West Highland Flora

Site Diary

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13 Dec 2010

Have abandoned policy of only doing pages for species when I get photos of them, and am now working my way through adding a page for every species in the region whether I have pics or not (with an asterisk in the species list to warn when there are no pics).  First addition is Diphasiastrum complanatum.  Have also added Pillwort (without pics) and Mountain Bladder Fern (with pics) today.

All the existing page url's still have /skye/ in, but I don't think it's worth changing this at present, as it would break any external links to these pages, and a url doesn't make a statement, it's just a string of characters.  The new pages will not have /skye/ in the url.

I am also going to change the names and taxonomic positions to reflect the order in the current (2010) edition of Stace.  These changes will be effected in the species list and the text, but once again I don't think it worth changing the url's.  Maybe one day.

12 Dec 2010

At last the solution has dawned on me.  I was never going to get round to creating a completely new site for Argyll.  Instead I've changed the name of the existing site to West Highland Flora, and expanded its scope to cover the whole West Highlands, which includes both Skye and Argyll.  I've tried to amend the text on the species pages to reflect this change.  The photos are still the same, i.e. mostly from Skye but that doesn't matter as the plants look much the same everywhere.

From now on I expect to be actively updating the site again, adding new pages, new photos, new info.  After being dormant for years, it's come back to life!

2 July 2008

For years now I've not had any time to work on this site, which desperately needs updating  in all kinds of ways.  I've been tempted to take it down, but it's clear from the emails I get that a lot of people still find it useful.

I'm no longer living in Skye, but in Argyll, where I am the joint BSBI vice-county recorder.  If I'm going to continue work on a website of this kind, it would make obvious sense for it to be an Argyll site rather than a Skye site.

In addition, I always intended the Skye site to be nested within a British Isles site whose home page would be www.plant-identification.co.uk (which is why I registered the domain, and is why I put all the Skye pages in a /skye/ folder on that domain).  The British Isles site would cover the whole BI flora.  For species that have a Skye page, the BI site would link to that page.  For ones that don't, it would link to a new page for that species that is not in the /skye/ folder and doesn't mention Skye.

The Skye pages currently describe how to identify a species out of all plants that occur in Skye.  It was intended that the Skye pages would additionally describe how to identify the species out of all British Isles plants, and in this way they would be suitable for the BI home page to link to.

That gives the outline of how the site would have developed if I'd remained in Skye.  Now that I'm settled in Argyll, my vision for the site, from a clean start, would be similar except that it would have an Argyll (rather than Skye) version, nested within a BI version.

But we don't have a clean start; we have an existing Skye site.  A lot of people would be very disappointed if I took the Skye site down.  Given that it costs nothing to leave a website running, it would seem a gratuitous act of destruction to remove the Skye site.

From time to time I've tried to think how to proceed, and found it very problematic.  But now I finally have a plan.  This is it...

This has the following advantages

19 February 2005

The new edition of The Botanist in Skye is now available.  Unlike previous editions, it includes the Small Isles as well as Skye and Raasay, and so covers the whole of vice-county 104.  This website however will continue to cover only Skye and Raasay and the offshore islands traditionally associated with them.

26 October 2004

Phew!  It's been a long while since I stopped off on this page to make an entry.  It's been another good year.  Overall percentage currently stands at 87% as against the target for the end of 2004 of 85%.  But that is based on a list which is currently in a state of flux.

I started out with a 1980 list but have gradually learned of species that have been found since then, and have updated my own list accordingly.  I now have the official current list from the BSBI atlas.  It contains a handful of newly-found native species which I did not alreay know about, while a similar number of species that were on the old list have been removed, because the old records are now thought to be errors.

However there are an immense number of non-native species on the new list which weren't there before, especially trees.  I have no intention of including all those on the site, but it is extremely difficult to know where to draw the line.  I think I'll make it my aim to only include non-native species which occur in places where someone might reasonably suppose them to be native wild plants.  There'll also be a bias towards species which have been here a long time or which have arrived here through unintentional rather than intentional human agency, e.g weeds rather than garden flowers.

This means that if you find a showy garden-looking plant on a road verge not far from a garden fence, it may well be a garden escape that is not listed on this site.  But any plant well away from human habitation should ideally be included, and if you find an obvious "weed" even within a garden, then ideally that should be on the site too.

I am way behind with updating the site and although I hope to catch up during the "long winter nights", there never seem to be enough of them for the projects put off during the summer.  For many species there are better photos on my Nature Notes site, which will be put on the appropriate pages of this site as and when I get round to it.  I also need to update the descriptions of some species to distinguish them from the new species that have been found.  For instance now that Fragrant Agrimony (Agrimonia procera) is known to occur in the area, the text for Agrimony (A eupatoria) needs to be drastically re-written.

