The main reason I started this site was to help with lichen identification by providing good photos of lichens that are found in the British Isles (or the Islands of Great Britain and Ireland, if you prefer). I want to provide pictures where you can zoom in close and see the detail.
"British Lichens" is simply a convenient name. The previous name "UK Lichens" became slightly inaccurate once I included photos from Ireland. "lichens.co.uk" was already registered to someone else (although it isn't a live site). This is my own, self-funded, website and is independant from the British Lichen Society although most of the photos are by active BLS members.
Identifying lichens can be a bit tricky, especially when you are just starting out! I often spend hours looking at the samples I have collected trying to work out what they are and most of my lichen friends seem to have similar trouble.
Keying things out in the official lichen flora The Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland can be hard work. It is all too easy to get a critical step wrong, or maybe you don't have a microscope or chemicals to do the "spot tests" with. The language used to describe species can be difficult to interpret when you're starting out. Many of the species' descriptions are comparative and say 'as the previous species but more robust' or 'more granular soredia' or 'usually pruinose' etc. the trouble is that you might not have seen the other species yet. For example, when I was starting out I was even fooled by decrepid, tree-growing Parmelia saxatilis - but that's OK - you can't know lichens without making mistakes (to err is human - but with lichen identification it is simply expected.). Then one day I found another tree-growing-Parmelia saxatilis but it was pruinose (had a powdery bloom on it) so once again I collected a bit and it turned out to be Parmelia ernstiae (currently considered to be a separate species) - so it is always worth being on the lookout for things that don't look quite right.
Basically, we need more photos to help us identify lichens - the more the better. This is the primary purpose of this site - providing photos of lichens to compliment those identification guides that we might already use.
But, identifying lichens from photos is not as easy as you might think. I don't want to put you off but here are some reasons you can get it wrong:-
In any case even though you can identify many lichens by pictures, you certainly can't do this with all of them. Many of them look the same as another species and require chemical tests and microscopic examination of spores and ascus structure to separate to species level or even to genus. So if you want to become a bit of an expert you will need a microscope (with an eyepiece graticule to measure spore sizes) and various chemicals to carry out tests. Some lichens, especially the powdery crusts (e.g. Lepraria) even need Thin Layer Chromatography techniques to determine the species - which is a tall order for most amateurs. So photos are not necessarily going to give you the right identification but they can be really helpful for leading you in the right direction, confirming identification or showing you that you are barking up the wrong tree.
I hope these pictures will also help if you just want to stick with the larger lichens and don't want to get too hung up with the techy, microscopey side. Afterall, you don't have to be an expert to enjoy lichens!
I want to build up a good collection of photos on this site but there is no way that I can hope to take pictures of all the lichen species in the British Isles by myself so I will need help.
I would be happy to receive additional digital photos - either to complement what we already have, or new species. I will credit you in the photo data and they remain your copyright of course (you're the boss of your photos). Hopefully, through time, the website will develop a community feel as more people contribute photos and maybe as the site develops in other ways. Note this straightforward copyright info. I assume that if you send in a picture you have agreed to that. Send me as many as you want but (very important) make sure you know what they are and it is useful to have substrate and location details. You can send photos by CD if prefered - email me for my address.
We're not looking for perfect specimens here - just lichens as you find them - immature, infertile, crusty, at the edge of their range, shady or just plain wonky - a bit like the people who study them really. In fact it is those less-than-perfect lichens that are hardest to identify so photos of those will be very helpful. See my photos of Ochrolechia tartarea (apothecia emerging). This is a common upland lichen but I didn't know what it was until I found it fully fertile so I have provided both examples in case someone else has the same trouble.
I want this website to have really good photos but an adequate photo is better than no photo and we can always replace it with a better one later. Some of my own and other people's photos have already been replaced in order to keep the quality high.
I do prefer photos taken outside. Studio photos just don't usually work so well unless it is a crustose species photographed under good light conditions. A few of my shots are studio ones but they tend to look boring or un-natural.
Here is an email address to send your photos to;
Please also send your constructive comments/criticism/advice/ideas/problems with the site. It is always nice to know that someone has found it useful and to hear about how it might be made better.
I have some ideas of how I want to develop this site but that will take time and some swotting-up. It's not easy designing your own website - you have to learn a new language - unless you use an expensive software package. I prefer to do it myself so I can learn about it from first principles. This way you don't get tied in a knot when you want to make modifications and you stay in control. I got a lot of help from a really useful book called 'Creating Web Sites - the missing manual' (website link here (loads of other techy titles too)).
Note the links page - here are some other websites well worth a look. And a discussion group to consider joining. If you are going on holiday somewhere why not join an email group and ask people where to go and what to look out for? If you want any help/advice of any kind - email me! If I don't know - I will know someone who does.
If you are keen why not consider joining the British Lichen Society - definitely NOT a bunch of unapproachable experts but a mixture of all abilities and all really nice people who are very happy to get out and share an interest in lichens (and a pint and a laugh). The BLS runs regular field trips (often to amazing places) and there is absolutely nothing better than learning the subject by going round with a group of experts. We know how tricky it can be to learn so we are always pleased to help.
You can find out about membership at the BLS website HERE.
Mike Sutcliffe, Gateshead, England. Date started 21 June 2006