Spring meeting 1987: Penzance

HomeEventsSpring meeting 1987: Penzance

2 April 1987 - 7 April 1987

Meeting report

West Cornwall is renowned for its spectacular scenery and supports a wide range of interesting bryophytes including several introduced species established in Tresco. Thirty-seven members and friends responded to these lures, twenty-two staying for all or most of the meeting and the rest attending up to half the excursions. It was a pleasure to welcome Lillian Franck from W. Germany, and two new members, Gill Castle and Andrew Scott. Cornwall Trust for Nature Conservation Officers also joined us in the field on two days.

It was twenty-five years since the BBS last met in Cornwall, when we were based at Helston and spent more time on the Lizard than on the Land’s End peninsula (Paton (1963) Trans. BBS, 4, 528-531). Penzance was chosen this year because it is more convenient for a day trip by helicopter direct to Tresco in the Isles of Scilly. Sadly the Cordylines and other exotic plants which normally impart a Riviera appearance to the town, had been destroyed by severe weather the previous January. The meeting was based on the Union Hotel which proved to be a happy choice in every respect. Fortunately we did not have to endure the strong winds that persisted during the 1962 meeting, and with only two half-days spoilt by rain, we were much luckier with the weather than the forecasters predicted. All the excursions were held in West Cornwall, vice-county 1. The Land’s End peninsula and the Isles of Scilly are composed mainly of granite, whereas much of the Lizard consi sts of serpentine and hornblende-schists. Although Cornwall has been fairly well worked bryologically, comparatively little has been done during the last twenty years. Thus there was plenty of scope for some useful recording as well as the chance for members to see habitats and plants new to them.

2 April. Treen Cliff, Porthgwarra and Sennen Cove.

From Treen car park a short walk across fields brought us out on the coastal footpath a few miles S.W. of Penzance. Attention was drawn to a small quantity of Campylopus polytrichoides surrounded by an abundance of C. introflexus. The latter species was not observed on the Land’s End peninsula until 1970 since when it has increased and spread considerably. The flora of the over-trodden paths and the jumble of rocks on the headland was rather disappointing. Typical coastal species seen here (and elsewhere during the week) included Archidium alternifolium, Pottia crinita, Schistidium maritimum, Scleropodium tourettii, Trichostomum brachydontium, Weissia perssonii, Fossombronia husnotii, and the yellow lichen Teloschistes flavicans.

After driving a little further along the coast to Porthgwarra, and lunching on the beach, we explored the coast to the N.W. in warm sunshine. Not only were the Longships lighthouse off Land’s End and the Wolf Rock lighthouse clearly visible, but also the Isles of Scilly 28 miles to the S.W. The cliff tops are heathy or rocky with occasional springs and flushes. Additional species typical of the Cornish coast seen here (and elsewhere) included Bryum alpinum, Fissidens curnovii, F. limbatus, Hookeria lucens, Frullania microphylla and Riccia sorocarpa. The diminutive pale yellowish form of Mnium hornum on low peaty banks was unfamiliar to some people. The pool near Porthgwarra was too full of water to be interesting but epiphytes were abundant in the small valley woodland, including Orthotrichum pulchellum, Lejeunea ulicina, Radula complanata and Cololejeunea minutissima which was also seen on sheltered cliff-top rocks.

A smaller party went on to Sennen Cove to look at the N.-facing rocks and base-rich sandy slopes. Homalothecium lutescens, Rhynchostegium megapolitanum, Scorpiurium circinatum. Tortella flavovirens, Tortula ruraliformis and T. ruralis were among the plants noted before we ran out of time. It had been wet all day in the rest of Cornwall as Harold and Pat Whitehouse discovered when they went to St Mawgan near Newquay in a vain attempt to refind Leptobarbula berica. On their way back they found some arable fields S. of Canonstown N.E. of Penzance with Bryum violaceum and Funaria fascicularis new to the 10 km square.

