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Mull, 14 - 21 July

C.D. Preston

Biological Records Centre, CEH Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, Cambs. CB4 3EF


After a Scottish summer meeting in the under-recorded eastern county of East Sutherland in 2006, the BBS returned to the west coast in 2007 to visit the Hebridean island of Mull , v.c. 103. This is relatively well-worked ground, with a published flora based on the fieldwork of the staff of the British Museum (Natural History) between 1966 and 1970 (Eddy, 1978). However, it has received less scrutiny than the neighbouring island of Skye (v.c. 104) and the meeting offered the prospect of adding plants to the island’s flora as well as a welcome opportunity to revisit the rich bryophyte flora of NW Scotland. Mark Lawley acted as ‘local secretary’ and visited the island with friends for a reconnaissance in 2005 (Lawley, 2006). His meticulous preparation ensured that the meeting ran very smoothly, no mean feat on an island of inconvenient shape where travel plans need to be carefully thought out. The meeting attracted 19 participants. Judith Allinson, Sam Bosanquet, Fiona Cameron, David Chamberlain, Jo Denyer, Richard Fisk, Maren Flagmeier, Lorna Fraser, Mary Ghullam, David Hickson, Liz Kungu, Mark Lawley, Mark Pool, Niklas Lönnell and Chris Preston were present for all or almost all the meeting, joined at the start of the week (15–17 July) by Dave Genny and Tim Dawson of SNH and by Gordon Rothero, and on 18–19 July by Carl Farmer.

We arrived in Mull on 14 July with some apprehension, after the wettest June since 1997, further flooding in England in July and a forecast of more rain later in the week. However, our time on Mull was largely one of sunshine, cloud and very occasional showers, and we spent long days in the field only to learn of heavy rain elsewhere in Britain when calling families and friends in the evening. Eleven members stayed at self-catering accommodation in a farm at Ardnacross, Salen, where microscopes were set out and all gathered in the evening to discuss the finds of the day and debate plans for the morning. Over 150 bryophyte species were recorded in the vicinity of Ardnacross during the week, including *Polytrichum commune var. perigoniale.

I am grateful to the members who provided details of the sites I did not visit, and photographs, for inclusion in this account.

Sunday 15 July

Planning the ascent of Ben More, 15 July. Photo: Judith Allinson

Ben More (NM53) is the highest mountain on Mull (966 m) and we tackled it straight away, fearful of the forecast weather later in the week. Parking by the sea, we worked our way rapidly up Gleann na Beinne Fada to find Herbertus aduncus, Glyphomitrium daviesii and Tetrodontium brownianum at the waterfalls at 150 m. By this time the party was already stretched out, and we split into groups to cover the north side of the mountain. The largest group reached the crags at 550–600 m on the western side of the corrie after a rather gruelling slog up the mountainside. There were frequent patches of Campylopus setifolius in this area, rather sparse patches of the oceanic liverworts Anastrepta orcadensis, Herbertus stramineus and (in boulder scree) Sphenolobopsis pearsonii, as well as Amphidium lapponicum and Oedipodium griffithianum, both fruiting. After lunch by a patch of Mastigophora woodsii, most of the party worked their way round the crags to A’Choich before descending a fine-scree slope. The terrain was very acidic and we had to work hard for additions to the card. *Scapania nimbosa was the best find, and as soon as Gordon pointed it out, growing in turf with Racomitrium lanuginosum, the cloud temporarily, and appropriately, descended. Ctenidium molluscum var. robustum (in a wet hole in a crag, with Oxyria digyna and Sedum rosea), Ditrichum zonatum var. scabrifolium, Hypnum callichroum (in a small cave), *Marsupella emarginata var. pearsonii, *M. stableri (in stable scree) and Pohlia flexuosa were also noteworthy. Sam climbed to the crags below the summit but found little except Hygrobiella laxifolia and fruiting Oligotrichum hercynicum to reward his efforts. Below the A’Chroic scree, Scapania uliginosa was seen in flushes and Brachydontium trichodes on pebbles in grassland. Other parties succumbed to ‘summit fever’, working their way across the lower ground (where they were impressed by the abundance of Splachnum ampullaceum and S. sphaericum) to reach the top where Dave and Tim entertained them with a duet on tin whistles. All returned safely to the cars, Maren and Niklas surprising us by their appearance in smart shirts and fashionable ‘shades’ – an unprecedented sight on a BBS meeting?

Monday 16 July

The party divided into two groups. The larger group parked near Ensay and recorded, separately, two 1-km squares (NM3545, 3546) on the nearby coast. Conocephalum conicum and C. salebrosum grew in the gorge at Crackaig. The coastal outcrops in this area provided a suite of species which we were to see repeatedly on the hard basalt of the Mull coast. Ptychomitrium polyphyllum was frequent, as everywhere on Mull , joined (especially on the shaded sides of rocks and boulders) by the neater cushions of Glyphomitrium daviesii, almost all their sporophytes dehisced by now.

