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Biological data for south-east and part of central Scotland

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
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Excursion Reports - 2013

Please note that the views and opinions expressed in these reports are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by TWIC.

Bold Burn and Glenmead Burn Excursion, 14th April 2013

A party of 9 turned up on a very wet day for the first TWIC excursion of the season. Our destination was Bold Burn and Glenmead Burn near Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders. This valley site is 1.8km long and consists of a narrow burn and associated riparian habitats. When the site was surveyed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) in 2000 an Adder skin was found. The aim of the field visit was to look for signs of reptiles in the valley and to record other wildlife on site.

The day started poorly with heavy rainfall. Fortunately, the group were able to sit out the worst of the weather in the comfort of the landowner's conservatory and help themselves to a hot drink. Reuben Singleton, our leader for the day, took the opportunity to give us some background information to the site and reptile recording. Reuben explained that Adders usually come out of hibernation at this time, hence why we were visiting in April. Unfortunately, spring was late this year, and with the current weather conditions our chances of seeing Adders were not high. Reuben had placed some tiles at various locations on site prior to the field visit, which we would check as part of the outing. When Reuben had put these out, he had had no choice but to place them on a layer of snow!

Once the rain had eased we set out to Bold Burn. The site is known to have mature Juniper (Juniperus communis) along the burn and this was our first port of call. The botanists amongst us also attempted to compile a plant list as we went, which was not easy as it was still early in the season. Nevertheless, we were able to identify the tough leaves of Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia caespitosa) and the fine leaves of Pignut (Conopodium majus). The former plant is one of the first grasses people learn to identify, having a tufted growth form and rough-textured leaves that are almost impossible to run your fingers along in one direction. A single Primrose (Primula vulgaris) was in flower on the bank, brightening the scene.

The group exploring Bold Burn. Note Juniper (Juniperus communis) in foreground. Photograph (c) Gary Hovell

As we continued upstream, Graham spotted Otter spraint prominently positioned on a Mole hill next to the burn. We took turns at smelling it; Otter spraint has a slightly pleasant aroma, which some people liken to the smell of Jasmine tea, whereas Mink spraint is distinctly unpleasant.

Otter spraint. Photograph (c) Mike Beard

When we approached the area that Reuben considered to be most suitable Adder habitat, we ceased our conversation and moved more slowly in order to improve our chances of seeing reptiles. Reuben informed us that the Adders were likely to be small, perhaps 30 cm long, and dark, even black. We kept a careful look out and Reuben (armed with thick gloves) lifted the tiles and other Adder refuges, whilst the rest of the group stood at a respectable distance to watch. Each time Reuben lifted a tile there was an air of anticipation amongst the group. Sadly, we were not lucky on this occasion. However, Reuben will return to the site in due course to check the tiles again.

On our return leg to Glenmead, we took the forestry track and came across several clumps of Frog spawn in the pools and ditches adjacent. Several birds also put in an appearance, including Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit and a Buzzard overhead. More Juniper bushes were seen on the east side of the burn, some quite young plants, which we suspected were planted. One of the Juniper specimens had a columnar form. Another plant noted along the track was Colt's-foot (Tussilago farfara), which was in full flower. Close to Glenbenna, we observed a large patch of variegated Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp. argentatum). The plants most likely originated through the dumping of garden waste. In the final kilometre, the group saw a flock of Chaffinches; another reminder that spring is late getting underway this year.

Many thanks to Reuben Singleton for leading the excursion and to the landowners at Glenmead for their excellent hospitality. We had a most enjoyable trip.

Natalie Harmsworth

Posted: April 18th 2013

Addiewell Ponds Excursion, 4th and 5th May 2013

Addiewell Ponds (c) Mike Beard

This was the second of two joint excursions with the Lothian Amphibian and Reptile Group (LARG) this season. This time we visited Addiewell Ponds, near West Calder in West Lothian. Addiewell Ponds was originally listed as a potential Wildlife Site (a precursor to Local Biodiversity Sites) due to the presence of breeding amphibians and dragonflies. Unfortunately, no existing amphibian records were available for the site. TWIC therefore approached LARG to survey the ponds in order to check the status of the site for amphibians.

