Dumfriesshire Botany Group at Auchengibbert Hill, Thursday 30 June 2022

We returned to this hill block as last years visit to Craigturra and Tynron Doon had suggested the grasslands are interesting. The hill rises to 372m  and is an area of extensive grazing for sheep and perhaps cattle. The grassland is rocky and largely unimproved and in places there are more base rich flushes which create diversity.

Ten of us met at the base of Craigturra and above the crags  did a quick revisit of the flush we saw last year with Whorled CarawayCarum verticillatum, and Heath Fragrant-orchid, Gymnadenia borealis.

As we headed further up hill on rocky knolls with thin soil we started to see several patches of Antennaria dioica and on the most skeletal soils Sedum anglicum. There were occasional patches of Rock Rose Helianthemum nummularium, Wild Thyme Thymus drucei , Burnet Saxifrage Pimpinella saxifraga and Briza media Quaking grass on the base rich areas and more Whorled Caraway.

Near the top of the hill where some of the hill burns emerged were some lovely mineral enriched flushes with lots of Broad-leaved Cottongrass Eriophorum latifolium, Dioecious Sedge Carex dioica, Few-flowered Spike-rush Eleocharis quinqueflora, Scottish Eyebright Euphrasia scottica and Lesser Clubmoss Selaginella selaginoides.

We paused for lunch on the northern downslope of the hill finishing just before a short but very heavy  downpour. The lower slope was rather rush dominated but as we headed back up slope the grassland was more diverse and Sarah found the first of several spikes of Moonwort Botrychium lunaria always indicative of an unploughed or unfertilized grassland.  This is the first record of this species in NX89. On the top of the hill there was a little remnant blanket bog with the other two cotton grass species and Cross-leaved Heath Erica tetralix. We descended on the south facing slope of the hill and then worked our way east across the slope. Here we saw more Moonwort plants in the grass amongst the bracken and then a lovely stony flush with a real surprise. Greater Sundew Drosera anglica is a rare plant in Dumfriesshire only currently known to be extant in two sites. One of these is in the adjacent hectad NX79 where a small quantity was seen in 2019.  Here though we found a long stony flush with many hundreds of plants. Again this was a first record of this in NX89. This is normally thought of as a plant of blanket or raised mires but can occur in flushed conditions.

On the edge of the flush we also saw Fragrant Orchid as well as plenty more Scottish Eyebright.

This was a good day highlighting the value of these species rich grasslands. Further surveys may reveal more interesting finds.

Chris Miles

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

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