Glyphomitrium daviesii on the coast near Ensay, 16 July. Photo: Niklas Lönnell

The ubiquitous Frullania tamarisci was accompanied by tightly appressed, aromatic patches of F. fragilifolia and (less frequently) F. microphylla, and the looser, glossier patches of F. teneriffae. Pterogonium gracile was frequent and there were a few patches of Porella obtusata on exposed rocks.

Porella obtusata on the coast near Ensay, 16 July. Photo: Niklas Lönnell

In sheltered, shady places there was much Saccogyna viticulosa, Marchesinia mackaii grew on the most heavily shaded rocks and Fissidens taxifolius subsp. pallidicaulis occurred on streamside rocks. Anomobryum julaceum var. concinnatum, found here by David Chamberlain on the S-facing cliff, also turned out to be relatively frequent on dry, disturbed coastal soil. Notable features of the coast here were the Grimmia species, including G. curvata, G. funalis, G. hartmanii, *G. longirostris and G. trichophylla sens. str. Sam found that Schistidium pruinosum was locally frequent on very dry, base-rich cliffs and S. strictum occurred on rocks in a gulley. He also collected *Brachythecium glareosum from base-rich cliffs, and David Chamberlain found *Tortula subulata var. graeffii on the cliff face. We made our way from the coast up through the dense hazel wood on the bouldery cliff slope, which included some impressively old Ulmus glabra trees.

The coastal hazel wood near Ensay, 16 July. Photo: Chris Preston

Here Porella arboris-vitae was frequent with Isothecium myosuroides and Pterogonium gracile on boulders, and we found Eurhynchium crassinervium and Plagiochila britannica (supporting the first known Scottish specimens of the fungus Epibryon plagiochilae ). Specialised epiphytes were rather limited, as on most of Mull , with much Ulota phyllantha, described as ‘anhalophobous’ by Eddy (1978), and only a little Microlejeunea ulicina, Ulota bruchii, U. crispa and, on the base of old elms above the wood, Zygodon viridissimus var. viridissimus. We returned to the cars via boggy ground above the cliffs which added some Sphagnum species and associated liverworts to the card.

Monday’s other party recorded the Lochan s-Airde Beinn Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), NM4753, and the valley and B8073 road to the south, before they were rained off in mid afternoon. *Antitrichia curtipendula, Grimmia spp. and lots of fruiting Racomitrium ellipticum grew on boulders by the loch. Entosthodon attenuatus and E. obtusus, both frequent on Mull with the former commoner than the latter, grew on bare soil banks here and Campylopus setifolius grew above the loch. The party admired magnificent stands of fruiting Lycopodium clavatum on the banks of the loch.

In the evening Mark Pool made his traditional discovery of Syntrichia papillosa, as well as Orthotrichum tenellum, both growing on lime trees by the harbourside in Tobermory, before his companions dragged him into the pub.

Mark Pool investigates the urban bryology of Tobermory, 16 July. Photo: Judith Allinson.

Tuesday 17 July

We divided into three groups today. One party opted to visit the large Ardura-Auchnacraig SSSI (NM72, 73). Parking is highly restricted in the Grass Point area as sea eagles nest nearby, so we walked from the A849 along tracks south to Achnabeg then east to the head of the Eas Mor stream, following this through native woodland to the sea at Port Donain. Flushes at Leac nam Brathairean held Sphagnum platyphyllum and *S. warnstorfii, and Sam detected male Haplomitrium hookeri on a gravelly streamside and *Tortella bambergeri on the tops of boulders in the upper Allt na Teangaidh. We missed the limestone outcrops in this area on the way down but Gordon, returning early for the ferry home, found several small outcrops on the way back, one of which supported Didymodon ferrugineus. Nearby he found a good patch of Radula carringtonii on the basalt rocks by a tiny burn running through a cleft with a little waterfall. Most unusually for Scotland , it was growing right out in the open as it does at some of its Irish sites. We did find a single tuft of male *Leiocolea bantriensis in a highly calcareous flush with abundant Palustriella commutata var. commutata. The woodland along Eas Mor proved to be very rich, providing a succession of oceanic liverworts including Adelanthus decipiens, Anastrepta orcadensis, Aphanolejeunea microscopica, Bazzania tricrenata, B. trilobata, *Calypogeia suecica, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Harpalejeunea molleri, Herbertus aduncus, Hygrobiella laxiflora, Jubula hutchinsiae, Metzgeria leptoneura, Plagiochila exigua, P. killarniensis, P. punctata, P. spinulosa and Radula aquilegia, as well as Campylostelium saxicola, Hylocomium umbratum and Hypnum callichroum.