3 April. Mullion Cliff and The Gaider/Downas Valley to Black Head.

We evenutally arrived at Mullion via circuitous routes owing to an accident on the Helston/Lizard road. We were in no hurry to get into the field because it was raining so heavily. Conditions on Mullion Cliff may have been good for bryophytes but they were diabolical for bryologists. All the paths were rivers and the shallow peaty depressions where nice plants grow, were flooded. Riccia beyrichiana and R. crozalsii were located but were seen again elsewhere on The Lizard and under better conditions. We abandoned our efforts prematurely and retreated to the Wheel Inn at Cross Lanes. While we steamed in front of an open fire and slaked a non-existent thirst, the clouds gave way to brilliant sunshine and quickly restored our morale. After lunch we drove to Arrowan Farm S.W. of Coverack only to find that the track out to The Gaider was awash with liquid mud and the stream in Downas Valley w as in full spate. This restricted the number of people who were able to proceed towards Black Head since only those with the longest Wellingtons could negotiate the submerged footbridge. As in many other parts of Cornwall, extensive areas of the cliff and valley slopes are densely covered by low wind-cut shrubs, making exploration rather difficult. Here, however, it is also possible to explore a wide range of habitats. Plants seen during the afternoon included Heterocladium heteropterum, Neckera complanata, Trichostomum crispulum, Weissia microstoma, Fossombronia angulosa, Frullania fragilifolia, Marchesinia mackaii, Metzgeria temperata, Plagiochila killarniensis and Porella obtusata. Only those people who crossed the stream were lucky enough to refind Gongylanthus ericetorum.

4 April. Carn Galver, Porthmoina Cove, and Pendeen Watch to Portheras Cove.

On Saturday morning thirty of us assembled beside the old mine engine-house near Rosemergy on the coast W. of Penzance. Although much of the building has been repointed, Barbula revoluta and Gymnostomum luisieri were refound, together with Gyroweisia tenuis. Several members went down to the coast where they saw plants such as Blindia acuta, Dicranella palustris, Epipterygium tozeri, Eucladium verticillatum, Hyocomium armoricum, Fossombronia angulosa and Lepidozia cupressina. Most of the party scrambled over the boulder-strewn Carn Galver massif (230 m). Plants not noted previously during the meeting included Bryum tenuisetum (new to the L. E. Peninsula) Cynodontium bruntonii, Dicranum scottianum, Hedwigia ciliata, Racomitrium aquaticum, Barbilophozia attenuata, Plagiochila punctata, Tritomaria exsectiformis, Scapania scandica (the only new vice-county record of the meeting) and the filmy fern Hymenophyllum wilsonii.

After lunch, group photographs and a short drive south to the lighthouse car park, we walked east to Portheras Cove. For part of the way the path is wide so that trampling is more dispersed, allowing a carpet of bryophytes to thrive. Amongst other things this contained Archidium alternifolium, Cratoneuron filicinum, Ditrichum cylindricum, Scleropodium tourettii, Weissia microstoma var. brachycarpa, Cephaloziella divaricata, C. stellulifera, Fossombronia husnotii, F. incurva (new to the L. E. Peninsula) and Lophozia excisa. Pogonatum nanum (not reported from this peninsula since 1882), Fossombronia pusilla var. pusilla, Kurzia sylvatica and Riccia crozalsii occurred on the pathside banks, as did Philonotis rigida which was seen again in the cove with Fossombronia angulosa and Fissidens pusillus.

Eric Watson, accompanied by Peter Wanstall, played truant and spent the day on the Lizard. During a nostalgic walk along the cliff path near Cadgwith he gathered a few plants of Tortula rhizophylla, known from the Isles of Scilly (1984) and the Isle of Wight (1964 as T. vectensis). This was the first record for mainland Britain and the best find of the meeting.

5 April. Kynance Cove and Cliff, Tremayne Wood and other sites on the Lizard.

Sunday is traditionally a free day but most members were keen to visit Kynance Cove. This is the richest and best known area for bryophytes on The Lizard but habitats are fragile and many species are becoming increasingly elusive. Only small quantities of Gongylanthus ericetorum and Riccia nigrella were seen but R. crozalsii, R. bifurca, R. beyrichiana, R. sorocarpa and Fossombronia husnotii were easier to find. Many mosses were also noted, ranging in size from tiny Pottia species to Pterogonium gracile.

Heavy blustery showers in the afternoon did not deter most people from sampling other venues. One group paid their respects to W. E. Nicholson’s grave in Landewednack churchyard, and refound Hyophila (Tortula) stanfordensis in its first British locality near the Lizard lighthouse. Several people visited Chynhalls Point near Coverack but again they had great difficulty in finding Riccia nigrella which carpeted the headland twenty-five years ago. Ephemerum sessile was seen here, new to the 10 km square. Other members sought shelter and a change of habitat in the bryologically unknown valley on Portscatho slates and grits, descending northwards to the Helford River W. of Tremayne Quay. A total of sixty-five bryophytes typical of non-basic, rocky woodland included Fissidens celticus.

