The week in Skye was split into two halves, the first based at the Toravaig Hotel on the Sleat Peninsula and the second at the Taigh Ailean Hotel in Portnalong. A total of 20 members attended the meeting: Frank Bentley (Saturday-Wednesday), John Blackburn, Tom Blockeel (Monday and Thursday), Sam Bosanquet (Saturday-Wednesday), Richard Fisk, Nick Hodgetts (local secretary), Frank Lammiman, Mark Lawley, David Long (Monday and Thursday), Sandra McLean (Saturday-Wednesday), Pete Martin, Sean O’Leary, Roy Perry, Mark Pool, Christine Rieser, Martin Robinson (Wednesday-Friday), Gordon Rothero (Sunday-Monday), Graeme Smith, Phil Stanley and Keith Watson (Saturday-Monday). We were also pleased to welcome Sid Clark, the photographer from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh who was accompanying David Long on a trip to photograph bryophytes, and Stephen Varwell and Alex Turner, two members of staff from the Portree office of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
All excursions were in VC 104 (North Ebudes). In the following account, tetrads are indicated in the standard fashion, i.e. labelled A-N, P-Z within each 10-km square, with A being in the SW corner of the square and Z in the NE corner.
Sunday 5 August
Mudalach (NG72M, NG72S)
Roy and Phil decided to record on forestry tracks in the extensive afforested area west of Kyleakin while the rest of us went on to Mudalach itself (which is apparently not known by this name to the locals). Once we’d left the forestry track, the initial going was rough, and we had to pick our way over deep tussocks of Molinia on land ploughed for tree planting. A path eventually appeared beneath the pylons after a few hundred metres. As it turned out, this difficult route was unnecessary, since a path went round through the trees and would have led us to the same destination. We went back that way! At last we left the conifers and the woodland became more natural, with mainly birchwood in the swampy valley bottom leading to the beach at the head of Loch na Béiste, the rather open and young woodland continuing along the southern side of the loch. The swampy woodland had some interest, with much Sphagnum and masses of Frullania and Ulota, including U. drummondii. Heathy and rocky banks supported many typical western woodland species, including Hylocomium umbratum, Ptilium crista-castrensis, Lepidozia pearsonii and Kurzia trichoclados. Keith delighted many of us by finding a solitary Bog Orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) in a flush in an open area, with Lesser Twayblades (Listera cordata) lurking under the heather nearby. Sphagnum warnstorfii and S. molle also occurred in the flushes. Sam found two colonies of Leptoscyphus cuneifolius on birch trees and also recorded Cololejeunea minutissima. Many of the more widespread western and Atlantic species were also found, including Harpalejeunea molleri, Harpanthus scutatus and Plagiochila killarniensis (or P. bifaria as we must now call it).
By the loch the going became very steep and rather too difficult and dangerous for some of the party, so they stopped to have lunch and then worked their way slowly back, bryologising all the way. Radula aquilegia and Lophocolea fragrans were found on wet rocks just above high-water mark.
Gordon led the more tenacious forward party further round, reaching as far as the eastern tetrad of Mudalach, and was rewarded with further species, such as Colura calyptrifolia, Harpalejeunea molleri and Cololejeunea calcarea. Acrobolbus wilsonii, recorded here previously by Ben Averis, was unfortunately not refound. A colony of Trichostomum hibernicum was found a little further up the hillside.
Monday 6 August
Ben Aslak (NG71P, NH71U)
A large party met on the road through Glen Arroch near the bealach, and drove to the end of a long forestry track, courtesy of Forest Enterprise, who had lent us the key to the padlocked gate. The target for the day was the long cliff on the north side of Ben Aslak, known to be rich in Atlantic bryophytes. As soon as we got out of the cars (having spent some minutes turning them round for a quick exit later!) Tetraplodon mnioides was spotted on the gravel of the track.
To begin with, we climbed steadily over boggy acid ground typical of Skye, with plenty of Sphagnum, Campylopus atrovirens and Pleurozia purpurea, but little else to detain us. However, Frank and Christine continued to record in this area, adding Ditrichum heteromallum and several species of Sphagnum and Scapania to the day’s list.
The first crags encountered were mainly acidic, with Gymnomitrion obtusum, G. crenulatum, Douinia ovata, Hedwigia stellata, etc. Further on, contouring round towards the north-facing cliffs, we encountered some distinctly base-rich flushes with Calliergon sarmentosum, Scorpidium scorpioides and even a little C. trifarium.
