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Summer Field Meeting 2004

North Aberdeenshire , 4th - 10th July


Mark Lawley


The gently rolling, largely arable plain of North Aberdeenshire (v.-c. 93) may seem an unlikely choice for a summer’s bryological meeting, for the vice-county lacks high hills, limestone and humid gorges, and has few bogs or mires. Even its highest hills are modestly proportioned and much less rugged than Rum’s, while the coastal cliffs, though picturesque, are pocket-sized compared with Bloodstone Hill’s unnerving plunge into the Atlantic. Indeed, we could hardly have found a greater contrast to Rum’s majestic terrain without leaving Scotland altogether.

Another contrast between the summer’s two meetings lay in our knowledge of the local bryofloras, for Rum’s was already comparatively well-known before we went, whereas until last summer North Aberdeenshire was one of the bryologically least thoroughly explored regions of the British mainland. Of course, this ignorance was precisely our reason for going – an adventure into the unknown, boldly going where very few bryologists had been before, our curiosity fully aroused. Indeed, with a revised Atlas in prospect, this meeting was one of several in the recent past or imminent future planned partly with a view to filling white holes on spotty maps. We had no spectacular scenery or habitats to aim for, and did not expect to discover rare bryophytes. Instead we explored a wide range of habitats in different parts of the vice-county, in order to add as much as possible to our knowledge of the region’s bryoflora, while still relaxing in holiday mood.

Liz Kungu, Mark Lawley and Mark Pool crossed Scotland from Rum for the meeting, to be joined by John Blackburn, Richard Fisk, Seán O’Leary, Jean Paton, Chris Preston and Jonathan Sleath. All save one stayed in self-catering accommodation on a farm at Ardmiddle Mains, three miles south-west of Turriff. Self-catering is now a favoured style of accommodation for the Society’s summer meetings. Filling a house, as we did at Ardmiddle, makes the holiday cheaper than it would have been at hotels and guest-houses, so that our meetings may become more affordable for younger bryologists. Self-catering also creates greater flexibility with meal-times; we came and went at our own convenience, and ate out in the evenings anyway. Moreover, the extra space enabled us to use our microscopes in the dining room during evenings, as indeed we could also have done during the day if rain had prevented exploration. In addition, Chris and Jonathan worked hard each evening, logging the day’s records onto an electronic database on a laptop computer.

The Bin


Sunday 4 July

Saturday having been swallowed up with travelling, for Sunday we chose a venue reasonably close to our quarters. The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Gight (NJ8239, NJ8138 and NJ8238) entertained us in a wide, wooded gorge where the River Ythan has incised bedrock of acidic schist. The gorge at Gight escaped clearance for agriculture centuries ago because of its proximity to Gight Castle, which, though now a ruin, was occupied for over 400 years until Lord Haddo died in 1791.

Gight Woods

During the morning, Dr Mark Young of Aberdeen University, the Trust’s warden for Gight, kindly and informatively guided us over and around the reserve’s steepest ground, where we were initially puzzled to see, and then pleased to resolve the identity of, fruiting Amphidium mougeotii , which flourished in damper spots on the south-facing cliffs. This moss is usually sterile, and here kept company with fruiting Rhabdoweisia crispata*. Reboulia hemisphaerica* filled some of the cracks and ledges, while others were moist enough for Saccogyna viticulosa*, Heterocladium heteropterum* and Philonotis arnellii*. Owing to the rarity of damp, sheltered rock in North Aberdeenshire, we were not to see these species again during the week.

Plagiomnium cuspidatum

Mark Pool found Rhynchostegiella pumila* (Eurhynchium pumilum) and Taxiphyllum wissgrillii* in the woodland, and epiphytes included Orthotrichum pulchellum , O. stramineum* , Ulota bruchii, U. drummondii, U. phyllantha, Zygodon conoideus* and Z. viridissimus. Luxuriant mats of Porella cordaeana* covered stones in a small stream, but we were surprised to find no boulders in or by the River Ythan itself. By way of compensation, Jonathan collected Schistidium apocarpum s.str.* from concrete by the river.

Ulota drummondii

We left the reserve by crossing to the south side of the river, where Barbilophozia attenuata *, B. floerkei*, B. hatcheri, Frullania fragilifolia*, Marchantia polymorpha subsp. ruderalis*, Pohlia camptotrachela and P. lutescens* grew beside the track and on the block scree above. Chris collected Racomitrium affine* from a rocky buttress above the track, and with Mark Pool and Jonathan he also found Bryum pallescens* and Schistidium crassipilum in the nearby village of Woodhead (NJ7938).

