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 

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