Monday, 23 May 2016

Stumped, a thousand times

The horror mentioned in the closing paragraph in last month’s blog has to be one of the worst things I’ve seen locally in what was classed as a “tidying up” operation.  The follow up to the email received on 31 March saw me in the aspen and hazel wood by Spey Bridge at 7.30am the next day, and what I saw almost brought me to tears.  There were several bonfires still alight and smoking, trees had been felled and either removed or burnt and all the hazels, ancient or otherwise, had been ‘coppiced’, a practice that isn’t something that created our coppiced-like hazels in this part of the 
Spey Bridge aspen wood bonfires
world, they grow like that naturally.  None of the ancient standing aspens had been felled but all the fallen trees of a similar age had gone, taking with them habitat required by the rare aspen hoverfly (Hammerschmidtia ferruginea) including the tree known to hold a large population of larvae.  This fallen tree and its hoverflies featured in the Firwood blog in July 2015 when many flies were photographed and many minutes of video created showing the females ovipositing (egg-laying) creating the next populations of this rare fly.  What was left?  A small section of the tree that had straddled the huge drain running along the edge of the woodland.  Two other similar sized fallen 
Aspen hoverfly (Hammerschmidtia ferruginea) egg laying on aspen
now removed
aspens had also been completely removed, one of which could have also been home to the hoverfly.  Standing in the wood that morning I was aware of the feeling of openness, almost parkland like, where, in whichever direction you looked you could see right through the wood to the fields, River Spey and industrial estate beyond with not a scrap of fallen tree, hazel or young sapling to block your view.  It was totally unbelievable.  Everywhere there were bonfires, many still smouldering, and on many trees that had been left, side-branches and even bracket fungi had been sliced off.  As I 
Aspen hoverfly tree before 'tidy up'
Angled depression where aspen hoverfly tree once was and 'the drain'
wandered, taking photos, I became aware of four men having appeared and starting to heap more branches and un-burnt wood from the edges of the bonfires onto the fires and inevitably one of them wandered over to see what I was up to.  Hello pleasantries out of the way I asked what they were up to and was told the lady owner of Revack Estate had asked them to tidy up the wood.  “Do you realise that you have destroyed hundreds of years-worth of natural forest development” to which I was told they were just the contractors.  Hundreds of years of development destroyed in a few days of absolute madness. 

And it wasn’t just trees. 

The five-foot deep drain running through the site had also been dug out supposedly to stop flooding in the wood!  Looking at all the tree stumps I would estimate that more than the ‘legal’ 5 cubic metres (5 metric tonnes) of timber had been felled without a felling licence application to Forestry Commission Scotland, but visits by FCS staff have decided that this was marginal and rather than a prosecution, a letter explaining the wrong-doings has been sent to the estate owner.  Scottish Natural Heritage and the Cairngorms National Park Authority were on site the same day as I visited after receiving my email detailing what had been going on and meetings have since taken place with the Revack Estate manager.  The lady owner refused to meet any of the FCS, Park and SNH staff and it’s pretty obvious that the manager hadn’t a clue about anything to do with the natural environment or 
Orthotrichum obtusifolium moss Spey Bridge aspens
the damage he was supervising.  I first visited this wood in 2010 to see the rare Blunt-leaved Bristle-moss (Orthotrichum obtusifolium) and a second visit followed to see the habitat required by the aspen hoverfly led by the lead surveyor, introducing interested parties to the deadwood habitat required by the fly  After my introduction to aspen lichens at Insh Marshes RSPB Reserve by Brian and Sandy Coppins in 2012, I returned to the wood to look for some of the rare lichens found during an earlier survey by experts, just to ‘get my eye in’, to know what they looked like and the typical sites were they grew.  Since that first visit I must have spent days in this wood checking all the aspens and hazels for lichens and adding a few more locations for the rarities whilst also keeping an eye open for the rare moss and some of the seldom recorded fungi associated with dead aspen and hazel branches.  
Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria)
During my first visits looking for the lichens I had my camera and tripod with me so that as each one was found I could take a photo of the tree and myself with my finger pointing to where the lichen was growing.  These photos have been quite important in trying to show the damage done and over a few days, once the contractors had gone, I revisited most of the trees and repeated my photos to try and show before and after images of the site.  Sadly, it is very difficult to show the real extent of the damage even by going to these lengths but at least FCS, SNH and the CNPA have a copy in their files for use if needed in the future.  The lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria), a rare lichen locally, that grew on just one of the old hazels might never return because of the distance to the next known 
Spey Bridge fellings - hazel stumps in the background
Spey Bridge aspens - remains of one of the fallen, ancient trees
population.  It might, but we are probably thinking hundreds not tens of years for that to happen.  Amazingly, in tree felling legalities, the owner could return to this site, fell another 5 tonnes of timber and no one could do anything about it.  The trees are not protected, the hoverfly isn’t protected and less so the fallen, dead ancient aspens and this is where I find a real dilemma.  Oh, did anyone tell the owner about the woods importance?  It’s certainly not for me to go round knocking on owners’ doors saying “by the way…..”.  Even if SNH or the Park did this there is nothing to stop the owners going out and slowly and legally undertake management that would remove or reduce the woods importance in natural history terms.  This has happened to an important flower and insect meadow where a planning application was refused because of their importance.  The next spring the field was fertilised to try and reduce its importance, the plants growing there owed their existence to the field never having been managed intensively in the past.  SNH now have all my rare lichen records from the many aspen and hazel woods in the Strathspey area along with those collected by the Coppins and other experts.  This could be the start of something developing to give these important woods some degree of protection from exploitation, bloody-minded management not forgetting those tidying up operations that one owner has spent a lot of unnecessary money on.

