Lichens in Kidland Forest

Student Jessica Davison previous completed our Young Ranger Placement Scheme and has continued to volunteer her time helping with environmental schemes such as our lichen surveys. Currently on her gap year, she will be continuing studying Environmental Sciences later this year. You can read her first blog here.

What are lichens? Lichens are symbiotic, meaning they consist of two organisms mutualistically associated. One of which is a fungus and the other an algae and/or cyanobacteria.

Fungi require carbon as a food source, to which the algae can produce by photosynthesis. They are bio-indicators of air quality and are very sensitive to pollutants. This is due to the way at which they uptake nutrients from the atmosphere across their entire surface. As they don’t have a cuticle, they don’t have a means of controlling what chemicals they uptake – making them sensitive to atmospheric pollution.

As a consequence of this, during the industrial revolution, the atmospheric concentration of sulphur dioxide rose, causing the extinction of certain species of lichen present in lowland Britain.

Lichen Survey - Kidland Forest 13th March 2020

Kidland Forest is situated north of the hamlet of Alwinton on the river Alwin, one of many tributaries of the river Coquet. The forest is 2100 hectares of wild moorland and fell, of which 1200 hectares is owned by Forestry England, predominated by Sitka spruce. My walk was 12.3 miles, with approximately 2000-foot accent. Not an easy walk to do alone, so I was accompanied by my dad and the dog. It was going to be an adventure into the unknown.

We left the hamlet initially along Clennell Street and were quickly descending Cross Dyke, a prehistoric land boundary, to meet the Alwin at the entrance of the forest. The open moorland offered stunning views, to the north snow topped Cushat Law could be seen above the treeline white against the moody sky. To the south the low winter sun illuminating the valley, so far the open moorland offered no suitable lichen habitat.

A river cutting through the hilly moorland

There was clear evidence of recent felling at the entrance to Kidland Forest. It is not unknown for tree stumps to be colonized by common lichen such as Evernia prunastri, but there was none to be seen as of yet.

We were enjoying the walk along the red stone road. Connie was having a great time chasing her ball when we came across our first two species of lichen, Evernia prunastri and Usnea subfloridana both clinging to a gnarled old spruce. An observation I have made from my previous excursions is that spruce don’t normally harbour many variations of lichen, unlike deciduous trees. However, there are odd circumstances where I have found three or four species in the right conditions on spruce – this observation held true with further finds throughout the day.

Lichens covering a tree

We were quickly into the second 2km square of the day, more spruce appeared with an abundance of;

  • Evernia prunastri – Oakmoss lichen
  • Usnea subfloridana – Bearded lichen
  • Ramalina farinacea – Shaggy Strap lichen, which has pale oval disc’s along its edges of pendulous lobes.
  • Usnea filipendula – Fishtail lichen
Shaggy Strap Lichen photograph

Shaggy Strap Lichen

Fishbone lichen photograph

Fishbone lichen

Even though this woodland was predominantly spruce, there were also copses of silver birch in various areas. Following Yoke Burn to the most northerly point of the walk, I came across a new species of lichen present on some silver birch. This lichen is called Ramalina fastigiata also known as Dotted Ribbon lichen. The common name comes from the fruiting bodies which are disc shaped (apothecia) at the end of each branch. They produce spores, a reproductive strategy for lichen. As a result, I had found 5 species of lichen in this 2km square.

Dotted Ribbon Lichen photograph

Dotted Ribbon Lichen

Once at the most northerly point of the walk we took a sharp turn south along the public footpath towards Dryhope Hill. We had hit the snow line, the walking was difficult as the paths undefined and not well worn. Thankfully we had ViewRanger to help pinpoint our location. We were soon high enough to  look over the felled areas of Kidland Forest, unfortunately unable to locate any lichens but the view certainly made up for any slight disappointment on the lichen front.

felled areas of Kidland Forest

After stopping off for lunch we quickly stumbled across Milkhope cottage, now used as an outdoor centre, it doesn’t get much more remote than this. Pseudevernia furfuracea, Antler lichen was abundant on the old perimeter fence posts.

Pseudevernia furfuracea lichen

Pseudevernia furfuracea

Descending back to the Yoke Burn we headed across a footbridge towards Kidlandlee. The ascent was tiresome being completely felled and very steep with barely a path to follow, even Connie was running out of puff. As we neared the top of the climb, we looked back towards the stunning snow topped Cushet Law on the horizon.

A view of a forest in the National Park

The challenging climb led to Kidlandlee, where I came across young silver birches, harbouring Ramalina fastigiata, Usnea subfloridana, Evernia prunastri and Ramiliana fastigina then on to Wholehope.

We headed back to Alwinton via Clennell Street, the ancient drovers road which stretches over the hills to the Scottish border. No lichens were able to be surveyed here as this was open heavily grazed moorland. Eventually making it back to the car after a hard day on the hill.

Hopefully when we are back to normality, we will venture back into this isolated forest.