On Saturday evening a group of ten set out for the short walk from our cars to Addiewell Ponds. Under grey skies the ponds looked cold and uninviting and our leader Gary took care to point out the dangers of deep water and submerged hazards before leading us on to the safer southern margin of the larger pond.

Here Gary showed us the type of location best suited for our traps. We then set about making them. Clean 2 litre plastic bottles were cut through about 10cm back from the cap end (cap removed!) and then the short section was inverted and inserted back into the larger part so that it formed a funnel and entrance to the larger chamber. The construction was then secured by a cane inserted at a slight angle through holes, about 2-4cm back from the cut edge, such that the bottom of the bottle was slightly higher than the funnel end. This helps ensure that a small pocket of air remains when the trap is submerged. We marked the canes with a coloured "flag" of plastic to make it easier to spot the canes amongst the vegetation the next day. Once assembled, the traps were checked and counted.

Putting out the traps (c) Jackie Stewart

Working in groups and each armed with a couple of traps, we set off to place them at intervals along the pond edge. This involved tentative wading out from the bank to find a spot that was not too silty, soft enough to push the cane securely into the mud and deep enough to ensure that the bottles were completely submerged. The traps were positioned so that the funnel ends faced away from the bank. They were filled with water until a small air pocket about the size of a 2 pence piece remained, and then submerged. Once all the traps were set, they were again counted to confirm the total of twenty-two. Job done. It was time to head home and hope that curious amphibians would investigate our traps by morning.

On Sunday morning we retraced our steps back to the pond to retrieve and check the bottle traps. Taking it in turns, we each had a go at pulling out the traps from the water. The first few traps were disappointing; several were empty, while others contained Three-spined Stickleback and not much else. However, after a few goes we were awarded with a female Palmate newt. Gary confirmed the identification and pointed out the prominent pale coloured nodules on the underside of the hind feet, which were particularly noticeable in this specimen. This discovery was shortly followed up by another successful catch; a male Palmate newt. The group were then able to compare the two sexes. The male Palmate newt could be distinguished by the presence of a filament at the tip of the tail and its dark webbed hind feet. It also had a ridge running along its back. We also observed the pink throat of the Palmate newt (the similar looking Smooth newt has an off-white, usually spotted throat).

Female Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus). Photograph on the right shows a close up of the pale coloured nodules on the hind foot (c) Gary Hovell

Hereafter followed a flurry of camera flashes to capture the diagnostic features. The group then proceeded to check the remaining bottles for freshwater invertebrates. The contents of the traps were subsequently released back into the pond at point of capture. The bottles and canes were also counted, to make sure we had the full set. It is worth remembering that any bottles left in a pond will continue to trap amphibians and other wildlife.

Some of the group then departed, while the remainder set out to record other wildlife on site. One of the highlights was observing Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins passing over the water body. Sarah Jupp demonstrated her prowess at locating Otter signs and found two Otter spraint sites in total. We also came across a young Common Frog on site; another new species for the site. This reminded me that many people observe wildlife, but do not tell anyone about what they have seen. Documenting your wildlife sightings and more importantly, passing on that information to others is at the heart of biological recording. For more information on what information is required for a valid record, please visit our contributing data page. We welcome data on all species; both commonplace and rare.

Many thanks to LARG, especially Gary Hovell, for another excellent joint meeting.

Natalie Harmsworth and Jacqueline Stewart

Posted: June 5th 2013

Haining Loch Excursion, 19th May 2013

Seven of us assembled in the courtyard of the rather dilapidated grand house, The Haining on a dry and sunny Sunday morning. The Haining has a long and interesting history which means the grounds have been much managed over the centuries. The land was part of the 'Ettrick Forest' which extended westwards over the heads of the Yarrow, Ettrick and Teviot rivers. It was rich hunting and fishing ground and a castle was built around 1119 and destroyed by 1334.

