First, the good news – 3 August last visit to the radiotherapy team at Raigmore, a brilliant friendly team and I hope they all enjoyed tucking into Janet’s amazing cake. A big thank you for all their efforts over the 33 visits and a realisation that there were other patients attending who were a lot worse off than yours truly. Despite very technical and amazing equipment it wasn’t possible to know exactly where the small area of cancer infected tissue was, so the first 20 visits targeted the general area and the last 13 homed in more closely to where it was thought to be. The results of the team’s efforts would be known sometime in September.
There are lots of good things to report from the natural history world for August so let’s get the bad news out of the way first. An email on the 17th informed me that Ian had found lots of fungal balls on the heads of deergrass (the hybrid Trichophorum ×foersteri) by the road between Carrbridge and Furness. So, the next morning I set off early to check the site and collect a few specimens for forwarding if necessary. Ian said there were a few but when I got to the site almost every clump of
deergrass had the black fungal balls present (Anthracoidea scirpi). I gave up checking after several hundred metres and made my way back to the car, finding more fungal balls on carnation sedge (Carex panicea) and flea sedge (Carex pulicaris). It was 9.30am and as I drove back along the road I came to the carved stone informing me that I was entering the Cairngorms National Park (CNP). A
bit ironic really because I was heading home early in order to attend the Park’s planning meeting where a decision would be made on the continuing farce proposing to build up to 1500 houses on the now infamous An Camus Mor site on Rothiemurchus Estate. As I wandered down to the Nethy Bridge Village Hall I wondered how many of the folk on the Parks Board would know what Carex panicea was and would they have any interest in knowing that the finding of the fungal balls on Carex pulicaris that morning was just the tenth UK record? As I have said before the Park should be re-named the Cairngorms Tourism and Development Park for the damaging projects they have agreed to over the years since inception and I was in no doubt as to what the decision would be today before
the meeting started. I arrived at the Hall to be met by several local folk holding boards highlighting species which An Camus Mor is important for and just in time to swell their numbers for the visiting press. Inside a big team from the Park’s planning department were getting everything ready along with the Park Convenor and representatives from Rothiemurchus Estate, RSPB, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group (BSCG) and Butterfly Conservation. The biggest group (apart from members of the public) was the Park Board, assembled at great expense especially when compared to Highland Councils local Planning Department, and to show how the board works the following was copied from their website:-
“Board members play an important role in representing the National Park and Park Authority by acting as ambassadors for the Park.
19 Members make up the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) Board:
7 members appointed by Scottish Ministers, 5 members are elected locally and 7 members are nominated by the 5 councils in the Cairngorms National Park: Highland (2), Aberdeenshire (2), Moray (1), Angus (1), Perth & Kinross (1).
The members normally serve between 18 months and 4 years and are currently paid a day rate of £205.38 per day for 3 days per month. All Board members serve on the Parks Planning Committee.”
So, the cost of just assembling the Park Board was close to £4,000! The Parks Planner gave his spiel, the company representing Rothiemurchus Estate did the same – limited to 10 minutes, followed by RSPB, BSCG and Save the Cairngorms Campaign who had to squeeze their combined presentations into 10 minutes! Didn’t matter really because I knew no-one on the Board would take much notice. The RSPB presentation highlighted the threat to capercaillie if the development went ahead,
particularly with Strathspey being the last remaining stronghold for the bird. ‘Ah, but we will put plans in place to mitigate any problems that develop re caper’ came the response from the Park! What these people don’t see from behind their desks is the sheer pressure our local area is under ALREADY from the increased number of people/houses and visitors, whether walkers, dog walkers, dog walker businesses and mountain bikers (now developing tracks off the main tracks). Apart from Abernethy, most of the woods used by caper are also under long-term timber management. Johnnie Grant made a quote after the meeting to the media where he predicted that “there will up to 5,000 people living at ACM once completed”. 5,000 people! How on earth can the local environment cope with that number and how would the Park ‘mitigate’ problems with caper and the environment following development. Perhaps they will demolish the houses??? I departed after the presentations knowing that discussions following over the next couple of hours would be about suitable wi-fi, pavements and a bridge into Aviemore, and then the vote would be in favour of the development
|The Zoological Society of London silver medal as presented|
proceeding. Not one Board member objected and the decision to proceed was carried unanimously. When you look at the background of some of the board members you would have thought that some would have tried to stand up for the environment – but no, there must be some very strange form of brain-washing which takes place when you enter the realms of this national park. Isn’t it interesting how things change. John Peter Grant of Rothiemurchus was awarded the Zoological Society of London silver medal in 1893 in recognition of the efforts made to protect ospreys at Loch an Eilein in the 1890s. His great-grandson Lt.-Col. J. P. Grant was presented with the RSPB Silver Medal in 1960 for assisting RSPB wardens and volunteers with night watches at the Loch Garten eyrie. Perhaps the current laird will be presented with an award for causing the demise of Scotland’s capercaillie population.
