Lichen Trip report

Carlin Gill Lichen Trip Report 15 June 2024

The forecast was wet and that’s how it turned out for this exploration of an upland valley cutting east into the Howgill Fells. At least at the start we had an hour without precipitation during which time we got about 200m from the road. Disconcertingly, we were in VC65 North Yorkshire the whole time as the boundary runs down the centre of the beck.

The fear beforehand had been that there wouldn’t be enough lichen interest as it was apparent there wasn’t much visible rock in the lower reaches of the gill, other than boulders in the beck. However, there were very small outcrops of Silurian sedimentary bedrock protruding through the turf. These were enough to show that there was a significant basic element according to the lichens, Peltigera leucophlebia spotted later on being the most striking. This was also borne out by John’s observation of Green spleenwort and Yellow saxifrage, indicator plant species for alkalinity. But the smattering of yellow Rhizocarpon geographicum and Porpidia species showed at least some rock was more acidic – were we having the best of both worlds?

A boulder in the beck had a good ornithocoprophilous community – Protoparmeliopsis muralis and Physcia aipolia, the latter normally on bark, were there as well as tiny fruticose Xanthoria ucrainica and the only thallus of the nitrophilous X parietina seen during the visit. Physcia tenella and P adscendens were also there. The saxicolous crusts with aquatic leanings Ionaspis lacustris and Rhizocarpon lavatum were found, as well as Rhizocarpon petraeum with concentric rings of apothecia. Trapelia placodioides, another indicator of less acidic rock, showed a good C+ red reaction. Banks of shingle bordered the beck where occasional flood disturbance keeps the vegetation down and here there were terricolous Cladonia spp with Peltigera membranacea and P hymenina. A willow and hawthorn which had managed to survive by growing out of vertical rock gave us a few corticolous species, but these were the only trees seen. We might have expected some jelly lichens but saw none, though it was hard to tell what was on some of the very wet rocks. Nor did we find the Dermatocarpon which had been seen in this monad previously.

Another species usually on trees was seen up the slope as we headed back. Lepra albescens was growing on exposed bedrock and spreading over bryophytes. LGBI3 says “rarely on weakly basic siliceous rocks, porous sandstones, sometimes overgrowing mosses and plant detritus on the ground”. All chemical tests on the specimen taken proved negative which is right for this species.

Several stonefly exuvia were found on rocks by the beck. Paul pointed out that their presence indicates good water quality as these aquatic insects are the first to disappear when a watercourse is polluted. The dipper suggested reasonable water quality too.

After lunch under the dripping hawthorn we soldiered on, trying to believe that the rain had eased. But with dampness seeping through waterproofs, and further precipitation setting in, we decided to head back to the cars, all of half a mile away. White water was visible in the steeper sections of beck higher up when we looked back. It’s definitely a place to be revisited on a dry day.

Text: Caz Walker
Photos: John Adams, Paul Hanson, Pete Martin

Lichen Trip report

Side Wood Ennerdale Lichen Report 16 May 2024

The May meeting took place at Side Wood, on the southern shores of Ennerdale Water. Side Wood was previously part of the adjacent Ennerdale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) but now lies within the Pillar and Ennerdale Fells SSSI. The SSSI citation states that the site exhibits one of the best examples of altitudinal succession in England. From upland birch-oak woodland at 120m on the shores of the lake, the vegetation changes through sub-montane heaths and grasslands to montane heaths along the summit ridge at an altitude of 890m.

Side Wood is one of the best examples of upland birch-oak woodland (National Vegetation Classification (NVC) community W11 Quercus petraea-Betula pubescens-Oxalis acetosella woodland) in west Cumbria. The citation describes lichen communities within the woodland as being of regional importance “with rare Ochrolechia inversa occurring abundantly on birch”. This species has been re-named Lecanora alboflavida since the citation was written.

We met up at Bowness Knott Car Park and then car-shared and travelled along a gated track to another parking area, closer to Side Wood. After crossing a few open fields, which held little to distract us, we arrived at the edge of the wood and our first tree; a not very healthy-looking hawthorn, with many of the common species such as Evernia prunastri, Hypotrachyna afrorevoluta and Ramalina farinacea present. It was at this point that a passerby stopped and asked us if we were looking at lichens by any chance. He had recently listened to a very interesting and informative podcast by somebody called Pete Martin! Pete was duly pointed out and delivered an impromptu short introduction to lichen thallus types.

Venturing further into the wood it could be seen that the best trees for lichen were the mature birch. The mature oak trees were mostly covered in dense mats of mosses and liverworts, as were the majority of rocks on the woodland floor. It was good to see some extensive patches of Wilson’s filmy-fern Hymenophyllum wilsonii though, a species mostly frequently occurring in western Scotland, Cumbria, Wales and Devon/Cornwall.