The house was first built close to 1507 on the north side and overlooks a large natural loch that lies in a deep hollow. The 1757 map shows a definite boundary to the 'parkland' surrounding the loch with some trees. By 1858 there was woodland all around the loch except for a view south to the hills. The view is now blocked by conifer plantation, but this is more or less the same amenity and decorative plantings layout today. The Haining was handed over as a Trust for the benefit of the people of Selkirk in 2009.

Haining Loch lies in the Ettrick valley, near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. Photograph courtesy of Katherine White.

We split into two groups to go east and west round the loch to get a good botanical list. The west side and the front bank down to the loch is kept as a well mown lawn, whilst the east side moves quickly into woodland and scrub.

The lawn area shows the suppressed flora typical of unfertilised grassland and included Pignut (Conopodium majus), whilst the narrow marshy edge of the loch supports common species such as Yellow Flag (Iris pseudocorus). Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) and the lovely Water Avens (Geum rivale) were flowering at the time of our visit. The loch is very murky with a few emergent plants on the edges and only the Yellow Water Lily (Nuphar lutea) recorded further out. Strangely, many lily leaves were floating upside down with about 6 cm of chopped off stem poking up. There was no sign of the White Water Lily, which had previously been recorded on site and no Pondweed species (Potamogeton sp.) were visible.

The woods themselves very much reflect the remnants of long term intentional design, commercial intent and chaotic regeneration. Nearest the house and round the loch are some magnificent specimen trees and native regenerating species such as Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Birch (Betula sp.). Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Box (Buxus sempervirens), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) and Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) make an understory. Patches of more typical woodland ground flora including native Bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scripta), Wood Anenome (Anenome nemorosa) and Ramsons (Allium ursinum) occur especially on the east side. There is a lot of fallen and standing deadwood which is excellent, and 13 fungi species were recorded.

Left Common Twayblade (Listera ovata). Right: Soft Shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum). Photographs courtesy of Katherine White.

The site offered some botanical rewards as well. In an open glade on the edge of the conifers there were around 100 tufts of Twayblade (Neottia ovata) and elsewhere Hard Shield Fern (Polystichum aculeatum) and single Soft Shield Fern (P. setiferum) were found. Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) is present in scattered clumps, and at the foot of a Beech tree a good bed of Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata) survives close to a well-used path.

There are obvious signs throughout the woods that cultivars such as Primrose (Primula spp.) and Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum cultivars) have been introduced over the years, continuing the human desire for adding variety to nature. Mercifully so far however, there is little sign of Few Flowered Leek (Allium paradoxum) - a very common invasive pest in damp woodlands in the Borders - although Leopard's Bane (Doronicum pardalianches), another naturalised invader, is present.

The variable tree ages, variety of built structures and structural diversity, including dead wood, scrub and lots of tree holes means that bird use is pretty good. On an evening in early May a Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) group excursion recorded 29 species, including Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck and woodland migrants such as Willow Warbler and Blackcap. Birdsong was noticeable on this outing as well. Given the lateness of spring it was unsurprising that few other animal taxa were recorded. It was a good visit despite the delayed flowering of many species. We recorded about 150 plant species, so more than doubled the existing plant records for the site, plus 11 lichens. It would almost certainly be worth looking for other species, such as bats and invertebrates in due course.

Sarah Eno (excursion leader). Report edited by Natalie Harmsworth.

Posted: June 19th 2013

Erraid Wood Excursion, 26th May 2013

A select group of six turned out for a recording outing to Erraid Wood on Sunday. Erraid Wood is situated on the north-east side of the Pentland Hills, just 2 miles south of Edinburgh, and is largely owned and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The woodland is sited on a steep slope and consists predominantly of mature broadleaved species planted in 1836 (VisitScotland 2013). Barbara Sumner, Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) Recorder for Midlothian, was our leader for the day. We met at Hillend Country Park car park before car-sharing to the site.

