Clints of Dromore, Cairnsmore NNR, 31st August 2018

This was a lovely warm sunny day for 7 of us to explore a crag section on the edge of the Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve, a site last visited some 20 years ago.  The first section along the long-disused rail bed of the Dumfries to Stranraer line, was easy walking between edging strips of willow, rowan and birch woodland.  The rail bed and adjoining drainage ditch and grass strip provided a neat contrast with the very acidic granite-based ground through which the line ran. The shallow, acidic ground of the former held few species, mainly Heather Calluna vulgaris and Bell Heath Erica cinerea, Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea and Bracken Pteridium aquilinum, while the rail bed had a far less acidic, almost neutral, base with abundant species. Several ferns including the Lemon-scented Fern Oreopteris limbosperma with the spores around the edges of the pinnules and distinctive lemon scent from crushed fronds; Male Fern Dryopteris filix-mas, Lady Fern Athyrium filis-femina with its J-shaped sori and more finely divided fronds; and Golden Scaly Male Fern D. affinis with its dense covering of deep golden scales along the rachis and stipe.

Then there were both Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca and its counterpart, Barren Strawberry Potentilla sterilis, followed by abundant Eyebrights Euphrasia spp. and Fairy Flax Linum catharticum.  A couple of St John’s worts, the slender Hypericum pulchrum and common H. perforatum with winged stems, followed by Smith’s Cress Lepidium heterophyllun with its curiously curved beaked fruits, the dried and largely empty seed cases of the semi-parasitic Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor, and Bitter Vetch Lathyrus linifolius with its single short tendril – all indicating a richer and less acidic soil. The sides of the cutting also held a few seeding shoots of Heath Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculata and Golden Rod Solidago virgaurea was in full bloom. Roses were few and far between and the only one I could recognise was the Straight–prickled Soft Downy Rose Rosa mollis. The tall, multi-leaved stems of Autumn Hawkweed Hieracium sabaudum were much in evidence here.

Immediately we got off the rail bed to climb towards the Clints, we found a large very acid flush with abundant White-beaked Sedge Rhynchospora alba, accompanied by isolated creeping shoots of Bog Pimpernel Anagallis tenella, frequent Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia and scattered clumps of Deer-grass Trichophorum germanicum.

Then Jan spotted a tiny shoot of the Pale Butterwort Pinguicula lusitanica, no more than 5 cm high, with pale green in-curled leaves – we found one or two more shortly after that, but none of the larger Common Butterwort P. vulgaris. In one spot we found three sedges, Star Sedge Carex echinata, Common Yellow Edge C. demissa and something that looked like, but wasn’t, Long-stalked Yellow Sedge C. lepidocarpa – a candidate for the referee. Some of the deer-grass looked a little different – smaller, shorter, less crowded clumps with yellow-green leaves. It turned out to be the Hybrid Deer-grass T. x foersteri for which there are scattered but few records in the VC. One of them turned out to be viviparous – small plantlets replacing the seed heads.

The scramble up the steep slope of the Clints was interrupted by lunch in bright hot sunshine, during which we watched a peregrine chasing a raven out of its territory.  We resumed the walk upwards and along the top, then back down, with the party splitting and some descending through the Deep Nick of the Clints. Neither group revealed much other than typical wet heath/mire species, similar to that lining the railway, except for more of both cotton-grasses, Harestail Eriophorum vaginatum and Common E. angustifolium with its long gradually tapering leaf ending in a wine-red tip. No aspen Populus tremula nor juniper Juniperus communis as experienced many years ago.  The wet pools and surrounding vegetation held only Sphagnum, Bulbous Rush Juncus bulbosus and common cotton-grass – and an ovipositing Common Hawker Dragonfly Aeshna juncea, plus mate, and a pair of Black Darter Dragonflies Sympetrum danae.

To end the day we walked back along the rail bed continuing over the 12-arched viaduct which gave us Wall Cotoneaster Cotoneaster horizontalis, Sticky Groundsel Senecio viscosus, the ferns Wall-rue Asplenium ruta-muraria and Maidenhair Spleenwort A. trichomanes quadrivalens; the tiny heath Pearlwort Sagina subulata and another hawkeed, tentatively identified as Pale Hawkweed Hieracium orimeles but this needs to be confirmed.  The walk from there back to the cars gave us another viviparous species, Crested Dogstail Cynosurus cristatus, and in a newly dug drainage ditch one small clump of the tiny grass-like Bristle Club-rush Isolepis setacea.

In all, we had only 139 species from 3 monads, 122 that came from just one square, that along the rail bed.  And that included 8 of the VC’s 15 rush species, some of which we’d spent time identifying during the training day at Auchencairn in July.

Thanks to all who attended, for both company and help in finding things, and to Val for taking on the recording sheets, yet again.  And not just plants…butterflies: green-veined white, peacock, small copper, painted lady, caterpillars rapidly devouring willow leaves: frog: a solitary grouse dropping: dog lichen, etc.

David Hawker

PS  You can now access various reports from the BSBI website which is open to anyone whether member of not.  Go to the homepage, find the UK map and click the cursor over the appropriate vice-county.  This will take you to that county’s webpage, if it exists – green on map, and you will find all sorts of information there.  I’ve uploaded a few pieces which you won’t have seen as well as a few of the latest field meeting reports.  Try it and see if you like it – suggestions for material or improvement always welcome.  You can also access much other BSBI information like species accounts, species ids, news, etc – all freely accessible.

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