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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Botanical Report 2017 (by Francis and Margaret Higgins)

Our Role as Botanical Recorders for Caithness In 2015 Ken Butler asked Francis if he would take over from him as the Vice-County Recorder for the BSBI and suggested his name to Jim McIntosh, the Scottish Officer at Edinburgh; it so happened that David Pearman, a past BSBI President, put both our names forward (as Margaret had done a lot of computer work for him, initially when she lived quite near David in Dorset). We were reluctant to take on the job but, as Jim said, if we didn’t do it, no one would. We were therefore on probation and became ‘official’ Joint BSBI Vice-County Recorders in November 2016. Of course, in the beginning we had Ken as our mentor: we couldn’t have managed without his guidance.

In the beginning we didn’t realise quite what it would involve – we’ve had to squelch through boggy terrain, scramble up cliffs and hillsides, get over high walls and also climb over barbed wire fences but, for these, we now take our special aid out with us – a piece of plastic tree guard, slit down one side and cut to a suitable length to fit into a rucksack side pocket. Perfect: no more tears in trousers!

On the plus side we have been to many places in the county we wouldn’t normally have ventured to, numerous beautiful hidden places, from little burns and waterfalls and flower-strewn meadows, even to an unexpected vast expanse of bluebells on the clifftop north of Rock Head.

On one occasion, last year, we went to Thurso to look for the famous Holy Grass that grows by the riverside, not really knowing what it looked like; we called in on Ken and Sheila as planned, full of excitement, claiming to have found it. We showed Ken a photo. “No, that’s not it”, he said. Disheartenment – and we still haven’t seen it...

We have visited under-recorded monads, have found more sites for Primula Scotica, have found Agrimonia eupatoria, the rare Carex extensa, and also two rare euphrasias: Euphrasia foulaensis and also Euphrasia confusa x foulaensis. We re-found several Clubmosses not seen since 2005 (Lycopodium annotinum (Interrupted Clubmoss) growing with Lycopodium clavatum (Stag’s horn clubmoss) and Huperzia selago (Fir Clubmoss) at Cairn of Gets. When we are not entirely sure we can always send specimens or photos to the relevant BSBI Referees for confirmation or otherwise.  A couple of seemingly rare plants in the whole of Scotland – Adoxa Moschatelina (Town Hall Clock) and Ceratocapnos claviculate (Creeping corydalis) – grow in abundance around Berriedale and we now believe they were termed ‘rare’ because they flower too early in the spring for recorders to have noticed them in the past.

Jim McIntosh, the BSBI Scottish Officer in Edinburgh has been up to stay here in Berriedale to see how we are getting on and is always available to help with queries. On his visit last year, we found the hybrid violet Viola x Intersita, and also a potentially rare hybrid orchid – which, if we can find it again, will be a New County Record.

The Orkney Recorder, John Crossley, has also been to stay with us and last year he and Francis spent a long day covering three fairly remote monads – Morven and beyond – with interesting finds. We are learning more and more species, have made a lot of new friends and are enjoying the challenge of it all. It is a privilege to have taken over from Ken and to be part of such an important organisation as the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.

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