Herbertus aduncus in the Eas Mor woodland, 17 July. Photo: Niklas Lönnell

The oddest discovery was a single tuft of Bryum riparium, found by Sam growing on the bark of a fallen oak where it lay across a narrow animal track.

Corticolous Bryum riparium and (inset) a characteristic tuber. Photo: Niklas Lönnell.

We returned along the coast, finding Sphagnum warnstorfii on the raised beach, to Auchencraig, where Mark Lawley pointed out a boulder on which he had seen Hedwigia integrifolia two years earlier.

A tick-infested raised beach on the coast of Mull near Auchencraig, with Jo Denyer undeterred. Photo: Chris Preston.

The second party worked the coast road and associated ravines S of Loch Spelve (NM62). In the richest of these ravines, east of Liam Mor, Fiona Cameron found Jubula hutchinsiae and one of the best finds of the week, *Radula voluta. After lunch a further gulley to the east provided Drepanolejeunea, Harpalejeunea and a couple of stems of Plagiochila exigua.

The third party took the ferry to Ulva, walking across the island to record NM33, a square from which only 12 species had been recorded, 2 from Ulva and 10 from Staffa. They did well to list 90 species from the coastal cliffs, species-rich grassland and base-rich cliffs in this exposed area. When waiting for the ferry Liz Kungu was invited to take as many mackerel as she liked from some boxes of fresh fish waiting by the quay and she kindly cooked them for us in the evening – they tasted all the better for being fresh, and free.

Wednesday 18 July

The group again split, this time into two parties. One group started at Coladoir Bog SSSI (NM53), which was rumoured to be less interesting than it looked. So it proved: despite the presence of Rhynchospora fusca, and a little Campylopus shawii, a determined search revealed only a fairly mundane western bog flora. The plan was then to go on to the dolerite rocks of Craig na h-Iolaire, on the south side of Glen More, but heavy rain forced a change and the party moved on to the woodland of Ardura SSSI, NM63. This was much more diverse then the bog, and 75–80 species (including Haplomitrium) had been recorded even before the party left the laneside for the woodland. The north-facing wood of birch, hazel, holly and oak was also rich, with Leptoscyphus cuneifolius, found by Niklas on a holly trunk and also present on birch, and Cephalozia catenulata, abundant on one rotting log.

The second party experienced only a slight shower, adding to our impression that the Glen More area is the wettest part of Mull . After a period spent negotiating the ambiguities of Scottish access legislation we looked at the NW side of Loch Ba, walking east from Gruline House (NM53). The lochside was rather mundane, although it provided *Kurzia sylvatica and Tritomaria exsecta, but a subgroup working up the valley of the Allt a’Chollich found some oceanic liverworts, including Aphanolejeunea, Drepanolejeunea, Harpalejeunea and Herbertus aduncus, Hygrobiella laxifolia, Plagiochila killarniensis, P. punctata and P. spinulosa. The remainder of the party quickly decided that they could do better elsewhere, and went to Aros Park where they found lots of *Riccia glauca growing with R. sorocarpa on disturbed soil, and Harpalejeunea molleri by one of the two waterfalls, the only one they had time to examine.

Thursday 19 July

The agreed plan was to record NM41, a square consisting of a long strip of land on the south coast of the Ross of Mull from which only two species (Frullania teneriffae and Rhytidium rugosum, the latter not seen by us) were known. We split into three groups, with a western party looking at tetrad E. They started well, with Riccia subbifurca amongst Archidium on the track to a ruined church and Anomodon viticulosus one of several calcicoles on the church walls – the first time we had seen it during the week. David Chamberlain found Fissidens curnovii by a stream and Richard collected *Ephemerum serratum var. serratum on damp ground. They then worked their way down the valley to Port Bhenthain, through Carex lasiocarpa fen with abundant Sphagnum teres and frequent *Calliergon cordifolium and Plagiomnium ellipticum, as well as *Cephalozia pleniceps on Sphagnum subnitens and Odontoschisma denudatum on peat. Patches of willow scrub held Cololejeunea minutissima and Orthotrichum pulchellum, two other species not recorded before on the meeting. As they traversed eastwards across the headland they recorded Distichium capillaceum, Grimmia funalis, Hedwigia integrifolia and Tortella bambergeri , as well as Orthotrichum rupestre and Ulota hutchinsiae. The rest of the afternoon was spent on Garbh Eilean beach. David Chamberlain found Riccia beyrichiana on thin soil over rock but the sheep-enriched blown sand proved disappointing. Refreshed by a swim, the group ended the day on the north side of Garbh Eilean, where Sam pointed out Aphanolejeunea and Lophocolea fragrans in a gulley and Distichium inclinatum on blown sand. The final tally of 214 species reflected a productive day’s recording in a beautiful area.