We had barely made it through the reserve entrance before we were compiling our plant list! A few introductions were noted, including the white form of the Pink Purslane (Claytonia sibirica) and Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis cambrica). Few-flowered Leek (Allium paradoxum) was thankfully quite restricted in the woodland – at least at present. One of the most striking things about the wood was the abundance of Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) in the ground layer. The plant was widespread in the wood and created a swathe of blue flowers, which the bumble bees (Bombus spp.) were profiting from. Not far into the wood, we spotted some Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna, formerly Ranunculus ficaria) in flower, so Barbara encouraged us to check for bulbils at the base of the stems in the leaf axils to see if it might be the subspecies verna (formerly subsp. bulbilifer).

Members of the party exploring the upper slopes of Erraid Wood. Photograph (c) Natalie Harmsworth.

We decided to explore the upper section of the woodland first, so took a path up to the far south-west portion of the site. We had soon accumulated 5 species of speedwell or Veronica on our recording card: Germander (Veronica chamaedrys), Wood (V. Montana), Heath (V. officinalis), Thyme-leaved (V. serpyllifolia) and Ivy-leaved (V. hederifolia) Speedwell. For those wishing to contrast the vegetative plants of Heath Speedwell, which has shallowly toothed leaves with the untoothed leaves of Thyme-leaved Speedwell, this was an excellent opportunity to see the plants side by side. The ground flora in some sections of the wood was somewhat limited, owing to the presence of Beech (Fagus sylvatica) in the canopy. However, species gradually mounted up. The sight of a picnic bench with lovely views of the surrounding countryside persuaded us to stop for our lunch break.

Wood Speedwell (Veronica montana) Photograph (c) Jackie Stewart.

After lunch, we continued upslope to the far west corner of the site, where we spotted two Juniper (Juniperus communis) bushes. Juniper is listed as a notable wildlife feature within the reserve on the SWT website and is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. The bushes at Erraid were planted in 1988. Before our visit, the most recent record for Juniper at the site on the TWIC database of species records was from 1990. The Juniper had been searched for by others during the preceding winter but had not been found. As a result, we were quite pleased to have located it as part of the outing. Unfortunately, the bushes appeared to be in poor condition.

On finding a scaly-looking Male fern, Barbara took the opportunity to educate us on the current thinking on the difficult "scaly male ferns" group. The taxonomy has recently been reviewed, so that three species are now recognised rather than a single species (Dryopteris affinis) and three subspecies. The Scaly Male Fern, as its name suggests, has many more scales on its rachis (the main stem of the fern) than the Male Fern (D. filix-mas) and in addition to this has a dark spot on its underside where the pinna joins the rachis. Once you have decided that you have a Scaly Male Fern as apposed to a Male Fern, it is now necessary to go a stage further to decide whether you have the true Scaly Male Fern (D. affinis), Borrer's Scaly Male Fern (D. borreri) or Narrow Scaly Male Fern (D. cambrensis). To do this you have to look at more subtle features of the fern frond, including the shape of the tips of the pinnule, the pinnae teeth and indusia. Practising this in the field under Barbara's guidance certainly made the task a little less daunting and we may have some hope of recording the species on our own subsequently. Details of the key identification features to separate the three ferns can be found in Merryweather's (2007) The Fern Guide.

On the return leg, our attention was pulled away from our botany momentarily to listen to the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Thankfully there was one of the party who was recording a range of wildlife species in the wood and this will add to the overall records accumulated for the site. During the outing we recorded 97 species of plants, plus a number of birds, fungi and insects that are yet to be counted up. It is likely that additional plant species will be added to the list when a visit is made later in the season to confirm plants not in flower at the time of the outing. The records generated from the outing will inform the assessment of the site as a Local Biodiversity Site (LBS), a non-statutory conservation designation. For further information on LBS see the attached flier.

Many thanks to Barbara Sumner for leading the excursion visit.

Posted: June 5th 2013

Tandlaw Moss Excursion, 9th June 2013

Tandlaw Moss is situated 2 miles north-west of Hawick in Vice County 80 Roxburghshire in the Scottish Borders. Photograph courtesy of Michael Scott.

Five surveyors met at Tandlaw Moss on a hot and sunny June morning. The risk assessment warned of the dangers of dehydration, despite the site having open water and bog. Grassland and willow scrub were also present, so there was quite a diverse range of habitats present on site.

