The Border Bryologists, 1998

Shropshire Botanical Society Newsletter - Spring 1999 - pages 6-8

Mark Lawley

 

"Bother," said the botanist. He had been working hard indoors all morning. "Hang the housework," and he bolted outside. Through meadows he rambled, along quiet lanes, among the rustling trees... soft breezes caressed the brow of Kenneth Grahame's workshy wanderer on his first ramble of the year, but a biting north wind practically froze the pants off ten Border Bryologists on their January jaunt up the western slopes of Hopesay Hill, west of Craven Arms in south Shropshire. Hopesay Hill came into the National Trust's possession in 1952, a serendipity which saved it from the post-war excesses of agricultural development, creating an ecological time-warp of rough grazing around springs and flushes, home to a substantial though unremarkable array of bog-mosses and liverworts: Sphagnum auriculatum, S. capillifolium, S. palustre, S. recurvum var. mucronatum, S. subnitens, Climacium dendroides, Calliergon stramineum, Drepanocladus exannulatus, D. fluitans, D. revolvens, Riccardia chamedryfolia, R. multifida, Odontoschisma sphagni, Scapania irrigua, S. undulata, Calypogeia muelleriana and Cephaloziella rubella.

In February we met in north Herefordshire to explore Brimfield and Wyson Commons near Woofferton, south of Ludlow, and beef up a very modest list of bryophytes recorded from S056 since Binstead's day. Brimfield's is an old-style common where cattle and sheep crew-cut the vegetation. Squatters' cottages encircle the grazing area, and the sight of eleven crazed cryptogamists crawling over anthills and through saturated fen pushed the natives' curiosity beyond bursting point. As the curtains twitched, two girls came over to find out what was afoot, and then began filling their egg-boxes with mosses, and delighting to peer through a hand-lens for the first time.

Rhodobryum roseum grew on the anthills with Polytrichum juniperinum and P. formosum. On the wetter ground in summer a botanist will find Bog Pimpernel, Anagallis tenella, Tubular Water Dropwort, Oenanthe fistulosa, Flat Sedge, Blysmus compressus, and a variety of commoner sedges, but the bryophytes proved less noteworthy: Campylium stellatum, Fissidens adianthoides, Cratoneuron commutatum, C. filicinum, Philonotis fontana, Bryum pseudotriquetrum and Riccardia multifida. Perhaps the intensive grazing and poaching of the ground deterred more delicate species.

We passed the morning of our March meeting exploring an oak wood at Mainstone, west of Bishops Castle. Metzgeria fruticulosa, Encalypta vulgaris, Orthotrichum stramineum, Plagiothecium succulentum and Zygodon baumgartneri went on the list. Z. baumgartneri has turned up several times in diverse localities during the year; perhaps, like Bryum subelegans, it is a commoner epiphyte in our region than was previously thought. After lunch we changed habitat and venue to explore wet moorland at Rhos Fiddle in the Kerry Hills, near the westernmost extremity of Shropshire. As time ran out we had not done justice to this interesting site, although Ditrichum crispatissimum came to notice before we vacated the field for high tea.

1998 repeated the previous year's pattern of extra-curricular excursions, and a number of ad hoc explorations brought interesting developments in our understanding of Shropshire's bryoflora. Early in the year we explored a disused quarry at Farlow, near Oreton, north-west of Cleobury Mortimer, where a band of Carboniferous Limestone outcrops. The quarry is on private land, but we secured the required permission after a felicitous exchange in the pub at lunchtime, where the resident dog made off with a mouthful of moss gathered that morning. Efforts to retrieve it caused considerable merriment amongst the natives, one of whom had an aunty who owned the quarry in question. She, apparently, had gone shopping for the day, so would be none the wiser if we looked over her ground. Only two elderly nags, who had not seen our like before, balefully protested the disruption to their routine, as half an hour's grubbing about on lime- rich rock and soil yielded Aloina aloides var. aloides, Encalypta streptocarpa, E. vulgaris, Phascum curvicolle with its arcuate seta, Pottia recta (with hardly any seta at all), P. starkeana ssp. starkeana, Bryum klingraeffii, Leiocolea badensis and L. turbinata.

A week or two later, mixed woodland, tracks, streams and pasture on the north-eastern slopes of Brown Clee Hill produced Barbula spadicea, Fissidens viridulus, Racomitrium aciculare, R. affine (sensu Frisvoll), Zygodon baumgartneri and Plagiomnium ellipticum.

Flushed with these successes, the same three stooges sallied out the following week to Clun, where the car-park and castle grounds gave us Pottia starkeana and Barbula trifaria. Up the road at Bicton, an old quarry contained Hedwigia ciliata, but the day's activities were curtailed by the demise of our leader, who had over-imbibed at lunchtime and spent the afternoon resting in the car, listening to the Test Match. The tidings from Trinidad were suitably sobering.