The other two parties took the forestry road east, by kind permission of the Scoor estate’s factor, Callum Entwistle, who led us to appropriate access points. Both groups found Colura calyptrifolia in the forestry plantation, growing on Larix, Pinus and Salix aurita.Remarkably, we had not seen Colura in any of the oceanic ravines we had visited earlier in the week but it was clearly frequent in this rather ordinary plantation, emphasising the degree to which this formerly discerning species is now primarily a plant of coniferous woodland. Mark Pool, in the eastern party, also found *Plagiothecium curvifolium fruiting on acid humus under conifers. The highlight of the coast was a sea cave at NM451192, where masses of Jubula hutchinsiae grew in plate-like sheets facing the light on the wet walls towards the back of the cave. Elsewhere in the cave we found Eurhynchium hians and Rhynchostegiella tenella, two other species which take to sea-caves in northern Scotland . The lists from tetrads P and U brought the total number of species recorded in the day to 248.

Jubula hutchinsiae from a coastal cave, 19 July. Photo: Judith Allinson

Friday 20 July

We returned to SW Mull for the last day, visiting Bearraich at the end of the Ardmeanach peninsula. Most of the area is an SSSI and the basalt rock formations by the coast are spectacular. We parked (with permission) at Tavool House and one group spent the day in a single 1-km square at Burg, NM4226, recording over 100 species including Blasia pusilla, Fossombronia pusilla, F. wondraczekii, Pohlia camptotrachela and Pseudephemerum nitidum in nicely cattle-poached wet flushes. The more active party walked rapidly round the coast to the fossil tree at the end of the peninsula, enjoying a good but brief view of a sea eagle en route, the first most of us had seen of a bird we had been assured we could not miss on Mull . Our hopes of working round the peninsula to the calcareous rocks of The Wilderness to the north were frustrated by the state of the tide. We therefore retraced our steps, recording the flora of the raised beach and climbing up the steep slopes at intervals to the cliffs above.

Niklas Lönnell bryologising on the coast of SW Mull , 20 July. Photo: Sam Bosanquet

Sam’s scrutiny of the Schistidiums was rewarded by the discovery in at least two places of *S. flaccidum, hitherto only known in Britain from a single site in North Wales but tentatively identified even in the field by its red-mouthed, gymnostomous capsule. Sam also found some conspicuous white cushions of *Racomitrium canescens on the cliffs; other species on basalt rock included plentiful Schistidium strictum , scattered S. pruinosum and a little Tortula subulata var. graeffii, with Eurhynchium pumilum and Weissia perssonii on soil over the rock outcrops, Entodon concinnus in turf and Cephalozia pleniceps on Sphagnum subnitens in a flush. Mark Lawley found Anomobryum julaceum var. julaceum, the first time this had been seen during the week. We made our way back slowly to the cars, reluctant to tear ourselves away from this spectacular coastline. Several members of the party stopped for their evening meal at a pub in Craignure but when he found that it did not serve vegan food Niklas decided to run home, completing over 9 miles on the road before the cars caught up with him – an impressive display of fitness after an active day in the field!


Although Mull is indeed relatively well recorded, the meeting produced one species new to Scotland in Schistidium flaccidum, 20 other new vice-county records or ‘debracketers’ and 370 new records added to the BBS database at BRC for the 13 10-km squares we visited. It was also useful to get new and updated records of 32 nationally scarce species and to survey 6 SSSI. It is all too easy to end up with records which refer only to a 10-km square when recording on BBS meetings in vice-counties with no local recording policy. We tried to make all our records at least to tetrad level, and in the end 87% of the 3200 records we made were attached to a grid reference which was at least as accurate as this.

A less tangible but equally valuable feature of the meeting was the opportunity offered those of us from southern or eastern counties to see the western flora in the company of ever-helpful experts. Mull is a large island and offers much more scope for further fieldwork, and perhaps some of the species which had expected to see but failed to find, most notably Sphagnum skyense, remain to be discovered.

One remaining aspect of the flora of Mull needs attention. There are still over 30 species recorded in Eddy’s (1978) Flora but with no record from v.c. 103 in the BBS Census catalogue or its updates. These discrepancies have arisen because the NHM team did not send vouchers to the BBS recorders, but there are presumably voucher specimens in BM. As a further 30 years of fieldwork has failed to turn them up on Mull , it is perhaps time to undertake the herbarium work needed to resolve these discrepancies.


Eddy A. 1978. Liverworts and mosses. In: Jermy AC, Crabbe JA, eds. The island of Mull : a survey of its flora and environment . London : British Museum (Natural History), 13.1–13.45.

Lawley M. 2006. The Border Bryologists, 2005. Field Bryology 88: 18–23.

Copyright © British Bryological Society .