The Border Bryologists

Shropshire Botanical Society Newsletter - Autumn 1999 - pages 5-6

Mark Lawley


The Border Bryologists meet to look for and identify bryophytes in Shropshire, Herefordshire and east Wales. We found it easy to start up our group because the Herefordshire Botanical Society was already providing a forum for active local botanists, to whom we could advertise. And since the Border Bryologists have come into existence, the Shropshire Flora Group has constituted itself into the Shropshire Botanical Society, which also advertises our activities to its members. So, with free advertising and postage provided by two local botanical societies, the Border Bryologists enjoy negligible running costs. Long may our two sugar-daddies remain solvent.

Why have a local group? What purpose does it serve? We wanted first to learn how to identify bryophytes in the field, which necessitated regular meetings close to hand, with an accomplished bryologist in attendance. During our first two years - 1994 and 1995 - Roy Perry attended nearly all our meetings, and provided the required expertise. Without Roy we would have struggled to identify the plants we found, and quite likely lost heart. Instead we gained sufficient momentum for lift-off. Latterly, Ray Woods and Jonathan Sleath have given expert help, despite busy professional careers. Gradually, the other members of our group have gained in confidence (if not in competence!), even though it sometimes seems the partly sighted are leading the blind.

And what of the future? Rather than allow our group to become a coterie of experienced bryologists, too daunting for beginners to join, those of us who have acquired a little bryological knowledge are trying in turn to help Stage-1 novices to gain some bryological ability. Indeed, our most important function is to help ignorant but interested botanists gain a foothold on the lower rungs of cryptogamic competence. Collecting and compiling records for a site or grid-square, and finding uncommon species, are of secondary importance at our arranged meetings, and better catered for during ad hoc or solo sorties.

To further this educational gearing, the Border Bryologists have arranged an indoor workshop at Ludlow Museum this winter. Both the museum and the bryologists stand to gain: the museum benefits because more people in through the front door this year brings a bigger grant from local government next year. Consequently, we have not been asked to pay to hire the museum's facilities. And budding bryologists will also benefit by acquiring confidence in examining and identifying bryophytes under the microscope: how to dissect leaves off stems, look for auricles on Plagiothecium stems, prepare peristomes for examination, or search for stomata on Orthotrichum capsules, or for gemmae and gametangia.

So an active Local Interest Group, by getting beginners started - both in the field and indoors - may serve a different function to that of the British Bryological Society. A local group is better placed than the BBS to cater for beginners, who are more likely to become aware of and attend local meetings than make the effort to travel long distances for national meetings. In this way a local group can act as a nursery for L-plate bryologists, who may subsequently join the BBS and the national scene. Indeed, several people from the Welsh borders have recently joined the BBS, apparently as a consequence of interest generated locally.

On the Welsh borders, as elsewhere, local natural history societies and wildlife trusts arrange meetings quite independently of each other, and indeed often seem entirely ignorant of each other's programmes. I certainly met with genuine rather than merely polite surprise and interest when mentioning the Border Bryologists to local wildlife trusts, and improved communication between groups of local naturalists may well bring more potential bryologists on to the scene. The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust has recently expressed interest in the Border Bryologists as a convenient local vehicle for introducing their members to bryology. At present, no one regularly records bryophytes in Worcestershire, and it will be interesting to see if anything develops in the county as a result of the Trust's initiative. I suspect that members of other local wildlife trusts would like to learn about bryophytes, but that neither the Trusts nor their members know who to approach locally, and understandably blanch at the prospect of going it alone.


Border Bryologists' programme 1999-2000

Our meetings are to help beginners learn their mosses and liverworts, rather than high-powered recording sessions. Please bring sandwiches to all outdoor meetings, which are on Sundays, starting at 10.30 am. We have also arranged an indoor meeting to help beginners with microscopic procedures and identification. You are very welcome to suggest venues for future outdoor meetings: please include grid references and details for parking.

October 17th 1999: Whitcliffe and Bringewood, Ludlow. Meet at the Linney Car Park, SO507747. We shall see a variety of common woodland species.

November 14th 1999: Hanley Dingle, 6 miles ESE of Tenbury Wells, Worcs. Park by the lane between Orleton and Stanford Bridge at SO698666. The BBS visited this Worcs. Wildlife Reserve in poor weather in 1979 and departed feeling that more could be found under more propitious conditions.

December 9th 1999 Thursday 10.30 am: indoor meeting at Ludlow Museum, SO513746, for a day at the microscopes. Car park off the road in front of the museum, which is near the top of Old Street. Approaching from the north, go up Corve Street (Feathers Hotel on left at top of street), then straight on past the traffic lights and road-junction. The museum is on the left, 50 yards down the hill. Approaching from the south, cross Ludford Bridge (Charlton Arms on left), then follow the road round to the right, then round to the left, go up the hill, and the museum is on the right 50 yards before the top of the hill. Pub lunch, so don't bring sandwiches. There is a maximum of 8 for this meeting, so you must book to come (tel. Mark Lawley on 01584 876564). We have a second date in reserve if more than 8 people want to attend.

February 20th 2000: north end of Wenlock Edge, 1 mile south of Much Wenlock. Park in Wenlock Edge Car Park at SO614997 on the Church Stretton road (B4371). Wenlock Edge is limestone, so we shall see some calcicoles.

March 19th 2000: Maelinydd Common, Llanbister, Radnorshire. Meet at the junction on the minor road between Llangunllo and Llanbister (SO136713). Radnorshire's wet commons have plenty of bryological interest.

April 9th 2000: to examine old calcareous walls at Chandos, a Tudor mansion in SE Herefordshire. Park off the lane at Jean Wynne-Jones's white house (SO 641350) in Rushall, near Much Marcle, Ledbury.

May 14th 2000: Holywell Dingle, a Herefordshire NT Reserve 4 miles south of Kington. Park on the lay-by on the A4111 at SO 308509. The woodland and stream overlie Old Red Sandstone and should offer many species.

June 4th 2000: Catherton Common, Cleeton St Mary, Shropshire. Meet at the side of the lane mile west of Cleeton St Mary (SO 607787) to explore the sheepwalks and flushes. In the afternoon we may move over to Cramer Gutter.

August 9th-16th 2000: botanical meeting at Ardtornish, Morvern, by kind invitation of Faith Raven, and led by Brian Brookes. Ardtornish is an estate on Morvern, a peninsula on the west coast of Scotland opposite Mull, south-west of Fort William. Its mires, woods, cliffs and coast carry an exceptionally varied flora. For bryologists, the hepatic mats and tiny liverworts in the moist ravines are particularly choice. If the remote splendour of a Scottish mansion and countryside sounds like your choice of holiday, contact Brian Brookes at Borelick, Trochry, Dunkeld, Perthshire, PH10 0BX, tel: 01350 723222. Inclusive cost will be in the region of 375.


Mark Lawley, 12a Castleview Terrace, Ludlow, SY8 2NG, 01584 876564.

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