Friday, 26 April 2019

Bloxham Atlas recording

It's already time for me to write another blog post about another Atlas recording meeting, held last Sunday. With fortnightly weekend meetings (listed in the events calendar), can I keep this up all season?

Sunday's meeting was in an even further flung corner of the county than the previous meeting. Three of us met at St Mary's church in Bloxham (SP43H), a rather grand edifice for a parish church. The churchyard further confirmed my experience that unimproved but heavily mown churchyard grassland in Oxon is characterized by a small number of hangers-on, species like
Leontodon hispidus
(rough hawkbit),
Plantago media
(hoary plantain) and in spring often
Ranunculus auricomus
(goldilocks buttercup). It was perhaps a little early in the year to be absolutely confident of the potential
Epilobium lanceolatum
(spear-leaved willowherb) which Oli Pescott found — definitely worth a visit later in the year to verify whether it was this locally rare willowherb. After the church we botanised the local streets, picking up spring annuals like
Saxifraga tridactylites
(rue-leaved saxifrage) and a host of garden escapes, such as the unusual
Geranium x magnificum
. We also found
Petroselinum segetum
(corn parsley), which is not that uncommon around Oxford but which hasn't many recent records from the north of the county.

In addition to its being hardly recorded, the main attraction of SP43T had been The Slade, a former BBOWT nature reserve and now an official Local Nature Reserve (LNR) managed by the parish council. This spring-fed site had once supported such wetland delights as
Molinia caerulea
(purple moor-grass), so although these had not been seen at the LNR for a long time it nevertheless looked enticing. We did not succeed in refinding any old wetland rarities but did turn up
Dactylorhiza fuchsii
(common spotted orchid),
Hypericum maculatum
(imperforate St John's-wort),
Silene flos-cuculi
(ragged-robin) and a lot of Rosa arvensis x canina (=R. x irregularis). This hybrid rose is very distinctive when growing in sunny places: looking like R. arvensis (field rose) on speed, it forms dense and often very extensive thickets with more robust stems than is usual in R. arvensis and many of the hips are small, black and abortive. Possibly R. x irregularis is under-recorded as I find it quite often, usually in more open places than is usual for
Rosa arvensis

The last nice plants of the day came from some hands-and-knees work in very nibbled sheep pasture, where we managed to find some small patches of
Saxifraga granulata
(meadow saxifrage). It was not quite in flower but was nevertheless great to see. On the whole we had to work quite hard for our records, so I was surprised to find after entering the data that we'd recorded 253 taxa (albeit with quite a lot of aliens), putting the post-2000 total to 297 — a valiant effort!

The next Sunday recording meeting will be on 12th May. It'd be great to have more botanists along — hopefully the last two blogs have shown that there are plants up in the north of the county worth travelling for!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

And so it begins

The first recording meeting of the final season of Atlas 2020 in Oxfordshire was on Sunday. Meeting in Nether Worton in SP43, the location was evidently a little out of the way as there were only four of us, but if you thought that then you missed out on good botanising. Rather than the more usual square-bashing strategy, the aim of this meeting was to record an already quite well-recorded area in order to improve it further and also to pick up some plants that have not been seen this century in the hectad in Oxon, such as the woodland plants Viola reichenbachiana (early dog-violet) and Melica uniflora (wood melick). Previously these areas had been visited later in the year and we were therefore sure to pick up new things.

We started at the churchyard of the tiny church of St James' in Nether Worton (SP43F), a tetrad with a respectable post-2000 total of 168 but some missing vernal species. The churchyard was pretty undistinguished, with typical hangers-on of heavily-mown churchyard grassland such as Plantago media (hoary plantain) absent. There were plenty of naturalised non-natives to lend colour though, such as Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens', an annual bedding plant from the Mediterranean which appeared to have seeded from the adjacent garden and was a first for the county. There were also many plants of Ranunculus auricomus (goldilocks buttercup) here and in the nearby verges. We didn't stay long in the tetrad due to lack of promising-looking land accessible by footpaths, and instead headed west toward the Great Tew Estate via a detour north over Iron Hill Down (SP43A).

After a few kilometers on Iron Hill Down I was feeling pretty desperate as the place was an arable wasteland, though there were some springs with a few common wetland plants in one area. Crossing the B4031 south into the Great Tew Estate the spirits lifted, however, with a flurry of ticking of semi-natural woodland and grassland plants, like Sanicula europaea (sanicle) and Poterium sanguisorba (salad burnet). Thinking aloud I suggested that some nice grassland looked perfect for Ophioglossum vulgatum (adder's-tongue fern) and then promptly found several of the tiny fronds of this lovely vernal fern. Turned out this was a new hectad record!

Continuing into the valley bottom toward Great Tew we came upon a series of wet woodlands with springs and streams. Here we found a small population of Scirpus sylvaticus (wood club-rush), a scarce plant in Oxon. As a species of feruginous wet woodlands, this north-western part of the county with its iron-rich limestone is the main area where it has historically been recorded. The population we found was first seen in 2015. Some of the other highlights of this area included Polystichum aculeatum (hard shield-fern) and Hypericum maculatum (imperforate St John's-wort).

We concluded the meeting back in Nether Worton with a pretty diverse haul of records for early April. In total we collected 340 records of 236 taxa: 197 in SP43A and 127 in SP43F. This put the tetrad totals up from 214 to 284 in SP43A and from 168 to 214 in SP43F. Certainly better than I was anticipating after a pretty dismal morning! The next meeting will be on 21st April — I hope you can join me.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Botanical advertisements

A short post to advertise a couple of items of interest.

First, on Sunday 7th April (that's this coming weekend) I will be leading the first of my 2019 recording meetings for Atlas 2020. We will be meeting at St James' church in Nether Worton (SP 426 300) at 1030 - please email me if you would like to come. These meetings are a great way to learn to identify plants, get to know the county's flora and meet other botanists. They will be held fortnightly throughout the season (unless I get overwhelmed with work as in previous years, but that's the plan for now). See the events calendar for future dates.

Second, former county recorder and Oxfordshire Flora Group member Sue Helm asked me to advertise a new book published by her husband Professor Dieter Helm, Green and Pleasant Land. If you attended the OFG conference a few years ago you will remember Dieter's excellent talk about the economics of natural capital, the subject of his previous book Natural Capital: Valuing The PlanetPlants might not be the subject of Dieter's books (though a favourite of Sue's Viola kitaibeliana (dwarf pansy) gets a few mentions in Natural Capital if I remember rightly), but plants are an example of what he calls 'natural capital' and according to Dieter it is our failure to account for these assets that has lead to the destruction of so much of our flora, among other wildlife. His new book is already on my pile of 'to read' books, and I am sure it will contain many thought-provoking ideas relevant to plant conservation, if in a rather different way to that which we are used to thinking about conservation.