Botanical wanderings in and around Lochwinnoch in 2020/21

Older members of the PNHS might recall the Thursday evening local study excursions of the ‘80s. For a short period we were joined by an enthusiastic youngster, Jim Blackwood from Lochwinnoch, who showed great botanical interest and promise. Sadly, after a short stay he left for the ‘lights of London’. That was that, until about three years ago when I saw his name on a Lochwinnoch Facebook page. It was the same Jim, and we were pleased to meet up and eventually resume our local wanderings. Jim, by this time was a very competent botanist and me – well, a good deal older. Jim remembered many of the Renfrewshire outings we had made as a group and even reminded me of many lost memories.

We set out to rediscover our local area, plant rarities as well as local sites, that neither of us had seen for those many years. These notes report on some of the botanical species we have rediscovered during lockdown. We were guided by the Flora of Renfrewshire (FoR), a very considerable account of the county’s flora written by Keith Watson and published in 2013. We were joined on occasion by Michael Jarvis, another Lochwinnoch botanist who has surveyed the Calder Glen many times as well as other local areas.

Butterfly Orchids

The Greater Butterfly Orchid (GBO) is frequent around the Lochwinnoch area and probably other areas too. In our wanderings, we looked at butterfly orchids (as well as the other species) whenever we could, hoping to find the elusive Lesser Butterfly Orchid (LBO).

We went a few times to Bowfield Mire, a Renfrewshire Council recognised Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), on the hills above Howwood where we knew there to be plenty of the GBO.  We have examined 100 or more orchids there and I did eventually find one LBO but only one! It is hard to see how only one plant can survive from what must have been at the very least a small colony.

Flower spike of orchid with with masses of flower buds and two open flowers at the base. The flowers are a pale yellow-green colour and the plant is surrounded by tall grasses.
Greater Butterfly Orchid, Bowfield Mire, 2021

Our survivor, say 20 or 30 years old, must have had parents at that time; why did they have only one offspring before they disappeared. Some literature studies are required. The FoR says the LBO is very rare and gives only five current and former locations. The BSBI describes it as vulnerable and declining. Our searches will continue as will our annual examination of the lone specimen at Bowfield. 

Trailing St John’s Wort

Whilst wandering in the fields around Lochwinnoch we came across this small species in a field on the edge of the village. On the edge of a low drain crossing the field Jim spotted the sprawling bushy little plant with its small five petalled yellow St John type flowers. Then we found two or three other plants nearby, Oh Joy. In FoR it is ‘rare in the county’ with only 9 locations; so we are glad to increase this to 10. We informed the land-owner and she was pleased to learn of this little treat.

A low-growing, sprawling plant with green leaves and bright yellow star-shaped flowers with 5 petals.
Trailing St John’s Wort, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Moschatel (named the ‘toon-hall clock’ after the arrangement of its five flowers)

Some 40 years ago I spotted this delicate little plant somewhere in Parkhill Wood but have seldom seen it anywhere in Renfrewshire since. In the last couple of years I’ve been trying to re-find it in Parkhill. I had a mental picture of its habitat and approximate location, but no success. Location plotting back then wasn’t the accurate ‘doddle’ it is now with gps phones.

Delicate looking plant with greyish-green leaves and lime-green flowers.
Moschatel, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Vegetation including and array of differently shaped and textured green leaves and 3 bright yellow flowers with many petals. There are blue circles drawn around the leaves of the Moschatel plants.
Moschatel amongst Lesser Celandine, Lochwinnoch, 2020

In the spring of 2020 Jim was walking by the Cloak Burn, a favourite childhood haunt.  He happened to take a few photos on his phone of some early spring flowers. Later that day when he was looking through his snaps, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a Moschatel flower ‘photobombing’ some Lesser Celandines. The next day he revisited, re-found the location and there was the elusive Moschatel!  He hadn’t seen it in Lochwinnoch for over 30 years. It’s difficult to spot but he soon found it in some quantity in that general burnside location.

Michael, Jim and I later mapped it in healthy populations along the length of both the Cloak and Kaim Burns and we now have found it in a few places in Parkhill Wood (though not in my original location). Michael has also found it in the RSPB reserve.  We’ve even rescued some clumps which were in danger of being eroded from stream banks, cultivated the tough little root clusters and planted them out in some suitable local locations. So it’s doing well.

Alternate-leaved Golden Saxifrage

Everyone is familiar with the springtime yellow carpets of the Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage alongside damp stream banks and in damp woodland locations. Its close relative, the Alternative-leaved saxifrage is much rarer. Jim and I have memories (35 years ago) of seeing it in the Calder Glen just above the waterfall. We couldn’t find it there, but Jim has found it further upstream. And we have tracked it upstream along the Kaim burn for quite some distance as well as in another location at Newton of Belltrees. It seems to be doing fairly well in the local area. It is a treat to see the two species side-by-side and get a good appreciation of the differences, not so easily seen from book illustrations.

