New Year Plant Hunt

SRPG converged on Bridgwater this year to participate in the BSBI’s annual hunt for plants in flower at New Year. The River Parrett forms the boundary of our two vice-counties here, so we divided into two teams on either side of the river. The VC5 contingent did particularly well and came fourth in the national results. Helena and Fred carried out an additional hunt in Bath, while Simon also explored his patch in Taunton. They came, respectively, third and fifth nationally, which much say something about the keenness and expertise of Somerset botanists. Full report here.

New Coverage Maps

The latest coverage maps are now available at Activities> Recording> Coverage Maps, showing the number of records and the number of different species recorded since 2000 in each of Somerset’s 4658 grid squares. A new addition this year are maps for just the records collected last year – so you can see all the hard work that has happened despite all the disruptions.

Note: updated 02/02/2022 to add some missing data.

Winter Meetings 2022

The details of our winter meetings programme have now been finalised with some changes to dates from those previously published here. The monthly meetings between January and March are: New Year Plant Hunt (Bridgwater), AGM (via Zoom), Winter Twigs (Taunton), and an indoor meeting focusing on recording and mapping (Shapwick). Full details are available under the Activities > Meetings menu or you can get a printable version here. As you would expect all plans are subject to change should the Covid situation deteriorate.

Dandelion new to GB found

Photos: Simon Leach

This year our dandelion hunters have claimed three county ‘firsts’ in section Erythrosperma, including one – Taraxacum lambinonii – which is also new to GB. All the details can be found in the latest update to the checklist (see Articles and Presentations in the Publications menu). Included are c. 60 new records at hectad level, 12 new VC5/6 records and 10 species new to Somerset. Ignoring dubious/erroneous records for three [square-bracketed] species, the county total now stands at 170 species; 157 in VC5 and 93 in VC6. Thanks to Simon, Jeanne, and Graham for their fieldwork and the updates to the checklist.

Meetings update

The SRPG Committee has decided to hold two autumn meetings to coincide with the Wild Flower Society’s ‘Autumn Week Hunt’ (recording plants in flower in the last 7 days of October). We’ll have one meeting in VC6 (North Somerset) and one in VC5 (South Somerset) on the same weekend of 30th/31st October. We are also planning to participate in the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, hold our AGM in January and, if possible, hold an indoor meeting in March. Further details can be found under the Activities menu.

The report on our last summer field meeting at Combwich is now available here. Photo and report by Graham Lavender.

Willows Not Weeping

From Ro FitzGerald

Somerset has many connections with willows. The wetlands of the Levels have supported the genus since prehistory, and they have been used in many areas of life for millennia and are still grown as a crop for various arts and crafts. The iconic pollards frame views of Glastonbury Tor and the wide fields and rhynes of Sedgemoor. Ever since I first knew of him it has seemed to me a perfect turn of history that Desmond Meikle, author of the BSBI Willows and Poplars handbook which so many of us use, should be someone who lived for much of his life in the county, and of course as I’m a VC5 resident it seemed specially good that his home was in Wootton Courtenay on the edge of Exmoor.

Desmond Meikle OBE (18 May 1923 – 8 February 2021). Photo: Jeanne Webb

There are other connections to both Desmond and his beloved willows which bring his life and work even closer to SRPG members. Jeanne and Tim Webb were for 40 years his close friends (and latterly life and business helpers), and he passed on to Jeanne valuable willow knowledge so that we can all now call on her experience with this difficult group. We even have a strong interest in Simon and Vicky Leach’s brilliant cricketer son Jack when he wields bats made of the wood!

Of course the best known aspect of Desmond’s life was his distinguished work as a taxonomist at Kew, and his authorship of the superb Flora of Cyprus, but his Somerset life and the many friends he made here were the key to a delightful event created by Jeanne and Tim to commemorate his death (which came earlier this year). Covid restrictions finally allowing this, a lunch was arranged in Wootton Courtenay village hall on 12th August. Desmond himself always loved a party and had himself helped to plan this before his death! It was quite the best memorial event I’ve experienced. It was attended by neighbours and friends with a scattering of distinguished botanists – two of these spoke movingly, acknowledging Desmond’s help as their careers started (to end at the highest levels in Edinburgh and Kew), and Dr Irina Belyaeva the international willow queen (who Desmond had collaborated with) came from Russia! Jeanne had prepared a wonderful spread of memorabilia – photos, medals, publications – and Jen’s Pantry served an excellent lunch. People brought a flower from their gardens to create a ‘village bunch’ to be taken afterwards to the church, and toasts were drunk in a British sparkling wine.

Good wishes came too from his country of origin, Ireland, and a copy of the Flora of County Fermanagh, to which he contributed importantly, was on show. This felt like a perfect celebration, bringing close all the enjoyment of knowing Desmond, his jokes, his enormous knowledge and his unfailing generosity. It was so far from the gloom of some ‘memorial’ occasions – rather it gave enjoyment and inspiration to keep botanising and treasure one’s friendships. We are lucky in SRPG, not only living in a willow heartland, but sharing it with Jeanne, Tim, and for so many years Desmond himself.

Insect-eaters and ferns at Westhay Moor

You can read about our visit on 1st August to the largest remaining patch of acid mire on the levels here. We found a range of insectivorous plants and a number of characteristic ferns.

Updated recordings cards now available

Val Graham and Helena Crouch have updated the group’s general recording card to reflect the name changes introduced in Stace’s Fourth Edition of the New Flora of the British Isles. Careful tending by Helena has produced a fine crop of blue cards. Order yours now! It is also available for download under the Activities > Recording menu.