Lichen Trip report

Solway trip report 19th August 2023

The weather forecast did not bode well for our trip to the Solway coast with a storm bringing heavy rain overnight prior to our visit. The weather at the coast usually clears quickly and this proved to be the case with no rain all day though it was blustery and occasionally sunny enough for some butterflies.

In the morning we visited the CWT Bowness-on-Solway reserve, a small area of old gravel pits, given to Cumbria Wildlife Trust in 1977, which has turned into luscious ponds with lots of new woodland and open glades with interesting invertebrates, botany and many tasty ripe blackberries. Mossy willows dominate in the wetter areas with hawthorn, birch and the occasional oak and elder on drier ground. Despite its small size this felt like very good habitat, one that, had it been on the west coast of Scotland, might have been home to Lobarion lichens. Little Xanthoria parietina was seen which is a good sign. However we saw a limited range of species (though they were looking lush) probably because it was dark under the willow canopy and many trees had fairly acidic bark, as well as not being very old. Succession to full-blown woodland is stopped by regular scrub removal so as to preserve the freshwater habitat, the main feature of this site, as well as glades for flowering plants and butterflies.

The trees had foliose species including prolific Parmotrema perlatum, pearly grey with sorediate crinkly edges, Punctelia subrudecta with punctiform dots of soredia on the lobe surface and around the margins, and Flavoparmelia caperata, all looking very green after the rain. Mossy willow trunks had Peltigera membranacea and P. hymenina. Examining trees more closely we found a good amount of Normandina pulchella amongst bryophytes and on drier bark clear of moss Phaeographis smithii, confirmed later when Chris looked at the exciple and spores. Other lirellate species (Opegrapha and Arthonia in old money) were on smooth birch bark. The orange discs of Coenogonium (Dimerella) luteum showed up well amongst moss; on drier trunks in cracks the smaller pale grey-pink discs of Coenogonium pineti were seen. There was lots of common Ramalina fastigiata and R. farinacea as well as a small example of Ramalina fraxinea on a well-lit hawthorn near the edge of the reserve; this latter species was impacted by sulphur dioxide pollution but is now hopefully recovering – a species for which we have International Responsibility. Alongside this was what we thought might be poorly formed R. fraxinea but on closer inspection has proved to be Ramalina canariensis which has distinctive soralia around the edge of short broad lobes. This is coastal in the north, liking well-lit situations on basic bark (this was on elder). Nearby was Physcia stellaris on alder, with a K- medulla, which distinguishes it from P. aipolia which has a K+ yellow medulla.

At the reserve entrance there was a nice sandstone gate stoop with the only saxicolous species we saw at this site: Ochrolechia parella, Lecidella stigmatea and Lepra (Pertusaria) amara (soredia with bitter taste) which is usually on bark but can be on humid sheltered rock. On the lignum of gates, fence posts and dead tree trunks we found Cladonia species, Candelariella reflexa, Fuscidea lightfootii and Violella fucata (Pd+ orangy red) amongst others.

Moving on to RSPB Campfield we made our way past the main bird hides and through some damp woods where Arthonia spadicea was on birch, as well as typical acid bark species. A boardwalk then led onto Bowness Common, described in the SSSI citation as the largest raised mire remaining in England. Initially it looked bleak for lichens – a sea of heather, bog myrtle and sphagnum, mostly pretty damp with not much exposed peat – but off the boardwalk it was wet but firm underfoot with lots of lovely Cladonia hiding in open patches of peat between the heather. Mounds of C. portentosa were the most visible.  A lovely dark brown “heathtail” with a ring of spines at the hollow tip forming a star-like effect is possibly Cladonia crispata var cetrariiformis to be confirmed. There were a further dozen or so Cladonia species including C. verticillata with tiers of podetia and Cladonia subulata, some red-fruited ones and others awaiting identification. Lots of bog myrtle provided a bark habitat for corticolous crusts, including Mycoglaena myricae, a non-lichenised fungus with dark perithecia and a pale ring of thallus around each one, found wherever the host grows, and various Lecanora species. Where there was lignum (a finger post and fence rails) the lichen was dripping off. Here we found Xanthoria ucrainica, Usnea subfloridana, Pyrrhospora quernea and Placynthiella icmalea.

Chris tested a reindeer lichen and concluded it was Cladonia ciliata var ciliata (the grey-brown version lacking usnic acid) – browner towards the down-pointing tips than other similar Cladonia and predominantly dichotomous at the apices. It had an orangey/red Pd reaction and was KC-, distinguishing it from C. portentosa (KC+y, Pd-) and C. arbuscula (KC+y, Pd+rust-red).  This test might have helped: “The bright UV fluorescence at the base of C. portentosa is especially useful for rapid separation from C. arbuscula.”

Further on Peter Bisset confirmed Flavoparmelia soredians on the hand rail of a bridge with K+ yellow going red.

The two different habitats very close to each other made for an interesting day’s licheneering. Thanks to Russell Gomm for suggesting the visit and the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and RSPB for permission to visit their reserves and take specimens. And thanks to Roger for sharing his botany knowledge.

Text: Chris Cant and Caz Walker. Photos: Chris Cant, Peter Bisset, Caz Walker



Lichens in the Protoblastenia genus are all saxicolous crusts with orange apothecia; they are found on limestone with P. rupestris also widespread on mortar or concrete.  There are three common species:

The immersed small fruit of P. incrustans are distinctive. The size of the fruit for the two others overlap, so looking for an areolate thallus (P. rupestris) or shallow pits (P. calva) is the best guide. The spores of the three species are similar so this feature cannot easily be used to distinguish between them.

There are three other Protoblastenia species but these are rare:

Habitat and distribution

P. rupestris is found on limestone, mortar and concrete (which contain limestone) ie almost everywhere in GB&I.

P. incrustans and P. calva are found on hard limestone. The distribution maps correspond to the geological outcropping of this rock.

Our local patch is Knipe Scar which is a limestone pavement and outcrop on the eastern fringe of the Lake District in Cumbria.  Protoblastenia species occur on the vertical edge and on the clints of the limestone pavement.

Knipe Scar
Knipe Scar

 Knipe Scar  limestone pavement
Knipe Scar limestone pavement

Protoblastenia or Caloplaca?

Caloplaca is the main other saxicolous genus that has orange fruit.

  • Caloplaca fruit always have a margin; Protoblastenia does not have a margin.
  • Caloplaca fruit are always flat; Protoblastenia incrustans is flat; the other two are convex.
  • Caloplaca may have a yellow or orange thallus. Protoblastenia never has a yellow or orange thallus.
  • Caloplaca fruit has polarilocular spores; Protoblastenia spores are simple.
  • Both Caloplaca and Protoblastenia are K+ crimson.
Protoblastenia calva: K+ crimson
Protoblastenia calva: K+ crimson

Caloplaca gallery

Anything else it could be?

These genera do have orange fruit but also always have a distinctive margin:

  • Candelariella
  • Gyalecta
  • Petractis

Protoblastenia incrustans

  • Small apothecia, up to 0.5mm, with no margin, immersed in pits; some pits may be empty
  • Flat pale orange apothecia, fully immersed with the top level with the limestone surface
  • Thallus pale or grey or endolithic, ie within the limestone
  • K+ crimson
  • On hard limestone

Distinctive once you’ve got your eye in.

Protoblastenia rupestris

  • Medium-sized apothecia, up to 1mm,  with no margin, not immersed in pits
  • Flattened convex orange apothecia
  • Variable thallus: often green-brown and areolate
  • K+ crimson
  • On hard limestone, mortar or concrete

Can look similar to P. calva: don’t use apothecia size to differentiate.
If thallus is areolate then it’s P. rupestris. If smooth then it’s P. calva.
If substrate is mortar or concrete then almost certainly P. rupestris.
P. rupestris fruit can be a duller orange than P. calva.
If some shallow pits visible, then it’s P. calva.

 Protoblastenia rupestris on limestone
Protoblastenia rupestris on limestone
 Protoblastenia rupestris on concrete
Protoblastenia rupestris on concrete

Protoblastenia calva

  • Larger apothecia, up to 1.5mm,  with no margin, often immersed in shallow pits
  • More convex brighter orange apothecia
  • Thallus: white or cream or grey, smooth or endolithic
  • K+ crimson
  • On hard limestone

Can look similar to P. rupestris: don’t use apothecia size to differentiate.
If thallus is areolate then it’s P. rupestris. If smooth then it’s P. calva.
If substrate is mortar or concrete then almost certainly P. rupestris.
If some shallow pits visible, then it’s P. calva.

