Storm Arwen Twigs

I’ve often wondered about canopy lichens: are the same species found at the top of trees as on branches lower down? Are the sticks I pick up from the ground representative of what’s going on above?

It’s an ill wind

Storm Arwen gave an opportunity to find out. Strong winds (from the north!) barrelled down the Rydal Beck valley and caused mayhem with the trees around Ambleside. Woodland trees crashed like dominoes, many isolated veterans fell. Those on the roches moutonnées fared worst, especially the conifers. Local tree surgeons said there’d been nothing like it since 1989. Thankfully, I don’t think any of the special trees in Rydal Park succumbed. But it wasn’t just trees. Some were left without power for days; many houses needed roof work. Tragically, there was a fatality in Rothay Park.

Conifers were perhaps the worst affected
Conifers were perhaps the worst affected
Things have changed at Loughrigg Brow
Things have changed at Loughrigg Brow
Rydal Park
Rydal Park

But Arwen also brought the canopy within view. So a couple of weeks after the event I spent two days looking at twigs. In each of seven areas within a kilometre or so of the village I picked five fallen trees/ large boughs (in one area I miscounted and looked at a sixth tree!). For each of those trees I picked three “twigs”: the first I came to, the last I’d pass as I walked by, and the one in the middle that seemed to protrude furthest.  For each “twig” I tried to identify (and count) the species of lichen that grew on the outermost 70cm (the length of my folded trekking pole). Each species was counted only once per twig. Those that were unidentifiable in the field were taken home for microscopy.

A lot of lichens came down with the trees
A lot of lichens came down with the trees

In total I obtained 540 records, from 108 twigs. I managed to give 45 names to lichen: some were only identifiable to genus/group, often because they were too young to have developed reproductive features. I made no attempt to identify beyond “ Lecanora chlarotera sensu latu”. A couple of “mystery” specimens remain unnamed. I’m sure I missed some, and a more experienced lichenologist would no doubt have found more.

The “top ten” species (by number of twigs) are in the table below:

Parmelia sulcata51( also 1 Parmelia unidentifiable to species)
Melanelixia subaurifera48 
Physcia tenella36(also 7 Physcia unidentifiable to species)
Physcia aipolia34 
Evernia prunastri32 
Lecanora “chlarotera” s.l.30 
Punctelia subrudecta27 
Hypotrachyna revoluta sensu strictu24(also 36 Hypotrachyna revoluta s.l)
Lecidella elaechroma24 
Hypotrachyna afrorevoluta21(also 36 Hypotrachyna revoluta s.l.)

Perhaps there are no really big surprises. But I wasn’t expecting Parmelia sulcata to be the “most common” species. I was surprised at how frequent Melanelixia subaurifera was, and also how much Physcia aioplia there was. Young lobes of H. revoluta/afrorevoluta that didn’t display soredia mean they feature lower down in the top ten. Parmelia saxatilis wasn’t anything like as common as I was expecting: I’d never noticed its relative scarcity on twigs compared to branches/trunks.

The next table shows the species that were “bubbling under”, with between 10 and 20 records.

Ramalina farinacea16 
Hypogymnia tubulosa15(also 12 to Hypogymnia genus)
Arthopyrenia punctiformis15 
Parmelia saxatilis15 
Caloplaca cerinella13 
Usnea subfloridana11 
Xanthoria parietina10 

It was pleasing to note that Xanthoria parietina was not that common, but Caloplaca cerinella (also thought to favour nutrient enrichment) seemed very widespread.

And it’s here that absences/“rarities” begin to show up. Hypogymnia physodes was only found once (though maybe some of the young Hypogymnias were that species). Platismatia glauca was only found once, though was common enough further down twigs and on branches: it obviously doesn’t develop on the younger, thinner stems. Physcia adscendens, which I see relatively rarely in my home square, wasn’t found at all (though some of the young Physcia without soredia might have been that species).

Many foliose species commonly seen on tree trunks/larger branches only appeared once or twice, for example: Flavopermelia caperata, Normandina pulchella, Parmotrema perlatum, Hypotrachyna laevigata and Melanelixia glabratula. Melanelixia exasperata, which I’d previously thought of as being rare, occurred 5 times. Maybe it’s more common that I had thought. I found Arthopyrenia cineropruinosa  for the first time and found one specimen of Eopyrenula grandicula, a species not recorded in Westmorland until last year but that I’m beginning to think is relatively common in South Lakeland.   

