Saturday, 20 December 2014

The ‘wee moss’ has a dramatic effect

The first week of the month was good for catching up with data entry, but for all the wrong reasons.  A slightly sore back/hip developed whilst south of the border and after a walk to the shop for the papers on the 1st problems started.  On the way back from the shop a car pulled in next to me and when the window was wound down I was face to face with my Uncle Hector.  A very pleasant surprise and worthy of an invite back for a cup of tea.  Hector and family were out for a run to Aviemore from their home in Inverness and just happened to spot me as they passed.  After catching up on all their news they continued their journey to Aviemore and I was left thinking something was going wrong with the back – again!  So it was off to bed but not before making a heath-robinson type stand with Janet’s dads old portable painting easel, something that could rest on my stomach and capable of supporting
Scaly tooth fungus - Sarcodon squamosus
my laptop.  The first afternoon saw me catch up with record entries up to the end of May, June being completed the next day.  The third day saw the back a little better but the laptop and stomach combination continued as did the data entry, and as Janet disappeared off to look after the grandsons the next day, I made the first of my “recovery” walks up and down the Tulloch road and along the Speyside Way.  The notebook was out and entries were made for a couple of scaly tooth fungi and a fly agaric (yes, the same species that seemed to be a
Rose in flower early November - Firwood
surprise to Alan Titchmarsh on his visit to the gardens of Buckingham Palace whilst making a TV programme for the Christmas schedule) both way past their normal emergence time, as were lots of garden flowers still in full bloom.  July data entry was also completed.  Day five saw me clearing up the leaves from by the chalet ready for Janet’s pop-up-shop and the walk up the road extended as far as SNH’s Norway spruce wood where the notebook was out again to list a few of the fungi still growing, in quantity, amongst the trees.  An email also arrived from Gus saying he had found something unusual on leaves of the pinewood orchid
Fly agaric - Amanita muscaria
creeping lady’s tresses (Goodyera repens) in the local wood threatened by a housing development.  So the walk the next day saw me heading out to School Wood, gently wandering up and down the pines trying to find the wee marker Gus had left by the orchid.  In local pinewoods the orchid is quite a regular plant and, as its name suggests, if you find one rosette of leaves you are likely to find more as the plant “creeps” about the forest floor.  With a bit of GPS help the marker was found and sure enough many of the leaves of the plant had dark patches covered with little yellowish spots (sori) of possibly one of the Puccinia fungi.  Photos required so the back and knees were tested as I knelt on the ground to get low enough to see what I was photographing.  A well-populated leaf was also removed
Creeping lady's tresses leaves & Pucciniastrum goodyerae
for checking once home.  A bit more wandering found a few more groups of orchid leaves (flowering being well passed) and just as the afternoon light was fading I came across another  set of fungus covered leaves, the photos taking 20 seconds each to complete as it was getting so dark.  Photos taken, sample collected and back a bit sore but still okay – brilliant.  Back home a couple of the tiny spore bearing “spots” were removed, squashed and checked under the microscope.  Thankfully, despite it being late in the season, there were lots of spores to see and typing “fungus on Goodyera leaves” into Google produced a link to British fungi and to a fungus called Pucciniastrum goodyerae.  Interestingly, the fungi website showed there were only 6 records currently known for the whole of the UK, so Gus’s
 Pucciniastrum goodyerae spores x1000
find looked like it was something quite important, particularly when the website listed its Conservation Status as: Vulnerable / D2 (Red Data List).  What a pity the date for objections to the planning application for houses in the wood had passed.  More about that later.  A couple of emails confirmed that I probably had the right name and with so few records/samples Kew asked if I could forward the dried material once finished with.  It was just as well I had had a good “back” day because an urgent phone call the next day saw me dashing off to grandson Finlay’s school (15 miles away) to pick him up and take him to the doctors after squashing a finger in heavy classroom doors.  Despite Finlay’s painful day everything healed well and he was soon back to his normal self, proudly showing off his blackening nail!

The same day an email arrived from Brian at Kew, apologising that it had taken just over a year to identify/confirm some specimens I has sent south in September 2013.  These guys at Kew are incredibly busy, Brian more so having actually retired a couple of years ago but still retaining a “seat” in Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory and dealing with all sorts of queries.  Me, I’m
Exobasidium pachysporum fungus on northern bilberry leaf
just grateful to receive names of species however long it takes, knowing myself just how much time can be spent on “any chance you could just check” requests from a wide range of folk.  The news though was worth waiting for and was linked to my outing to the Chalamain Gap area of the Cairngorms last September, the initial aim being to re-find a patch of arctic bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpinus) but being tempted to make a return visit to look for plant galls on patches of northern bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) which I had noticed as being plentiful in places (see October 2013 blog).  The first find that day was something I have found a couple of time since, Exobasidium sydowianum fungus growing on the leaves
Exobasidium pachysporum fungus on underside of leaf
of ordinary bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).  At the time this was just the third British record.  I was quite keen to know if I had managed to identify the other fungus, found on leaves of the northern bilberry, correctly, and this was confirmed when I saw the name Exobasidium pachysporum in the email, this one being just the second British record.  The only other record of this fungus was from Cumberland in 2008.  Well worth waiting for and nice to be able to add some fresh material to the Kew collection.  A big thanks also to Brian for his help.