There was a concern that the moss itself might dehydrate, since freshly cleared drains scarred the vegetation. There did not appear to be an exit drain, however, so the drains appeared to deliver water to the moss rather than away from it. The drains may look worse than they actually were, although the work itself seemed unnecessary.

Over 140 species of plant had been recorded previously from the site, including nine species of sedge, five species of rush, four species of forget-me-not and my own personal favourite, Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). The hoped for botanical highlights were Lesser Water Parsnip (Berula erecta) and Globeflower (Trollius europaeus). Berula was elusive, but Trollius was glorious. It was found quite early on and, once seen, clumps of its lemon-yellow flower continually illuminated the area.

Globeflower (Trollius europaeus) is a Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) species and a local rarity in the Scottish Borders, occurring in between 2% and 5% of Borders 1km squares. Photograph courtesy of Michael Scott.

Five of the sedges were found, including Greater Tussock Sedge (Carex paniculata). Those of us that were new to sedges are now very familiar with this species, and its apt name. Bottle Sedge (Carex rostrata) and Brown Sedge (Carex disticha) were also abundant, along with Lesser Pond Sedge (Carex acutformis) and Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca). Other sedges may have been present, but we felt pleased with our tally.

We reached open water shortly after lunch and spent a happy hour pond dipping for invertebrates and fish. There was some pondweed (Potamogeton natans) and a stonewort, which sadly remained unidentified.

Tandlaw pond. Photograph courtesy of Michael Scott.

Nearly 90 plant species were found on the day. This was some way short of the total, but some new species were recorded, and it was a very enjoyable splash through a wetland that was slightly off the beaten track.

Many thanks to Michael Scott for leading the outing.

Stuart MacPherson

Posted: July 19th 2013

Carberry Estate Excursion, 30th June 2013

Recorders enjoying exploring the Carberry Estate. Photograph courtesy of Christine Johnston.

On the last Sunday in June, a group of 8 recorders met at the Pencaitland railway walk car park to explore and record around the Carberry Estate. It was a fine day, although windy enough to be glad of a wooded site for shelter.

The site was a mixture of lapsed parkland with areas of woodland, including productive conifers and native broadleaves and low-lying, wetter areas with sedgey, rushy vegetation similar to Salix carr in places. We began along a forest track from the SE end of the Estate. Although canopy cover was not dense, this area was rich in "ancient woodland indicators". Though autecologies of these indicator species vary, there is a tendency for these plants to be dispersal limited (i.e. unlikely to persist within a wooded site after clear-felling and lacking the capacity to return thereafter), tolerant of shade and relatively intolerant of disturbance. The suite of indicators found here, of which many were calcicolous, included Sanicle (Sanicula europea), Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula), Wood Millet (Milium effusum), Hairy-brome (Bromopsis ramose) and Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris). The latter species was one of the target plants of the trip. Oddly, one little frond was nestled beneath an Oak tree where we stopped to have lunch and was not noticed until after we had finished. This assemblage of "indicators" suggests that whilst the site has clearly been modified in the past, through felling and landscaping, there has been some continuity of tree cover.

The fields adjacent to the woodland footpath are grazed by cattle but include some very large Oak trees (example pictured, below) reminiscent of ancient wood pasture. Large, well-spaced out and old trees like this often provide a good mixture of habitat for epiphytes, although old-growth specialists were not recorded. This could be related to atmospheric pollution (proximity to large settlements) and/or agricultural pollution (artificially high nitrogen levels).

One of the mature Oak trees in the parkland.

Whilst the native flora was fairly well represented, there was also a threat from garden escapes and invasive species. Snowberry (ymphoricarpus albus) and Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) were both identified, though not yet at worrying densities. A greater dismay was an extensive stand of Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), near the pond, which will expand exponentially without prudent control.

In total, 162 vascular plants were recorded from the grid square visited on the Sunday (NT3669). Of the three target species - Oak Fern (G. dryopteris), Greater Spearwort (Ranunculus lingua) and Water Sedge (Carex aquatilis) - the former two were confirmed. After much examination of the dense sedge colony in the pond, we were unable to find the Water Sedge (C. aquatilis), which was recorded there in 1958. At present, there is no shortage of Lesser Pond Sedge (Carex acutiformis) in this location.