In a seldom-visited and little-known upland corner at the most westerly extremity of Shropshire, where the Rhuddwr stream feeds the upper reaches of the River Teme, Calliergon giganteum, Schistidium alpicola, Heterocladium heteropterum var. heteropterum and Frullania tamarisci grow in a wooded gorge. Above the stream, a forestry plantation provided Ptychomitrium polyphyllum, a moss which, liking it wet and westerly, is common on many Welsh hills, but peters out in England. Nearby, Diplophyllum obtusifolium made its Salopian debut. Very similar to its ubiquitous congener D. albicans, and where it occurs nearly always growing with its commoner cousin on steep banks of soil at the sides of forestry tracks, this liverwort subsequently came to notice at the Rhiddings in the next hectad to the east (S028), further south in Shropshire at Kinsley Wood near Knighton (S027) and in Bucknell Wood (S037), as well as in north Herefordshire on the High Vinnals (S047) near Ludlow and at Sned Wood, Aymestrey (S046). With these records coming in as many weeks, perhaps we should regard D. obtusifolium as a normal member of the flora of steep, disturbed soil- banks at the side of forestry roads in the Marches. D. obtusifolium looks somewhat smaller and fresher than D. albicans, and remains flat against the soil instead of curling up its leaves, so is not too daunting to distinguish in the field, although fresh young D. albicans may fool the unwary.

In March, needing a quiet afternoon after liquid lunch in Newcastle-on-Clun, we tottered along a back lane to the churchyard, with its pleasant, open aspect on a well-lit, south-facing slope. Choice among the gatherings on and between the graves were Barbula revoluta and B. trifaria, Funaria fascicularis, Rhynchostegiella tenella and Scleropodium cespitans.

A summer's break from the rigours of recording vascular plants found us at Cramer Gutter, a Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve on Catherton Common, east of Titterstone Clee Hill. This marsh has previously attracted surprisingly little attention from bryologists, for really wet mires come few and far between in the Midlands, and Cramer Gutter's list of bryophytes continues to grow with each visit. Pottering contentedly about in warm sunshine, and recalling the fading light of a cold winter's afternoon on our previous visit to the Gutter, we added to the reserve's list several liverworts worthy of notice: Cephalozia connivens, Kurzia pauciflora (previously also found on Catherton Common to the south of the stream), Odontoschisma sphagni and its gemmiferous congener O. denudatum, Riccardia latifrons, as well as Dicranum bonjeanii. Mylia anomala and Sphagnum tenellum had already been recorded from the reserve. Wet flushes to the south of the stream added Drepanocladus revolvens, Scorpidium scorpidioides and Calypogeia sphagnicola, with Barbula spadicea and Tortella tortuosa nearby.

The landscape of the Welsh Marches is littered with little abandoned quarries, sources long ago for building and road stone. Nowadays they attract bryologists as nectar attracts bees, particularly when there is lime in the rock and trees do not cast unbroken shade. Just such a quarry in Rotting Wood on Whettleton Hill south of Craven Arms turned up Phascum curvicolle, Barbula reflexa and Gyroweisia tenuis.

With such a wet autumn, some of us took advantage of the farmers' inability to promptly replough their stubble, turning up Acaulon muticum and Bryum violaceum from a fallow field on the Herefordshire side of Bringewood Chase near Ludlow, while in south Shropshire, Ephemerum serratum var. minutissimum came before us at Wistanstow and near Red Wood, north of Clun. The latter field also carried Acaulon muticum and Fossombronia wondraczekii. In plantations nearby, Brachythecium salebrosum and Blasia pusilla grow by the forestry tracks.

The Border Bryologists resumed their formal programme at Ratlinghope in October, exploring Bilbatch on the west side of the Long Mynd. With several bryological debutantes in the party, our outing turned into an easy-going training day for the rising stars of the 21st century. "Is this a Final Notice?" ...."Mm, fontana, I think." The warm autumn sunshine encouraged a relaxed approach throughout the day, with a good variety of species from the stream, wet flushes, grassy banks, alder trees and boulders. Edna Allbutt found Schistostega pennata glowing in the dark recesses of fox-holes on the hillside. Ditrichum crispatissimum, Calliergon cordifolium, Bryum pallens and Trichostomum crispulum also came before us.

Our final meeting of 1998 became the annual trespass into Wales, to meet Ray Woods at Harley Dingle, near New Radnor. The Welsh contingent pushed numbers up to fourteen, and bryophytes proved similarly diverse and numerous in the valley, prospering from the combination of lime from below and recent rain from above.

The valley looked full of liverworts, Jungermannia hyalina, Trichocolea tomentella, Saccogyna viticulosa, Plagiochila punctata and Riccia subbifurca sprang to attention, and Barbilophozia hatcheri became a first record for Radnorshire. The mosses chipped in with Sphagnum teres, Fissidens celticus, Diphyscium foliosum, Plagiobryum zieri, Racomitrium ericoides and R. elongatum, Brachythecium glareosum, Philonotis calcarea and Hygrohypum ochraceum. Bewitched by the bryodiversity, we moved barely 300 yards in the day, not even coming close to the rocks further up the valley which had been reserved for our inspection.

Instead we tripped round to the sheltered gorge at Water-break-its-neck for half an hour before the light failed. Here Metzgeria temperata and Plagiochila spinulosa promenade over the rocks and trees. These delicate plants depend upon the shelter and humidity of the moist ravine, and shun the desiccating effects of wind-blasted open ground.

Sheltered gorges, like abandoned quarries, are the stuff of bryological dreams, but the meadows, mires, moors, rills and rivers, waysides and woods of the Marches all have variety and interest, and a botanist loses track of time as he wanders the quiet byways and streamsides, where the wind softly whispers in the willows.

 

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If you would like a copy of our programme for 1999-2000, please send a stamped and addressed envelope to Mark Lawley, 12A Castleview Terrace, Ludlow, SY8 2NG in September. You are also most welcome to suggest venues for meetings.

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