Sunday 22nd March 2020 – Velvet Bottom and Long Wood, N. Somerset

Velvet Bottom forms part of the large Cheddar Gorge Complex SSSI. It has areas of lead mine waste, drystone walls, natural rock outcrops and heath and has not been explored properly for its bryophyte interest. Similar habitat at nearby Blackmoor has Ptychomitrium polyphyllum, Bryum donianum and Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens. Nearby Long Wood is a lovely steep-sided limestone woodland with a stream and is luxuriantly mossy. There should be much to find.

Park near Charterhouse in the big layby along a minor road at ST 5034 5550.

Leader: Sharon Pilkington

Sunday 16th February 2020 – Midsomer Norton, N. Somerset

WE ARE SORRY BUT THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO STORMY WEATHER CONDITIONS

Midsomer Norton lies at the heart of the former North Somerset coalfield and old colliery tips are a distinctive feature of the town’s skyline. One of the largest is in the town centre and supports populations of calcifuge species that are rarely seen in N. Somerset. A recent visit produced three new liverwort vice-county records and it is a good place to see Lophocolea semiteres, an increasing species. If time allows we can also explore epiphyte-rich trees and a shallow river nearby.

Meet in the free South Road Car Park at ST 6658 5414.

Leader: Sharon Pilkington

Sunday 12th January 2020 – Bradford-on-Avon and Avoncliff, S. Wiltshire

The area between Bradford-on-Avon and Avoncliff has not been surveyed well for its bryophytes but should be interesting. Habitats include riverside trees and bridges, scrub, drystone walls, old limestone woodland and the Kennet & Avon Canal. Barton Bridge was the first place the rare moss Dialytrichia saxicola was found on the River Avon several years ago and we should see this species and many others.

Meet at the western (river) end of the large station pay-and-display car park in Bradford-on-Avon at ST 8234 6065. The path along the riverbank can get very muddy so wellies are recommended.

Leader: Sharon Pilkington

Sunday 8th December 2019 – Tadnoll and Winfrith Heath Reserve, Dorset

This extensive reserve in south Dorset includes areas of dry and wet heath, wet meadows and a chalk stream.  This will be a good chance to explore this varied habitat, which includes a good range of Sphagnum species, as well as classic species of bogs and flushes, some of which have a calcareous influence.

Park at SY 8047 8623, just past the first junction on Gatmore Road, which is opposite the Red Lion pub on the A352 at Winfrith Newburgh, west of Wool. Wellingtons are strongly advised, as it will be wet under foot in places.

Leader: Andrew Branson

Sunday 17th November 2019 – Nettlecombe Court, Monksilver, S. Somerset

Nettlecombe Court and the surrounding area has been well recorded, but this eastern edge of the Exmoor National Park, has some excellent habitat and no doubt some surprising finds will be made. In the past there have been records for species such as Habrodon perpusillus, Leptodon smithii and Schistostega pennata, which we hope to see again.

The turning for Nettlecombe Court is off the B3188 at Woodford, north of Monksilver. We have permission to park in front of Nettlecombe Court at ST 0565 3773.

Leader: Jeff Bates

Sunday 27th October 2019 – Crockford Bottom marl pits, New Forest

This area in the southern New Forest includes streams, flushes, marl pits and bogs on the bryophyte-rich Headon Beds. The site includes records for a wide range of Sphagna, including S. contortum and S. subsecundum, ‘brown mosses’ of calcareous mires, including the Nationally Scarce Campyliadelphus elodes, and some exacting liverworts.

Meet at the southern of the two car parks near Crockford Bridge at SZ 349 988 off the B3054, Lymington road, south of Furzey Lodge and Beaulieu. Conditions can be very wet, so wellington boots are advised.

Leaders: John Norton and Sharon Pilkington

24th March 2019 – Fyfield Down, Wiltshire

Hidden between Avebury and Marlborough, Fyfield Down is a high plateau of chalk downland dissected by a system of dry valleys which contain one of the highest concentrations of sarsen stones in Britain, formed through lateral transport of the stones under periglacial conditions. It is well known that the acidic sarsen stones support an outstanding lichen community which is one of the best examples in north-west Europe. There are only six sites in England where sarsens are exposed (many others are buried) and three are near Marlborough. In the soft geology of southern England, sarsen stones provide almost the only exposures of hard, acidic rock and they support bryophyte assemblages representing species that are almost entirely restricted to the north and west. This assemblage was first described by Ron Porley in a paper in the Journal of Bryology in 1996.