20 February 2004

I've finally caught up with myself as regards putting pages on my site for all the species I have pics of.  I still have a lot more and better pics to go on for existing species, but no pics of new species are outstanding.

So I thought a little statistical fun would be in order, and in the table below I've listed all the families with 11 Skye species or more, showing how many % of each I got.  I know it all depends on what you lump and split, what introduced species you count, and what order you put them in within families, and so on, but this is just the way it happens to fall out with the arrangement that I had.

Families with >=11 species Total Got Got %  
LEGUMINOSAE 19 18 1 94.7%  
JUNCACEAE 17 16 1 94.1%  
RANUNCULACEAE 13 12 1 92.3%  
POLYGONACEAE 18 16 2 88.9%  
COMPOSITAE 53 47 6 88.7%  
LABIATAE 23 20 3 87.0%  
UMBELLIFERAE 14 12 2 85.7%  
ROSACEAE 36 30 6 83.3%  
BORAGINACEAE 11 9 2 81.8%  
ONAGRACEAE 14 11 3 78.6%  
SCROPHULARIACEAE 26 20 6 76.9%  
CARYOPHYLLACEAE 30 23 7 76.7%  
CRUCIFERAE 27 19 8 70.4%  
ORCHIDACEAE 20 14 6 70.0%  
CYPERACEAE 49 34 15 69.4%  
EQUISETACEAE 12 8 4 66.7%  
GRAMINEAE 63 40 23 63.5%  
SALICACEAE 16 10 6 62.5%  
ASPIDIACEAE 11 6 5 54.5%  
Largest family got 100%          
ASPLENIACEAE 7 7 0 100.0%  
Largest family got 0%          
ISOETACEAE 2 0 2 0.0%  
Most got in succession 31  from Pulica dysenterica to Sonchus arvensis, all in Compositae
Most not got in succession 4  from Arabis hirsuta to Draba incana, all in Cruciferae
4  from Potamogeton x nitens to P filiformis, all in Potamogetonaceae
4  from Poa compressa to Poa alpina, all in Gramineae

I expected Pondweeds to come bottom, and they did.  I expected the next worst to be Willows and Grasses, in no particular order, and Sedges the next worst after those.  This has more or less happened except that the Aspidiaceae (Buckler and Shield Ferns) have got in among them and so have the Horsetails. 

Most surprising result is the Rushes in second place with 16 out of 17.  And all of them were on Skye and taken by me!  With many of the others I am indebted to other people or places or both for providing pictures.

Well, that was fun.  Looking forward to filling the gaps in 2004.

31 December 2003

Target for midnight tonight was 75%, total achieved was 77%.  Btw the new edition of "The Botanist in Skye" is now not expected to be published until the summer.

7 September 2003 - New book and new site

A new edition of "The Botanist in Skye" is soon to be published.  This is wonderful news, and I know that the minute I can get hold of it I'll read it straight through in sequence comparing each entry to that in the 1980 edition and that while doing so I won't notice if the roof falls in.

We're promised many new species in it.  I've already incorporated about 8-10 new species into the site index (not counting garden escapes), either because I've found them myself or heard on the grapevine that they've been found by others in Skye.  There are doubtless many others that I will not have heard about.  So I had better say that my target of 75% photo coverage by the end of the year means 75% of the list that's on the site today.  I'm confident that I'll meet this target, but only just - the addition of a dozen new species might make it impossible.

Also there is a new Skye fern website put up by Mike Taylor on http://www.skyeferns.co.uk/  This has distribution maps for all Skye species and he will welcome any records that anyone can send in.  It does not include Raasay, which reminds me...

Other targets for this site

Another urgent target for this present site is to put up a glossary.  I've tried to keep the use of technical terms to an absolute minimum, but for some groups such as grasses, sedges and ferns it's unavoidable.  I want the site to be usable by someone with no technical knowledge, and a glossary of the terms used on the site will fill the bill in that regard.  One of the terms that I don't think I've yet defined is "Skye".  For the purposes of this site, "Skye" includes those islands off the coast of Skye that are normally associated with Skye rather than with the mainland, the Small Isles or the Western Isles.  Thus Raasay, Pabay, Scalpay, Soay and Fladda are included, but not for instance the Crowlins or the Shiants.

I'm also well aware that this site does not help anyone to identify a plant unless they already have some idea what it might be.  To put in a key would be a mammoth undertaking, but I would like to put in some kind of rudimentary "classification by appearance" at some point.  In the meantime it seems that most people use this website the same way that I use other online identification websites, namely because they find the pictures and descriptions in their books are inadequate to identify the plant they're looking at, and in desperation they hunt for something more informative online.  By this time the plant is normally narrowed down to a choice of two similar species, so they can go straight to them without a key.

I also hope soon to start in a small way on my all-British-Isles site, by adding a "British Isles ID" to the "Skye ID" on a few of the pages.

