Dumfriesshire Botany Group at Chanlockfoot SSSI, 18th May 2024

Five of the group met on a warm day in the valley of the Scaur Water to take a closer look at the plants growing in the Chanlockfoot SSSI by kind permission of Queensberry Estates who gave access permission.

The designated feature of the SSSI is upland mixed ash woodland. The ash woodland has an understory of hazel and a rich ground layer of herbaceous vegetation . Other features mentioned in the citation include breeding birds and scotch argus butterfly.

The SSSI includes a narrow strip of woodland along the Scaur Water as well as two named woods, Glenscoben at the north end and Back Wood at the south end. The Scaur Water section has a different nature to the main woodland. Along the Scaur Water the woodland survives on the rocky and shingle banks of the river and are subject to high flood events as could be seen from the debris stuck in the trees near to road level from this past winter. Along the river the dominant trees are Ash Fraxinus excelsior but also Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, Wych Elm Ulmus glabra and shrubs like Hazel Corylus avellana, Bird Cherry Prunus padus and Red Current Ribes rubrum. Under these grow a typical mix for an upper Nithsdale river. On the stable shingle there was Greater Wood-rush Luzula sylvatica and Pignut Conopodium majus, Male-fern Dropteris filix-mas, Golden Scaly Male-fern Dryopteris affinis, Broad Buckler-fern Dryopteris dilatata and Lady Fern Athyrium affinis, Dog’s Mercury Mercuralis perennis and Wild Garlic Allium ursinum. One unusual plant found here is Sweet Spurge Euphorbia dulcis a non native now well established in the riverside flora here and in the Cairn water.

Where rocks are more open and there is some shelter from the strongest flows Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris and Sanicle Sanicula europaea was present. We found a plant of Goldilocks Buttercup Ranunculus auricomius that had finished flowering and were initially fooled by the rounded crenate basal leaves. The spectacle here though was a big growth of Globeflower Trollius europaeus in full flower.

On the rocks there were a number of lichens that Ranald was listing. One of these was Dermatocarpon luridum, a lichen that grows on rocks at or below normal flow level drying to grey but turning bright green when in water. It is a feature of clean northern and western fast flowing rivers and streams.

Across the road from the Scaur Water we briefly explored the lower area of the main woodland. This was damp and has a strong growth of Dog’s Mercury, Wild Garlic Allium ursinum and Upland Enchanter’s-nightshade Circaea x intermedia and a shrub layer with Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus. Along the edge of the wood there was plenty of Water Avens Geum rivale and its hybrid with Herb Bennet Geum urbanum – Hybrid Avens Geum x intermedium. There was Orpine Hylotelephium telephium along the road side edge of the wood.

We had to cross a field to reach the main block of woodland at its northern end. From here you can see the steepness of the woodland which includes some rocky outcrops and scree. Above the SSSI the very steep hillside continues upwards and was presumably once wooded as well. We were immediately into a typical old deciduous woodland with a carpet of Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta. On steep slopes we soon discovered that they form a very slippery mat as they lie flay after heavy rain. We stopped for lunch amongst an open Hazel understory.

There were occasional large Beech scattered through the wood but they did not seem to be seeding readily unlike the Ash which was present as seedlings of various sizes throughout. The vegetation in this higher section of the woodland was typical of this kind of woodland with Greater Stichwort Stellaria holostea, False Brome Brachypodium sylvaticum and Red Campion Silene dioica. And more Sanicle Sanicula europaea. As would be expected patches of Beech Fern Phegopteris connectalis and Oak Fern Gymnocarpium dryopteris were also found.

The wood has an upper level above a still largely intact stane dyke. This is on the slopes of Druid Hill and if anything is even steeper than the lower part of Back Wood. It is predominantly Birch Betula sp. woodland and has more rocky ground and scree patches. On these there was Maidenhair Speenwort Asplenium trichomanes ssp trichomanes and Goldenrod Solidago vigaurea but being well drained it lacked the diversity of the lower woodland.

The descent from the higher level needed care given the hidden rocks, branches and slippery Bluebells. We made it back to road level and walked back to the cars, Here one final highlight was to find a pair of Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca using a nest box. We had heard them in the SSSI but not had good views. But here the male and female seemed relaxed about our presence and gave fine views of this western woodland specialist.

The total species recorded was 128.


Chris Miles

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

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