Botanical Society News

Shropshire Botanical Society Newsletter - Autumn 1999 - page 1

Sarah Whild


It is with some sadness that I start this News with the report of the death earlier this year of Hilda Burke. Hild, as she was known to her friends, was one of the grand old ladies of the Llanymynech area, who scoured the lanes and hills for botanical treasures, and contributed many records to the 1985 Shropshire Flora. With Doris Pugh and Joyce Roper, she was really the last of the generation of 'border botanists' who helped and advised not just local recorders, but a national audience of the good and the great who would visit the limestone hills and gentle canals to see some of the country's real rarities. She will be sadly missed by botanical friends and family alike and our condolences go to Rosemary, her daughter.

On a happier note, our first year as a botanical society has been an interesting one. For me, of course, the main excitement was finding a Red Data Book species - only the second such rarity currently known in Shropshire (the other being Sorbus anglica at Llynclys). Carex muricata ssp. muricata is one of the rarest plants in Britain; despite being only a subspecies it is not just a taxonomic curiosity - it has a distinct habitat and growth form, and is the more common subspecies in Scandinavia and Russia. Perhaps it is another one of our glacial relics, for which Shropshire is famous, or perhaps it is simply chance that brought it here. Whatever the explanation, the Shropshire Wildlife Trust has a challenge on to protect it: in all the other sites where it has been found, it has slowly declined towards extinction, and at one locality it only survives by being planted out in little pots each year! (to my mind, a pointless exercise).

It looks as if my bet is safe, as so far I have not received any evidence of new records for either Arctium lappa or Alopecurus aequalis, these two mystery species which I suspect were over-recorded for the Shropshire Flora. There's still time to get out there and record a verified site for the new Atlas, so my wager still holds until the winter meeting…

Fieldwork for the Atlas 2000 project is now finished, although it will be more than a year before the book reaches the shops. Thank you to everyone who contributed records. Thank you also to Kate Thorne for exploring the Long Mynd so thoroughly this year, and to Pat Parker for the detailed records for the Weston Lullingfields area. Although it is very much harder work, I am more convinced than ever that the only worthwhile botany is careful and detailed survey work, not hasty tick-lists. If you look back over the old records, nobody has ever been remembered for making hundreds of poor quality lists - if you want to make your mark, you must take the time to make good records.

It is not just recent records that we work on. Historical records are extremely valuable, as Alex's article on The Mere at Ellesmere illustrates, in this newsletter. We are continuing to seek out old and forgotten records: one interesting list that came to light this year was by Isaac Watkin, in his History of the Parish of Llanyblodwel, published in about 1900. It gives a list of grasses to be found at Blodwel Hall, and a list of other plants to be found in the parish, including many of the calcicoles that it is famous for. Old records for this part of the county are surprisingly few, so it is a useful contribution, although there are a few oddities in there which are best ignored - Rigid Sedge, Carex rigida (now C. bigelowii) for example, and perhaps Reflexed Saltmarsh-grass, Sclerochloa (now Puccinellia) distans - although the latter is not as unlikely as one might assume.

James Lawson, the archivist at Shrewsbury School, has been very helpful in finding out about the herbarium there. It contains a large number of specimens collected by Richard Benson around Pulverbatch, plus material from all over Britain. In a letter accompanying Benson's catalogue, his widow, Elizabeth, wrote "I hope the collection will be valued and made use of, it is an object lesson of what may be done under the greatest disadvantages, collected as they were and arranged by a man who could not walk without assistance and who was always suffering great pain." We are currently adding the records from the catalogue to the database.

To complete an enjoyable year, we will be delighted to welcome our speaker for the winter meeting, Clive Jermy. Clive needs no introduction, as his various books - Sedges of the British Isles, An Illustrated Field Guide to the Ferns and Allied Plants of the British Isles, and Plant Crib 1998 are owned and cherished by most botanists. All members welcome. Please book a place before hand, by either phoning me, or writing (or emailing). Non-members are asked to pay a £2 entrance fee. Refreshments will be provided.

I look forward to seeing you then.

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