2 April. The meeting opened with a One Day Course on Bryophytes, run by Ken Adams and Peter Wanstall, at the Dereham Sixth Form Centre. A total of sixteen people attended comprising local teachers, biology students and BBS members.
Proceedings got off to a good start on coffee and biscuits provided by Ken’s wife, ably assisted by various members of his family! After this Ken and Peter got straight down to business, dealing first with liverworts and then with the mosses. Progress was rapid, mainly because of the excellent handouts which Ken had provided, together with the range of fresh specimens supplied by Peter, and ‘students’ were soon looking down microscopes and identifying their first mosses.
After a break for lunch the party went to the local cemetery, where a very respectable number of bryophytes (35) were quickly collected and various points of field identification demonstrated. Back at the lab. another cup of coffee helped to warm everyone up before a final session with the microscopes, during which Ken did a good job of trying to ‘sell’ the BBS to those present.
At around five o’clock mopping up operations began, and people started to disperse – all expressing themselves well pleased with the event. Certainly from the Local Secretaries’ point of view the event was very successful since contact was established with several local people who appeared very keen to get further involved in activities such as recording within the county.
The Society should be grateful to Ken and his family and to Peter for having given up their time, as well as to the Director of the Dereham Sixth Form Centre, Mr Paul Mitchell, who arranged for us to have the use of their facilities free of charge.
3 April. As the party ploughed its way across some very ankle wrenching terrain on Roydon Common it quickly became apparent that the lack of a competent Sphagnologist was going to be a distinct drawback. Roydon is rich in Sphagna, with 16 species recorded, but very few people were inclined to commit themselves as to actual identities so the final list from the site contains only five Sphagna.
A thorough search was made of the area where Homalothecium nitens was reputed to grow, but no trace of it could be found nor, indeed, of the other specialities of the region.
After an al fresco lunch, taken at Dersingham, the party moved onto Dersingham Bog, having first examined some of the dampish sandy banks lying above bog level which yielded fine Barbilophozia attenuata and a lot of Hypnum Jutlandicum in fruit. Attention then moved onto the Bog itself, where Eustace Jones supplied names for a variety of horribly small leafy liverworts.
We moved onto an old railway line, but it proved very dull bryologically until we reached some sandy banks near the Wolferton end of the line where Giles Clarke made the star discovery of the day by refinding Schistostega pennata, twinkling away merrily down a rabbit burrow.
Finally we moved on to East Winch Common, a Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust reserve, to look specifically for Hypnum imponens, which had been found in luxuriant abundance a few weeks before. Eventually material was found.
4 April. A considerably enlarged party of 22 people assembled at Swanton Novers Great Wood where, after a brief talk by the warden – David Henshilwood -we moved off. None of the rarities encountered on previous occasions was refound, but the first NCR of the trip – Dicranum montanum – was found by Richard Libbey in an area of pollarded oak, where large tufts of Leucobryum glaucum were also prominent.
After lunch we drove to Mossymere Wood, which, despite its name, did not prove frantically interesting but Angela Newton found Frullania dilatata and Orthotrichum pulchellum and Joan Appleyard made an NCR with Hypnum mammillatum. Buxton Heath, the last locality of the day, saw a slight deterioration in the weather conditions, but not enough to stop play. Chris Preston found Ulota crispa, which is rare in the county but it was obvious that considerable changes in the habitat had been brought about by Willow and Birch encroachment, and no trace could be found of the pools in which Cinclidium stygium and Homalothecium nitens had grown.
5 April. Moving quickly through some fairly boring pinewoods at Holt Lowes Country Park the party reached a minor valley feature which led down into the main valley of the river Glaven. This was to be the main focus of our activities. The presence of species such as Campylium stellatum and Ctenidium molluscum indicated more calcareous conditions, as well as the various Sphagna. Hepatics included Pellia neesiana found by Martin Corley, Riccardia multifida and Odontoschisma sphagni. Various individuals were seen furtively lifting clumps of Sphagnum under some of the straggly birch growing on the valley side – however, no trace could be found of Cryptothallus. Harold Whitehouse, by neatly sidestepping the fangs of a lurking adder, managed to keep the party up to full strength, whilst at the same time relieving the local Secretary of a lot of tedious extra paperwork.
In the thicker birch scrub near the river Glaven Philip Lightowlers refound Hookeria lucens in its only Norfolk locality. It was subsequently found to be abundant all along the banks of a small rivulet.
In the afternoon a short drive took us to the next locality, Fellbrigg Hall a magnificent National Trust property, north of which lies the Great Wood. This includes fragments of ancient Beechwood. A haha proved immediately seductive to some of the party, and Harold Whitehouse found Rhynchostegiella tenella. Others, however, moved on more briskly to examine a sandy bank in the Lions Mouth area. Here Diplophyllum albicans, Lepidozia reptans and Nardia scalaris were found, along with the usual acidic mosses. The woods themselves proved disappointing, although the existing species list for the area was greatly expanded. The great attention being paid to seepy knotholes on the ancient Beeches suggested that Zygodon forsteri was on more than one mind. However, everybody was out of luck.