Fyfield Down is a particularly large site and to the public, is accessible only on foot, bicycle or horse from Avebury or Manton, both several kilometres away. Luckily the weather conditions were excellent for our visit and we’d made good time as we reached the edge of the National Nature Reserve. However, as we had special permission to visit the northern part of Fyfield Down, which is not within the NNR, we struck on. As soon as we reached our monad we started recording on occasional sarsens and numerous anthills. In this area we quickly found Pleuridium acuminatum, Polytrichum piliferum and, when Claire Halpin looked in a rabbit burrow, sterile shoots of Archidium alternifolium. Bryum subapiculatum was also noted on an anthill.

Although there were plenty of sarsens in a sheltered valley north of Delling Copse, they lacked any saxicolous specialities so we struck south, into the NNR and a spectacular long dry valley with numerous sarsen stones.

Fyfield Down NNR

Within a few metres of the woodland fence, Grimmia decipiens was found and admired, followed by Hedwigia stellata cfr. and Grimmia trichophylla. There was much discussion about whether the spinose teeth on the hair-point of G. decipiens could be seen with a lens but fortunately it was a larger, looser and hoarier plant than G. trichophylla or G. pulvinata, which also grew in the area. G. decipiens was subsequently found on numerous sarsens in the bottom of the valley, which seems to be a hot-spot for notable bryophytes, presumably because it is very sheltered. A little further on we encountered a few plants of the rare Hedwigia ciliata var. ciliata, also with capsules, looking very different to its more common relative when dry. We only found this species on one or two sarsens. Equally rare was the gorgeous Orthotrichum rupestre, with its outrageously hairy calyptrae and handsome chestnut-coloured capsules. It was much admired and photographed.

Orthotrichum rupestre

We carried on slowly down this valley, inspecting one sarsen after another. Marion Rayner spotted a lovely patch of Rhodobryum roseum, only reported once before at Fyfield Down in 1989. On a sarsen Andrew Branson found a small, dark and aromatic Frullania which puzzled us. Microscopic examination later confirmed it as F. fragilifolia (lacking its normal fugacious tendencies), new to Fyfield Down and last seen in VC7 in 1987. Frullania tamarisci and F. dilatata were also found on sarsens in the same area.

Hedwigia ciliata var. ciliata – with capsules

Weissia brachycarpa var. obliqua has not been seen in VC7 for many decades and so was a welcome find on an ant-hill. Some of its capsules had dehisced, showing the diagnostic constriction around the peristome mouth, the lack of any peristome teeth and a membrane covering the mouth of the young capsules.

The long walk back to the car park at Manton took a while but certainly allowed us all to reflect on the bryological and geological splendours we had enjoyed.

Sharon Pilkington

Plasteurhynchium striatulum

Sunday 9th December 2018 – Tyntesfield, Bristol

Tyntesfield, a splendid Victorian mock-gothic mansion set in extensive mature grounds, was purchased by the National Trust in 2002 and is still managed as a working estate. WBG members had special permission to visit and explore the bryological interest of the estate, which had not been surveyed before.

Being keen to get started, we began recording even before we made it through the turnstiles and in trampled turf near the café Claire picked up Microbryum davallianum, with its distinctive tuberculate spores.

Many epiphytes were found in the arboretum, although the consensus seemed to be that young Orthotrichum capsules were later than usual in developing in response to the exceptional summer of 2018. A very good range of species was recorded here and elsewhere in the estate, including Orthotrichum striatum, O. tenellum and Cololejeunea minutissima.

Moving on, a strange-looking pleurocarp on limestone boulders in woodland generated much discussion, especially when it turned out to be atypical Cirriphyllum crassinervium. Growing nearby were Anomodon viticulosus, Porella platyphylla and the nationally scarce Plasteurhynchium striatulum, which is not infrequent in limestone woodland in this part of Somerset. Brachythecium mildeanum was found on the cracked concrete lining of a small lake but the masonry around the house itself yielded disappointingly little.

