Monday, 24 April 2017

Waterend and Beacon's Bottom

Botanists using the BRC's iRecord app to record bush vetch (right) growing on a road verge in Waterend.
The first meeting of the year is always an event to look forward to, and Sunday 23rd was the first of the botanical recording meetings I will be organising this season. The meeting was based in Waterend, a small hamlet to the east of Stokenchurch (SU79), and was attended by seven botanists.

For the morning we were very kindly hosted by a member of the party, and tea was a welcome accompaniment to the serious matter of the meeting: the where, how and what of botanical recording! For this was no ordinary square bash, but an opportunity to learn in a more focused (I hesitate to call it structured) way how to go about gathering botanical records.  Ostensibly this was to provide help and encouragement to locals interested in recording for Atlas 2020, for which there is much to do in Oxfordshire, particularly in the Chilterns where the meeting was held.

Where a record is from is perhaps the most important piece of information attached to it, and gathered round the garden table in bright sunshine and with the Ordnance Survey map of SU79 spread before us we started at the very basics of how to read a map reference. Then, what is this mysterious talk of 10km (hectad), 1km (monad) and 2km (tetrad) squares that recorders deal in? The published Atlas 2020 will, like previous BSBI atlases, consist of dot maps at 10km resolution, so the importance of the hectad as the main recording unit was emphasized. We discussed how to approach sampling such a large area by means of tetrads: this is quite a lot of work and the discussion was tempered with a reminder that we are all volunteers and recording is supposed to feel fun. None of us who take on squares to record should therefore feel over-burdened by the responsibility, and contribute whatever we are able to or find interesting.

The 'how' of recording engendered the greatest discussion. I think the method is very much down to the individual, working out what best suits them. My preference for recording plants is to use the BSBI recording card, but this is rather forbidding for new botanists or recorders who prefer English names. Digitising records can also be quite time consuming. An alternative that obviates this is the Biological Record Centre's (BRC) new iRecord mobile app, using which one can remotely add records to the BRC's database of plant records; its use was later illustrated in the field. iRecord, in both its mobile and online manifestations, is an increasingly popular recording tool, and it is easy to see the appeal. The subject of Mapmate, Recorder and other systems was also raised, but the main topic for the day was the actual business of recording rather than the management of databases of records. For further information on collecting records and of getting records to me, the county recorder, see the about recording page, which following the meeting I will be revising.

Finally, the 'what' of recording was raised. This was briefly dealt with: we are recording all vascular plants and charophytes! The caveat is plants in cultivated places, including gardens and arable fields. I think that this is something of a grey area that no single policy can address completely satisfactorily — the best advice here is therefore to use ones judgement and collect extra detail. Thus, record the garden weeds but not the obviously planted garden species, and include information on the status of less clear-cut cases e.g. naturalised garden plants, planted street trees or hedging; if you think a native species has been introduced (e.g. cowslips on a road verge) then record it as such, else it will usually be assumed native in the database.

As I had spent the morning making recording sound like an awfully complicated business, after lunch we headed out to practice recording and quickly found it to be straightforward and fun (good company helps). Before starting any recording there was a short walk from Waterend to our allotted 1km square (SU7895), illustrating the first principle of knowing where you are (a handheld GPS and/or good map skills help). Botanising an area thoroughly is quite time consuming, so a short circular route was selected; the area is very close to the county boundary so we had also to be mindful of that, ensuring we didn't stray into Bucks (VC 24). The walk encompassed a diversity of habitats, with Waterend and Beacon's Bottom, and horse grazing, hedges, a wonderful green lane, a beech wood and a narrow sunken wooded road such as one finds in the Chilterns.

Some of the first records made were of naturalised garden plants, e.g. lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) and the invasive variegated yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum), illustrating the recording of species status. Further human-derived elements of the flora were encountered later, such as the spindle (Euonymus europaeus) planted in a hedge, primroses (Primula vulgaris) spreading out of a garden and the non-native form of salad burnet introduced in wildflower seed mixes (Poterium sanguisorba subsp. balearica). The green lane down from Waterend held an abundance of woodland plants typical of the Chilterns, such as the grass wood melick (Melica uniflora) and wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), and we seemed to be followed by goldilocks buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus), found in several places along the walk. Overall, we recorded a good but not overwhelming number of mostly common taxa, and kept a friendly pace with attendants able to take in what they felt they could manage. The 166 records collected are a welcome addition to this very under-recorded area. A very enjoyable and successful meeting!

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