One of the first notable lichens found was Lecanora alboflavida, on birch. It was quite non-descript with a yellowish sorediate crust, with a C+ orange reaction but was easy to distinguish from surrounding lichens by the very bright UV+orange reaction. It seemed to be frequent on birch throughout the woodland. Other frequent species throughout the woodland included Thelotrema lepadinum and Hypotrachyna laevigata.

As we climbed further up the hillside the number of midges also increased, encouraged by the warm weather and still conditions. Despite this distraction though, lots more interesting species were recorded. The highlight for me (being a relative beginner) was the fertile Bunodophoron melanocarpum, with its large black spore-covered apothecia, growing on damp rock, high up in the woodland. We also found large amounts of non-fertile Bunodophoron growing on rocks and trees and the closely related Sphaerophorus globosus growing on birch trunks. The damp rocks were also the location of another very attractive species; Icmadophila ericetorum, which Pete said is often referred to by the slightly less attractive name of “fairy vomit”; a very good description though! Close-by to the fairy chunks was a small patch of Lichenomphalia umbellifera thallus, consisting of small clustered green granules. I have previously seen the toadstool-like fruiting body but not the granular thallus. An impressive patch of abundantly fertile Ochrolechia tartarea was also present on exposed rock.

Pete pointed-out Mycoblastus sanguinarius on birch which was very distinctive where apothecia had fallen out, revealing bright red spots formed by the medulla below. Another first for me was Coenogonium luteum, famous for being on the cover of the seventh edition of Dobson, but under the previous name of Dimerella lutea. The Coenogonium was growing on moss (Hypnum cupressiforme), attached to an oak tree, in a similar fashion to the way Normandina pulchella was growing on mossy trees.

Towards the end of the day me, Pete, Caz and Chris headed down towards the path which ran along the lake, to head back towards the cars. There was a bit of a breeze by the lake and fortunately the midges gave up following us around. It was here that Caz spotted another scarce species, Cetrelia olivetorum, growing at the base of an oak right next to the water. There was also a large patch of what could possibly have been some more Cetrelia, higher up on the trunk and out of reach. Luckily there was another large patch of what turned out to be Cetrelia on the base of a die-back ash on the opposite side of the lakeside footpath. The same ash also supported a small amount of Hypotrachyna sinuosa, another scarce species in Cumbria. After this we all headed back to the cars after what was a very enjoyable day. Apologies if I have missed out any important records as many of the lichens are still new to me.

Caz and Chris had also taken a sample of a species from hazel, thought to possibly be Porina aenea, in the field, but after microscopic examination of spores and pycnidia, turned out to be Dichoporis taylorii (formerly Strigula taylorii). This was new to Chris and Caz and is only the third record for vc70 Cumberland.

Text: Paul Hanson
Photos: Paul Hanson, Chris Cant and Pete Martin

Note: the records list currently includes 11 lichen species that appear in the Upland Rainforest Index (URI). If the URI species count is 10 or more then the site should considered as eligible to an SSSI – see page 24 here. Further species may in the rest of the wood – which we didn’t visit.

Lichen Trip report

Little Asby Lichen Report 14 April 2024

As a Yorkshire person from Craven, used to seeing Cumbria from a distance, I am really pleased to occasionally join the Cumbria group, and they make me very welcome.

Today’s visit was to Little Asby Common. A plateau of Carboniferous limestone grassland at about 320m with very thin soil, and with stretches of limestone pavement and thinly grassed over slabs where pavement had been removed in the past.  It was April and heads of Blue Moor-grass were bobbing in the wind. A dry stone wall separates the common land from the farmland at Little Asby to the east. A copse of about 10 trees next to that wall break up the otherwise locally treeless landscape. I see from the website the group visited Sunbiggin Tarn 3 miles away in August 2022, on a very, very hot dry day during the “Frank Dobson month”.  A contrast to today’s cold and windy April showers weather, but we did have cheerful sun in the morning.

The 8 bryologists were setting off to Ewe Fell Mire before I had even tied my shoelaces. We 10 Lichenologists settled for surveying land nearer at hand.  Two absolute beginners, three beginner-intermediates and maybe the other five of us as intermediates. Chris informed us that so far only one species had been recorded in this 1 km square.

First the stone wall at the boundary of the common land.  We didn’t find anything rare, but it is a good starting point – the wall is nearly all limestone but with a very few siliceous stones (erratics) to increase the species list.  And very civilised to be looking at things at nose height. No bending. The wooden posts at the cattle grid provided Micarea lignaria ; and Fuscidea lightfootii.

Then we walked west across the road towards a depression/dry valley.

