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Morrone Birkwood ~ Braemar
Morrone Birkwood, Braemar

Plant Communities of the Scottish Highlands/R.S. Callow

Kindrogan Field Centre, Perthshire, 26 June - 03 July, 2009


Introduction. The Scottish Highlands support many distinctive plant communities, each with its own unique combination of soil, climate and history. Some of these communities have been subjected to intensive human interference, particularly over the past two to three centuries. Such interference often takes the form of over-grazing either by sheep or deer but it can be more direct. Patches of moorland are systematically burned every ten to fifteen years, returning nutrients to the soil and allowing young heather plants to become established on which red grouse may feed. More recently, extensive areas of montane vegetation have been destroyed to make way for ski-lifts. By contrast, some habitats in the Scottish Highlands have been exposed to little interference over the centuries. These include remnants of Arctic-Alpine vegetation, which have persisted since the glaciers retreated more ten thousand years ago, and of the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest which dominated much of northern Britain until the arrival of man. The most resistant and therefore natural habitats are the mires. These are the least susceptible to human exploitation. Unlike their southern counterparts, few have been drained. We will visit a wide range of plant communities and consider the degree to which each is uniquely adapted to its particular habitat.

Course outline. The course will consist of a series of daytime excursions, supported by explanatory evening lectures. The aim is to compare broadly distinctive plant communities with a view to understanding their history and ecological significance. We shall not have time for quantitative analysis nor for detailed consideration of the National Vegetation Classification (NVC). Although not part of the administrative “Highland Region”, Kindrogan is an ideal centre from which to explore an extensive range of habitats characteristic of the Scottish Highlands. These include: acid and base-rich flushes, alpine ledges of mica-schist, birch woodland, blanket bog, montane heath, native pinewood, prostrate Calluna heath, Racomitrium heath and sugar limestone turf. We shall aim to visit some of the most famous botanical sites in Britain, including Ben Lawers, the Cairnwell, Glas Maol, the Black Wood of Rannoch and Rannoch Moor. Other sites, though less well-known, are equally rewarding. These include Ben-y-Vrackie, The Morrone Birkwood and Tulach Hill. Closer to Kindrogan, we will find habitats of interest in Strathardle, notably species-rich meadow, glacial moraines and willow scrub. Features of ecological interest will be emphasised in the field, particularly characteristic associations of species and the distribution of “indicator” species. Diagnostic aids to identification will be pointed out where appropriate and there will be opportunities for practising the use of identification keys. Supplementary notes will include descriptions of habitats and plant communities and a list of species.

Please bring
□    warm, waterproof clothing (waterproofs may be hired from the Field Centre)
□    stout walking boots (some boots are available for hire from the Field Centre)
□    hand lens (x 10 magnification)
□    insect repellent
□    small rucksack
□    vacuum flask
□    small notebook suitable for use in the field
□    a standard Flora of the British Isles if you have one (Don’t worry if you haven’t. Floras will otherwise be provided by the Tutor):
      either “Flora of the British Isles”, A.R. Clapham,  T.G. Tutin & W.F. Warburg (or D.M. Moore), Cambridge University Press or
       “New Flora of the British Isles”, C.A. Stace, Cambridge University Press. Any edition of either work will be useful for comparison.

□    any of the following specialist guides (if you have them).
•    “British Mosses and Liverworts”, E.V. Watson, Cambridge University Press, 1955.
•    “Crucifers of Great Britain and Ireland”, T.C.G. Rich, BSBI Handbook No. 6, Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1991.
•    “Docks and Knotweeds of the British Isles”, J.E. Lousley & D.H. Kent, BSBI Handbook No. 3,
      Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1981.
•    “Grasses”, C.E. Hubbard, Pelican, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex,1980.
•    “Sedges of the British Isles”, A.C. Jermy, A.O. Chater & R.W. David, BSBI Handbook No. 1 (2nd ed.),
      Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1982.
•    “Sedges of the British Isles”, A.C. Jermy, D.A.Simpson, M.J.Y. Foley & M.S. Porter, BSBI Handbook No. 1 (3rd ed.),
      Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 2007.
•    “The Fern Guide”, J. Merryweather & M. Hill, Field Studies Council,1992 [ISBN 1851532110]
•    “Umbellifers of the British Isles”, T.G. Tutin, BSBI Handbook No. 2, Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1980.
•    “Willows and Poplars of Great Britain and Ireland”, R.D. Meikle, BSBI Handbook No. 4, 
     Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1984.

Recommended reading

•    “Ben Lawers and its alpine flowers”, The National Trust for Scotland, 1972
•    “British Plant Communities”, J.S. Rodwell, 1991-1995.
•    “Mountain Flowers”, J. Raven & M.S. Walters, New Naturalist No. 33, Collins, London, 1956.
•    “Mountains and Moorlands”, W.H. Pearsall, New Naturalist No. 11, Collins, London, 1950.
•    “Plant Communities of the Scottish Highlands”, D.N. McVean & D.A. Ratcliffe, HMSO,  London, 1962.
•    “The Biology of Soil”, R.D. Bardgett, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005.
•    “The Vegetation of Scotland”, J.H. Burnett, Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh,1964.
•    “Wild flowers of Perthshire”, P. & M. Cramb, 2000. [ISBN 0 9537746 0 0]