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East Sutherland and Orkney, 1-13 July

(Provisional accounts pending formal publication in Field Bryology)

Click here for Orkney

All images courtesy of Des Callaghan unless otherwise stated


Mark Lawley

12A Castleview Terrace, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 2NG

“They say that time
Heals a broken heart.”
as the old song goes,
“But time has stood still
Since we fell apart.
I can’t stop loving you….”

Most English botanists feel this way about the Scottish Highlands, for absence and distance ever make the heart grow fonder. We yearn for the freedom of wild open spaces, and as car-bonnets pointed north at the beginning of July, our spirits rose with the barometer, in anticipation of adventures coming our way.

Nearly twenty bryologists descended on the coastal village of Golspie in East Sutherland (vice-county 107), and disappeared into a variety of hotels, guest-houses, and self-catering accommodation. Along with unbroken fine weather throughout the week, this mixture of lodgings contributed in large measure to the pleasure of our holiday, for the advantages of roomy self-catering accommodation again became evident, just as they had two summers previously in North Aberdeenshire. Some members set up their microscopes in the drawing room in order to determine their gatherings comfortably and in companionable circumstances during the evenings after each day’s excursions, while those of us less allured by the prospect of work sank into the lounge’s soft settees with a cup of tea and planned the morrow’s outings.

Our domestic arrangements also allowed flexibility with organising meals before and after days in the field – a far cry from the Society’s Summer Meeting in 1960 when the custom of serving high teas at an inconveniently early hour in Scottish guest-houses severely curtailed time available in the field. Indeed, the Society’s regular practice up to the mid-1950s of vacating the field early for afternoon tea so wound up Warburg that he abolished the habit; Scottish establishments evidently proved more resilient than those south of the border in persisting with these antiquated domestic arrangements.

As with North Aberdeenshire in 2004, we chose East Sutherland for our meeting because its bryophytes were under-recorded, aiming to redress this imbalance in advance of a new edition of the Atlas. Accordingly, we planned excursions to numerous hectads (10 km squares) with few records, but the overriding criterion for including sites in the programme nevertheless remained that of choosing a mixture of promising sites and habitats so that we might enjoy our holiday to the full.

With nearly twenty of us present, on most days we split into smaller groups in order not to get under each others’ feet, and to cover more ground for the Atlas, meeting up to swap experiences each evening. Judith Allinson, John Blackburn, Sam Bosanquet, Des Callaghan, David Chamberlain, Jo Denyer, Bob Ellis, Richard Fisk, Mary Ghullam, Ewa Jablonska, Liz Kungu, Mark Lawley, Niklas Lonnell, Roy Perry, Mark Pool, Chris Preston, Gordon Rothero, Phil Stanley and Jo Wilbraham attended the meeting. We were particularly pleased to welcome Ewa from Poland and Niklas from Sweden, not only as they had travelled so far to join us, but also because they brought with them fresh ways of interpreting our countryside and bryoflora.

Saturday July 1 st

Travelling to Sutherland took up most of our inaugural day, but some members nevertheless found time to explore sites at or near journey’s end. At Shin Falls (NH 5799) in Achany Glen, a few miles south of Lairg, rocks by the river held *Andreaea rothii ssp. falcata, *Grimmia lisae (G. retracta), Isothecium holtii, *Oreoweisia (Cynodontium) bruntonii, *Racomitrium affine and *Rhabdoweisia fugax, while further down river south of Invershin at Kyle of Sutherland (NH 5795) *Sphagnum platyphyllum grew on peaty soil by the rare Estuarine Sedge (Carex recta).

Sphagnum platyphyllum

The environs of DunrobinCastle (NC 8500) provided another explorer with *Bryum radiculosum, and *Syntrichia papillosa appeared on a lime tree in Golspie itself.

Deciduous woodland bordering a rocky stream and waterfall at Big Burn (NC 8400 and 8301) near the northern end of Golspie will doubtless repay further attention at some future time, and on this occasion a rather hurried couple of hours’ exploration turned up over 80 species, including *Apometzgeria pubescens, *Conocephalum salebrosum,*Eucladium verticillatum and*Mnium stellare.

Sunday July 2 nd

Grudie Peatlands near Sallachy, Lairg is a blanket bog and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) whose 5,000 hectares (18,600 acres) extend over parts of four hectads (or 10 kilometre squares - NC 40, 41, 50 and 51), stretching from Lochan a’ Choire in the north to Loch na Fuaralaich in the south, and from Ben Sgeireach and Loch Sgeireach in the north-west to Cnoc Riabhaich in the south-east.