The mean number of species found per twig was 5. Eight twigs has no lichen visible on them, the most on any one twig was 12. Most of the trees looked at (26/36) were oaks. These proved to have a higher mean number of species per twig (oak mean: 5.53, non-oak mean: 3.6). No non-oak twig managed more than 9 species, though an impressive old cherry did manage 9, 8 and 8 species on its 3 twigs.

Whilst the mean species per twig was 5, it differed between twigs: that for both the first and third twig per tree was 4.7, for the middle twig it was 5.58. Perhaps the twig that sticks out the furthest gets more species of lichen on it than those lower down.

Examining trees in distinct areas enabled comparisons between the number of species found in each area. The two woodlands surveyed produced two of the three lowest mean number of species per twig, 2.5 and 4.66. Trees surveyed in woodlands were more likely to be “not oaks”, but discounting non-oaks still gave woods the lowest and third lowest means. So there would appear to be fewer species on woodland trees than those in parks/ farmland/ wood pasture.

Overall, there did not appear to be a relationship between the number of species and distance from the village. However, for particular species there may well be: Usnea subfloridana was not found in Rothay Park or on Stoney Lane, the areas nearest the village. As for nitrogen loving/tolerant species, plotting total of Physcia/Xanthoria species against distance from the village centre  suggested an inverse relationship, though it was not significant at 95% level.  It would appear that they are more common nearer the village and Rydal Farm, and less common further away and in woodlands. Whilst 7/10 Xanthoria records were near the village or farm, the widespread occurrence of Physcia species suggests nitrogen pollution is beginning to have an effect across a wider area: it may be worth exploring this further.

As ever, a simple study like this has thrown up more questions than it answered, as well as getting me looking at twigs more carefully. I’ve learnt something new about which lichens grow where on a tree; that some lichens I think are common are maybe less so and vice versa. It would be interesting to compare these results with trees from other areas, particularly further away from built up areas and in the Cumbrian lowlands. Roll on the next storm? No, I’m not asking for another one.

Pete Martin

Lichen Trip report

Fell End Clouds trip report – 15-09-21

The morning mists melted away as a select foursome met by the Fell End Clouds quarry. Previous visits by lichen recorders had concentrated on the area nearest the road, so we decided to aim high; to head for the old metal mines and eastward squares with few or no records.

Of course, things didn’t quite work as planned: limestone boulders immediately grabbed our attention. Caloplaca flavescens, Squamarina cartilaginea, Acarospora cervina, Placynthium nigrum and Dermatocarpon miniatum were expected but no less lovely for that. The lack of corticolous species in the previous lists suggested the sycamore standing above the pavement had not been previously investigated so that detained us for a while. Beneath it, Acrocordia conoidea glowed pink on the shady rock, and Bilimbia sabuletorum was there on the adjacent mosses.

A short distance uphill and we found ourselves by Harry Hope’s Land; enclosed fields with an old barn/house. The Helga Frankland guide suggested Harry lived here up to 1820, but the barn seemed to be dated 1832. We couldn’t resist a look at the pollard ash, and found sheets of Pertusaria albescens and some P. pertusa. Back on the limestone, we edged around the enclosure and made it up onto pavements where heavy pebbles and green-coloured splashes indicated mineralization and mining waste. A party of skylarks headed north,  four grey wagtails headed south. There was a record of Solorina saccata here, though we couldn’t find it: but there was plenty of Peltigera leucophlebia about.

We headed east: Chris found some squamulose species on a low cliff including Romjularia lurida adjacent to Acaraspora cervina. Finally, we reached the unrecorded square and set to busily. There were lovely fossils, Peltigeras and common limestone species including the inset jewels of Protoblastenia incrustans. Chris and Caz picked up Farnoldia jaurana: it handily lived up to its name of “the cover slip breaker”. Eagle-eyed Caz found an Agonimia, now confirmed as A. globulifera. The only previous Cumbria record for this is far away at Askam-in-Furness!  A short distance on and we were onto siliceous rocks, with Parmelias saxatilis and omphalodes; Pertusaria pseudocorallina; Cladonia portentosa and C. uncialis biuncialis among the bryophyte and sphagnum mounds.

Further on still we found a swallow hole/ limestone outcrop bearing signs of caver activity. Among the rocks we found Peltigera rufescens and Solorina saccata on the north facing slope. Opegrapha dolomitica was revealed in a little gully. The swallow hole area demanded more time, but the afternoon was slipping away. We headed back towards the road via another sycamore amidst bigger mining trenches, dating presumably from the Napoleonic Wars: Phaeophyscia orbicularis and Normandina pulchella were perhaps the highlights.

