Coniston Coppermines trip report – 17-10-21

The Coniston Coppermines area is part of the Coniston Mines and Quarries SSSI, designated for its volcanic geology which has produced veins rich in metals, especially copper. These have been mined over centuries, leaving a landscape of spoil heaps, walls and derelict buildings. Specialist metallophyte lichens grow here on a variety of substrates that might not otherwise be exposed. Parts of the area have been well-surveyed: the monad containing the main workings has 124 lichen species reported over a 40 year period, many refound in recent years and a few seriously rare. This, combined with the challenging weather, meant that we decided to treat the visit as a chance to see and try to identify these species, rather than record anything.

From the start it was very wet. The rain cleared somewhat later, but getting any books out wasn’t possible and lenses and glasses were steamed up. Rather than drive up the 1.5km track we decided to walk, which warmed us up. The owner gave us a talk about the history of the site and showed us where James and Purvis found rare lichens 40 odd years ago.

Despite it being dripping the four of us looking at lichens were able to work out several crustose species on a retaining wall. Minute differences in precisely where the soredia arise on the tiny areoles, as well as its colour, helped separate Lecanora epanora (yellow soredia on the surface) from Lecanora handelii (grey areoles with grey soredia arising at the margins). The common Lecanora soralifera (some similarities) was seen elsewhere. Several rust-coloured species turned out to be Acarospora sinopica (dark red chunky “lobes” with immersed fruit), Rhizocarpon oederi (more orange in colour with tiny but distinctive apothecia) and probably Lecidea silacea (orange very convex areoles). The commoner rusty Tremolecia atrata was seen nearby.

The combination of grazing and high metal content in the thin gravelly soil between workings has led to stunted vegetation, including heather, replicating the kind of heaths normally seen at higher altitudes. Cetraria aculeata, Dibaeis baeomyces and a range of Cladonia species were seen here.

Stereocaulon pileatum (tiny pseudopodetia tipped with soredia), Placopsis lambii, Ionaspis lacustris and Agonimia tristicula (very tiny lobes amongst moss with mortar influence) were on a ruined building.

We had an enjoyable diversion up the hill on the trail of the rare Lecidea inops which eluded us. Stereocaulon vesuvianum was abundant, as well as Stereocaulon dactyllophylum. The becks in spate were spectacular and the wet fairly mild conditions had produced a mollusc paradise with many slugs out and about feeding on lichens.

Caz Walker


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.

Bryophyte Lichen

Kirkstone Pass trip report 24/8/21


Kirkstone pass car park seemed busy when we arrived, with people unloading bikes and setting out on walks. It was a lovely sunny morning, but with some lingering mist above the pass. We were a small group, mainly lichen fans, so it seemed I’d be the only one looking at bryophytes. As we set off west from the car park the lichen group clustered around boulders, while I went to explore some small flushes and boggy areas. I was sure I’d seen Warnstorfia fluitans around here on a previous visit, but it didn’t want to show itself today. There was, however, a nice golden patch of Ptilidium ciliare, such an attractive liverwort that I attempted to distract the lichenologists from their boulders; they were moderately impressed by the lovely ciliate leaves ­ or just being polite!  Higher up the hillside we reached a large rock face, where Judith pointed out extensive sheets of Frullania. The shoots looked very narrow and dark, with the leaves curled under, and I wondered if it might be one of the less common species. Checking later under the microscope, it became clear that it was F. fragilifolia. The leaves were coming off on my hands and on the microscope slide, but there didn’t seem to be any really denuded stems. It was aromatic, but not as strongly as some liverworts. Other features however were much more distinctive: the underleaves were an irregular shape and often wedge shaped rather than round, the ocelli were scattered across the leaves rather than in a straight line, and the first underleaf on each branch was 3-lobed. This last feature was quite difficult to see, as it wasn’t always easy to get a clear view of the underleaf at the junction of stem and branch, but I found a few clear examples.