We split into groups in order to explore different parts (and hectads) of this huge site, a policy which brought reward in the forms of *Sphagnum austinii, S. fuscum, S. magellanicum, *S. platyphyllum, S. russowii, S. strictum, S. tenellum and S. teres along with several commoner congeners. *Calliergon giganteum,Campylopus brevipilus,*Dicranella cerviculata, *Dicranum montanum, *Plagiomnium ellipticum, Pohlia bulbifera, P. camptotrachela, *P. drummondii, *P. filum, *Scorpidium (Drepanocladus) cossonii, Splachnum sphaericum, Tetraplodon mnioides, and the liverworts Anastrophyllum minutum, Anthelia julacea, *Barbilophozia attenuata, *Cephalozia connivens, *C. loitlesbergeri, Cladopodiella fluitans, Kurzia pauciflora and *K. trichoclados,Odontoschisma denudatum,*Scapania compacta,*S. scandica and *Riccardia latifrons also went on the cards, and everywhere one looked the beautiful purple shoots of Pleurozia purpurea added unrivalled colour to the ground. Few-flowered Sedge (Carex pauciflora) flourished in several of the wetter places, and Dwarf Birch (Betula nana) appeared in small quantity.

Anastrophyllum minutum

It was a beautifully fine day for exploring this remote expanse of wet moor. Golden Plovers cried to each other, Dunlin trilled and Greenshank called across the mire, and one party enjoyed an excellent view of an Osprey by the side of Loch Shin.

Monday July 3 rd

After a day on blanket bog, two parties explored Glen Loth and Glen Sletdale (NC 91), whose slopes lie less than 500 metres above sea-level, and had not previously been examined for bryophytes.

*Syntrichia princeps appeared on earth beneath east-facing crags of an Old Red Sandstone cliff at Creag na Cathaig (NC 9314) on Beinn Dhorain (NC 9314 and 9315). Schistidiums abounded on the crumbling, base-rich, lower outcrops, and Sam Bosanquet collected two rare species, *S, dupretiiand *S. pruinosum.Dicranella subulata and Jungermannia obovata grew in the gully of a stream, and the base-rich crags held *Ditrichum gracile, *Hedwigia stellata, Leucodon sciuroides, *Pterogonium gracile, *Conocephalum salebrosum, Frullania fragilifolia and *Leiocolea badensis. *Campylium protensum, *Plagiomnium ellipticum, and *Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia grew in flushes below the crags.

Frullania fragillifolia

This party then descended to Loth Gorge SSSI (NC 9410) below the road, and found there *Gyroweisia tenuis, *Schistidium rivulare, *Apometzgeria pubescens, *Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia, *Metzgeria fruticulosa and Porella cordaeana.

Zealously attended by midges, another party explored rocks, flushes and spinneys beside the burn in nearby Glen Sletdale (NC 9112, 9212 and 9312), finding Leucodon sciuroides, *Plagiomnium ellipticum, Sphagnum fuscum, S. magellanicum, *Bazzania trilobata, *Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia, *Marchantia polymorpha ssp. montivagans and Odontoschisma denudatum. Mark Pool also found *Rhynchostegium alopecuroides.

Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia

While all this was going on, John Blackburn and Jo Wilbraham set about Brora’s bryoflora, doing sterling work recording bryologically virgin territory around Brora (NC 9003) and Kintradwell (NC 9107).

Just along the coast, Crackaig Links (NC 9710) turned up Bryum archangelicum (B. imbricatum), Campyliadelphus chrysophyllus, Distichium capillaceum, Zygodon stirtonii and Scapania aspera. And further south at Coul Links (NH 89) just north of Dornoch, Chris Preston found a colony of *Riccia cavernosa in a dried-up dune slack alongside Calliergon cordifolium and terrestrial Potamogeton gramineus, with *Campylium protensum nearby.

Another party explored a few hundred yards of Strath Brora’s (NC 7110) upper reaches, immediately upstream of Braegrudie, where cliffs in a little gorge by the burn attracted greatest interest. Antitrichia curtipendula, Plagiobryum zieri, *Trichostomum tenuirostre, Ulota hutchinsiae, Leiocolea collaris (L. alpestris), and Scapania subalpina numbered among the records.

Later, the same group moved further down the valley, just west of Balnacoil (NC 7810), where they found more Antitrichia.

Tuesday July 4 th

Next day, about half of the members enjoyeda further change of habitat by visiting a rich, old, mixed woodland in the gorge below a forestry plantationat Raven’s Rock (NC 5001 and 4901), Rosehall, near Altass. A ditch by the lane contained *Sphagnum fimbriatum, but most of our fun came once we had descended to the stream, where varying combinations of humid shade and traces of base-enrichment favoured the liverworts *Aphanolejeunea microscopica, Cololejeunea calcarea, *Hygrobiella laxifolia, and Leiocolea collaris (L. alpestris), as well as mosses such as Anoectangium aestivum, Bartramia ithyphylla, Didymodon spadiceus and Gymnostomum aeruginosum. Chris Preston found *Calypogeia suecica and Odontoschisma denudatum growing on rotting logs, and Jo Wilbraham also found the epiphytes *Ptilidium pulcherrimum and *Zygodon conoideus.