Curr Wood, near Dulnain Bridge was mentioned briefly in my June 2017 blog. At that time, a whole host of issues turned up when local SNH staff were asked, at short notice, to help mark populations of twinflower ahead of some pretty severe felling operations. It became clear that when a felling licence application was sent to Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), its consultation procedure failed completely and despite asking RSPB (bird interest) and CNP (natural history interest) for any issues and concerns, when they didn’t receive any replies they assumed they were happy with what was proposed! The requests never arrived with either organisation but this didn’t come to light until machinery was on site to thin just over 50ha of the wood and to clearfell 4.13ha. Regular thinning
|The clearfell area|
has been ongoing in this wood since 2000 when the wood was first sold but, historically, this wood hasn’t been subject to clearfelling, the management being aimed at thinning but allowing Scots pine to naturally regenerate the site to produce the next crop. Another damaging action agreed is for the felled area to be re-planted with trees at 2-3 metres spacing, the first nails in the coffin of this ancient wood as it heads down the road to total commerciality. This wood is/was home to a good population of twinflower and to the very rare pine hoverfly (Blera fallax), currently, the only known site in the UK. As a wood, 122 ha in size, it became established in 1796 being planted mainly with Scots pines of local provenance. Thinning fellings started in the 1870s with restocking being by natural regeneration. In 2014 a forest plan was circulated to locals and the conservation bodies for comment and despite a very detailed reply being sent from CNP, this plan has yet to see the light of day. In the
|Twinflower growing over remains of tree stump|
meantime, with no input from conservationists, a felling licence was granted despite there being lots of woolly words about taking care not to damage the plants and hoverfly interest. Sadly, when this wood first came to the market in 2000 a bid by RSPB and Plantlife to buy it was not successful and the wood’s natural history importance has been going downhill ever since. Several thinnings have opened up the wood quite dramatically and this has had a negative effect on twinflower as it is outcompeted by the growth of other plant species. Despite lots of projects aimed at helping the hoverfly ensuring it is still present, the loss of old, mature Scots pines means the number of natural breeding sites (in rot-holes within the trees) is being heavily reduced. Felling lots of young rowan trees throughout the wood prior to this debacle has also reduced the number of flowering trees in spring, a source of food for the hoverfly. I had hoped a meeting mid-month with FCS, CNP and Jim Adam from Bell Ingram might have allowed issues and concerns to be raised, but nothing is likely to change and, within the next 30 years, the rest of the old pines will also have been clear-felled. When the wood was last sold it was bought by Billy Martin who lives in Ireland obviously as a pure
|Owner and manager given award for 'sympathetic management!"|
investment. He has employed Bell Ingram to manage the site in his absence and companies like this only make money by undertaking work. Slowly, this wood is being converted to a fast turn-over commercial wood whose sole aim is to make money, a sad end to what was once an important wood historically and which supported important species. I can’t really pursue the wood’s protection any longer as I don’t have any legal clout and this role now has to be taken on by Park staff. Sadly, FCS and the owner and managers don’t really seem to care so long as timber is produced for sale, even though they are aware of its importance. Enough!
