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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

The Leodebeste Rocky Outcrop (by Ken Butler)

2 miles north of Latheronwheel is the Hill of Leodebeste an undistinguished peat-cover hill. The rock beneath is the Old Red sandstone, but it is a variety that is rich in calcium and other minerals. Because the flagstone is somewhat impervious in the vertical direction, the groundwater flows horizontally along the strata and collects dissolved salts from the rock as it proceeds. It emerges on the lower sides of the hill, enriching the soil of Landhallow, Leodebeste and Guidebeste as well as the Smerral valley. At one part the hillside becomes a rocky outcrop and here the rich groundwater emerges undiluted and dribbles down the outcrop to form a shallow marsh on a level plateau below. The centre of the outcrop is at ND184346.

This is a known site for Juniper, so it was due to be surveyed as part of the Juniper Survey (described in Bulletin Vol 7 No 2 April 2006 pp 39-40). It was also due to be surveyed for all other vascular plants as part of the post-2000 mapping of all plants by the Botanical Society of the British Isles.

I surveyed the site on three occasions through the summer of 2006.

51 shrubs of juniper were found. All were Juniperus communis ssp. communis and were 200mm to 1 metre in height. The table below gives the details of their location and numbers. They are marked in the second column as male (m) or female (f) or indeterminate (?) and the females as having berries (b) or not having berries (nb) . Apart from the ones with berries, where the sex of the plant is obvious, the plants were examined with a x10 hand lens to sex them by recognising the male or female flowers in the months of May and June.

Of the 51 plants:

11 were male, 35 were female
13 of the females had berries and 22 had no berries
5 were young seedlings perhaps 2 years old
None of the plants were damaged by grazing, nor did any appear to be very old and dying i.e. all the plants were healthy.
All were on the grassy parts of the rocky outcrop; there were none in the flat marshy ground below nor any in the peaty ground above.

Juniper records for Leodebeste outcrop (ND184346)


Number & Sex




ND 18463 34646

1m + 2f(b)



ND18468 34625 to

2m + 5f(b) + 2f(nb)


In a line along the

ND 18477 34594

+ 2?



ND 18485 34579




ND 18491 34559

1m + 1f(nb)



ND 18497 34555

1m + 1f(b)



ND 18494 34572

1m + 3f(b) + 5f(nb)



ND 18481 34636




ND 18477 34647

1m + 1f(b) + 3f(nb) + 3?


3 new seedlings

ND 18477 34662

1m + 3f(nb)



ND 18456 34751

1m + 1f(b) + 1f(nb)



ND 18433 34797

2m + 2f(nb)



I conclude that this is a healthy juniper site with evidence of regeneration.

The other vascular plants were recorded simply as a list for the site, which includes the outcrop, the marshy ground below, the peaty ground at the top of the outcrop and the weedy roadside. The total list is given below





Juniperus communis subsp. Communis


Agrostis capillaris

Common Bent

Alchemilla glabra

Lady's Mantle

Antennaria dioica

Mountain Everlasting

Anthoxanthum odoratum

Sweet Vernal Grass

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi


Asplenium adiantum-nigrum

Black Spleenwort

Asplenium trichomanes

Maidenhair Spleenwort

Bellis perennis


Betula pubescens

Downy Birch

Calluna vulgaris

Heather / Ling / Common Heather

Cardamine pratensis

Cuckooflower / Lady's Smock / Milk-maids

Carex dioica

Dioecious Sedge / Separate-headed Sedge

Carex flacca

Glaucous Sedge

Carex nigra

Common Sedge

Carex panicea

Carnation Sedge

Carex pulicaris

Flea Sedge

Cerastium fontanum

Common Mouse-ear

Cirsium arvense

Creeping Thistle

Cirsium vulgare

Spear Thistle

Danthonia decumbens


Equisetum sylvaticum

Wood Horsetail

Erica cinerea

Bell Heather

Erica tetralix

Cross-leaved Heath

Euphrasia officinalis agg.


Festuca rubra agg.

Red Fescue

Filipendula ulmaria


Fragaria vesca

Wild Strawberry

Galium boreale

Northern Bedstraw

Galium verum

Lady's Bedstraw

Hieracium aggregate


Holcus lanatus


Potentilla erecta subsp. Erecta


Primula vulgaris


Prunella vulgaris


Pteridium aquilinum

Bracken / Brake

Ranunculus repens

Creeping Buttercup

Rosa pimpinellifolia

Burnet Rose

Rumex acetosa

Common Sorrel

Salix aurita

Eared Willow

Salix repens

Creeping Willow

Schoenus nigricans

Black Bog-rush

Solidago virgaurea


Sorbus aucuparia

Rowan / Mountain Ash

Succisa pratensis

Devil's-bit Scabious

Taraxacum aggregate


Thalictrum alpinum

Alpine Meadow-rue

Thymus polytrichus

Wild Thyme

Trifolium repens

White Clover

Veronica serpyllifolia

Thyme-leaved Speedwell

Viola riviniana

Common Dog-violet

Hypericum pulchrum

Slender St. John's-wort / Elegant St. John's Wort

Hypochaeris radicata

Cat's-ear / Common Catsear

Juncus articulatus

Jointed Rush

Juncus conglomeratus

Compact Rush

Juncus squarrosus

Heath Rush

Lathyrus linifolius

Bitter-vetch / Bitter Vetchling

Leontodon autumnalis

Autumnal Hawkbit

Linum catharticum

Fairy Flax / Purging Flax

Lotus corniculatus

Common Bird's-foot-trefoil

Luzula campestris

Field Wood-rush

Molinia caerulea

Purple Moor-grass

Orchis mascula

Early-purple Orchid

Parnassia palustris

Grass of Parnassus

Pedicularis palustris

Marsh Lousewort / Red Rattle

Pedicularis sylvatica


Pinguicula vulgaris

Common Butterwort

Plantago lanceolata

Ribwort Plantain

Plantago maritima

Sea Plantain

Polygala vulgaris

Common Milkwort

This is a typical list from a northern upland grassland and reflects the presence of calcium and other minerals in the soil. Notable species are the Alpine Meadow-rue, which is a true alpine reflecting the cold and exposed conditions, Early-purple Orchid which likes thin mineral-rich soil, Black Bog-rush, which likes mineral-rich groundwater to flow past it and, of course, Juniper.

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