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

Sunday 29th October 2017 – Wilverley Walk, New Forest, Hampshire

This was a joint meeting with the Wessex Bryology Group, led by Sharon Pilkington. Twelve of us met at the Wootton Bridge car park at SZ250997 and enjoyed a walk in pleasantly mild and occasionally sunny weather. We explored Sphagnum-rich valley mire and wet woodland habitats eastwards from Wootton Bridge for about 600m, but only had time to briefly look at the most interesting mineral-rich areas at the eastern end of the route, finding Sphagnum teres, S. subsecundum, Sarmentypnum exannulatum and Campylium stellatum here and also Scorpidium scorpioides before we reached this point. Another good find was Sphagnum angustifolium. The wet woodland follows a substantial stream running adjacent to the northern boundary of Broadley Inclosure. Highlights along here included Entosthodon obtusus, Riccardia palmata (2nd New Forest/Hampshire site), frequent patches of Lejeunea lamacerina and abundant Sciuro-hypnum plumosum, in addition to plentiful Ctenidium molluscum and Hookeria lucens. Bryologically, this could be one of the best stretches of riverine woodland in Hampshire.

Sphagnum subsecundum

In all we found 15 Sphagnums and identified 121 bryophyte taxa (including a few weeds on stonework of the bridge). Seven species were new to the 10km square (SZ29). The route map and provisional species list can be downloaded here (Excel spreadsheet).

John Norton

Sunday April 16th 2017 – Alfred’s Tower and western section of Stourhead Estate

A small group – Claire, Alan and Marion, Sharon and myself – gathered at the car park near Alfred’s Tower in the west part of the National Trust’s Stourhead Estate. It was surprisingly quiet for Easter Sunday. Perhaps visitors were off on the Easter Egg Hunt near the main entrance. We had come to explore the forest rides and flushes that are an important feature of this area, which sits on a Greensand ridge, known historically as the Forest of Selwood. This fascinating region forms the boundary of three counties, Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset, and in a way is at the heart of the Wessex Bryology Group’s work. Unlike the arable chalklands to the east and the dairy farming of the clay vales to the south and west, the soils here are acid, with occasional ragstone rocks. Springs run off the ridge, which, where they meet the lower mudstone, form flushes rich in wetland bryophytes.

We headed south along the boundary of North Somerset (VC6) and South Wiltshire (VC8), and after recording a few common epiphytes headed down a slope to the east. Here among the decaying stems and branches of a dense conifer plantation we quickly found populations of Sematophyllum substrumulosum. Once we had our eye in for this small pleurocarp, we were able to pick it out on the horizontal decorticated branches and trunks (but not stumps) of felled trees in deep shade. Its shiny, slightly tawny-green colour contrasted with the pale matt green of the abundant Hypnum jutlandicum. The clincher when one looked more closely were the frequent capsules, held horizontally on a long seta and almost egg-shaped. So far, this is one of only two sites for this plant in VC8. This appears to be a plant on the move and has now been recorded widely across southern Britain, after only being discovered in the UK recently.

Sematophyllum substrumulosum

The edge of the ride, produced more typical acid plants, reminiscent of a western acid oakwood: abundant Plagiothecium undulatum, Rhytidiadelphus loreus, Diplophyllum albicans, Lepidozia reptans, Calypogeia fissa, Dicranella heteromalla, Tetraphis pellucida, and Polytrichastum formosum. Further down the slope some excellent patches of Pohlia wahlenbergii were found. Sharon found some Fossombronia, but sadly we couldn’t find any mature capsules. As we headed down the valley the ground became wetter and following a small stream, we son encountered plenty of Hookeria lucens, Plagiochila asplenioides, Chiloscyphus polyanthus, Aneura pinguis and the first Sphagnum for the day: S. palustre.

