Wiltshire is one of those counties that bryologists travel through. It contains no famous bryological localities; no new species have been described from its soil. Its moss flora has not been interesting enough to stimulate any of its native sons or daughters to study it in detail. Mention Wiltshire to the average British bryologist and he will immediately think of Salisbury Plain and conjure up a vision of rolling chalk grassland, chewed up by military vehicles and quite inaccessible to the civilian public. Nevertheless on the evening of 5 April a goodly gathering of BBS members assembled in Salisbury to see what they could find in South Wiltshire (vice-county 8).
On the morning of Thursday 6 April we had our first excursion, to Prescombe Down National Nature Reserve, an area of chalk grassland and scrub. To start with we wondered if we had been wise to come, for the ground was snow-covered. However, it was not very deep, we paddled through it and looked first at the scrub, where we found Cryphaea heteromalla, Bryum flaccidum, Metzgeria temperata, M. fruticulosa and Tortula papillosa. In the turf, which was almost clear of snow when we left, were Brachythecium glareosum, B. mildeanum, Dicranum bonjeanii, Neckera crispa, Fissidens cristatus, Weissia microstoma and Rhodobryum roseum.
In the afternoon we visited Little Langford Down, a Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation reserve, again consisting of chalk grassland with some scrub. The moss flora was rather similar to that of Prescombe Down but included Bryum pallens (or at least what passes for this on southern English chalk), Encalypta streptocarpa, Fissidens adianthoides, Seligeria paucifolia, Weissia longifolia and also Bryum torquescens, new to v.-c. 8, found by Nick Hodgetts. The surrounding Grovely Wood (Forestry Commission) proved disappointing. Lejeunea ulicina was plentiful there and Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus particularly abundant and luxuriant.
7 April was spent on the Upper Greensand. The morning visit was to Wardover Wood (Forestry Commission), which includes a large area of old semi-natural broad-leaved woodland with a rich bryophyte flora. The many epiphytes seen included Cryphaea heteromalla, Orthotrichum pulchellum, O. lyellii, Metzgeria fruticulosa, M. temperata and also a scrap of Ulota phyllantha on a poplar “new” to v.c. 8 though previously seen there but not collected by Rod Stern.
After lunch the party went on to Oysters Coppice (a Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation reserve). The Upper Greensand does not outcrop in the wood and the bryophyte flora is limited but species included Dichodontium pellucidum, Rhytidiadelphus loreus and the “woodland taxon” of Ctenidium molluscum. Racomitrium heterostichum, new to v.c. 8, was found on a nearby cottage roof by Howard Matcham. Gutch Common (SSSI) was within walking distance. Most of the species found there had been seen earlier in the day, but it had five species of Sphagnum including S. recurvum var. amblyphyllum, new to v.c. 8. Most members took the opportunity to pay a visit to Brachythecium appleyardiae in its only known Wiltshire site at Middle Coombe, where it was found to be flourishing and in fair quantity.
8 April was spent in the grounds of the Chemicals Defence Establishment at Porton Down. This straddles the Wiltshire-Hampshire boundary, and our field of study was the Hampshire portion, an SSSI and one of the last remaining areas of chalk grassland in southern England, visited by Francis Rose and Ted Wallace in 1974 but otherwise unknown bryologically. We were ably conducted by three local guides. Their main function, no doubt, was to see that we did not stray where we should not, but we found them helpful and informative. It was a warm sunny day, by far the best of the week and the chalk grassland was most rewarding. New to North Hampshire were Pottia caespitosa and Bryum torquescens. Other species of interest were Aloina aloides, Brachythecium glareosum, Bryum pallens, Encalypta streptocarpa, E. vulgaris, Entodon orthocarpus, Phascum curvicolle, Pottia lanceolata, P. recta, Thuidium hystricosum, Tortella tortuosa, Trichostomum crispulum, Weissia longifolia and Leiocolea turbinata; but not Frullania tamarisci or Scapania aspera previously recorded by Rose and Wallace. At the end of the day we were taken to the excellent little Museum illustrating previous bryological work on the area and we came away impressed with its quality and very grateful for the warm welcome we had received.
9 April (Sunday) was a “free day” and splinter groups went off to different places. The main body spent the morning at Britford Water Meadows where the banks of the watercourses and the trees by them yielded Amblystegium varium, Cinclidotus mucronatus, Fissidens crassipes, Leskea polycarpa and Tortula latifolia, also Ulota phyllantha on a willow, the second record for v.c 8. The afternoon was spent on the Clarendon Park Estate where George Bloom found Fissidens limbatus, and Dicranum montanum was abundant on a couple of logs. The day ended at Clarendon Palace where Ray Harding gave an interesting account of excavations there. This former royal palace is now just ruins among scrub. Porella platyphylla and Tortula marginata were abundant there. Also found on the chalk were Cirriphyllum crassinervium, Gyroweisia tenuis and Seligeria paucifolia.
On 10 April we went a few miles east of Salisbury to Blackmore Copse and Bentley Wood, two areas of mixed and broad-leaved woodland and plantations on Reading Beds and London Clay. Blackmore Copse produced the longest list, but without much of interest apart from Hylocomium brevirostre, Hypnum lindbergii and Polytrichum longisetum. From Bentley Wood we had also Brachythecium mildeanum, Cryphaea heteromalla, Dicranum bonjeanii and Orthotrichum lyellii.
On 11 April, the last day, a reduced party spent a morning of torrential rain in a bog and on wet heathland in the south-east of the county. On Landford Bog none of the ten previously recorded Sphagna were found. Among the hepatics were Cladopodiella fluitans, Riccardia latifrons, Kurzia paucifolia and (new to v.c 8) Cephaloziella elachista. Plaitford Common, now in Hampshire although within v.c 8, is part of the New Forest. It was difficult to do much there in the rain, but eight Sphagna were seen, also Hypnum imponens and fruiting Gymnocolea inflata.
It cleared up at lunch time and a very pleasant afternoon was spent on Whiteparish Common which was found to be quite rich bryologically, species seen there including Neckera pumila, Rhytidiadelphus loreus, Zygodon baumgartneri, Frullania tamarisci, Eurhynchium schleicheri and Ctenidium molluscum “woodland taxon”.
Those of us who attended this meeting found the bryophyte flora of Wiltshire a little more interesting than we had expected. We are all most grateful to Vanessa Williams and Rod Stern for organising it extremely well and I must thank Rod Stern for supplying me with some of the information used in writing this account.