Protecting endangered lichens

Tracey Lovering

Tracey Lovering

Lower Plants and Fungi Officer (Wales) & Plant Link Cymru Officer

24th January 2018

Last year, one of our lichen apprentices, Ross Grisbrook, was involved in the translocation of the endangered Tree Lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonara). He recently returned to the site to check on the success...

Tree Lungwort translocation

Tree Lungwort translocation

"I work for Natural Resources Wales based in Pembrokeshire. In my job I mainly deal with water quality issues in rivers and at bathing waters but two years ago I was given the chance to join the CENNAD lichen apprenticeship scheme. Before then, I wasn’t even sure what a lichen was (probably similar to most people) nor be able to appreciate their myriad forms, many of which can only be discovered and appreciated using a hand-lens.

Studying lichens is enjoyable but I wouldn’t say it is easy. I had to re-train my (lazy) brain to work in a more precise and scientific way…and I think I’m still quite far down on that learning curve.But once you start to break old habits, a new world gradually opens up that introduces you to new places I’d never thought of going before; and even if I’d gone I would never have realised what a huge diversity of lower plant life exists in a range of niches, such as basic and acidic rocks, soil, dry bark of mature parkland trees (with sub-niches according to which compass direction the bark is facing), timber fence posts, gates and benches, plastic, textiles and piggy-backing on mosses. And then there are the other fascinating aspects of what the presence of different species can tell us about local air quality which is important for our health, and therefore how we may influence development and manage sites to protect endangered species.

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Ross Grisbrook

I’d always hoped that the apprenticeship would lead to something valuable that I do for work and it happened that an ex-CCW colleague wanted help with inspecting some Tree Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonara (LP)) that she knew was growing on some logs in mid-Pembrokeshire.This large lichen is distinctively vibrant-green when wet, pale and papery when dry, with a network of veins within the fronds, resembling a lung.The colony is at risk of dying once the logs decompose so she needed to assess if they could be saved, which could involve relocation.

On arrival, the logs were too massive to be lifted without machinery so that idea was quickly put to bed for now.The log colony seemed healthy by how bushy and vibrantly green the fronds were.They were also very fertile; covered in red-brown structures (apothecia) at the ends of the fronds, from which spores are released. Was this highly fertile state due to being healthy, or was it due to stress causing the lichen to want to reproduce?

But we noticed a lot of LP fragments on the ground that had been ripped off surrounding trees by a recent storm.We decided that these fronds were doomed where they were, so they would be good candidates for relocation.We chose a couple of sites in the Gwaun Valley near Fishguard, where we knew LP grows, so the transplants would have some chance of establishing. There were trees near to the existing colonies that didn’t support any LP, but appeared suitable, as they had basic bark (Sycamore) and were on the edge of the woodland where there seemed to be sufficient light to enable photosynthesis.

One dry winter’s day we set out, equipped with a staple gun, a collapsible ladder, black-coloured supermarket tangerine netting and some loppers in case any ivy needed trimming back.We picked two trees in one location and one in another and I ensured that the work we carried out complied with Natural Resources Wales’s policy on species translocations. The basic aim was to pin the loose fronds we’d collected to a tree a good way up to be out of reach of people onto bare bark where there would be no shading issues. It was harder than I’d expected balancing up a ladder placed on soft ground, wielding a heavy staple gun, with floppy LP fronds and even floppier netting wafting in the breeze, trying to fire staples into the bark. Good job, I was thinking, that it was the wrong time of year for wasps!

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Lichen appearing to grow through the netting

About a year later we went to check on the success of our LP transplants in the Gwaun Valley.I don't think it was a total disaster. They looked a bit dry and flimsy compared to naturally-occurring LP on adjacent trees but they were still green. It was difficult to gauge how viable or 'happy' they were, but the netting had not decomposed. Then my colleague pointed out that one of them seemed to have sprouted a frond outside of the tangerine netting; it looked much larger than the size of the hole in the netting so must have grown through it rather than been pushed through. Encouraging then.

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Lichen fragments growing on small twigs

Additional observations from our transplant attempt: there's a tree on the edge of a picnic area bearing a lush growth of LP, from which fragments have dropped (owing to wind, I think). Some fragments found themselves on much smaller twigs lower down the trunk, to which they have happily attached. One LP frond was choosing to reproduce vegetatively - you could clearly see many 'frondlets' sprouting from the edges of the older main fronds. It is a great site for other lichens like Sticta, Leptogium and Peltigera also! I won’t mention the site name here but I’m happy to tell anyone who is interested in visiting the site."

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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