Dorset castle ruins revealed to be 'ancient forest' of rare lichens

A A A

Corfe Castle in Dorset has been revealed as one of the country's most important sites for lichen, housing 102 varieties among its ruins, including four species described as "rare" and 11 described as "scarce".

Experts have compared it to an ancient forest, and say the castle's location, on a hill on the sunny south coast, away from pollution, has allowed such an unusual collection to grow.

The discovery was made when the National Trust, which owns the monument, began conservation work on the ruined castle as it was becoming dangerous to visitors. The Trust commissioned a survey to analyse the growth.

"Lichen is neither a plant nor animal, but is from the fungi kingdom and is a 'pioneer' species. If you build a wall, lichen will be on it first," said Vince Giavarini, the expert lichenologist who conducted the survey.

"They give us amazing information about the environment and will disappear if conditions change.

"But on Corfe Castle they have had hundreds of years to develop in good, pollution-free conditions.

"Corfe is a fantastic example of what happens when nature is allowed to take over. One of the rare species, Caloplaca granulosa, is only known to grow in one other area in Britain: Lizard in Cornwall.

Corfe Castle was built in the 11th century but destroyed, blown up, in 1646 by Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarians at the end of the first English Civil War. Its then owner was Sir John Bankes, the Attorney General to Charles I.

"They [the lichens] have been sunbathing since the castle was ruined during the English Civil War and they are probably the only continuous inhabitants of the castle since that time," said Mr Giavarini.

Angela Peters, a National Trust ecologist, said: "Our work at Corfe treats the wildlife associated with it on a par with the historic environment. The lichen survey shows just how important our historic buildings can be as sites for wildlife."

The Corfe Castle finding comes in the same month as the rediscovery, in Herefordshire, of a lichen believed to be extinct in the UK. The golden eye lichen, once common across southern England, was last seen in Cornwall in 1998. Air pollution, fertiliser use and fewer orchards were blamed for it dying out but climate change could explain its reappearance, some scientists say.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Supervisor

£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Software Developer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Store Sales Executive

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Sales Executive ...

Recruitment Genius: Night Porters - Seasonal Placement

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Night Porters are required to join a family-ow...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn