks at the expense of the late Commander John Topp, to whom we are most grateful! We also had a wonderful exhibition (and a workshop) on roses from Kate Thorne and were treated to a showing of the new exhibition on Inspirational Botanists (Welsh women) from the National Botanic Garden of Wales. 

Unfortunately I was not very active with my camera so no field pictures, but thanks to John Crellin for this of the exhibition.
Downy and dog roses - Photo John Crellin

Monday, 18 June 2012

In the rain in Breconshire...

On Saturday I joined John Crellin's walk near Hay-on-Wye. The weather forecast was not encouraging, and the day was spent in waterproofs although there were bright enough spells to at least undo the coats from time to time! 
Enjoying a short break at lunch-time (and the bare heads indicate a break in the rain) Photo: John Crellin 

However, the rain couldn't dampen the spirits of the botanists - we met in Hay and then split into two groups for long and short walks. The longer group covered around six miles and took in a few interesting sites for Neottia (previously Listera) ovata, common twayblade and Saxifraga granulata, meadow saxifrage (although we were a month too late for the flowers on this) en route to the main sites of interest. 

We visited two SSSIs - Caeau Cwmcaenant which is a beautiful hay meadow with good populations of several orchids including Dactylorhiza fuchsii, common spotted-orchid, Gymnadenia conopsea, fragrant-orchid and Platanthera chlorantha, greater butterfly-orchid (although we were probably a couple of weeks early for this) - there were large numbers of flowering spikes to the point where we were concerned not to step on them. 

Between the sites we also stopped to look at a bank with Helleborus viridis, green hellebore, growing on a bank. 

Green hellebore Helleborus viridis above Cilonw Brook. Photo: John Crellin 

The second SSSI was Hen-Allt Common which includes areas of grassland and woodland but especially interesting are the calcareous flushes where you can find Blysmus compressus, flat sedge - the only site in Wales. The site also holds an exceptional population of Colchicum autumnale, meadow saffron, which in June has large thick leaves and fruiting capsules (when it flowers in autumn it has no leaves). Due to the botanical interest resulting in many stops and the passage of time I ended up leaving the group after this point but I understand they also found Trollius europaeus, globeflower and Neottia nidus-avis, bird's nest orchid before leaving the site. 

Despite the dampness I think the group all enjoyed the day greatly - the rain was not too continuous and there were plenty of botanical treats to keep the interest up - and an interesting mix of botanists from new to old BSBI members including neighbouring vice-county recorders and CCW staff who were able to provide information on the species seen and the management of the sites. 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Monitoring spotted rock rose (Tuberaria guttata)

Our field visit yesterday included representatives from the Countryside Council for Wales, North Wales Wildlife Trust, RSPB and BSBI as well as interested local botanists. The spotted rock rose (Tuberaria guttata) is Anglesey's county flower and very restricted on a few sites (it is also found in Wales on one site on the Lleyn peninsula, and a few scattered sites in Ireland and the Channel Isles).  Organisations like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trust, which own some of the sites, have been carrying out regular counts for some years, while other sites in private ownership are less often visited. While meeting on a site, we aimed to carry out some survey and also agree a consistent method to be applied at all the sites, by a range of different people. The discussion was fairly wide-ranging including questions of whether counting colonies or populations is useful (it probably depends upon the number - with large numbers estimates are necessary); whether tiny plants should be counted equally with large ones, and how to draw a sketch map or take a useful photograph. 
Discussion around a patch of Tuberaria
The management and monitoring of an annual species which can be subject to large natural fluctuations in population size causes some difficulties. As does the counting. In the photograph below the two plants with flowers on are obvious. What about the 30+ other plants? All of these will also produce flowers although each flower only lasts a few hours. Around lunch time one can watch as a flower suddenly loses all its petals within seconds.
Two flowers, and over 30 non-flowering plants
 Another Anglesey speciality was Viola lactea - pale dog violet - identified in Anglesey by its truncate to cuneate leaf bases (never cordate as in Viola riviniana).
Pale dog-violet
Viola lactea

