Vegetation of river corridors Upper Wye, Upper Severn & Upper Usk

My second publication (after Studies on the Flora of Astonbury Wood, Hertfordshire)

Following on from surveys undertaken along the river Usk in 1981, I was, the following year appointed team-leader of a survey of vegetation along selected 500m stretches of the river Wye and some along the River Severn.

Let us focus on my time in Wales in 1982/3, prior to organising my 1983 expedition to the Himalaya. I had visited a member of the 1980 University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition, who was working on the ornithological-side of the 1981 survey of the river Usk. On learning that there would be a survey on a similar basis covering the River Wye the following year, I approached the Curator of the Lysdinam Field Studies Centre, Newbridge-on-Wye, who was to supervise the project. I was chosen and then within the first week, appointed as team-leader, since I had the most field experience, even though two of the team held Masters degrees in 'Pure & Applied Plant Taxonomy' (one of whom was an outstanding young bryologist, who concentrated on this aspect, as his skills with mosses and liverworts, far exceeded any of the rest of the team; he went on to greater things including lichens, which we did not cover during our surveys - see:;

Vascular plant species found in 100 or fewer vice-counties in the UK

Whilst I felt even the weaker members of my survey team were of a comparable standard to the field-surveyors employed the previous year on the River Usk, the differences in standards/field skills were considerable. I think it would be fair to say that our best would have matched any young botanist in the country. In an effort to bring greater consistency within the team (which was important as the objective was to rank and compare the 'conservation' value of different stretches of river - otherwise the 'scores' would largely depend on who was the recorder, rather than the richness or otherwise of a particular length of river). So time was spent on familiarising team members on the standard survey procedures and improving field botany skills.

An example of a Plant Record Sheet (combining Vascular species with Bryophytes) completed by the team's bryologist (arguable the best in the country, probably the world, for his age - he went on to

A special effort was made to attain taxonomic and identification consistency between recorders. A herbarium collection of pressed material was prepared to help individual recorders to improve their familiarity with 'riparian' (riverside) and 'aquatic' flora. For the duration of the survey each field worker was requested (not everyone complied and one refused to gather a specimen of an orchid he came across - as the colony of the orchid was ample, removing a single specimen for pressing and reference purposes would have done no damage, indeed would have helped the survey) to bring back to the laboratory a specimen of any 'unkown' or previously un-recorded, species, for confirmation of their 'field' identification or DETERMINATION (this means the assigning of a taxonomically accurate name - some species can be difficult to distinguish from closely-related ones). This meant that for the majority of the field season one day/week was devoted to identification (in addition to many hours in the evenings and week-ends, in an effort to keep up-to-date). As the season progressed and familiarity with plants in the field increased, with most species either in flower or fruit, time spent working on this aspect decreased. By the end of the summer, the more experienced members of the team could reliably identify almost every species encountered in the field. It was clear that not every recorded fully complied, whilst some were prone to THINK they knew certain species, when they were mistaken. This was easily exposed in the cases of a recorded claiming that they had seen a species of a particular genus that they 'knew' from a previous survey in the SE of England but had never been found in Wales - they obviously had mistaken it for the similar species which the rest of the team had noted....

Site classification on the Upper Wye

A great deal was achieved in improving both individual field skills and the overall standard of recording. But, it is not possible for relatively un-trained field botanists to gain enough experience and attain a level of proficiency in a few weeks, that might normally take years to develop (there was no reason to believe that the team would not compare favourably with any other group of recently with any other group of recently qualified botanists). As the prolonged training necessary to achieve the very highest standards was not possible, comparisons were undertaken to gain an indication of the magnitude of inter-recorder differences that remained. Sites surveyed at the beginning of the field season were re-visited at a later date, and each team member undertook inter-recorder comparisons at two sites.