Dumfriesshire Botany Group at Heathhall- 25th August 2022

On a fine sunny late August day the group met at the south CP to Heathhall Forest just off the A75 Lockerbie road roundabout. This is a Forest and Land Scotland site much used for recreation. It is a conifer plantation on old heath and peatland that would once have been part of the extensive Lochar Water Moss complex east and south of Dumfries. Indeed on an 1804 map of Dumfriesshire the area is shown as largely open ground with a large body of water called Sand Loch. This water body is still present on the Ordnance survey map of 1900 which does show some conifer trees have been planted. The Loch was in an area which is now occupied by willow and birch carr.

The aim was to explore two monads and refind records for three Dumfriesshire rarities.

The vegetation under the trees shows its heathy nature with a tangle of Heather Calluna vulgaris, Bracken Pteridium aquilinum, Broom Cytisus scoparius and Gorse Ulex europaeus making it hard to penetrate. There were typical species along the tracks like Small Cudweed Logfia minima, Bird’s-foot Ornithopus perspursillus and Early Hair-grass Aira praecox. An old gravel pit , kept open by mountain bike use, had more bare ground and a largely dried up pool. Here there was a search for Northern Yellow-cress Rorippa islandica which had been found in the Heathhall area last year. This was duly found showing the fruit on very short peduncles tending to bend to one side of the stem. This occurred alongside other plants of pools like Skullcap Scutellaria galericulata, Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus and Water-purslane Lythrum portula.

We moved on the explore some wet woodland dominated by willows and birch. This lies on lower ground previously a loch as mentioned earlier and despite the dry summer this proved a difficult area to access from the path network. There were deep ditches, tangled scrubby trees and floating swamp meaning only the edge could be explored on the day.  Here there was Bottle Sedge Carex rostrata, White Sedge Carex canescens, Star Sedge Carex echinata, Marsh Cinquefoil Comarum palustre, Marsh Pennywort Hydrocotyl vulgaris, Unbranched Bur-reed Sparganium emersum and Bulrush Thypha latifolia.  We could not get in as far as the record for Coralroot Orchid Corallorhiza trifida. So a visit was made a week later coming in from the other side of the wet woodland. This was a bit easier and after some searching a good number of this years shoots of Coralroot Orchid were found. They were all past flowering. These were almost exclusively growing in sphagnum hummocks around the base of Birch trees. In all 51 spikes were seen over an area of 100m x 120m. This is the only known site in Dumfriesshire which was found in 2009 by Jeff Waddell. It is very remote from the next known colony at Loch of the Lowes in the Borders.

After lunch the group moved on and visited an arable field on the edge of the woodland and an area that includes part of the old war time airfield runway. This is used periodically for storing timber and by the farm for manure storage. The midden had an interesting flora with masses of Red Goosefoot Chenopodium rubrum and Lesser Swinecress Coronopus didymus. It had several plants of Thornapple Datura stramonium, the third place it has been seen in the County and the very uncommon Small Nettle Urtica urens.  On the old concrete area there was more Northern Yellow-cress Rorippa islandica together with Marsh Yellow-cress Rorippa palustris and good numbers of Common Century Centaurium erythraea and a few plants of Weld Reseda luteola. Weld has not been recorded in the hectad since 1961. We looked at a population that was previously thought to be Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine when found late season last year but concluded this is Dactylorhiza without spotted leaves.

Chris Miles

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

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