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,

Tephromela atra surrounded by ochrolechia parella

Tephromela atra surrounded by ochrolechia parella


Spaerophorus fragilis

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…..

Links 1, 23, 4, 5

Next lecture: “Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project”, at :
7.30 on 9th Feb in Tain Parish Church Hall.

One Response to “Lichens in the Highlands”

  1. Admin says:

    Dr Genney has offered the following list of sources for identifying lichen.

    Also, he is assembling an email list of interested people, interested in lichen, that is. If you wish to be on that list contact him, as below.

    Here is is resource list:

    I would recommend the following resources to help you get started:

    1) Lichens: An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species . This contains photographs, maps, keys and descriptions for many British lichens and a good way to get a comprehensive overview of what’s out there.

    2) The British Lichens web site is a fabulous resource of photos to help with identification

    3) Naturally Scottish – Lichens is a nice introduction.

    4) A range of id guides are available to buy as laminated hard copies or to download from Plantlife Scotland . There are more guides in the pipeline e.g. for pine and birch woodland, so worth going back for another look later. These guides are very useful because they restrict themselves to easily identifiable species or those that are characteristic of particular habitats.

    5) Similar to the above, but covering montan lichens.

    I hope this helps.

    Best wishes and happy lichen hunting,


    Dr Dave Genney
    Policy & Advice Officer – Bryophytes, Fungi and Lichens
    Scottish Natural Heritage
    Great Glen House
    Leachkin Road
    IV3 8NW
    Tel.: 01463 725000 (switchboard)