A collection of wildlife photographs

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Kinder Scout

On the 9th February me and some friends decided to sign up for a task with the Sheffield University Conservation volunteers. Our destination: Edale, and ultimately Kinder Scout. We rendezvoused at the Moorland centre, with the folks from Moors for the Future. Today, we intended to set out vegetation quadrats to assess the species composition of some of the moorland. Additionally, we set out to measure various components of climate, to contribute to a long-term study on climate change. After a cup of tea, we set out for the plateau.

Although originally roasting in our kit, we became bombarded by stronger winds with the ascent of the steep path overlooking Edale valley. As we plodded up the hill, the vegetation began to transition. Acid grassland, marked by Mat Grass, Nardus stricta, Common Bent Grass, Agrostis capillaris, Sheep's Fescue, Festuca ovina and Soft Rush, Juncus effusus covered fields closer to the bottom of Edale Valley. Yet as altitude increased, the acid grassland gave way to a steady increase in Ling Heather, Calluna Vulgaris cover and other shrubs such as Bilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus and Crowberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea. As we came to top of this heathland plateau, the wind buffeted around us.

Almost an hour after setting off, we arrived at a locality near the 'Ringing Roger' outcrop. The term windy did not do this place justice. We sheltered behind some rocks and rested for a few moments. Then we began to survey the vegetation. There was abundant Common Cotton Grass, Eriophorum angustifolium shown in the quadrat below, which formed extensive mats. As it turns out, Common Cotton Grasses are actually sedges. Its leaves were colored red, which is their habitual response to the end of summer and this contributed to a red-hue of the moorland. As you can see, its underground shoots (rhizomes) enable it to form extensive carpets.

Quadrat dominated by Common Cotton Grass, Eriophorum angustifolium with distinctive red winter leaves
Ling Heather, Calluna vulgaris, was also abundant. It was accompanied by Wavy Hair-Grass, Deschampsia flexuosa, with its distinctive rubbery stems, that were quite 'flexy', as its name suggests. Bilberry plants, although perennial, had retracted into their stems over the winter, and leaves were few and far between in the plants of these species. These bare, upright stems still covered a good 5% of the quadrats.

There was an abundance of feather mosses and cushion mosses, as well as the notorious 'Shrek ear' lichen, from the Cladonia genus. Peat accumulates in this moorland because Sphagnum species decompose and contribute organic matter to the subsurface soil horizons. Sphagnum was not present in any of the quadrats that we had sampled. However it was clearly abundant some patches of the surrounding moorland. Moors for the future are attempting to increase the quantity of Sphagnum on these uplands, to enhance peat accumulation, and aggregate soil to reduce soil erosion. These both have positive implications for climate change through reducing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The moorland was covered by Crowberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea shrubs, which remained intact. This was impressive considering the perpetual winds and low temperatures, which apparently dropped to -20°C in the depths of winter. One is held by Robyn in the photograph below. Crowberry have white stripes on the underside of their leaves, which distinguishes them from Ling Heather, Calluna vulgaris. Unlike Bilberry, which supports oval leaves in the summer, Crowberry supports narrow, evergreen leaves.
Crowberry and arctic explorer
The weather was not permitting any more vegetation surveys, as the cold had begun to really set in. We proceeded to set up some quadrats for future surveys, and added a rain gauge to measure precipitation. After plotting the locality of these into a GPS for future visitations, we called it a day.

Retracing our steps down again, through the acid grassland, we reached a river. On its banks we found dense mats of Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium. Trying to keep up with the others, our eyes continued to scan the surroundings for plants. On a road-side wall, we found Rusty Backed Fern, Ceterach officinarum, a local rarity, with just two clumps in the whole of Edale according to local botanist, Karen.

The Moors for the Future was set up to protect the moorland of the Peak District and Southern Pennines, along with its ecosystem services. They engage readily with the local community, and the Conservation Volunteers of University of Sheffield have now organised future training in Bumblebee and Sphagnum identification. There is an open door to complete vegetation surveys on the moor between June and September 2014, and anyone who is keen can sign up at www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk. Despite this shameless promotion, I believe all those who attended thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Feeling thrilled, satisfied, and invigorated, we headed back on the train, gently aching from the good exercise that the moors had provided.

After I thought all the excitement had ended for one day, I heard a familiar hooting sound from the road that ran parallel to the one on which i lived. Inquisitive from having seen so many new and exciting species that day, I followed the sound up the road. Although I walked past it, I heard it again, this time from behind me. I spotted a silhouette on the side of a roof.

I stood peering up at it for a few moments, unsure as to whether it was an owl or merely some sort of passerine. However, it flapped across the street, revealing a pale underside with dark streaks, which answered my queries. It was evidently a Tawny Owl, Strix aluco. I had often heard it from my room, and finally I had caught a glimpse of it! No time for a picture, just the image of it gliding overhead framed in my mind.

I was feeling great. Not only had we accomplished something worthwhile, but seen many interesting sites, and met some friendly new people. I was keen for the next conservation task with SUCV.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one on the tawny owl. Good spot! I'll have to keep a look out in future


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