Hazelwood Lichens new to Assynt at Glenleraig

April 6th 2020

Hazelwood Lichens new to Assynt at Glenleraig

On 18th October 2019, Caz Walker, a lichen enthusiast from Cumbria and regular visitor to Assynt, was exploring woodland at Glenleraig (NC1431) with her partner Chris Cant.  They were looking at an area on the north-eastern side of the estuary of the Leireag River, just to the south of Creag Dharaich (crag of the oaks).  It is on a steep slope with large vegetated boulders amongst outcrops, making for tough going.

Caz had been alerted to the lichen interest of hazels through reading Atlantic Hazel.  Scotland’s Special woodlands (Atlantic Hazel Action Group, 2012) by Sandy and Brian Coppins, which specifically mentions Assynt.  Some 500m from the road there is a damp hollow up from the shore (photos 1-2), which contains many old hazels.  Here Caz struck gold, in the form of the white script lichen Fissurina alboscripta (photos 3-4), which has not previously been recorded so far north and is apparently endemic to Scotland.  It was accompanied by two other specialist Atlantic Hazelwood lichens Bactrospora homalotropa and Melaspilea atroides, the latter described as ‘tiny contorted scribbles’(photos 5-6),.

Caz had her tentative identifications confirmed, from tiny samples, by Brian Coppins, and passed the news on to the Field Club earlier this year, with close-up photographs.

Local trio visit

On 5th February 2020, Roz Summers, Gwen Richards and I thought we might visit the area to see these wonders for ourselves, armed with detailed grid references from Caz.  Roz was the first to locate the white script lichen (photo 7), before we had even reached Caz’s precise locality.  Casting around, we found it on at least four old hazels and Gwen took record photographs of the rich lichen communities on them (photos 8-9).

Although red deer have obviously been through the area, there was an impressive number of hazel saplings, so the old trees are successfully regenerating themselves from seed, only rarely the case elsewhere in the parish.  Higher up the hill we found a number of young hollies and several old oaks; there are also some large aspens.  All in all, this must be one of the richest areas of native woodland in Assynt, but it took Caz’s enthusiasm to draw it to our attention.

Ian M. Evans

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