I’m checking my email at half hour intervals. Last Thursday I re-took the only professional botany exam in the UK – the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Field Identification Skills Certificate (FISC). Alex, the examiner told us that he’d hope to get the results to us in a few days, and that means about three, right?
There it is! I stare at the email title for a few seconds before I have the courage to open the email. YES, I DID IT! I’ve achieved level 4 – good identification skills”- and that I should now consider teaching botany classes and that I am “well qualified to undertake site surveys.” Most remarkable and satisfying is that I correctly identified all the grasses, rushes and sedges in the lab part of the test – the plant groups I’ve been focusing on.
I run around the sitting room shrieking and waving my arms in the air while the teenagers look on, bemused.
Before I started teaching myself wildflower identification in June 2020 (albeit with advice from some brilliant botanists) I worked out that I could confidently name only a paltry 100-ish of the 1600 plus flowering plants which grow wild in Britain.
After a couple of months of intensive learning over July and August 2020, I took my first FISC back in September 2020 and achieved level 3 – reasonable identification skills. At least some of that was down to lucky guesses in the lab tests and the lack of grass species which could be included at that time of year. My lab test marks compensated a little for my appalling site survey in which I panicked and recorded only a pathetic 30 plants before the time was up. I have a vivid memory of having to ignore every other plant on the site because I didn’t have the faintest idea where to even start with identifying them. Frankly getting that level 3 was a fluke.
Fast forward nine months and I estimate I could know confidently name around 800 plants. And the site survey last week was of a chalky slope in Kent – where I recorded about 70 plants and actually enjoyed doing it. I recognised a number of plants which weren’t even in flower which I was particularly pleased with, and it was lovely to see some old favourites like this Quaking Grass.
Of course this is just the beginning. I’ve developed an obsession with grasses, sedges and rushes which I want to build on and I know I need to get to grips with aquatic plants. Fun times!
And just maybe I’ll go back next year for another bash in pursuit of that shiny level 5, “excellent identification skills”.
Right, excuse me while I change my Twitter biog from FISC level 3 to FISC level 4.