Protoblastenia calva showing shallow pits
Protoblastenia calva showing shallow pits


Cross Fell, August 2021

Caz Walker and I like Umbilicaria spp and other montane lichens, so looking for the only English record of U. hyperborea on Cross Fell in the Pennines was a challenge we couldn’t resist. Two problems: (1) there were no accurate grid references and (2) it is a long walk in so there might not be much time available for searching.  OK and (3) the weather: the species up there are called arctic-alpine for good reason.

Cross Fell summit shelter

The British Lichen Society database has just one entry for Cumbria for Umbilicaria hyperborea, dated 27/7/1979  on a BLS field trip, with a hectad grid reference NY63 giving us 10km x 10km to search! The record gives the location as “Cross Fell” with the notes saying “on tops of several boulders in sheltered enclave on the N side; an area of late snow-lie”.  Narrows it down a bit.  This was echoed in the field trip report in the Lichenologist: “In a slightly sheltered enclave on the N side where the snow often lies into June, U. hyperborea was seen in its only English locality, on tops of several boulders.”  It also references an earlier article by Rod Corner announcing the original discovery on 6/7/77 where it was “Seen in at least two areas of discontinuous scree”, adding that “Cetrariella commixta , a rare montane species in England, was an associated species.”

OK, not much to go on, but definitely a help.  Cross Fell and the other hills nearby are a layer cake with harder sandstone rocks outcropping at the edge of the summit plateau interspersed with mudstone and limestone layers lower down. A look at the Ordnance Survey map shows that the area called “The Screes” to the north-east of the summit shelter looks like where to look.

On our previous trip, we’d slogged up from the Eden valley to Little Dun Fell: a long walk in and out. We got permission from Natural England to reduce the walk in from the Great Dun Fell side – whew!

The day we chose to go, it was due to clear up at lunch time.  It was August, but we set off in the cloud with virtually all our winter gear on amid occasional showers driven by a strong wind. At the top of Great Dun Fell, it was still very misty so we couldn’t see the big golf ball when we walked past 25m away!

Despite poor visibility, we soon found nice lichens on Great Dun Fell in the low heath near the track of the Pennine Way including several small patches of Cetraria islandica. These were not seen on Little Dun Fell, though we knew from our previous trip that the rocks just north of the summit held some great saxicolous species.

When we got onto the Cross Fell plateau Cetraria islandica appeared again, along with Fuscidea lygaea and Myriospora smaragdula on rocks. The weather started to clear as we hunkered down out of the wind at the summit shelter for a first lunch and a hot drink.  We headed over to The Screes on the north side of the plateau and saw a dauntingly huge area of large boulders stretching into the distance, many with an orange covering of algae.

We started looking for vague recesses where snow might lie.  Things started to hot up: we started finding some Umbilicaria spp including quite a green looking U. deusta. And then Caz hit the jackpot, finding what looked like U. hyperborea. There were two thalli on one boulder and I soon spotted another couple on another boulder nearby.

Umbilicaria species are often identified on morphological features, rather than chemical tests or spores, and are usually found in prominent sites on top of boulders or outcrops.  They all have a central holdfast on each thallus. Looking at the upper and lower surface carefully is required, noting whether there are marginal fibrils.  In this case, there were quite a few gyrose fruit but no idisia, soredia, granules or fibrils. The dark brown upper surface had small sinuous folds except at the edges, with one or two new lobes appearing less lumpy. The margins were lacerate. Wetting the lobes we carefully looked underneath: it was uniformly brown with no rhizinomorphs and no thalloconidia.  It looked spot on!  Success!  We took a very small sample in case any confirmation is needed.  According to the ViewRanger app on my phone we were at just under 850m above sea level.

The alternative candidates include U. cylindrica which has abundant marginal fibrils.  U. proboscidea has ridges around the centre of the upper surface, not small folds; it’s not lacerate at the margin.  U. torrefacta has a lower surface with fibrous strands (trabeculae/lamellae).  The rarer U. nylanderiana has a black lower surface with single-celled thalloconidia present.

On the same boulders were a few Melanelia hepatizon and several Cetrariella commixta – splendid. Soon afterwards, Caz found another arctic-alpine specialist Allantoparmelia alpicola along with Parmeliopsis ambigua which we’d seen on Little Dun Fell.  There was also the bobbly version of Stereocaulon vesuvianum ie var. nodulosum.  We also spotted a bright yellow Rhizocarpon – it would be great if this were montane specialist R. alpicola. However later dissection showed it to be R. lecanorinumR. alpicola has 1-septate spores, while in R. lecanorinum they are muriform. The literature describes the spores as brown; ours were clearly green as found in other photos online.

We also found Ionaspis lacustris on some exposed rocks, not near water, where it is usually found. We’re guessing that the atmosphere is usually very damp here; indeed quite a few lichens were very swollen.  On the way back we saw Ochrolechia frigida on Cross Fell and Lichenomphalia umbellifera on Little and Great Dun Fell.

We were lucky: we only scratched the surface of the Cross Fell scree area. There’s a huge number more boulders to explore.  We didn’t find Frutidella caesioatra which was described as being on Cross Fell at “the same site, found on a sheltered ledge formed by the juxtaposition of two boulders”. This’ll be much harder to spot – fancy joining us to have a look? 

Chris Cant

  1. Coppins & Gilbert (1981). Field Meeting near Penrith. Lichenologist 13(2): p193
  2. Corner (1978). Umbilicaria hyperborea discovered in England. Lichenologist 10: p134
Lichen Trip report

Carrock Fell trip report 22/7/21

This trip took place during a spell of extremely hot and dry weather, but a few brave souls still turned up.  It was too hot to do very much, and the bryophytes would be very dry, so we set off in one group up the steep path to Carrock Fell.  Most of us made it to the top, bolstered by a very slight breeze and a few bilberries.  It was a great skill-sharing session, introducing new lichenologists to species found on Cumbrian hills and a few montane specialists at the top.  And we found some common species that hadn’t been reported before for the two monads that we visited.

The boulders beside the path had map lichen Rhizocarpon geographicum and rock tripe Lasallia pustulata immediately visible.  Umbilicarias are usually higher up, but we found U. polyphylla very close to the road. While lichens on rocks can be hard to get started on, a few common species are distinctive, at least to genus.  The boulders also had Xanthoparmelia conspersaFuscidea cyathoidesAcarospora fuscataTremolecia atrataParmelia saxatilis and P. omphalodes.  While the beginners had heard various lichen terms before, being able to see them in real life helped understanding considerably. As usual, looking very closely with a hand lens is often needed, though some lichens have a jizz that you can see from afar once you have your eye in.

On the way, we started to see the terricolous lichens, ie on the ground.  Cladonia portentosa is fairly common on the hills: a cluster of thin pale stalks with branches facing in all directions. Similarly, the thicker tubes of Cladonia uncialis were found along with the low pointed and sparsely branched brown Cladonia furcata.  Higher up we also saw Cladonia arbuscula which is a bit like C. portentosa but with the top branches all facing in the same direction with 3 or 4 branches at each branching point. There was also Dibaeis baeomyces with small distinctive white globose propagules on the thallus (like isidia they break off to propagate) – but no fruit in this case.

Further up, we found Pertusaria (now Lepra) corallina and P. pseudocorallina side-by-side on a boulder.  P. pseudocorallina has brown-tipped isidia, visible with a hand lens, while those on L. corallina were all white.  These allowed us to show chemical spot tests in action.  Adding a drop of K to L. corallina turned it yellow, while for P. pseudocorallina it turned yellow initially then changed to red.

As we got higher we started to see the fell top species such as the lovely Cornicularia normoerica aka “corn” which looked like a small dark moss at a glance.  Also fairly typical on hills are Sphaerophorus globosus and S. fragilis.  One to stick in the memory is blood spot lichen Ophioparma ventosa, together with a lichenicolous fungus growing on it, Muellerella ventosicola, officially Nationally Scarce but actually fairly common in the Lake District once you start looking for it. I’m now sufficiently confident to identify this without having to take a specimen to look at under the microscope.

In the short heather at the top, ie above 600m asl, a few true montane heath lichen species were found: “iceland moss” Cetraria islandica and “fish bones” Ochrolechia frigida, along with the more common Cetraria aculeata. By this time we were literally frazzled and reaching overload, but we did re-find the montane saxicolous species of Arctoparmelia incurva, Pseudephebe pubescens and Umbilicaria proboscidea, all uncommon in England.

We came down following the easier path to the north and skirted back round to the road, visiting a known patch of bog orchids – drier than usual but still with a couple of plants visible.  I’m sure everyone needed cold drinks and cool showers when back home.  Thanks to Natural England; I’ll send in our species list.

Chris Cant

Thanks to Clare Shaw for the photos.