There were views across the Eden Valley towards the North Pennine escarpment with a view up what they said is Scordale (High Cup Nick is a bit further north, and was hidden by a hill with trees between us).  To the right of the picture, and behind is Mickle Fell.

Little Asby view to Scordale
Little Asby view to Scordale

I got side-tracked by a small 30cm long siliceous rounded boulder with at least 20 species, which I got the others to look at on the way back: Maybe nothing special, but they add to the list:- Physcia caesia on the top was growing over Rhizocarpon reductum with its concentric rings of black apothecia. Neighbouring circular thalli with much smaller dark apothecia in a mosaic: was this Buellia aethalea? Yes, it turned orange with K.   Protoparmeliopsis muralis looking amazingly beautiful for such a common species.  Lots of tiny circular colonies of a yellow Caloplaca which I would call Caloplaca holocarpa.

I caught the others up:

I was delighted when Chris found some Toniniopsis verrucarioides, a parasitic lichen growing on Placynthium nigrum, on a Limestone outcrop buried rock. I have only seen it once before. Good to see it again so I can keep looking out for it and recognise it again.  Thirty minutes later whilst the others had settled for lunch, Chris, Caz, Peter and I explored a quarried mound. The rock was a slightly browner colour. There was much less lichen and soil on it. “What’s this lumpy stuff?” I asked. There were lumps of it in crevices sitting amongst more Placynthium nigrum. Yes, looking totally different, it was more Toniniopsis verrucarioides at the little stretch of north facing limestone outcrop which also provided shelter from the wind. They were revelling in Solorina saccata. “What is this beautiful moss?” asked one person – a lime green rounded tuft with shoots with a rosette of 4mm long  mat leaves with a very broad tip and the nerve not extending beyond the tip.  “Extinguisher Moss” I said “Candle snuff moss” I said, racking my brains to remember the Latin.

One person had to go early so I seized the opportunity to take a group photo whilst we were all here – see above. The sun came out. At lunch time some people had to depart early.  

Five of us enjoyed looking at a platform of limestone with Placidiopsis custnani.  And Thalloidima sedifolium (formerly  Toninia sedifolia) ?

The remaining five progressed to the limestone pavement area in time for it to start raining. – Still only April showers… if somewhat horizontal ones.

Pete found a gryke and submerged himself in it to avoid the pelting rain, which did soon pass.

Caz found four species of Peltigera (membranacea, rufescens, leucophlebia and neckeri). I wish I had seen the Peltigera neckeri.

We enjoyed looking at the Callome multipartita (Collema multipartitum) on the clints.

The afternoon was drawing on. We crossed to the copse of trees. Here we examined the branches that extended over our side of the wall and found various tree species but were especially pleased to find Parmelina tiliacea growing on a sycamore branch.

The Moss people passed us as they were returning from their exploits to the cars. We returned too… having not walked more than 300m in any direction from the cars. And gained a total of over 70 lichen species. A big improvement on the one record that had previously been recorded for that monad.

Post Script: –

After the others had gone I decided to go and get a photograph of the Encalypta streptocarpa (Spiral extinguisher-moss) and one of the Solorina saccata.

Whilst there I discovered patch of Peltigera canina, with its white furry rhizines that grow in a line touching each other at their base.. It was growing less than two metres from where we had been eating lunch.. A fifth Peltigera!   It is even in the group photo I took straight after lunch, near where the lady in purple is standing.  But it was windy then!! So pleased to have seen it. I think I have only seen it in Scotland before.

Text: Judith Allinson
Photos: Judith Allinson and Chris Cant

Lichen Trip report

Mollen Wood Lichen Report 14 March 2024

It was good to have a trip to the north of Cumbria. This time we really were north of the Wall (beyond the pale?) and Pete kindly arranged a detour on the drive in so we could see Birdoswald and Roman wall remnants right by the road. Our goal was an area of woodland now in three adjacent fragments, known as Mollen Woods. This is designated as a SSSI for its slope and wet valley alder woods, with ash and hazel throughout and birch on drier ground, and is described as unenclosed parkland. Lichens are mentioned in the citation which isn’t that common. Of these we saw one (Thelotrema lepadinum) but Usnea dasopoga and Peltigera horizontalis were not seen.

The weather was forecast to be horrible but after early rain it turned out almost dry. At the start the lichens were saturated, making recognition of species we can normally do more difficult – they become swollen and often change colour. This also makes them hard to photograph.

We parked at Askerton Castle, with permission, and the five of us in team lichen walked north for a mile on the road, taking in crustose lichens on a sandstone bridge – almost the only saxicolous habitat we saw. Reaching the edge of access land we struck out across very wet ground, heading for the main woodland but looked at a couple of old alder trees on the way. Alder has naturally acidic bark so it was no surprise to encounter species that like that pH – probably the most attractive of these are the pin lichens which have tiny apothecia on stalks, represented here by Chaenotheca ferruginea and C brunneola, growing on the drier north side of the trees. There were also sheets of slightly mauve-grey Lecanactis abietina, which we checked by seeing the C+red reaction of the pruina on the numerous peg-like pycnidia, and lots of leprose and sorediate crusts which are more challenging.