Some members stopped in Lairg (NC 5806) on their way back from Raven’s Rock - ostensibly to record weeds such as Bryum algovicum var. rutheanum, *B. ruderale and Marchantia polymorpha ssp. ruderalis - but in reality to enjoy an ice-cream in the late afternoon’s sunshine.

Another group of members drove north in order to explore blanket bog on the SSSI of Knockfin Heights (NC 9033, 9133) around Cnoc na Tuathrach, finding *Calypogeia sphagnicola on Sphagnum, and *Marsupella sphacelata, and *Polytrichum commune var. perigoniale on the stony margin of a loch. This Polytrichum is probably much overlooked on tracks and other disturbed ground, as it resembles P. juniperinum at first glance. The clubmoss Lycopodium annotinum added vascular variety.

On the walk up to the Knockfin SSSI from the main road at Bannock Burn they found fruiting Fontinalis antipyretica var. gracilis (as well as var. antipyretica) and *Polytrichum strictum near the lower reaches of the burn. Further upstream (NC 9034), as they approached the SSSI, *Platyhypnidium (Rhynchostegium) alopecuroides grew plentifully on rocks in the gully of the Bannock Burn, and the sides of the gully held Sphagnum molle, S. russowii and S. teres, Tetrodontium brownianum, Jungermannia obovata and Leiocolea bantriensis.

Fontinalis antipyretica var. gracilis

A third group of explorers drove up the Altnaharra road out of Lairg, and entered West Sutherland (vc 108) in order to examine the bryoflora of blanket bog near the Allt Chraisg (NC 5327). Cladopodiella fluitans, Hygrobiella laxifolia and Scapania scandica grew in the vicinity of the Allt Chraisg. Ground between Allt Bealach Fhuarain and Loch Gaineamhach (NC 5126, also in vc 108) held Haplomitrium hookeri, Campylopus brevipilus, Dicranella rufescens, D. subulata, Sphagnum fuscum and S. magellanicum, and S. pulchrum turned up beside several small pools. A pause beside the road south of Crask Inn (NC 5223, back in vc 107) produced Ptilium crista-castrensis.

Wednesday July 5 th

On this day we again split into car-loads of about four in order to record more widely. One party languished in hot sunshine on the blanket bog of Coir’ an Eoin SSSI (NC 81), where Gordon Rothero found the rare *Sphagnum riparium growing amongst S. fallax by the Allt Ach’ a’ Bhathaich. *Sphagnum austinii, S. compactum, *S. fimbriatum, S. fuscum, S. magellanicum, S. tenellum and S. teres also numbered among 17 species of the genus, satisfying all but the most rabid of Sphagnophiles. Calliergons were also to the fore, with C. cordifolium, C. sarmentosum and C. stramineum, and *Riccardia latifrons went on the list too.

Sphagnum austinii

Nearer the road, John Blackburn and Mary Ghullam examined ground around Ascoile (NC 8210), recording a fine range of the usual suspects which included *Marchantia polymorpha ssp. polymorpha, as well as *Hygroamblystegium (Amblystegium) fluviatile from rocks in the stream.

Meanwhile, another posse investigated the bryological riches of Helmsdale and its environs. The bank of the River Helmsdale and nearby woodland (ND 0217 and 0117) yielded Anomobryum julaceum, *Weissia brachycarpa s.s., and Jungermannia paroica.

On higher ground, a small hummock of *Sphagnum austinii came to notice on Creag Thoraraidh (ND 0318), with S. magellanicum nearby. Pohlia camptotrachela and *P. drummondii grew on disturbed soil. Calypogeia neesiana and Scapania umbrosa added hepatological interest. The harbour in Helmsdale town (ND 0315) held *Physcomitrium pyriforme but mainly attracted comment for its impoverished bryoflora, and was declared a liverwort-free zone.

A third group headed into West Sutherland (vc 108), taking advantage of Loch Choire Estate’s kindness in permitting us to drive several miles along their unmetalled but well-maintained track and park at the lodge in order to tackle bryologically neglected ground by Loch Choire (NC 6429, 6327 and 6227). *Polytrichum commune var. perigoniale grew by the track, and other mosses to go on the list included *G. lisae (G. retracta) on rocks by the loch, Isopterygiopsis pulchella, Mnium marginatum, Racomitrium ellipticum, Tetrodontium brownianum, Ulota hutchinsiae and Zygodon conoideus. Leptobryum pyriforme grew on humus overlying an outcrop of sandstone above the track. The assemblage of liverworts indicated some oceanic influence, and included Bazzania tricrenata, Cephalozia lunulifolia, Douinia ovata, Hygrobiella laxifolia, Lepidozia cupressina and Plagiochila bifaria (P. killarniensis).