Early in the month was the time to check out the local twayblade orchid populations so it was a big disappointment to find nothing at the best site where they have been seen previously, where counts have been between 60 and 120 plants. There were also fewer at the Speyside Way site, 3 flower spikes and 2 sets of basal leaves. An adjacent grassland has always looked like a possible site and this year a single flower spike was found. The nicest surprise though was close to the site badly
|Robin's pincushion gall|
damaged by a ‘tidying up’ operation by Revack Estate in 2016, when a bonfire had been made almost on top of where the plants grew. The site even now though is not ideal and an extensive search had to be made in deep grass before the total count reached 15. A little more winter grazing (now absent) by sheep would certainly help. The Speyside Way outing produced a nice surprise, a robin’s pincushion gall on a rose bush. The gall is caused by the larva of a tiny gall wasp, Dipoloepis rosae, and despite the books saying common, this is the first one I’ve seen locally. Whether this is linked to the good number of flowers on the rose plants this year I’m not sure but currently there are lots of rose hips available to anything that eats them. The important fence to protect aspen suckers mentioned last month got underway early in the month and was completed in three days, a brilliant
|Davies tractor and new deer fence|
job and very professionally done. This increase in fence height covers about a third of the length of a stock fence installed about 15 years ago to exclude grazing stock to encourage new aspen growth. In about a third of the fenced area quite a bit of new growth has been achieved over the years and it was to this area attention was turned early in the month – moth trapping. Several sites in Strathspey, where young aspens have become established in the last decade or so, have been checked in recent
|Dark bordered beauty moth and caterpillar|
years for a very rare moth, the dark bordered beauty. In recent years the moth has appeared at RSPB Insh Marshes and in years gone by I’ve seen it at another site near Grantown on Spey. However, it would be a real bonus to find it at a new site so I managed to tempt Tom Prescott from Butterfly Conservation, Gabrielle and Mike to try a night’s trapping at my fenced site. Despite a good catch, the dark bordered beauty didn’t turn up so Mike offered to do a second trap night and on this occasion traps were also installed in a second area of good sucker regeneration. In all, 4 traps were set out, all
|Moth trap and cousin german moth|
lit up by 10pm. We returned the next morning at 6.30am and worked our way through the sections of egg-boxes which the moths rest on once inside the traps. Over the two nights 145 moth species were recorded but sadly, no DBBs but cousin german (Protolampra sobrina) a Red Data Book 3 species was a good find. Having run a moth trap for 2 years on the Isle of Rum and for 5 years later after arriving at Loch Garten it was nice to catch up with a few of the regular species like dotted carpet (Alcis jubata). Whilst checking out the sites for possible additional moth trapping I came across
|Eriophyes diversipunctatus gall on aspen leaf|
several aspens with low branches and this allowed me to check the leaves for galls. I wasn’t disappointed and found the red Harmandiola tremulae galls on the leaf blades and Eriophyes diversipunctatus, comprising two galls at the joint between leaf stem and leaf.
I enjoyed meeting up with someone committed to doing something positive. Bill Bowman, North East Scotland List MSP is the species champion for twinflower and following an invite from Gus and Tessa of BSCG, he came over to Nethy Bridge to see the plant and the type of woodland habitat it occupies. Accompanying him was his Organising Secretary Victoria Ramsey. Our first visit was to a nearby population of twinflower where it can be seen growing in its typical forest habitat comprising a fairly closed canopy stand of Scots pine with a nice mossy understorey. At this site, there has also
|The group in Curr Wood|
be a bit of experimentation taking place where cuttings of plants from other populations had been planted to try and assist cross-pollination allowing the plants to produce more seeds. As a comparison, we made our second site visit to Curr Wood to let him see the effect recent tree fellings were having on the plants. At this site, we had a job to find the plant under deepening heather and at one site could actually see the plant dying out due to the intense competition. We hope he found the visit informative and able to fight the plants corner a little more when populations come under threat.
