Gentian hunting

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Picture of Gentianella amarella (Autumn Gentian)
Gentianella amarella (Autumn Gentian). Photo: Nevil Hutchinson

Initially I found Twitter intimidating. Having signed up I started following many ‘interesting’ people. Unlike Facebook, where the person you want to ‘follow’ or be ‘friends’ with needs to accept your request to do so, on Twitter you can follow anyone with an account. In my exuberance I hadn’t properly read the instructions and so each time someone I was following posted something (‘tweeted’), my phone pinged and I had either to swipe it away or look at the tweet. Some people tweet every hour or so and it wasn’t long before I’d removed the app and decided Twitter wasn’t for me.

That was many years ago just after Twitter started. Last year, with my deepening interest in natural history, I began again to delve into the online world through the medium of a daily blog which I kept as a means of self-discipline. This led me to some fabulous natural history blogs, primarily through the ‘UK & Eire Natural History Bloggers’ site. And so from blogs back to Twitter, where I started following natural historians with a wide range of expertise. The internet is an amazing thing because it allows you to connect to amazing people who would ordinarily be difficult to meet. These people share their hard-won knowledge simply because they are passionate about the natural world. Many devote a great deal of time to posting high quality photographs and videos. Others post links to articles, news items, online films or television programmes.

It can be overwhelming. One’s ignorance is oceanic and it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in an information tsunami.

The second time I entered the ‘twittersphere’ I was more used to the ways of cyberspace. I realised that I could deactivate alerts so that my phone didn’t ‘ping’ every minute when someone I was following posted something. I now see Twitter as a waterfall; a constant torrent of information which, when I’m thirsty, I dip my cup into to slake my thirst, rather than stand under getting soaked.

There’s someone on Twitter who tweets some wonderful photos of local wildlife. Whilst I was away on holiday he posted a photo of Gentianella amarella (Autumn Gentian) which I’ve never seen. I contacted him for details of its location and last weekend set out with a friend to find it. It was was in a disused chalk pit above Offham which was awash with Succisa pratensis (Devil’s-bit Scabious). In fading light we finally found it, barely poking through the rabbit-cropped turf: not the most magnificent example but enough to send up a cry of satisfaction. According to Streeter, it’s genetically indistinct from Gentianella anglica (Early Gentian), which is weird.

Picture of Erigeron acer (Blue Fleabane)
Erigeron acer (Blue Fleabane). Photo: Nevil Hutchinson

I also came across Erigeron acer (Blue Fleabane) for the first time and some Cirsium acaule (Dwarf Thistle) still in flower, illustrating how even a short excursion beyond one’s front door can yield unexpected rewards.

Picture of Cirsium acaule (Dwarf Thistle)
Cirsium acaule (Dwarf Thistle). Photo: Nevil Hutchinson