31st December 2017, and an amazing thing happened, I managed to complete the transfer of all my records from my notebook into my Mapmate database! Unheard of! Of course, there were none of the 3-4,000 plant records via the BSBI/Cairngorm National Park plant survey from previous years so just 3,300 records during the 2017 recording season. The first record was for the blunt-leaved bristle-
|The hybrid orchid X Dactylodenia evansii (centre)|
moss (Orthotrichum obtusifolium) on an aspen tree near Laggan on the 2nd January and the last one on 31st December was for a new location for the spruce cone beetle (Gastrodes abietum) when three were tapped out of fallen Norway spruce cones in Dell Wood NNR. A few highlights were the scarce 7-spot ladybird whilst on holiday in Yorkshire, adding twayblade and the hybrid fragrant/heath spotted-orchid (X Dactylodenia evansii (Gymnadenia borealis x Dactylorhiza maculata)) to the Flowerfield orchid list, protecting a small area of aspen woodland to aid regeneration thanks to Craig and finally seeing the fluted bird’s-nest fungus (Cyathus striatus). Mid-month there was also a sad event, the wee, faithful Ford Fiesta was traded in for a slightly newer model Fiesta. The pale green
02 registered car and I became a well-known combination and during the six years of ownership we managed 40,000 miles, visited many interesting and important natural history sites to list common and rare species, a hugely important and effective combination. I’m now taking a year-long course in keyless car technology and, so far, I’ve managed to stop the windscreen wipers operating when a dark cloud just happens to pass overhead!
During November 2017 emails arrived highlighting a huge threat to an outstanding area of active sand dune habitat just north of Dornoch – Coul Links. The site is heavily designated; Loch Fleet SSSI, Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet SPA and Dornoch and Loch Fleet Ramsar site. Once again, a billionaire American has applied for planning permission to covert this area of dunes into an 18-hole golf course, repeating the destruction overseen by the now infamous Donald Trump in destroying a similarly, heavily designated dune system at Menie, north of Aberdeen. At this site the local council turned down the planning application only for the Scottish Government to overturn their decision and the dune area was destroyed. BBC News at 10 website carried this note “The £1bn plans were rejected by local councillors before being resurrected by the Scottish Government, and the process became embroiled in claims of sleaze, bullying and impropriety.” See webpage link below to read more. Despite all the weaselly words about careful this and positive that, Scottish Natural Heritage
|Peltigera malacea (bright green)|
are now in the process of downgrading the SSSI status of the site due to excessive habitat loss. So, here we go again, a man with money wants to destroy a hugely important dune site for a golf course that can only open for the summer months each year. Within 30 miles of Coul Links there are already 30 golf courses, including the Royal Dornoch one nearby. As per norm the environmental statements/information leave a lot to be desired and people who know the dune site well are raising the fact that important species are missing from the documents. Our only visit to this general area to see something unusual was many years ago when I took my mum and dad to a woodland on the other site of Loch Fleet to Coul Links to see the one-flowered wintergreen and I have searched alder woodland by Loch Fleet, unsuccessfully, for the green shield moss. A very rare fly has been found at this site. Fonseca’s seed fly (Botanophila fonsecai) is one of the UK’s rarest endemic invertebrates, restricted globally to a very short stretch of coast in northern Scotland including Coul Links, and this is one species that has received serious survey work. However, many other groups have been checked as a ‘desk exercise’ and some, to my eye, seem to have been written up to show that there
will be little effect via the destruction proposed. Having visited the nationally important dune system at Findhorn Bay with a local lichen expert to see one of the rarer lichens, Peltigera malacea (veinless pelt or felt lichen), I then made follow up visits to find more locations for it. I’ve also made a few finds of small populations of the lichen at four inland sites and wondered if it had been found at Coul Links. It wasn’t listed in the environmental statements though a rare Cladonia, Cladonia mitis, was, being the only lichen mentioned. Could the Peltigera be at Coul Links? With snow and frosty weather forecast I made a trip north on the 6th December on a nice sunny day arriving on site about 10am. With limited time I accessed the dunes to the northern end of the proposed development battling with gorse bushes in places. Before setting off I’d used the planning application map to work out a few grid references that I could aim for and which would provide the line of habitat loss
|The black earth tongue (Trichoglossum hirsutum)|
between some of the proposed golf holes. On site the habitat in places did look similar to Findhorn Bay and so the searching started. Within twenty minutes I found my first small patch of Peltigera malacea and as I followed the line of grid references more started to appear. By the time I reached the marram grass area, twenty-one patches had been found and no doubt this was a minimum count. At one location another Peltigera was found and photographed and it was only once home that I
|Oystercatchers top and red kite bottom|
|Ben Braggie and Duke of Sutherland monument from Coul Links|
identified it as Peltigera neckeri, a species with just 66 known sites in Scotland. The marram grass area isn’t really suitable for the felt lichen but a quick search around found a small number of earth tongues which turned out to be Trichoglossum hirsutum, the black earth tongue. In the mouth of Loch Fleet I could see lots of seals and on a sandbank, hundreds of oystercatchers. I also had a single red kite hunting the dunes and redshanks feeding in a rapidly filling tidal channel. All my finds were put together as part of my objection to the planning application, one of over one hundred individual objections along with 2,669 via a Buglife Petition. One can only hope Highland Council reject this damaging proposal and that the Scottish Government stay out of the process unlike their involvement in the disastrous Trump development at Menie.
