Friday 30 September 2016

Botanising in Co. Derry

From left: Valerie, Dave, Maria, Sharon & John
Image: D. Rainey
At last year's BSBI Annual Summer Meeting, based at the University of Ulster's Coleraine campus, I had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of Northern Ireland's botanists: from stalwart County Recorders such as Robert Northridge and Dave Riley, who have given years of their life in the service of botany and botanists, to keen young ecologists such as Sharon Spratt; from passionate local conservationists like Donna Rainey to the delightful Valerie Macartney who joined the society in 2012 but hadn't attended a BSBI field meeting before.

Everybody got on so well and and had such a great time botanising together in the field, that they decided to stay in touch and meet up again whenever they could. And so it came to pass that... but I'll let Sharon take up the story at this point!    

Drumnaph Nature Reserve, Co. Derry
with Carntogher Mountain in the background.
"On the morning of Saturday 13th August 2016, a small but enthusiastic group of botanists descended upon a lesser known spot of Ulster. Drumnaph Nature Reserve in the Sperrins, south Co. Derry was the location for the V.C H40 field meeting. This part of the country is steeped in Celtic lore, rural culture, natural beauty and Gaelic tongue. 

"It is my pleasure to write a wee piece on this special place as it is a local haunt of mine. The diversity of habitats within it are reminiscent of a traditional Irish farmed landscape and the hard work that has gone into ensuring its conservation is admirable.

Botanists filling in their recording cards.
Image: M. Long
"The botanical party included: John Faulkner (BSBI President and County Recorder for Armagh), Dave Riley (V.C H40 recorder), Maria Long (BSBI Irish Officer), Donna Rainey, Kevin Johnston, Valerie Macartney and myself, Sharon Spratt. 

"We were met by the lovely Kelley Hann in the newly created visitor carpark just off the Halfgayne Road in the townland of Carntogher. Kelley moved to the farm a few years ago along with her husband Glenn White and their two children, in order to take care of the reserve. Kelley kindly spent some time informing us all about this unique community owned nature reserve and its recent history. 

Conservation graziers are used, to maintain
species-rich habitats on the reserve.
Image: S. Spratt
"The site originally contained an area of ancient woodland on the western side which belongs to the Woodland Trust (approximately 80 acres). A significant piece of former farmland adjacent to the ancient woodland was purchased by Carntogher Community Association in 2012 with Heritage Lottery Funding. 

"The site is approximately 130 acres and contains a mosaic of semi-natural habitats ranging from ancient woodland to species-rich wet grassland to lowland hay meadow vegetation and fen vegetation. There is a 10 year conservation management plan in place for the nature reserve which includes extensive conservation grazing practices (see image above left) alongside ancient woodland management techniques. 

Sharon tweeted this photo with the caption:
"When ye don't even get past the spoil heap
in the corner of the 1st meadow,
ye know yer on a @BSBIbotany meeting" 
"This management plan can be viewed on the reserve’s dedicated website here, where there is more information of interest to be found for this unique site. 

"Let’s start with the carpark because that is where all the best BSBI botanists begin! Here I should mention the presence of a rather handsome looking dry stone wall built by local volunteers. 

"Amongst many others, Polygonum aviculare sensu stricto (Knotgrass) and P. arenastrum (Equal-leaved knotgrass) were identified and later confirmed by John Faulkner. Moving into the first field and finding it difficult to lure everyone past the spoil heap in the corner, it became obvious that the whole site could not be covered in one day. Cue the cunning plans forming in one's head to ensure a return visit to this bountiful site in the future!

Foggage field on the reserve
Image: S. Spratt
"The first field we explored was a lowland hay meadow habitat type, which by this stage, had gone to seed. Here, Glenn told us about the term "foggage" which is where a grassland meadow is left uncut and ungrazed and is then grazed in late summer after the grasses have flowered. This is also known as “standing hay”. 

"Here amongst the common hay meadow suspects of Rhinanthus minor (Yellow rattle), Cynosurus cristatus (Crested dog’s tail) and Centaurea nigra (Common knapweed) for example, was an abundance of the Eyebright, Euphrasia arctica (borealis). 

"Great times and great weather!"
Image: M. Long
"We had a cosy, dry, wind-proof and chairs-provided lunch in the recently converted outbuilding on the farm used for various activities including a Wild Gym. 

"Following this, we moved into the wetland site proper of the reserve to explore some of the late summer species of these habitats. 

"This area was quite species-rich, with lots of plants to keep us busy. In particular, Mentha arvensis (Corn mint), got us talking and checking our ID books.

Botanists exploring the flora of Loch Bran
Image: S. Spratt
"The star species of this plant hunt came from the Cyperaceae family. 

"Most of these were found on the bog habitats of Loch Bran. 

"Three sedge species in particular elicited excitement amongst the group given that they have sharply contrasting distributions across Ireland but were all found in this one site: 

  • Carex diandra (Lesser tussock sedge), is characteristic of wet fens, primarily in the centre of Ireland but extending into the north. It is noticeably more widespread in Ireland than in GB
  • Carex limosa (Bog sedge), occurs largely in bog pools in the west but with scattered occurrences further east. 
  • John Faulkner & Dave Riley discuss
    differences between Goat and Grey Willow.
    Image: S. Spratt
  • Finally, Carex pallescens (Pale sedge), has a very pronounced northern distribution, being almost confined to Ulster with a few scattered occurrences elsewhere. 
"We had a brilliant day – the company was great, so were the plants and it was a very interesting site. Thanks again to all who participated - can't wait to do it again!"

Many thanks to Sharon for this account of a great day's botanising with lovely people - and for telling us about Drumnaph Nature Reserve and how it's managed for wildlife. What an interesting site!

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