The information for this blog was provided by Ken Gartside – a local naturalist and regular Dove Stone volunteer.

You may not always think about it, but when you look lichens are all around us – a colourful growth on trees, buildings, rocks and earth, in fact nearly 8% of the earth’s landmass is covered in lichen!

Did you know...?

  • Lichens make a significant ecological contribution by generating carbohydrates, reducing carbon dioxide levels and fixing nitrogen so that it is in a form suitable for living organisms
  • And they aren’t just limited to the countryside - a significant number of lichens can be found in cities and towns – with churchyards and parks being good places to look for them, there are around 150 species in Greater Manchester alone (a few photos below!)
  • Squirrels and birds (especially long tailed tits) use lichens in nest building, as it provides good camouflage and insulation. Moths and butterflies also feed on lichens and use them for camouflage when at rest
  • Lichens were historically used to treat diseases and wounds, having a potent antibiotic effective against certain bacteria. For example ‘Lungwort’ (Lobaria pulmonaria) so-called due to it’s lung-like appearance was collected as a cure for lung diseases
  • As well as medicinal purposes, extracts from lichens have been used in perfumes and cosmetics and to produce a fantastic range of natural dyes
  • As many lichens are sensitive to man-made pollutants they can be a useful pollution level indicator, for example of sulphur dioxide (acid rain) which abounded in industrial times or the current issue of Nitrogen levels from agriculture and car exhausts
  • Lichens are slow growing and so some are useful ‘Indicator Species’ for ancient woodland enabling woodlands to be graded for their conservation status
  • Most lichens are formed of an amazing alliance between a fungus and an algae. They get the nutrients they need from rain water, ocean spray and dust in air, sometimes supplemented by bird droppings which provide nitrogen
  • Birds help to disperse something called lichen soredia which are in effect little packets of the lichen which stick to bird’s feet and feathers and so to other trees and habitats, allowing new growth

So next time you’re out and about at Dove Stone or elsewhere take a closer look at this amazing species.

If you want to learn more about lichens and how to identify them two good guides to try are Frank Dobson's 'Lichens – an illustrated guide' (revised 2011) and 'The Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland' - the Natural History Museum & British Lichen Society (BLS).

We can also provide a copy of Ken’s full article which contains more detailed information (please email Miriam.biran@rspb.org.uk)

There are also online resources with good quality accurate photographs and descriptions including well-respected sites such as:

  • BLS (British Lichen Society) - http://www.thebls.org.uk/
  • Irish Lichens - http://www.irishlichens.ie/index.html
  • Lichens of Ireland - http://www.lichens.ie/
  • Alan Silverside's Lichen pages - http://www.lichens.lastdragon.org/index.html
  • British Lichens - http://www.britishlichens.co.uk

 Below are a few photos of some lichens found in the Greater Manchester area - as there are so many different types of lichen they all have quite exotic-sounding Latin names!

Baeomyces rufus

Leconora chlarotera

Leconora muralis

Physcia adscendens