It’s called Cladonia, a type of lichen. These are ‘dual’ organisms made of two different life-forms, a fungus and a green alga, living together for mutual benefit. The fungus is the main partner, providing a cosy, sheltered environment for the alga, protecting it from the elements and supplying mineral nutrients as it decomposes plant material, while the alga is the photosynthesising, in-house food factory.
Remarkably, specialists working on the Cyril Diver project have identified around 30 different species of Cladonia at Studland, and this is just one of many lichen groups out there. The Trust’s conservation management of the Purbeck heathlands, stemming the trend of loss and fragmentation, will help to secure the future of these mysterious organisms.