Learning about Lichens

Cumbria Wildlife Trust hosted a two-day event to study lichens with Stuart Colgate from Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre.

Lichens… What exactly are they?

Emily Dodd Cumbria Wildlife Trust Eycott Hill Nature Reserve Foliose Lichen

Lichens are not single organisms. They are in fact a combination of two or three separate organisms that are associated by a symbiotic relationship – a fungus and either an alga, or cyanobacterium (and possibly a yeast). Whilst the independent species (both fungi and algae) may not survive alone, together, they thrive in a mutualistic relationship within large communities. This means that they can survive in habitats that would otherwise be unsuitable, such as wet, humid, or exposed environments.

There are roughly 1900 species of lichen in the UK, 900 of which are relatively common in their specific habitats. As Stuart said, “lichens are a hideously difficult group to get your head around”, but that doesn’t stop you from trying!

To help get to grips with this perplexing subject, the two-day course covered an array of topics, from structure and reproduction, to identification and recording – but it might take a little more studying to become a fully-fledged lichenologist!

After a morning of education, the group made the most of the sunshine by travelling to Eycott Hill on the first day of the course. Everyone kept their eyes peeled to identify the various structures that they learnt about earlier in the day – the ascocarp (fruiting bodies of lichen) were probably the most notable.

Emily Dodd Cumbria Wildlife Trust Eycott Hill Nature Reserve Cladonia Lichen Macro Photography Ascorcarp

Notice the extended cup-shape of the fruiting bodies of Cladonia sp.

Emily Dodd Cumbria Wildlife Trust Eycott Hill Nature Reserve Lichen Xanthoria Macro Photography.png

Ascocarps come in all different shapes and sizes, like the saucer structure of Xanthoria sp.

It was a little tricky to identify each species, but the group were able to figure out the genus by analysing the various growth forms – leprose, foliose, and fruticose lichen were relatively common at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve. A twig was found with four different species of lichen growing on it, and even a few Cladonia species sprouted from the crevices of the drystone walls.

The group was lucky to discover the following on Eycott Hill:

  • Rhizocarpon geographicum
  • Ramalina fastigiata
  • Stereocaulon vesuvianum
  • Ramalina farinacea
  • Evernia prunastri
  • Parmelia saxatilis and/ or Parmelia sulcata
  • Xanthoria parietina
  • Possibly Hypogymnia tubulosa
  • Caloplaca sp.
  • Lecanora sp.
  • Lepraria sp.
  • Cladonia sp.

On the second day, Stuart Colgate began a somewhat mind-boggling biology session to discuss lichen reproduction – a nostalgic experience that brought the group back to their old school days! Although complex at first, Stuart gave all of the necessary information in bitesize chunks, with plenty of photos and diagrams to help understand.

Emily Dodd Cumbria Wildlife Trust Eycott Hill Nature Reserve Lichen Stuart Colgate

Stuart Colgate from Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

Once everyone’s brains were full, the group ventured outdoors to search for lichens nearby. It’s always good to put knowledge to practise, so it was great for people to get a hands-on experience outside. There was a surprising range of lichens, including Cladonia arbuscular and Usnea species surrounding Mungrisedale Village Hall.

Emily Dodd Cumbria Wildlife Trust Eycott Hill Nature Reserve Usnea Lichen

Usnea sp.


There are a handful of books and guides out there to assist you with your lichen learning, so why not start today?

For a simple, straightforward way to record data accurately and efficiently, visit http://www.cbdc.org.uk/recording-wildlife/

To input data from Eycott Hill Nature Reserve, you can visit https://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/join/eycott-hill-nature-reserve-records – but please don’t send your records more than once, or to more than one place.

View this article: http://www.cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk/blog/eycott-hill/2018/04/10/learning-about-lichens


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