Our target for the lunchbreak was a valley in an area known as Convent Bottom. Here in a swampy Alder carr with frequent Ash, we found some lovely hummocks of Trichocolea tomentella, a rare plant in south Wiltshire. The epiphytes were now becoming more lush, and the trees had a good range of species including Frullania tamarisci, various Orthotrichum including frequent O. striatum, and all three of the commoner Metzgeria. Alan and Marion headed off for home (it was Easter Sunday after all!) after lunch, while the remainder of the party worked their way further along the valley. After some false starts we found our way to a part of the woods which Sharon and I had visited some years ago and felt had potential for some exciting finds. And so it proved. In one small area near a pond we found copious amounts of fruiting Physcomitrium pyriforme and more Sphagnum, including S. fimbriatum and S. subnitens. Sharon had been looking out for a suitable place for the tiny Colura calyptrifolia, and sure enough having found a Grey Willow growing in a suitably humid spot over a stream she found a nice population of this plant, which was new to VC8. This site is probably one of the most south-easterly for this species. This strange-looking liverwort with its flask-shaped structures has been spreading southwards in recent decades, much like it appears the Sematophyllum found earlier has been heading north.

Trichocolea tomentella

We checked out some more glades on the way back to the cars, picking up a few more species, including Leucobryum glaucum that seems quite scarce in the woods. A good day was had by all. Although we missed the NT Egg Hunt, we found some jewels tucked away in the Stourhead Estate.

Andrew Branson

Sunday 19th February 2017 – Sand Point and Middle Hope, Weston-super- Mare

Sand Point is a narrow isthmus of carboniferous limestone reaching eastward in to the sea north of the coastal resort of Weston-super-Mare. It is one of two such peninsulas which frame WSM, the other being Brean Down to the south of the town. Both sites have high bryological interest but being very exposed, they are usually quite windy, causing many bryophytes to desiccate quickly. Fortunately for this field meeting, conditions were relatively good, with light winds and the ground still moist underfoot following recent rainfall.

Sand Point (including Swallow Cliff) has been surveyed intermittently in the past and most recently in 2012. Our group went out armed with an inventory of moss and liverwort species previously seen, but didn’t really expect to add much to it.

Members of the group getting down to business with the tiny acrocarps on Sand Point. Sharon Pilikington

Members of the group getting down to business with the tiny acrocarps on Sand Point. Sharon Pilikington

Certain iconic and very rare species known from Sand Point include Cheilothela chloropus (the oddly-named Rabbit-moss) which has been known in some quantity there for many years and Weissia levieri, which is also known from Brean Down. Many other interesting species had been noted in the past, so we duly set off to try to track as many down as possible.

After dodging the inevitable dog mess on the path up on to the top of the down, we came quickly upon an area where a heavily trampled wide turf path followed the ridge. Low limestone outcrops punctuated the ground in and around the path and here we fell to the ground to find our first patches of C. chloropus. Although the BBS Field Guide boldly states that this is an ‘easy plant to recognise’, when it is growing as scattered stems among lookalikes such as Pseudocrossidium hornschuchianum, Trichostomum crispulum and Didymodon fallax it can be a tricky species to identify. So we spent much time at this particular spot. Had we known then that there is a much larger sub-population a little further along the ridge we may not have lingered so long, but as we also spotted Bryum kunzei, Scleropodium touretii, Scorpiurium circinatum and Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens in the same place it didn’t matter. B. ferruginascens was found new to Somerset by Des Callaghan when he surveyed Brean Down in 2012, although he did not report it from Sand Point. Since then this characteristically upland moss has been found to be widespread on in the Mendip Hills and is now known from 30 different 1km squares in N. Somerset V.-c. 6.

Rabbit Moss Cheilothela chloropus on Sand Point. Sharon Pilkington

Rabbit Moss Cheilothela chloropus on Sand Point. Sharon Pilkington

In south-facing limestone grassland a little further on, we found the prickly-looking stems of Rhynchostegium megapolitanum, a coastal species that resembles a Brachythecium more than a Rhynchostegium. Close examination of the leaves revealed its characteristic twisted leaf tips. Nearby, a rather flat, dark hoary patch on a nearby rock proved to be Grimmia dissimulata, a slightly anonymous-looking species that can sometimes turn up on mortar in old churchyards.

