Tuesday 16 August 2016

Hebrides Recording 2016: the boat trip

This year's Hebridean recording bash culminated in a week-long boat trip  to survey the flora of some of the uninhabited islands off the coast of Lewis. Here is Paul Smith's final Hebridean dispatch for this year:

"The start of the BSBI field meeting to Scarp and Loch Resort was dominated by the weather; we did leave on Saturday, but were largely boat-bound in Force 10 winds on Sunday. 

"But the next day as the winds eased off the Hebrides did that glorious sunshine thing , and we got a whole day on Aird Mhor. [The image above, taken by Paul, shows the boat, MV Cuma, moored off Tarain Mor, and two of the team botanising on the shore].

"It was very acidic but there were some nice patches - some Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) in the lochs had (hollow) stems as thick as my finger, and there was a wee woodland nestling on a hilltop among boulders, with Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum).

"Aird Mhor and Scarp both had tiny plants of Solidago virgaurea - ssp minimus in Sell & Murrell, one of the infraspecific taxa that keep the interest up in places where there are relatively fewer species. [image on left]. 

"Some islands are very species poor - we went to have a look at some rocks north of Scarp in two tetrads, up to 8m above high tide, but absolutely no species, because the sea regularly breaks over the top.

"Lots of plants take the opportunity to hide from grazing, and Scarp had both sheep and deer, so the geos (ravines in sea cliffs) were good habitats for interesting species - Sedum rosea, Silene uniflora, and Ligusticum scoticum. 

"Binoculars are essential botanising gear (unless you can fly!) In the image above right, Martin Robinson is looking down into a large geo on Scarp. 

"Scarp is a big and heavily grazed island, but during the meeting we also visited several islands where there has been no grazing - Mealasta Island has been without for around 10 years, and there was a lot of Juniperus communis regenerating on the moorland parts. 

"The smaller islands Cearstaigh and Liongam have been ungrazed much longer, and it was like walking on pillows because of the depth of the vegetation - with very clear paths made by otters. 

"On Liongam, the Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) was out in the open (in the torrential mist - see image above left), and there was really no difference between the cliff habitats and the the moorland - a clear sign of the effect that grazing normally has, as the best plants always hide in the cliffy refuges.

"A fantastic effort by the participants in this field meeting gave us records (or zero counts) in 20 tetrads, despite the variable weather. Well done!"

I'm just glad they all made it back safely, thanks to skipper Murdo and his crew on MV Cuma, and that the weather cleared enough to allow some good botanising. 

Oh that Hebridean weather... just compare the image [above], taken near the end of the trip, with the view [on left] that the botanists enjoyed from the boat on day one, as those Force 10 winds hit the Hebrides. MV Cuma was safely moored in a sheltered part of Loch Resort, so Paul & co spent the day looking out at the spindrift being blown off the waves and waiting to seize the moment when the winds dropped and the sun came out. Which thankfully they did!

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