Recording ecologically

Shropshire Botanical Society Newsletter - Spring 2000 - page 6

Alex Lockton

 

Chris Walker's article, on the previous page, reflects a decision that the committee of the Botanical Society made in January, to do more than just record tetrads. We have the computer system to make almost anything possible - so why not expand our ambitions somewhat? These are some of the types of information we can incorporate into the database.

NVC communities: we've been collecting this type of information for several years now. The trouble is that they are rather difficult to identify reliably. The solution is to focus one's attention on a limited number of vegetation types, until you get to know them well. There are only a few common types of woodland in Shropshire, for example. You don't need to be a genius to learn to recognise the main ones. Any conscientious recorder should also collect sufficient information to allow us to check their conclusions - at least until you're good enough to recognise such communities on sight. Anyone who wants to work on NVC communities should perhaps work closely with us at first. If you can identify the plants, I don't mind showing you how to analyse the results. As with all botanical recording, though, it doesn't work if one is too proud to admit one's limitations…

Site surveys: the database already contains outline information on thousands of sites. For a lot of these, though, we have far too little information. The best solution is to choose a discrete site such as an ancient woodland, and visit it several times in the year to make a full species list. I find it remarkable how few people want to tackle the difficult species in a site, or spend time looking for the rarities. When you think about it, that makes no sense: an experienced botanist can tell you most of the common species that occur in a site just by looking at it on the OS map! What we need field botanists for is to discover the oddities and the rarities - the things that make a site special.

Species surveys: there is always work to be done on individual species. All the "critical taxa" are difficult to identify, and it takes some experience to become any good at them. Other plants may be less difficult but also in need of research. The sort of projects that spring to mind are to gather data on species such as Wild Daffodil and Monk's-hood, which are native in some parts of the county but planted elsewhere. It is only by collecting ecological information about each locality that we will ever know which is which - a tetrad dot doesn't tell you!

Rare Plant Monitoring and management is infinitely more complex than you might imagine. In fact I'm not sure I've ever come across such an experiment that worked. People usually lose interest far too quickly to make any difference. Bear in mind that most of the rare plants we have today were in exactly the same spot when Edward Williams first saw them 200 years ago. Nevertheless, there is often interesting information that can be gathered, that at least keeps us up-to-date on the status of rarities, even if it does little to actually help them. The work that members of the Botanical Society have been doing on the Long Mynd is an example of this - and apparently has produced howls of protest from far-off, well-paid ecologists, because our little band of volunteers has done so much better than they could do. Being "local" is always seen as an insult, but in truth, if you get out and about a bit, you can learn much more about your local environment than any visiting expert could do. But you must always follow correct scientific procedures, and not jump to conclusions about the identity of plants.

Historical research: even staying indoors can produce valuable botanical work. If you have access to a library, or the internet, or a museum, there is research worth doing. We don't have much information from any of the herbaria in Shropshire, with the exception of a few records from Ludlow and Shrewsbury, and a catalogue from Shrewsbury school. Even graveyards and parish registers contain information that can be valuable to botany - helping us to find the dates and details of our predecessors. I'd like to know, in particular, where George Jordan's mum lived - somewhere near Farlow, I believe. It could be a very important piece of information.

Using the database, I can provide suggestions about places to visit, plants to look for, and appropriate data to collect. If you read through the pages of this and previous editions of the Newsletter, there are plenty of examples of worthwhile projects and surveys. Almost every walk in the countryside can yield an interesting find of some sort, if you know what to look for.

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