Douinia ovata

That evening, back in Golspie, a party of twitchers set out to see the rare Moneses uniflora (One-flowered Wintergreen) near Loch Fleet, where it grows near plentiful Goodyera repens. As with most woodland in the region, Riccardia palmata and Scapania umbrosa were present on rotting wood.

Thursday July 6 th

Members had been diligently recording all week, so your correspondent promised them a relaxing party-day together on the calcareous Old Red Sandstone of Ben Griam Mor SSSI (NC 8039). However,Gordon Rothero had other ideas, and route-marched us north past our intended hunting-ground to Ben Griam Beag in the much less well recorded hectad immediately to the north. A few idlers rebelled and headed for Griam Mor, but most traipsed dutifully after their new leader, lured by the promise of unknown excitement on a far distant horizon.

Ben Griam Beg party setting off (photo: Richard Fisk)

Brief pit-stops by the shore of Loch Druim a’ Chliabhain (NC 8040 and 8140) brought Haplomitrium hookeri, *Odontoschisma elongatum and *Pseudobryum cinclidioides to notice, with Campylopus brevipilus on wet moor nearby.

On Ben Griam Beag itself, our recording was somewhat complicated by the proximity of the vice-comital boundary, which follows one of the numerous gullies or buttresses dissecting the cliff. We’re fairly sure we spent most of our time in vc 107 rather than 108. The Old Red Sandstone crags of Creag na h-Iolaire (NC 8240 and 8241) face north-west, with bryophytes indicating base-richness in some places, and the local Peregrines worked themselves into a fearsome frame of mind while we searched the cliff, while at lunch-time Judith Allinson entertained us with some tunes on her whistle.

Choice among the mosses were *Anomobryum julaceum var. concinnatum, Antitrichia curtipendula, Bartramia ithyphylla, Cynodontium jenneri, *Dicranum flexicaule, the Grimmias funalis, torquata and trichophylla, Isopterygiopsis pulchella, both varieties of Isothecium myosuroides, Kiaeria blyttii, Orthothecium intricatum, Orthotrichum rupestre, Pohlia cruda, Pterigynandrum filiforme, Racomitrium ellipticum, R. sudeticum, *Schistidium confertum, *S. strictum, Trichostomum brachydontium and *T. tenuirostre, and Zygodon rupestris. Liverworts on the crags included Anastrophyllum minutum, Barbilophozia hatcheri, Douinia ovata, Frullania fragilifolia, Gymnomitrion obtusum, Leiocolea bantriensis, *L. heterocolpos, *Lophozia sudetica, *Marchantia polymorpha ssp. polymorpha, Porella cordaeana, *Reboulia hemisphaerica and Scapania aequiloba. At the northern end of the crags in West Sutherland (vc 108) we found in addition Distichium capillaceum, Hymenostylium recurvirostrum, Hypnum callichroum and *Schistidium strictum.

Back in East Sutherland, Cladopodiella fluitans, Harpanthus flotovianus and *Odontoschisma elongatum came to light by a flush on ground below the crags, with Sphagnum molle and S. teres nearby. Polytrichum alpinum and Tetraplodon mnioides grew on the moor as well, with Splachnum sphaericum in vc 108.

Odontoschisma elongatum

Our colleagues on Ben Griam Mor (NC 73 and 83) recorded in addition *Polytrichum strictum and *Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia, but found themselves beguiled by an attractive assemblage of pretty flowers on the crags: Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala), Moss Campion (Silene acaulis), Purple Mountain Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia), Alpine Bistort (Polygonum viviparum), Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride) and Globe Flower (Trollius europaeus).

Friday July 7 th

Ben Hee in the north-west of the vice-county offered much higher ground than anywhere else explored during the week, and this under-recorded hill beckoned the mountaineers on our last full day, with Niklas Lonnell particularly keen to see some oceanic liverworts. The day’s first notable discovery was Sam Bosanquet’s *Aongstroemia longipes on damp gravel beside the track above West Merkland (NC 3933).

Anastrophyllum alpinum

Coir’ a’ Chruiteir (NC 4133) on the west side of Ben Hee provided the first sight of oceanic liverworts, with Anastrophyllum donnianum, Bazzania pearsonii, B. tricrenata, Herbertus aduncus, *Hygrobiella laxifolia, Mastigophora woodsii, Plagiochila carringtonii and Scapania ornithopodioides growing on steep rocky slopes or flushed rocks. Scapania uliginosa flourished in a spring, and the mosses Dicranodontium asperulum and D. uncinatum were found among the boulders.