Remembrance Sunday morning was spent in a mixture of old pines and birches within younger pine plantation in an area of Abernethy Forest.  The peacefulness of this sort of area seems just right for two minutes of silence at 11 am.  The day was a bit damp with quite a bit of low mist, and stopping to photograph dripping twigs and grasses seemed to take for ever. 
Macrotyphula fistulosa var. contorta
Pipe club fungus
This autumn has been excellent for the weird contorted pipe club fungus growing in quantity from dead birch branches.  Years ago I searched for ages to find this fungus but this year – locally it’s everywhere.  Occasionally the sun would burn through the mist again testing out the camera when pointing into the sun.  My aim this day was to re-visit one of the oldest, largest rowans I’ve seen in this area – goodness knows how old it is.  Following the visit of the Ancient Tree Forum members back in June I had promised to visit this tree and photograph it so that they had details of its location and size for their database.  Job done I checked several local willows for the large willow aphid, one of the species being looked for
The ancient rowan
via the Highland Biological Recording Group.  It wasn’t found, something becoming familiar to me despite lots of hours of searching.  Visit the HBRG website below to see details and click on the Large Willow Aphid link at the top of the webpage.  As I emerged from the trees onto an old croft field I could see the sun was breaking through (in the south) and that something strange was happening behind me in the mist to the north.  Just like the sun and rain create a rainbow the sun and mist on this occasion were creating a “mistbow” (if that is what it might be called).  My timing was just right because within quarter of an hour the warming sun had burnt off much of the mist and that was the end of the mistbow. 
My "mistbow"
Overnight we had the first heavy frost to minus 4.5 degrees and saw the first council gritter wagon go up the road spreading salt.  Maps were also sorted for the ongoing ground truthing of local aspens trees and stands for John Parrott and the Highland Aspen Group.  The prepared large scale, A4, coloured OS maps show areas coloured blue where aspens are known to be, though small sites are checked in passing, and red numbered sites where the location has to be visited to see whether aspens are present.  The maps were created from aerial photos and an ash tree can look just the same as an aspen from the air.  Similarly dead Scots pines and larches are often found as having appeared like aspens on the aerials.  With map in hand, I set off mid-month to spend nearly five hours checking out the red spots on my map with some nice groups of aspens located but also many false alarms.  If time allowed I checked the aspens for lichens and other things, one of the more unusual finds being a
Micro moth - Narycia duplicella larva & case
small caddis like insect moving, very slowly, on the bark of one aspen.  Something similar was found earlier in the year on fallen Scots pines when looking for the timberman beetle, so this one was also carefully collected, along with a bit of moss, for forwarding to Stephen to see if a name could be supplied.  To me it looked the same as the earlier find but Stephen’s reply informed me that on this occasion I had found Narycia duplicella, another micro-moth, with just a couple of know sites in Scotland.  Visit the UK Moths website below for more information.  With all my usual messing about the last few red dots on the map were checked in the dark!  Once again, this sort of work takes me to sites I would never normally
Hygrocybe cantharellus waxcap in sphagnum
visit and in trying to take what I thought was a short-cut mid-morning, I came across an amazing area of bog woodland, some of which had been used by locals to supply peat for fires over many, many years.  Several tiny orange spots caught my eye as I crossed the bog and, to my amazement I found I was looking at waxcaps – in sphagnum in a bog!  I’m awaiting confirmation but they look like Hygrocybe cantharellus a bonny wee species and one which had been found close by in earlier years

I’m sorry to be including my wee green shield moss (Buxbaumia viridis) again this month but two significant events really means I have to.  The first was a meeting with staff from SNH to visit their local Dell Wood NNR to discuss the possibility of leaving the Norway spruces on site rather than clearing them as part of an exotic species removal programme aimed at creating a woodland of native species.  I have been finding the wee moss regularly in this small area of spruce and in some very unusual locations, for example on the mossy surface of shallow plough-lines (created at planting time), on live tree roots as well as the
Possibly a Mycena also found in the SNH spruce wood
usual deadwood habitat.  The wood comprises Scots pines and birches as well as spruces so I was suggesting, that with time, the spruces would die out, leaving the natives as the natural woodland.  Any new spruce seedlings appearing outside the wood would be removed.  The potential for removing an adjacent area of slightly better grown spruces, with very few moss locations, would be possible with little effect on the smaller area with the moss.  It was a good meeting, the SNH staff had part of a day out in the field, and seemed fairly positive to my proposal.  The major hurdle to overcome was the fact that other landowners (including neighbours RSPB) with conservation designated lands are being asked by SNH to remove exotic tree species and they would have to have very good reason for going against their own advice.  Watch this space.