The crags just east of these flushes were quite strongly base-rich, with Antitrichia curtipendula and Anoectangium aestivum. The cliffs became richer and richer as we went east, with Herbertus aduncus subsp. hutchinsiae in huge cushions and lots of Bazzania tricrenata and Plagiochila carringtonii. Mastigophora woodsii, Herbertus stramineus and Dicranodontium uncinatum were also present. Gordon found a number of colonies of Campylopus setifolius, and went into monitoring mode, marking and photographing them. A fair amount of Paraleptodontium recurvifolium was also found, mainly as scattered shoots among other bryophytes on the ledges. Gordon and Sam found Trichostomum hibernicum in flushes.
Further species were added as we progressed along the cliffs, including several montane calcicoles, such as Ctenidium molluscum var. condensatum, Plagiothecium denticulatum var. obtusifolium and Isopterygiopsis muelleriana. Ditrichum zonatum, Arctoa fulvella and Marsupella adusta were found in high rock crevices. Meanwhile Tom, David and Sid had walked over the top of the hill to reach a section of the cliffs further east, adding Hypnum hamulosum, Orthothecium rufescens, Amphidium lapponicum, Scapania ornithopodioides and Bazzania pearsonii to the list. The summit ridge was also not without interest, and David recorded Campylopus gracilis.
Kinloch Lodge (NG71C)
Some of us stopped at the woods at Kinloch Lodge on the way back to the headquarters hotel to see Plagiochila atlantica. The known colony was duly refound and then Gordon found a much more extensive ‘new’ colony near the path! Several other typical Atlantic woodland species were also seen, but this was really just a flying visit at the end of the day and no systematic recording was done.
Tuesday 7 August
The group split on this day, with some opting to visit the Torridonian sandstone island of Soay off the west coast of Skye, and the rest visiting Durness limestone sites in the Strath Suardal area. After the first group (the majority) arrived at Elgol, David immediately found Myurium hochstetteri behind the sheds at the jetty while waiting for the boat. The rest of us visited it later in the afternoon.
We climbed (over another boat, which was being painted) into the Kaylee Jane, operated from Soay by Gordon the boatman, and had a pleasant 20-minute trip to the island, with Manx shearwaters skimming the waves nearby along with the odd arctic skua. We disembarked in two groups via a small landing craft.
On arrival we decided to split into two groups, one covering the smaller but higher north-eastern half of the island, the other the slightly larger but lower south-western half. Both groups also recorded to some extent in the narrow central glen connecting the two halves. Here the ground is much more sheltered, with some development of woodland. The only occupied houses on the island are in this central area.
The north-eastern party soon found an excellent bog with Sphagnum austinii, S. fuscum, S. subsecundum* and Cladopodiella fluitans, and continued on to the wooded northern side. This had good oceanic communities, with Aphanolejeunea microscopica, Colura calyptrifolia, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Harpalejeunea molleri, Plagiochila killarniensis and Hylocomium umbratum. David found Lophozia obtusa on a bank, and Sam recorded Tritomaria exsecta on rotting wood. Other species here included Herbertus aduncus subsp. hutchinsiae, Ptilium crista-castrensis, Dicranodontium uncinatum and Dicranum scottianum. Mark Lawley nobly split from the party to record the most remote tetrad on the northern tip of the island and found plenty of interest, including Anastrophyllum minutum, Weissia perssonii and, on the way there, Lophozia longidens* on a birch.
The second party went through woodland in the central glen, and then on to sandstone ravines on the north coast and back over moorland. They found a similar selection of Atlantic species in the central glen to that found by the north-eastern group. Cephalozia catenulata was found twice on peaty banks. More Sphagnum fuscum was found in the boggy moorland in the centre of the south-western part, and S. molle was also recorded. A single colony of S. strictum was located after considerable searching. Although widespread in VC 104, this species is by no means common. Mark Pool found Riccardia latifrons.
The large amount of Harpanthus scutatus, generally rather a rare species on Skye, seems to be a feature of the island: it was found in abundance on sheltered rocks in a number of places. Just before leaving, Mark Pool found Ulota hutchinsiae near the point of embarkation.
