Summer meeting 1998: Isle of Islay

HomeEventsSummer meeting 1998: Isle of Islay

25 July 1998 - 31 July 1998

Meeting report

Participants: John Blackburn, Tom Blockeel, Agneta Burton, Blanka Buryová (from Prague), Richard Gulliver (local secretary), David and Geraldine Holyoak, Frank Lammiman, David Long, Seán O’Leary, Jean Paton, Mark Pool, Christine Rieser, David Rycroft, Graeme Smith, Philip Stanley, Rod Stern and Harold Whitehouse.

Headquarters: White Hart Hotel, Port Ellen.

All excursions were in VC 102 (South Ebudes).

Saturday 25 July

The majority of the members attending met at Kennacraig in time for the 18.00 Port Ellen ferry. The weather was windy and drizzling, but spirits were generally high. An evening briefing took place at Richard and Mavis Gulliver’s home on the western outskirts of Port Ellen, after which members went to their assorted lodgings hopeful of a fine day to follow.

Sunday 26 July

Kintra and points west, NR3248 to NR3048

The day did not start particularly well, the party gathering at Kintra in lashing rain. No sooner had they struggled from their cars, however, than the rain stopped; by the time lunch was taken, on sandy banks at Port Alsaig, the sun was beating down.

The ground west of Kintra consists largely of moorland, but with considerable basic influence locally on the coast due to blown shell-sand. As is usual on such excursions, the party took a long time to cover the first few hundred metres. Initially, the bryoflora was not of consuming interest, being made up largely of common calcifuge species. Highlights included Frullania microphylla and F. teneriffae (from coastal rocks), and Entosthodon attenuatus (Funaria attenuata), E. obtusus (F. obtusa), Lophozia incisa and Nardia geoscyphus from the heathy ground above. An already respectable list was given a considerable fillip when a flush just east of Port Alsaig was reached. Plants of interest here included Drepanocladus cossonii, Scorpidium scorpioides and Thuidium delicatulum; sandy rocks nearby, sometimes damp, produced a number of calcicoles, such as Bryoerythrophyllum (Barbula) ferruginascens and Jungermannia paroica.

Lunch over, the party divided. Tom and Mark investigated some rocks just above the shore; the rest of the group struck uphill, passing an old concrete reservoir (or similar) which produced common calcicoles, such as Didymodon rigidulus (Barbula rigidula) and Orthotrichum anomalum, from its sides. David Holyoak also recorded fruiting Splachnum ampullaceum from hereabouts. The party coalesced in the stunted (and, in part, very wet) woodland just to the west. Cololejeunea minutissima* was found here, growing on sallow; Lejeunea patens was seen not far away. A move further westward, onto more open ground, soon turned up Cephalozia leucantha; not long after this, a rock outcrop was checked and was proved to be basic by the presence of Hymenostylium (Gymnostomum) recurvirostrum and G. calcareum. Most of the party then descended into a large gully leading down towards the coast west of the Allt Fada (NR306480); this had an interesting, but not dramatic flora, perhaps the most noteworthy species being Jungermannia pumila. The total ‘bag’ from this excursion was an impressive 153 species (106 mosses and 47 liverworts).

David Long spent the day ‘freelancing’ south-west of Port Ellen. He visited the Carraig Fhada area (NR3444) and the vicinity of Port an Eas (NR3342); the highlights of another useful list (62 mosses, 18 liverworts) were Jubula hutchinsiae, Marchesinia mackaii, Dicranum scottianum, Fissidens polyphyllus and Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii.

The evening saw all those present being entertained by the Gullivers to a meal at their home. This was not only excellently prepared, but also efficiently organised; not many people would have been capable of feeding sixteen hungry bryologists at once in a domestic setting!

Monday 27 July

Duich Moss (NR3355, NR3356 etc.)

