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u3a Botany Group - August 2023 (2)

by Kate - 17:44 on 24 August 2023
Botany meeting at Yesnaby 22-8-2023
This was a day when the weather could have gone either way, wet or dry. Thankfully we were blessed with the latter, even with some fleeting periods of sunshine. Yesnaby is a SSSI site and has three distinct areas of habitat…Saltmarsh, Coastal Grassland and Coastal Heath, with all of them overlapping into each other. 
Eight of the group met at Yesnaby car park and walked down to the “white stone” area, where, firstly, we began our search for Frog Orchids. These are very small and green, and not easily found, but once some of the group found one, then many more were discovered. They tend to occur in groups and we found one such patch with the minimum of 20 orchids. I’m sure if we had had more time, that number would have increased with the looking.
We then moved on to doing a quadrat. Picking a random site to sample, a one metre square of canes was laid down, and, led by John Crossley, the group were encouraged to identify all the plants within the square, and rate each plant as to being dominant, abundant, frequent, occasional, or rare (DAFOR). This method is very subjective, even as to which side of the quadrat a person is looking from. John explained that there was a more detailed method based on percentages of 100%, but for our purposes, the above was ideal to teach us all to look closely and rate what we saw. We then picked another random square of a slightly different habitat and repeated our system.
The first metre square could be described as a cross of Coastal Grass and Heathland, in which we identified 15 plant species including Heath Grass, Ling Heather, and Crowberry (Coastal Heath) and Fine-leaved Sheep’s/Red Fescues, Primula Scotica, Spring Squill, Grass of Parnassus and Foula Eyebright (Coastal Grassland). The second square was more a mixture of Saltmarsh and Coastal Grassland. Here we identified 9 plant species, including Sea Milkwort, Buck’s-horn and Sea Plantains,(Saltmarsh) and Creeping Bent, Autumn Hawkbit, and Fine-leaved Sheep’s Fescue ( examples of Coastal Grassland).
Making our way up to the Brough of Bigging, we paid a quick visit to the Noust of Bigging where we checked out the only Oysterplant (still in flower) growing on the west coast of Orkney mainland. (Also we learnt that the Noust used to be a tinker campground.) On the Brough, Phylida was the one to spot our quarry, the rare Marshall’s Eyebright (a hairy Eyebright).
Returning to the carpark, Phylida (again) was the person to spot a patch of Lesser Sea-spurrey (a strong indication of saltmarsh conditions) with a few flowers almost unfurled, (we needed more sunshine for a full opening).
I think everyone present really enjoyed the “getting down and personal” with the plants and to begin to appreciate how different plant species will only appear in specific habitats. Also it was wonderful that the rain held off for our visit.
Frog Orchid
Grass of Parnassus
Identifying plant species in a quadrat

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