We had been warned to expect very wet ground after weeks of rain but it was more windy than wet on the day. Still, all 15 of us were swaddled up warmly and in waterproofs, ready for whatever the Mendip weather could throw at us.
After a warm welcome and introduction to the reserve by James, from the Somerset Wildlife Trust, we predictably took around an hour to cover the first 200 metres. The farm has classic Mendip drystone walls which were dripping with typical mosses (Homalothecium sericeum, Anomodon viticulosus, Neckera complanata, Tortella tortuosa etc.) and a spectacular sight.
Eventually we made it to the former lead mining area, which looked like a series of sinkholes. We had been warned about the possibility of hidden mine shafts in some of these – where they had been covered with timbers and then soil long ago – so there was an incentive to stay on firmer-looking ground.
The sides of the pits were of quite acid clay, contrasting sharply with occasional limestone exposures with typical calcicoles. David Hawkins found the first of several colonies of Acaulon muticum here, a great find. Nearby, Ditrichum plumbicola was winkled out of hiding and new to most people. Some expressed disbelief that a moss could be quite that small! Although it is known from a few places in the historic Mendip lead-field, D. plumbicola has not been found at Chancellor’s Farm before. Finally, to complete a trio of tinies, Ephemerum recurvifolium was discovered – another new species for the reserve.
After a lunch out of the wind we headed into another part of the farm where there were numerous rakes (the linear depressions left after lead ore was extracted) and also some metal-rich spoil with a large population of Spring Sandwort Minuartia verna, some of which was still flowering. We admired Racomitrium canescens, found here in 2015 and still doing well, and puzzled over mysterious ‘moss balls’ which turned out to be Trichostomum crispulum. Moving on, limestone grassland had Rhodobryum roseum, Tortella squarrosa, Thuidium assimile and Breutelia chrysocoma, not seen at Chancellor’s Farm since 1989, and a rare species in N. Somerset. Worryingly, some of the bryophytes growing in the turf were afflicted by ‘algal gloop’, something that is increasingly affecting our countryside and possibly a sign of eutrophication caused by deposition of atmospheric nitrogen.
By this point the light was fading away fast and we squelched back toward the farm, realising that we had barely scratched the surface of this large site.
Sharon PilkingtonDownload species records