The party met initially at the end of a rough track a few hundred metres south of Laggan Bridge. This track proved very interesting, occupying most of those present for a considerable time. Species seen here included Aongstroemia longipes*, Didymodon ferrugineus* (Barbula reflexa), Fossombronia incurva*, Riccardia incurvata and a number of commoner ruderals. After following the track almost to the shed at its terminus, members turned south-westwards onto the Moss proper. Initially this proved disappointing, the most noteworthy bryophyte seen being the locally abundant Campylopus introflexus. Members persevered, however, and after a slightly tricky stream crossing (roughly at NR333561) came to better ground. It was not long before Sphagnum austinii (S. imbricatum ssp. austinii) was found; soon afterwards S. fuscum (albeit in small quantity) turned up as well. Cephalozia loitlesbergeri was found by Jean growing among Sphagnum magellanicum and Leucobryum. Encouraged by these, and a steady trickle of other, less unusual, records, the group continued southwards towards the pools at Eilean na Muice Duibhe. These were also of interest, not least for the presence here and there of Calypogeia sphagnicola* among the sphagna. After this, members wended their way back to the cars for lunch. Most went back by the track; Mark, pursuing a solitary route across the moss, was rewarded with several good colonies of Polytrichum longisetum on the sides of old peat diggings. The conifer plantation by the roadside attracted some attention, as it was seen to contain a few sycamores; these produced some common basicolous epiphytes for the list. Nowellia curvifolia was also noted here at one spot, on a rotting log. The total list for the morning was 77 (54 mosses, 23 liverworts).

North of Loch Fada (NR4063, NR4064, NR4164)

The area between Loch Fada and Mullach Dubh has considerable areas of limestone, which forms incipient pavement in at least one site. The party gathered after lunch by the track-end at NR400639; this spot was obviously on limestone and a good list of calcicoles soon resulted, perhaps the best being Didymodon ferrugineus and Brachythecium glareosum. Progressing eastwards along the track, the group became somewhat scattered. David Holyoak, Rod and Mark digressed onto moorland a little to the north, where the ground was much more acidic and had a number of boggy areas. Mylia anomala, M. taylorii, Odontoschisma denudatum and Pleurozia purpurea were found here, as were no less than eight Sphagnum species, including S. magellanicum. Andreaea rupestris, wanted as a vice-county record, was seen on a rock outcrop hereabouts, but was not collected as it was in small quantity (it was subsequently seen, and collected, on Jura the following week). The three ‘separatists’ rejoined the others at the limestone pavement (NR411642), finding Sphagnum squarrosum in a flush on the way. The main party had given the limestone area a thorough search, and had been rewarded with (among others) Porella arboris-vitae, Bryoerythrophyllum (Barbula) ferruginascens, Hypnum lacunosum var. tectorum* and Thuidium philibertii. In addition, Tom had found Bryum subapiculatum* (B. microerythrocarpum) and Pohlia camptotrachela on damp soil near the track during the walk in. Due largely to the variety of habitats examined, the afternoon’s list included 131 taxa (25 liverworts, 106 mosses).

Tuesday 28 July

Ballygrant woodlands etc. (NR36, NR46)

The Ballygrant woodlands promised to be an interesting habitat, providing more shelter than is usual over much of Islay and also possessing a varied geology including much limestone. Cars were parked by the roadside just south of Ballygrant village (in NR36) and a useful list of common species was compiled from the roadside walls. Of more interest, however, was an adjacent Brassica field. This quickly produced Dicranella staphylina* (almost unbelievably a new vice-county record); further meticulous research by Harold and others turned up Bryum klinggraeffii*, B. sauteri* and Ditrichum cylindricum*. After such a start the woodlands could easily have been an anticlimax; this was prevented, however, by their sheer bryophyte biomass, by Christine’s discovery of Frullania teneriffae almost at the entrance, and by the finding of Neckera pumila*, on beech, soon afterwards.

Members followed the woodland track along the north side of Loch Ballygrant. Much of the ground here was decidedly acidic; the species seen, while providing a useful boost to the day’s list, were in the main common ones. The best were Lejeunea patens, Plagiochila britannica (abundant), Riccardia palmata and Hypnum lindbergii. Spirits leapt when the very obvious limestone around Loch nan Cadhan was reached. Rock outcrops and walls here had Anastrophyllum minutum, Plagiochila britannica, Scapania aspera, Campyliadelphus chrysophyllus (Campylium chrysophyllum), Entosthodon obtusus, Syntrichia (Tortula) intermedia*and Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii An area of partly basic marsh produced Sphagnum flexuosum* (S. recurvum var. amblyphyllum), S. inundatum (S. auriculatum var. inundatum), Drepanocladus cossonii and splendid Philonotis calcarea, while among the heather on a presumably acid rock outcrop nearby Tom and David turned up another new vice-county record in the shape of Barbilophozia atlantica*.

