Saturday 18 July 2015

BSBI Recording Week in Ayrshire (VC75)

Botanising in a post-industrial
landscape: Ayrshire
Image: J. MacKinnon
BSBI's South Scotland Recording Week was held earlier this month, based in Straiton, Ayrshire, and Jay MacKinnon was there - she has very kindly put together this account of what botanists saw while out recording for Atlas 2020

"Ayrshire is a particularly large vice-county (containing all or part of 52 hectads) with a vanishingly small population of resident BSBI members so the influx of foreigners clutching hand lenses and recording cards was warmly welcomed.

"Botanising in the parts of Ayrshire that have an industrial past was interesting for a number of reasons: 

1. Coal bings hosted some rare species such as Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort). 

2. Familiar species occasionally looked rather different growing on the unusual (and potentially toxic) bing soil, generating discussion.

3. Even the areas which were recently open-cast and relatively unvegetated gave insights into the colonisation processes. Tussilago farfara (Coltsfoot), for example, was an abundant coloniser of acres of bare ground near Skares.

Coincya monensis
Images: J. MacKinnon
"Coast and dunes were great for species that many of us don’t get to see nearer home, such as nationally-scarce Coincya monensis (Isle of Man cabbage), abundant on Prestwick dunes, and other coastal specialists like Calystegia soldanella (Sea bindweed). Pyramidal orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis in south Ayrshire were a particularly pleasing and unusual find on the last day.  

"Urban fringe habitats were rich in natives and weeds as well as some challenging aliens.  Most groups on most days encountered a variety of habitats so that the average recording card had well over 200 species marked.

Yellow bird's-nest
Image: J. MacKinnon
"Barony bing is a former coal mine, where mining ceased in 1989. The A-frame has been retained and surrounded with information boards and displays. 

"Some parts of the site have been landscaped and others left to natural succession – grassland and low birch woodlands cover most of it. 

"Common twayblades Neottia ovata are abundant throughout the woods. Groves of thousands of Yellow bird’s-nest Hypopitys monotropa were just emerging while we were there. 

Bee orchid
Image: J. MacKinnon
"We also found (and counted, for the records) colonies of Bee orchids Ophrys apifera. Carol Crawford knows parts of the bing well and was able to show us where bee orchids and other gems had been discovered previously.

"Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved helleborine) is rather frequent around Ayrshire, often growing as a weed in a shrub border at the edge of a carpark. Glasgow botanists among the group confirmed that Epipactis is really a car-park weed in this part of the world!

Matt and the Hogweeds
Image: J. MacKinnon
"Our ‘homework’ in the evenings included examining plants from difficult groups – roses, Polypodium spp. and Scaly Male-ferns in particular – some of us have just begun to dip a toe into these taxa during Recording Week and others have gained confidence.

"Matt learned to distinguish the hybrid hogweed from its two parents, Common hogweed Heracleum sphondylium and Giant hogweed H. mantegazzianum. 

"The hybrid is closer to Common hogweed in height, stem diameter and number of rays in the umbel but closer to Giant hogweed in fruit size. We assume it has at least some toxicity, though thankfully none of us was blistered in investigating it!

"Fauna included a good number of bees and butterflies and a bad number of midges, though we largely avoided the predation of the latter by selecting our target tetrads to fit the day’s weather.

Homework: working on plant IDs
Image: J. MacKinnon
"As always, we were exceptionally well catered-for which contributed to the general atmosphere of conviviality. Thanks to everyone who shared their knowledge. A wonderful week!"

Thanks also to Jay for this report; she tells me that she plans to attend two more BSBI field meetings in Scotland next month, including the Ballater/Aboyne Recording Weekend. 

I asked Jay if she would consider writing reports for us on these meetings and taking some of her excellent photographs. I'm delighted to say that she agreed - watch this space!

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