Spignel in Merionethshire

I went  with Sarah Stille to monitor a population of Meum athamanticum - spignel. This site has been 
Flowering head with pink-tinged petals 

known for a while and the population seems to be growing happily around the margins of a field of fertilised and grazed grassland. Perhaps it favours the well-drained banks, or could it be that there is less nutrient enrichment around these margins (the farmer was spreading muck on the day that we visited, but little reached the Meum areas). The farmer thought we were a month early but there were plenty in flower at some patches - and even the vegetative plants were a distinctive yellowish green and easily distinguished from the grass. 

Looking at other photos on the web, however, I now wonder if these are rather small specimens - certainly compared to John Crellin's photos from Ben Lawers, on his site 

Sarah is also starting a blog to share her activities in Merionethshire (VC48). Last week there was a field trip to Cwm Hesgyn, which may have been relatively species-poor but still turned up some new species for the hectad. 
Dense flowering patches of Meum athamanticum
Another patch with few flowers (we should have gone later)

Antennaria dioica - sex ratios

Female flower heads
Male flower heads
Just over a week ago I visited one of Anglesey's sites for Antennaria dioica - mountain everlasting. I went with Ian Bonner, the vice-county recorder, who has been recording the sex of the flowers that he counts there. He said that at that point all the populations he had visited had been exclusively female. However, at this population on Cors Goch SSSI we found roughly 50% of each sex. Hopefully this is shown in my slightly blurry pictures.

The larger picture shows a number of flower heads and also the leaves with their distinctive silver felted undersides.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Recorders' Conference

Last weekend was the BSBI's Recorders'  Conference, held in Shrewsbury. The Welsh recorders were particularly well represented, although it was good for me to meet some of the recorders from the other countries, who I haven't yet met. There were some very interesting and useful workshops including one on conifers, focusing on the scaly-leaved species (Cupressus, Thuja, Chaemocyparis), one on Erophila Whitlowgrass, which is a good group to record at present, along with other early annuals. Erophila verna E. majuscula and E. glabrescens are all found in Britain, widespread although not necessarily common. There is a good drawing in the BSBI Crucifer handbook, and information in the Plant Crib, although some of the characters are subtle and determination by a referee may be preferable if you are not confident. Other workshops were on Betula and on vegetative ID, as well as on the BSBI's Distributional Database (DDb) and Herbaria at Home.

As expected, it was a good chance to hear what other botanists are doing; there was a fascinating talk by Paul Smith on his work in the Outer Hebrides - a truly challenging county, let any one else dare to complain about theirs. Paul seems to have a very organised approach to recording, but is also adding extra challenges, such as snorkelling in lakes for macrophytes.

For those who might be disappointed to have missed out, its probably time to make sure you have booked some of the other BSBI events - the national AGM in Reading on 12-13th May; the Welsh AGM near Llangollen on 20-22nd May, and a very exciting conference coming up in Edinburgh on 20-21st September.

Sibthorpia in South Wales

At the end of March I spent a few days in Carmarthenshire and Glamorgan trying to refind historical sites for Sibthorpia europaea Cornish Moneywort. We began around the Brechfa Forest, where Sam Bosanquet was able to show us a population he had visited fairly recently, so we were able to fix a search image in our minds. We then visited a few more old sites, with some success and some failure in refinding Sibthorpia. However, by the end of the day we had also found a couple of new sites. The habitat requirements of Sibthorpia seemed very specific, requiring steep, almost vertical bare mud with seeping water. Almost always associated with Chrysosplenium oppositifolium Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage Sibthorpia is so small and prostrate it could almost be mistaken for a bryophyte. Towards the end of the day we found ourselves driving around lanes, and discovered one new population simply by stopping in a suitable pull-in on a corner, where a small seepage of water comes down the bank. Unfortunately, Sibthorpia is not found every time these conditions occur. 
The bank where the largest population of Sibthorpia was found. Small patches were scattered throughout the area between the two surveyors. Photo: Alison Heath. 
A large dense patch of Sibthorpia. Note that the leaves are generally about 0.5-1cm and so much smaller than any similar species. Photograph: Alison Heath.
A roadside site where Sibthorpia is found on the bank beneath the hedge, especially adjacent to a pistyll or water spout. Photograph: Alison Heath. 

The following day I spent a few hours wading down a river slightly to the south, where Sibthorpia had previously been recorded along the bank. However, no sight of it on this occasion, although as well as the ever-present C. oppositifolium  there were occasional plants of C. alternifolium Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage and a lot of Saxifraga granulata meadow saxifrage. 

The third day was spent in Glamorgan, where Julian Woodman first took us to an open, reclaimed colliery site, where in a complete contrast to the Brechfa sites Sibthorpia could be found in small streams/ ditches running through Molinia purple moor-grass covered open land. Sadly, although we spent a lot of time searching along streams and banks, additional historical sites did not yield any up-to-date findings. 

As we searched, there was much speculation about why Sibthorpia should be so scarce and not found where apparently suitable conditions exist. It seems that it may form a meta-population and so individual populations may become extinct or re-established from time to time. The distribution mechanism is a matter for speculation, with one suggestion being that it is spread on the feet of woodcock, which like to forage in damp woods. However, we thought it unlikely that woodcock would be so frequent in some of the roadside sites. 
Small stream/ ditch through Molinia grassland where Sibthorpia was found in Glamorgan. 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Yellow star-of-Bethlehem - a hidden gem?

Yellow star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea is not a scarce plant in England, but is Endangered in the Welsh Red Data List - with one known native population. This population (in Denbighshire, near Llanarmon-yn-Ial) has been known for some decades. Delyth Williams (VCR for Denbighshire) and I were able to visit last week, and saw a number of flowering plants - although many appeared to have had the flowers bitten off (perhaps by pheasants?) Flowering is known to vary from year to year, but Delyth was disappointed to see fewer plants and none in some outlying patches compared to a visit she had made in 2009. 

The following day Delyth phoned me again to say she had heard from her predecessor, Jean Green, of another population of Gagea lutea, not far away, near Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd. I spoke to Jean, and today I was able to visit the site with the owner, who has known about it for some 20 years, although she may not have seen flowers every year. Only one flower, partly gone over, was visible today, but also large numbers of small narrow leaves. I think these were Gagea leaves, as where there were wider leaves present these had the characteristic ribs on the underside. However, when not flowering it is hard to be confident that the juvenile leaves are not those of Galanthus, Hyacinthoides or Narcissus, which were all present. 

Interestingly, this small patch of limestone woodland has been used by a young boy who rides a toy quad bike around, and it now appears that the disturbance of creating a small track may have stimulated or exposed some seeds or bulbils, which have grown up in dense patches - and are now being protected! It appears that one of the threats may be competition from ransoms, Allium ursinum, which has been suppressed by the clearance. The owner is now talking about carrying out a little limited clearance of the Allium in places where Gagea has not been seen for several years, to see if the same process can be stimulated. 

I also saw one of the most beautiful woods I have seen for a while - dominated by ash Fraxinus excelsior but with a beautiful ground flora of bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta, anemones Anemone nemorosa, white violets Viola odorata and wild daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus. It is almost impossible to be certain of the purity of the daffodils, as cultivated types have been planted around nearby houses, but it is certainly a beautiful sight. No Gagea here, although we did find some similarly narrow bright green leaves, but it seemed more likely that they belonged to the bluebells or wild daffodils. 

Meanwhile, Gagea lutea remains a small mystery. This brings the known populations in Denbighshire from one to two. There is an unverified record in Cardiff, and several in Radnorshire. However, it is not thought to be native in Radnorshire. There is still time in the next few weeks to visit potential sites so I would encourage anyone to go and have a look. What better place to be on a sunny March day than in a limestone woodland! 