A stiff climb over the bealach, past plentiful Campylopus gracilis, led to a series of somewhat base-enriched cliffs above Loch a’ Ghorm-choire (NC 4333). Dicranodontium uncinatum grew where water dripped from above at the western end of the cliffs. After lunch, the bryologists descended to the loch, where Gordon Rothero found *Bryum muehlenbeckii and *Odontoschisma elongatum, while Sam Bosanquet, Des Callaghan and Niklas Lonnell recorded on the cliffs above, finding *Conocephalum salebrosum, Gymnomitrion crenulatum and Isopterygiopsis pulchella.

The Allt a’ Ghorm-choire (NC 4333) harboured a rich community of oceanic liverworts. All the species seen earlier in the day in Coir’ a’ Chruiteir were found again in greater abundance, plus a patch of *Moerckia blyttii at the bottom of the coire. Anastrophyllum alpinum and Scapania nimbosa occurred in scree higher up, along with Herzogiella striatella, *Hylocomium umbratum, Hypnum callichroum and Kiaeria falcata. Gordon found a patch of Isopterygiopsis muelleriana at the foot of a crag, and Gymnomitrion concinnatum and *Scapania scandica were also in the coire. *Lophozia opacifolia occurred near the top, along with Conostomum tetragonum. Aulacomnium turgidum failed to show on the summit ridge, but a little Marsupella brevissima (NC 4234, vc 108) turned up by way of compensation.

Less scarce species noted during the day on Ben Hee included Distichium capillaceum, Fontinalis antipyretica var. gracilis, Orthothecium intricatum, *Racomitrium affine, and Cololejeunea calcarea.

Campylopus gracilis

While the mountaineers feasted on Ben Hee’s treasures, a second groupof bryologistsexamined another blanket bog – Skinsdale Peatland SSSI (NC 7028 and 7027) immediately east of Ben Armine. As before, we took advantage of Loch Choire Estate’s kindness in permitting us to drive several miles along their track, and this time parked a couple of miles short of the lodge in order to walk south along an old pony path. *Dicranella cerviculata fruited freely on moist peat beside the path. *Sphagnum austinii was present on the bog, along with S. russowii, S. teres and the suite of liverworts we had come to expect from the blanket bogs of East Sutherland. At Gorm-loch Beag we encountered *Odontoschisma elongatum in a flush, with Racomitrium ellipticum and Grimmia ramondii (G. curvata) on rocks at the edge of the loch, along with *Pterigynandrum filiforme var. majus. The lower ramparts of Ben Armine’s eastern flank proved mainly acidic, but one pocket of rock held Trichostomum brachydontium. Kiaeria blyttii lurked nearby, along with *Marsupella emarginata var. pearsonii.

A third party went to Borrobol Lodge (NC 8726) in Strath of Kildonan, and walked to Loch Ascaig (NC 8525), where *Philonotis caespitosa appeared on a bank of damp clay. Bartramia ithyphylla, the Calliergons cordifolium, sarmentosum and stramineum, *Dicranella rufescens, *Plagiomnium cuspidatum, the Pohlias annotina, bulbifera,camptotrachela and cruda, Sphagnum compactum, *S. fimbriatum, S. tenellum and S. teres, *Cephalozia connivens, *Hygrobiella laxifolia, Jungermannia paroica and Odontoschisma denudatum went on the list.

A mile or so south of Borrobol Lodge, *Ptilidium pulcherrimum appeared near where Suisgill Burn flows into the River Helmsdale, and Pohlia camptotrachela,*Schistidium rivulare, and Sphagnum teres occurred a little further south at Suisgill Lodge (NC 9023). *Calypogeia sphagnicola, *Hygrobiella laxifolia and Jungermannia paroica turned up in the vicinity of Kildonan Burn another couple of miles south along the road at Baile-an-Or (NC 9121).

Meanwhile, fearful of being asked to survey yet another bog, other members had accepted an invitation from Morven Murray, East Sutherland’s recorder of vascular plants for the Botanical Society of the British Isles, who lives at Rogart (NC 7303), and had offered to show members some choice spots in the vicinity of her home village, in return for our records for the Highland Council’s “Biodiversity Action Plan”. *Hedwigia ciliata and *H. stellata grew by the roadside and river to the north of Rogart crossroads (NC 7302), and *Bryum pallescens, *B. rubens and Syntrichia ruraliformis appeared near the railway station. A base-rich mire on hillside (NC 7202) above the village held Harpanthus flotovianus, with *Dicranella rufescens nearby. And a hazel wood in a little valley at NC 7204 harboured startlingly large quantities of Antitrichia curtipendula.