Species list


Little Dun Fell, June 2021

Continuing my theme of upland lichens, Caz Walker and I visited Little Dun Fell in the Pennines on 7/6/21 hoping to acquaint ourselves with the arctic-alpine species that have been found there, as well as to see how they are doing. We approached from a friends’ house in Eden valley fellside, so quite a trek with 11 miles total and 600m of ascent!  We saw a ring-tail hen harrier on the way up, along with a couple of curlews and golden plover, though perhaps there should have been more. There weren’t very many flowers but a red admiral butterfly perched on the rocks at the summit of Little Dun Fell (which is just inside the Moor House NNR). The boulders also hid several bits of flotsam including two fluorescent rucksack waterproof covers and that not so rare species Plastic pepsicola.

Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell
Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell

Little Dun Fell, Great Dun Fell and Cross Fell are on the Pennine Way in Cumbria with tops at over 840m: a layer of hard acidic gritstone, interbedded with other sedimentary rocks, showing as outcrops on the sides of Cross Fell and a boulder field just to the north of the summit of Little Dun Fell.  Great Dun Fell sports a “golf ball” radar station – a landmark visible from afar on the west, and looks like a modern art installation close up.

The altitude and geology of these windswept tops provides a suitable home for various arctic-alpine lichen species that are more usually found on the tops of Scottish hills. Most of the lichen records are from some time ago, though Allan Pentecost visited Cross Fell summit in 2016.  The last lichen records for Little Dun Fell in the British Lichen Society database are from 1979 at a BLS field trip which spent a week in the Penrith area (1). Some notable records have a 6 figure grid reference while others just have a hectad reference.  

Caz had seen a few of the target species on trips in Scotland with the BLS montane group. We should also recognise other montane specialists that we’ve seen in the Lake District fells.  We made a good list of species, re-finding some of the rarities and adding one more.  However, Umbilicaria proboscidea was missing, having been described as locally frequent at Little Dun Fell in 1979. We also didn’t see Arctoparmelia incurva which had been present then, but we could have missed it this time.

We re-found nationally scarce Allantoparmelia alpicola on quite a few boulders – tiny contorted and convex lobes.  In addition we found two small appressed species that look a bit like Cetrarias.  Cetrariella commixta was there previously, but Melanelia hepatizon is new for this top, though found west of Cross Fell in 1990 by Simon Davey.  The M. hepatizon had pseudocyphellae on the lobe margins and the surface of the thallus; not present on the upper cortex of the C. commixta. More definitively, in M. hepatizon the white medulla is K+ yellow while in C. commixta it is K-. Note that the algal layer will turn greeny yellow during the test.

We also found Parmeliopsis ambigua on a boulder. This is mainly on acid barked trees, but it was found here in 1979 and there are a few other saxicolous records for Cumbria, with some of these on headstones in graveyards. It is yellow grey with globose soralia testing yellow with K.  We wanted this to be Arctoparmelia incurva but that is KC+ pink and has different shaped lobes.

Schaereria cinereorufa was also present, with the uniseriate globose spores confirming it later.

In the turf, slightly surprisingly, was good old Bilimbia sabuletorum which we wouldn’t expect in an acid environment. However there is basic rock in the area.

Bilimbia sabuletorum

Fifty metres closer to the actual summit there are two fenced exclosures, erected in 1954.  The 1979 BLS trip report says that these had taller vegetation inside, with Cetraria islandica and Cladonia arbuscula having increased their cover to form large cushions. The exclosures are still there with intact fences, but we saw neither of those species in a quick look, though we did see Cladonia ciliata.  The inside vegetation is indeed slightly taller, but not a lot, so the extremes of weather do stop dominant species even with no grazing or trampling. I don’t think the two lost species were present outside of the exclosures in 1979, presumably due to grazing or historic burning. But any chance of recolonisation now seems to have gone. Update: We did see Cetraria islandica on a later visit to nearby Great Dun Fell and Cross Fell.

There’s a similar old exclosure at Cow Green Reservoir (also in Moor House NNR) that we visited on 29/7/20. The growth there was similarly slightly higher inside, and had bushy C. islandica along with Common twayblade and Cloudberry.  So, it feels like the Little Dun Fell exclosures aren’t doing very well, even with grazers excluded.  A long term study of the Moor House vegetation plots, 2015 (3), says that “during the period that Moor House has been protected as a nature reserve the vegetation quality has declined in spite of reductions in grazing pressure.”  The study reports Little Dun Fell as having the highest numbers of sheep (at 5.8 per hectare average between 1954 -1998) but says that “overall, removal of sheep grazing had few positive effects and many negative ones”. It doesn’t reach any definitive conclusion as to what’s going on but speculates that “it is possible that this reflects a continuing late-twentieth century impact of  atmospheric pollution”. Increased temperatures from climate change won’t help. 