As usual a well-vegetated gate detained us before entering the wood proper where we began by looking at some understorey hazel trees. Immediately we saw what would, until recently, have been straightforward Graphis scripta but this is now recognised as a complex of species so, until we get our heads around that, we will be recording these as G scripta sensu lato = “in the broad sense”. There were other crusts too – copious Coniocarpon cinnabarinum in shades of pink-red, Thelotrema lepadinum in creamy sheets, buff sorediate Pyrrhospora quernea which was sometimes fertile and squamulose Normandina pulchella. On ash there was Peltigera praetextata on the mossy trunks where we also had a flurry of excitement thinking we’d found Bryobilimbia sanguineoatra but it turned out to be the commoner Bilimbia sabuletorum when we looked at the spores later. This can have variable apothecia, anywhere from pink to red-brown to black, and being very wet looked tantalisingly like something else. It prefers alkaline substrates and as this was the only instance on ash it suggests that most of these normally base-rich trees had been acidified. On fallen rotting trunks we had Lichenomphalia umbellifera, with a thallus of minute green globules containing algae, and fungal fruiting bodies in the form of small mushrooms, and Cladonia polydactyla, blue-grey with red apothecia. Micarea alabastrites was here too, delicate-looking white flat apothecia confirmed by a C+red reaction.

In the centre of the wood was a strange fenced area of large beech trees and an infestation of rhododendron. On the east side of this was more wet alder wood which we crossed. Here there were yet more sorediate crusts on acidic bark, including tiny punctiform yellowish soralia. Could this be a candidate for the elusive yet supposedly common Lecanora jamesii? There was also Trapeliopsis pseudogranulosa on bark, usually a terricolous species. After a while, having not found many new species, we decided to head back to the cars.

There was discussion about why we were seeing the species we were, eg copious Hypotrachyna revoluta, Platismatia glauca and Parmelia in some places but missing in others. whilst other species we might expect were missing altogether, eg no acidophile Mycoblastus sanguinarius or Sphaerophorus globosus and only one Ochrolechia androgyna. Despite the habitat looking OK for them there was a general lack of canopy species, eg Usnea (sensitive to air pollution), either on the ground or when scanning upper branches, and a limited number of crustose species, though plenty of them. Suggestions for an explanation ranged from lower rainfall than elsewhere further west to lack of light getting in, as well as historic pollution – Carlisle and Dumfries are not far to the west and Newcastle to the east. The latter seems most likely, combined with past over-grazing and possible coppicing of some trees, which might mean they are not yet old enough to support well-developed lichen communities. This was supported by the odd shape of some of the hazel trees – very large-girth individual stems but few of them. Hazel is naturally multi-stemmed so one individual has a range of bark texture, from smooth young shoots to rougher old branches, so good for a variety of lichens. When this characteristic shape is lacking it usually suggests past heavy grazing, the tasty young shoots being constantly browsed off.

Hopefully we’ll be able to explore other parts of north Cumbria on future trips.

Text: Caz Walker. Photos: Caz Walker, Chris Cant, Paul Hanson, Pete Martin


In search of the Lowther Lobarion (and more)

Francis Rose visited Lowther Park in the early 1970s as part of his Cumbrian research. He describes “the park as a whole” being “quite one of the most interesting lichenologically in northern England, probably the richest so far discovered. This is due probably to its great age and the consequent presence of old trees which may well be directly derived from relics of former ancient woodland…”. In particular, he found Lobaria pulmonaria and Lobaria (now Ricasolia) amplissima on several trees.

In 1980, one of those trees had to be felled for safety reasons, and Oliver Gilbert translocated a number of thalli of R. amplissima. He described this, and subsequent follow ups, in a series of articles in the Lichenologist: several of the translocations were doing well until at least 2000. Recent attempts to find them, however, have proved unsuccessful.

The Lowther Estate is currently moving towards less-intensive agriculture; it is part of a number of conservation/ rewilding initiatives. Together with Caz Walker and the estate ecologist Elizabeth Ogilvie I recently spent a day visiting the grid references for the Lobarion and other lichens of interest described by Francis Rose and Oliver Gilbert. What would we find? To be honest, my expectations were low. Previous visits had led me to expect a lichen flora heavily influenced by nitrogen pollution.