Towards the end of the afternoon various people could be discerned sloping off sheepishly in the direction of the Tearooms. It is a pleasure to be able to report however that the majority of the party upheld the fine moral standards of the Society and went on to do some recording in underworked squares. Harold Whitehouse led one group in an abortive search for Leptobarbula berica, which managed to locate more Rhynchostegiella tenella, as did some of the other groups. A visit to a Nursery at High Kelling provided Martin Corley with his second NCR of the day, Marchantia polymorpha var. alpestris.
6 April. Colder, distinctly damper, weather welcomed a diminishing number to Thompson Common, a Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust reserve. The area consists of grassland and some scrubby wood, intermingled with a large number of small ponds, representing the remains of periglacial ice-cored mounds, called pingoes. Apart from quantities of frogspawn these yielded Fontinalis antipyretica, but little else of bryological interest.
It was hoped, vainly as it turned out, that some of the numerous anthills might prove productive of small acrocarps. However, the lateness of the season meant that growth had been much delayed. Finds included Rhodobryum roseum, Climacium dendroides and Bryum microerythrocarpum. Almost as a man the decision was taken to find a suitable hostelry in which to thaw out a bit and in which to have lunch.
Tony Smith (of Whittington, Staffs), the first arrival at East Wretham Heath, the scene of the afternoon visit, was surprised to find himself being interviewed for BBC Radio Norfolk! The party was joined for the afternoon by Rex Hancy, the President of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society, and presenter of the programme in question. Rex had already given us some welcome air time before the meeting, so it was nice to have him join us in the field. Other victims to his microphone included Eustace Jones and Martin Corley. Wretham Heath proved to be exceptionally unexceptional! An area of tussocky Agrostis grassland occupied a lot of time and energy, as did one or two old elders which yielded Frullania dilatata to Rod Corner’s eagle eye. Angela Newton found Tortula papillosa on an elder near Lang Mere. On the way back to the cars Riccia fluitans was found to be abundant in a murky pool by the side of the main road.
7 April. It was a much reduced party which assembled in a wet and windswept car park at Grimes Graves but a strongly developed sense of duty, or possibly an outbreak of mass lunacy, eventually drove the party out of their cars and into the field. Once out in it, it quickly proved to be even worse than it had initially appeared. Glasses and handlenses quickly misted over, and people were reduced to grabbing bits of ‘interesting’ material and stuffing them into polythene bags for later examination.
One small, but hyperenthusiastic, group ventured out to the nearby Battle area, in search of Rhytidium, which they duly found. Meanwhile, the rest retreated gratefully towards the nearest pub. Over sandwiches, beer, chips, and other gastronomic delights, it was decided to abandon Hockham Hills and Holes completely to the elements. As an alternative the trip to Scarning Fen, scheduled for the last day, was brought forward. This meant that those leaving early had an opportunity to see Leiocolea rutheana. Then, having made sure that at least one of the advertised goodies had been seen by at least some of the party, the local Secretaries retreated rapidly in the direction of King’s Lynn, hot baths, and dry trousers!
8 April. The final remnants of the party, reduced by this stage to a mere six, met on Woodbastwick Village Green to meet Rick Southwood, the NCC warden for Woodbastwick Fen and the Bure Marshes. We convoyed to his HQ where he gave us a brief rundown on the site. Starting in an area of coppiced Alder we then moved to an open area of short mown marsh which was totally dominated by Calliergon cordifolium. This great uniformity of bryophyte vegetation proved to be fairly general. There were a lot of mosses, but only 21 species were recorded of which the most interesting was Orthotrichum pulchellum. A five minute spell in Woodbastwick Churchyard had yielded nearly as many species, with considerably less effort! However the party was partly compensated by the sight of lasciviously coupling toads, and spawning Pike. It can be a few parties of bryologists, too, who have had a bridge towed into position specially for their use!
Later, Winterton Dunes, was found to be covered in great sheets of common bryophytes: patches of Ptilidium ciliare up to 50 cm in diameter were particularly impressive, as were freely fruiting Campylopus introflexus and C. pyriformis. Damp hollows yielded Sphagnum fimbriatum, Drepanocladus fluitans and Gymnocolea inflata.
Final thoughts ……
Whatever success we achieved, it was in large part due to the tremendous amount of help we received from Dr Martin George, of the Regional NCC office, who supplied advice about sites, and addresses which it would have taken ages to find by any other means. The Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust were similarly helpful. Even those private landowners who felt unable to grant us permission for a visit, due to the nesting activities of their pheasants, were sufficiently interested to indicate that visits at an oologically less critical time would be welcome. And that leaves us with some interesting sites to look at, maybe with some of the local people whom we met through the One Day School.
Socially the trip seems to have been enjoyed by most people: bryologically it can only be described as average to dull. We failed to refind more than a few of the recorded rarities of the region – and in most instances the culprit would appear to be habitat change, rather than incompetence. The need for conservation measures aimed specifically at bryophytes appears to be overwhelming, even on those sites which are already Reserves. It looks as if we, as a Society, ought to be looking at the way in which we record the results of our endeavours. As NCC noted, after I had sent them our final lists, site cards with a long list of names are of little use to a non-specialist, especially if the card gives no indication of degrees of rarity, nor of the location of any rarities.