Lichens in the Highlands
The 30th Season of the Tain and District Field Club Lectures,
12th January 2010
A lecture Describing Lichens in the Highlands by Dave Genney (SNH)
The fifth lecture in the Winter programme was “Lichens in the Highlands” and was presented with great knowledge and enthusiasm by Dr Dave Genney of SNH. This fascinating talk was accompanied by some stunning close-up photography of these beautiful and often overlooked plant-like organisms.
Each lichen is a composite of a fungus and an alga, and the growth forms are various, from a crust, as here,
|to branched and possibly quite leafy.|
Their ecology can be complex. The audience was taken on a rapid tour of the habitats where lichens occur – which is pretty much everywhere! e.g. mountain tops, peatland, woodland, sand dunes. They have no root system as such, but attach to surfaces, such as the bark of trees and shrubs (but do not harm them) and rocks/stones. Most people will have seen how they can provide living decoration to gravestones with their subtly coloured patches, swirls and circles.
There are over 2000 species in the UK, with the majority occurring in the damper and cooler areas such as the west of Scotland, which is amongst the richest lichen areas in Europe. Many also cope well with extreme conditions of drought and cold, but do not do so well where the air is polluted. If you have lots of species of lichens growing in your garden, then you know your environment is a healthy one.
However, lichens are slow-growing and therefore easily destroyed, especially those in native woodlands, which if clear felled, the full lichen population is unlikely to ever recover. Why bother? Well, apart from the associated insects, snails etc and the food chain aspects, lichen chemicals have already proved valuable as dyes and primitive antibiotics. Their full potential is still untapped…..
Next lecture: “Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project”, at :
7.30 on 9th Feb in Tain Parish Church Hall.