Stroud Town Council’s cemetery management plan has thrown up a study showing that an eminent lichenologist found the three growing in Bisley Road churchyard but national records show no trace.
Using national archives going back about 100 years Gloucester Lichen Group has been unable to find a note of Sarcogyne privigna and other lichens ever being found at Bisley Road Cemetery and they say its presence would be unusual.
The study was undertaken in 1997 by the late Tom Chester, an outstanding lichenologist who instigated the British Lichen Society’s lowland churchyard project in the early 1990s.
Juliet Bailey, secretary of the group and recorder of lichens for the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society, said: “It’s a rare species that usually only occurs in Scotland. We don’t have it down on our records but if the study was done by Tom Chester it’s not likely to be wrong, he was the doyen of churchyard studies.”
Juliet said she planned to explore the cemetery herself with fellow lichenologists to see if the species can be re-found.
“You cannot be sure that the rarities will still be there. They could well be, but lichens are very sensitive to their environment so could disappear with, for example, a bush growing up and shading them, snails grazing them off, tombstones starting to lean so the lichen become sheltered from the rain or exposed to the rain, all sorts of things.”
Juliet said the 96 different types of lichen found on Mr Chester’s study was an ‘outstanding’ record. The report states only two other cemeteries recorded a higher diversity at the time. Another two, Porpidia soredizoides and Psilolechia leprosa, are also cited as ‘nationally scarce’ and 16 more were deemed uncommon.
“These three species are actually rather dull to look at,” she said. “Some of the very common ones are extraordinary and much prettier. Lichens are very small and such things can pass you by but you get to know where to look and when you do it’s absolutely amazing, it’s gloriously colourful, there’s an incredible display of psychedelic glory right under our feet.”
Jeremy Doe, the senior ecologist at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust who compiled the Management Plan said churchyards such as Bisley Road offered rich pickings including glow worms and slow worms.
He said: “Churchyards are good places to go because you don’t have to have access permissions and you can wander around and take your time. They’re not farmland which has been intensively managed and they’re protected from development so you’ll see lots of rare things that you wouldn’t find unless you go looking.”
Volunteers from the Stroud Valleys Project recently cleared ivy from the old tombstones to encourage the lichen to grow.
Some interesting facts about lichen:
- Lichen is pronounced like-en.
- There are 2,000 British species of lichen, more than a third of which have been found in churchyards.
- Lichens are a dual organism, kind of like a partnership between fungus and algae.
- Squirrels, birds and sometimes deer eat lichens. In America hungry bears have been known to have a nibble.
- Some lichens grow less than half a millimetre a year.
- Each lichen has its own very specific ecology. For example, the Psilolechia leprosa found in Bisley is associated with runoff from metal such as copper, which is toxic to most species of lichen.
- Lichens can thrive on limestone, granite, old bricks, wooden seats, and inside the recessed lettering on gravestones.
- Individual lichens could be almost as old as the gravestones upon which they live.
- Lichens unwittingly saved Amazon from going bust. The online company was forced to order 10 books at a time but discovered it could order one book it wanted and nine obscure books about lichens. It now sells dozens of them, many with five star reviews.