Saturday July 8 th

Before leaving East Sutherland, Sam Bosanquet and Chris Preston stopped by a disused quarry near Marian’s Rock (NC 7401), not far from Rogart, where Sam found the week’s rarest plant – *Grimmia elatior – not seen in Britain since the 1870s, when it was known from Glen Clova, Angus, further south in eastern Scotland. At its newly discovered site, this very rare moss grows on unshaded, south-facing, igneous rocks with G. decipiens, *G. lisae and G. ovalis (as well as G. funalis, G. pulvinata, G. ramondii and G. trichophylla), *Pterogonium gracile, *Schistidium pruinosum and *Weissia brachycarpa var. obliqua nearby. This intriguing assemblage of scarce mosses, taken in conjunction with the discovery earlier in the week of Syntrichia princeps and the rare Schistidium dupretiiandS. pruinosum on Bheinn Dhorain a few miles north, suggests that the interface between ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks and the Old Red Sandstone of East Sutherland’s eastern seaboard merits further bryological exploration.

Schistidium pruinosum

Our week-long investigation was not only interesting for the rarities discovered, but also further developed our impression of the region’s commoner species. Of epiphytes, Ulota drummondii appeared frequently, as well as Orthotrichum pulchellum, O. stramineum and O. striatum. O. rupestre turned up on rocks on several occasions too, and Antitrichia curtipendula was frequent and often luxuriant on both bark and rock; indeed, it was found fruiting at two sites. Many rocks also held Pterigynandrum filiforme and Barbilophozia hatcheri, and Grimmia lisae (G. retracta) turned up several times on riparian rocks, often with G. ramondii, Racomitrium ellipticum and Ulota hutchinsiae. Riccardia palmata, Scapania umbrosa and Tritomaria exsectiformis were frequent on rotting logs in humid surroundings, and many wet places harboured Sphagnum contortum, S. russowii, S. tenellum and S. teres.

In addition, numerous species vouched for the first time (or for the first time since before 1950) from East Sutherland seemed to be reasonably frequent in their favoured habitat, indicating that vc 107 had indeed been bryologically neglected hitherto. These included the liverworts Calypogeia arguta, Cephalozia connivens, Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia, Kurzia trichoclados, Marchantia polymorpha ssp. polymorpha, Nardia compressa, and Scapania compacta. The same may be said of the mosses Amblystegium serpens, Andreaea rothii, A. rupestris, Hedwigia stellata, Oxyrrhynchium (Eurhynchium) hians, Plagiomnium ellipticum, P. rostratum, Pohlia drummondii, Polytrichum strictum, Racomitrium heterostichum, Scorpidium (Drepanocladus) cossonii, S. revolvens, Sphagnum austinii (which was previously recorded as S. imbricatum s.l.), S. fimbriatum, and Trichostomum tenuirostre.

On the other hand, a dry summer is not the best season for finding winter-annuals, and we contributed far less to an understanding of East Sutherland’s ruderal bryoflora than the agricultural bryologists did during a brief visit to the vice-county in 2005. We found little evidence of the small Pottiaceae in the villages, but they are usually more in evidence during the wetter winter months. However, we would surely have detected the perennial Rhynchostegiella tenella if it had been present on mortared walls. Were the walls insufficiently calcareous, or does the climate of East Sutherland not suit this species? Again, while several epiphytic Orthotrichum species were notably frequent, *O. lyellii was seen only once (on a roadside tree on the drive to Ben Griam Beg).

East Sutherland’s climate was evidently too dry for a number of oceanic species. Only in the sheltered gorge at Raven’s Rock and in the far west of the vice-county at Loch Choire and on Ben Hee did western species occur in any quantity. Lejeuneaceae were generally rare, as were the oceanic Plagiochila species that occur frequently further west. But Hygrobiella laxifolia turned up several times on wet rocks by running water, and Sphagnum girgensohnii proved to be widespread and frequent, whereas S. fimbriatum occurred in smaller quantities.

In our seven-day spree we scurried like ants over hill and dale, visiting 26 hectads, finding about 100 species new to East Sutherland or not vouched from the vice-county since before 1950, and scuttled back each day with little parcels of booty for assimilation under the microscope. Yet we must surely have unwittingly passed by much else besides, wherefore one wonders what more might be found at greater leisure in East Sutherland…. if only the vice-county possessed even one resident bryologist.

And so our meeting ended, leaving fond memories of high summer in the Highlands, and regrets as Sutherland faded from sight in the rear-view mirror:

“Are you going away with no word of farewell?
Will there be not a trace left behind?
I could have loved you better….”