Our quest for a sunny lunch spot took us up onto the steep wooded slope above the house. Although the woodland lies mainly on limestone, a small outlier of quartzitic sandstone added a more acidic flavour to the bryophytes and here we recorded a number of common calcifuges, including Dicranella heteromalla, Hypnum jutlandicum and Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans.

Moving downhill again, we explored the kitchen garden and old glasshouses. Here we were delighted to find hundreds or even thousands of rosettes of Riccia sorocarpa (what is the collective noun for a mass of Riccia?) growing alongside Marchantia polymorpha var. ruderalis and Lunularia cruciata. A  Tortula-like acrocarp growing nearby turned out to be Tortula protobryoides and Gyroweisia tenuis and Bryum radiculosum were spotted on soft damp mortar of the greenhouses.

Riccia sorocarpa

Near the greenhouses

Returning to plantation woodland, we climbed up to the top of the slope, eventually reaching a play area within a stand of mature conifer plantation. Of course we were searching for Sematophyllum substrumulosum, which is now known to be quite frequent in coniferous woodland in North Somerset, and we were not disappointed. Several well-decayed fallen trees supported splendidly fertile populations, the masses of neat capsules attracting many attempts at photography. Nowellia curvifolia was also seen in the same area.

By now the light was dwindling fast and we made our way back downhill toward the exit through a small wooded combe. We couldn’t ignore a massive, well-rotted tree lying on the ground which supported a number of additional species, including Campylopus flexuosus, Lepidozia reptans and Orthodontium lineare. A leafy liverwort collected from the same tree turned out to be fertile Cephalozia connivens, more familiar to most of us from mires. A VC6 rarity (but possibly overlooked), it was a long way from its other sites on the Somerset Levels.

Sematophyllum substrumulosum

In total, 107 bryophyte taxa were recorded from Tyntesfield, a highly respectable number for the area. We are very grateful to the National Trust for permitting and facilitating our visit.

Sharon Pilkington

Tyntesfield Species recorded

 

Sunday 28th January 2018 – Hatch Hill and Combe Hill, near Street, Somerset

Arcing across the flatlands of the Somerset Levels, the Polden Hills rise from the M5 near Bridgwater and snake eastwards to the small town of Street, before turning south to Somerton. At their highest they rise to little more than 100m but in places their slopes are very steep. The range is built on relatively soft rocks – comprising alternating beds of blue lias limestone and mudstone. On the west-facing flanks of the range near Compton Dundon, these rocks are exposed on certain steep slopes as colourful horizontal bands. Gilling Down, a Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve, is possibly the largest of these.

South of Street, the ridge is clothed in planted and semi-natural woodland giving way to unimproved limestone grassland on the west-facing flanks. Much of it is managed by a conservation-led trust and is accessible to the public.

Our visit began in the free car park at Combe Hill and headed west to limestone grassland and bare rock exposures at Combe Hill. Hands and knees work quickly detected Entodon concinnus and Trichostomum crispulum, and some splendid patches of Tortula lanceola, with rich chestnut capsules. Heading downslope, more sheltered conditions favoured large mounds of Hylocomium splendens and Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus but massed reddish capsules of a smaller moss on an ant-hill quickly distracted us. These plants turned out to be the rare and very beautiful Pterygoneurum ovatum – a very good start.

Pterygoneurum ovatum

Emerging then onto the steep, limestone grassland scarp of Hatch Hill, we concentrated on searching for Leptodon smithii, a characteristic and often frequent epiphyte of the Polden Hills. Alan and Marion had not seen this species previously but were unimpressed by the tatty patch we did eventually track down on an ash tree.

Along the way we came across the rich limestone grassland and rock exposures where I’d seen Pterygoneurum papillosum in 2015. This very rare annual moss was discovered new to Britain in 2014. Its discovery prompted a flurry of checking old herbarium specimens filed as P. ovatum, which confirmed that some specimens collected from the Polden Hills were in fact P. papillosum. Substantial populations were then confirmed in limestone grassland in the Poldens, which remains the British stronghold for this species.

Limestone grassland habitat of P. papillosum, beatifully grazed by rare breeds sheep.