Previous bryological attention appears to have – not surprisingly – focussed on the south-facing parched CG1 grassland where most of Sand Point’s specialities occur. However, where the point drops to the sea on the north side, there are a number of large limestone outcrops and small cliffs with a very different kind of climate. With this in mind, we clambered down to look at some of these and were immediately rewarded with some splendid-looking black patches of the uncommon liverwort Marchesinia mackaii. Other species flourishing on the northern side included Lejeunea lamacerina, which is scarce in N. Somerset and hadn’t been noted from Sand Point before, and common species such as Anomodon viticulosus, Porella platyphylla and Ctenidium molluscum. Frullania tamarisci was found in the turf nearby and a relatively large population of the thalloid liverwort Riccardia chamedryfolia was seen on damp eroded ground of a shaded path at the foot of the slope.

Towards the eastern end of Sand Point there is rocky, summer-parched limestone grassland with a strong population of the rare umbellifer Trinia glauca (Honewort). This is where W. levieri has been reported in the past and it took us very little searching to find some. It is one of only a few Weissia species with immersed capsules and differs from the commoner W. longifolia in having dehiscent lids. At least one other species of Weissia with an elongate seta was also present in the same area (possibly W. perssonii?) but frustratingly the capsules were not quite mature enough to allow us to identify the species.

Weissia levieri on Sand Point. Sharon Pilikington

Weissia levieri on Sand Point. Sharon Pilikington

This part of Sand Point site also proved good for a number of other small mosses, including Microbryum starckeanum, M. rectum and Fissidens incurvus. Where the cliff fell down to the sea, Tortella flavovirens with its characteristic yellow-green colour was quite plentiful and a few people with sharp eyes found the young capsules of Bryum torquescens nearby. This relatively rare species is closely related to the very common B. capillare and care must be taken in separating them. The best way is to search plants with young capsules for the male antheridia which if present confirm B. torquescens, as B. capillare is dioicous and so does not have male and female reproductive structures on the same plant. In addition, B. torquescens usually grows directly on soil and when dry its leaves do not corkscrew around each other like B. capillare.

Not surprisingly, epiphytes are not common on such an exposed site although back at the car park some of us did find a relatively sheltered tree hosting lots of Orthotrichum tenellum and other common species.

Sharon Pilkington

Saturday 12th November 2016 – East Harptree Woods and Harptree Combe, North Somerset

Heavy rain overnight gave way to deep November gloom for this meeting which was attended by a small but hardy bunch of bryologists.

East Harptree Woods sits on the plateau of the Mendip Hills and is a former lead mine. It now belongs to the Forestry Commission and afforestation by conifers and broad-leaves does not entirely obscure its bryological interest.

First up we headed into the conifers to look at various species of Sphagnum and Colura calyptrifolia, which is still thriving 30 years after Pete Martin found it here, new to N. Somerset. Colura has spread to a few other localities on the Mendip plateau but at East Harptree it is frequent in one small area of flushed woodland where Grey Willow Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia does much better than the planted conifers. All of the trees were still sopping wet from the rain and the Colura had temporarily disappeared. We found some eventually by dabbing willow branches with a handkerchief!

colura-calyptrifolia2_by Paul Bowyer

Colura calyptrifolia. Paul Bowyer

Big patches of Sphagnum fallax, squarrosum, subnitens, palustre and fimbriatum were all much admired in the same flush.

Moving on to look for Ditrichum plumbicola, we came across a small log in the woodland floor. Growing on it was a small silky-looking pleurocarp with near-horizontal capsules. This was later accepted by Tom Blockeel as the first record of Sematophyllum substrumulosum in VC6.

After lunch we walked downhill into Carboniferous Limestone and to the head of Harptree Combe. This is one of Mendip’s little-known ‘mini-gorges’ and is an important roosting site for horseshoe-bats. It is also where Joan Appleyard discovered Brachythecium appleyardii new to Britain. Its reclassification as a form of the much commoner Scleropodium cespitans came after her death, fortunately.

The combe is privately owned and access is on foot only – a footpath follows the stream which flows along its whole length. Sadly, the combe looks neglected these days as canopy cover is high and many of the prominent limestone exposures for which it is renowned have been invaded by ivy. However, certain parts are still relatively rich in bryophytes.