Second Week : Orkney

Gordon Rothero


Mary Ghullam, John Blackburn, Mark Lawley, Ron Porley, Nick Hodgetts, Mark Pool, Sandy Payne, Liz Kungu, Richard Fisk, Ewa Jablonska ( Polish student), Gordon Rothero and Rosemary McCance (local secretary). Martin Godfrey joined us for two days and John Crossley and Effy Everiss, two local botanists, came with us on the first Hoy day and John showed us the Glims Moss and Durkadale SSSI.

Saturday 8 th July

The vagaries of travel to Orkney and the spread of accommodation in Kirkwall meant that arrivals at the initial meeting in the Lynnfield Hotel were spread through the evening but most people made it, eight of us having come on from Golspie. Rosemary ran through the programme and gave the obligatory ‘risk assessment’, probably the most practical information being that ‘time, tide and Orkney ferries wait for no man’ - three of the four excursions involved ferries.

Sunday 9 th July Hoy

The eary morning weather was dreich but by the time we reached Stromness for the Hoy ferry the sky was brightening. The crossing to the north end of Hoy takes about half an hour, during which closet twitchers scanned the local bird life and we were entertained by basking sharks. The targets for the day were the Sandy Loch and burns and flushes down to Head for one group and the impressive crags and gullies of Enegars for the other. The minibus picked us up from the ferry and dropped of each group in turn. The rock here, as on much of Orkney, is Old Red Sandstone, which has some calcareous facies and flushes near Head soon produced Palustriella commutata and Drepanocladus cossonii. Base-rich flushes below Enegars coire had cushions of Tortella tortuosa and mixed with this a few cushions of Tortella densa. This area was being patrolled by nesting bonxies (common skuas) and although their attacks were relatively mild by usual standards some of us thought it wise to don hats for protection. The intimidation by bonxies was nothing compared to the midges which were just desperate. The mire in the bottom of the coire produced *Sphagnum flexuosum and a small stand of *Sphagnum teres and much Sphagnum-related discussion.

Enegars on Hoy in the mist and the midges

The gully on the west side of the coire has moderately calcareous ground as well as some good scrambling and nice plants like Orthothecium rufescens and Leiocolea bantriensis and, new for Orkney, *Scapania calcicola, *Eremonotus myriocarpus, *Cololejeunea calcarea and *Plagiochila killarniensis. Less basic ground near the top of the gully had a good Atlantic flora including Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsii, Plagiochila spinulosa, Mylia taylori, Pleurozia purpurea and Plagiochila carringtonii and similar stands also occur patchily on the plateau above The gentle breeze on the summit plateau gave some intermittent relief from the midges and a late lunch was taken. We wandered eastwards in the cloud and descended the easy-angled gullies at the eastern corner of the coire. Here Plagiochila carringtonii and Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsii were still frequent and *Anastrepta orcadensis was seen, but the general flora was less diverse, though Campylopus gracilis* grew well on wet slabs near the bottom.

The Sandy Loch team continued the bird theme, watching a pair of divers and chicks on the loch while checking out mires and flushes along the base of the slope. Some of the team made for higher ground and some height was made up Skecking Gill but the desire not to miss the bus meant that steady progress had to be made towards Head. The best find in the calcareous flushes was Tortella densa in much the same habitat as round on Enegars.

Monday 10 th July. Durkadale and Glims Moss SSSI and the Bu’ on Burray

These sites had been visited by the BBS in 1974 but Joan Appleyard’s acerbic account of that meeting did not deter us. Durkadale is an excellent area of fen but is rather uniform in terms of its bryoflora, with much Drepanocladus cossonii, Philonotis calcarea, Plagiomnium ellipticum and Calliergon giganteum. Determined searching amongst the sedges also produced Rhizomnium pseudopunctatum and Trichocolea tomentella and the burn had Amblystegium tenax on the marginal rocks.

Glims Moss is a large mire from which Sphagnum austinii has been recorded and this was the proposed target. Pools on the peat track had good patches of Warnstorfia fluitans and the long lines of flushed vegetation by the small burn had similar bryophytes to the fen at Durkadale. Once off the track, progress across the treacherous tussocks and hummocks of the mire was reduced to a sweaty, drunken stagger and a few of the party had close encounters with the moss. This fun rapidly palled and we retreated to the road, the cars and, fairly soon, Orkney ice-cream and oysters, Mertensia maritima that is.

The Bu’ on Burray, also visited by the BBS in 1974, is a large area of dunes and slacks which has suffered somewhat from what might euphemistically be called ‘unsympathetic management’. Just the weekend before, the site had been used for a moto-cross event. Even so we were able to re-find Distichium inclinatum and Amblyodon dealbatus and the typical dune slack flora of the north of Scotland is still much in evidence. Notable additions to the flora here were *Moerckia hibernica and the Red Data Book moss *Bryum calophyllum found by Mark Lawley. Some of the damp areas left bare on tracks and by sand extraction had a prodigious quantity of Riccia cavernosa, visible from many metres away as large, pale green patches. Our short exploration revealed an excellent bryophyte site and one which deserves better management but achieving that under current ownership will be difficult.

