The first International Symposium on the Biology of Sphagnum was sponsored jointly by the BBS and the International Association of Bryologists (IAB) and was held at the University of Exeter on 17-18 July, 1991. It was preceded by a field excursion starting in Glasgow on 12 July.
The field excursion, with 36 participants, visited a number of sites where different habitat conditions and species of Sphagnum were seen. After an inauspicious start which meant that a planned visit to the Silver Flowe NNR could not be undertaken because the Cooran Lane was in spate and could not be crossed to reach the site, an alternative site was found on the Cairnsmore of Fleet. Standing high above Loch Grannoch, this provided an exhilarating, if fleeting, glimpse of Scotland before the journey south. Late afternoon provided a contrast at the lowland raised bog, Glasson Moss.
The following day provided an opportunity to see rarities in the British Sphagnum flora, with visits to Muckle Moss and Moor House, again two contrasting sites. A measure of the interest in these peatlands and their Sphagna can be gauged by th fact that we were too late for our evening meal in Lancaster. We were undeterred, and the following day saw equally intensive visits to the fen at Malham Tarn and degraded blanket bog on Featherbed top.
Chartley Moss was the main attraction of the following day before we pressed southwards ready to take in the valley mires of the New Forest and Dorset on the final day. This part of the meeting produced interesting finds to add to the Sphagnum flora of Britain (including the North American S. bartlettianum and S. andersonianum) and showed the value of bringing together in the field bryologists with different taxonomic cultures and with different experiences and conceptions of the same species.
The two days of papers in Exeter were attended by some 75 people. The intention was that the meeting should be wide-ranging and provide an up-to-date picture of current work on this important genus, but forcing eight crowded sessions into two days was something of a test of stamina. The participants stood up very well. Sessions covered were: taxonomy, biogeography, population genetics, physiology, physiological ecology, ecology, peat-forming systems and the interactions between Sphagnum and man. An opening survey on the history of Sphagnum studies by Hugo Sjörs and a closing session of crystal ball gazing by Dicky Clymo were especially appreciated.
The most gratifying thing about the meeting was that the high attendance brought together not only workers from different geographical areas, but also from different disciplines to provide a stimulating atmosphere for exchange of ideas and information. I look forward to the second Sphagnum symposium.