As we climbed higher into the corrie, the terrain became more interesting. The beck coming down the hillside was full of bryophytes, with thick black mats of Jungermannia exsertifolia, including some fertile shoots. Other species included Philonotis fontana, Dichodontium palustre and D. pellucidum, and a patch of Palustriella commutata. It was nice to see a small cushion of Anomobrym julaceum and a couple of nice bright green patches of Anoectangium aestivum as well as Amphidium mougeotii. We continued across and up to reach a large rock face, where there was more Frullania fragilifolia, and a small patch of Gymnomitrion obtusum (the rounded leaf lobes were clearly diagnostic when checked later under the microscope). Somewhere round here I found a small moss in a crevice in the ground, which had tongue-shaped leaves a bit like an Encalypta. On checking later, it turned out to be Leptodontium flexifolium, which was an exciting new find for me.  We had a lunch break here and I left early to check my finds at home. It felt like a productive morning, nice to be out in the fresh air and always good to catch up with people in person.

Clare Shaw


The weather is key to the enjoyment of montane lichens. We’d postponed this trip after the original date got itself a yellow weather warning. And then the actual day dawned misty in the valley. But as I reached the top of the Struggle I came out into the sun. Hurrah! The weather gods were being kind, and as we (6 lichen folk and a lone bryologist) gathered in the Kirkstone Pass car park an osprey wheeled above the mist to cheer us on. The crows didn’t like it though…

The great thing about that car park is that you are high up at the start of the day. A less good thing is that it’s a busy place (I counted 7 overnighting motorhomes and a strong toilet smell). It’s also a spot that spoils you for choice: so many rocks and so little time! We went west (towards the quarry and below the corrie) out of the crowds and above the clouds. There were acid rock species for everyone to enjoy. Allan Pentecost was very helpful when it came to identification of more difficult species, as well as confirming the things we’d learnt ourselves during lockdown and pointing out things we’d never thought of! There were plentiful thalli of  Ophioparma ventosa (and the lichenicolous fungus Muellerella ventosicola); lots of Pertusaria corallina. We started to get to grips with Lecideas (lactea and confluens) and Porpidias (macrocarpa and soredizodes).  Clare impressed us with the moss Ptilidium ciliatum. A damp rock face produced Miriquidica pycnocarpa f. sorediata and the hi-vis Arthrorhaphis citrinella. And just to the side of it, Chris found Cetraria muricata with its many spinules.

We moved a bit further west in search of more basic outcrops. The beck provided isidiate Collema glebulentum; a line of little cliffs had wood sage and roseroot and alpine ladies mantle. There was Ionaspis lacustris; Pertusaria corallina adjacent to P. pseudocorallina for comparison purposes;  the slightly jaundiced thallus of Diploschistes scruposus with those lovely hollowed (urceolate) apothecia;  and the somewhat scurfy Porpidia rugosa.

After lunch, Allan and Judith descended briefly and explored a gully. Massalongia carnosa and Pertusaria flavicans were the result. The others headed for a little outcrop with a hawthorn (Caz found what may be Phaeographis smithii: we await confirmation), Peltigera membranacea and Agonimia tristicula below. A damp cliff enabled Allan to show us the interesting black crust of Pyrenopsis subareolata. Dermatocarpon intestiniforme again hinted at slightly less acidic conditions. The discarded nappy was less pleasant. Higher up there was Peltigera praetextata and Collema flaccidum on beckside boulders; Allan found Fuscidea kochiana too.

But it was time to head back via an easy amble: despite not going very far we’d managed to find over 80 species. And there’s still so much to explore from that car park. Future trips could go up into the corrie; further round towards the quarry; up on the east side of Red Screes; beyond the Kirk stone itself and maybe then we could think about crossing the road…

Pete Martin

Allan Pentecost added, “For interest, the stream which we were looking at, which seems to be unnamed, had a pH of 7.4, a calcium content of 8 ppm and a specific conductivity of 113 uS/cm.”

Thanks to Judith, Pete and Chris for the photos:


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

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.


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


Roudsea trip report 27/6/21


It was a small and select group of three who gathered on a lovely June day to look at lichens at Roudsea: this time the bryophyte group was rather larger!

For once, we made it out of the car park quite quickly: maybe the midges helped. But not before we had considered the question of whether to record something present on a temporary woodpile that obviously hadn’t originated there. What’s the form? We ambled slowly up the central valley boardwalk: contorted old yews growing out of the limestone cliffs gave shady sites for Acrocrodia conoidea; the hazels had Arthonia elegans: the variety of sedges gave lots of distraction opportunities.

