It was this time two years ago that I started this blog. As is the norm in life, a lot has changed. I’m no longer at school, in fact at the moment I’m not even studying at SRUC. The name of this blog is now slightly out of date given the fact I’ve branched out into all areas of ecology and nature.
(Warning, this post is just me putting my thoughts down, it may be quite boring.)
Anyway, it was Christmas a few days ago and one of my presents was this; Plants and Habitats, An introduction to common plants and their habitats in Britain and Ireland by Ben Averis.
Of course, I’m not in much need of a guide to identifying common plants, however, this book does more than just that! For a while now I’ve been looking at landscapes and trying to understand them; the land use, the organisms living there, the historical use, sometimes even the geology. This book is going to help me understand the habitats that exist and why they exist by using my ability to identify plants (which I have developed over the past year).
Basically, this book does help you identify plants. Identification features are written in green, but I’m more interested in the blue and red text. These are habitats and human-related matters.
So today I decided to take it out for a test run, as I’m going to be looking at habitats a lot at Loch Leven in the coming months. I’ve been tasked with identifying all the habitats around the reserve, looking at the species that are present in those habitats, looking at the current management of those habitats, and then working out if there are species that are being unintentionally removed from the habitat.
For example, gorse removal on Carsehall Bog (it’s a marsh really) to ensure the bog stays as a bog so the Lesser Butterfly Orchids and other bog specialists flourish. However, this isn’t so good for the Linnets and Stonechats as we are removing their perches and nest sites.
Having been birding at Gladhouse Reservoir yesterday, I thought why not head back. There are some great wee pockets of semi-natural habitat around the reservoir that I found a couple of years ago when traipsing about looking for birds.
I was also trying to re-ignite my bryophyte identification passion so focused on those a bit as well.
So, first stop was a wee patch of raised bog just before Gladhouse that I’d scanned for raptors countless times. Today I actually flushed 4 Red Grouse off it so I guess it’s a healthy enough bit of bog. Anyway, my notes on the habitat:
Raised Bog, maybe NVC M19.
2 clearly different habitats. Above shows more Heather Calluna vulgaris, and other dwarf shrubs such as Crowberry Empetrum nigrum and Blaeberry Vaccinium myrtillus. Also more Sphagnum species and wetter underfoot.
Below shows other habitat with less heather, more obvious Blaeberry Vaccinium myrtillus and a lot more grass (I think it’s predominantly Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea). This habitat joins on to a field that is grazed by sheep and appears to be an acidic field (judging by the species growing there, which included the same grass as on the bog).
Not that sure what else I can figure out at this moment in time, but I do wonder why the habitat changes from less heather to more heather. Burning? Grazing? Encroachment of grasses from surrounding fields? I dunno. But I did do some bryologising whilst I was on the bog! Here’s what I got…
All of these are fairly typical of raised bog. There was plenty more to see there but I moved on to another couple of areas.
The areas I moved on to are in the north-west corner of the reservoir and draw me in due to the fact they appear to be sort of semi-natural. With some nice Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris and Silver & Downy Birch Betula pendula & pubescens woodland and a good covering of dwarf shrubs, it just feels nice to be in. Of course there are the usual problematic species but they aren’t too bad in this area yet…
The first bit I went into was predominantly Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris and Silver Birch Betula pendula, with a little patch of Downy Birch B. pubescens woodland with an understory of Broad Buckler-fern Dryopteris dilatata. But I moved on into another area as I found this one too depressing, with the Pheasants running about all over the place.
This is actually a field that sheep graze and it’s quite obvious once you look at the Heather C. vulgaris. My new book actually sets aside a few pages to look specifically at Heather condition (i.e. ungrazed, lightly grazed, burnt, etc.) so I got down on my hands and knees and had a look.
Above left shows the Heather C. vulgaris in this area, and above right shows it on that wee patch of raised bog I visited earlier. The Heather in this grazed area is short, at around 10-20cm tall compared with the c60cm tall Heather on the raised bog. I have a feeling this heather may have also been mown at some point as there were very few thick-stemmed plants.
I also had some fun looking at the exclusion zones where the flora has been allowed to grow freely.
Clearly the trees have been there a while before the fence was put in place, but the Gorse Ulex europaeus has probably emerged recently. I have swithered as to whether it might be Western Gorse U. gallii due to it’s height but, as per Plants and Habitats, gorse is “commonly browsed by animals…” therefore I suspect it’s just been browsed down to this height.
Also notable here was the difference in the Heather C. vulgaris covering the ground. On the right of the fence, there was a fair bit (the dark patches are all heather) and on the left there was little. This makes sense really, I don’t need to explain it. On the other side of the fence there was also a lot more Silver Birch Betula pendula regeneration but I then realised that there were areas that weren’t fenced off where there was equal amounts of birch regeneration. Turns out birch regen is “not very palatable to deer, sheep and cattle.”
I learnt a bunch of other stuff like how to tell B. pendula from B. pubescens in winter and saw plenty Crossbills, but I’ll leave you now with some other mosses that I identified. I was really aiming just for the common ones as I feel once I have those down to a tee then I can start looking at everything else.
Well done if you managed to read through all of that!