Lunch was taken, in hazy sunshine, on a breezy knoll above the loch; the group then continued north-eastwards along the main track. Limestone was much in evidence beside the path at first, but apart from Marchesinia and Porella arboris-vitae it produced nothing unusual which had not been seen already. Some well-grown sycamores were searched in hopes of finding Zygodon rupestris (Z. baumgartneri) but unfortunately all the specimens collected were found when checked to be Z. viridissimus. One sub-group spent some time in an unsuccessful search for Cryptothallus, but were consoled by finding a good colony of Lesser Twayblade Listera cordata. Once away from Loch Ballygrant, the track passed through relatively uninteresting country until Loch Allan was reached. Even so, there was some interest; Mnium stellare was recorded on a shaded wall, Didymodon ferrugineus was locally abundant on the track, Riccardia chamedryfolia* was found on a soil bank, and Fossombronia wondraczekii* (accompanied by F. pusilla and Pohlia flexuosa (P. muyldermansii)) on soil in a gateway. Sallow by Loch Allan sported Cololejeunea minutissima, while waterside rocks produced a good (but unconfirmable) candidate for Didymodon spadiceus (Barbula spadicea). As a final parting shot, David Long found Phaeoceros laevis* on a bank by the track near Dunlossit House.

As expected, the day’s total was high (129 mosses and 52 liverworts).

Wednesday 29 July

Rubh’ a’ Mhàil and the coast to the west (NR47, NR37)

The headland of Rubh’ a’ Mhàil (pronounced ‘Ruvaal’) lies at the extreme north-eastern corner of the island. Following good reports of the sea-caves to the west, at least some of the party hoped to reach that area. Others, put off by the thought of the four-mile approach walk and (perhaps) by the wet morning, opted to sample the bryophytes of the area around Bunnahabhain, a small distillery hamlet at the end of a road to the south.

Both groups initially met at Bunnahabhain. The ‘headland party’ (Tom, Agneta, Blanka, Richard, David Holyoak, David Long, Seán, Mark and Graeme) duly set off northwards in blowing drizzle, only slightly disconcerted by having to wade a small sea-inlet before following the ‘path’ up a low, but vertical, quartzite crag. From then on the path was clearer, if sometimes boggy; as the drizzle turned to driving rain soon afterwards, most of the group were soon too wet to care anyway. Due to a combination of the weather and the rapid pace set by the fitter members of the party, little bryology was done during the walk in. By the time the Rubh’ a’ Mhàil lighthouse was reached, the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out, so heads emerged from cagoules and started to take an interest in the surroundings.

The coast west of the lighthouse is spectacular in parts, with steep-sided inlets and many sea-caves. David Long, Blanka and Mark descended into the first of these gullies, which sported a total of three sizeable caves. These were all searched throughly in hopes of finding Cyclodictyon laetevirens, which is reported from this area, but without success. There was, however, consolation in Dicranum scottianum, which grew in large cushions on quartzite rock faces; Isothecium myosuroides var. brachythecioides was also present locally. The caves themselves had, among other things, Jubula hutchinsiae and Lophocolea fragrans; one contained a baulk of rotting timber which was well colonised by Riccardia palmata.

The rest of the group had carried on westwards to investigate the caves and cliffs of Bàgh an Dà Dhoruis. They had still not found Cyclodictyon, but there were compensations. These included Isopterygiopsis pulchella* (Isopterygium pulchellum), found in fruit by Tom in a deep crevice on a cliff, more Dicranum scottianum (providing a habitat for Microlejeunea (Lejeunea) ulicina at times), Leiocolea bantriensis (on a flushed slope), Marchesinia mackaii (found by David in a cave-mouth) and Plagiochila punctata (on rock). The party reunited for lunch on the windy headland of Aonan an Dà Dhoruis, subsequently splitting again into a number of small sections. David Holyoak found the rare Lejeunea holtii in a sea-cave (which also produced Trichomanes gametophytes). Mark undertook a solitary exploration of several caves, but again failed to find any Cyclodictyon; there was, however, another baulk of timber, this one with a thriving population of Nowellia as well as Riccardia palmata. An unexpected feature of one of these caves was a seepage of obviously basic water from the joints of the normally acid quartzite; this produced Eucladium verticillatum and Didymodon tophaceus (Barbula tophacea). David Long, Tom and others had gone on further west as far as Port a’ Chotain (in NR37), before heading inland up the valley of the Allt na h-Uamha Móire. Port a’ Chotain had Lejeunea patens and more Isothecium myosuroides var. brachythecioides, together with a patch of Wood Vetch Vicia sylvatica. The valley produced a number of western hepatics, the most notable being Cephalozia catenulata, C. leucantha, Jungermannia subelliptica, Kurzia trichoclados, Mylia taylorii, Odontoschisma denudatum (on peat) and Pleurozia purpurea. Members made their way back to Bunnahabhain by a variety of routes; the weather was by now fine and sunny, and David Long’s find of Campylopus subulatus* on a rough track near the village rounded off a very satisfying day.

