The study of lichens has an advantage over the study of many other groups in Britain in that they have the same form throughout the year, and can be identified in winter or summer alike.
Many of our common lichens can be identified reliably in the field, with a little experience and a good book. Some people like to use keys, others don’t, but the crucial thing in using a book is to read the text! It is tempting to just flick through and find a picture which seems to match the lichen in front of you but for lichens that is not enough. Check that:
the description fits (growth form, colour, presence of apothecia, soredia, isidia, rhizines, etc.)
the spot tests give the right results
the habitat and substrate are right
the distribution map shows the lichen as present in that part of the country
Sometimes further investigation will be needed, perhaps microscopic examination or chemical tests that cannot be carried out in the field. In that case it will be necessary to collect a specimen.
For important or unusual records the final stage is comparison with authoritatively named material in a reference collection, and referral to a specialist.
Further information on all these steps can be found by following the links:
A note on colour
The thallus colour described in books is usually that of dry material in good condition. It may change when wet, sometime dramatically from greenish-grey to almost black, bright yellow or green. Lichens in poor condition are often covered in green algae, or they may have turned white or even red from the breakdown of substances they contain.
To be a proficient lichenologist you have to develop a wide range of skills, and this may take a number of years. The skills and knowledged relevant to beginners, intermediate and advanced students are outlined in the document Skills and Knowledge for Lichenologists, which can be downloaded from the Recording Downloads page of this website. We hope this will be useful to both students and tutors.