Imagine the local secretary’s relief when she woke on the morning of Friday, 25 November to find that the thick frost, which had enveloped the world for the previous four days, had gone. A pneumatic drill was about to be added to the list of essential equipment needed by a budding bryologist! But imagine even more, her horror that evening when the weatherman announced on the television that the rain, which had set in over the country during the afternoon, was to be “with us for the next thirty six hours”. It did not take any calculating to know that those thirty six hours included much of the coming weekend – the workshop weekend! However, the sun proverbially shone upon us as twenty six “students”, clutching the results of the first and essential technique to be learnt by any potential bryologist, that of making newspaper collecting-packets, two tutors, one local secretary-cum-demonstrator and a hopeful B.B.S. Membership Secretary, set off, sans pluie, for Wimbledon Common. The search for “if it is small and green, then it is probably a bryophyte” was about to begin!
The group was a very mixed one, five participants confessing to knowing nothing at all about bryophytes, three had learnt something only at school, six had had an undergraduate introductory course, six had studied a more advanced course at University or College and five were self-taught. (One person was not confessing to anything!) Nearly all said that they had come for personal interest and fifteen added that they had also come for professional reasons. Of the latter, eleven were teachers from primary and secondary schools, Further Education establishments, and a field centre. People had travelled not only from London and the Home Counties, but from as far afield at Peterborough, Grantham, Southsea and even Germany. Nine were members of the B.B.S. and seventeen were not.
Wimbledon Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and permission to collect had been obtained from the Wimbledon Common and Putney Common Conservators. Although bryologically poor it has a uniquely rich bryophyte flora for an urban, polluted environment. A beginner can be introduced, therefore, to an interesting variety of moss and liverwort species without being overwhelmed. A pleasant two hours were spent hunting bryophytes, Alan Eddy and Alan Harrington skilfully pointing out potential habitats and features of interest and distinction in the different plants, but tantalizingly refusing to identify anything!
After lunch which was more conducive to a good sleep than working in the laboratory, the task was started of learning to identify bryophytes with a key, and learning a range of techniques for examining them. By five o’clock, when the first day ended, skills were obviously developing and successes being enjoyed because a request was made to start a species list!
On Sunday, the gods were not so kind and it poured with rain all day, delaying the morning’s excursion. Alan Eddy began the morning by drawing together some of the features of bryophyte growth forms and structure, which had been met with the day before, and describing some new techniques necessary to see further points of taxonomic interest.
By half past ten the rain had eased, but not stopped, and promised no further improvement, so a small procession of cars made its way back to Wimbledon Common, this time to an area with a Sphagnum bog. Of the eight recorded species of Sphagnum on the Common, only three were found, two at the bog and a third round the edge of one of the Common ponds.
All enjoyed a welcome cup of coffee on return to base, before half of the group began their work in the laboratory while the rest gathered to discuss ideas about “teaching bryophytes” in school. Dr June Chatfield, of the Gilbert White Museum at Selbourne, mentioned work they had done at their field centre and the local secretary described and showed some of the work that she is doing with a class of nine year olds at Twickenham. Problems of teaching the concept of an alternation of generations to older pupils, and possible approaches, were discussed amongst other problems of motivation and timing of studies within the academic year.
After another good lunch and a brief introduction to Sphagnum, work continued in the laboratory, with some demonstrations of items of interest also being available for examination.
Ted Wallace joined the workshop on Sunday, and after being “mislaid” at the beginning of the morning’s excursion, offered guidance in the afternoon to anyone requiring it, using the selection of specimens in his very generous gift of nearly three hundred packets of mosses.
At four o’clock people began to disperse, all saying how much they had enjoyed the workshop and many telling of its particular value to them. Participants had come with a variety of expectations and seemingly those expectations had been realised, with some people thirsting for more! A request was made by some participants for a follow-up workshop and also for help with the introduction of work with mosses into a Middle school. Certainly those concerned with running the weekend were pleased with the reception of the workshop and the keen interest of all who took part; and George Geyman anticipates some new members for the Society. The search of the Common had not been extensive, nor particularly thorough in the areas visited, nonetheless thirty different species had been recorded by the end of the workshop.
Quote of the weekend, from two of the younger participants: “What do we need microscopes for?”