Many thanks to Barbara Sumner for leading the outing.

Richard Whittet and Cristina Rosique Esplugas

Posted: July 19th 2013

Abbotsford Excursion, 14th September 2013

Recording along the River Tweed at Abbotsford, near Melrose in the Scottish Borders. The estate was once home to Sir Walter Scott. Today, Abbotsford is owned and managed by the Abbotsford Trust (see their website for details). Photo courtesy of Mike Beard.

A party of 9 set out from the Abbotsford House visitor centre in early September to record bryophytes and other wildlife in 2 squares, NT5033, on the south east side of the Tweed just by Galafoot Bridge, and the adjoining NT5034 in woodland to the south west. The group were led by David Long, Bryologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. After checking in with Abbotsford Ranger, Phil Munro, we headed off down towards the river.

On the way, David gave us a history of moss taxonomy and classification, pointing out that the whole thing had been fundamentally revised once naturalists realised that bryophytes displayed alternation of generations between the leafy gametophyte and sporophyte stages of the bryophytes' life cycle. The sporophyte generation, which produces the spore-bearing capsule, is physically dependent on the gametophyte for support and nutrition, though it is different in that it has twice as many chromosomes as the gametophyte.

Recording bryophytes at Abbotsford. Photo courtesy of Mike Beard.

Recording got off to a good start with several species observed on dyke stones and in muddy ruts on the way down to the river. Of note was Spreading Earth-moss (Aphanorrhegma patens), which is new to Roxburghshire 80 vice county and only the 3rd record for the species in the Scottish Borders. This moss occurred with the tiny Delicate Earth-moss (Pseudephemerum nitidum) and Common Crystalwort (Riccia sorocarpa). Tufted Feather-moss (Scleropodium cespitans) was found on silty tree bases, roots and silty concrete in both tetrads. In Scotland, this moss is only found in the Borders. Short Pottia (Hennediella macrophylla), a former native of New Zealand, is mainly found in Scotland on paths and in meadows along the Borders Abbeys Way. Many-fruited Leskea (Leskea polycarpa) was found on silty tree roots along the water margin. Common Kettlewort (Blasia pusilla), a calcifuge (species intolerant to lime), was found on damp mud, whilst Broadleaf Grimmia (Schistidium platyphyllum), a calciphile (lime-loving species) was present on the silty concrete by the river. The uncommon, Great Scented Liverwort (Conocephalum salebrosum) was noted on rocks by a stream.

In total 69 bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) were recorded in the north tetrad and 54 in the south, with surprisingly little overlap.

We also took the opportunity to record other wildlife on site, including the vascular plants. Although late in the season for botanical recording, a total of 188 higher plant records were made during the day. The margins and grassy banks above the River Tweed provided the greatest interest with species such as Burnet-saxifrage (Pimpinella saxifraga), Water Pepper (Persicaria hydropiper), Creeping Yellow-cress (Rorippa sylvestris) and Marsh Yellow-cress (R. palustris). The latter is regarded as 'Local' in the Scottish Borders ('Local' species occur in between 2% and 5% of Borders 1km squares). The woodland flora was understandably not at its best in September. However, we did observe a little Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) in the ground flora and a single patch of Three-nerved Sandwort (Moehringia trinervia) under a Beech tree. Bird's-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) had previously been recorded on site, but this would have to be searched for earlier in the season. On the return leg, Black-bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus) was noted on a roadside verge. This plant was new to some of the party and superficially resembles a bindweed, but in actual fact belongs to the Dock family, Polygonaceae.

Creeping Yellow-cress (Rorippa sylvestris) on the stony bank of the River Tweed. Photo courtesy of Mike Beard.