On the last day I was as the Spey Bridge site taking photos I spent the afternoon driving up to near Nairn to see if any of the garden nurseries stocked ‘native’ rowan saplings.  Returning empty handed and for a change of scene after the depression of the previous few days, I just stopped the car in a nice looking spot and wandered down through the trees towards the River Findhorn.  Here I found massive, ancient alders, lots of bird cherries and the occasional ancient oak along with lots of damp, flushed ground where I spotted good populations of alternate-leaved golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium).  Would the rare fungus found on the leaves of the plant last year be 
Refractohilum galligenum parasite on Nephroma laevigatum
present?  After a little searching the tell-tale signs were seen on the upper leaves and the obvious white fungus (Entyloma chrysosplenii) found on the under-leaf, once again probably an under-recorded species.  Some of the enormous alders were searched unsuccessfully for anything that I recognised as unusual before arriving at one of the ancient oaks.  On the tree bark I could see a large population of the Nephroma laevigatum lichen, but something on the ‘leaves’ of the lichen (thallus) looked a little odd indicating the possible presence of a  lichenicolous fungus, a parasite on living lichens.  A small sample was taken for checking once home and consulting The Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland handbook I was led to the name Refractohilum galligenum a species with few British records (just x20 0n NBN Gateway).  A check under the microscope found something called ‘truncated conidia’ but being totally unfamiliar with these microscopic parts a specimen was sent to Brian Coppins who confirmed my ID was correct.  The next day saw the completion of the Spey 
White fungus Entyloma chrysosplenii top and brown
 Puccinia chrysosplenii underleaf  bottom and upper leaf right
Bridge ‘after’ photos with all the before and after photos brought together as a Publisher document.  There then followed an outing to the River Spey near Rothes for the final outing to look for the fungus on Yellow Star of Bethlehem leaves as reported in the last blog.  This outing starts by parking near an amazing railway bridge and as I wandered through the arch where I’d parked I noticed lots of maidenhair spleenwort ferns growing in the pointing between the bricks.  For some reason I decided to check some of these ferns a little more closely and was surprised to see another, smaller fern growing with the spleenwort, which I didn’t recognise.  Photos taken, and thinking I was dealing with a garden-type escape, I wandered off to check the Yellow Star of Bethlehem plants.  Along the way I came across lots of alternate-leaved golden-saxifrage populations along with more of the white leaf fungus.  At a couple of sites the white Entyloma chrysosplenii fungus was found growing close to a second leaf fungus, also found last year, Puccinia chrysosplenii, but this fungus was a distinct brown colour and possibly the first time both had been found growing close together within the same 
Snowdrop leaves and fungus to be identified
population of the saxifrage.  The hour spent checking the Yellow Star of Bethlehem plants didn’t find any leaf fungus but, a large hyacinth type plant at the base of one tree turned out to be Pyrenean squill (Scilla lilio-hyacinthus), probably planted along with the many clumps of several types of daffodils.  The same wood also has several big clumps of snowdrops, many well established, and on the leaves of some plants was a brown rust fungus which had turned up nearby in 2015 and had posed a few problems re identity, for the staff at Kew.  So, more photos and samples taken which once dried were posted off to Kew.  There is a chance that this fungus is linked to something that also appears on willow leaves, so another visit will be needed later in the year to look for anything on the nearby 
Rustyback fern (Asplenium ceterach)
Railway bridge fernery
willows.  Once home the books were consulted to see if the small fern was a native or escapee and I was pleasantly surprised to see the name rustyback (Asplenium ceterach) jump out at me from the book.  It is a native species and, as it turned out, a new species for Vice County 95, Moray.  Quite an honour to find something new for this well recorded VC.  Because of the rarity of the fungus growing on the leaves of the alternate-leaved golden-sax I sent a couple of days visiting sites where I had seen the plant previously and at one site near Tomatin both leaf fungi were found growing again, close together, indicating that they might be more commoner than previously thought.

