Spring meeting 1995: Ambleside, Cumbria

HomeEventsSpring meeting 1995: Ambleside, Cumbria

5 April 1995 - 12 April 1995

Meeting report

The Society’s 1995 Spring Meeting took place on 5-12 April, the headquarters hotel being the Queen’s Hotel, Ambleside. The Local Secretary was Peter Bullard, Director of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust; much of the meeting was devoted to surveying the bryophytes of the interesting Atlantic woodlands of the area.

Wednesday 5 April

The weather was typically Lakeland as Peter Bullard led a small but enthusiastic party for an afternoon in Stockghyll Park. This area, just on the outskirts of Ambleside, consists of a somewhat altered deciduous woodland through which flows a sizeable beck with a fine waterfall. Initial impressions were of a bryoflora dominated by fairly common, calcifuge species, but an examination of the valley of a small tributary stream quickly produced better things. Here Peter Martin turned up Mnium stellare on the masonry of a bridge, while Porella cordaeana was on damp rocks nearby. After some time the party crossed to the right bank of Stock Ghyll, and were soon heavily involved with the flora of a dripping rock face. This, like much of the area to be visited during the week, was made up of rocks of the Borrowdale Volcanic Series whose strata are often basic, sometimes quite strongly so, and this appeared to be the case here. The cliff had sheets of Cratoneuron commutatum, together with much Pellia endiviifolia and other common calcicoles. Trichocolea tomentella was present in one spot. Moving on up the valley, the party was joined by Jeff Bates and Sean O’Leary who had come via the other side of the ghyll and over the bridge further up. Their expertise soon led us to a stretch of wall which had, in addition to a number of common lowland calcicoles, two good patches of Barbilophozia barbata.

The weather was starting to improve as members came back down the other side of the valley. Whether for that reason, or coincidentally, the tally of unusual species began to rise. The first was a patch of Hookeria lucens, growing by a little stream; although by no means rare in the Lakes, this produced some excitement among the south-eastern contingent. Nowellia curvifolia, growing in some quantity on a rotting log, was another source of interest. Jeff Bates demonstrated Dicranodontium denudatum (on humus) and Dicranum montanum (on bark); the latter species had also been seen, but not recognized, earlier in the afternoon. By the time the party dispersed a very presentable list had been compiled, the rain had stopped and hopes were high for the following day.

Thursday 6 April

The previous night’s forecast had been correct, and members assembled at the headquarters hotel in beautiful weather. The morning’s venue was Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood, a Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve near the village of Staveley. (The word ‘spring’ is used locally to mean a coppiced woodland.) The reserve consists of two separate blocks, with some privately-owned woodland between them. The bedrock is Silurian slate. The dominant tree is oak, with ash, elm and other species in the wetter areas.

The southern compartment (Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood s.s.) was visited first. Initial impressions were a little disappointing, most of the species seen being those common ones typical of acid oak woodland. Metzgeria conjugata soon turned up in small quantity on rock by the stream, while Peter Martin found Barbilophozia barbata on an old wall near the edge of the site. A large shaded rock slab nearby was largely covered in Metzgeria temperata and Orthodontium lineare was found, fruiting copiously on open ground not far away.

The northern part of the reserve was of much greater interest, largely because it was damper. Perhaps the best among the considerable number of species here were Jamesoniella autumnalis, Ptilidium pulcherrimum (on bark at one spot), Trichocolea and Dicranum montanum; others included Nowellia, Hylocomium brevirostre and Hookeria. Although the bryoflora of this area was generally good, there was a paucity of epiphytic species, presumably due either to excessive exposure or to air pollution.

As a contrast to the morning’s venue, that for the afternoon was the exposed limestone of Hutton Roof Crag (near Burton in Kendal) where our leader was Kerry Milligan of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. The arrival of Martin Wigginton, John Blackburn, Jeremy Roberts and others made for a larger group and doubtless increased the number of records made.