Where ledges of blue lias are exposed in the grassland, thin, sheep-poached clays overlie them and this is the favoured habitat of P. papillosum. We quickly found some plants, minute but easy to tell with a hand-lens due to the concave leaves with short hair-point and flaps (lamellae) overlying the nerve.

Other species of interest in this grassland included Thuidium assimile and Didymodon acutus, its dark brown shoots with erect, sharp-tipped leaves setting it apart from the much commoner D. fallax.

We took the easy path back across the top of the scarp to return to our cars. Along the way we stopped to look at epiphytes on some lovely and very majestic sprawling hazels on what appeared to be an old boundary bank of soil and limestone. On this we found a population of Plasteurhynchium striatulum, unexpected so far from its classic hard limestone Mendip haunts. We also found beech trees with masses of Cololejeunea minutissima and the dainty plants of Orthotrichum pulchellum.

Sharon Pilkington

Sunday 18th February 2018 – Blackmoor Reserve, Charterhouse, Somerset

The Blackmoor Reserve lies in the heart of the historical lead mining area on the Mendip plateau and includes a special mix of habitats including pools, wet woodland, spoil heaps and heathland. The mine closed for the last time in 1885 and looking at it now it is hard to imagine how it might have appeared when operational.

We considered ourselves fortunate to have evaded the persistent rain that had dogged much of the winter and in fact the bryophytes were in perfect condition, hydrated but not soaked. Blackmoor is at around 300m altitude and is exposed, as we discovered when we set out into a chill wind.

Starting with hands-and-knees bryologising on the black metalliferous spoil, we were rewarded by dark red cushions of Ceratodon purpureus, growing with Brachythecium albicans and Polytrichum juniperinum. The spoil is a highly hostile environment for plant growth: it desiccates rapidly, is very acidic, low in nutrients and toxic, so a rather specialised plant community is found there. One liverwort that seems to thrive, however, is Lophozia excisa, which was tricky to identify in the hand as most of its characteristic red leaf gemmae had been washed off by rain. The pretty little moss Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens was also present en masse, tinging the ground orange.

Sciuro-hypnum populeum was a new species to many, but it was Grimmia donniana on large black vitreous boulders nearby that drew the most admiring remarks. Known from Blackmoor for many years, this montane species is very rare in southern England. However, on these boulders there must be literally thousands of plants, which had young sporophytes and were delightfully photogenic.

Grimmia donniana

After admiring some wonderful cushions of Orthotrichum pulchellum, O. striatum and Ulota phyllantha growing on trees we paused to pay homage to cushions of Ptychomitrium polyphyllum, on vitreous pebbles nearby.

After pausing for lunch, we headed into a wet part of the reserve, where woodland has grown up around a stream and an old settling pond. Plagiomnium elatum was present in shallow water of the pool, easily identified by its broadly decurrent leaf bases. A search for Colura calyptrifolia on tangled Salix cinerea overhanging the water nearby was not easy but two colonies were found, one of which had perianths. Splendid populations of fruiting Rhizomnium punctatum and Fissidens adianthoides were present in the wet ground nearby.

A slender-looking Brachythecium on a tree nearby caused some excitement as it was thought to be a possible candidate for the elusive B. velutinum, a species that is supposed to be common, according to the books, but which few of us have ever seen. Sadly it just turned out to be an arboreal Sciuro-hypnum populeum.

Moving into drier woodland, we admired Homalia trichomanoides on ash trees and Nowellia curvifolia on decaying wood. A large cushion of Tortella tortuosa growing on a tree trunk caused some debate as this is an unusual habitat for this species.

At the end of the reserve an old and completely bryophyte-covered drystone wall offered some typical limestone species that we’d not seen earlier. Colours and textures contrasted beautifully where Anomodon viticulosus, Neckera complanata and Porella platyphylla grew intermingled.

On the way back to the car park we were distracted by yet another epiphyte-rich sprawling willow. However, this one had a large cushion of a distinctive-looked Ulota with a much longer seta, a dark-tipped calyptra and more mature capsule than its U. bruchii neighbours. This turned out to be Ulota calvescens, a charming little epiphyte that is spreading from the far west into our area.

And so ended a very enjoyable and satisfying day. Despite this area having been worked quite recently by myself and other bryologists, our group still managed to find several species that had not been recorded there before.

Sharon Pilkington