Dumfriesshire Botany Group at Wanlockhead, 14th July 2019

In the week that we were all celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landings the group set off to do their own little bit of moon exploration. The weather was not great as we walked across the moorland around the village. The landscape here is very open, long grazed by sheep and also burnt for grouse shooting. It was the mineral riches that brought people here though as the rocks have mineral veins containing lead, silver and gold. The results of mining for these minerals has created something of a “moonscape” of old mine workings in the hills around Wanlockhead and its sister village Leadhills down the road in Lanarkshire. The story is well laid out in the nice little Lead Mining Museum in Wanlockhead itself.

Our mission was to refind Moonwort last seen on mineral spoil in 1996. Given the grazing the plants are small and so diligent searching was required. The spoil heaps are scattered across the open moorland and on the sides of slopes. Often they remain uncolonised due to the toxicity of the spoil. Some are more amenable to plants. In one valley north of Wanlockhead the old mine waste is designated as SSSI for its interesting minerals. In this area one of the block screes was full of Brittle Bladder Fern Cystopteris fragilis alongside Wild Thyme, Thymus polytrichus and Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus. Eventually after a huge human effort in testing weather the moon exploration was successful! One nice plant of Moonwort Botrychium lunaria was found growing amongst the Thyme.

This valley also had good flushes and in the damp sward the small flowered purple leaved Eyebrights were Slender Eyebright Euphrasia micrantha. These flushes also has the attractive Grass of Parnassus Parnassia palustris, although only one or two were yet in flower. One thing the hills around Wanlochhead have in some abundance is Mountain Pansy Viola lutea. It is the only place I know in the county where you can find it in its yellow form.

On the mine waste in the valley bottom we saw the seed pods of a whitlowgrass. These are larger than the ones seen early in the year and belong to Wall Whitlowgrass Draba muralis. This is rare in Dumfrieshire and scattered across the UK. It likes the sort of open soils that the mine waste provides here.

As the rain set in we decided the tea room at the museum needed more customers. On the way back we had a quick look at Lesser Twayblade Neottia cordata on sphagnum under heather in the village itself.

Chris Miles

BSBI county recorder for Dumfriesshire VC73 – see bsbi.org/dumfriesshire

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