Thankfully, the 13th April proved to be a good day.  This was my first visit to see the Consultant involved in my prostate operation to see how I was progressing and to give me the results of a blood-test the week before.  He was pleased to hear that the use of incontinence pads during the day had decreased to just about nil, though the odd ‘spillage’ did sometimes occur.  I told him of my Viagra problem and he asked how many pills I was taking and when I said one a day he informed me that the instructions on the packs were wrong, and this should have been one every other day!  He suggested trying the new dosage and see if there was a reaction!  However, I was more desperate to hear about the blood test and eventually he informed me that he was very pleased and that my original PSA (prostate-specific antigen) count of a dangerous 7 was now 0.02 but he was hoping this would decrease even further.  The prostate, when checked, showed that the cancer was fully contained, and that the three monthly blood-tests would monitor any changes.  Phew!  The day after we had an inch of snow lying, light falls of which continued for a couple of days.

Around mid-month an email arrived asking me about the occurrence in the past of the rare stump lichen (Cladonia botrytes) along a new power-line cleared of pines in 1988.  This power-line was a pole supply linking Forest Lodge to Rynettin in the recently acquired Forest Lodge Estate by RSPB, the power-line being part of the sale agreement.  In 1998 the corridor cleared of fairly old Scots pines to install the poles and cables was surveyed, specifically to look for this tiny, rare lichen, on the stumps of the felled pines.  As its name implies, this is the habitat were the lichen is most regularly found, but it had also been found once on dead heather stems and at one site on the circular end of a 

cut pine branch.  The query asked if the lichen was still present.  I knew a follow up survey had been undertaken and had to make a few enquiries to confirm my thoughts that the stumps where the lichen had been found were now totally overgrown with more dominant lichens, moss or plants – the natural processes taking place over a couple of decades.  The dates given above are quite important for this lichen, the ten year gap between tree felling and lichen growth is the time it takes for the stump to start to decay to be suitable, but, with that sort of timescale, many stumps will overgrow with other 
The Cladonia botrytes stump, lichen top right
Cladonia botrytes
commoner Cladonia lichens, mosses and with heather and other plants.  However, a few stumps will remain relatively clear of other competitors and it is on these stumps that the stump lichen might get a chance to grow.  Another factor that might also influence where the lichen grows is where the felling creates a small clearing or coupe within an area of unmanaged surrounding woodland.  Whether this affects sunlight, moisture, aspect of stumps is not known probably because there are so few sites to work with, often just a single stump with the lichen.  The biggest number of sites was near the Kindrogan Field Studies Centre in Perthshire where, in 1998, 19 pine stumps were found in a felled 
Photographing the lichen
clearing with the lichen.  By 2006 only 4 stumps continued to support the lichen.  In checking details of the current state of the lichen in Abernethy with Rebecca in Edinburgh, she happened to mention that the big felling of old pines that took place in Curr Wood near Dulnain Bridge about 10 years ago would have left cut stumps that sould be getting to the stage where the lichen might grow.  As I was going to be visiting this wood to check some of the twinflower patches for the leaf fungi (last site locally for Metacoleroa dickiei) before the big finds in Abernethy from 2013) I thought I would keep an eye on any stumps I came across as a single site had been found in this wood in 2005.  I have to thank our chalet guests Lynne and David for what happened next.  Desperate to see a crested tit I had spent a little time in the woods just outside the Firwood boundary where cresties had been heard regularly until just before their visit, to see if I could locate any.  After standing around without hearing a cheep I was making my way back to the Speyside Way track when I stopped to check a lodgepole pine stump.  Photos I’d taken of possible stump lichens in Curr Wood all turned out to be of other species, but this had given me a bit of an insight into what I was actually looking for and 
Cladonia botrytes before
Cladonia botrytes and after, changeable weather!
when I looked down on this particular stump, I knew I had found it.  Photos of course had to be sent off to the experts to check, but colour, size, stump not too overgrown, I knew this was going to be the most recent find of Cladonia botrytes in the UK.  Emails by return confirmed my identification.  Wow!  Later the same day I returned to the stump to get good quality photos and to check all the other stumps in this felling coupe where all the lodgepole pines had been cleared as part of the EU Wet Woods Restoration Project 1998-2001.  Next day the search continued in the next coupe across the Speyside Way and this proved to be very productive with another 3 stumps and 1 decaying lodgepole log all supporting the lichen.  Not only were the finds good in numbers but the number of ‘potedia’ (the ‘stem’ of the lichen supporting the pink fruiting apothecia or pycnidia) at most locations were all very high, particularly when compared with the earlier Abernethy finds.  So, you can guess what happens next!  From the 20th April until months end 9 outing were undertaken in Abernethy and Curr Wood producing 2 more stumps with the lichen.  Sadly, I didn’t take my hand tally counter with me to begin with to click-count the number of stumps checked, but during the last two outings in Curr Wood, where I was also checking twinflower patches, almost 500 stumps were looked at.  Considering that there had been seven previous outings bending over ‘stumping’ well over a thousand additional stumps would have also been checked. 