Our first bit of excitement came from an ash tree in the field just above the combe, where a splendid patch of Pylaisia polyantha, smothered in capsules, was much admired along with other common epiphytes.
Rocks in the footpath through the combe were covered in Hygrohypnum luridum and those in the nearby stream were smothered in Rhynchostegiella teneriffae, a new species for most. Further on we found a splendid rock outcrop by the path. Although Thamnobryum alopecurum smothered much of it, we saw a lovely patch of Loeskeobryum brevirostre, growing for comparison alongside Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus. Also on the rocks was Oxyrrhynchium schleicheri, with a prickly appearance caused by twisted leaf tips.

cololejeunea-rossettiana3_by Paul Bowyer

Cololejeunea rossettiana. Paul Bowyer

By now the light was fading fast so we hurried onward through the mud to the old aqueduct that crosses the combe, finding some Lejeunea cavifolia on a tree by the stream on the way. The aqueduct is currently disused and much of its masonry has become overgrown with vegetation. It is home to several notable species, including Didymodon spadiceus, resembling a large D. fallax, Cololejeunea rossettiana and masses of Seligeria donniana, an uncommon species on Mendip, where the ‘usual’ Seligeria is S. pusilla.

So followed the long slog back uphill to the car park. As a postscript to the meeting, Paul Bowyer picked up a robust leafy liverwort at some point and took it home. He identified it as Bazzania trilobata, a decidedly oceanic species and another new find for N. Somerset.

17th April 2016 – Browne’s Folly, near Bath

Browne’s Folly is an Avon Wildlife Trust reserve just outside the village of Bathford. Apart from the folly itself (bryologically uninteresting) it is best known for its extensive honeycomb of oolitic limestone mines which are home to an important population of the rare Greater Horseshoe Bat.

On a gloriously sunny spring day, eleven bryologists turned up to help survey the site, which was last properly looked at in 2003. We took a path that followed the lower contours of the hill, through mature ash woodland. At first common species prevailed but things became more exciting as we entered a former quarry, with magnificent limestone cliffs and large boulders calved onto the woodland floor. The slopes were steep and there was much hilarious slipping about after heavy rain the day before. On and around the exposures were Seligeria pusilla, Eucladium verticillatum and Leiocolea turbinata. A small patch of Tortella inflexa, a scarce and rather subtle species, was found but did not impress many people.

Porella arboris vitae 0213cropped

Porella arboris-vitae

Several of us came across a large and beautiful patch of Porella arboris-vitae; several people had never seen this rather western species before and had fun with its distinctive peppery taste. A nearby jumble of large deeply shaded sloping rocks, were home to a considerable amount of fertile Hygrohypnum luridum, which, as usual in this region, was nowhere near a watercourse. A dingy acrocarp growing nearby generated avid discussion but later turned out to be Didymodon vinealis.

Then we emerged from woodland into bright sunshine, in a large former quarry below the folly. It is kept clear of trees and scrub by the trust and on the day we visited was very popular with families having picnics. This area supported more species, including Weissia controversa var. crispata, with its broad red nerve, Encalypta vulgaris, Hylocomium splendens and Scapania aspera.

Tortella nitida, a scarce saxicole in this area, was present on various rocks and a nice red patch of Nowellia curvifolia was found on a pile of damp, decomposing logs at the woodland edge. To the bemusement of the families picnicking nearby, we searched hard for Entodon concinnus, finally finding a good-sized patch growing in the shortest turf with a scruffy-looking Thuidium which turned out to be the uncommon T. assimile. On the way back an oak tree produced some more epiphytes, including Orthotrichum striatum, with its sharp leaves, entirely smooth capsules and sixteen peristome teeth.

