Summer meeting 1996: Ballachulish, Argyll

HomeEventsSummer meeting 1996: Ballachulish, Argyll

10 August 1996 - 17 August 1996

Meeting report

Participants: Gordon Rothero (local secretary), Jeff Bates, John Blackburn, Agneta Burton, Blanka Buryov√°, Alison & Kevin Downing, Jeff Duckett, Bob Finch, Henk Greven, Roger Kemp, Niels Klazenga, Catherine LaFarge-England, Frank Lammiman, Brian O’Shea, Jean Paton, Mark Pool, Ron Porley, Christine Rieser, Anton Russell, David Rycroft, Tony Smith, Phil Stanley, Herman Stieperare, Alain Vanderpoorten, Harold Whitehouse.

With the field meeting following on from the Glasgow Symposium it was to be expected that numbers would be higher than normal but it is still pleasing that so many ventured north. On a couple of days we had 22 people in the field on one site, an unprecedented number in Scotland in recent years. Many of the group arrived in Glencoe in a downpour during Saturday but were rewarded by a dramatic clearance in the evening and, unbelievably, this settled weather remained with us until the final damp day. Most of the party that I was expecting (and even some that I was not expecting), met informally in the Glencoe Hotel on Saturday evening and the Hotel proved a reasonable base in the evenings for the rest of the week. All of the schedules excursions were in Main Argyll (VC 98) with the exception of the visit to Loch Sunart which is in Westerness (VC 97).

Sunday 11 August

Coire Gabhail, ‘the Lost Valley’, NN/168557, etc.

The wooded ravine that provides access to the ‘lost valley’ gives way to a jumble of huge boulders, also wooded, through which it is possible to scramble. This habitat has many of the common woodland species but also good populations of some plants normally considered to be more montane. Particularly notable throughout the ravine is the abundance of Leptoscyphus cuneifolius on both rocks and trees but, apart from small stands of Aphanolejeunea microscopica and the common epiphyte Lejeunea ulicina, many of the less common oceanic Lejeuneaceae are absent. The community of oceanic-montane liverworts normally associated with dwarf shrub heath over block scree, here descends into the woodland. Mylia taylori, Pleurozia purpurea and Bazzania tricrenata are common throughout and on the best ledges are joined by Scapania ornithopodioides, Mastigophora woodsii, Bazzania pearsonii and rarely Plagiochila carringtonii. Other plants of interest seen in this area were Dicranodontium uncinatum, Kiaeria blyttii (abundant), Sphenolobopsis pearsonii and Antitrichia curtipendula festooning several trees. We had lunch in hot sunshine at the top of the ravine, looking across at the (noisy) rock climbers on the east face of Gearr Aonach. The open, south-facing rocks opposite the lunch spot have an interesting flora including both the frequent Racomitrium ellipticum and the much rarer Glyphomitrium daviesii, the superficially similar capsule shape making for some confusion!

For some this was montane enough but the bulk of the party headed off up the path, making for areas of scree in the upper coire which holds snow late into the year. The walk proved very warm and enthusiasm for the upper screes waned in most and gradually interest was taken in lower rocky gullies until only Jeff Bates, Jeff Duckett and Anton could be glimpsed distantly, heading for the heights. In flushes close to the path Blanka found Philonotis seriata but generally the bryophytes on the ascent were rather dull. The screes proved interesting with good populations of both Scapania nimbosa and Anastrophyllum donianum in the interstices of the scree, and Oedipodium griffithianum, Marsupella alpina, M. adusta and M. stableri on the surfaces of the larger blocks and low crags. Leaving the two Jeffs to be looked after by Anton, the rest of the party ambled back down the path, revisiting some species in the ravine for those who had missed them on the ascent.

Monday 12 August

Bidean nam Bian, NN/141544, etc.