The first thing to say is that there are a lot of very nice trees at Lowther; many old oaks and others; some very old. And the second thing to say is that those trees often have a lot of lichens on them: the light, climate, longevity of habitat (and presumably air quality) has led to strong epiphytic lichen growth in the park. Many species are prolifically fertile/ sorediate/ isidiate.

However, we failed to find any evidence of Oliver Gilbert’s translocations surviving. Of the three trees on which translocations remained in 2000, one has been felled, one is now overgrown with ivy and the other, originally described as a mossy oak has become a very mossy oak, to the exclusion of almost all lichens. We also failed to find any non- translocated Lobaria pulmonaria or R. amplissima. We couldn’t find the six trees (at four sites) in the park: stumps suggested they had been felled. The trees in the wooded gorge area seemed suitably old for Lobaria pulmonaria (which in the 1970s was described as being “in plenty”). They have, however, become overgrown with ivy and further shaded by encroaching beech and conifer regeneration. Rhododendron is rampant; there has been little control until recently.

It wasn’t all bad news though. Some of the lichens mentioned by Francis Rose remain: a tree with Pertusaria flavida is highly visible from afar. Whilst we could not locate the tree he found Xanthoria ulophyllodes on, we located it on another oak a short distance away. Pertusaria coccodes, Parmelina tiliacea and Ochrolechia subviridis, all relatively uncommon in Cumbria, were found nearby.

For those of us more used to wet Lake District woodlands, it was nice to see Chrysothrix candelaris, Opegrapha vermicellifera and even Clisotomum griffithii. Pyrrhospora quernea was frequently fertile. There has obviously been a strong nitrogen influence on the lichen flora over many decades: X. ulophyllodes and P. tiliacea thrive on it. But there was less Xanthoria parietina and Physcia sp than we might have expected; less algal gunge than we had feared.

It was interesting to finally find out the fate of the transplants and Lobarion: the lichen flora of Lowther Park is now a shadow of the interest it was half a century ago. Before the visit I would have put the most important influence in that decline as being nitrogen pollution; now I would put it as loss of trees, and then allowing those trees to become shaded/ overgrown. There are lessons here for the management of parkland and the conservation of rare lichens.

There is much more of the Lowther estate to be visited; much more to be explored. It may be that there are areas of lichen interest in the more private woodlands (though Francis Rose stated that the parkland contained the greatest interest). So a further visit is not out of the question…but might not be top of the priority list.

Text and photos: Pete Martin 11.3.24

Lichen Trip report

Whitbarrow trip lichen report 18 February 2024

The last few trips have been dogged by winter deluges. But, mirabile dictu, the forecast for Sunday kept on improving. The rain stopped, the mists cleared and hordes gathered at the Witherslack Hall kennels. Would there be enough parking room? Yes! How many people were there? 23 I think, though only 11 in the lichen party!

As ever, we didn’t get very far very fast. The hawthorns in the first field provided a convenient opportunity to talk form (leafy, crusty etc)  and reproductive features (apothecia, soredia etc). The sun came out; layers were shed. Physcia tenella looked very frilly, and we found a convenient limestone outcrop. Free-living Nostoc was there to be handled, adjacent to the jelly lichen Lathagrium cristatum var. marginale. The latter was in more exposed positions. There was Placynthium nigrum’s blue margin to be admired and the difference between Protoblastenia rupestris and Protoblastenia incrustans could be demonstrated.  A nearby ash had the non-lichenised fungus Hysterium angustatum on it. An hour and a half after starting and we had maybe made it 250 metres.

Bu things speeded up. A bit. The fence by the sports pitch had some Cladonias to admire. The adjacent trees boasted Usnea subfloridana, Hypogymnia tubulosa, and fertile Hypotrachyna revoluta sensu strictu. And then we were into the woods.

A mossy wall with Peltigera membranacea , P. praetextata and Scytinium lichenoides detained us a while. Hazels had Graphis scripta and plentiful Coenogonium cinnabarinum extending in a pink sheen several feet up the stems. Chris found Pachyphiale carneola and there was some Thelotrema lepadinum too. Eventually, in a surge of enthusiasm, we made it up onto the open ground for lunch with a view of Morecambe Bay and Heysham nuclear plant. Was the sea silver, gold, or green? Opinions were divided.

The shattered limestone was possibly less rewarding than hoped, though we managed to pick up some of the common limestone species: Gyalecta jenesis, Romjularia lurida, Collema fuscovirens, Cladonia pocillum, Placidium squamulosum. Sandstone erratics gave lovely mosaics of species we mostly couldn’t identify, though there was a lot of Porpidia tuberculosa. The sad ruins of ash and birch trees gave us a dramatic patch of Trapeliopsis pseudogranulosa.

The afternoon was drawing on and a decision was made to move more quickly. Almost immediately we were detained by hi-vis roundels of Caloplaca flavescens. Sheltered juniper seemed to have more lichens:  one patch had an impressive Parmelioid community. A fenced off area (presumably to stop cattle falling down a hole) had the best Cladonia rangiformis we had seen all afternoon. Deer bounded off across the ripped out pavements.

Soon we were heading down again: there was more Thelotrema lepadinum, and as the longer-lasting members of the party came through the woods, under the cawing ravens and mewling buzzards, we found primroses in bloom. And then, finally, there was an intriguing white sorediate crust on an ash. Chemicals were applied: C+ orangey yellow, K+ yellow, UV+ orange. Is that Lecanora alboflavida? Or Ochrolechia turneri?

“What a good day” someone wrote afterwards. “ It was really fun” someone else said. I enjoyed it immensely. It is good to know others did too.

Text: Pete Martin. Photos: Chris Cant, Pete Martin

Lichen Trip report

Swindale lichen trip report 10 December 2023

Swindale, east of Haweswater

All the lichens looked beautiful, showing their fully hydrated colours. Admittedly, some were actually under water.

Two of us turned up to look at lichens, which is no surprise as this is our local patch so easy to escape home. It’s understandable that for everyone else it wasn’t worth a long drive in order to stand in the rain for several hours.

We’d been here a fair few times and mainly examined the birch, ash and hazel trees beside the path which runs along the bottom of the NW-facing slope below Gouther Crag, so this time we wandered uphill to look at the many boulders which had come down long ago from the crags above. On the way, there was the inevitable lichen-rich drystone wall where, in a dry recess, we saw an intriguing species later identified as Psoronactis dilleniana, new to us. It took a while back at home to work out what this was but luckily it was distinctive (unlike many saxicolous crusts) and Chris nailed it by flicking through the usually poor pictures in Dobson’s guide. The P+ yellow reaction and spore size matched. Interestingly our specimen had a pale but definite K reaction, confirmed by a blue colour under UV, whereas the literature has it as K-.

There was lots of Lecidea lithophila on boulders nearby with apothecia looking very plump and showing their dark brown colour, more visible when wet. Also on the wall was Diploschistes scruposus, looking very yellow, plus other crustose species such as Varicellaria lactea and Lepra aspergilla, separated by easy chemical tests. Unfortunately, wet lichens cause a drop of bleach instantly to spread out which dilutes the reaction (it’s harder or impossible to see) and potentially kills more of the lichen. There are good reasons why licheneering in the rain is a bad idea.

Moving up the vegetated boulder slope, we found Lecanora subcarnea, in a dry-ish NE-facing niche on an outcrop. We’d seen this before nearby in the valley and it was also spotted on the group trip to Burnbanks in May on the sheltered side of a huge boulder. Baeomyces rufus was another eye-catching crust on boulders.

We sheltered for lunch under a dripping holly at the base of a crag, where we found Schismatomma umbrinum and a lovely mosaic of Gyrographa gyrocarpa and Enterographa zonata (both used to be Opegrapha). The party trick of shining a UV torch on a well-covered rock produced spectacular results, Psilolechia lucida glowing orange and chlorophyll in random algae a deep maroon. Also here was Cystocoleus ebeneus, very finely filamentous but looking like black furry patches from a distance.

In order to warm up we wandered on, moving along then down the slope taking in trees on the way. An ash had Mycoblastus sanguinarius, usually found on acidic substrates. A final yellow-orange patch in a sheltered recess on a birch turned out to be Chaenotheca ferruginea with lots of tiny dark pins seen when we examined it closely. The small ornamented spherical spores were nice to see.

This is a great site that needs further visits to do it justice.

Text: Caz Walker. Photos: Chris Cant and Caz Walker

Lichen Trip report

Blawith Common lichen trip report 14 November 2023

This trip came close to being cancelled when Storm Debi deposited more than 100mm of rain over the 2 preceding days together with gale force winds, but licheneers (and bryologists) are hardy breeds, and we went ahead, given a forecast offering nothing worse than heavy showers. The roads were passable with care, and we had good turnouts for both the lichen and bryophyte wings.

We started with a gentle stroll up the road from Brown Howe car park, admiring the extremely well hydrated state of everything, but particularly the lichens. The first stop was at a roadside rock, liberally crusted with lichens, including a nice patch of Baeomyces rufus.

Baeomyces rufus
Baeomyces rufus

And plenty of Cladonias of which portentosa is usually identifiable…

Cladonia portentosa
Cladonia portentosa

Unlike some others…

Mystery Cladonia
Mystery Cladonia

We didn’t have to go much further to see the star of the show, a veteran Ash with a good population of Pannaria conoplea, a scarce lichen in Cumbria and one of the Lobarion group of Atlantic rainforest species.

Pannaria conoplea ash tree
Pannaria conoplea ash tree
Pannaria conoplea
Pannaria conoplea

It was a pleasant surprise to find it on several nearby willow trees as well since the ash is unlikely to survive much longer even if it escapes the dreaded dieback.

Pannaria conoplea
Pannaria conoplea on a willow

All the common tree lichens were well represented including a nice Usnea cornuta.

Saxicolous lichens perhaps less so due to most of the rocks being well covered with other vegetation.

Usnea cornuta
Usnea cornuta

But this Cladonia was just showing off!

Pete tried to recruit Tip as a lichen sniffer dog but he wasn’t impressed 🙂

Text: John Adams. Photos: John Adams, Pete Martin, Chris Cant.

Chris adds:

In the afternoon, we continued slowly further into woods where there were some more exposed rocky outcrops. Lichens found included Stereocaulon vesuvianum, Psilolechia lucida, Phaeographis smithii, Candelaria concolor and Fuscidea lightfootii.

Phaeographis smithii
Phaeographis smithii
Phaeographis smithii section
Phaeographis smithii section showing broken black exciple underneath hymenium
Candelaria concolor
Candelaria concolor
Fuscidea lightfootii
Fuscidea lightfootii

As the light faded, Peter found an interesting lichen on rock with small black lecideine fruit. Back at base, we thought that it could be Porpidia flavocruenta. Although some characteristics were right, others were not, such as apothecia and hymenium too small and the exciple did not turn red in K. A tricky genus.

Possible Porpidea
Section showing I+ blue reaction spreading down

It was great to find the Pannaria conoplea and see that it was spreading from ash onto willows nearby. However there no other species from the Lobarion community present. That said, there was very little Xanthoria parietina, which was a good sign.

Next time, hopefully we can get further out onto the common.

Lichen Trip report

Duddon Valley lichen trip report 15 October 2023 

A large group met at High Wallowbarrow Farm in the Duddon Valley on a sunny autumn day. There are few lichen records here, monad SD2296 having 34 mainly from 1970 (Brian Coppins and Francis Rose). We started by looking in the next square to the west which was unrecorded. This is a formerly coppiced wooded slope where alder, birch, hazel and oak grow amongst huge mossy boulders and outcrops.

It was slow going as every tree and rock needed examination, with lots of lichen chat. Many participants were complete beginners while others had come on trips earlier in the year and remembered enough to have a go at identification – and could help those who knew less. Normandina pulchella on several hazel trees proved popular, as well as discussions around various Cladonia species. A large boulder had a granular yellow-green and orange patch of Trapeliopsis pseudogranulosa as well as some crustose Pertusaria species to which chemicals were applied in order to confirm the identification with a colour change.

John Douglass, a lichenologist based in Scotland, was with us and helped point things out to everyone, including Micarea alabastrites with flat, white apothecia on a mossy alder and crustose species, such as Rhizocarpon infernulum f. sylvaticum, Porina lectissima on a mossy boulder high in the wood and both Trapelia glebulosa and T involuta growing side by side on a massive boulder beside the path near the farm. The latter is a distinct species but has been confused with T glebulosa in the past. Also here were Arthrorhaphis citrinella, easily identifiable with a bright yellow-green granular thallus and, in this case, fertile with black apothecia, as well as Placopsis lambii, a crustose lichen which has the appearance of lobes around the edge as well as flat patches of grey soredia, making it very recognisable. Nearby a birch had tiny neat pale yellowish rosettes of Parmeliopsis ambigua, with soredia arranged in globose soralia on the narrow lobes. Furrowed lirellae of Graphis elegans were on the same tree.

After lunch John headed to the river to search for aquatic lichens (his specialism) on damp rocks beside the river, finding Porina rivalis, new to VC70, as well as commoner species like Massalongia carnosa, Ephebe lanata and Ionaspis lacustris.  The rest of us moved slowly along a dry stone wall, finding lots of lichen interest. Geoffrey enjoyed exploring the species there with Carole and Paul, taking the time to look closely at some tiny features. These walls can be very good for lichens and this was no exception – many little habitat niches supported plenty of common species as well as Stereocaulon pileatum and some good Cladonia species, such as the red-fruited C diversa and C bellidiflora. Mature oak and ash in the pasture had a range of foliose lichens and a hazel at the woodland entrance had the typical smooth bark species Pertusaria leioplaca and Arthonia radiata.

A final mossy boulder had good Cladonia which deserved close inspection, Cladonia caespiticia being the most obvious as it was fertile with tiny pink mushroom-like structures and minute dark pycnidia on the squamules. Also here was Cladonia squamosa showing pink brown apothecia – it’s not often seen fertile.

Overall there was something for everyone here but the feeling was that quite a lot was missing – there wasn’t the range of lichens or bryophytes we might expect at a good site. Kerry pointed out that the area had been intensively exploited in the past – heavily grazed, coppiced, trees felled for firewood etc – not to mention over 100 years of pollution from the industrial SW Cumbrian coast, all of which explains what we see, or don’t see, today. The recovery of the biodiversity may take many years.

Text: Caz Walker: Photos: Caz Walker, Chris Cant, Geoffrey Haigh, John Douglass


The Lichen Hunters book review

I recently had the opportunity of reading and enjoying Oliver Gilbert’s book ‘The Lichen Hunters’. Published in 2004 it is no longer in print, so unfortunately now only available second-hand. There have of course been many reviews of the book over the past twenty years by organisations such as the BLS, the New Scientist and others. (I even found a note in ‘Australian lichenology’). Here are some of my own views which I will attempt to share with you.

The book chronicles the history of lichenology in Britain , concentrating on early enthusiasts and field-work which really got going in the mid nineteen fifties.

After first flicking through the pages I set out to read about the early pioneers as they sought to develop the subject through meetings, excursions and friendly academic cooperation. Memories came back reminding me of areas that I had visited, and people that I had met, during some forty years of working in nature conservation and a lifetime of family holidays. My own very limited experience was soon put into perspective!

In addition to the quite detailed descriptive lichenology, I was impressed by the boundless enthusiasm of those taking forward, what was a relatively specialist subject, towards wider appreciation and enjoyment of lichens by the general amateur naturalist.

I have on my bookshelf quite a few lichen books. Like many before me, I began my interest years ago with ‘The Observers Book of Lichens’ (1963) and ‘The Oxford Book of Flowerless Plants’ (1966), before moving on to Ursula Duncan’s ‘Introduction to British Lichens’, and others. Stimulating and useful as I found these, they are textbooks, aimed at helping with species identification, and providing guidance on habitat preference and distribution. ‘The Lichen Hunters’ is different, it is a readable story, which once started I was reluctant to put down as I moved from one adventure to the next, learning as I went along just what can be discovered by those with energy, persistence and adequate expertise.

That is not to say that I didn’t find some bits difficult . Understandably there is a plethora of scientific names throughout the text (it wouldn’t be half as interesting or as useful if these weren’t there), not surprisingly there are many species new to the U.K. or particular area of search. I found this frustrating at times. Out of a total of some 520 species referred to in the text (yes ! I counted them!) many are not included in Dobson’s Illustrated Guide, which I had by my side looking for illustrations as I went along.

The amount of ground covered is vast, the Lizard to North Rona, County Kerry to the Norfolk coast, St Kilda to the Flannan Isles. Abandoned airfields in Yorkshire and Devon, Churchyards and ancient monuments, crags, boulders, lakes, streams, foreshores and reefs, at times it is exhausting, but, always the feeling of being there. Aching legs, wind in your face, numb fingers and the taste of salt on your lips.

But lichens and where they are found is only part of the story. The book’s title ‘The Lichen Hunters’ indicates that the book is also about people, the folk that went out looking for and recording lichens. Over the years Oliver tells of working with many enthusiasts, professional and amateur, young and old, expert and beginner. A glance at the index at the back of the book reveals just how many names now familiar to us have played a part in driving the subject on (over a hundred). I will not attempt to list them. Many are still with us and active, others have sadly passed on. Who will forget Peter James or Francis Rose? And who will not be excited at the thought of meeting Brian Coppins or Allan Pentecost in the field?

To sum up I can do no better than to present a couple of quotes from the book which I think give an idea of its style, its scope and opportunities for entering a very special world.

The first quote refers to an early BLS meeting on the Lizard Peninsula in 1980 :

`After lunch, taken sitting in the sun, for relaxation we went to the Iron Age Hillfort (at Kynance) to see the stones covered in Teloschistes, Physcia tribacioides and Parmelia tinctina  We gradually botanised our way back to the cars, saturated with new experiences, feeling bemused but exhausted, dimly aware that we had experienced one of the great days of British lichenology.`

The second refers to a more recent visit to Borrowdale:

`A visit to the Lake District in May is to be savoured. In the upper valleys the fields are full of Herdwick lambs, the Hawthorns are laden with blossom, there is usually a Cuckoo calling and the sun carries real warmth.  The exciting thing about this Lobarion (on pollarded Ash) is its richness, it is the finest in England outside Cornwall, and there is nothing approaching it in Southern Scotland. To me the Lobarion stands for a lost England of Edwardian summers, village cricket, real ale and honey for tea.`

If you get the chance to read it I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Russell Gomm

Oliver Gilbert The Book Guild 2004 208 pp, colour illustrated ISBN 1 85776 930 9

Oliver Gilbert 1936 – 2005