Instead of yielding embryonic land agents and farm managers, the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester yielded in April its first ever clutch of bryologists. When I had explained to the college staff what we wanted to do, which they found most odd, they helpfully provided (a) our own lab. and (b) our own beer. These were both excellent; other facilities were quite adequate. Comments on the food varied from ‘scrumptious’ to ‘dreadful’ (for one and the same meal) which just goes to show you can’t please all people all the time.
People varied in numbers from about 10 to over 40 and beyond the college gates we visited 9 woods, 5 limestone grasslands, a quarry, a canal and a bog. Not being an habitué of BBS meetings I stood around rather anxiously at first praying that people would find rarities, but when I realised that this didn’t matter very much I enjoyed all the sites enormously and I can’t thank the participants enough – especially those who are habitués – for providing endless instruction to me and the other initiates. I ended up with pages of annotated lists, ecological tips and (most valued) value judgements which I have passed on to grateful owners and managers. As well as being indebted to fellow BBS members I am also grateful to all who gave permission to visit, to Mike Wilkinson, who gave me access to the NCC files and maps, to Francis Rose, who helped greatly in choosing sites and visiting them with me, and to the National Trust’s Biological Survey team who gave me moral support, help and a good pub guide.
7th April. We started by visiting two small areas of ancient ash-hazel woodland on the Cirencester Park Estate, once within a Royal Forest. They are both proposed SSSIs and although perhaps not as notable bryologically as for their marvellous coppice woodland vascular flora, the bryophytes recorded on this occasion, and previously by Francis Rose, will provide additional reason for notification. Haines Ash Bottom had a good epiphytic flora on field maple, spindle, ash, beech, elder and oak, on coppice poles, stools, large trunks and dead timber, and Hailey Uood had a collapsed stone wall as its prime locality. Species included Leucodon sciuroides, Dicranum montanum, Campylium calcareum and Pellia neesiana in the former; Lejeunea ulicina, Cryphaea heteromalla, Hylocomium brevirostre and Mnium stellare in the latter, and Seligeria pusilla, Neckera pumila, Oxystegus sinuosus and Zygodon baumgartneri in both.
In the afternoon we went to Daneway Banks, a limestone and Fuller’s Earth grassland site, a mecea for BSBI members and for ants (anthills of mountainous proportions). Although there are at least 16 notable vascular plants here the site is rather too dry and homogeneous for bryophytes. Entodon concinnus and Thuidium philibertii were present in abundance in the short turf, and Pottia lanceolata and Brachythecium glareosum are present. Together with the Daneway pub, the Sapperton Canal and tunnel and Siccaridge Wood, it makes a delightful place for the discerning Cotswold visitor. Instead of drinking, George Bloom found Tortula virescens* on a tree outside the pub, growing with T. laevipila var. laevipiliformis which is also rare in Glos., and along the canal Encalypta vulgaris, Eucladium verticillatum and Cinclidotus fontinaloides were recorded.
[* = new vice-county record]
8th April. The day was spent in the Forest of Dean, to sample acidic habitats which are only well represented in this part of Gloucestershire. Foxes Bridge Bog is a tiny valley mire, much dominated by Juncus spp. and Molinia, but it does provide an important Sphagnum locality for the county, with 5 of the 13 species and varieties. Mark Hill recorded Sphagnum recurvum var. amblyphyllum* as new to Gloucestershire. The bog is adjacent to the best relict of ancient wood-pasture in the Forest, and the old oaks have Dicranum montanum, D. tauricum and Lejeunea ulicina. Wimberry Slade Quarry, a long-disused quarry in Carboniferous shales, is now on the bryological map, with Mark Hill and Cliff Townsend et al. finding Brachydontium trichodes* and Tetrodontium brownianum*, both new to Glos., with Schistostega pennata “.. performing beautifully..”, and Plagiothecium curvifolium.
