In October 2017, three staff from BSG’s Oxford office spent a day with national stonewort expert Nick Stewart, brushing up on their identification skills.
BSG’s Dr Tom Flynn, Peter Newbold and Dr Peter Shepherd, who regularly carry out surveys for aquatic plants, spent the morning attending a very interesting and useful classroom session where they used microscopes, keys and reference books to increase their confidence in identifying this fascinating group of primitive aquatic plants. Nick was able to provide very helpful tips and advice on differentiating stonewort species, based on a variety of characters that can be seen with the naked eye, under a hand lens or under a microscope.
Stoneworts (also called charophytes) generally prefer still water with low nutrient levels and an exposed silt or clay base. The clay pits of Peterborough, including Orton Pit Special Area for Conservation, provide ideal habitat, and support an important community of these plants. One species in the area, bearded stonewort Chara canescens, is fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), due to its rarity (it has exacting habitat requirements and typically occurs in waters with a saline influence). A number of other locally-occurring species, such as hedgehog stonewort Chara aculeolata, are listed as nationally scarce.
The event was kindly hosted by O & H Hampton Ltd, the leading provider of new housing land in the Peterborough area. BSG has worked with O & H Hampton in and around Orton Pit on a number of stonewort survey and conservation projects in recent years.
The afternoon was spent identifying and surveying stoneworts in a series of ponds and ditches on the edge of and adjacent to Orton Pit. These were designed as new aquatic habitat for O & H Hampton by BSG Ecology, and built in 2014. After only three growing seasons, these have developed species-rich vegetation, and were found to support seven species of stonewort. The protected species, bearded stonewort, was found in four new locations (both inside and outside Orton Pit) and the Nationally Scarce species hedgehog stonewort was found in five locations. In addition, a further Nationally Scarce species, clustered stonewort Tolypella glomerata, has also been recorded from one of these waterbodies on a previous survey by BSG Ecology.
This field work clearly demonstrated that these new waterbodies are providing good habitat for rare plant species, and the training provided by Nick was valuable, interesting and enjoyable.
BSG Ecology is committed to providing on-going internal and external training and professional development to all our staff; this is one of the factors contributing to our strong technical capability.
If you require aquatic plant or other detailed botanical survey, please contact Dr Tom Flynn (firstname.lastname@example.org).
 Nick is a BSBI (Botanical Society for the British Isles) national referee for stoneworts, author of Important Stonewort Areas and joint author of the Red Data Book for stoneworts in Britain and Ireland.