Further on, just off the boardwalk, we lingered by a remarkable patch of Peltigera leucophlebia. Dull grey in the dry conditions, a quick dousing with water turned it bright green. I normally see P. leucophlebia in small scrappy patches on the open fellside or above limestone outcrops, but here it grows prolifically over mossy boulders and up a tree, covering maybe 2m by 2m, despite being shaded. The buckthorn above provided a good selection of nitrophilous species.

Further along the valley we examined more open limestone outcrops: Gyalecta jenensis, Opegrapha calcarea, Verrucaria baldensis, Caloplaca chrysodeta, and some lovely wild Aquilegias were found. Nearby ashes had Thelotrema lepadinum. But it was lunchtime so, in search of a sunnier sandwich spot, we headed out to the coast.

We ended up in a lovely suntrap with a view over tidal waters; a train crossed the viaduct and shelduck flew past. Nearby siliceous rocks provided a contrast to the morning’s limestone species: bright yellow Xanthoria parietina; the stretching lobes of Anaptychia runcinata; Rhizocarpon geographicum and R. richardii; Lecanora muralis, L. polytropa and L. gangaleoides.

Heading back through the oakwoods, we found Anisomeridium polypori and Parmotrema perlatum. But the woods weren’t rich in lichens: they have obviously been managed by clear felling in the past and will also have received pollution from Ulverston and Barrow over the recent centuries.

An “extra time” excursion onto the Moss boardwalk produced more species: acidophiles like Hypogymnia physodes and Parmeliopsis ambigua on pine trees; Mycoglaena myricae on bog myrtle and Normandina pulchella on hazel.

So, whilst we didn’t find any stunningly rare species at Roudsea, there was lots of interest. The variety of habitats make the place very special. Thank you to Natural England for the permission to visit- I’m sure I will want to return to find yet more things lurking there.

Pete Martin


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

Bryophyte Lichen

Smardale Trip report 25/5/21

Well, it was great to meet up again for real, rather than over a screen!

Even though the weather forecast deteriorated over the preceding days, sixteen of us met in the new car park at Smardale. We wished each other “Happy New Year’s” in the flesh.

Eventually approximately 100 lichen species and 62 bryophyte species were recorded – good effort!


Those interested in lichens remained in the car park- for quite a while. Some willows and ashes provided a variety of corticolous species, many of them lovers of nutrient enrichment: there was some well-developed Parmelina pastillifera with bun shaped isidia. The car park wall provided a variety of jelly lichens including Leptogium pulvinatum, Leptogium gelatinosum and Collema auriforme as well as limestone-loving crusts such as the pinky Acrocordia conoidea.

Eventually the group set off along the old railway line, Melanohalea laciniatula was quickly found on a trackside tree, and further along there was the pepperpot lichen, Pertusaria pertusa. Lecidella elaeochroma provided an opportunity to test whether everyone’s C, bleach, was still working. Non-lichen interest included water avens and St George’s mushroom.

The first railway viaduct provided an opportunity to look at a lot more limestone lichens, including Hymenilia prevosti ( it scratches green) and Caloplaca flavocitrina. Cladonia coniocraea was found growing at the foot of a wall. Some of us were more interested in the Peltigera species growing profusely on mossy log piles: P praetextata and membranacea were identified, but could that be P. rufescens? They are such variable things…and then a steam train came over the Settle-Carlisle line to distract us again.

Further progress along the track saw Thelotrema lepadinum being found, and a fine example of multi-tiered Cladonia chlorophaea: the cups bore cups which themselves bore cups. Traveling down into the valley through the woods was a tempting idea, but in the end we continued along the railway line.

Lunch was taken by a small viaduct over a beck: the sandstone construction gave us new lichens for the day: probable Lecidea lithophila, Porpidia tuberculosa (the K+UVpurple reaction was demonstrated) , Lecanora soralifera and Rhizocarpon reductum. Parmelia saxatilis was prolific on the railings.