The butterfly survey took a bit of completing this month and was only achieved on the third visit, the other two having to be aborted due to a change of weather after arriving on site. The weather has been highly changeable with warm sun one minute and heavy downpours the next. One of the aborted visits though did produce something special only because I was hanging around waiting for
|Hare's ear fungus top and soggy green shield moss botom|
the sun to re-appear. Having walked this transect for a number of years now I have been telling myself that I need to make a repeat visit to check the areas of Norway spruce for my favourite green shield-moss. Looking into the trees from the track the under-storey looked very similar to a small area of woodland in the Dell Wood NNR – shallow plough-lines with the raised tree roots covered in mossy peat where the moss has been growing. I first found a few small fungi similar to Dell Wood; hare’s ear (Otidea onotica) and Cudonia circinans. A good start. After checking several typical roots, a group of eight green shield-moss capsules were found, followed by a couple more a few metres away, my hunch was right and with little chance of the sun appearing it was time to drive the 9 miles back home. The next day, after checking for tooth fungi at the An Camus Mor development site (2 species) I called in to the ex-arboretum by the B970 to see how this year’s population of heath cudweed plants had performed. During the winter part of this site had been used as a repository for power pylons being taken down after the cables were re-routed underground. The pylons were
|Heath cudweed top and field digger wasp bottom|
‘chopped up’ to make them easier to transport away but this meant that some of the site would have been quite heavily disturbed, not a bad thing for the plant in the long-term. With tally counter in hand I worked my way around the site arriving at a figure of 2900 plants, several hundred more than 2016. A forestry track just outside the ex-arboretum produced another 300, so not a bad overall total for this nationally declining plant. At the far end of the site a group of sand based ant nests caught my eye so a single sample was captured to be sent for identification turning out to be Lasius niger, the small black ant and only the second record for this 10km grid square. A digger wasp nearby was identified
|Bankera violascens - just one group|
as the field digger wasp (Mellinus arvensis). The annual count of Bankera violascens (spruce tooth fungus) was also made the next day and once again the plantation site near Forres produced a huge population - 2500 fruiting bodies. This compared with 1800 in 2016, 2015 no count, 95 in 2014, 10 in 2013 and 1170 in 2012 when first found. A map with count details was sent to the Estate the next day. It will be interesting to see what turns up at the Deeside site.
Following the publication of a joint article on the black fungal balls on sedges at the end of the 2016 recording season I thought a bit of targeted searching might be beneficial this year. In producing the article lots of information came to light about other finds, mostly from the distant past, and using this information I thought I would target the estuarine sedge (Carex recta) and dioecious sedge (Carex dioica). The best population of the estuarine sedge is way up in Wick, 130 miles away so I opted for a smaller known population about 45 miles away on the Beauly Firth. As its name implies, this sedge grows in areas where rivers run into the sea and is influenced by fresh and salt water, so with just a couple of grid references to work with, I headed north. I parked up just by Beauly Priory, and made
my way through a gate onto the riverbank but onto a ‘path’ that was seldom used! After recent rain on went the waterproof trousers, an essential item as I pushed my way through tall grasses, bracken and broom. One very positive bit of work had been undertaken by evidence of lots of ‘dead bodies’ of giant hogweed, but the mass of japanese knotweed would take a lot more effort to eradicate. Purple loosestrife and sea aster flowers provided lots of colour as did speckled wood, peacock and red admiral butterflies. The first location was reached after about one-kilometre but, whether affected by the tide I’m not sure, to get from the river bank to the sedge and Phragmites area by the water’s
|Knopper gall on acorn|
edge took quite a bit of negotiating and the water was almost over the tops of my wellies a few times. A fleeing water vole must have wondered who this madman was. The sedge population was quite small and even worse, only two sedges had flowerheads reducing to zero the chance of finding the fungus. Time to check out the second site but with dwindling confidence. Quite a few oak trees were passed along the river bank and nearly all of them had good populations of acorns. Many of these were topped by the hat-like knopper galls. A calling bird passing overhead allowed osprey to be added to the species list. Bracken and broom started to get so dense that I thought I was going to
have to turn back but eventually I reached the second site where a couple of crack willow trees had leaves covered in galls – one to ID once home (Pontania proxima the willow redgall sawfly). Despite my information telling me there were ‘thousands’ of estuarine sedges, the site was impossible to access due to a very high water level. Time to battle my way back to the road via a farm track – once reached, and then to walk back into Beauly. Along the edge of the pavement there was a row of ancient oak trees and on the ground below the trees were more knopper galls and quite a few oak apples (Biorhiza pallida). Some ‘hairy’ unformed acorns had me scratching my head but these were from a turkey oak (Quercus cerris), and were the normal form for these acorns.
