Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Atlas 2020 recording with the Oxfordshire Flora Group

It's been a while since I've blogged, but, a lot has been happening (no excuse really when I look at Louise's efforts at http://bsbipublicity.blogspot.co.uk !) Anyway, last week I went out with the Oxfordshire Flora Group, a group affiliated with the BSBI and the Ashmolean Natural History Society; seeing as this was only the second, in what will hopefully be a long-running series of Atlas 2020 recording meetings, I felt that it was a good time to do some blogging and promote the OFG meetings. In conjunction with this rebirth, vice-county 23 (or the old-fashioned county of Oxfordshire for those who don't habitually think in terms of Victorian vice-counties) also has a recently appointed new vice-county recorder, Sue Helm, and a new page on the BSBI website to boot. The page explains the myriad opportunities to get involved in plant monitoring and recording in Oxfordshire, and also assists with understanding the rather complex web of botanical societies and mailing lists extant in Oxon.!

But, back to the recording: Seven of us met up just south of Sibford Ferris in north Oxfordshire to accumulate records for a 2 x 2 km square (tetrad) in a region with precious few modern botanical records -- so just recording the car park would have a been a good achievement! Luckily we did get a bit further than that, and did a good circumnavigation of the tetrad, even gaining access to some private land, allowing us to add some extra stream-dwelling species to our list (just over 200 in the end since you ask).

The OFG inspect a verge. I think this was the Schedonorus pratensis v. arundinacea debate!
Needless to say, we all learnt a lot from each other, and an excellent day was had by all. We also had a good few conundrums to keep us on our toes. 

The mystery willowherb.
 This willowherb was a case in point. The general conclusion seemed to be that it was a hybrid -- but between which species? The jizz didn't seem quite right for E. parviflorum, but perhaps we shouldn't be doing willowherbs on jizz anyway. Although Crawley says that E. parviflorum is more-or-less unmistakable on jizz... anyway, one for the bag in the end. At home under the microscope I convinced myself that it might be E. hirsutum x parviflorum, but really it needs sending off to the referee. Another one for the to-do list! No doubt it will come back as parviflorum and I'll feel a fool!

But it wasn't all hybrid willowherbs, much of the trip was far more palatable. We found a ungrazed corner of pasture that must have been on the Cotswolds oolitic limestone. Here was Burnet Saxifrage, Chalk Knapweed, Rough Hawkbit and other denizens of high pH soils; a wondeful respite from the typical intensely managed pasture we are used to seeing in the countryside today. We then passed by an arable field, picking up a number of typical plants of such situations, including the Black Bindweed below.

Fallopia convolvulus

Not a rare plant at all, but one which I find strangely charming. The slightly manufactured perfection of the Polygonaceae in handy pocket size; the fearsome knotweed becalmed: who could fail to be charmed? By now it was raining, and a bit of a drudge was needed to circle around the bottom of the tetrad and re-enter it from the south. By good luck, the final habitat was a really special one: an abandoned quarry. The ground of the quarry was quite disturbed, presumably from rabbit grazing rather than recent use. Clearly an interesting habitat in which to look for new species. We were quickly rewarded with Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos), a plant which is relatively rare in Oxfordshire, with only around 20 sites or so. I had only seen it before around the entrances to rabbit burrows at Watlington Hill; here it was in abundance on every bit of bare ground, and even on some of the bare rock faces of the quarry. A wonderful end to a enjoyable day. Thanks OFG! And see you all next time (all welcome, regardless of ability!)

Clinopodium acinos