A short distance further on and we were at the main viaduct. Swifts angled around us as Ochrolechia parella, Caloplaca crenularia, Pertusaria lactescens, Rhizocarpon geographicum, Melanelixia fuliginosa and Lecidea grisella and L. fuscoatra were found on the sandstone. Could that isidiate jelly lichen be  Scytinium magnussonii? No, John Douglass’s later research revealed it was a young Collema fuscovirens

The limestone cliffs just further on provided examples of squamulose lichens Romjularia luridum, Acarospora cervina, Toninia aromatica and T. sedifolia. We hoped that the limekilns might provide shelter from the rain and more interesting species, but were a bit of a disappointment. Time was moving on. The bryologists had called it a day, and as some of the party turned for home, we decided to as well. The woods would have to wait for another day.

So back to the car park it was.  An extra-time short journey down the railway line towards Waitby provided some lovely thalli of Parmotrema perlatum, more Pertusaria pertusa and Anisomeridium polypori on the large trackside ash trees.

As so often, there’s lots of scope for a return visit in the future. Thanks to everyone for a grand day out, and Cumbria Wildlife Trust for permission to visit.

Pete Martin


The bryo group spent some time in the car park, admiring the limestone wall which had a few interesting species, including Porella platyphylla and a nice example of Ditrichum gracile (which we now have to call Flexitrichum gracile), showing typical lax growth with stems a few centimetres long. We were all feeling a little rusty after several months without meetings, so it was good to have a look at some common species. Heading into the woodland, there was a patch of Anomodon viticulosus, frequent on limestone, while the trees had Zygodon rupestris, Ulota phyllantha, Orthotrichum stramineum and patches of a gemmiferous Metzgeria species. Peter Bullard checked it with his ultra-violet LED light and thought that the reaction, or lack of it, ruled out M. violacea, so this seems likely to be Metzgeria consanguinea.

We managed to continue at a reasonably brisk pace to reach the first viaduct which crossed the track. Walls under the viaduct had a good coverage of bryophytes, mainly limestone-loving species: Ctenidium molluscum, Neckera complanata, Schistidium crassipilum, Tortella tortuosa, Homalothecium sericeum. Taking the path down the slope after the viaduct, we headed into denser woodland on a very slippy muddy path. The ground was damp and shaded, with patches of Plagiochila porelloides and P. asplenioides. Peter Bullard was pleased to find Loeskeobryum brevirostre, an Atlantic woodland species, and Belinda Lloyd spotted some Radula complanata. We reached the beck at the bottom of the slope, and although there was only access to a limited stretch of the water we found a few interesting species, thanks to Kerry Milligan and Stuart Colgate who had come in wellies and waded into the stream to fetch samples of Fontinalis antipyretica, Cinclidotus fontinaloides and Platyhypnidium riparioides. There was also a good stretch of limestone wall with additional species Thamnobryum alopecurum, Didymodon insulanus, Scapania aspera, and Plagomnium rostratum creeping over stones at the base.  

Most of us then returned to the main track, while Kerry and Stuart crossed the beck to check the opposite bank and slope, where they found Nowellia curvifolia, Riccardia palmata and Trichostomum brachydontium. A few of us continued across the viaduct and after a lunch break, headed to the quarry. This section of the track has more exposed limestone rock faces where there was Homalothecium lutescens. In the quarry itself we found a nice patch of Trichostomum crispulum and quite a bit of Syntrichia montana (previously S. intermedia). A few people had left by then and it was getting well into the afternoon when a heavy downpour sent the rest of us scurrying back to the car park. It was great to meet up with people ‘for real’ and get our brains back into bryophyte mode, as well as having the opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss IDs. We were particularly pleased to have such a good turnout and meet some new faces – thanks to everyone for coming!

Clare Shaw

Bryophyte Lichen

A Cryptogam Flora of the Coniston Limestone

For the last decade, Allan Pentecost been surveying the cryptogam flora (lichens, bryophytes, ferns) of the Coniston Limestone (now Dent Group) in the English Lake District. This is a narrow belt of limestone that divides the volcanic rocks of the high Lakeland fells from the softer Silurian rocks to the south.

Allan’s paper has just appeared in the Carlisle Natural History Society publication “Lakeland Naturalist”. It shows that the Coniston Limestone has an exceptionally rich cryptogam flora, owing to its varied lithology and complex surfaces, resulting from differential weathering.

Available to download here with permission from Allan Pentecost and Carlisle Natural History Society.
Pentecost, A. (2021). A cryptogam flora of the Coniston Limestone (now Dent Group) in the English Lake District. Lakeland Naturalist 9(1): 16-29.