Bunnahabhain area and Ardnahoe Loch (NR47)

The Bunnahabhain group was made up of John, Frank, Jean, Christine, Phil, Rod, David Rycroft and Harold. They started by checking the valley of the Abhainn Araig, north of the village; this produced such species as Cephalozia lunulifolia, Frullania teneriffae (found by Christine), Metzgeria conjugata, Plagiochila punctata, P. spinulosa and Tritomaria quinquedentata. From here the party struck southwards, initially to the old quarries at NR422721; these had (among other things) Pohlia annotina, Leiocolea turbinata and Scapania irrigua. Loch Ardnahoe, checked next, produced a useful record of fruiting Orthotrichum rupestre.

Thursday 30 July

Beinn Bheigeir and the Ardtalla area (NR45)

Beinn Bheigeir is in many ways an unremarkable quartzite hill. Most of the party were, however, hoping to visit it, as it is the only non-Irish site in the British Isles for the rare liverwort Adelanthus lindenbergianus. The party gathered at Claggain Bay and the majority promptly set off for the hill; the others (of whom more later) stayed low, to look at some of the old woodlands of the area.

The approach to Beinn Bheigeir, as with so many similar hills, starts with boggy moorland and then progresses to steep heathery slopes. Little serious bryologising was done on the ascent; David Long did, however, find Sphagnum contortum in a Juncus flush. Higher up, a gale-force wind was blowing but this did not seem to deter the group, most of whom were soon investigating the numerous patches of ‘mixed hepatic mat’. Liverworts noted here, in addition to the Adelanthus, included Anastrepta orcadensis, Bazzania tricrenata, Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsiae, Nowellia curvifolia (on peat) and Pleurozia purpurea, while the best of the mosses were Andreaea rupestris and Dicranodontium denudatum.

Lunch was taken in a sheltered spot just below the crest of the ridge; afterwards the party moved back towards the coast. Some time was spent in the ravine of the Allt nam Bodach (NR460562); this looked promising initially but turned out not to be rich in species. The reason was not obvious, but might be a combination of the ravine’s relative openness and its north-easterly exposure. The most interesting species seen were Lejeunea lamacerina, Metzgeria conjugata, Plagiochila spinulosa and Saccogyna viticulosa. Progressing roughly southwards, the group reconvened in some damp coastal scrub near Ardtalla House. A potential candidate for Ulota drummondii was collected from here, but unfortunately keyed out as U. bruchii (U. crispa var. norvegica) when checked later. Large rock outcrops nearby produced Frullania fragilifolia (its distinctive turpentine-like smell very noticeable here) and Plagiochila killarniensis; coastal rocks and sand at Traigh Bhàn had Schistidium maritimum, Tortella flavovirens and (as so often) a large amount of a promising-looking, but sterile, Bryum sp.

Various woodlands of south-east Islay (NR45, NR44)

The ‘lowland party’ had looked first at the wooded ravine of the Claggain River and the surrounding wet heathland. This produced 45 mosses and 21 liverworts, but none was rare or particularly unusual. Drepanocladus revolvens, Heterocladium heteropterum and Plagiochila punctata were perhaps the most interesting. From here they progressed to the rocky oak/birch woodland (an SSSI) near Trudernish Point (NR4652); this had rather more interest, with Thuidium delicatulum, Cephalozia lunulifolia, Cephaloziella hampeana, Fossombronia wondraczekii, Scapania umbrosa and Tritomaria exsectiformis heading a list of 28 mosses and 20 liverworts. This group’s final visit of the day was to a wood near Calumkill, north-west of Ardbeg (NR4046). This again was not of spectacular interest, but 29 mosses and 21 liverworts were noted. The wood appeared to be slightly more basic than the other two; Palustriella commutata var. falcata (Cratoneuron commutatum var. falcatum) and Neckera complanata were both seen here, while highlights included Hylocomium brevirostre and Trichocolea tomentella.