The Buckstone and Rodge Wood features regularly in H.H. Knight’s 1914 and 1920 Flora as the only Gloucestershire site for several northern and western species growing on ORS conglomerate and sandstone boulders. This visit and one a few weeks previously by Francis Rose, confirmed that 5 of Knight’s specialities are still present (Cynodontium bruntonii, Dicranum fuscescens, D. scottianum, Bazzania trilobata and Lepidozia cupressina); 8 were not re-found, but Plagiothecium laetum*, Dicranella subulata*, D. rufescens and Leucobryum juniperoideum were added, the Dicranellas on the edge of a 3-year old forestry access track. Alan Crundwell and others then took an extra-curricular trip into Monmouthshire and recorded Bryum donianum* with Scleropodium tourettii, in Reddings Inclosure.
9th April. We started by sampling Painswich Beacon at 1283′ in the snow where we needed Rod Stern to whip us into submission by recording 70 species. We achieved that total, no more, no less. As at the Daneway, the turf, although very good for vascular plants, is too thick and dense for good limestone grassland bryophytes, except around an old quarry where virtually all the 70 spp. were found. Here, there was good variety in structure, with bare ground, scree, rock, over-hangs and terraces, etc. Weissia sterilis, Seligeria calcarea, S. donniana, S. pusilla and Campylium calcareum were recorded, the S. calcarea in great abundance.
Cranham Common, another part of the same Grade 1 SSSI is by contrast a more humid north-facing slope with Dicranum bonjeanii replacing the ubiquitous D. scoparium as common throughout the turf. The Common is un-grazed and traditionally burned, both aspects of management rendering the site poor bryologically, as does the absence of rock, bare soil, etc. Apart from Trichostomum crispulum and Campylium chrysophyllum nothing of note was recorded.
The ancient, and more recent, beechwoods of Workmans Wood NNR provided a bit of afternoon shelter from the icy blast and 108 bryophytes. The woodland ride-banks and un-even stony slopes were the most interesting habitats; the ephiphytic flora was not rich. Species included Isothecium striatulum, Campylium calcareum, Tortella inflexa, Oxystegus sinuosus, Taxiphyllum wissgrillii and David Long found Seligeria paucifolia*.
April 10th. Rodborough Common is a suitably up-lifting place for a Sunday morning, up- lifting enough to compensate for lack of new VC records. Again, the vascular plants and invertebrates of this superb Grade 1 SSSI eclipse the bryophytes, with not enough open, short turf, bare ground and rocky habitat for the latter. However, Fissidens incurvus, Thuidium philibertii, Pleurochaete squarrosa, Weissia sterilis, Seligeria calcarea, Eucladium verticillatum, Barbula tophacea, Tortella inflexa and Scapania aspera were found, and two particularly good localities were identified within this very extensive area of un-improved grassland.
Everyone was impressed by the great beauty of the ancient limewood, Lineover Wood, which has a recorded history going back to 823 AD, and although the limes, Colchicum, Paris, etc., claimed much of the attention, Nowellia curvifolia and Platydictya confervoides were welcome finds, with other species we had seen at Workmans Wood and elsewhere. These species were also seen in Hilcot Wood by George Bloom, Harold Whitehouse and others, with Aulacomnium androgynum, Brachythecium populeum and Orthotrichum lyellii (and a further 68 species ).
April 11th. Cleeve Hill: only a small part of this massive (500 ha) limestone grassland common was visited, by only a small but select group. Weissia longifolia var. angustifolia, Plagiomnium cuspidatum, Pottia lanceolata, Tortula subulata and Tortella densa were found in turf and scree. On an acid capping with limestone heath an old Knight (1914) record for Acaulon muticum was re-found, and a new VC record for Bryum subapiculatum*. After that people dispersed to lower ground to look at other botanical highlights of the area, viz. Pasque flowers near Cirencester, and snake’s-head fritillaries at Cricklade.
April 12th. A slightly larger but still select group spent the day in Lady Park Wood, Wye Valley, with odd sorties off to the Slaughters and elsewhere. Lady Park Wood, although perhaps not as renowned as its more eastern neighbours, is a rich site and 99 species were recorded in a short time, most on the limestone outcrops. These included Cololejeunea calcarea, C. rosettiana, Marchesinia mackaii, Leiocolea turbinata, Jungermannia pumila, Plagiochila britannica, Tortula marginata, Hyophila stanfordensis, Isothecium striatulum, Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii, Orthotrichum stramineum, Anomodon longifolius, Plagiothecium curvifolium and P. latebricola.