The crags and gullies at the top of the north-east coire of Bidean are well-known for their rich bryoflora and this area was our target. To reach the best ground involves a steep and unrelenting ascent which left little time for bryologising until lunch was taken on the terrace below the final screes and crags. The flushes in amongst the boulders were quite productive with good populations of Pohlia wahlenbergii var. glacialis, Philonotis seriata, Bryum weigelii and Rhizomnium magnifolium. On the rocks Kiaeria falcata and K. blyttii are common and there are scattered stands of Arctoa fulvella. There is a large area of interesting ground here with only time to cover a small part; the area we chose was the easy angled gully that leads up to the bealach between Bidean and Stob Coire nam Beith. This has some basic rocks on the north-facing retaining wall and also holds snow into the summer. In the scree Scapania nimbosa and Anastrophyllum donianum are quite frequent and in the upper basin where snow lies very late there are good stands of both Brachythecium glaciale and Lescuraea patens. On the finer gravels at the margin of the scree there are large stands of Pohlia ludwigii but Kiaeria starkei is surprisingly infrequent. The base status of the rocks was quickly indicated by stands of Orthothecium rufescens and the occasional rosette of Saxifraga nivalis; other species of interest here include Isopterygiopsis muelleriana, Leiocolea heterocolpos and Aulacomnium turgidum. In the upper basin, below what climbers call Hourglass Gully is another rich area with both Saxifraga rivularis and S. cernua and Jeff Duckett and Alain found stands of Marsupella boeckii, Timmia norvegica, Cirriphyllum cirrosum and Andreaea nivalis.

A large sub-group, not relishing the ascent to Bidean, and with an interest in things Grimmia, undertook the long and tortuous drive down the west coast to Loch Melfort, south of Oban. Here the target was Grimmia tergestina on Creag an Sturra, originally recorded here as both G. anodon and G. laevigata until sorted out by Henk Greven. The quest was successful and, what is more, the plant was found with sporophytes for the first time in Britain.

Tuesday 13 August

Coille Mheadonach and Glas Drum National Nature Reserve

I had particularly wanted to show the overseas bryologists a good example of a wooded ravine with a diverse oceanic liverwort flora. Many ravines are awkward places for a large group but a brief visit to the Allt a’Mhuillinn in Coille Mheadonach by Loch Creran suggested that it might be suitable. In fact the burn was excellent, with easy access to the boulders which had good populations of interesting bryophytes (and no midges). Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Harpalejeunea ovata and Aphanolejeunea microscopica were frequent on most of the large blocks away from the main stream and in more regularly irrigated spots Lejeunea patens (abundant) and L. lamacerina occurred. A number of sheltered, steep rock faces in the burn had stands of Plagiochila exigua but more unexpected was the frequency of Radula voluta, much more common here than the more usual R. aquilegia. Also frequent on the upper surfaces of the rocks was Grimmia hartmanii; the gemmae on the upper leaves were visible on most stands but this is not usually the case in ravines and I suspect that the plant is often overlooked. Away from the burn, Jeff Duckett unearthed Cryptothallus mirabilis and a few trees and rocks had cushions of Plagiochila atlantica.

After a convivial lunch (still no midges) we moved closer to the head of the loch, to Glas Drum NNR. Ben Averis has recorded all the British species of Plagiochila here but on our brief visit the dense undergrowth and the lack of variety in the bryoflora did not compare well with Coille Mheadonach. Interesting finds included Gymnostomum viride on rocks in the woodland and a good population of Cryphaea heteromalla high up on elders in the lane.

Wednesday 14 August

Beinn an Dothaidh NN/32-41-

Beinn an Dothaidh has relatively easy access from the north and a scattering of outcrops of calcareous schist as well as some small snow beds. There are a lot of interesting species recorded from this rich hill but the primary targets for the day were Bryoerythrophyllum caledonicum and Odontoschisma macounii. I thought that I could remember where I had seen both these species but inevitably it was all different on the day. Still, the initial outcrops of basic rocks produced some montane calcicoles like Eremonotus myriocarpus, Schistidium strictum and Myurella julacea on ledges and good stands of Odontoschisma elongatum and Calliergon trifarium in peaty flushes. After lunch we scrambled up to a wet crag which proved interesting with nice stands of the rare fern Cystopteris montana and on a flushed rock slab a good population of Hygrohypnum smithii, a new record for Argyll.