Monday 5 July

Next day we explored the hills in the south-west of the vice-county, in the company of David Welch, the Botanical Society of the British Isles recorder for v.-c. 93 and author of The Flora of North Aberdeenshire. David had already given a great deal of his time, energy and experience in arranging access to sites before our meeting. Now, and on the two succeeding days, he accompanied us and enriched our holiday with local lore, pointing out features of interest that otherwise would have escaped our notice. Without his guiding wisdom, our week would have been much harder work and far less productive.

Peddies Hill

David chose Peddie’s Hill (NJ4424) for our morning’s excursion. This outcrop of serpentine rock lies conveniently close to the road, and here we particularly took interest in Grimmias, for G. alpestris had been reported (but not vouched) in the past. We found a puzzling plant that Ron Porley subsequently determined for us as G. montana *. G. donniana was also in evidence, and Jonathan discovered Syntrichia virescens* on peaty soil in a crevice of rock. Sphagnum russowii turned up away from the rock.

Grimmia donniana

We decided to split into three groups for the rest of the day in order to cover more ground and grid squares, the local secretary having discovered this ploy to be a simple way of pressing the presidential pleasure-button. Jean, John and Richard went to Moss of Tolophin (NJ4325), a mosaic of degraded raised bog and non-serpentine rocks. Blasia pusilla grew on the side of a ditch, and Calypogeia sphagnicola* , Cephalozia connivens*, C. lunulifolia, Cephaloziella divaricata*, C. hampeana, Mylia anomala*, M. taylorii and Odontoschisma sphagni* were recorded on the bog. Unfortunately, steady rain marred much of everyone’s adventuring during the afternoon.

Liz, Seán and David went in search of Dwarf Birch (Betula nana) and found rewardingly base-rich streamside flushes beside the White Hill of Bogs (NJ4325 and NJ4425), with Lejeunea cavifolia , Rhizomnium pseudopunctatum* and Scorpidium scorpioides*. The Lejeunea was the first of only two records of Lejeuneaceae all week. Seán located Tomentypnum nitens* for the second summer in succession, as well as Leiocolea bantriensis*, and Liz came across Trichocolea tomentella* and Sphagnum fuscum.

Gymnomitrium obtusum

Owing to an administrative oversight, Chris, Jonathan and the two Marks omitted to collect a voucher of Leucobryum glaucum, but redeemed themselves with Harpanthus flotovianus *,Plagiomnium ellipticum , Pseudobryum cinclidioides and Sphagnum teres*, and flowering Round-leaved Wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia), in flushed ground on the northern flank of The Buck (NJ4124). Boulders sprouted fruiting Kiaeria blyttii, and we felt that more comfortable searching of this higher ground in better weather might well yield additional uncommon species. Dropping down the hill’s northern flank, an abandoned farmhouse at Nether Howbog (NJ4025) had a range of calcicoles on mortared stonework, along with Grimmia donniana. Diplophyllum obtusifolium* grew beside a track in forestry.

Pseudobryum cinclidioides

At the end of the afternoon, David took us a little way back along the road to see the rare Marsh Saxifrage (Saxifraga hirculus), some of which was already in bud. Even so, we were glad to escape the rain and return to base for hot showers and tea.

Tuesday 6 July

Droston Leak

In contrast to the previous afternoon, Tuesday turned out wonderfully fine and sunny, and we set off in high spirits for the north coast. We first explored Droston Leak (NJ8665), a small rocky ravine (or ‘den’ in local parlance) that leads from pastures down to the rocky shore. A friendly farmer drove us across his fields to the top of the den in his Land-rover, with Richard’s four-wheel-drive vehicle following behind.

Photo courtesy of Richard Fisk

Eroded soil on the den’s banks supported species such as Cephaloziella hampeana*, Entosthodon obtusus and Physcomitrium pyriforme *. Following the stream down, wet rock by a waterfall held Jungermannia atrovirens*, Didymodon sinuosus* andFissidens pusillus*, with D. spadiceus* nearby. Further down again, the bedrock of conglomerate sandstone either became more base-rich or the plants growing on it benefited from salts blown onshore from the sea below, and we recorded Didymodon tophaceus , Distichiumcapillaceum *, Drepanocladus polygamus, Gymnostomum aeruginosum*, Hennediella heimii , Tortella flavovirens and Tortula viridifolia . The Distichium surprised us at less than 50 metres above sea level, for after Perthshire last year we had thought of it as a moss of the hills. Even more surprisingly, Epipterygium tozeri* grew in a shaded declivity below our picnic spot, and also turned up in two places during the afternoon, considerably extending northwards the known distribution of this Mediterranean-Atlantic moss.