The second outing took me over the mountains to Deeside to the Morrone Birkwood in Braemar to the dioecious sedge site. It was here that Dave Batty had found the sedge/fungus combination twice in 1980. The grid references were at 100m scale so there was a search area rather than a specific location to search so it would be a case of searching along small runnels of water bent over quite a way to try and find this small sedge. The fungus was found on glaucous sedge (Carex flacca) in a
|Carex dioica sedge|
couple of places but the hoped for big population of the dioecious sedge failed to materialise and just small populations of the sedge were found but sadly no fungal balls. A plant not seen very often turned up (minus flowers now long gone) Scottish asphodel. After several hours of bending over staring at the ground I decided not to visit the second potential site, that will have to wait for another time. As I left Deeside light rain started to fall and driving over the tops wasn’t too bad, but the rain after Tomintoul back to Nethy Bridge was horrendous and had all the cars driving along at about 20 miles an hour, particularly through the impressive streams running down the road at Bridge of Brown.
As I type autumn is upon us, the robins are having one last session of singing and currently, the last of the willow warblers seem to have gone. My last couple of curlews passed overhead on 20 August and throughout August the multi-coloured blackbirds (moulting adults and youngsters) arrived in numbers when Janet put out a few tasty raisins. The pine martens though have been very scarce. As flowers reach the end of their growing season attention turns to the fungus season and, with a fairly damp summer, lots have been appearing. Chanterelles have been popping up all over the place and
|Devil's tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii)|
the tooth fungi have also appeared in good numbers. A visit to one of the local aspen woods produced a very nice surprise due to its sheer size and this involved the giant funnel (Leucopaxillus giganteus) a fungus growing to a size I’ve not seen before. Initially I thought I was looking at a group of white polybags and it was only as I walked over to them that I realised they were fungi. Having taken a few photos I realised that there were more a few metres away and yet more even further away and it was only as I walked up a slope in the rough grazing field to look down on them I realised they were part of a very large ‘ring’. After taking lots of photos I paced out the distance
|The giant funnel fungus with the half circle in bottom photo|
from the ones at bottom of photo to right and beyond telegraph pole
across the ring and found that it was about 60 metres, though only half of the ring remained, a bit of ground disturbance and tree growth possibly having affected the other half. I can only assume that this is quite an ancient site for the fungus and when I mentioned them to the farmer he said that they appeared every year. When close up, wee beasties could be seen on some of the fungi the tiny flies probably the appropriately named fungus gnats a group responsible for laying their eggs in the caps and stems of fungi resulting in lots of larvae hatching out surrounded by a plentiful food supply.
Nearby a group of wood ant nests were checked to see if the tiny guest ant was in residence ahead of trying to show it to folk as part of a rare invertebrate project being run jointly by RSPB and Buglife so fingers crossed I find something in time for next month.
I also managed to make a second visit to the small cow-wheat site to see if the plants were producing seeds after the guidance covered in the last blog. I wasn’t disappointed and whilst some plants still had flowers, most had seeds or had already ‘dropped’ them. A few plants had also disappeared probably due to deer grazing. By the track in the now felled plantation next door I had seen a small
|Small cow-wheat flowers, seeds and wood ants and seed|
but active wood ant nest and out of interest I thought it would be good to see how the ants reacted if a couple of seeds were placed on the nest, so a couple were ‘borrowed’. Initially, one or two ants checked out the new arrivals but within a short time lots of ants were ‘attacking’ the seed (I could see their jaws working on the white part of the seed) or possible they were trying to pick it up to carry into the nest. The white bit of the seed is known as the elaiosome and to quote from the SNH Small Cow-wheat paper “the elaiosome is rich in fat and protein, which provides a reward for ants that carry the seeds back to their nests. The ants remove the elaiosomes, then take the seeds from the nest and deposit them intact as refuse.“ I stayed with the ants and seeds for about 15 minutes watching very similar behaviour and confirming that they were interested/attracted to the seeds which is all I could do in the time available, so I left the seeds with them in the hope that something good would come from the encounter. What an amazing symbiotic relationship.
That’s it for another month enjoy the read.
Stewart and Janet
An Camus Mor
CNPA Board Members
Small cow-wheat species framework document
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
|Janet's amazing crop of onoins|