Strath Suardal (NG62)
The other group, consisting of John, Richard, Frank and Christine, explored the Durness limestone in the Suardal area near Torrin. Most of the characteristic calcicoles were seen, and Colura calyptrifolia was found on rocks in a stream. The party also visited the magnificent colonies of Campylopus shawii growing in flushes at Camas Malag near Torrin; one carload of the Soay party also made a detour to see these on the way back to the hotel. Roy and Phil also visited this area, finding Orthothecium intricatum on the south-west slopes of Strath Suardal. Sphagnum skyense was searched for at its type locality but not refound. The locality has now been visited by a number of bryologists over the years but the plant has not been seen since the type collection in 1987.
Wednesday 8 August
Sligachan area (NG42)
The plan was to have a relatively easy day after the exertions of the last three days. We started in the bogs behind the Sligachan Hotel, but did not reach the best ground. Indeed, the morning was a little disappointing, with little of note except Cladopodiella fluitans and Sphagnum strictum to be found on the bog, the latter recorded by Roy. Sphagnum molle was also collected, and Mark Lawley found Hedwigia ciliata var. ciliata* on a rock nearby. Frank found some Sphagnum pulchrum, but we missed the principal site for this species. Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) was the main excitement, growing in some of the lochans in the bog. We had an early and leisurely lunch in the sunshine outside the Sligachan Hotel and refound Glyphomitrium daviesii where Mark Pool had seen it ten years before. Campylopus shawii was also seen growing in flushes near the river, although it was relatively poor material compared with the magnificent colonies at Torrin. Mark Lawley collected Fossombronia foveolata from the riverside.
Allt Grillan (NG43A, NG43F)
Those of us who were making our way towards Portnalong for the second part of the week stopped near the turn-off to Carbost to survey the Allt Grillan, a small ravine woodland with some base-rich exposures that SNH had asked us to visit. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its vascular plant communities but was unknown for bryophytes. It turned out to be a superb little ravine with most of the typical Atlantic Lejeuneaceae (including Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Harpalejeunea molleri and Aphanolejeunea microscopica), Cololejeunea calcarea, Radula aquilegia, Ulota calvescens (on hazel), U. drummondii, and magnificent hanging brackets of Metzgeria leptoneura. Three small colonies of Radula voluta were seen on damp rocks by the stream, rather miserable-looking material but here growing at the most northerly site yet discovered for this species. More than 120 species were recorded in total.
Thursday 9 August
Sgurr a’Mhadaidh Ruaidh (NG45U)
Perhaps the most spectacular day of the meeting was spent right in the middle of the Trotternish Ridge. Sgurr a’Mhadaidh Ruaidh is less well-known than the Storr or the Quiraing but its bryophyte flora is at least as good as either. We had to drive down a long rough track from Lealt to reach the site, past (or through) such obstacles as a flock of sheep being sheared, rocks and deep puddles, but all the cars made it. The whole day was then spent exploring the cliffs and coires above. The loose basalt rock of the area is highly treacherous, and there were times when I feared for the safety of the party as we scrambled up the steep scree and felt it slipping from beneath our feet. Fortunately there were no casualties and we soon found some of the area’s characteristic bryophytes, which include many arctic-alpine species growing here at a relatively low altitude. These included Encalypta alpina, E. ciliata, E. rhaptocarpa, Amphidium lapponicum, Myurella julacea, Hypnum hamulosum, Tortula subulata var. graeffii, Mnium thomsonii, Eremonotus myriocarpus, Jungermannia borealis, Molendoa warburgii, Plagiothecium cavifolium, Eurhynchium pulchellum var. diversifolium, Isopterygiopsis muelleriana, Anthelia juratzkana, Didymodon icmadophilus, Bryoerythrophyllum caledonicum, and several independent finds of Timmia norvegica. Anoectangium aestivum was seen with capsules, rather a rare sight.
Atlantic species were well represented among the rocks, with Mastigophora woodsii, Metzgeria leptoneura, Glyphomitrium daviesii, Scapania ornithopodioides and Dicranodontium uncinatum. Jungermannia subelliptica and Plagiochila britannica were also found. Perhaps the ‘star find’ of the day was Bryum arcticum*, found by Tom in a rock crevice high on the cliffs, the first British record of this rare species since the 1960s. A number of specimens collected from the site remain to be determined. Unknown to us, Hamatocaulis vernicosus was lurking in the wet ground near Loch Cuithir, waiting to be found by Sandy Payne later in the year!