Despite the outings to Curr Wood not producing any Cladonia botrytes records there were two other good finds.  This wood was used for the pinewood hoverfly experiment (Blera fallax) where pyramid shaped holes were cut by chainsaw into the tops of the recently felled tree stumps.  These holes were then filled with wood chips or sawdust and allowed to fill naturally with rainwater.  Over the years of the experiment many of these holes were used as breeding sites by the hoverfly and I think the last 
Blera fallax larva
Calicera rufa larva
holes were cut in about 2006 or 2008.  As I went along looking for twinflower patches and suitable lichen stumps I came across some of the stumps used for the experiment and on one stump, where a wedge of wood cut out of the stump and used as a cover for the hole had been moved to the side of the hole, I could see the hole still held a large amount of water.  I thought I should move the ‘cover’ back towards the hole, but as I lifted it up I realised that there was a larva resting on the surface of the stump and to me, it looked like a Blera larva.  Over the years I’ve had quite a few contacts with these larvae so I was fairly confident that I had found a larva leaving the watery hole where it had been growing for the last year to pupate before emerging as an adult fly to start the process all over again.  Expert Iain confirmed the ID the next day.  At another cut stump, again still retaining water, I could see a larva on the wood chips but this one didn’t have the long, distinctive breathing ‘tube’ at the end 
Twinflower leaf and two fungi
of its body and my guess this time was that I was dealing with another pine rot-hole resident fly Calicera rufa, something I had seen previously in the watery hole at the junction of the trunks of twin-stemmed Scots pines.  Again the expert agreed.  The twinflower patches may also have produced the goods.  The original find in this wood was for the leaf fungus Metacoleroa dickiei in 2001, way ahead of my find in Abernethy in 2013.  However, this was the only species recorded and I knew from my surveys that a second fungus might also be present, Ceramothyrium linnaeae, the one that turned out to be new to the UK when identified by Martyn at Kew.  This is the smaller black dot fungus living on the twinflower leaves along with its bigger relative M. dickiei.  Checking leaves under the microscope I’m sure I’ve found it but I just await confirmation from Paul at Kew.

This woodland is next to the famous Strathspey Heather Centre on the Skye of Curr road and a place where quite a few items for the garden are bought each year along with some of our bird food.  On the 30th I was driving over to Aviemore to pick up the grandchildren at 8.30am and I noticed huge plumes of smoke rising from the direction of the A95 Aviemore to Grantown road and, with there 
being a covering of snow on the ground, I assumed there had been a crash on the road with a resulting fire.  I stopped to take a few photos before heading on to Aviemore.  Heading back to Aviemore at about 10am if anything the smoke was worse and was drifting as far as Aviemore on the northerly wind.  It wasn’t a crash but the Heather Centre buildings going up in flames with a fire so intense fire crews from as far away as Inverness were called in to help.  A section of the plant sale area was saved but many of the buildings were destroyed including the shop and cafĂ©.  Currently a limited amount of plant sales continue but it will be some while before the whole tourist outlet is up and running again.