Species recorded on the day in ST7966:
Amblystegium serpens
Anomodon viticulosus
Barbula convoluta
Barbula sardoa
Barbula unguiculata
Brachythecium rutabulum
Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum
Bryum capillare
Bryum dichotomum
Bryum pallens
Calliergonella cuspidata
Campylopus introflexus
Ceratodon purpureus
Cirriphyllum crassinervium
Cirriphyllum piliferum
Cratoneuron filicinum
Cryphaea heteromalla
Cryphaea heteromalla
Ctenidium molluscum
Dicranum scoparium
Didymodon fallax
Didymodon sinuosus
Didymodon tophaceus
Didymodon vinealis
Ditrichum gracile
Encalypta streptocarpa
Encalypta vulgaris
Entodon concinnus
Eucladium verticillatum
Eurhynchium striatum
Fissidens dubius
Fissidens pusillus
Fissidens taxifolius
Frullania dilatata
Funaria hygrometrica
Grimmia pulvinata
Gyroweisia tenuis
Homalothecium lutescens
Homalothecium sericeum
Hygrohypnum luridum
Hylocomium splendens
Hypnum cupressiforme
Hypnum cupressiforme var. lacunosum
Isothecium myosuroides
Kindbergia praelonga
Leiocolea turbinata
Lophocolea bidentata
Lophocolea heterophylla
Metzgeria furcata
Metzgeria violacea
Mnium hornum
Neckera complanata
Neckera crispa
Nowellia curvifolia
Orthotrichum affine
Orthotrichum pulchellum
Orthotrichum striatum
Orthotrichum tenellum
Oxyrrhynchium hians
Oxyrrhynchium pumilum
Plagiochila asplenioides
Plagiochila porelloides
Plagiomnium rostratum
Plagiomnium undulatum
Plagiothecium succulentum
Polytrichastrum formosum
Porella arboris-vitae
Porella platyphylla
Pseudocrossidium hornschuchianum
Pseudoscleropodium purum
Radula complanata
Rhizomnium punctatum
Rhynchostegiella tenella
Rhynchostegium murale
Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus
Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus
Scapania aspera
Schistidium crassipilum
Seligeria pusilla
Syntrichia montana
Thamnobryum alopecurum
Thuidium assimile
Thuidium tamariscinum
Tortella inflexa
Tortella nitida
Tortula marginata
Tortula muralis
Trichostomum brachydontium
Trichostomum crispulum
Ulota bruchii
Ulota phyllantha
Weissia controversa var. crispata
Zygodon conoideus
Zygodon viridissimus

19-20 March 2016 – Exmoor Meeting

The meeting was attended by 18 people across the weekend, including Andrew Branson, Sharon Pilkington, Alan and Marion Rayner, Peter Martin, Claire Halpin, Roy Jeffery, Matt Stribley, Tim Rayner, Paul Bowyer, Gary Powell, Anne Hand and members of her Exmoor survey team: Elaine Drewe, Andy Glendenning, Anne Rivett, Prue Grant, Liz Gowen and Sue Helm. We had the use of the National Trust’s Education Centre at Pile’s Mill as a base, for which we are very grateful to Neil Garnsworthy. The weather was dry but cold.

As there was a good attendance, we split up into three groups for both days and tackled a series of squares. On the Saturday, Sharon led one group right over to the county border with Devon to look at some steep coastal woods and heath (Coscombe to Yenworthy Wood). Peter led another group to the coast east of Porlock, along Bossington Hill. Andrew led the third group in the east of Horner Wood, along the East Water Valley (this group was later joined by Roy Jeffery). Tea and cake (thanks to Anne Branson) was ready on our return, when we also had a chance to determine some of the material with our microscopes. Several members of the group had an enjoyable meal at ‘The Ship’ in Porlock later than evening. Some went all the way back to Gloucestershire, to return the following morning!

On Sunday, we again split into three groups. Sharon’s group tackled an interesting area of the Horner Wood complex to the south-west, which included wood edge, wet scrub, and heath with flushes (Wilmersham Common and Dady Coombe). Roy led a group to the west of Horner Wood (Pool Bridge and Wilmersham Wood) and Andrew’s group went south to explore the Exe Valley, south of Exford.

Many thanks to all who attended and particularly to the group leaders for an excellent and highly productive weekend. We shall have to return!

Headlines

We recorded across 16 monads (1km squares) and made a total of 708 species records. A grand total of 187 taxa, of which 46 were liverworts, was recorded at the meeting. For just two days in the field, this is excellent and testifies to richness of the area and the hard work of all the attendees.

Plagiochila spinulosa 0916 reduced

Plagiochila spinulosa

Rare and interesting species (I have included the monad ref. in brackets) A good range of locally rare and scarce species were noted, including two new vice-county records for South Somerset (VC5): Tortula viridifolia (a ‘debracketing’) by the coastal path at Hurlstone Point, and Ulota calvescens on the branch of an oak by the car park at Webber’s Post in Horner Wood, discovered, sadly, after the main group had left. While T. viridifolia, a coastal species, appears to be declining, U. calvescens is turning up more and more outside its stronghold of north-west Britain and Ireland. A potential third new VC5 record, Nardia compressa, was also recorded (see below).

