Shillmoor Lichens

It has almost been a year since venturing out for this walk. As with my previous surveys to Darden Lough, Harbottle wood, Kidland and Harwood forest, I mapped this out on ViewRanger to help with navigation. In total the walk was 12.5 miles and the weather was stunning. My dad, uncle, the dogs and me all set out eagerly.

We started the walk entering the valley through the farmers gate onto a single track road. The first sight of lichen on the old wooden fence, Evernia prunastri (Oak Moss), which is one of the more common Fruticose lichens that you will come across. Oakmoss thallus is strap-like and their bodies are highly branched appearing in the form of deer antlers. Colour wise Evernia prunastri is pale green and can range to darker greens depending on exposure to weather and other factors. Evernia prunastri and Pseudevernia furfuracea (Antler lichen) are both used commonly in the perfume industry.

Instantly the valley towered around us with steep grazing fields to each side. This was the same area where I helped collect data for the waxcap survey during my ‘Young Ranger Placement’ scheme in 2019. There are specific seasons for waxcaps and they tend to grow on ancient grasslands that have not been heavily grazed but are not overgrown. The waxcap season starts around September ending early November.

Usway Burn

As we continued to walk I was searching for substrates on which lichens accumulate, such as old fence posts or deciduous trees. These substrates were not present, however, on the bright side the Usway Burn was glistening beautifully in the sunshine.

A river snaking through a series of hills in bright sunlight.

In terms of wildlife spotting, we managed to see two foxes running high on the steep slopes above us. This was the first time that I’d been privileged to see wild foxes in Northumberland National Park.

Batailshiel Haugh

It wasn’t until we reached Batailshiel Haugh that things started to get interesting.  There was a collection of young silver birches which had quite unhealthy looking Evernia prunastri. On closer inspection, I had found the jackpot: fruiting Ramalina fraxinea.

Cartilage Lichen on a young silver birch tree.

In the hierarchy of bushy lichens this species, also known as Cartilage Lichen, is one of the most significant indicators of good air quality. From doing research I found out that the properties of this lichen include:
• High sensitivity to sulphur dioxide pollution
• Sensitive to fertilizer enrichment
• Can vary in size, width and number of branches from its base

A hand holding some of the Cartilage Lichen

The Castles

When we passed The Castles, we walked on a narrow path above the Usway Burn. The skies turned dark suddenly, and to our surprise, the hail started falling from Northumberland’s big blue skies. An example of how quickly the weather can change in the hills. It didn’t last long thankfully.

Bushy lichens hanging from a tree branch

Another milestone of the walk was getting to Fairhaugh, a remote 18th century farmhouse situated deep in the Cheviots. Here, I was able to log the presence of six species of lichen: Evernia Prunastri, Usnea subfloridana, Ramalina farinacea, Bryoria fuscescens, Ramalina fastigiata and more fruiting Ramalina fraxinea. The first significant recording of data that day with regards to area covered and lichen identified.


Descending towards the Usway Burn

Towards the northern extremity of our route we descended towards the Usway Burn passing over a lonely wooden footbridge. Here we found two species of lichen Usnea subfloridana and Pseudevernia furfuracea.

Two different types of lichen on a wooden footbridge set in the rolling hills of Northumberland


Before making the first significant ascent of the day we stopped for lunch seeking shelter in a meander of the Usway Burn. Our dinner that day was courtesy of the Rothbury butchers who’s sausage rolls come highly recommended.

A small waterfall feeding into a Northumbrian river.

After our short break, we headed up a well defined path into the very western periphery of Kidland forest. Surrounded by heavily felled land the search for lichen was proving difficult.

Clennell Street

There was very little evidence of lichen on the walk back along Clennell Street, although there was a surprising appearance of Pseudevernia furfuracea on the fibrous material of a fire suppression beater. I also identified the presence of Usnea subfloridana on the wooden frame.

Lichens growing on a wooden frame

Once we made it back to our cars, we headed to the pub in Alwinton for the last time for some while. That very night the government announced closures of all pubs and national lockdown.