In common with much of the Carboniferous Limestone of the area, Hutton Roof Crag shows a surprising variety of basic and acid habitats, the latter being caused by leaching and the build-up of peat over the limestone where the gradients are gentle. This contrast was evident almost as soon as the site was reached: the shaded limestone pavements sported an abundance of such species as Tortella tortuosa, Neckera crispa and Rhynchostegium murale, while the open leached track nearby had Polytrichum juniperinum, Campylopus pyriformis, C. fragilis (fruiting) and C. introflexus. There was also at least one good colony of Bryum bornholmense. Later on, the calcifuges Orthodontium lineare, Plagiothecium undulatum, Pleurozium schreberi, Pellia epiphylla (fruiting) and surprisingly, Nowellia curvifolia were seen, and also Ditrichum flexicaule s.s. and D. crispatissimum, Barbula hornschuchiana, Mnium stellare, Climacium dendroides, Thuidium delicatulum, Leiocolea alpestris and Plagiochila britannica (this last species in two sites). Pride of place must go to Martin Wigginton’s discovery of Tortella densa, a plant he knows from the nearby Dalton Crag. As at Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood, the epiphyte flora was poor, the rarest species seen being Ulota crispa var. crispa and Orthotrichum affine which were both fruiting.

Friday 7 April

With a number of additional members having arrived the previous evening, it was a large group which set off for Patterdale. The goal was Birk Fell Wood, a birch/juniper wood on the southern shore of Ullswater which was known to have an interesting bryophyte flora, with old records for Ptilium crista-castrensis and Hylocomium umbratum. The excursion was led by Allan Stewart, a Conservation Officer with English Nature.

Although, to save time, bryologizing during the walk-in was discouraged, Martha Newton still managed to demonstrate a splendid colony of Nowellia on a large log by the path. The presence of such a shelter-loving plant in a site as open as this is a good indication of the damp, mild climate of this area. Luckily, the weather on the day was fine, but windy. Once arrived at the wood, members were quickly in the head-down position characteristic of bryologists in interesting areas. Early finds were Sphagnum quinquefarium, Bryum alpinum, Breutelia chrysocoma, Hookeria and Neckera crispa which, with other species typical of locally base-rich upland sites, proved of great interest to those of us from the south. The group soon fragmented, with much of the wood being worked by various people during the course of the day.

The bouldery shore of the lake was visited and found to have a luxuriant cover of mostly frequent species of which typical ones were Lejeunea cavifolia, Cinclidotus fontinaloides, Thamnobryum alopecurum and (locally) Climacium dendroides. Martha Newton recorded, among other things, Sphagnum russowii, Rhabdoweisia crenulata, Racomitrium sudeticum and Pohlia elongata. Ron Porley found Barbilophozia atlantica and Plagiopus oederi, and Martin Wigginton discovered Dicranum montanum. Jeff Bates and others made a determined search in the area where Ptilium and Hylocomium umbratum had previously been seen, but unfortunately were able to confirm only the latter. Gordon Rothero led a small party of enthusiasts up an interesting stream gully which, together with its environs, produced Riccardia palmata, Bartramia halleriana and Hypnum callichroum as well as a number of commoner species. Mark Pool found a Thuidium in a flush, which later keyed out as T. delicatulum, while Racomitrium elongatum was by the track above Blowick on the way back (the species of the former R. canescens aggregate are still under-recorded over much of the country). All in all, a most interesting day.

Saturday 8 April

With the attendance now at its highest, the day was scheduled for a visit to the National Trust-owned Troutbeck valley. This is a large area containing a wide range of habitats, and hopes were high for a good total of species (the weather was still fine, which seemed a favourable omen). The leader was John Hoosen, the National Trust’s Regional Biologist.