Fresh green leaves and yellow flower with green bracts in alternating arrangement around the flowering stem. The leaves are wet and the plant is growing out of mossy ground.
Alternate-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Goldilocks Buttercup

This species, quite similar in flower to other species in the genus was previously found by Jim in the Calder Glen. Our searches this year re-found it but, as far as we can see, only a few plants.

A straggly looking plant growing at the side of a mossy rock. It has thin strap-shaped leaves and the flower stems are long and lanky with a bright yellow flower at the end.
Goldilocks Buttercup, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Clump forming plant with delicate ferny-looking leaves and two flowering stems. The flowers are creamy white and formed on umbrella-shaped branching stems.
Spignel, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Spignel

This species was listed in the original Renfrewshire Local Biodiversity Action Plan as a species in need of monitoring. I’m pleased to say that over the last couple of years it has been found in several places around Lochwinnoch and in a good number of roadside verges around the Whittliemuir area.

Early Purple Orchid

Another locally scarce species, this again seems to be in decline. We looked along the Muirshiel Rd where it was once recorded but it seems that ditch clearance may have done for it there. We haven’t had chance to search other known sites yet, except for one farmland site in the Burnthill area where it grew in good numbers until recent years when a change in grazing has seen it suppressed if not eliminated. We will be attempting to ‘resuscitate’ this colony during the coming season (2022). We also hope to re-find it in some of the other locations.

Wilson’s Filmy Fern

This fern physically looks just like a small leafy moss of damp habitats and that’s where you usually find it, amongst mosses in shady damp riverside banks.

Close-up of the fern showing low-growing, tiny overlapping green leaves of a moss-like appearance.
Wilson’s Filmy Fern, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Narrow burn flowing downhill cutting into the hillside past boulders, trees, ferns and grass.
Garpel Burn, Lochwinnoch, 2021

There are few records for the county mostly up the Calder Valley towards the Renfrewshire Heights. With the assistance of Michael Jarvis of Lochwinnoch, we eventually tracked down a couple of locations on the south-west side of the Calder Valley and also on the upper reaches of the Garpel burn. It is a hard-to-spot plant, and sometimes with a return visit to the same location we couldn’t find it. However, its chosen locations, these rocky little gorges are an absolute treat to visit and search.

Globeflower

This ‘majestic’ member of the buttercup family is scarce and has been in decline for decades. Again, it is a plant I haven’t seen for many years and when I have, it has been just a few plants hanging on somewhere. Jim and I have been keeping an eye out for it and intended to follow up some of the Lochwinnoch records in FoR, most of which were old records. 

Large patch of Globeflowers showing the large goblet-shaped bright yellow flowers on long stems standing proud above the leaves.
Globeflower, near Lochwinnoch, 2021

However, Jim, out near Cuffhill, saw a ‘not quite sure’ stand of tall yellow flowers across a field. A close-up look revealed a great stand of Globeflower, tens of square metres! This was the first sighting in that area since 1956 and was a great treat for Jim, and later for me. In the Autumn we collected seeds and these have been dispersed in some suitable sites close to Lochwinnoch which we hope will take. Next year we could track down some old Globeflower sites and if they have lost their Globeflowers maybe we could restore them.

Mossy Saxifrage

This yet another rarity for Renfrewshire, the few current locations are in the glens and valleys running off the Muirshiel Heights. Being a plant we haven’t seen for a good many years, it was a pleasure to be guided by Michael to a location on the River Calder towards Muirshiel where it is doing well on grassy banks sloping down towards the river.

Cluster of eight dainty flowers, each with 5 white petals and a yellow centre on the end of very fine and delicate looking stems. There are rushes in the background, some green shoots and the rest is leaf litter.
Mossy Saxifrage, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Wintergreen flower stem showing open flowers at the top and old flower buds below. The petals are white and hang down like bells with yellow stamens in the centre. The leaves are pinnate with widely separated oval shaped, paired leaflets.
Common Wintergreen, Lochwinnoch, 2021
Common Wintergreen

Another species with very few localities in Renfrewshire. It is still hanging on at the pathside at the RSPB Lochwinnoch.

Adder’s-tongue fern

This unusually shaped fern is, and probably always was, rare in Renfrewshire. My first find was in 1978 during an PNHS group expedition to survey Midtown Wood, Howwood, led by Alan Silverside. The picture here is scanned from an old photo! We found it in a small area along the edge of the wood just inside the boundary fence. It seemed that cattle grazing over the fence kept the vegetation down but not over-grazed allowing this frail little species to survive.

Grassy area with large numbers of pale green spear-shaped leaves sticking up from the ground.
Adder’s-tongue Fern, Howwood, 1978

Several return visits over the years have proved fruitless. A proper search this summer discovered that a house had been built in the adjacent field and the original bank had been reworked. So, no more Adders Tongue here.

There are plenty more treasures to be found and we are now waiting impatiently for the flowering season to get underway so we can continue our searches.

David Mellor

April 2022

Photographs by David Mellor and Jim Blackwood

Download a printable copy of this article here.

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