We have described elsewhere the great contributions made by visiting naturalists to our knowledge of Assynt wildlife, even in well-worked fields such as flowering plants. Two further examples occurred this summer.
On 5th July 2018, Andy and Liz Amphlett found a single spike of a fragrant-orchid on limestone near Ardvreck Castle (NC2423), which was not the widespread Heath Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia borealis. The lateral petals were somewhat longer and narrower than in that species and the lip was wider and conspicuously lobed. These are the characters of another of the three species that occur in the British Isles, Marsh Fragrant-orchid G. densiflora. Somewhat to our chagrin, the site is close to the route of a Breeding Bird Survey that has been running for some twenty years and which we had walked on 3rdJuly.
Marsh Fragrant-orchid has been reported on the coast further north, at Oldshoremore and Durness, but this is a first for Assynt and the inland limestone.
Not long afterwards, on 17thJuly, an even more surprising discovery was made by Mike Donaghy, beside the main path up Quinag (NC2327). He recognised and photographed on his mobile phone two flowering spikes of another orchid, Creeping Lady’s-tresses Goodyera repens. We were botanising on the north coast at the time and unable to visit the site until 4thAugust when, despite a detailed grid reference and thorough search, we could find no sign of it. The flowers had perhaps been picked or grazed off by deer.
Creeping lady’s-tresses is mainly a species of pinewoods in the eastern Highlands, with only one recent record from anywhere in West Sutherland, under old plantation conifers just north of Tongue (NC5959), where it was re-found in 2017. It is anyone’s guess as to how it reached Assynt, although presumably by accident. We shall certainly look out for it next year, although orchids can be fickle in their flowering.
Ian M. Evans and Gwen Richards