That report also says, “What is of particular concern are the reductions in the probability of occurrence of liverworts and lichens.”  “Biotic homogenisation has now been detected in Great Britain at the countrywide-scale (Smart et al. 2006) and within alpine communities (Britton et al. 2009 (4)), and it is possible that this reflects a continuing late-twentieth century impact of atmospheric pollution”. A paper from Mitchell in 2017 (6) echoes these findings: less specialist species are invading the highest refuges for alpine species of various taxa. The combination of warming and nutrient loads in most uplands is therefore reducing biodiversity.

It would be good to check out more of these Pennine tops to get a better overview of the situation, so, as usual, a repeat visit is required, ideally with less of a walk-in.  In particular it would be lovely to check the only English record of Umbilicaria hyperborea on Cross Fell, in the database for 1979 following its finding by Rod Corner in 1977 (2).

Re-finding existing records is great to build up your knowledge – and check the state of play on the ground. The distribution lichen maps for Cumbria are online here, and I can provide full records –  and the BLS records officer is happy to provide database snapshots for other parts of the country. It’s also good to visit new areas – and thinking about the geology and vegetation can suggest where to look.

Chris Cant

  1. Coppins & Gilbert (1981). Field Meeting near Penrith. Lichenologist 13(2): p193
  2. Corner (1978). Umbilicaria hyperborea discovered in England. Lichenologist 10: p134
  3. Milligan, Rose & Marrs (2015). Winners and losers in a long-term study of vegetation change at Moor House NNR: Effects of sheep grazing and its removal on British upland vegetation.
  4. Britton et al (2009) Biological Conservation 142/8 p1728-1739
    Biodiversity gains and losses: Evidence for homogenisation of Scottish alpine vegetation
  5. Britton et al (2016)
    Climate, pollution and grazing drive long-term change in moorland habitats
  6. Mitchell et al (2017). Biological Conservation 212 p327-336
    Forty years of change in Scottish grassland vegetation: Increased richness, decreased diversity and increased dominance


Upland lichens

There are many lichen habitats in Cumbria, some literally on your doorstep. However, if you want a walk then there’s potentially lots to see while out on the fells and scars of the Lake District and the Pennines. The species I’m showing here don’t need a hand lens to see. With your eye in, you can spot them en route. If you have time and a sunny day or flask, then do take a breather and stop to have a closer look. If you are more adventurous, do visit ghylls, crags and the spoil heaps outside old mine-workings – but do take care.

Most lichen species have a preference for either acid or basic geology with some only found high up on montane heaths. Just as we look at geological maps to see what lichens are around, geologists have been known to look at the lichens to determine the rock type!

Limestone scars and pavements

Limestone is a basic (alkaline) rock which forms outcrops called scars – and flat pavements of clints (stones) and grykes (the gaps between). Limestone pavements can be great for specialised plants. In the past stone may have been robbed out but many areas are now protected.

Many of the limestone specialist lichens are crusts which can be hard to identify. On our local patch, Knipe Scar, there’s lots of Squamarina cartilaginea with green squamules .  If you look carefully you might see Solorina saccata on the vertical sides of the clints. It’s easy to see why this species has a common name of Chocolate chip lichen. On our local patch, Knipe Scar, I’ve taken photos six months apart; you can see the brown fruit less developed in one area in the inset photo.

On the short turf beside the pavement, you might find Peltigera leucophlebia or ‘fleb’ as we’ve come to call it, usually with green lobes with small black warts on. There is a similar green lichen P. britannica but this is rarer and not on basic rock; we have re-found this species at a couple of sites in the Lakes.

Fell lichens

The geology of Cumbria can be pretty complicated, but most of the fells are acidic /siliceous / volcanic rock. There are still plenty of places with basic flushes, so you might find Peltigera leucophlebia for example amongst the crags. And vice-versa, you can find erratic siliceous boulders on limestone.

