Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Year in Botany



We are well into 2019 but I am only just getting round to writing my now traditional OxBot 'Year in Botany'. It may have been a bit of a poor year for blog posts, but 2018 was another good one for botanising in Oxfordshire.

In terms of botanical highlights, many came at the beginning of the season. As summarised in previous posts, new populations of Eriophorum angustifolium (common cottongrass) and Oenanthe silaifolia (narrow-leaved waterdropwort) were found this yearCystopteris fragilis (brittle bladder-fern) was refound for the county, and there was the strange case of Althaea officinalis (marshmallow) appearing at Otmoor. There were also new sites for other rare plants such as Myosurus minimus (mousetail) and Gymnocarpium robertianum (limestone fern). Recording also turned up new sites for the acid-loving species Juncus bulbosus (bulbous rush) in the Chilterns and a new hectad record for the locally rare Agrostis vinealis (brown bent) and Carex binervis (green-ribbed sedge), found at Foxhills.

The highlight of 2018 for me has been the volume of data going into the BSBI database, over 29,000 records. That is about 3,000 more than any previous year in the Atlas 2020 recording period, so as we enter the final year of recording it is great that we are sustaining and building upon the momentum of the last few seasons. Around 5,000 records came from Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre via our data sharing agreement, and Tim Harrison sent me an amazing 6,000 from SU79 and other parts of the Oxfordshire Chilterns. There were also solid contributions from outings led by Sally Abbey and Frances Watkins, and big individual contributions from Roger Heath-Brown, Frank Hunt and Clare Malonelee. I am very grateful for the efforts of everybody who sent me records in 2018.

If you would like to see the difference your contribution has made this last or any previous year, I have updated my Atlas progress map. In addition to showing the tetrad coverage, records and recording rate, you can now also see the equivalent for hectads, and compare the current recording period (2000-2019) with the recording period for the New Atlas (1987-1999). The squares now also link to hectad lists as well as tetrad lists, useful for identifying taxa that are still needing to be found for the current Atlas. Apologies if you don't like the grey colour scheme - if you can suggest an improvement then I will change it!

Finally, the Atlas is not just about going out recording and finding nice things but also about getting the data into shape for publication. I am sure you will be fascinated to know that this year I have managed to make substantial progress with checking the BSBI's data holding for the county, having looked at over 270,000 records. This has created further work, having identified about 1,000 records that need following up. Of course the best way to check records is to do so at the point at which they are sent me by the recorder - I am very grateful for recorders' help in resolving my queries about their records. This can be quite time consuming, so when you are out recording please do remember that any extra information you can provide with a record, especially status, accurate grid references and notes, helps with the verification process.

Looking forward, there's plenty to be excited about this year, not least the final year of Atlas recording. For instance, on Saturday 9th March the Oxfordshire Flora Group (OFG) is hosting a conference at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford on the topic of 'The Dynamics of the Oxfordshire Flora' - a programme for the conference can be found on the OFG website. There will of course be plenty of field meetings this year, and I have added a provisional programme to the events calendar. I hope to see you at some of these or other events this year!

Monday, 15 October 2018

BSBI recorders' conference

I have just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable BSBI recorders' conference at FSC Preston Montford near Shrewsbury. The conference is one of the main events in the BSBI calendar, when vice county recorders, taxonomic referees, BSBI staff, active recorders and anyone else interested in the British flora come together to discuss topical botanical issues and learn yet more about plants. The conference this year was very much focused on training and the future of botany in Britain and Ireland, and there was much lively discussion around these. The many workshops included docks and willowherbs, Abies (firs), how to press plants, and introductions to critical taxa such as Taraxacum and brambles. The slides and training material from all the talks and workshops will soon be available from the BSBI website.

We had a useful update on Atlas 2020 from Pete Stroh, BSBI science officer, recent appointee to the new position of English officer and Atlas 2020 coordinator. Pete told us about the likely outputs of the Atlas 2020 project: a printed book, similar to the previous New Atlas; a smaller less dense publication summarising the findings; and an online format, similar to the existing online New Atlas but with greater scope for extra detail on distribution, ecology and conservation. He also set us the deadline of the end of December 2019 for all data entry and validation for Atlas 2020 — if you are sitting on records please therefore think about sending me them this winter!

Local botanists using the BRC's iRecord website or app to collect and store their records will be interested to hear about progress in linking the iRecord database with the BSBI's Distribution Database (DDb). Our own Oli Pescott of BRC gave a talk on iRecord, informing the audience that all being well the two databases will be talking to each other by the New Year. Records imported to the DDb from iRecord will be held in a 'quarantine' area from where they can be liberated by county recorders.

You would think that I might have some nice photographs of botanists conferring by which to remember this excellent event. Not so. Without apology, the only images I collected were of dead plants stuck to paper, and dead roses at that. I had taken with me a stack of Oxon's best and weirdest roses to subject to the scrutiny of the BSBI Rosa referee. I was very pleased to have confirmed specimens from Sydlings Copse Nature Reserve tentatively identified as Rosa obtusifolia x micrantha (third from left below) and R. micrantha x rubiginosa (=R. x bigeneris) (second from left below). Both are rare roses and new county records. The former is also at Aston Rowant, as reported last autumn. Also confirmed was R. sherardii x canina (=R. x rothschildii, first on left below) at the reserve, making it one of the best sites for roses in the county. The referee was less convinced by my several possible R. obtusifolia x arvensis (=R. x rouyana) (below right). A really odd rose that had completely stumped me also proved unnameable (right). Such intractable specimens are part of the fun and frustration of roses.

The next BSBI event is the Annual Exhibition Meeting on 17th November. Will you be coming along?

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Botanising in Northants

The new recorders for Northamptonshire (VC32), Alyson Freeman and Brian Laney, have asked me to publicise botanical goings-on over the border this weekend. If you would be interested in joining them recording the Northants parts of Banbury this Sunday 30th and Middleton Chaney and Chacombe on Monday 1st October, then please contact Alyson via alysonfreeman0@gmail.com for further information. Unfortunately I cannot be there but it'd be good to have an Oxon contingent to support our neighbours in their recording.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Botanical finds this summer

Botanical activity over the last couple of months has been generating a lot of records and some fantastic finds. Activity has included two recording meetings organised by myself, an 'official' BSBI field outing to Nettlebed Common, as well as numerous other formal and informal recording meetings and other kinds of survey undertaken by local botanists. As it is about time that I posted something, I thought I would blog about some of the highlights.

The biggest surprise of the season (so far) is the double re-appearance of the nationally scarce Althaea officinalis (marsh mallow) in the county, with one site at Otmoor and the other by the Thames near Shiplake. Usually a plant of brackish marshes at coastal sites, A. officinalis was reported by Druce as appearing in a ditch at Long Meadow near Iffley/Oxford in the 1830s, and was more recently recorded as a casual from the Oxford tip. Where these newly recorded plants could have come from is a mystery. The Otmoor plant appeared a few years following the cutting of a hedge by a ditch on the RSPB reserve, and could have appeared from buried seed. Perhaps more plausibly as it is growing by a footpath, it could have been accidentally introduced from a visiting birder (it also grows at RSPB Minsmere). If it were an introduction, it seems odd that it should appear simultaneously with another plant at the other end of the county, but then it has never been known from Otmoor and is the habitat at either site right?