Epipterygium tozeri

The Den of Auchmedden (NJ8464 and NJ8465), leading down to the picture-postcard village of Pennan (famed as a location for the popular film Local Hero) was our intended ground for the afternoon’s adventure, but proved too topographically challenging for several members. Its steeply wooded slopes and rocky outcrops by the watercourse held a range of species, including Blindia acuta *, Eucladium verticillatum, Fissidens pusillus, Hookeria lucens*, Hygroamblystegium (Amblystegium) fluviatile, Neckera complanata, Rhynchostegiella pumila (Eurhynchiumpumilum), and the liverworts Chiloscyphus polyanthos , Metzgeria fruticulosa, Plagiochila porelloides* and Radula complanata. With brilliant late-afternoon sunshine, a beer on the sea-front outside the inn made a delightful end to the day’s play.

During the afternoon, Jean, John and Richard explored the village of Pennan (NJ8465), where Richard came across Epipterygium tozeri growing in a crevice of sandstone cliff (see Figure 1); this moss turned up again in a similar situation at the bottom of Den of Auchmedden. The environs of the village also yielded Hennediella heimii and Tortula viridifolia. Later, this trio moved inland to West Mains (NJ8462 and NJ8562), finding Ptilidium pulcherrimum *, Dicranum fuscescens and Ulota drummondii in w oodland, with Didymodon vinealis* and Pseudocrossidium revolutum* on man-made structures.

While all this was going on, Mark Pool, Chris and Jonathan explored wooded streamside at Den of Glasslaw (NJ8559), with Nowellia curvifolia , Orthotrichum lyellii, O. pulchellum, Sphagnum girgensohnii, Ulota bruchii, U. drummondii, U. phyllantha and Zygodon viridissimus, before moving on to less attractive terrain in New Pitsligo (NJ8855), where they found Bryum radiculosum , Didymodon vinealis* and both species of Pseudocrossidium.

Wednesday 7 July

Next day we took advantage of permission that David had obtained for us to drive along tracks into the Bin Forest , north-west of Huntly. Our first stop was at Mortlach Moss (NJ5044), a slightly basic flushed bog on the north side of the hill, where the uncommon Lesser Tussock-sedge (Carex diandra) was in evidence, and Blasia pusilla grew on the track.

Mortlach Moss

Hepaticologists were able to fill their boots with Calypogeia neesiana, C. sphagnicola , Cephalozia connivens, C. pleniceps* , Riccardia latifrons*, R. multifida and Scapania gracilis *, alongside the mosses Plagiomnium elatum , Rhizomnium pseudopunctatum, R. punctatum, Sphagnum contortum , S. fimbriatum, S. girgensohnii, S. palustre, S. squarrosum, S. subnitens and S. teres.

Sphagnum squarrosum

However, much the most exciting discovery (not only on the Moss, but for the whole week) was Richard Fisk’s collection of a few shoots of Lophozia herzogiana* growing on S. contortum. Jean confirmed this rarity’s identity microscopically by the constant presence of well-developed underleaves that lack basal cilia, and numerous large gemmae on modified leaves with elongated cells at their apices. Third record for the universe, hitherto this species had been known only from the North Island of New Zealand and from North Hampshire. Richard’s collection from this fairly remote, unspoilt habitat suggests that L. herzogiana may be native to the British Isles , rather than an accidental introduction.

Jean also reported the discovery of an unusual form of Lophozia excisa growing with Calypogeia fissa , Cephalozia pleniceps and L. ventricosa. Its leaves were very deeply and unequally bilobed, with a narrow and acuminate antical lobe and a distinctly decurrent antical margin. In addition, many of the female bracts were deeply divided with narrow lobes.

We moved along tracks to the afforested western flank of The Bin (NJ4943), where beautiful flowering colonies of Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) drew admiring comment, with Creeping Lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens) plentiful nearby.

Linnaea borealis

Having lunched in an unafforested clearing , and with the inner man satisfied, some large boulders proved to be home for colonies of Glyphomitrium daviesii*, a moss of western proclivities in Britain, and notable so far east in Scotland. Perhaps the occurrence of Glyphomitrium here is attributable to suitable petrochemistry (the rock being igneous and basic) combined with humidity enhanced by surrounding conifers. Nearby grew Breutelia chrysocoma*, which also has a western distribution in Britain . Other species new to North Aberdeenshire were Jungermannia paroica* and Bryum alpinum* .

