Monday 8 December 2008

Ballachuan Hazelwood SSSI

I wanted to go to Ballachuan ever since listening to Sandy and Brian Coppins’ visit there on the radio at 6 am on a Radio 4 Living World programme. Plus - any excuse to go up north again, although it is a long way and with petrol prices currently high I was keeping to 60 to ease the burden on my wallet, car and planet. Others, living different lives, pass me at up to 120. Supper is fish and chips in Oban then straight down to Cuan to camp on the sea cliffs overlooking the village. With everything sorted out it is time for a beer while soaking up the blissful serenity of a calm, dry evening looking out on the sun setting behind islands and listening to herons and owls screech.

Cuan sunsetThe predicted rain started before dawn and persisted more-or-less all day.

Andy Acton and Anna Griffiths are leading the excursion. About 20 of us meet up at the church which overlooks the wood which is a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve occupying a long, straight, narrow ridge. Most of it is a closed canopy of hazel with a scattering of standard trees, some of which are also hazel – an unusual sight. Ballachuan HazelwoodThe wood is stacked with rarities but with such poor weather everything is sopping wet, lenses fog up and searching is harder. I don’t find any of the Scotland endemics (I wanted to snap a picture of Graphis alboscripta) but Andy identifies Leptogium brebissonii, Nectriopsis lacanodesThelotrema petractoides and Pyrenula laevigata which are new to me. In addition to the usual Scottish species I find a tiny scrap of Pseudocythellaria crocata and spot a beautiful parasitic fungus (Nectriopsis lecanodes) on Lobaria virens.

Leptogium brebissonii Thelotrema petractoides Pyrenula laevigata

The incredible diversity of this wood derives from its great age and continuity. It is suspected that there has been hazel woodland here ever since it was first colonised soon after the end of the ice age. Moreover, there has been little management, maybe some selective cutting rather than clear-felling, and appropriate grazing. The Hazel has been allowed to do its own thing – forming new stems continually to replace gaps in the canopy and hence always providing a hazel gloves fungushumid, closed canopy and new substrate close by for lichens to re-colonise. Another thought: being a linear feature, there is a high proportion of woodland edge for species which prefer more open and better-lit conditions. Another striking feature is the frequency of the rare and spectacular hazel gloves fungus (Hypocreopsis rhododendri), another indicator of woodland continuity. For a much more detailed article about hazel and lichens see:

The visit ends and we go our separate ways. It has been fun getting to know new people even though just for a morning. After lunch I check out an old record of hazel gloves in dense hazel on the precipitous coastal cliffs (far right of picture - a good example of ‘slope hazelwood’ I suppose!). I didn’t find it but it was an interesting challenge to even get into the woods at all.

Cuan coast
Places like Ballachuan hazelwood provide inspiration and a wonderful insight into how nature works when its not messed around with too much.

1 comment:

David Dodds said...

Wow - I too heard the inspiring programme on Radio 4, so it's great to see some pictures.

Love the blog - there aren't many people with your infectious love of lichens.