It was time to go, but on the way back down we found consolation Felwort (autumn gentian) and Carline thistle. It’s predictable, and we say it every time, but it felt as though we had merely scratched the surface of Fell End Clouds: another visit would be well worthwhile.


Eolas: gaining local lichen knowledge

2020 was a difficult year. Covid disrupted the usual routines; courses and face-to-face meetings were cancelled; injury affected lots of things too. Thank goodness for lichens! Shortly before the first lockdown began, Chris Cant produced maps of lichen records in Cumbria, including the number of records for each square. So many squares had no records…

… and even in my relatively well-surveyed home 10km square (NY30- Ambleside area) nearly half the monads seemed unvisited. Shortly beforehand, I had started sending in lichen records to Janet Simkin at the British Lichen Society (BLS). So it seemed like a challenge was being laid down: I’d try to record from all the 1km squares in my home hectad.

Needless to say, I failed in my attempt to visit all the squares in 2020: recurrent injury put paid to that. But by summer 2021 the project was complete. There’s over 3000 records on the BLS database and I can safely say that local square recording is a great way to explore an area’s lichens and habitats. I have moved out of the woods and spend more time looking at rocks and walls and buildings. And that desire to get to grips with what I can find locally has significantly improved my identification skills.

Partly because of this, comparisons of the numbers of species found in different squares (and so on) don’t really bear scrutiny: I made no attempt to make visits comparative. But a quick glance at the records shows the only lichen found in every square was Parmelia saxatilis, though Rhizocarpon geographicum (91 records) wasn’t far behind. I was fairly pleased by the “rarity” of Xanthoria parietina (53 squares): maybe nitrogen pollution isn’t quite as overwhelming as I sometimes fear. I found Normandina pulchella in a perhaps surprising 74 squares. That can’t just be because it’s very recognisable: there must be a lot of suitable habitat for it.

Along the way I found lots of interesting lichens: a new site for Sticta fuliginosa s.l. (in a quarry used by outdoor activity centres); the first Bunodophoron melanocarpum and Micarea alabastrites in the South Lakes, the first Gyalecta derivata in Westmorland. And “just outside the square” were a new crag with Umbilicaria crustulosa and a new site for Lobaria virens in Langdale. But more importantly I have learnt a great deal about the lichens of the area and their habitats. I might not have found any “new” woods overflowing with Lobarion, but I’ve discovered hitherto unsuspected basic crags in acid-rocked valleys, and developed an interest in old barns. Peltigera leucophlebia turns out (to my surprise) to be not uncommon on the fells; once I got my eye in Anisomeridium polypori is often to be found on older trees.

There have also, of course, been memorable human interactions: the potential Samaritan who saw me lying by a rock and stopped their car in the middle of a usually busy road to check I was Ok; the young man from Wuhan touring Britain in the midst of the first lockdown (!); the man who was delighted when I showed him Stenocybe septata on an old holly and taught me the Gaelic word “Eolas”, knowledge gained by experience. An apt word for lichen hunting?

As an obsessive walker, cyclist and explorer I thought after nearly 20 years that I knew my local area pretty well. But the need to visit each square kilometre has had me visiting paths and tributary valleys I never knew existed; exploring the little grove of oaks I can see from my window that has never been on the way to anywhere (a nice patch of Sphaerophorus globosus since you ask). And then there’s what I call the lichen by-catch: the first wood warbler of 2020, migrating whooper swans crossing the fells and purple hairstreaks in Langdale.

Questions have been thrown up: whilst so many woodlands have Hypotrachyna laevigata, why is it often on just the one tree? Why is Physcia adscendens so relatively (only 5 squares) rare here? And realisations have been made made: the lichens of basic rocks are pretty widespread thanks to lime mortar creating suitable little “cliffs”. How woodland rocks must have been a vital refuge over the centuries of coppicing and clear felling: Ochrolechia androgyna, Sphaerophorus globosus and Mycoblastus sanguinarius (amongst others) could survive on boulders and cliffs when there were no trees.

So what’s the next project? Shall I go south to SD39, or south east to SD49? Or maybe I should follow the example of peak baggers and do another round? For if the year and a bit of monad recording has taught me one thing, it’s that there is an almost limitless scope for getting out and exploring the many and varied habitats of my local area, learning about its species and trying to understand their ecology. And how a relatively small area, albeit a very varied one, can hold my interest.