Glyphomitrium daviesii

We drove west from The Bin to the Daugh of Invermarkie (NJ4141), to compile a list from this mire, which is threatened with afforestation. As a result of our visit, and listing of 63 species, Aberdeenshire’s planners have designated the mire as a ‘Site of Interest to Natural Science’, so safeguarding it from development. Among the species we found, Sphagnum teres came to notice again, and Richard collected Cephaloziella hampeana.

Our last port of call for the day was to the northern bank of the River Deveron (NJ4840), west of Huntly. Cephaloziella divaricata , Fossombronia pusilla, Marchantia polymorpha subsp. polymorpha *,Scapania subalpina ,Bartramia ithyphylla , Grimmia hartmanii, fruiting Orthotrichum rivulare and Schistidium rivulare went on the card.

Grimmia hartmannii

Thursday 8 July


On another fine day we headed for the seaside at Bullers of Buchan (NK1038) near the south-eastern corner of the vice-county, and walked north to Longhaven (NK1139). Fulmars, Kittiwakes and various auks provided ornithological diversion as we explored mainly dry and very steep cliffs of granite. In places the acidic nature of rock and soil was tempered by the influence of salt, enabling Didymodon tophaceus , Tortella flavovirens, Trichostomum brachydontium and T. crispulum to find footing. Archidium alternifolium* abounded beside the cliff-top path.

Bullars of Buchan


After lunch we again split into three parties of three. Mark Pool, Chris and Jonathan went to a disused gravel pit at Savock (NK0642). Chris found Schistidium apocarpum s.str.* , but this site did not impress and hardly detained the bryologists before they motored on to Ravenscraig Castle (NK0948) near Peterhead. There they found Pseudocrossidium revolutum, Trichostomum tenuirostre* and Zygodon stirtonii (Z. viridissimus var. stirtonii) on the old walls of a ruined mill and castle. Plagiochila porelloides and Brachythecium populeum* grew on the wooded bank of the River Ugie, with Cirriphyllum (Eurhynchium) crassinervium* , Fissidens crassipes * and Hygrohypnum luridum* on base-rich rocks by the water.


Meanwhile, Jean, John and Richard recorded in woodland and coastal dunes near Cruden Bay (NK0936), then moved on to Meikle Loch (NK0330), where Jean found Ditrichum gracile* on steep banks of rock, and finally visited heath and forestry at Hillhead of Auquharney (NK0239), where they found Sphagnum russowii.

Liz, Seán and Mark Lawley went to the National Nature Reserve at Forvie (NK0329 to NK0127), finding Archidium alternifolium and a little Fossombronia incurva* on paths and tracks in the dune slacks. Hennediella heimii , Tortella flavovirens and Tortula viridifolia grew on soil banks near the sea. A particular delight as we stopped off for a meal on the way home was a pint of draught beer served at room temperature. One cannot always rely on encountering such civilised fare when venturing north of the border.

Hennediella heimii

Friday 9 July


We passed the whole of our last day’s bryologising in our same three groups. Jean, John and Richard found Barbula sardoa* ,Bartramia ithyphylla , Bryum pallescens and Hennediella macrophylla* at Dunnideer (NJ6128), a hill-fort with base-rich igneous rock just west of Insch. In addition, Jean collected Plagiothecium cavifolium* from a shaded stone-wall below the car park. This was a surprising discovery, for P. cavifolium is normally a montane calcicole. Later they went on to Pitcaple (NJ7226), where Richard discovered Fontinalis squamosa* on tree roots by the River Ugie. Nearby, the party received a sympathetic and helpful welcome at a 45-acre working quarry where Aberdeenshire County Council extracts gabbro for roadstone. As he drove the three bryologists up to the top end of the quarry where disturbance was least, the manager, Mr Meddler, explained that the Council was trying to make the quarry attractive to wildlife by planting shrubs for butterflies and bees. Despite the noise, Jean, John and Richard saw Kestrel and Peregrine; both species nest there. Jean also discovered Racomitrium canescens* in great abundance at the top end of the quarry.

photo courtesy of Richard Fisk

Mark Pool, Chris and Jonathan recorded at and around Fyvie Castle (NJ7638 and NJ7639), noting Hennediella macrophylla at the edge of an unsurfaced track, Orthotrichum obtusifolium on a poplar tree by the lake (see Figure 3), and Syntrichia papillosa.

Hennediella macrophylla

After delicious cake and coffee at the National Trust for Scotland cafe, they moved on to Wartle Moss (NJ7232), en route for the slatey schists of Hill of Foudland (NJ6033). At Foudland, Mark came by Polytrichastrum (Polytrichum) alpinum* and Sphagnum russowii, and Chris found Tetraplodon mnioides*; Lophozia incisa ,Grimmia donniana and G. hartmanii also live on the hill.

Ythanwells cemetary

Their last visit for the day was the cemetery at Ythanwells (NJ6338), finding Pellia neesiana*, Ephemerum serratum and Gyroweisia tenuis *.

Gyroweisia tenuis

Liz, Seán and Mark Lawley explored rocks and soil along the banks of the River Deveron at Ardmiddle (NJ6849), finding Jungermannia pumila*, Bartramia ithyphylla , Cinclidotus fontinaloides*, Didymodon luridus*, Orthotrichum cupulatum and Schistidium rivulare.Grimmia donniana was on a drystone wall, Lejeunea cavifolia on a shaded bank, and Bryum imbricatum by Ardmiddle Home Farm. At the next stop, a mile or so upstream at Hill of Laithers (NJ6747), Seán found Brachythecium populeum in woodland, and Lophozia excisa ,Grimmia hartmanii and Trichostomum brachydontium grew on rocks by the river. We broke the drive home in order to explore wet birch and willow carr at Braefoot (NJ7046), finding Calliergon cordifolium , Orthotrichum pulchellum, O. stramineum, Sanionia uncinata, Sphagnum fallax, S. fimbriatum, S. girgensohnii, S. palustre and S. squarrosum , but alas no Cryptothallus.


So ended the Society’s first meeting in North Aberdeenshire . With presidential prompting we had visited fifteen 10-kilometre squares in the vice-county, in the course of which we recorded over eighty species new to the vice-county and a further dozen or so that had not been vouched since before 1950. We had not expected to discover rarities in North Aberdeenshire, for it has few rare habitats, yet the meeting proved (if proof were needed) that enthusiastic bryologists often find the unexpected in apparently unpromising places. Lophozia herzogiana startled us, and Breutelia chrysocoma ,Epipterygium tozeri , Glyphomitrium daviesii,Hennediella macrophylla and Plagiothecium cavifolium were surprising. Didymodon sinuosus was well to the north of its southerly British strongholds. Fossombronia incurva , Harpanthus flotovianus,Grimmia montana and Tomentypnum nitens were nice to find as well.

Our primary purpose, though, in visiting this neglected district had been to establish which species are frequent there, and which are scarce or absent. In this respect, as the first concerted and extended bout of recording in the vice-county, our week successfully created a reasonable impression of how North Aberdeenshire’s bryoflora compares with those of other regions. For example, of epiphytes on the willow carr we examined, Orthotrichum pulchellum , Ulota crispa agg., Metzgeria fruticulosa and M. furcata were frequent, but on the whole lichens were more prominent than bryophytes in this habitat. Sanionia uncinata and Ulota drummondii were also frequent, but Lejeuneaceae were either scarce or absent. Perhaps a combination of relatively dry weather and cold winters does not suit them. The epiflora of tree-trunks in the flood-zone of rivers also seemed poor.

Disturbed, man-made habitats sported more Bryum dichotomum (B. bicolor) than B. argenteum, and tuberous Bryums, Phascum cuspidatum (Tortulaacaulon) and Fissidens taxifolius seemed scarce. Deciduous woodland being rare in North Aberdeenshire, we saw hardly any rotting wood and what there was seemed to have little or no Lepidozia reptans ,Lophocolea heterophylla, Aulacomnium androgynum , Dicranoweisia cirrata, Dicranum species or Tetraphis pellucida .

Of course, six days of bryologising are not enough to form a comprehensive or even balanced view of a vice-county’s bryoflora, and beyond doubt much remains to be discovered. It was sobering to realise how much we had discovered anew of Rum’s bryoflora in a week, considering how comparatively well the island had been searched before our meeting there, and while North Aberdeenshire’s bryodiversity cannot even approach that of Rum, our knowledge of it surely remains much less complete. So it seems safe to suppose that more exploration in future will further improve our knowledge of the vice-county’s bryoflora.
Copyright © British Bryological Society .