Other excellent records were:

Aulacomnium androgynum (SS8742): a species whose core area is further east, with few recent records in VC5.

Brachytheciastrum velutinum (SS8538): another species with a more easterly core range which seems to be on the decline.

Diphyscium foliosum (SS8744): a scarce western species.

Fissidens bryoides var. caespitans (SS8642, SS8538): formerly treated as a separate species, F. curnovii, this western taxon is on the edge of its range here.

Fissidens celticus (SS8642): another western species on the edge of its range.

Fissidens rivularis (SS8049): a scarce moss with a south-western distribution and few recent records for VC5.

Hedwigia stellata (SS8636): a mainly western and northern species of acid rock, which is scarce in the south-west (recorded as S. ciliata in Perry’s Bryophyte Atlas).

Jubula hutchinsiae (SS8049): a scarce western liverwort of wooded ravines, growing well here near the county border and with only a handful of records for VC5.

Jungermannia atrovirens (SS8049): another scarce liverwort growing here above the beach among dripping rocks covered with Palustriella commutata (the only site for this tufa-forming moss in Exmoor).

Lepidozia cupressina (SS9043): a beautiful and scarce species, in VC5 confined to a few western oak woods, growing here on decaying oak stumps and trunks.

Loeskeobryum brevirostre (SS8742): a scarce species in VC5

Metzgeria conjugata (SS8049): a scarce liverwort of water-splashed rocks

Nardia compressa (SS8642; SS8742): a rare liverwort in the south-west and potentially a new VC5 record, but Sharon didn’t realise this at the time. So, this will be an excuse to go back to this excellent site and collect a voucher specimen!

Plagiochila spinulosa (SS8636; SS8742): an infrequent western liverwort near the edge of its range.

Ptilidium ciliare (SS8943; SS9048): an attractive liverwort of heaths and scree, infrequent in south-west England.

Ptychomitrium polyphyllum (SS8636): a western species with few recent records in VC5.

Racomitrium aquaticum (SS8742): a western species with few recent records in VC5.

Racomitrium fasciculare (SS8636): a western species with few recent records in VC5.

Scleropodium touretii (SS8949; SS9049): a mainly coastal species with few recent records in VC5.

Tortella flavovirens (SS8949; SS9049): another coastal species with few recent records in VC5.

Tritomaria quinquedentata (SS9049): a rare species in VC5 and absent from most of the south-west, also found on Bossington Hill in 1997.

Trichostomum tenuirostre (SS8744; SS8742; SS8049): a western species with few VC5 records.

Andrew Branson, 12/08/2016

6th December 2015 – Lambert’s Castle and Fishponds.

6th December 2015 Lambert’s Castle and Fishponds

Leader: Andrew Branson 

On a grey misty day, a small party of Sharon Pilkington and Jenny Bennett joined Andrew Branson to record mosses and liverworts with John Newbould doing the paperwork. During the day we made 105 records of 70 species. In the morning session, we surveyed the perimeter of the hill fort. Lambert’s Castle has a beech plantation on the north and east slopes probably planted around the time of the First World War. Many of the branches and trunks of the beeches were covered with the moss Hypnum andoi. Cryphaea heteromalla was seen on bark along with liverworts such as Cololejeunea minutissima, Frullania dilatata, Microlejeunea ulcina and Metzgeria furcata and M. consanguinea. Dicranella heteromalla was found on woody banks with Lepidozia reptans and Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans. The epiphytes Orthotrichum pulchellum and O. lyellii were found on the southern margin of the hilltop enclosure.

The grassland at Lambert’s Castle is one of the few places in Dorset where mat-grass Nardus stricta is found together with the acid grassland mosses such as Rhytiadelphus squarrosus, Walking along the exposed, short grassland along the southern ridge in square SY3798, Polytrichum juniperinum, P. piliferum and an invasive alien species Lopholocolea semiteres were pointed out. This last species from the southern hemisphere was first seen on the Scilly Islands in 1955, and has been spreading across southern and eastern Britain in recent years.