6 April. Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.

This was the first time that the BBS had been transported by helicopter during a meeting and it was a unique experience for most of the twenty-five participants. On their own initiative, British International Helicopters (Penzance) rescheduled their flights so that we could have seven instead of the normal five hours in the island. Thus we could take our time and enjoy more than just the bryology of Tresco on a glorious sunny day. The bryophyte flora includes the Mediterranean Riccia crystallina and three, possibly four exotic species introduced from New Zealand, presumably as wrapping round the roots of imported plants: Lophocolea bispinosa, L. semiteres, the moss Eriopus apiculatus and Telaranea murphyae, so-named until its true identity can be established. It was appropriate that Rosaline Murphy, who first found the plant here, was one of our party.

We spent the morning in the Abbey Gardens (established in 1834), shocked and saddened by the devastation caused by the lowest temperatures on record and severe winds of the previous January. In the afternoon most of us walked round the Great Pool and back to the helipad via the S. side of Abbey Pool and over part of the sand dunes. All the exotic liverworts are widespread in and near the Abbey Gardens;. Lophocolea bispinosa is small, fairly often fertile and sometimes has sporophytes; most of the L. semiteres is male but one patch of female plants with perianths was seen; the Telaranea is always male. Eriopus apiculatus is much more elusive but several small patches were seen near the Abbey Drive. In some of the fields, Riccia crystallina intermingled with Sphaerocarpos michelii and S. texanus, formed very extensive carpets of either juvenile or mature thalli, depending on how long the soil had been undisturbed. Altogether well over half the total of 150 taxa already recorded in Tresco were noted and to these were added Barbula hornschuchiana, B. vinealis, Trichostomum crispulum and Tortula solmsii in a roadside habitat rather than on the face of low cliffs as in St Martin’s and St Mary’s. Metzgeria fruticulosa was new to Scilly.

7 April. Bessy’s and Prussia Coves to Cudden Point, and mine waste in St Hilary parish.

Seventeen of us assembled for the morning excursion but the number dwindled later in the day as people departed for home. The cliffs E. of Penzance are composed of greenstone and Mylor slates and supported several species not seen previously on the meeting. Bryum donianum was found on the bank of the lane below the car park. Other plants seen included Bryum barnesii (a segregate of B. bicolor known also at Kynance), B. dunense, Desmatodon convolutus, Fissidens limbatus, F. viridulus, Weissia perssonii, Pottia commutata, P. recta, P. starkeana ssp conica and ssp. starkeana var. brachyodus. Cudden Point was carpeted with Scleropodium tourettii but was not explored in detail.

After lunch we drove to two areas with waste from tin/copper mines a short distance inland. There is a lot of ground like this in parts of W. Cornwall, much of it overgrown with Ulex and Calluna and supporting a limited bryoflora but one never knows what interesting plants might turn up. Halamanning was visited in the vain hope of refinding Cephaloziella massalongi. The much more extensive, bryologically unknown waste from Penberthy Crofts mine N. of St Hilary produced an assemblage of species fairly typical of this sort of terrain, which included Bryum pallens, Pohlia annotina, P. drummondii, Weissia controversa, Cephaloziella divaricata, C. stellulifera, Gymnocolea inflata and Lophozia bicrenata.

During the meeting thirty-six names were added to the 10 km square records as calculated from an annotated copy of the flora of Cornwall (Paton (1969) Trans. BBS 5, 669-756). It was disappointing that not all the species known from the sites we visited were seen but many of them were based on records dating back twenty years or longer. Certainly some species are now much more difficult to find and many more are much less abundant than they used to be, especially on The Lizard. Some may have been affected by natural changes in habitat but many of the pathside communities have been reduced or eliminated by the pressure of human feet. The deleterious effects of increased trampling is a widespread problem but it is especially acute in Cornwall where the coast is so accessible.

It was gratifying that so many people were prepared to travel so far for the meeting but they all saw at least one and in some cases many plants new to them. Sadly it was to be Richard Libbey’s last meeting but it was good that he was able to spend the week with us. It was much appreciated that, as requested most members restricted their collection to a minimum. I am grateful to car owners for providing transport, to those who assisted in the preparation of the programme, to landowners for their co-operation, to those who sent me lists of plants they had seen and/or wrote to say how much they had enjoyed the meeting. Thanks to all the participants, I enjoyed it too.

Jean A. Paton