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Great discovery in a Great Welsh Wood

Welsh botanists beaming after making an incredibly rare discovery

January 26 2012

Enterographa sorediata at the site of its discovery © Tim Wilkins / Plantlife

Enterographa sorediata at the site of its discovery © Tim Wilkins / Plantlife

Whilst exploring one of Wales’ most historic woodlands, Welsh conservationists made a surprising discovery. Hidden in the ancient grounds of Gregynog Hall in Powys, Plantlife experts have found an internationally important lichen that has never been seen in Wales before.

“The discovery of this lichen – which looks like elephant-grey paint has been applied to the tree - adds further importance to an already special area" says Plantlife lichen expert Ray Woods.

"We used a hair dye chemical to help identify it. When applied, the lichen turned an intense red brown, whereas similar looking but commoner lichens wouldn’t produce this colour change. Wales is globally important for lichens because of our mild, damp climate, amazingly varied landscape and lots of wonderful and internationally rare veteran trees. New discoveries like this only add to how special this country is for these extraordinary organisms”

The lichen found at the Great Wood has the scientific name of Enterographa sorediata which could be translated as the “floury-granuled internal-writing lichen”. On its surface there are patches of flour-like granules, whilst if you scratch the grey bits the black, scribble-like fruits are revealed. This lichen has never been found outside of the British Isles -it only survived at Gregynog because the landed gentry had a passion for parkland and the picturesque look of the knarled ancient trees on which lichen thrive.

Did you know?

  • Despite occupying only 10% of the total land area of the British Isles, Wales supports 74% of the total diversity of lichens.
  • Lichens are important in many ways. They are extremely sensitive to air pollution and can tell us how clean the air is. The pharmaceutical industry makes antibiotics from lichen substances and some lichens produce nitrogen that is usable by plants. Lichens also provide homes for many invertebrates. Lichens can also be used as a natural dye to colour wool. There are even lichens that are edible.
  • Lichens are a successful alliance between a fungus and an alga - each doing what it does best, and thriving as a result of a natural co-operation. They live as one organism, both inhabiting the same ‘body’. They are not parasites but simply set up home and use sunlight to make sugars or food which will feed both the fungus and the alga.

Plantlife will now add this incredibly rare form of lichen to the Red Lichen Data list for Wales which shows which species here are at risk and how they should be protected.

For more information please contact: Ray Woods on 07792 960725 or email ray.woods@plantlife.org.uk