These mixed woodlands on the south-eastern fringes of the Blackdown Hills on greensands and acid clays have a rich woodland flora, with species such as Hookeria lucens, Trichocolea tomentella and several Sphagnum. Some of the flushes in the area were outstanding, but were largely lost to conifer plantations in the second half of the 20th century. But have they survived at all? They have not been visited much in recent years, so there could well be some surprises.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This area of the Dorset coast has some rather special bryophytes to match the stunning scenery. There was a possible recent find of the diminutive Pterygoneurum papillosum from the area, which might be interesting to track down. However, more likely finds are a good range of coastal Pottiales, including the possibility of declining species, such as Tortula viridifolia, as well as some larger pleurocarps, including Rhynchostegium megapolitanum.
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!
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.
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.
Leader: John Norton
This area of the New Forest with oak woodland, streams and acid heathland has been poorly recorded compared to some other parts of the Forest, but has some intriguing recent and old records such as Campylopus subulatus, Herzogiella seligeri and Anastrophyllum minutum. A joint meeting with the BBS Southern Group. Meet at the Linford Bottom car park SU181072, north of Linford.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
6 th December 2015 Wessex Bryology group visit Lambert’s Castle and
Leader: Andrew Branson Report: John Newbould
On a grey misty day, a small party of Sharon Pilkington, 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.
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 SP 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.
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.
SP and AB 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.