Speed of life

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Speed of life

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Trainee Ecologist, David Freeman, is back with a new blog...

Speed of life

I spent a rushed week recently surveying and shadowing three experienced Bryologists in the area surrounding Kinlochewe. This is a magnificent part of the world with steep slopes like Slioch and Beinn Eighe, beautiful areas of unspoilt Caledonian pine forest, and wide expanses of moorland all of which centre on the beautiful Loch Maree.


Loch Maree

This landscape is one of the richest areas in the world for bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). The reason for the high levels of diversity are due mainly to the climate, although other factors such as low levels of pollution and a diverse range of habitats also play a role. The climate is strongly oceanic which means cool summers, mild winters and high levels of rain fall throughout the yea- perfect conditions for bryophytes which rely heavily on atmospheric humidity and precipitation for water.

Caledonian pine wood.

My time at Kinlochewe was mainly spent assisting Julie Smith with surveying a number of wooded ravines in the area. Julie is a TCV apprentice specialising in bryology, who has been interested in bryophytes for several years and has already accumulated a considerable understanding of the subject. These ravines potentially have very diverse populations, including some fantastically rare species. We were also lucky enough to be joined on two of the survey days by Oliver Moore and Gordon Rothero. Oliver has several years experience of studying bryophytes and is an authority on the area having recently completed a PhD investigating deer impacts on the local bryophyte flora. Gordon Rothero is a serious candidate for the most experienced and knowledgeable bryologist active in the country today.

David navigating a ravine.

Needless to say getting out in the field for a few days with these stalwarts of the bryological world was a fantastic learning opportunity. I was introduced to a range of fascinating species including a range of tiny liverworts barely visible to the eye like Colura calyptrifolia the rare, but distinctive Plagiochila carringtonii and the dense mat forming Lepidozia cupressina. It was also good to see a ground flora diverse enough to include large amounts of species I’m used to thinking of as rare or unusual. A good example of this is the spiky liverwort Herbertus aduncus which higher up the slopes becomes co-dominant with common species like Racomitrium lanuginosum.

Herbertus aduncus and Racomitrium lanuginosum.

I’m hoping to be able to meet up again with Julie and Oliver before the end of the year and help out with additional ravine surveys. The week at Kinlochewe, although short, gave me valuable practical survey experience and I am also grateful for the opportunity to learn from some of the countries greatest bryologists. All in all it was time well spent.

Lepidozia cupressina

TCV apprentice, Julie Smith.

Plagiochila carringtonii.

All photos by David Freeman.