Kirkcudbrightshire Botany Group at Balloch Wood, 20th May 2023

The Balloch Wood Community Project is a charity which was set up in 2016 to manage this woodland for the benefit of the local community. A 25-year management agreement with the Forestry Commission was put together at that time and more recently the Project was included in the Sulwath Connections Landscape Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As we gathered in the small car park at the top end of the wood, we were greeted by the sound of bagpipes from a piper hidden somewhere in the distance. This pleasant serenade continued as we explored a series of wildlife ponds which were developed by the Project at the site of some historic curling ponds.

Bottle Sedge Carex rostrata bordered the first pond, which also contained Bulrush Typha latifolia, Canadian Waterweed Elodea canadensis, Broad-leaved Pondweed Potamogeton natans and White Water-lily Nymphaea alba. Along one grassy edge was a good population of Wood Horsetail Equisetum sylvaticum amongst which we found a huge Black Oil Beetle Meloe scarabaeus, while at the side of the pond was an emerging Golden-ringed dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii.

Further on, one area of open water had become covered with vegetation and there was an interesting range of marsh plants including Bog Pondweed Potamogeton polygonifolius, Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus, Bulbous Rush Juncus bulbosus, Marsh Pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris, Marsh Violet Viola palustris, and Greater Spearwort Ranunculus lingua, the latter presumably planted.

Continuing to follow the path around the ponds we came across a clump of Pale Sedge Carex pallescens, on which a group of tiny micromoths, Plain Gold Micropterix calthella, were feverishly feeding on the pollen of the flowering male spike.

The whole of the area around the car park and ponds contained quite an assortment of garden plants, including Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris, Sensitive Fern Onoclea sensibilis, Lesser Knotweed Koenigia campanulata, Cotoneaster Cotoneaster horizontalis, Katsura Cercidiphyllum japonicum and Montbretia Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora. There was a particularly large stand of flowering Tuberous Comfrey Symphytum tuberosum. In the last BSBI Atlas Tuberous Comfrey was treated as a native species in Scotland, where it is most plentiful, but in the 2020 Atlas it is now classed as an introduction throughout its British and Irish range. In Scotland it is thought to have originated as a medicinal herb.

So interesting was this area that it took until lunchtime to complete our first monad (142 species), so we made use of the benches which had been provided to eat our picnic. By this time the piper had departed and we enjoyed instead the song of a nearby cuckoo and willow warblers.

After lunch we decided we should go straight to the location where Bird’s-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis had been recorded in 2017 since otherwise, at botanical pace, we would never reach it. Despite searching hard, sadly we were unsuccessful, and so we walked slowly back to the cars recording our second monad of the day. This is a lovely piece of woodland, the canopy largely dominated by conifers, but with areas of Beech Fagus sylvatica, including one splendid veteran tree. Many of the Larch Larix decidua had died, allowing more light into the woodland, and the ground flora was diverse including a good number of flowering plants such as Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina, Sanicle Sanicula europaea, Yellow Pimpernel Lysimachia nemorum and Wood-sorrel Oxalis acetosella. Particularly notable were several beautiful stands of Beech Fern Phegopteris connectilis. We were delighted to find several singing Wood Warblers Phylloscopus sibilatrix one of which came and perched over our heads, still singing. We also came across a number of Woodland Dor Beetles Anoplotrupes stercorosus.

This was a very enjoyable place to visit, with well-maintained paths and lots of interest. The Balloch Wood Community Project is to be congratulated on their management of this site.

My thanks, as always, to the other participants for their company and their observations.

Sarah White 

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SUP is registered in Scotland as a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Registered address: The Southern Uplands Partnership, Studio 2, Lindean Mill, Galashiels, TD1 3PE. Company No. SC200827 / Charity No. SCO29475

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