If you look on the rocks around you, you will often see Stereocaulon vesuvianum, looking a bit like a mini-eruption from Mount Vesuvius, or map lichen Rhizocarpon geographicum usually looking yellow/green with black borders between the ‘countries’. Another common species is Parmelia saxatilis. Some species found on trees are also on montane rocks as well as heather, eg Platismatia glauca and Hypogymnia physodes.

On some rocks you might find Lasallia pustulata which is one of the species called ‘rock tripe’ which I’m told is edible – I’ve never tried it but it does look a bit like a poppadom! This is whitish-grey when dry but is green when wet, which got me very perplexed once.

Ophioparma ventosa, blood-spot lichen, is fairly common on acid rock, with the main thallus either yellow-ish or pale pink. The red fruit are lecanorine, which means the pale thallus forms the exciple margin of the apothecium, providing a jam-tart-in-pastry look.

Another genus you might find is Sphaerophorus with species S. fragilis and S. globosus found in Cumbria, both with a coral like appearance, occasionally found with black eyed stalk fruit, but often grazed by slugs!

As you get a bit higher, on rocks you might see various Umbilicaria species such as Umbilicaria cylindrica. If fertile these have amazing gyrose fruit ie with spiral patterns. U. cylindrica is usually gray with prongs on the margins. The rarer U. polyrrhiza is a lovely pale chocolate brown with a mass of black rhizines underneath. In Langdale there is the main site in the UK of nationally rare Umbilicaria crustulosa.

Also higher up, but usually quite small, is the lovely Cornicularia normoerica.

Montane heath lichens

The tops of the Lake District fells and some parts of the Pennines have harsh conditions that resemble the arctic. Here, the heather and grass don’t grow very tall as they are lashed by the wind and rain. Where you see the nets of Cladonia portentosa and tubes of Cladonia uncialis you are in the right sort of area. Sometimes these species can be found lower down, alongside Cetraria aculeata.

This ‘wind-clipped heath’ on the fell tops is a precious habitat so if you find it, don’t trample around too much.  Species that do well in more northerly latitudes can be found here, such as Thamnolia vermicularis, Cetraria islandica and Ochrolechia frigida. Our map for Thamnolia shows the sort of places you can look, but new sites are still being found in the Northern fells. Recently I found a loose fragment of C. islandica on the top of High Street in the eastern fells, possibly pulled up by a corvid. This would be a new site – but exploring at the time and on a subsequent visit, we couldn’t find where it came from.

Text and photos by Chris Cant

Bryophyte Lichen

Short-listed for the NBN Groups Award 2020

The Cumbria Lichen and Bryophyte Group has been short-listed for a group award in the NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording 2020! These annual Awards recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions adults and young people are making to wildlife recording and data sharing, which is helping to improve our understanding of the UK’s biodiversity.

It’s free to attend the virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday 18th November 2020 from 4pm to 4:40pm – book here.

We’re one of five groups short-listed for the award and we are very pleased to reach this stage so soon after setting up. Thanks very much to April Windle for entering us – and for her outstanding help while in Cumbria as the Plantlife LOST project officer. She enthusiastically commented, “so flipping deserved – you are AMAZING!”. Our group outings have currently stopped due to Covid-19 but members and others are keeping in touch using the Cumbria Lichens and Cumbria Bryophytes Facebook groups.

We record sightings on group trips and submit records individually. Bryologist members are the regional recorders for VC69 and VC70. Lichen group member Chris Cant has produced very useful interactive lichen distribution maps for VC69 and VC70. Over the winter of 2018-19, Pete Martin visited 20 woodlands in southern Lake District doing Rapid Woodland Assessments while also counting the number of indicator lichen species he could find – more info. Species found during the LOST project brought the national British Lichen Society to visit the wood pasture at Rydal, Ambleside, in 2019. Clare Shaw found Pale scalewort moss Radula voluta at Frith Wood in December 2018 which has led to moves to protect the woodland. Member Russell Gomm first reported lichen records while working here in 1974; his interest has been re-awakened and he is now finding new records on his local patch near the Solway. Increased awareness of lichens and bryophytes with conservation managers has led to efforts to translocate internationally important lichen Lobaria pulmonaria on fallen trees brought down in storms of February 2020. The group has raised concerns about a planning application which may affect bryophytes, lichens and ferns at Stanley Ghyll.

Caz Walker says, “A good species distribution map is worth its weight in gold: it allows us to track down things we haven’t yet seen (part of the long learning process) as well as refinding old sightings to confirm continuity; it allows at a glance an assessment of the habitat type and quality once one knows what to look for; it shows many blanks on the map of areas not yet well recorded which is an incentive to visit.  Putting good quality records in the public domain is so important and helps others to understand and protect the natural environment.”