On the Blood spot trail…

Many of the lichens you see up on the fells are hard to tell apart. But one that is easy to identify is Ophoparma ventosa, the blood spot lichen. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll remember it. And you might not even need a hand lens!

Ophioparma ventosa showing red spots middle-bottom

It’s a crusty, cracked and rough (sometimes warty) splodge on the rocks with big (up to about 3mm!), flat, red fruiting bodies (apothecia to give them their proper name) that stand out from quite a distance. They look like blood spots: sometimes dried blood, sometimes a bit fresher.  Young fruits can have a paler margin.

Funnily enough, there are two different types of Ophioparma ventosa, which can be found next to each other if you’re lucky. One has a grey coloured thallus (main body of the lichen) with a bit of a pinky tinge, the other is a yellowy-grey. The difference is that the yellow one contains Usnic acid (which gives it the colour). 

If you’re in any doubt about whether it’s Ophioparma, you can put some K (caustic soda) on it: the thallus goes a yellow-orange colour, the apothecia a purplish-blue.

You’ll find it on rough-grained acid rocks (boulders, outcrops, cliffs and walls) across Cumbria: British Lichen Society records show it from the Duddon Valley; near Beetham; towards Tan Hill and in Bowness on Solway as well as on the Lake District Fells, where it’s most common. But, at the time of looking, there were only 68 records across the county.

The distribution seems really patchy. Sometimes you see loads of it: on a recent day up one side of Red Screes it seemed to be on almost every rock. But then a few days later, on the other side of Red Screes, I didn’t find any at all. The difference is probably to do with rock type.

If you look at Ophioparma ventosa very carefully through a hand lens, you’ll maybe see some black blobs on the surface as well. Now sometimes these are the lichen’s pycnidia, from where asexual spores are released. But they might also be a lichenicolous fungus called Muellerella ventosicola. This has recently been seen for the first time in England (Devon) and was then found almost immediately in Cumbria. I haven’t yet found it myself, but I’ve started looking at the black dots just a bit more closely!

We’d like to know more about where Ophioparma ventosa is in Cumbria. Next time you see some, take a photo on your phone, grab a grid reference for it ( …and then let us know! Together we can track the blood spots!

Close up of Ophioparma ventosa
Bryophyte Lichen Trip report

Eycott Hill trip report 19/10/19


A full team (yes, there were eleven) gathered at Eycott Hill on a cool October morning. Cloud played with the fells, a harbinger of the rain to come later in the day. And after a short introduction, the group parted: five of us to look at the lichen and six to look at the mosses and such.

Of course, we headed in the same direction and were interested in the same wall initially. But it didn’t detain the bryologists long: they headed to the bog on a sphagnum hunt.  The lichen folk lingered: as befits somewhere with a variety of rocks (Carboniferous limestone and Eycott Hill lavas), the wall had some interesting species. We examined Lecanora Campestris; L. sulphurea; Ochroclechia parella; Collema auriforme and some Caloplacas that we couldn’t sort out. We found Parmelia saxatilis too. No surprises there, but it wasn’t on the NBN atlas list so we could regard it as new for Eycott!

Eventually, we tore ourselves away and wandered in search of rocky outcrops and peaty exposures. Highlights included fruiting Diabeis baeomyces and the prolific and fertile Massalongia carnosa. We found both the Cetrarias previously reported from the site: C. aculeata and C. muricata and very fine and jolly coloured they looked too. The pseudocyphellae on the former were examined and found to be near the axils as the book said they would be. There were good examples of bird-perch-favouring species such as Xanthoria candelaria, Lecanora muralis, Lasallia pustulata and Candelaria vitellinaStereocaulon dactylophyllum was found near the summit and we even felt confident enough to key out some Cladonias as a group. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t always result in a satisfactory identification.

As the afternoon progressed and the rain set in further, we noticed that the bryologists had left the bog and drifted back to the car park. Which gave us an excuse to head back ourselves via a couple of hawthorns that took the lichen species list for the day to a round 50. Or was it 51? Anyway, it seems that eleven of them were previously unrecorded at Eycott. And as for the bryologists? Well they seemed happy with their sphagnum tally…

Pete Martin

And the bryologists …

We had a good turnout on the bryophyte front, with 6 of us, including one keen new member (hurrah!). We recorded 40 species, including 10 Sphagnum species (possibly others, but we haven’t been able to confirm these with any confidence) and other bog specialists such as Scorpidium scorpioides, revolvens and cossonii, Straminergon stramineum, Campylium stellatum and Aulacomnium palustre. On the rocky outcrops there were Andreaea rothii, Hedwigia stellata, Barbilophozia floerkei, large quantities of Ptilidium ciliare and Racomitrium heterostichum and lanuginosum.

