An army of climbers are wanted to help locate rare and endangered – but hard to find – plants on Scotland’s mountains.
Botanists from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh are appealing for mountaineers to help them find alpine plants that are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
A plea has gone out for people who see particular plants to report the sightings so that they can be better studied.
Gavin Powell and Chris Ellis, of the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE), said: “Anyone who has survived a mountain storm cannot fail to be impressed by the plants and animals clinging to existence under extreme conditions.
“There are many British plants found exclusively in our mountains, not just eking out their existence, but making a home of high and remote places. Such plants face many threats, including climate change.
“Seasonal weather seems to be increasingly erratic, and a general trend for milder winters has left some of Scotland’s rarest mountain plants vulnerable.
“Of special concern to botanists are the tenacious alpine plants, relics of Scotland’s post-glacial landscape that emerged at the end of the last Ice Age.
“Monitoring is a key step in helping these plants and lichen to survive into the future. Because they grow in remote mountain locations, conservationists remain unsure of exactly how many populations exist, and where monitoring and protection should be focussed.”
They added: “Nowadays only observant climbers and hillwalkers are likely to encounter these three plants – and you can help by making new discoveries.
“For example, alpine blue sow-thistle was thought to be restricted to two sites low down Lochnagar’s north face, on the west side of the Black Spout couloir.
“However, small pockets were once found across Lochnagar’s north face at a range of altitudes, and in 2017 it was rediscovered above 1000m, spotted by an SNH officer walking along the top on his day off. This small clump was growing just 30m away from some belay tat.
To help with Scotland’s plant conservation, the RBGE are appealing to Mountaineering Scotland’s members to report sightings of three plants – Cicerbita alpina (alpine blue sow-thistle), Saxifraga cespitosa (tufted saxifrage) – when on Ben Alder, Ben Avon, Ben Nevis or in the mountains of Torridon and northern Skye – and Alectoria ochroleuca (alpine sulphur tresses) found in areas of wind-clipped heathland, typically between about 750 and 950 metres altitude, on mountains in and surrounding the Cairngorms.
Details should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and the botanists stress mountainers should not put themselves – or the plants – at risk.