The second “event” was linked to me having found several small and one large population of the “wee” moss in woodland in School Wood (October 2013 blog), the one with a planning application hanging over it for conversion to houses.  In my last objection to the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) I had pointed out that these sites would be lost, as the spruce areas where most had been found were included within “compensation” woodland
CNPA Board members site visit School Wood
for the areas of trees that would be clear-felled.  The “compensation” was detailed as removing the spruces and “creating” native woodland.  However, I recognised that there might be a problem with this proposal because the moss has been designated as a protected species under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  Oops!  The moss hadn’t been found during the ecological surveys and this, along with several errors in various sections of the ecological survey, had provided a strong case against planning permission being given and, on 21 November, the Park Board voted unanimously to reject the application.  However, a decision by a Scottish Government reporter who was reviewing all the local development plans within the national park had decided that part of the woodland site
The brown shield moss (Buxbaumia aphylla) has also been found
in School Wood
rejected on the 21 November will remain suitable for housing – so it looks like there will be much more work to do to try and ensure the wood’s future.  I am still trying to get my head round why housing on the whole site can be rejected unanimously in the morning by the Park Board only for the Park Planning Convener to produce a press release in the afternoon saying the Park “will work positively with all interested parties to see housing delivered on the site”.  The Park folk continue to be the biggest threat to the future of areas important for biodiversity in the National Park and probably are unable to operate independent of the Scottish Government.  The Goodyera leaf fungus mentioned earlier is within the area retained for housing!

Anyone staying in the chalet during a normal June might have been lucky enough to visit the important orchid site known as Glencairn or Flowerfield, adjacent to the B970.  This site has been superbly looked after by the owners Jane and Jeremy over the last decade, especially by ensuring the right level of grazing takes place, mostly through the winter months, but also throughout the year.  I used to look over the roadside fence each June to see masses of flower spikes of lesser butterfly orchid, and, having started to count the number of flowers at another nearby site, I thought it would be sensible to try and make an accurate count of the
The famous Flowerfield lesser butterfly orchid meadow
Flowerfield site as well.  In 2008 I approached the owners to see if I could undertake a “walk over” count and with their agreement arrived at an amazing total of 650 flower spikes.  I also noticed a healthy population of small white orchids, thousands of fragrant orchids and quite a few heath spotted orchids.  In 2009 I was determined to undertake a much more accurate count and, over two days, using marker canes to walk a logical grid of counting blocks, 1288 flowers were counted.  By 2010 The CNPA had employed Andy Scobie as their Rare Plants Officer with the lesser butterfly orchid as one of the target species, and from 2010 until this year the two of us have used the cane/grid method to ensure accurate counts continued to be made.  The table below gives details.
Flower spikes
We claim that this is the best site in Scotland, and possibly the UK, for this orchid whose population continues to decline within Britain.  On the 28 November I received a very worrying phone call from the owners.  The neighbouring landowner was proposing a planning application for several luxury chalets, one group of which, would be adjacent to the orchid meadow.  Whilst the chalets themselves might not be damaging, the potential for the un-fenced boundary between the two properties becoming fenced would be.  Currently, grazing cattle move between the richer grasslands close to the River Spey and the orchid
The key to maintaining the orchid meadow - correct grazing levels
meadow and, because the orchid site is mainly heathland, the grazing pressure isn’t intense but obviously just right for the orchids.  Interfering with this casual grazing pattern could be disastrous and currently a great deal of effort is being deployed by myself and others to gather as much information as possible about the site so that should a planning application be forthcoming the Park Authority (the planning authority) are aware of what could be lost.  Currently SNH though involved, have passed the responsibility for what will happen to the CNPA.  So it looks like there will be plenty to keep the volunteer recorders and guardians of the natural heritage locally busy over the coming months.  Once again, watch this space.

Enjoy the read and with all best wishes for Christmas and 2015
Stewart and Janet

British Fungi (FRDBI)
UK Moths
School Wood planning application.
if that doesn’t work try typing 2013/0119/DET into Google. Or try typing the following:
2013/0119/DET | Erection of 58 houses, associated roads & footways | Land At School Road And Craigmore Road, Nethy Bridge.
Highland Biological Recording Group
and how to join HBRG

Rain drops on grasses
Great spotted woodpecker
not bad for the wee compact camera
Sunset Loch Mallachie

Photos © Stewart Taylor