It’s an interesting site, with some limestone and many ridges of volcanic rock formed by eroded ancient lava flows. Between the ridges, water collects to form very wet, boggy areas, with a good range of Sphagnum species. Wellies are definitely needed. There’s an interesting mix of base-rich flushes and more acidic bog. I’m sure we missed lots of exciting stuff (we didn’t find any Sphagnum fuscum, which is supposed to be here), and we didn’t get as far as the woodland, which might be worth a look on another occasion.

Clare Shaw

Photos by Pete Martin and Clare Shaw:

Bryophyte Lichen Trip report

Tom Gill Trip Report 15/3/20


This month, there were no severe weather warnings, so the group trip to Tom Gill near Tarn Hows could go ahead. On the other hand, the forecast wasn’t great and the spreading Coronavirus pandemic was a concern… but in the end the nine of us who made the trip, including a couple of new participants, were treated to a pretty dry day, with a couple of glimpses of the sun.

For once, we were quick out of the car park: but only for about 50 metres to an old roadside ash pollard with impressive Peltigera horizontalis. After a while looking at that, and pondering the associated crusts, we gradually climbed through the Atlantic oakwoods. There was a lot of Ochrolechia androgyna, and impressive sheets of Hypotrachyna taylorensis. Some blue dots on a Parmelia species intrigued: are they Endococcus parmeliarum? We found the Thelotrema lepadinum and Arthonia cinnabarina listed in the SSSI citation, but couldn’t find the Lobaria pulmonaria that in 1970 had been “abundant on old Quercus”. Maybe the tree isn’t there any more.

On the other hand, on an oak in a damp hollow by a stream junction, there was prolific Mycobilimbia pilularis and Pannaria conoplea, as well as high up rosettes of Peltigera horizontalis. Something of the Lobarion community still lingers. The bryophyte section of the party managed to impress us with handsome woollywort (Tricholea tomentella) before finding Dermatocarpon luridum for us in the beck.

After lunch we carried on up through the wood, finding Bryoria fuscescens on larch, before heading out into the pasture area to the south. Trees there provided Cetrelia olivetorum, Collema flaccidum and some interesting species on ash. Wilson’s filmy fern (Hymenophyllum wilsonii) was found growing on a rock outcrop. The day’s count was over 60 species, with something for everyone: a further visit would almost certainly produce more.

Pete Martin


The lower part of the wood was carpeted with typical atlantic oakwood species such as Rhytidiadelphus loreus, Thuidium tamariscinum, Isothecium myosuroides and Polytrichastrum formosum. Mature oaks had luxuriant wefts of Frullania tamarisci on their trunks. Closer inspection revealed other smaller liverworts such as Lepidozia reptans and Lejeunea cavifolia. Some of the oaks also had extensive patches of Scapania gracilis.

The beck and its tributaries offered a different assemblage of species. Thamnobryum alopecurum and Platyhypnidium riparoides were abundant on the rocks in the main beck with attractive patches of Hyocomium armoricum in the splash zone. At the top of one of the tributary flushes, the beautiful liverwort Trichocolea tomentella (Handsome Woollywort) was discovered, with Palustriella commutata nearby.

Damp shaded banks above the beck produced Hookeria lucens, Plagiochila asplenioides, Fissidens adianthoides and abundant Pellia epiphylla. A single patch of Porella arboris-vitae (Bitter Scalewort) was found growing at the base of an old ash tree next to the beck, and Plagiochila spinulosa was also recorded nearby.

The boundary wall was covered in common bryophytes amongst which the liverwort Barbilophozia barbata was found to be fairly frequent.

After lunch we moved on to the upper part of the wood. This is a steep west facing bank with an area of block scree mostly covered by mosses. Leucobryum glaucum was abundant here, together with Dicranum majus and Bazzania trilobata. Nowellia curvifolia, which had been surprisingly sparse in the lower part, was frequent here on dead wood.

A diversion into the adjacent field to look for Lobaria and other lichens produced a few additional species, including Campylopus atrovirens, Andraea rothii and Polytrichum piliferum on rock outcrops. Of more interest was the Hymenophyllum wilsonii (Wilson’s Filmy Fern) mentioned above, and the large patch of Pterogonium gracile at the base of a veteran ash tree. Altogether 73 species were recorded on the day.

Kerry Milligan

Photos by Chris Cant and Kerry Milligan: