Friday, 11 October 2019

The State of Nature Report for Wales 2019

The State of Nature Report 2019 was released last Friday and unfortunately it again charts continued wildlife declines across the UK with 13% of declines in average species abundance since 1970. There is also a short summary for Wales which is available to view or download from the BSBI Wales webpage.

The vascular plants of Wales do not escape from the general picture outlined in the UK report. Of the 1,467 Wales Red book plant species assessed in the State of Nature report, 38 have been classed as extinct and a further 18% are threatened with extinction within the country.

As nearly nine tenths of Wales is agricultural land, changes in agricultural practice have been a major factor behind the increasing rarity of plant species. If we take just a single important habitat, more than 90% of semi-natural grasslands have been lost in Wales since the 1930s.

However, it is important to remember that many farmers are shouldering the extra burden of conserving the wildlife on their farms and they are carrying out this task on top of a harder working day than most of us could cope with.

As an example, tenant farmers in the Elan Valley have been working with Natural Resources Wales to restore grasslands to wildflower richness. After just 10 years of suitable management (light manure applications and liming) these grasslands were almost as wildflower rich as adjacent SSSI meadows. You can read more about this in a report from Natural Resources Wales

Again, the National Botanic Gardens of Wales has successfully been restoring hay meadows in Waun Las. In June I saw how lovely these meadows have become, with plentiful Greater Butterfly-orchids (Platanthera chlorantha), Eyebright (Euphraisa spp) and Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor). You can read more about this here. An important part of this transformation was the spreading of green hay from nearby meadows by a local farmer.

A Greater Butterfly-orchid from the restored hay meadows at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales
The conclusions for Wales in the report are tempered by fewer robust trends in species abundance than for other countries in the UK. This is because Wales has a smaller human population and fewer people recording wildlife.

This makes the efforts of the volunteers in Wales who record and survey wildlife all the more valuable - including the BSBI's County recorders and their helpers. We would love to get even more people involved next spring. As BSBI's Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker explains here, it's thanks to the "national army of volunteer recorders" that we've been able to provide the "most complete picture ever assembled of the state of Britain's wildlife". So why not join us? Just take a look at our Local Botany page where you can find out what recording activities they have planned. You would be very welcome to attend and we can offer lots of help for anyone wishing to get started in recording our wonderful Welsh wild flowers.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

The National Plant Monitoring Scheme ... time to think about next year!

As the botanical field season draws to a close this is a good time to plan next year's outings. We will still get the odd day of reasonable weather and you could use it to recce a National Plant Monitoring scheme  (NPMS) square for 2020.

The NPMS is a joint citizen science project managed by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, including Plantlife and the BSBI as major partners. The new scheme was launched in 2015 and it has been carefully designed by scientists to provide good quality statistically amenable data with subsequently road tested by volunteers. You really don't have to be a botanical expert to take part - you can choose to survey at the "Wildflower level".

To take part register for a square on the NPMS website National Plant Monitoring Scheme choosing one of the randomly selected squares which you like the look of. (This aspect of the scheme is a bit like the Breeding Bird Survey).

You'll get sent a pack with the survey guidelines, a plant identification guide and a OS map of your chosen square. When a weather window opens, go and take a look at the square, keeping to footpaths or other public access areas. If you still feel happy with the square you'll need to think about which parts of it you will need to gain access to in order to survey the 5 required plots.

Think about covering a range of the NPMS habitats within the square, prioritising ponds and flushes. Remember that if you are surveying in a woodland your plot will be 10x10m in size and not the normal 5x5m or 1x25m size.

Finding out landowner information to acquire access permission can be tricky. You could use it as an excuse for a drink in the local pub or just ask at a nearby farm. Obviously you need to be careful not to be too intrusive here and a letter of introduction is provided with the pack.

Once access permission has been gained you might wish to visit your square again before surveying begins in earnest next May. It is worthwhile spending a bit of time locating exactly where your 5 plots should be.

A GPS is handy for this and it will help you find the plots again via the "find" feature. However if you don't have one of these you could download a GPS app onto your smartphone ( most are free).

If you are surveying in an open field and relying on an app it is harder to refind your plot.  In this case sketching a map of the features is essential. In particular you might want to note features which line up near the skyline on the corner of your plot. You could do this for both axes of the plot if the area is very open and featureless. This is usually so effective you could actually find your plot more quickly this way than trying to follow a shifting arrow on a GPS unit!
Lining up features on the skyline for a plot in a open field

Then with much of the ground work done you will be able to focus on the more enjoyable botanical recording next spring. I was lucky enough to find Marsh-marigolds (Caltha palustris) in my wet woodland plot - scatterings of glossy gold gleaming in the filtered green light. I also found some Wood Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) nearby which seems to be only a second record for the hectad. Who knows what you will find?

A few of the Marsh-marigolds in my woodland NPMS plot