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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

A Botanical Local Change Project (by Ken Butler)
In 1987 and 1988 the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) set up a project for botanists to walk over certain areas of Britain and record the plants that could be observed. The record included a detailed map of the route taken and the time of year. In 2003 and 2004 (16 years on) the exercise has been repeated as precisely as is practical in order to see what the differences are between the two observations. Each “area” was a square on the Ordnance Survey map measuring 2km by 2km. While some areas such as Kent, well populated by botanists, had the whole area surveyed, we chose to plot a specific track through the area.

The areas chosen in Caithness are listed below. One should in principle be able to note the changes in the vegetation from the differences in the records of the observations. In fact it is not practical to do so. In summary, what it shows is that:

  • About 30% of the original plants are not refound because they are just not noticed the second time round.

  • About 30% of new plants are found which were not noticed the first time round

  • The other 40% of plants are found again.

Hence it is more of a measure of the effectiveness of botanical surveying than it is of anything else. However one can argue that next time it will be better because only 9% of the plants remain undiscovered (i.e. 30% of 30% of the true flora) and we will know much better what is actually there.

The individual locations can be commented on more from visiting and observing than from examining the plant lists.

ND04A is close by Dalnawhillan Lodge and the grassy area at Dail Righe and around Loch a Mhuillinn was examined. They are essentially unchanged over the 16 years.

ND04J is another remote moorland area around the Caol Loch. There is no sign of change in this area.

ND04W is also open moorland and we chose to examine the area around the track from Loch More to Backlass croft. The croft itself is now not used and is overgrown, whereas it had sheep on it 16 years ago. However, apart from failing to find a few farmyard weeds around the croft, it is essentially unchanged.

ND34A is an area that includes Loch Watenan and the big cliff between Garrywhin and Warehouse Hill. This area has changed in that a plantation has been established and various alien plants introduced. The cliff is also overgrown due to less grazing.

ND34J includes the farm of Old Stirkoke farmed by the late David Miller who was a prominent Field Club member, and lately by his son Alistair. Both father and son have been careful with the land and the river valley in particular is species-rich and in good condition. The square also includes a stretch of road from Haster towards Thrumster; here there have been new houses built, changes to the keeping of the verges and alien garden plants introduced to the verges.

ND37A is a very dull piece of moorland adjacent to a patch of conifer forest. The first survey showed that animals had grazed the moor and during winter hay had been dumped for feed to over-wintering stock. The tell-tale signs of farmyard weeds and bare trampled patches were not there during the recent survey which showed the moor to be more overgrown and no farmyard weeds. A clear change of farming practice.

ND37W is an area immediately to the east of the John o’ Groats visitor area and extends to the Bay of Sannick. This area is largely unchanged except for the reduction of farming activity in the strip fields. These are now almost completely unused agriculturally and the array of species found in the crop fields has disappeared. The large grassy area by the sea is still grazed to the same extent and the colony of Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritima) on the sandy shore is about the same.

I conclude that there is no sign of change arising from natural causes such as global warming, whereas there are changes due to the decline of small scale agriculture and the rise of housing development along minor roads.


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