Mid-April was a bad time for the Strathspey waders on the farm close to Broomhill Bridge where photos over the years were taken of fields being drained and wet pasture being ploughed up.  I was checking the snowdrop populations along the side of the River Nethy when I was aware that the adjacent fields were being ploughed, fields were I knew lapwings and oystercatchers were sitting on eggs.  I walked back to the car and drove along the road towards the bridge just in time to see the tractor and plough getting ever closer to one of the oystercatcher nests, so I pulled over and sat to 
Nesting oystercatcher about to be ploughed up
watch what would happen next.  For two passes of the plough the oystercatcher stayed on its nest but for the next pass it took off and slowly returned to its nest once the tractor was well up the field.  The tractor driver must have realised that I was photographing what was happening and stopped his tractor at the top end of the field and disappeared off to the farm buildings.  I waited a little while but it was obvious that he wouldn’t be returning whilst I was parked close to the nest.  This was one of two nests close to where I was parked.  After five minutes I decided it was time to go and drove home.  However, I was keen to know what had happened so about twenty minutes later I drove back to find that the place where the nest had been was now ploughed, probably a few minutes before I’d 
Nest gone
2nd oystercatcher looking for nest and eggs
returned.  However, as the tractor and plough drove past me once again it stopped and the driver climbed down from his cab and appeared to move something from just in front of the tractor, which, I assumed, was the nest or eggs of the second oystercatchers nest, placing whatever it was on the recently ploughed ground.  As the tractor made its way back up the field a very distraught oystercatcher was wandering back and forth trying to find its nest and eggs.  At this stage a landrover appeared from the farm area so I decided it was time to go.  Returning to the field in the early evening I drove back to find that none of the oystercatchers was present and will leave it up to you as to whether the law had been broken.  At least one lapwing nest in the same field also disappeared.  With harrowing work to follow followed by seed planting and then field rolling there is little chance of any breeding success by either species on this particular field.  Something similar also happened in the field on the other side of the road and we all scratch our heads wondering why the local wader population is in major decline.  I’ve enquired whether I would have been prosecuted if I’d been seen stealing the eggs but this particular query has yet to be answered.

John Owen – an amazing man
We received some very sad news on the 26th April, John Owen our friend and long-term beetle recorder at RSPB Abernethy Forest had died.  Shortly after we arrived at Loch Garten I was out on the Tulloch Moor road early one evening and I met a man with a sweep-net, sweeping insects from the roadside verge.  We got chatting and I asked if it would be possible to have a list of any of the species he identified for the reserve list and a few weeks later a list duly arrived.  This was 1977 and John and wife Doreen returned to the expanding Abernethy Reserve almost every year for 15 years 
John Owen in action
Timberman beetle (male) first found by John
Bee beetle
and after that identified many of the beetles that were collected via pitfall traps during reserve survey projects.  During this period over 900 species of beetles were identified with 190 being in the ‘rare to scarce’ category.  I collected beetles from squirrel dreys, buzzard nests, Norway spruce cones, osprey nests whilst up the trees at ringing time and even from the water-filled flowers of a group of pitcher plants that someone had planted near Loch Garten all for John to see and identify.  John was equally as industrious with malaise traps which recorded species throughout the year and which produced 4 flies (identified by his friend) that were new to science.  A dead sheep was placed near our house in Tulloch and surrounded by pitfall traps to see what turned up and when something unusual turned up in one of the research pitfall traps there was great excitement.  A water beetle by the amazing name of Agabus (now Ilybius) wasastjernea had turned up and though it was not a new British species it was the first time it had been found as a living specimen the previous records being from fossil finds (wing elytra) dated from around 8000 years before the Abernethy find.  Doreen played a major part in all John’s visits, a companion in the field and a great help to John with his various pieces of field equipment.  Our thoughts and sympathies are with her at this sad time.

Enjoy the read
Stewart and Janet

Firwood blog July 2015
EU Wet Woods Project
Lichen podetia
Blera fallax
Firwood Blog July 2011 – Blera fallax
Calicera rufa hoverfly
Strathspey Heather Centre
Heather Centre fire 30 April 2016
NBN Gateway
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
and how to join HBRG

Daffodils in the snow

Racomitrium aciculare moss near Rogie Falls
note the twisted stems, not mentioned in handbook

How not to look after dead trees, especially on a nature reserve!
Photos © Stewart Taylor