Loving Lichens... At Last?

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They’ve become rarer than the species they study: the number of people who are lichen experts (lichenologists) has hit an all time low in the UK, but Plantlife Cymru are hoping that their project 'CENNAD’ will inspire a new generation of lichen experts.

“Wales is home to a huge number of amazing lichens" says Tracey Lovering from Plantlife Cymru "many of which are threatened by air pollution and loss of habitat. Few people take the time to look closely at their incredible structures or to understand the stories they tell us about our environment. Lichens add a rich tapestry of colour to our everyday lives. Look for lichens on our rocky beaches, trees, walls, roofs, pavements, gravestones – everywhere! Just like birds adding sound, lichens add colour to our lives."

"Lichens have been used to make perfume, antibiotics, flavour curries, by birds to camouflage nests and were even used by the Egyptians to make mummies! Yet sadly there is such a shortage of lichen experts they are being forgotten about. It is fantastic that the Welsh Government have thrown lichens a lifeline, by funding the CENNAD lichen training programme, to breathe new life into what has become an almost forgotten field of science.”

From the Great Orme to Galloway, the ‘Cennadeers’ as they are now known, have been getting up close and personal with lichens, gaining specialist identification skills in the field and learning how to use microscopes. For more than a century lichens have been used to gauge air quality, as many species are very sensitive to pollutants such as Sulphur Dioxide and Nitrogen, as was recently highlighted in a report launched by Plantlife called We Need to Talk About Nitrogen.

Trained by experts from Wales and across the UK, the ‘Cennadeers’ have carried out air quality surveys which show how lichens can determine how healthy the air is across Wales. The data the trainees collect will be used by Natural Resources Wales to inform policy and management. It is hoped that future funding support will take the ‘Cennadeers’, and new recruits, on the next stage of their incredible journey.

Why Wales?

  • For its size Wales supports the greatest known diversity of lichen species in the world!
  • 74% of the UK’s lichens are found in Wales, living often in extreme conditions; from where the waves touch the shore to where the mountains touch the clouds!
  • 28 species in Wales are now critically endangered. Some species are so rare they exist in just one secret location in Wales! A perilous existence!

  • Find out more:

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    CENNAD: Lichen Apprenticeship Scheme

    A specialist programme of supported learning activities, where beginners are brought to a level where they can usefully contribute to monitoring lichens.

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