The following day the forecasted snow arrived falling intermittently with heavy rain and strong winds so my trip north had been very timely. The snow’s arrival was a bit worrying because the next day Janet had a stall at the Boat of Garten Christmas Fair. Overnight four inches of snow had fallen so the first serious snow clearing of the winter was required to get the cars out to the road. Once at the Boat Community Hall, and with the cars emptied and the stalls looking good, I spent the next hour or so clearing more snow around the car park and paths to try and minimise the amount of snow being
|Janet's stall at Boat of Garten Christmas Fair|
tramped into the hall. I was glad to say cheerio to Janet and get home for my lunch and a cup of tea! Thankfully no more snow fell during the day and generally the Fair was quite a success. The next day I had a meeting with the owner of land where fence work mentioned in the last blog was to be carried out and there was great relief later in the week when I was informed that the funds were available to modify the fence. Hopefully the fencing contractor will manage to complete the work early in 2018 and it will then be down to me, and hopefully a few RSPB volunteers, to install wires and wooden markers to deter woodland grouse collisions before we can look forward to planting the
young aspens, probably in March. A new aspen wood – wow! On the 10th, the outdoor thermometer was showing minus 9.90C, freezing the lying snow and heralding a strange spell of weather which ran almost to Christmas Day. Day after day the temperature hovered between minus 20C and plus 20C allowing the surface of the snow to melt a little but then freeze it hard overnight. Anywhere where the snow had been walked on or run over became sheets of treacherous ice making walking anywhere quite difficult. During this spell of frost we had the grandchildren for a weekend so decided to drive up the Nairn on the coast thinking it would be slightly milder there. A northerly wind ensured this wasn’t the case and our rapid walk around the harbour saw us dodging sheets of ice once again. Two
|The reed bunting flock|
|And a perfect frosty sunset to end the day|
days before Christmas Day there was a huge change and the thermometer rose to 9-100C, the ice melted and all thoughts of a white Christmas disappeared (thankfully) but by the end of Boxing Day the frost returned and, as I type, we are back to there being sheets of ice everywhere. A small part of a field adjacent to the Speyside Way was planted with a bird-seed crop in the summer and with the cold weather, lots of birds were visiting to finish off available seeds. We have had the occasional brambling in the garden but in the bird-seed crop there must have been about 20 birds. There were about the same number of reed buntings with at least one with a leg ring and good numbers of redpolls along with the usual chaffinches. Good to see a simple but very beneficial bit of work to help the wintering birds.
With the break in the cold weather we nipped over to deliver Christmas presents to Laura and Douglas near Turiff but, with little daylight on the shortest day we were back home before dark. The next day I was in green shield moss and twinflower habitat, zero mosses but some good patches of twinflower. There were no leaf fungi present but as I was checking, a white jelly-like fungus was
|Jelly tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum)|
sticking out from a log, a Norway spruce log from a felling programme many years ago, and, having seen one in November here was another jelly tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum). You don’t see one for years and then two come along within a month! Around the same time one of the best TV programmes in a long time appeared on the BBC – Judi Dench presenting ‘My Passion for Trees’, hugely informative but without delving too deeply into heavily scientific language. Well worth watching via iPlayer. The spell of freezing weather though did curtail the usual recording outings so a few less finds and species to write about in the last blog of 2017. However, on some of the outings
|The pestle puffball (Lycoperdon excipuliforme)|
|Common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) fungus and pattern top|
and spores x1000 oil bottom 4-5 microns bottom
it was interesting to find quite a few puffballs, still standing upright and most capable of puffing out spores. This is a group of fungi I’ve not spent much time on in the past so it was only when I had taken a specimen home that I realised one of our common species has an amazing pattern on the outer skin of the fungus. This is the common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) which, when young and fresh has its white, outer skin, covered in small spines and warts. As it matures the colour changes towards pale brown, the spines and warts drop off and on the top of the puffball an aperture opens to allow the spores to be ejected. All of my finds were at this stage and looking at the outer skin through my hand-lens I was greeted with an amazingly regular mosaic of ‘scars’ confirming I had the right name. Of course, I just had to have a look at the spores and a very gentle squeeze of the fruiting body saw a brown stain appear on the glass slide containing probably thousands if not millions of spores.
That’s it for another year, enjoyed the read, happy hunting and best wishes for 2018.
Stewart and Janet
BBC News at 10, Menie golf course farce, 10 June 2008
Highland Council Planning – you might need to type 17/04601/FUL in the search box to see the 368 documents!
Judi Dench My Passion for Trees - brilliant
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Photos © Stewart Taylor