Friday 31 July

Killinallan area (NR3071 to NR3374)

The day began fine and dry, if a little cloudy. Cars were parked by the track south-west of Killinallan, and it is some indication of the interest and variety of the area that the party immediately fragmented. David Holyoak and others went to look at some incipient salt-marsh on the edge of Loch Gruinart; this produced plentiful Hennediella (Pottia) heimii, some of it fertile, together with Drepanocladus aduncus and a sterile Bryum which was believed to be the rare B. marratii but which was still under investigation at the time this report was written. This party then went into the dunes to the north, finding Climacium dendroides, Entodon concinnus and a certain amount of Thuidium philibertii, in addition to common basicole species such as Homalothecium lutescens. The main group was rejoined in a decidedly marshy area which had, among other things, Drepanocladus polygamus* (Campylium polygamum) (found by David Long) and Calliergon giganteum. Interest soon shifted, however, to a nearby rock outcrop; this provoked some discussion, as it appeared to consist of acid quartzite but sported a number of calcicole species (examples being Didymodon rigidulus, Encalypta streptocarpa and Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii), as well as others typical of coastal rocks hereabouts (e.g. Frullania fragilifolia and Porella obtusata). The conclusion was that the calcareous influence was provided by blown sand, which can build up on the tops of outcrops to provide basic flushing after rain; this effect was to be noted on several occasions later in the day.

Moving on in a basically north-easterly direction, the party fragmented again. Mark found a good colony of Reboulia hemisphaerica growing on flushed, sheltered rocks; after this he teamed up with Rod to see sheets of Entodon, with frequent Thuidium philibertii, on the slopes of calcareous dunes. Dichodontium pellucidum was also common here, a surprise for those of us accustomed to finding it by hill streams. The party reassembled in a fascinating area of the aforesaid ‘basic quartzite’, outcropping from ground which had been heavily poached by cattle and which, to judge from the presence of Cinclidotus fontinaloides on the base of a rock, held standing water in winter. This poached ground produced one of the week’s best discoveries in the form of Riccia cavernosa*. The rocks nearby had a considerable variety of calciphiles, of which the most noteworthy were Orthotrichum rupestre and fruiting Marchesinia mackaii.

Lunch was taken, in bright sunshine, near these rock outcrops; afterwards most of the party investigated a large and promising dune slack nearby. David Holyoak said it looked an ideal Petalophyllum habitat, but of course nothing could be seen of the plant (even if it was present) at this time of year. Some banter was exchanged over the possibility of a March meeting in the area, but nothing definite materialised; in the interim the Society had to be content with an abundance of Didymodon (Barbula) fallax, Bryum algovicum var. rutheanum and other interesting, but sterile and therefore unidentifiable, Bryum spp.

The dune belt narrowed eastwards from here, and appeared less bryologically interesting. One small group of diehards (Seán, Mark and Graeme), continued as far as Gortantaoid Point, where there was a local abundance of stunted Porella obtusata together with Tortella flavovirens and a small quantity of Isothecium myosuroides var. brachythecioides. A splinter group, including Tom, Jean and others, visited a patch of birch-hazel woodland east of Bun-an-uillt (NR3069), but found it infested with Rhododendron and bryologically unpromising. They nonetheless managed to produce a list of 65 species (35 mosses, 30 liverworts) from the wood and the surrounding moorland. The highlight was Cephalozia macrostachya var. spiniflora*, found by Jean; others included Hylocomium brevirostre, Sphagnum magellanicum, Cephalozia catenulata (on peat), Chiloscyphus pallescens, Mylia anomala, Odontoschisma denudatum and Trichocolea tomentella. The rest of the group returned to the vehicles by way of the dunes, but do not appear to have added much new to the list. This eventually totalled 92 species (78 mosses, 14 liverworts), excluding those found by the Bun-an-uillt group.

In addition to the official excursions, various unscheduled visits were made to other sites during the course of the week. David Holyoak and Rod carried out a full survey of Richard and Mavis’s garden at Imeravale; they found a total of 54 taxa (46 mosses, 8 liverworts), including Bryum bornholmense*, Isothecium myosuroides var. brachythecioides and Schistidium maritimum. Harold discovered Bryum rubens* in two separate arable fields, one about 3 km north-east of Bridgend (NR359641) and the other a similar distance south-west of Bowmore (NR284579).

The week had been more than satisfactory, despite the rather indifferent weather. Although it appears to lack the best of the western Scottish oceanic-montane bryoflora, Islay was found to be a varied and interesting island. No doubt work still remains to be done, but with a total of 25 new vice-county records (16 mosses, 9 liverworts) found during the week there should be less than formerly! Our sincere thanks go to Richard and Mavis Gulliver, both for organisation of the week and for the superb catering on the Sunday night. Thanks are also due to the management and staff of the White Hart Hotel for providing the headquarters, and to the various landowners for granting permission to visit (and, in most cases, collect) on their land. My own thanks as writer of this report go to the following people, all of whom helped by sending in lists: John Blackburn, Tom Blockeel, David Holyoak, David Long, Jean Paton, Christine Rieser, Rod Stern and Harold Whitehouse.

Mark Pool


Isle of Islay