Sunday, 25 September 2016

St Chad's, the YNU and Leeds MSc Ecologists.

Have you ever wondered how people learn about all the wonderful creatures and creepy crawlies in Yorkshire?

Have you heard of the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union, Yorkshire's prestigious society for both naturalists and natural history societies - that is now 155 years old?

Have you ever thought -"Is there anything of wildlife interest in my local churchyard?"


Well read on.

Each year, at the beginning of the Leeds University MSc Ecology Course, a day at St Chad's (Far Headingly, Leeds) is arranged with members of the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union and the new students.  The YNU "experts" get their transport paid, and the chance to inspire the "next generation". The students have opportunity to meet people with expertise on groups of animals and plants ... and learn a little about a new subject.  Such people are now becoming as rare as some of the plants and animals they study.

The YNU started 155 years ago. (We celebrated out 150th anniversary in 2011)
It is an umbrella organsation for 45 natural history societies in Yorkshire and nearby. It also has individual members who are enthusiasts in various fields of natural history.

This year Albert Henderson and Chris Young were not running a lichens workshop - so I had opportunity to run the workshop.

You learn by teaching.  :)

I just hope my four students will go away and try teaching other people a couple of the lichens that they learned to identify..

I went to St Chad's Church, Far Headingly the week before to meet Suzanne Dalton who is involved with St Chad's Green Team. She showed me round the churchyard and gave me copies of the excellent Nature Trail Leaflet and the Geology Leaflet.  

I was able to see how the churchyard is managed for wildlife.  The church was dedicated in 1868. It was built on farmland before herbicides and pesticides and intensive fertilizers were used, so there are some remnants of wildflowers and grasses such as Good Friday Grass and Sweet Vernal-grass. There is an area of grassland where the Pink Waxcap (or Ballerina) fungus grows (This was formerly a red data species).

She also gave me a list of lichens that the YNU had recorded in 2003.. specifically Chris Hitchin and albert Henderson 22-23 September..

Leeds at the beginning of the last century had very bad sulphur dioxide air pollution and soot. Leeds still has air pollution due to car fumes etc. The lichen flora is very restricted. "But this will make it easier for teaching complete beginners." I told myself.

I was delighted that day too to go and visit Albert Henderson who gave me tips about running the course. He suggested going to Golden Acre Park. I asked "Does Xanthoria polycarpa grow in the churchyard?" (This is sometimes known as Cushion Xanthoria and is a tiny golden lichen that grows well where there is Nitrogen oxide pollution. This is pictured on the charts that people use for the lichen nitrogen oxide air pollution survey organised by OPAL) I have failed to find it myself near Settle. .  He was surprised I had not seen it at Settle. "It grows in forks of twigs" he said. I was adamant. "It's not there," I said.

I visited Golden Acre Park (X84 bus) and saw the Xanthoria parietiena (Common Orange Lichen, or "Leafy Xanthoria) on the birch trees, and the cafe, and lake, but in the given (very short time) no X polycarpa.

Xanthoria polycarpa - Cushion Xanthoria - see how tiny it is compared to my fingernail.
I returned to Headingly and went for a walk into the south end of Meanwood Park where I found a lime tree with Xanthoria polycarpa on it. Hurray.

I looked at the churchyard again and caught a Number 1 bus back to the railway station.


So the day of 21st arrived.

I came with Sharon and Pete who were to run the freshwater biology workshop.

Rupert Quinnell of Leeds University welcomed us and the students.


Andy Millard told us about the history of the YNU. He showed people the St Chad's Churchyard leaflets.

I took my four students to the Ash tree at the entrance to St Chad's Parish Centre to introduce them to a few big colourful lichens. Previously I had recorded six different species of lichen on this trunk (compared to most trees that have none).

By the end of the day I had recorded 10 species on this trunk!!! It show the importance of looking very carefully, with handlenses.

This tree had some
Xanthoria parietiena (Common Orange lichen) (a foliose lichen), some Lepraria incana (a powder lichen). One girl noticed some Ramalina farinosa (Cartilage lichen or Strap lichen) - which is a fruticose lichen - and an indicator that the air is now not totally polluted. We found a twig on the ground with  a crustose lichen on it - Lecanora chlarotera - with pale fawn-pink "jam tarts"-like reproductive bodies. Physcia tenella is present, as may be Physcia adscendens

We returned to the parish centre. Other groups were beavering away: Snails, Spiders, Fungi, Flowers; Plant Galls, Insects

 In time it got quieter as other groups departed to look for specimens outside. I gave a formal introduction to lichens.
I showed them three crustose lichens on rocks I had brought in from near Settle, including the bright orange Caloplaca flavescens; and some lovely "Old Man's Beard Lichen (Usnea) from Scotland

Then we went to a table where Clare and Mark from the North & East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre gave us a talk on recording systems and centres.
This is actually the "Flowers" group learning about DataBases

We had a look at the NBN gateway too - I asked to see the distribution of Xanthoria polycarpa - and indeed it had NOT been recorded close to Settle.

It must be about ten years since I attended a YNU conference when we leaned about NEYEDC and Data bases. 

It was a then rapidly developing subject, and a standard system had not quite stabilised.

Guess what. 

It is still a rapidly developing subject and a standard system has not quite stabilised.. 

"Sometimes projects get funding and they use the funding to develop an "App" for collecting online data for their project. But thought has not always been given to what happens to the data after their project has finished.." Mark said.

Any idea of going to Golden Acre Park was scrapped as we finally got outside -- into the churchyard and  --  sat down for lunch.

It was great to have a whole day to look at things carefully.
Porpidia tuberculosa - (sometimes called cigarette ash lichen) on acid rock.
See St Chad's spire in the distance -
and see how blackened the spire is by soot)

On lime-rich tombstones we found other species, some whose reproductive bodies are found in tiny holes dissolved the rock.

The Geology rail alerted us to ripple marks on the huge slab of Elland Sandstone at the entrance to the church: to special marks left by stone-masons on the outside of the lady-chapel (recycled old stone from much older buildings was used when this extension was built in 1911); to the tall Portland Stone obelisk. Portland Stone comes from the Isle of Portland in Dorset. The same rock is used for Leeds Civic Hall and the University clock tower. The leaflet says "It was a popular building stone in cities because unlike sandstone for example, the solution effect meant that it remained fairly clean.". Some curved fossil oyster shells are protruding 2 to 3mm from the surface - showing that this much limestone has dissolved.
We met other groups. Bill Ely showed us galls on beech leaves -  the Beech Leaf Miner  Phyllonorycter messaniella  and the Hairy Beech Gall caused by Hartigola annulipes 

We went back to the original Ash tree. I noticed a minute yellow lichen.

I had thought it might be a Candelariella .
Later, after the students had gone, I had time to test it with KOH.
It went red. 
So not Candelariella (which does not react with KOH). It must be another species of Xanthoria.

See it - a teeny weeny foliose lichen growing amongst the grey Physcia. See my finger nail for scale

It is the Xanthoria candelaria group  ( either X candelaria or X ucrainica). (Both grow in Nitrogen Oxide  polluted areas).
the 2003 YNU list had 44 lichens. We had found 20.

So our group had found 20 lichens, 2 algae, a Rove-beetle, a Harlequin Ladybird larva, some Bootlace (or Honey) Fungus and two Beech Galls. Not bad!!

Holding Dobson's book for identifying lichens

To find out more about Yorkshire Naturalist Union Events visit

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