You can see what has been found for an area on NBN. Lichen species are listed in the Fungi group. Bryophytes are within the Plants category.

And the winners are…

The well-deserved winner and runner-up of the Group Award in the 2020 NBN Awards for Wildlife Recording are:
* Winner: The Mammal Society
* Runner up: Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group


Tips for finding lichens in Cumbria

  • 56,980 lichen records from 1805 to January 2020
  • Some are rare and internationally important
  • Join the Cumbria Lichen and Bryophyte Group
  • Lichens are long-lived and important indicators of biological continuity.
  • Lichens grow on live bark, dead wood, soil and rock. Habitats include woods, dunes, parkland, becks, gates, dry-stone walls, fences, gravestones, mine spoil and pavements.
  • Lichens need water and light to photosynthesise – eg look on sunny, south-facing aspects for Lobaria pulmonaria.
  • Cumbria has a varied geology with ecological niches to accommodate almost all lichens, eg some lichens prefer base-rich rocks such as limestone and can be found in basic flushes on hills.
  • The Lake District has important remnant Atlantic woodlands, also known as temperate rainforests, which are found in western Britain due to the oceanic climate eg in Borrowdale and Ullswater valleys.
  • Tree bark pH indicates likely species: ash and elm are more basic; oak, birch and pine are more acidic.
  • The fells are an important montane habitat in the Lake District and Pennines, with many inaccessible ghylls and crags, an under-recorded habitat.
  • Lichens are sensitive to changes in their surrounding environment. In Cumbria, over time, composition and diversity has been impacted by air pollution (acidification/nutrient enrichment), habitat loss, invasive species (native/non-native) and unfavourable woodland management.

Data from British Lichen Society, Natural England, British Geological Society, Ordnance Survey and others – thanks. Maps made using QGIS.


Fertile Peltigera leucophlebia

First published in the British Lichen Society Bulletin.

Caz Walker and I ‘discovered’ lichens last year. First, Caz volunteered to be trained up as a lichenologist in the New Generation Botanist scheme, part of the Plantlife ‘Looking Out for the Small Things’ project which was particularly looking at the Atlantic woodlands of the Lake District and Cumbria. Then I was drawn in to this exciting (small) world, opening my eyes to new features of places I thought I knew, and helping us find places to explore that we’d by-passed before.

We live on the edge of the Lake District within easy reach of Haweswater – the area includes quite a lot of geology, ie different rock types, with Umbilicaria and Massalongia carnosa amongst others to be found on the fells. Beside Haweswater are the old-ish woods at Naddle Forest and Mirkside which seem to be the easternmost remaining patches of temperate rainforest with species such as Lobaria pulmonaria and Bunodophoron melanocarpum.

However our local patch is Knipe Scar, common land north-west of Shap, a heavily grazed limestone fell with areas of limestone pavement. Looking up the NBN Atlas, Caz found that the only lichen records were six figure grid references for Peltigera leucophlebia, recorded by local lichenologist David Clarke. Eventually we spotted some and, once we got our eye in, found quite a few more patches in short grass in thin soil over rock.

On 15th June 2019, Caz found a patch of P. leucophlebia that was fertile, which we understand is rare in the UK and probably a first for Cumbria. On the following day, further patches were found close by, starting at NY5414118479 ie in the southern section, next to Shapbeck Quarry. David Clarke visited and confirmed the sighting a few days later.  To our knowledge, no other fertile colonies have been seen elsewhere this year to date.

P. leucophlebia is green with dark wart-like cephalodia on its upper surface, and distinct veins and dark rhizines on the underside, paler towards the margin.  The first fertile instance had a few apothecia; subsequent patches had multiple fertile lobes. When fertile, P. leucophlebia has red-brown apothecia on the upper surface of tongue-like lobe-ends. In the examples found, the lobes were strongly recurved, revealing characteristic green corticate patches on their undersides and concealing the apothecia. The apothecia themselves were round to oblong with smooth to crenulated margins.

We’ve been recording lichen sightings and even managed to submit some spreadsheets. The ‘coincidence map’ of records for Cumbria shows that it is mostly blank space ie no records for most monads – a lot of work to do!  Hopefully our records will literally get lichens on the map and encourage others to find what’s there. Chris Cant