Kirkcudbrightshire Botany Group at Windy Standard, 20th August 2023

This meeting took place with the kind permission of Natural Power and the landowner, enabling us to drive up their track to the summit, saving both time and an arduous walk. The planned date of Saturday 19th August had to be changed because of the unseasonably stormy weather associated with Storm Betty. Fortunately, Sunday proved to be a much more pleasant day.

We met at the bottom car park on the wind farm access track and drove to the summit in three 4×4 vehicles, parking at the far eastern end of the access track. As the site straddles the VC boundary, colleagues from Ayrshire came too. We split into three groups: one to record the Ayrshire side of the watershed; one to record NS6100 and NS6101; one to record NS6200 and NS6201.

David Hawker had surveyed the area in the 1990s prior to the wind farm construction and supplied maps showing the main flushes. The hill is the only site in VC73 for Cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus and other previously-recorded species that we hoped to re-find were Alpine Clubmoss Diphasiastrum alpinum, Stag’s-horn Clubmoss Lycopodium clavatum, Fir Clubmoss Huperzia selago, Stiff Sedge Carex bigelowii, Starry Saxifrage Micranthes stellaris, Pyrenean Scurvygrass Cochlearia pyrenaica, Mossy Saxifrage Saxifraga hypnoides, Dioecious Sedge Carex dioica and Grass-of-Parnassus Parnassia palustris.

The top of Windy Standard is a very broad flattish summit and surprisingly grassy and well vegetated with little bare ground. Of the shrubby species, Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and Crowberry Empetrum nigrum are the most evident, but not at all abundant in the sward, with Cowberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea only occasional and Heather Calluna vulgaris quite rare. Surprisingly Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea seemed to be absent, with the sward comprising Bents Agrostis spp., Fescues Festuca spp., Wavy Hair-grass Avenella flexuosa, Tufted Hair-grass Deschampsia cespitosa, Mat-grass Nardus stricta and Sweet Vernal-grass Anthoxanthum odoratum. The moss Common Haircap Polytrichum commune is locally abundant. On the flatter, waterlogged areas are stands of Soft Rush Juncus effusus, and Hare’s-tail Cotton-grass Eriophorum vaginatum.

The group surveying 6101 walked along the track westwards from Windy Standard towards Trostan Hill and then dropped down Red Cleugh, following the burn down into 6100. We were delighted to find two good-sized stands of Cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus in 6101 with the leaves turning bronze and showing well in the sward. We saw only a few flowers and no fruits, though these could have withered or been eaten. It is very likely that there are more areas of Cloudberry in the monad as we found the plant quite easily and didn’t carry out an exhaustive search.

The broken ground at the edges of the tracksides proved to be the most productive for clubmosses. Diphasiastrum alpinum and Huperzia selago were found in monad 6101 and Lycopodium clavatum in both 6100 and 6101.

Red Cleugh is a steep-sided valley with marshy areas by the burn in which we found Bottle Sedge Carex rostrata, Star Sedge Carex echinata, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, Marsh Willowherb Epilobium palustre New Zealand Willowherb Epilobium brunnescens, Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum and Marsh Violet Viola palustrisCarnation Sedge Carex panicea was surprisingly abundant, scattered widely in the sward, not just in the waterlogged areas. On the drier banks we found Lemon-scented Fern Oreopteris limbosperma, Wild Thyme Thymus drucei and Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile.

Beside the track at the bottom were two small pools containing Round-leaved Crowfoot Ranunculus omiophyllus and on the top track we took specimens of Eyebright Euphrasia agg. for later checking.

We came across a somewhat puzzling stand of sedges which had a very thick rigid stem and looked like Stiff Sedge Carex bigelowii but were over 30cm tall. Specimens were taken and later examination showed that they displayed intermediate characters of bract length and stomata between C. bigelowii and Common Sedge C. nigra. Mike Porter, the BSBI sedge referee, confirmed that these were indeed C. x decolorans the hybrid between the two and a first vice county record for VC73.

The second group covered NS 6200 (Devil’s Putting Stone) and 6201 (Windy Standard and Blue Stones).  Previous visits in 1995 and 2012 had revealed a good selection of sub-montane species (listed in the next paragraph), but few had been re-found in a brief site visit to Windy Standard, Trostan Hill, Thundery Knowes, Red Cleugh and Blue Stones by 3 of us in 2019.  We fared no better this time around with no records for the saxifrages, scurvy grass or indeed any of the clubmosses, except for a tiny clump of Alpine Clubmoss Diphasiastrum alpinum at Blue Stones. At the base of the steepest slopes of Blue Stones we found significant populations of Parsley Fern Cryptogramma crispa which in previous years was also found close to the top of the slopes, but not this time around. What was surprising was the apparent extension of the Cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus stands, with new sites on the ridge down from Windy Standard towards the new windfarm on Keoch Rig.  Stiff sedge C. bigelowii was in abundance on Windy Standard itself, extending SE-wards down the ridge.  There was an almost complete absence of damp areas, flush or runnels this time compared to the 1995 visit, which would explain the absence of many species.

The tracksides revealed colonisation by several ruderal species, most likely brought in on vehicle wheels and possibly footwear, and able to establish in this open, non-competitive situation away from other more vigorous species. These included Annual Meadow-grass Poa annua, Heath Pearlwort Sagina subulata, Procumbent Pearlwort Sagina procumbens, New Zealand Willowherb Epilobium brunnescens, Common Mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum, and Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris,

Despite a number of very good finds, we were disappointed that the vegetation seemed to have changed since the records from the 1990s with the apparent loss of specialist and scarce montane species such as Starry Saxifrage Micranthes stellaris, Pyrenean Scurvygrass Cochlearia pyrenaica and Mossy Saxifrage Saxifraga hypnoides. It is difficult to be sure how this may have happened; changes to the sheep grazing, drainage patterns, nitrogen enrichment and climate change (including reduced snow-lie) have probably all played a part. We were however delighted to find that Cloudberry is still locally abundant and we successfully found all the clubmosses scattered across the monads we surveyed.

At the end of the afternoon we drove back down the hill to the car park where Jan drew our attention to an unusual ragwort plant with narrow strap-like leaves which we identified as Narrow-leaved Ragwort Senecio inaequidens, an alien species which comes from South Africa and is spreading rapidly through the UK. This was another first record for VC73!

As well as recording plants, we always look out for other taxa of interest and there were three which particularly caught our eye. On the edge of a small pool, high on the summit at an altitude of 675m, we found the exuvia of the dragonfly Common Hawker Aeshna juncea. Indeed, on our recce the previous Thursday, Ken had spotted two Common Hawkers in tandem nearby. How amazing that they can live at this altitude and had found such a small pond!

The other two fascinating finds were both fungi: the Hairy Earth Tongue Trichoglossum hirsutum and the Slender Club Macrotyphula juncea. For both these species, these are only the second records for Dumfries and Galloway according to the NBN.

This was a very enjoyable and productive day and we are extremely grateful to both the landowner and to Natural Power for their help in arranging it. Our special thanks too to all the participants for their company and their contributions towards the recording.

Sarah White and David Hawker

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