The cars were parked near Hagg Bridge, and members walked by way of the farm of Troutbeck Park to Hird Wood, where the serious bryology started. Hird Wood was found to be of very considerable interest, the wood having a number of local western species, while the ravine of the Trout Beck had interesting basic rock. Martin Wigginton found Scapania aequiloba, growing with Seligeria recurvata on moist shaded rock by the beck and Gordon Rothero found Jubula hutchinsiae in a dark wet crevice nearby. Other species found near the beck included Cololejeunea calcarea and Jungermannia pumila (both fertile), Barbilophozia atlantica and Plagiochila britannica. The wood, which contained some very wet flushes, gave Metzgeria leptoneura, Nowellia, Trichocolea, Dicranodontium denudatum and Dicranum fuscescens. It says something for the interest of the week so far that many of the southern contingent were becoming quite blasé about these!

So rich was the woodland that a list of well over a hundred taxa had been compiled by the time members emerged (some reluctantly) for lunch which was taken by a small rock outcrop just north of the wood. During the afternoon the party became scattered all over the upper dale but unfortunately no-one reached the very head, around Threshthwaite Mouth, but the rest of the area was quite well-worked. After finding Dryptodon patens on a boulder in the stream, Ron Porley teamed up with Nick Hodgetts and others to visit Doup Crag where they recorded a number of species, of which the rarest was Oedipodium griffithianum. Gordon Rothero’s group went to the impressive ravine of Blue Gill, under Froswick. This was basic, and produced a good list of taxa of which the most noteworthy were probably Cololejeunea calcarea and Pterogonium gracile. Martha Newton, in the course of a day taking in Hird Wood, Doup Crag and Hagg Gill, produced a list which rivalled those of the rest of us put together with highlights including Jungermannia exsertifolia, Thuidium delicatulum and Calliergon sarmentosum. Dicranum montanum was found again, this time on sycamore bark by a stream at an altitude of some 300 metres. The final total for the day was prodigious. While Troutbeck is not in the same class as, for example, Ben Lawers, it certainly holds great bryological promise.

Peter Martin, anxious to see some montane habitats, had spent the day on Helvellyn. He left his car at Thirlmere, and visited the summit and the vicinity of Red Tarn where he recorded 46 species, the most noteworthy being Barbilophozia floerkei, Polytrichum alpinum, Grimmia donniana and Scorpidium scorpioides. A meeting of the Council was held during the evening in the Queen’s Hotel.

Sunday 9 April

The morning’s venue was the wooded valley of the Scandale Beck above Low Sweden Bridge where Peter Bullard was the leader. The bridge was of interest, with Mnium stellare and Rhynchostegium murale, while a tree alongside had fruiting Orthotrichum stramineum. A short distance upstream, a large rotting log was found to be liberally covered with Jamesoniella autumnalis and Nowellia curvifolia. The rest of the valley proved so rich that 120 species had been recorded by the time lunch was taken some three hours later. The most interesting included Blepharostoma trichophyllum, Trichocolea tomentella, Barbilophozia barbata, Jungermannia paroica, Ptilidium pulcherrimum, Dicranodontium denudatum and Bartramia ithyphylla. After lunch a very brief visit was paid to a site further up the hillside, west of Peel Wood where Gordon Rothero rounded off the morning’s work by finding Leucodon sciuroides (a rare plant in the Lakes) carpeting the trunk of a moribund ash.

In the afternoon, members visited two sites on Loughrigg Fell. The first was the SSSI of Miller Brow, which is basically damp rocky pasture with some scrubby woodland and a stream. Despite its small size the area was surprisingly productive. Nothing of great rarity was found, but species such as Leiocolea bantriensis, Mylia taylorii, Sphagnum contortum, S. teres and Drepanocladus uncinatus were of interest. After a time the party moved on to look at Black Mire (with the exception of Mark Pool who had been seduced by the delights of Miller Brow and had stayed on to try to boost the score). The appropriately-named Black Mire was a generally wetter site than Miller Brow, and had a good variety of sphagna which included S. cuspidatum, S. teres and S. warnstorfii associated with Odontoschisma sphagni, Mylia taylorii and Riccardia multifida.