Fishponds:

Fishponds

Part of the group at Fishponds.

After lunch, we moved to Fishpond Bottom, located on the hill slopes to the south of the hill fort. In particular, we were keen to visit three fields of purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea mire north-west of the Church.

The first moss of interest Sharon pointed out was Bartramia pomiformis on a hedge bank just inside the gate. This attractive moss has a decidedly western distribution and appears to have declined from many of its former localties in southern England and is rare in Dorset.

The mosses and liverworts recorded here are amongst quite dense purple moor-grass with an interesting mix of vascular plants including: marsh violet Viola palustris whose Dorset stronghold is on the acid wetlands of west Dorset in 10km squares SY39 and ST09; pale butterwort Pinguicula lusitanica whose Dorset stronghold conversely is Purbeck, and marsh pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris. Other higher plants included devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis, bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragrum. bog pimpernel Anagalis tenella, bog pondweed Potamogeton polygonifolius in wet flushes, sharp-flowered rush Juncus acutiflorus and common cotton-grass Eriophorum angustifolium.

Bartramia pomiformis

Hedges consisted mainly of willows but also holly and silver birch, with hard fern Blechnum spicant frequent on the hedge banks. These hedges are important for epiphytes – both as lichens and bryophytes with Neckera pumila, Zygodon conoideus and liverworts Cololejeunea minutissima and Frullania dilatata amongst the species present. Hookeria lucens, a moss of wet flushes on wood banks and streamsides was present along the northern hedgerow.

Amongst the purple-moor- grass five species of Sphagnum were recorded: S. capillifolium subsp. rubellum, S. inundatum, S. palustre, S. papillosum and S. subnitens, with the moss Warnstorfia exannulata found amongst the sphagnum. Three species of liverwort were seen with the Sphagnum including: Kurzia pauciflora, Calopogeia fissa and Cephalozia connivens. Aneura pinguis and Calopogeia arguta were also present. Finally, we visited the small churchyard (SY36889833) where we recorded ten species including: Barbula convoluta, Dialytricia mucronata and Didymodon insulanus.

Sharon and Andrew were concerned at the lack of grazing on the mire with purple moor-grass tussocks starting to shade out the more demanding mire species. Tussocks reached 750mm in one field and were somewhat smaller in the first field at about 400mm. Light grazing with cattle would greatly benefit the first field, whereas the second field with the larger tussocks it may be better to have a burn. Although it was agreed that this might be difficult given the enclosed nature of the site and the nearby houses. The leaders also recommended a more detailed survey on this important West Dorset site.

Report: John Newbould

15th November 2015 – Leigh Woods, Bristol

Present: Jenny Bennett, Andrew Branson, Claire Halpin, David Morris, Sharon Pilkington, Gary Powell, Alan Rayner, Marion Rayner, Carol Taylor, John Taylor.

Ten keen bryologists investigated Nightingale Valley, a wooded mini-gorge at the southern end of Leigh Woods on the south (Somerset) side of the Avon Gorge. The topography offered a welcome respite from high winds and provided much bryological interest from species of limestone rocks and cliffs, woodland and decaying fallen wood. Together, the group added no fewer than 16 new species to a list for the area made in 2014, edging the total number over 100. Highlights included the ‘black graffiti liverwort’ Marchesinia mackaii, thriving in several places on shaded natural rock outcrops on the side of the valley, Plasteurhynchium striatulum and Mnium stellare. Marion made the best find of the day when her sharp eyes picked out a small but dense patch of the humidity-demanding liverwort Riccardia palmata growing on a single decaying log at the bottom of the valley. This very western and northern species has not been found in North Somerset before.

Marchesinia mackai

Later we risked life and limb dodging speeding cyclists on the river path to search habitats below the famous Clifton Bridge for additional species. Here we found a wall and limestone outcrop which harboured typical light-demanding species such as Trichostomum crispulum. On a wall a large patch of Scorpiurium circinatum was nearly dismissed as just another anonymous-looking pleurocarp as it was wet from recent rain and its shoots lacked the distinctive worm-like appearance that normally attract the eye.

Sharon Pilkington