ON ONE of my regular walking routes in the Wee County there is a patch of forest where the pine trees are heavily adorned with silvery grey lichens that hang from the branches like feathery tufts.

It is a most compelling place, especially on winter mornings when the atmosphere is damp and the trees shrouded in mist. The aura here is almost primeval; silent air and patterns of grey.

I’m not sure why this part of the wood should have so many lichens when nearby areas do not. But the reason doesn’t really matter, for the ambience they create is addictive and I suspect delivers an unconscious draw that makes this one of my favourite walks

Lichens are a bit like moss, all around us yet seldom remarked upon. They are also one of our more fascinating lifeforms, for they actually consist of two (or more) organisms rather than one.

It’s a concept I find difficult to get my head around, but in simple explanatory terms lichens are partnerships between algae and fungi. But they are so closely interwoven with each other that they appear as one.

It is a mutually beneficial relationship where the alga produces food through photosynthesis while the fungus uses its inherent properties to create structure and support, as well provide mineral nutrients and store water so as to prevent desiccation.

Lichens are important ecologically, offering shelter for a host of tiny invertebrates such as insects, spiders and molluscs, which in turn provide food for small birds like treecreepers and blue and great tits.

Research has shown that woodlands abundant in lichens hold a greater diversity of wildlife than those where they are scarce.

Lichens are also excellent indicators of clean and unpolluted air - and for that reason alone it is always satisfying to discover them thriving in your home area.