Sunday 18 October 2015

BSBI field meeting in Co. Laois this summer

I wonder if the best sign of autumn is not the falling of leaves, but the appearance of reports of the summer's activities, which botanists start to write up as survey season starts to draw to a close?

Fen habitat in The Heath. Pictured are
Fiona McCorry, Fiona Devery, Edwina Cole
& Hugh Sheppard
Image: M. McCorry
Mark from Co. Laois has just written up his account of the BSBI field meeting to The Heath, Co. Laois (VC H14) on 6th June 2015. It will appear, along with any other reports we receive of field meetings held this year, in the BSBI Yearbook which is sent out each year to BSBI members

The Yearbook also contains contact details of everyone in BSBI's support network - we have 186 expert County Recorders, 105 specialist Referees who members can consult for help identifying 180 difficult plant groups, 13 staff or contractors and 96 committee members or other volunteer officers, all keen to help fellow members. The Yearbook is a bit like having your own botanical telephone directory cum address book, and getting your hands on a copy is one of the many perks of BSBI membership! 

So, as this is also the time of year when many non-members are considering joining - in order to benefit from the "3 extra months free" special offer - I thought you might like to see Mark's report in full. Over to Mark:

The bog lough, The Heath, Co. Laois
Image: M. McCorry
"A small group of intrepid botanists visited The Heath (also known as The Great Heath of Maryborough) near Portlaoise. While it was early in June the weather was unseasonably cold with a stiff breeze requiring gloves and woolly hats. The Heath is an unusual area of lowland commonage in Laois, (unusual in that there is very little lowland commonage in the midlands of Ireland – most grassland is enclosed in fields with single ownership) which is grazed by sheep. 

"This area has a long and fascinating history, being farmed since the Iron Age, and containing several archaeological features. It is somewhat similar to The Curragh, a more well-known area of lowland grassland commonage in Co. Kildare. The Heath was also used as a racecourse back in the last century. It contains a range of habitats, being dominated by acidic grassland, but also containing rich fen, dry heath and a small lake with associated marginal wetland vegetation. The site has been listed for designation as a proposed Natural Heritage Area and was also listed as an Area of Scientific Interest for its botanical value, mainly the presence of extensive lowland grassland. A significant chunk has been used as a golf course for some time.

"The fen was initially investigated. This area was dominated by tussocky Schoenus nigricans and Molinia caerulea and also contained species that are quite scarce in Laois, such as Juncus subnodulosus. Other species at various stages of development included Cirsium dissectum, and sedges such as Carex pulicaris, C. demissa, C.hirta, C. rostrata, C. panicea and C. nigra. An eagle-eyed botanist also spotted C. dioica in a wetter seepage zone. This species has only been recorded once before in Laois and not at this site. 

Early Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp. coccinea
Image: M. McCorry
"One of the most interesting finds was Pinguicula vulgaris, and one of the few flowers in bloom. The fen was in relatively good condition, although there had been some Gorse thickets adjacent to the fen that had been recently cut and removed. Initially this looked like a typical example of habitat destruction. However, further research found that Gorse is actually causing a problem on The Heath, spreading and creating dense thickets leading to the loss of grassland and heathland habitats. There is obviously ongoing management of this issue. 

"The lake (Little Bog Lough) was examined next after some lunch. This area is a quite interesting wetland with diverse marginal vegetation that was nicely zoned in places.  The lake is one of the larger water-bodies in Laois (Laois has very few lakes), and is also managed as a fishery and is used on occasion by the local triathlon club! A small wetland to the west of the lake contained Equisetum fluviatile, Mentha aquatica and Carex rostrata, which could be found shin deep in the water with Eleocharis palustris, Carex disticha and C. demissa found closer to drier ground along with Veronica scutellata. Other deeper areas had Typha latifolia. Some of the other plants were a little undeveloped to be sure of 100% identification.  

Dry heath habitat, The Heath, Co. Laois
Image: M. McCorry
"A bit of exploration around the west side of the lough was required to find a route between the Gorse and scrub patches into some of the heathland habitat.  Here there were several open areas with low –growing vegetation dominated by Calluna vulgaris and containing Carex panicea, Molinia caerulea, Pedicularis sylvestris, Juncus squarrosus and Luzula multiflora as well as Lathyrus linifolius. Other sections were dominated by sedges and grasses. Many plants were several weeks behind their usual calendar and it took some searching to find an orchid in flower. This species was the Early Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp. coccinea, which had its distinctive brick red colour, and which has not been recorded by the BSBI before in Laois. 

"Only a small part of The Heath was examined during this field visit. So there is still plenty of exploring in other parts of the site to do in the future. Rare species in Laois such as Eleocharis quinqueflora and Galium uliginosum have been recorded in The Heath in the past and remain to be re-found and verified. One feature of the site is that it has a diverse range of habitats situated quite close to the local road so it is very accessible to botanists and naturalists. Attendees were Edwina Cole, Fiona Devery, Fiona MacGowan, Hugh Sheppard, Orla McCorry and Hannah McCorry".

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