Part of the group pressed on towards the summit to visit the small snow-bed areas at the head of some gullies. The fell-field was interesting with open patches giving stands of Marsupella brevissima, Nardia breidleri and Ditrichum zonatum. The best snow-bed was dominated by stands of Kiaeria falcata and K. starkei but also had large patches of Moerckia blyttii and stands of Pleurocladula albescens. On the bealach between Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achaladair, an area of flushed grassland has a small population of Oncophorus wahlenbergii. Despite the fairly late hour some members of the party were keen to see the fern Woodsia alpina which occurs on the west slope of Beinn Achaladair so we made our way north along the slope maintaining height. The rock in the vicinity of the fern proved very calcareous with a number of interesting bryophytes. Bryoerythrophyllum caledonicum turned up at last and there were scattered small stands of Hypnum bambergeri, and an excellent population of Scapania gymnostomophila, another new record for Argyll. On isolated boulders below this crag there was frequent Pterigynandrum filiforme and patches of Racomitrium himalayanum.

Thursday 15 August

Loch Sunart: Ariundle National Nature Reserve, NM/83-64- and Laudale, NM/76-59- (VC 97)

The proximity of the Corran ferry and the good road to Strontian makes a visit to the Sunart area very straightforward from Glencoe. The rocky oakwood at Ariundle is an attractive place with an impressive biomass of bryophytes. Pride of place goes to Plagiochila atlantica which in the best part of the woodland occurs in vast abundance on almost every rock and tree base. There is also a good population of Adelanthus decipiens here, but this was looking much the worse for wear after what has (for the west coast) been a fairly dry 18 months. The southerly aspect and the open nature of the woodland means that other oceanic bryophytes are rather restricted and the ravine we visited was poor in comparison with Glen Creran.

At Laudale there are several small north-facing ravines which cut down through some fairly moribund-looking birch woodland. Despite appearances these are very rich and with the different aspect and rock type give a different flora to Glen Creran. The small Lejeuneaceae are again frequent on the faces of boulders in the burn and in one place here they were accompanied by Colura calyptrifolia and Acrobolbus wilsonii. Alain Vanderpoorten soon found Sematophyllum micans and this proved to be frequent in the middle and upper part of the ravine. Other plants of interest included Lepidozia pearsonii, Metzgeria leptoneura and Radula aquilegia.

Friday 16 August

Meall Mor, NN/11-56-

Meall Mor is a lumpish hill compared with the spectacular peaks further up Glencoe but it has the virtue of an east-facing slope that is composed of metamorphosed limestone with a number of interesting plants. The fine weather had departed and the hill was misty and moist when we set out. The lower crags have plenty of interest with a good collection of the more common calcicoles and including some stands of Orthothecium rufescens with sporophytes and at least one stand of Gymnostomum insigne. The ground steepened markedly above this but an open gully gives access to the upper slopes but it was slow progress. Gymnostomum viride proved quite frequent and there were also stands of Schistidium strictum, Barbula reflexa, Grimmia funalis, G. torquata and a tiny patch of Bryum dixonii.

After lunch we approached the upper band of crags and climbed steeply out onto the upper slopes observing good stands of Hypnum hamulosum on the way. Here there was some debate about the most promising ground and the party divided, the larger group going on towards the western coire, a smaller group heading south across the slope and two ploughing lonely furrows elsewhere. The ground to the west soon proved dull and so the main party returned to the east face to work the top crags there. At this point the cloud came down with a vengeance leaving both an irrevocably split party and a somewhat worried leader. The upper crags and the flushed grassland between and below them have a good bryophyte flora and some rarities including a little Hypnum bambergeri, Tritomaria polita and some good stands of Barbilophozia quadriloba. The descent through the cloud was steep but uneventful and it was with some relief that, with normal visibility restored, I could see the fragments of the party coalescing!

My thanks go to the various estates which allowed access and particularly to the National Trust for Scotland on whose ground we were on half the days and whose staff joined us on Bidean nam Bian. My thanks also to the rest of the group for making my task as ‘leader’ relatively simple and enjoyable.

Gordon Rothero


Ballachulish, Argyll