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.