12 days a (wildlife) Christmas - four crawling lichens

Lichen - Tom Hibbert

Christmas is in the air and here in Ipswich we’re starting to feel festive. Join our Wild Learning Officer in the run up to Christmas by celebrating some of the town’s wild spaces and species as we adapt the well known words of 12 days of Christmas. Traditionally for the fourth day of Christmas we’d be receiving four calling birds, instead we’ve swapped them for four crawling lichens.

During the winter, many species hide away, hunker down and hibernate but not lichens, this is the season where they can look bigger, brighter and bushier than ever and 1,800 species can be found in the UK!

Lichens are complex species and are made up of two organisms living symbiotically, alae and fungus. The algae brings the food to the table by photosynthesising with the fungi providing structural integrity and also the lichen with water. During difficult times, the lichen relies on the fungus part of the organism and is able to dip into the water reserves which the fungus retains.

Lichens can come in all different shapes, sizes and splodges and I love looking out for them in Ipswich. They can be found on pavements, rocks, walls and trees and they can cheer up even the most “ordinary” pavement walks. Lichens are not only beautiful they don’t cause any harm to the surfaces they grow on and they are extremely beneficial to other species such as providing birds with nesting material and a source of food and shelter to many invertebrates.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits to wildlife in some parts of the world, especially this time of year, is providing reindeers with a food source. Able to grow in even some of the most inhospitable places, reindeers snack on lichens where not a lot else is able to grow. Reindeers are able to smell the lichen from under the snow and dig them up to snack on, building up energy stores for their big outing on December 24.

Lichens are also bio-indicators with certain species not able to withstand highly polluted areas often being the leafy, tufted, beard like species. Other hardier species, the crustier, flattened splodges, can however tough it out in polluted areas, commonly found in urban areas.

I love looking out for lichen on walks and enjoy how they grow on all types of surfaces. It’s a great reminder that even in those places where you don’t think much wildlife will be present, you can still often find some lots of species living right on your doorstep… and quite literally in the case of lichens!