Mary Ghullam and massed Riccia crystalina at Bu' on Burray

Tuesday 11 th July. Hoy

Our second trip to Hoy was again aimed at the north end of the island with the targets being the steep, calcareous sandstone gullies on Quoyawa for one small team and the more gentle surroundings of Rackwick and Berrie Dale for the rest of the party.

On Quoyawa, on the advice of Sandy Payne, we headed for the more southerly ramparts which were seamed with gullies. Almost immediately Mark L. picked up *Leiocolea fitzgeraldii and further good things were to follow. Low down on wet broken slabs Orthothecium rufescens is quite frequent and Jungermannia subelliptica occurs amongst the abundant Jungermannia atrovirens. After lunch, the more enclosed upper part of the gully with broken crags and damp corners gave new Orkney records for *Plagiothecium denticulatum var. denticulatum, *Lejeunea cavifolia, *Colura calytrifolia and the nationally rare *Jungermannia polaris and further Hoy sites for Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens, Leiocolea bantriensis, Leiocolea alpestris, Eremonotus myriocarpus and Weissia perssonii. By this time the weather had improved dramatically and the clear, cold-front air gave extensive views across the sound, back to Mainland and beyond.

Mark Lawley and Sandy Payne above Quoyawa on Hoy

Further south at Rackwick, the whole group walked into Berriedale, which has the ‘most northerly native woodland in Scotland ’, still twitching (hen harriers this time). The woodland has some Atlantic species in Lepidozia cupressina and Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsii and Nick Hodgetts found *Tritomaria exsectiformis and a tiny scrap of what is probably Molendoa warburgii but not sufficient for a voucher! Nick and Ron stayed on in the woodland, with Ron finding *Grimmia trichophylla, while the rest of the group took the path round towards the Old Man of Hoy. The blasted heath on this route had very few bryophytes but welcome additions to this sliver of a hectad on the edge of all things. A view of the Old Man was achieved and, on a different scale, Pohlia camptotrachela was seen in a cut near the road-end.

Wednesday 12 th July. Egilsay

Egilsay is a small island, dominated by the remains of the church of St Magnus , with a large RSPB reserve and no bryophyte records, and so provided us with a challenge for the bright and breezy final day. The island is low and agricultural with large areas of fen on the east side, small areas of shell sand, low coastal cliffs and limited areas of broken crags away from the coast. The reserve is managed by the RSPB for corncrakes, unfortunately the corncrakes didn’t realise this and left. The island lies in two hectads with the dividing line conveniently running across the centre of the island thus we had a southern party and a northern party and a slight element of competition. There is not a great variety of habitat, and much of the drier ground is rather dull grassland so it is not surprising that both teams reached a rather similar total of around a hundred species after a very pleasant potter round the island. Such close attention to a relatively small area meant that there were a number of surprising additions or updates to the Orkney flora.

The fen vegetation was very similar to Durkadale, again with much Plagiomnium ellipticum and still no Plagiomnium elatum which is usually the more frequent of the two in the north. Nick Hodgetts found Drepanocladus aduncus in the southern hectad as well as *Drepanocladus sendtneri in a small fen, the former uncommon in Scotland and the latter distinctly rare. Mark Lawley found Drepanocladus polygamus in the dense Potentilla palustris fen, poached ground in a field gateway gave John Blackburn *Ephemerum serratum var minutum and a number of other weedy things were recorded, including *Philonotis arnellii by Ron Porley. Probably the most diverse habitats were the small outcrops of rock, usually quite base-rich, and producing plants like Tortula subulata, Seligeria recurvata, Zygodon viridissimus var stirtonii, Schistidium apocarpum, Frullania fragifolia, Frullania teneriffae and *Porella obtusata. Sandy Payne’s assiduous attention to rough grassland on slopes close to the sea paid off when he found a small patch of Sanionia orthothecioides near Roe Ness. To the disappointment of Ewa, not a single species of Sphagnum was recorded by either party, not an easy feat in the north of Scotland .

A typically blustery boat trip ended our final excursion but the weather had been remarkably kind during a spell when rain was never far away. Our thanks to Rosemary McCance for putting together an excellent few days, for arranging the basking sharks and the birds and a varied selection of sites. Even the relatively well-bryologised crags on Hoy produced a number of new records and the records for the virgin territory on Egilsay are particularly welcome for the Atlas project. It was gratifying to this grizzled veteran of Scottish meetings that so many people were prepared to make the long trek north; it will soon be time for a Shetland visit.


Copyright © British Bryological Society .