Brief history of botanical explorations
The Outer Hebrides is a large group of islands in the north-west of Scotland with a relatively small but interesting flora. Its plants have been written about since the 1690s when Martin Martin visited the islands, and he was followed by Balfour and Babington in the 1840s and Shoolbred in the 1890s. It was not until the 1930s and 1940s however that there was systematic recording of the flora, when competing teams headed by Wilmot and Heslop Harrison aimed to produce a Flora, although in the event no complete Flora was published, and the first Flora of the Outer Hebrides only appeared in 1984.
Richard Pankhurst coordinated updating of hectad records for the New Atlas, and Paul Smith joined him as joint recorder and started a program of tetrad recording in 2002, aiming to produce a new, tetrad Flora by around 2030 (there are a lot of tetrads in v.c. 110!). A rare plant register was produced in 2004 with minor updates in 2008, and a new edition is in preparation.
Mibora minima. Image: Paul Smith
In recent years: 2013 saw a British Pteridological Society field meeting in Harris, a BSBI field meeting in Pairc, Lewis, and summer recording activity in Eriskay and South Uist. In 2014, Lewis was visited again - Lewis needs to be visited frequently, as it is large, and many of the least known areas are there. In May 2015 a recording meeting was held on North Uist.
Visitors are encouraged to record (in tetrads or more detailed levels) wherever they are visiting. Don’t assume that everything has been recorded – there are many discoveries to be made in even the best-known sites. Husinis is a regular site on visitors’ itineraries, but Scilla verna was recorded for the first time there in 2013; it’s probably been there unrecorded for many years. If you’re visiting and would like some suggestions of areas to visit to help with recording, please contact Paul Smith.
In 2013 snorkelling revealed that Potamogeton epihydrus, a rare species in Europe found only in the Outer Hebrides, is abundant in some lochs in South Uist, although there is often little sign of it on the surface. You can see underwater images here.
2016 saw recording activity in the lochs on the west coast of Lewis, which had a good selection of charophytes including the tiny Nitella confervacea, which has only a handful of previous records. Juncus filiformis proved to be very common around the fringes of Loch Arnol. In 2015 the tiny grass Mibora minima was found on dunes on Baleshare Island, greatly extending its distribution in Britain.
New county records in 2013 included Alchemilla xanthochlora and Senecio viscosus, and a new population of Lycopodiella inundata was found on the Pairc field meeting – only the second for the v.c., and the first sighting for 45 years.
Uist Botany Group
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After two and half field seasons and more than 1,000 vascular plant records submitted to the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), the Uist Botany Group is moving to become part of Outer Hebrides Biological Recording (OHBR). We’ll still carry out targeted botanical recording to support Paul’s work as the BSBI recorder and continue to submit records to both local and national recording initiatives... we’ll just be doing it in the company of enthusiasts for a wide variety of other taxa, from beetles to butterflies, so we can all learn from each other about the environments on Uist.
We’re working on a field meetings schedule for 2016 - dates will be posted here, on the OHBR website http://www.ohbr.org.uk/ and Facebook page.
Please come and join us, whether you’re resident in the Outer Hebrides or just passing through.
Contact email@example.com if you’d like to join the mailing list or find out more about the project.