Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)

Sun 18 May 2008 Edinburgh

A BSBI field meeting in Holyrood Park, ably led by BSBI Scottish Officer Jim McIntosh and Historic Scotland Ranger Stuart Rivers, who gave us an interesting talk about the Park before we set out.

This green space in the heart of Edinburgh, containing the famous landmark Arthur's Seat, has an amazingly rich native flora, thanks to its very complex geology and especially its unimproved grassland which is probably the best in central Scotland and lies on a mixture of acid and calcareous soils.  The Park has over 60 plant species that are rare in the Lothians.

Not everything was in flower yet but there was more than enough to keep us busy.  The photos are of below average quality as I was always in a desperate hurry to join the huddle round the next exciting discovery!  My usual photographic technique is to take dozens of shots and then select the best, but here I tended to stop after taking four or five of each subject.

Ophioglossum vulgatum   Saxifraga granulata

Adderstongue Fern - the Park has over a hundred thousand of these (somebody tried to count them once) in very ordinary-looking grassland that most people walk across without any idea the fern is there.

The white flowers belong to Meadow Saxifrage which is much scarcer; it was on a grassy rock ledge.

Senecio viscosus   Sorbus rupicola

Sticky Groundsel with its furry leaves, and Rock Whitebeam on the skyline above burnt Gorse.  The occasional Gorse fire helps to maintain the biodiversity of the Park.  This often occurs in November as a result of fireworks landing in the bushes.

Myosotis ramosissima   Minuartia verna

Early Forgetmenot was quite plentiful on bare ground and rocks.  Its flowers are only half the size of the common Field Forgetmenot, and the short-stalked fruits are spaced along most of the length of each stem.

Spring Sandwort with its purple stamens is one of the Park's rarities; we had to climb a crumbly rock path to find it. 

Helianthemum nummularium   Geranium sanguineum

Common Rock-rose and Bloody Cranesbill were common in the lime-rich areas of the Park.

Trifolium micranthum   Potentilla neumanniana

This little plant is Slender Trefoil.  It's similar to the common Lesser Trefoil but has less than half a dozen flowers in each head.  On the right is the flower of Spring Cinquefoil, which looks very like Tormentil but has 5 petals to each flower and 5 leaflets to most of the leaves.

Asplenium septentrionale   Ranunculus bulbosus

The day's highlight was my first encounter with the rare fern Forked Spleenwort.  I'd often noticed its odd shape in the books and been curious as to how it looked it in reality.  I wasn't aware of an another unusual feature: it is densely tufted, with perhaps more fronds to the tuft than any other British fern.

The RH pic shows Bulbous Buttercup with its characteristic downtuned sepals.  Another lime-loving plant.

Capperia britanniodactyla caterpillar   Ballota nigra

One of the Park's insect specialities: the caterpillar of the plume-moth Capperia britanniodactyla on its food plant Wood Sage.  On the right is what some of the party took to be Stinging Nettles, but is actually Black Horehound, which, though native in England, is thought to be introduced to the Park but has been there a very long time.  It will look nothing like nettles when it flowers later in the year.

Other interesting plants seen included Sticky Catchfly, which had just come into flower and which we viewed through binoculars on an inaccessible rock.  Also (not flowering) Restharrow, Biting Stonecrop, Slender Thistle, Hemlock, Weld, and (flowering) Crosswort, Viper's Bugloss, Thyme-leaved Sandwort, Cowslips, and a white-flowered form of Common Storksbill.  The Park boasts many other rarities such as Maiden Pink, Dropwort and Purple Milk-vetch, which flower later in the year and which were not on our route.

Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh

Salisbury Crags and part of the city of Edinburgh.  Fulmars, normally a coastal bird, nest on the crags, which are a "crag and tail" rock formation caused by a glacier from the west (left in the picture) eroding all the material around a hard chunk of volcanic rock (the crag), in whose shelter to the east other softer material is protected from erosion, so forming a gently sloping "tail".

Lycaena phlaeas

A Small Copper and a female Sphaerophoria hoverfly on the alien Oxford Ragwort, which is well naturalised in the Park. 


All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer