By Matt Keyse
OPAL Community Scientist, FSC Scotland
Two things occured to me as I turned the corner into FSC Kindrogan this week. Firstly I had forgotten just how blessed the area is for its lichen communities.
Only in the depths of winter, with the leaves merely an autumnal memory, are the lichens best observed growing on twigs and trunks – exposed to the elements and on show for us to marvel at. I wanted to add to my little collection box of lichens for the OPAL work I am doing in and around Glasgow and even the car park was littered with a rich array of species growing on fallen twigs, the product of some recent strong winds.
Secondly I was slightly concerned about the hard layer of snow that had fallen, partially melted and refrozen on the front lawn as I wanted to run through the OPAL Soil and Earthworm Survey for tutors to use with visiting groups this year (particularly as 2015 is the International Year of Soils). This posed a number of challenges as earthworm species are known to burrow deeper into the soil when it is particularly cold and sampling them becomes significantly harder with a substantial layer of snow to contend with. How pessimistic I was.
The FSC Scotland tutor team were in the middle of gearing up for the season ahead, looking at their courses, creating resources and matching activities to key outcomes within Curriculum for Excellence and SQA National Qualifications.
First off was to test them on some training delivered last year on the OPAL Air Survey. There are nine lichen types in the survey and I wanted to check they knew their Parmelia spp from their Melanelixia spp (check the OPAL website if you don’t know!). I’m pleased to say they passed with flying colours and even new staff had them sorted very quickly. Chloe even managed to identify them blindfolded which was particularly impressive.
Next came the Soil and Earthworm Survey. After my initial hesitation we quickly found some bare ground under some large beech trees nearby and began the survey, involving some basic tests of soil characteristics like texture and pH followed by identifying any earthworms we could coax upwards using a trowel, some mustard water and some good old fashioned worm charming. Although we didn’t find the profusion of worms I had experienced in this location during the summer months, we did find a number of juveniles and several mature adults including a Grey worm (Aporrectodea caliginosa) and Green worm (Allolobophora chlorotica).
While outside we took the opportunity to brush up on some tree identification, notoriously hard during the winter months, with only subtle clues to help distinguish between one broadleaf species and another. However, once you get your eye in, it’s amazing the progress you can make and before long we were pointing out oak from lime and alder from willow based on nothing else but the shape, colour and texture of young buds and twigs. We even managed to pick out identification features of six of the most common conifers in the area.
As the sun started to set, our minds and eyes wondered skywards as the moonless sky began to reveal a dazzling star scene before us. There was only one thing to do on such a gift of a winter’s night, so we gathered some firewood and ingredients for damper bread and stumbled down in the darkness to the campfire pit.