No time to put make these changes today, though, back to the real world... (sigh)

19 August 2003 - Alien species

It's very difficult to know where to draw the line when it comes to including alien species in the list.  On the one hand, anybody wanting to identify plants growing wild is not going to know which species are alien, and so needs their identification guide to cover both.  On the other hand, if I put in every alien species that has ever been found growing wild on Skye, the native flora will be swamped, and a quick look through the site will no longer give an impression of what the Skye flora is really like.  Most of these aliens occur everywhere in the UK and would tend to anonymise the list.

Up to now I've taken the easy way out and simply included those aliens which are listed in "The Botanist in Skye" and left out those which aren't, apart from species like Great Willowherb which have become thoroughly naturalised since that book was written.  Early on I noticed that the "Botanist" was inconsistent between its treatment of alien trees and alien herbaceous species, leaving out trees like Sycamore which is plentiful in the wild in Skye and must have been so for many decades, while including escaped garden plants like Musk and Red Valerian which are only found in one place on Skye and that close to buildings.  I decided to remove this inconsistency and treat trees on the same basis as herbs, so that trees which produce wild seedlings like Sycamore and Beech would be included, but those which don't, such as Lime, would not.

But now I'm beginning to feel that Botanist's criteria for the inclusion of alien herbaceous species are too lax.  For instance Dame's Violet has sprung up in two different wild places this year.  It's a showy garden escape and I don't really want to include it in the site.  Also there are many wild specimens of Pampas Grass around Portree but it would seem crazy to list this species among the Skye grasses!

Yet ithese two species have more claim than Yellow Corydalis, which only grows on the wall of a single house, or Pellitory, which only grows on the walls of Dunvegan Castle, both of which are in Botanist.  Applying Botanist's criteria to today's flora, Dame's Violet and Pampas Grass would have to be included, together with dozens of other species that have strayed beyond somebody's garden boundary.

I suppose the problem is the site is trying to be two different things, a celebration of the native Skye flora, and a useful guide to all plants growing wild in Skye.  Probably the solution will be to include all alien species but mark them very clearly, e.g have them in grey rather than black in the index list, and give their pages a different colour background.  Also give them a less thorough treatment.

Next question: should a species that's native to Britain but introduced to Skye count as grey or black under this schema?!

Follow-up: A correspondent from Australia, on reading the above, wrote "I sympathise with your problem of not knowing what to include in the way of exotics. I would say include everything that has naturalised on Skye, colour coded as you suggest, or the convention we use here which is an asterisk in front of the scientific name of an exotic. I would include British plants not indigenous to Skye in the exotics. We have a similar situation here, where plants which are native to one part of Australia become popular garden subjects and eventually naturalise in other areas, often replacing local natives or, what's worse, hybridising with them. I give them the asterisk treatment outside their natural range."

This has given me food for thought.  We tend to think of a plant that's native to Britain but alien to Skye as being much less of an intruder than a plant which is not even native to Britain.  But that is rather "political"; nature knows no such boundaries.  I'm inclined to agree now that the only logical place to put an exclusion zone is around Skye itself.  Will probably colour-code the index and give the pages for the "alien" species (even if they're native to Kyle!) a different colour background.

18 August 2003 - Targets

It has been great fun trying to reach the target of 75% by the end of the year, and at the moment it's touch and go whether I'll make it.  I have pictures of a great many species which are not yet on the site - at this time of year I'm concentrating on collecting the pictures rather than editing the site, which can be done during the dark winter evenings.  But I'm still a fair bit short of the 75%, and the season has not long to run.

One thing that has become clear is that the target of 95% by the end of next year is totally unrealistic.  That would leave only 34 species missing.  Over 34 of the species listed (particularly the hybrids) have no reliable photos on the web, are of doubtful existence on Skye and might each involve several days journey to some other part of the country to find them.

Moreover, I am using an out-of-date list and I keep learning of the existence of new species on Skye which have been found since that list was produced, so I am aiming at a target which keeps moving away from me.

Of course I could do it if I had to, but chasing a target like this has its bad as well as good points.  Its good points are that it has made me very observant and a diligent explorer of every possible bit of habitat.  As a result I have had about a dozen new "life ticks" on Skye this year, whereas in a normal year I feel I'm doing well to get one!

Its bad points are that in recent weeks it has made me a bit obsessive with hunting out missing species on the list, so that I sometimes pass by the opportunity to look at or photograph other forms of wildlife, or get better photos of existing plant species at various stages in their cycle.

I've decided to adjust the targets for future years so as to keep the "pressure" at just the right level.  There is no sense of failure about adjusting future year targets.  This year's target remains in place.  The target for 2004 is changed from 95% to 85% and the target for 2005 becomes 95%  This will give me time while out botanising to collect pictures for forthcoming Skye beetles, Skye moths, Skye dragonflies, etc, sites!