Newsletters and botanical history

Some new sections have been added under the Somerset Botany menu. The Newsletters are now there together with an index to all the articles within. There are over 100 articles on a wide range of botanical subjects across the whole county from the Bath area to Exmoor. These include regular updates on interesting plant finds, reports on projects such as the ongoing renovation of the Taunton Herbarium, alien plants and rediscovered natives.

A History of Somerset Botany section has been added at the bottom which currently contains the late Clive Lovatt’s Joy of Botany columns, composed during lockdown, and a presentation by him about George Garlick and Leigh Woods.

A paper in Joy of Botany #5 by Isabella Gifford (SAHNS 1855) includes the following statement on the importance of field botany, a tradition which the Somerset Rare Plants Group is carrying on over 165 years later. Below are some of the botanists mentioned in the history section who worked in Somerset.

The enclosing of commons and waste land, and progress of agricultural improvements generally, must unavoidably destroy the habitats of many rare plants, and in some instances lead to their extinction … . Therefore, it is particularly desirable that a record should be kept of rare indigenous plants. Some few species there are, such as Veronica buxbaumii [now V. persica], which become naturalized in our fields by the agency of the farmer, who scatters the germ unwittingly along with his clover or other seed obtained from the Continent; and though the botanist may not look with an unfriendly eye upon the foreigner, he still feels that it cannot make amends for our native plants …”

Winter meetings programme

We have now completed our season of field meetings and most of the reports are now available. Our winter meeting programme has been sent to members with details of our participation in the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt and our annual members’ meeting at Shapwick Pavilion. This is where we held our Vegetative Plant ID workshop last March. There are some pictures of the venue in the report and below. We will have also have two identification workshops in February and March on winter twigs and conifers, at Carymoor and Fyne Court. SRPG photos © Steve Parker.

Spring Flowers for Autumn

As we approach Autumn here are some reminders of the spring from Simon and Josh, in the form of reports from our visits to Buncombe Wood, Thurlbear Wood, and Barrington Hill. Also recently completed are reports of visits to Otterhead Lakes, which straddles the Devon/Somerset border, and to Weacombe, near West Quantoxhead. Photos © Linda Everton and Simon Leach.

New meeting reports

A number of the meeting reports from this summer are now available. They include the coastal meetings at Berrow Dunes and Sand Bay, an estuarine meeting at Pawlett Hams, and the aquatic plant workshop at Southlake Moor. Berrow Dunes SSSI has long been valued for its rare plants, with 14 Rare Plant Register species being found on this occasion including the spectacular, goat-scented, Lizard Orchid. Sand Bay provided an opportunity to study coastal species at the strand line, on the dunes, and on the saltmarsh. The visit to Pawlett Hams, a large area enclosed by a meander of the Parrett estuary, included freshwater ditches and saltmarsh, with an interesting variety of terrestrial plants along White House Road. The aquatic plants workshop took place at Southlake Moor, beside Barrow Mump, where the ditches are probably some of the most diverse in the county.

Photos below: Knotted Hedge-parsley © Liz Downey, Saltmarsh Rush © Fred Rumsey, Arrowhead © Cath Shellswell

Meeting Reports

If you’d like to hear about some of our outings so far this year, or relive the excitement of the day, you can see them on our Activities > Meetings > Reports page. The reports will appear on the page as they are completed. This year’s programme of meetings is here. Just click on a meeting for further details and contact the organiser to let them know you are coming.

Rare Plant Register Updates

A new account, for Cut-grass (Leersia oryzoides), has been added to the Rare Plant Register. It was formerly present on the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal but has not been found since 1993, probably due to unsympathetic management of the canal bank. The specific name refers to its resemblance to Oryza, better known as rice. It is sometimes called Rice Cutgrass or Ricegrass. A distribution map and a gallery of images are available in the BSBI Plant Atlas 2020.

In addition, thirteen accounts have been updated with the latest information. These are: Spreading Bellflower (Campanula patula), Starved Wood-sedge (Carex depauperata), Divided Sedge (Carex divisa), Long-bracted Sedge (Carex extensa), Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), Common Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis), Pyrenean Scurvygrass (Cochlearia pyrenaica subsp. alpina), Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride), Greater Dodder (Cuscuta europaea), Brown Galingale (Cyperus fuscus), Brittle Bladder-fern (Cystopteris fragilis), Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), and Narrow Male-fern (Dryopteris cambrensis).

All photos © the photographer, see species accounts for details.

Four more species accounts

Buses always come in threes, but Rare Plant Register species accounts come in fours. The next batch from the Paulton factory is here: Quaking-grass (Briza media), Flea Sedge (Carex pulicaris), Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris), and Strawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum). These are grassland species which have declined due to agricultural improvement, destruction of pastures, and eutrophication of road verges.  None is scarce in VC5 or VC6, but all are Near Threatened on the England Red List. The general decline in England is also apparent in Somerset.

Rare Plant Register Updates

Four more species accounts are now available: Pale Butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica), White Beak-sedge (Rhyncospora alba), Least Bur-reed (Sparganium natans), and Lesser Bladderwort (Utricularia minor).

They tell the story of the decline of plants adapted to wet conditions in Somerset whether in open water or on acidic heaths, bogs and mires. This has been most evident on the lowland acid peats of the Somerset Levels but has also affected the uplands of south and west Somerset. Drainage for agriculture, peat extraction, eutrophication, and afforestation have all contributed to this decline.

Pale Butterwort at Yarty Moor. Photo © Fred Rumsey

25th anniversary newsletter now available

The SRPG newsletter for 2022 is here, with many thanks to our newsletter editor Karen Andrews and all the authors for creating such a varied and interesting publication. In this edition we have the usual review of activities last year, reports of all our indoor and field meetings, a summary of interesting plant records, and articles by members.

The first article celebrates the foundation of the group in June 1998 with a fascinating gallery of photographs of our many memorable meetings and remarkable botanists. A conference is being planned for October to further mark this milestone. This edition also contains appreciations of the lives of Liz McDonnell and Clive Lovatt, who will be greatly missed by all who knew them.

The “green maps” showing the recording effort up to the end of last year are also available here.

Updates to the Rare Plant Register

Following all the brilliant recording last year, we have reviewed and updated the RPR.  Many species accounts will need revising so watch this space for news of updates.  Meanwhile a selection of just some of the significant records made in 2022 is included in the SPRG Newsletter, which will be issued shortly.