A walk in the gorge

Last week saw a small expedition in Radnorshire with the main aim to find and monitor the rare wood fescue Festuca altissima. This is a grass that prefers steep shaded crags and slopes in wet western valleys. Interesting, but also challenging to reach! There are several possible routes to the site, involving a choice between bashing through brambles, wading over rocks in the river (perilously just over wellie-depth in places) or balancing up and down steep and loose earthy banks. Apparently Kilvert favoured being lowered down on bell-ropes, but this would only be recommended to those with the knowledge and confidence to attempt abseiling. 
The gorge to give scale (Photo: JR Crellin)

Having attempted a visit in the summer, we decided a repeat would be useful in winter as F. altissima is wintergreen, and more easily counted in the absence of other green leaves. However, it remained a challenge - including an identification challenge when we questioned whether our plant was really F. altissima or the less exciting   wood millet Milium effusum. Eventually confident (subject to a final determination) we estimated over 50-100 clumps, with most scattered over one steep slope, and others scattered on ledges.
Wood fescue Festuca altissima (Photo: JR Crellin)
Festuca altissima  - the largest site (Photo: JR Crellin)

Examining F. altissima on ledges below the waterfall (Photo: JR Crellin)

Eventually we were stopped by a deep pool and waterfall - I wonder if there could be more F. altissima on the really inaccessible slopes beyond. A major challenge for someone? 

We also found alternate-leaved golden saxifrage Chrysosplenium alternifolium growing on a dead and moss-covered tree trunk. (Photo: JR Crellin)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

February 2012

It feels like we are already gearing up for spring and serious recording can begin before long. Having said that, there is plenty out there that can be recorded now – especially if you heard Dr Tim Rich of the National Museum of Wales, talking about how many plants were flowering early in January on the BBC. And while the trees are still bare, it would be a great time to try to track down mistletoe (Viscum album) in your area, or to survey snowdrops and other early flowers. We are thinking about how to record plant status, so recording snowdrops and whether you consider them to be planted, naturalised or native could be an interesting exercise.

At the same time, though, I am planning which of the BSBI’s field meetings I may be able to attend this year – an exciting time of anticipation. Many of the vice-county recorders are sending out programmes for local field meetings, so if you are not on your local recorder’s mailing list why not contact them and ask if they are organising anything this year?

I am just back from a monitoring workshop organised by CCW where I gave a presentation about the potential for volunteers to contribute to rare plant monitoring – as the BSBI has been doing for many years. In these tightened financial times there was considerable talk about how volunteers can be best used, and I think we should welcome the chance to cooperate closely with agencies such as CCW. It adds value to the work that we do if we consider how it can be best used in conservation.

Another theme was remote sensing, and although it is fascinating to see what can be done with satellite images, one of the take-home messages was that field botanists/ ecologists will still be needed when it comes to surveying individual species, and even with habitats there will always be a need for extensive field work to provide “ground  truths”.
For your diaries, there is an International Fascination of Plants Day on 18th May, with events in Cardiff (the University in conjunction with the Museum). For more information see the website at:

November 2011

It’s now five months into the job and I’m still enjoying it. I have now visited the vice county recorders in nine of the thirteen Welsh vice-counties and I am amazed at the work they do. Some carry out their recording in addition to full-time jobs, although most of these work in some ecological capacity and will collect some records in the course of their work. Others have been in position for several decades and have collated an astounding body of detailed records. 

Having recently visited Arthur Chater, I was given an electronic copy of his Flora of Cardiganshire. Whether or not you have a hard copy of the book, I can recommend the electronic version. It is searchable so you can quickly find the species you are interested in (no need for the index) and also includes high resolution versions of many of the photographs, which you can enlarge on screen. Unfortunately the file is too large to be easily downloaded, but you can get a copy via Alex Lockton, as detailed on the main website.