Of course, as naturalists, we cannot help but notice various anthropogenic threats to conservation. Most obvious was the spread of Indian Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) along the river bank. We understand that there was recently a campaign to eradicate Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) on the Tweed. Let us hope the balsam will be next. We also noticed a number of dead or damaged trees marked for removal, which would be a loss to woodland biodiversity if they were completely removed with concomitant depletion of habitat at the bottom of the forest food chain.

As usual, it was a great pleasure to be out together sharing knowledge and having the opportunity to learn from one of our resident experts.

Andy Swales

Posted: 22nd October 2013

Siccar Point Excursion 18th August 2013

The beautiful Berwickshire coastline at Siccar Point. Photograph courtesy of Alistair Stewart.

There have been many TWIC field excursions in the past with visits to habitats such as fields, sand-dunes, woods and more but this one took place on the side of a cliff. The participants inched their way down the slope with the aid of a rope!

Jackie making her way up from Siccar Point with the assistance of a rope. Photograph courtesy of Alistair Stewart.

Siccar Point is best known as the site of 'Hutton's Unconformity'. It was here in 1788 that the Geologist James Hutton arrived with friends - by boat - to examine the curious rock formations. Vertical Silurian Greywacke bedding is overlain by horizontal layers of Old Red Sandstone and Conglomerates which were subsequently deposited by glaciers and rivers. Although bitterly contested at the time, he deduced that the upper Strata was very much younger (approximately 55 million years) than the rocks below. The principal purpose of the TWIC visit was, however, not for geological reasons but to ascertain which species of plant and animal life were occupying the site. Our party was most ably led by Ron McBeath and we had the benefit of examining an area which, by being so inaccessible, will have altered very little over hundreds of years.

Hutton's unconformity. Photographs courtesy of Alistair Stewart.

Map Lichen (Rhizocarpon geographicum) encrusted the drystone boundary wall at the top of the cliff whilst down below, in the splash-zone, Sea Ivory (Ramalina siliquosa) dominated. We were fortunate to have the Bryologist Dr. David Long amongst our group and he successfully recorded 34 different species of bryophyte on the coastal slopes.

A good range of higher plants were also encountered and whilst descending the cliff we noted species which included Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum), Pignut (Conopodium majus), Burnet Saxifrage (Pimpinella saxifraga), Primose (Primula vulgaris), Lady's Bedstraw (Galium verum), Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia) and Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus). Also, there was Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus), Quaking Grass (Briza media) and Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella).

The ground was near-level towards the base of the cliffs and, as expected, consisted largely of exposed rock-faces with vegetation hugging the few relatively sheltered haunts. Low-growing halophytic (salt-tolerant) species were the norm and amongst those was Sea Campion (Silene uniflora), Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre), Thrift (Armeria maritima), Buckshorn Plantain (Plantago coronopus), Sticky Groundsel (Senecio viscosus), together with Distant Sedge (Carex distans), Meadow Oat-grass (Avenula pratensis) and Sheep's Fescue (Festuca ovina).

Wall Butterfly. Photograph courtesy of Alistair Stewart.

This proved to be a particularly special day for butterflies with a number of high counts and a total of eleven different species appearing in the warm sunshine. Small Copper, Common Blue, Grayling, Wall Brown and Ringlet were among the tally. Many seabirds not only passed close by but, on occasion, flew directly over Siccar Point and ourselves. There were ample opportunities to study Fulmars, Gannets, Cormorants, Shags and Eiders but we also had Curlews, Redshank, Sandwich Terns, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails in close proximity.

The arrival of low-tide enabled us to gain access to a sizeable sea-cave and there we found 11 House Martin nests with adults bringing food to their young. Sometimes we attracted the attention of a Grey Seal. They are curious creatures and so surfaced to inspect our presence. Many hundreds breed on the Berwickshire Coast in the autumn of each year. We eventually departed, our notebooks full and our heads buzzing with all that had been seen; these were wildlife recorders who had experienced an exceptionally memorable day.

Recorders enjoying a day out at Siccar Point. Photograph courtesy of Alistair Stewart.

Roger Manning

Posted: 13th November 2013

TWIC is a company limited by guarantee - registered in Scotland No. SC234339. A recognised Scottish Charity SC034113. This project is supported by NatureScot.