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Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants?
Meg Griffiths from the Plantlife Cymru team, reflects on a summer of lichen hunting and data collection for the Natur am Byth! Project.
Natur am Byth! is a cross-taxa partnership, which means many different organisations are working together to save a variety of species – from insects and plants to birds. This is important as when any species is lost from an ecosystem, it can make the whole ecosystem weaker and less able to cope with change, regardless of what kind of species it is.
One element the Natur am Byth programme focuses on is the mini-wonders of the Welsh Marches. The area has a rich diversity of mosses and liverworts, lichens, fungi and insects. These species all have one thing in common: they are generally pretty tiny. Many people just aren’t looking closely enough to spot them –and that’s what we want to change.
But before we can get started protecting rare species, we need to know where we’re currently at. ‘Baseline monitoring’ gives us a picture of how our target species, and the sites where they exist, are doing – we can then use this data to plan how we’ll manage those areas for nature. We can also track how these species recover in the future.
So, I went out to some very beautiful sites in Mid-Wales, hunting for some of the project target lichen species. This is what I found
Lichen hunting can be like looking for a needle in a haystack – except the needle is as small as a pinhead, and the haystack is a woodland.
I got rained on heavily, I got lost hunting for trees, I had to shoo away cattle who were trying to eat my notebook, and I spent far too long peering through my hand lens checking every gnarly nook and cranny for some of these miniscule marvels.
At times I felt like I was living in that miniature kingdom. I’d come across insects and die of fright thinking they were enormous, and I’d pull my eye away from the hand lens only to be dizzied by the astonishing complexity of the enormous world we occupy.
It has been a joy working to collect the data which can be used to demonstrate that the Natur am Byth project is having a positive impact and supporting these species.
Not only does the project have the potential to support these rare lichens with recovery, it also has the potential to change perceptions – magnifying the hidden worlds we overlook daily and showcasing the rare and special mini wonders that occupy them
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The Natur am Byth partnership is Wales’ flagship Green Recovery project. It unites nine environmental charities with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to deliver the country’s largest natural heritage and outreach programme to save species from extinction and reconnect people to nature. Thanks to players of the National Lottery over £4.1m from the Heritage Fund was awarded to the partnership in June 2023. NRW has contributed £1.7m and the Natur am Byth partners have secured a further £1.4m from Welsh Government, Arts Council of Wales and a number of charitable trusts, foundations and corporate donors. These include donations from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and significant support from Welsh Government’s Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme administered by Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).
Dave Lamacraft, Plantlife’s Lichen and Bryophyte Specialist, heads out to discover a wealth of extraordinary lichens which call Wales’ rainforests home.
I’m lucky enough to have worked in our temperate rainforests for well over a decade now, and although much of our recent work here at Plantlife has had a focus on rainforest areas of England, through our LOST project in the Lake District and the Building Resilience project in South-West England, both funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, I’ve had the opportunity to get out into some of our Welsh rainforest in past weeks and been reminded just how special they are.
The first of these visits was to the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn estate at Ganllwyd to look at some transplants of Lungwort lichens that we undertook 5 years ago. This was initially an attempt to rescue these lichens from an old Ash tree that was literally clothed in Lungwort lichens, of three varieties, that blew down in a summer gale. Transplanting these big leafy species is relatively straightforward to do in practical terms but hard to get right, the skill is in finding the right niche and one that’s away from the chomping teeth of slugs.
Success is far from guaranteed, and the majority of these transplants had succumbed to slug browsing. There were some notable successes though, with this ‘lob scrob’ Lobarina scrobiculata thriving on a Sycamore, all the better as this is one of the rarer lungwort lichens in Wales. The area where this was transplanted has spectacular communities of lichens on old Ash, Oak and Sycamore trees, probably the best display of lungwort lichens in Wales with abundant Tree Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria, Parchment Lichen Ricasolia amplissima, ‘Stinky Stictas’ Sticta fuliginosa and Sticta sylvatica and Blue Jelly-skin Leptogium cyanescens.
Another site visit took me to a remote woodland near Trawsfynydd where we’re helping Natural Resources Wales work out how best to manage this woodland. Although only a few miles up the road from Ganllwyd this is a very different woodland to Dolmelynllyn being at higher altitude and exposed to higher levels of rainfall this favours different communities of lichen and bryophyte with what could be considered our ‘cloud-forest’ lichens and a rich ‘hyperoceanic’ bryophyte flora including many rare species.
Image by Dave Lamacraft
This has also reminded me just how diverse our rainforest is, in the same that way that no two wetlands, estuaries or mountains are the same, no bit of temperate rainforest is the same. They all differ according to geology, topography, aspect, climate, history, management etc; our temperate rainforest in South-West England is quite different to that in Western Scotland, with Wales somewhere in between. They are especially influenced by ‘oceanicity’ – the degree to which proximity to the Atlantic influences climate – and broadly speaking they are drier and sunnier to the south and much wetter to the north.
This basically means that you’ll never see the same things twice and there’s a lifetime of exploration to be had. I’d urge anyone to grab a hand lens (by no means essential, but definitely helps appreciate the small things) and head out to explore.
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You might have recently discovered that Britain is home to one of the rarest habitats in the world – the temperate rainforest. Characterised by ancient trees, hosting a rich diversity of important small-but-mighty plants, and of course drenched in our infamous British rain! But how would you know if you were walking among one of these mysterious woodlands?
Alison from Plantlife’s Building Resilience project visits a temperate rainforest in Dartmoor, dripping with lichens, mosses and liverworts, and a richness in diversity rivalling the cloud forest of the Andes. Watch our video to see what she finds, and discover why we need to take action to protect this precious fragment of our ancient woodlands for the future.
Take a look at the guides below and see how many rainforest indicators you can spot – maybe a huge long-lived Oak tree smothered in colourful lichens, or a meandering river carving it’s way though the woodlands.
The Lake District, south west England, western Scotland and Wales are all home to ‘temperate’ rainforest. Have a look around the wood you are in using this guide. The more ticks you collect in the white boxes, the more likely it is that your wood is a rainforest.
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Living in Bristol, Rob Hodgson went on his own lichen journey, showing how anyone can go lichen hunting from anywhere.
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