Peter Martin had again gone off alone, this time to Birk Hagg near Rydal and returned with a short, but interesting, list of species including Jamesoniella autumnalis, Gymnostomum aeruginosum and Orthothecium intricatum. Another splinter group, composed of Tim Blackstock, Nick Hodgetts, Brian O’Shea and Ron Porley, revisited the Red Tarn area and came back with an impressive tally of records including Marsupella sprucei, M. adusta, Oedipodium griffithianum, Calliergon sarmentosum and Isothecium myosuroides var. brachythecioides.

Monday 10 April

The group, now considerably reduced in numbers after the weekend, spent the morning in the woods at Birk Hagg, Rydal, under the guidance of Peter Bullard. They concentrated on the valley of the Rydal Beck itself (Peter Martin’s earlier visit being to the tributary valley to the east). Jamesoniella autumnalis, Nowellia curvifolia and Dicranodontium denudatum were quickly found, as was a Leucobryum which turned out on later microscopic examination to be L. juniperoideum (this plant was recorded in several other sites during the week). A fairly intensive search for Jubula hutchinsiae, previously recorded in these woods, proved fruitless, but compensation was provided by Plagiochila punctata, found on a tree trunk along with much greater quantities of P. spinulosa. Also on tree trunks were several colonies of Dicranum montanum, a plant which appears to be at least locally established in this area. Unfortunately, time did not permit as full an investigation of this valley as some would have liked but it certainly seems to have a rich bryoflora.

The afternoon excursion involved a considerable drive: the venue was the Howk at Caldbeck, a small Carboniferous limestone gorge in the valley of the river Caldew which the Society had visited the site previously, in 1959, and found such species as Fissidens rufulus and Taxiphyllum wissgrillii. En route Harold Whitehouse led a small party to try and refind Grimmia anodon in one of its two British sites, at Raven Crag. A plant found was initially thought to be the Grimmia, but subsequent checking made it Coscinodon cribrosus; further research has shown that the original specimen from here is also C. cribrosus. There is now some doubt whether G. anodon is still present in Britain.

Reunited in the Caldbeck car park, the group was led to the Howk by Phil Taylor, an ecologist from the Lake District National Park Authority. The site proved interesting from the first, Porella cordaeana being present on waterside tree roots and Cololejeunea rossettiana both on vertical limestone and on the mosses growing on it. Further searching resulted in Barbula sinuosa on shaded rock and roots, and much more of the Porella on rocks by the river. Some spectacular-looking climbing by Jon Graham and others should have ensured that little was missed! Fissidens rufulus had not so far been in evidence, but a small collection made by Ron Porley turned out to be this species when checked later. The pleasant limestone woodland above the gorge gave no great surprises, but there was a considerable number of common basicoles. In addition, a dying elm by the river produced fruiting Orthotrichum stramineum and the only Neckera pumila seen on the trip. Barbula hornschuchiana, on gravel by the car park, was a new record for the Atlas.

Tuesday 11 April

Carboniferous Limestone again provided the venue for the morning’s visit, which took in the Cumbria Trust’s Hervey Nature Reserve on Whitbarrow. This was very different from the Howk, being a high, bare escarpment with a definite shortage of water. David Harpley (Conservation Manager with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust) was the leader. The approach was made by the field path from Witherslack Hall and then up the steep western face of the hill.

The Hervey Reserve is rather similar to Hutton Roof Crag, but seems to have more bare rock and to be more windswept. The dominant plant over much of the site is the Blue Moor-grass (Sesleria caerulea), which is so common on this northern limestone and yet so rare elsewhere. Bryophytes are few and far between on the open limestone, but are common in the grikes of the pavements and in sheltered sites among other vegetation. As at Hutton Roof Crag, calcifuges (Pleurozium schreberi, Hylocomium splendens) were quite frequent where leaching had taken place.