The vascular plants were good too. There was more Alpine Saxifrage (Saxifraga nivalis) here than most of us had ever seen, and Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) on the grassy slopes near the track was another bonus. Sean found a small stand of Alpine Woodsia (Woodsia alpina), which caused quite a stir.
Sam, who had left us by this time, had visited the Storr earlier in the week and come up with two sites for Scapania gymnostomophila, as well as S. aequiloba and Eremonotus myriocarpus.
Friday 10 August
Rubha Hunish (NG47C, NG47D)
Our final day, with a considerably reduced number of participants, was spent at the extreme northern tip of Skye, where we hoped to see some more Myurium. It turned out to be a spectacular day from a scenic point of view. The weather was lovely, and the views from the top of the cliffs and from the extreme tip of the peninsula over to the Outer Isles, with gannets dive-bombing in the foreground, were truly magical. As for the bryophytes, we found a number of things on the walk in. A bog in the narrow glen below Meall Tuath had a variety of Sphagnum species and Cephalozia pleniceps, and the open moorland contained Splachnum ampullaceum with very strongly toothed leaves (one member was convinced he had discovered a new species!), the distinctive Campylopus atrovirens var. falcatus and much Glyphomitrium daviesii on the rocks. Grimmia funalis also grew on rocks in the area. Earlier in the week David and Sid had visited the site and found Hedwigia ciliata var. ciliata* on exposed rocks at the top of the cliffs but this was not refound.
There was some nice vegetated boulder scree on one of the cliffs above the peninsula, with much Colura calyptrifolia on the heather stems. An extensive mass of Myurium hochstetteri was found growing in a gully in the cliff above the scree, and there were smaller colonies scattered elsewhere. The peninsula itself was rather dull, being too windblown by salt-laden gusts to have much in the way of bryophytes. There was some species-poor bog in the middle of the peninsula, where some of us puzzled over a thalloid liverwort for some time before concluding that it was nothing more than atypical Pellia epiphylla. Indeed, many of the bryophytes here looked odd, presumably because of the saline influence. ‘Interesting’-looking Sphagna all turned out to be S. subnitens, S. flexuosum or S. inundatum, and scruffy pleurocarps were Campylium stellatum var. protensum, Warnstorfia fluitans and W. exannulata. Much of the Campylopus in the area was C. brevipilus. The rocks above the shore had little except for Ulota phyllantha and Schistidium maritimum, but small colonies of Weissia perssonii and Tortella flavovirens were also found.
Archidium alternifolium was seen on bare ground by the path back to the cars.
In addition to the arranged sites, most members managed to visit the well-known Acrobolbus wilsonii site near Broadford at one time or other during the week, with Roy finding a new stand of Acrobolbus there. A number of other sites not on the official programme were also visited, notably by David and Sid (who were after photographs), Roy and Phil (who were based in Portree for the week and so often went their own way), and Frank and Christine (who did some useful ‘extracurricular’ recording in Tokavaig Wood and Glen Brittle). David had more Sphagnum subsecundum from the Black Lochs south-east of Skulamus, and several members also visited this site independently to see S. pulchrum. Perhaps the most astonishing record of the week was Dicranum subporodictyon*, found by David on wet sloping rocks at Eas a’Bhradain (the Robbers’ Falls). This is a well-known tourist spot and bryologists must have passed it by many times without being aware of the Dicranum!
The week was most enjoyable – even the local secretary started to enjoy it after about Wednesday! – and the weather was remarkable for Skye in August, with a significant amount of rain falling only on Monday. The clouds gathered again the day after the meeting closed and the following week was dreadful! Many useful records were made, which will contribute significantly towards an eventual tetrad Flora of Skye, and several taxa new to the vice-county were found. There are still a number of specimens that have so far defied identification, some of which may turn out to be interesting.
I would particularly like to thank Stephen Varwell and Alex Turner (the local SNH officers at the Portree office) for all their help in arranging access permission and providing much useful information, John Birks for providing information on Soay, Duncan Geddes for granting permission to visit the island, and Gordon the boatman for taking us there. Thanks are also due to the proprietors and staff of the Toravaig Hotel and the Taigh Ailean Hotel for their excellent service and hospitality.