Kirkcudbrightshire Botany Group at Killiegowan Wood, 20th April 2024

A group of twelve of us visited this woodland with the kind permission of the landowners and with David Hawker’s help in making the arrangements for us.

It is a beautiful upland Oak-Birch woodland and we saw it on a lovely early spring day with drifts of bluebells just coming into flower.

Killiegowan is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is one of the best remaining areas of rich, mixed deciduous woodland in Dumfries and Galloway. It is also part of the Galloway Oakwoods Special Area of Conservation for its Western acidic oak woodland.

We soon realized that this is a complex site comprising an intricate range of habitats and we would be unable to record all of it in one day. We therefore concentrated our recording effort on the monad NX5857 which covers the northern half of the site. We would very much like to return to record the southern monad together with the loch and marsh.

The woodland is topographically very varied with well-drained slopes separated by wetter depressions with seepages and springs feeding a burn. The drier woodland comprises Oak Quercus sp. and Downy Birch Betula pubescens coppice with Hazel Corylus avellana, Ash Fraxinus excelsior and Rowan Sorbus aucuparia, while the wetter valleys contain Alder Alnus glutinosa and Willows Salix spp. There were also several Wych Elms Ulmus glabra, easily recognized at this time of year by the bright yellow-green leaf-shaped fruits.

Besides the bluebells, the ground flora of the drier areas comprised Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis, Ramsons Allium ursinum, Red Campion Silene dioica, Primrose Primula vulgaris, Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea, Yellow Pimpernel Lysimachia nemorum, Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa, Pignut Conopodium majus and Wood Sorrel Oxalis acetosella. Delicate fronds of Beech Fern Phegopteris connectilis were just unfurling and as we spotted more and more of them it became clear that this fern is frequent through the wood. There were also several other fern species including Broad Buckler-fern Dryopteris dilatata, Lady-fern Athyrium filix-femina, Hard-fern Blechnum spicant, Golden-scaled Male-fern Dryopteris affinis and Lemon-scented Fern Oreopteris limbosperma. A particular highlight were the Early-purple Orchids Orchis mascula, with their heavily spotted leaves, just coming into flower.

The low-lying wetter areas had several sedge species including tussocks of Greater Tussock-sedge Carex paniculata just coming into flower, Common Sedge C. nigra, Carnation Sedge C. panicea and Remote Sedge C. remota. Flowering plants here included Lesser Spearwort Ranunculus flammula, Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, Marsh-marigold Caltha palustris, Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis and Water Horsetail Equisetum fluviatile.

Many of the flowering plants that we recorded at Killiegowan Wood are classified as Ancient Woodland Indicators¹, plants which depend on woodland conditions to survive and generally have poor colonizing abilities (Crawford, 2009). Killiegowan is one of a number of Ancient Woodland sites in the Fleet valley recognized on the NatureScot Inventory of Ancient Woodland.

One of the group, Bob, recorded in the area of a spring-fed pool just outside the woodland at NX580572 and added a number of plant species to our list for the monad, including Whorled Caraway Trocdaris verticillata, Marsh Cinquefoil Comarum palustre, Marsh Speedwell Veronica scutellata, Alternate Water-milfoil Myriophyllum alterniflorum and Floating Club-rush Eleogiton fluitans.

It was evident that the woodland suffers quite a high browsing pressure from deer and there were disappointingly few saplings and young trees. However, there were scattered seedlings of many of the tree species, so this might possibly indicate a recent reduction in grazing pressure. Dead and fallen trees provide a valuable habitat and it was good to see them left in situ.

Although we are primarily a botany group, we are interested in other taxa too and we are fortunate that some of our members have other specialist knowledge. We were able therefore to record a number of invertebrates and compile a bird list. Notable among the birds seen were a pair of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus and Green Woodpecker Picus viridis.

My sincere thanks as always to the other members of the group for their observations, their knowledge and their company.

  1. Crawford, C, L. (2009). Ancient Woodland Indicator Plants in Scotland. Scottish Forestry Vol 63 No. 1 p.6-19.


Sarah White

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