Rhytidium rugosum was found to be scattered locally over the site (usually in small amounts) after a number of mis-identifications involving Hypnum lacunosum. Lunch was taken by Argles Tarn which was surrounded by wet basic ground where the dominant bryophytes were Scorpidium scorpioides and Drepanocladus revolvens. The scrubby woodland nearby, in addition to the local Baneberry (Actaea spicata), produced a variety of mostly common bryophytes, the rarest being Hylocomium brevirostre.

As a total change, the afternoon excursion was in the lowland raised bog of Meathop Moss where, as in the morning, the leader was David Harpley. The approach was made from the east, along a track through the surrounding plantations where Sphagnum fimbriatum was quickly found by a runnel under the trees. First impressions of the Moss were that it had a good variety of sphagna (ten taxa were recorded, equalling the previous total) but that few other bryophyte species were in evidence though there were several good colonies of S. magellanicum, and many of the hummocks sprouted populations of Polytrichum alpestre. Odontoschisma sphagni was abundant among the Sphagnum spp., often associated with Cephalozia connivens and occasionally with Kurzia pauciflora. The previous season’s cranberries were sampled by some members and pronounced to be slightly alcoholic which may explain why nearly all the Mylia anomala found during the afternoon turned out to be Odontoschisma sphagni! The genuine article was, however, eventually found, on a rotting conifer stump among the Sphagnum hummocks. A lucky find on the way back to the cars was a rotting log with both Nowellia and Odontoschisma denudatum.

Wednesday 12 April

For this, the last morning of the trip, Peter Bullard led the half-dozen or so remaining members on a visit to Skelghyll Wood which lies just south of Ambleside, and overlies Borrowdale Volcanic rocks with a thin band of Coniston Limestone. Much of the site seemed rather less basic than the other local woodlands we had visited; the reason for this was not obvious, but may be to do with the fact that it lies very near the boundary of the Borrowdale rocks with the neighbouring Silurian slates.

The morning started well, with a good list of species from a decidedly basic wall by the track. Porella arboris-vitae was perhaps the pick of the crop here. Once in the wood proper the group split up, the more aquatic members following the bed of the Stencher Beck while the rest kept on (or near) the track. Bazzania trilobata (a plant seen in almost every woodland visited during the week other than those on limestone) and fruiting Hookeria were quickly found, but on the whole the beck ravine proved somewhat disappointing. Jamesoniella autumnalis, found on a rotting log well up the side of the valley, was rather a surprise, while another rotting log nearby was well colonized by Riccardia palmata. Plagiochila killarniensis, seen on a shaded rock face further up the beck, was of considerable interest but Dicranodontium denudatum had been seen so many times during the week that it was almost taken for granted!

Most of the party had to leave immediately after lunch, but John Blackburn and Mark Pool stayed on for a last-gasp attempt on what they hoped was Coniston Limestone around Jenkin Crag. In fact this rock seemed less basic than that explored during the morning, and produced no real calcicoles. There was, however, a lot of Leucobryum juniperoideum, which was some consolation.

In an area as well-worked as that around Ambleside, it is hardly surprising that the week produced no new vice-county records. However, a surprising number of new 10-km square records was made for the Mapping Scheme, and a considerable amount of much-needed recording work was done in the area’s woodlands. In addition to the official excursions, there was a great amount of informal contact between members during the evenings. I know I found this very helpful, and I believe the same goes for many others. While on this topic, my thanks go to Harold Whitehouse and to Christine Rieser for showing their superb bryophyte photographs which were both entertaining and useful.

Our thanks as a society go to a variety of people and organizations. These are: whoever arranged the weather, which was perfect; the Queen’s Hotel for their cuisine and their comfort (and for their tolerance of parties of booted and kitted bryologists in their lounge for the morning briefings); the various landowners who gave permission to visit, and in most cases to collect on, their land; all those who led walks, including any I may have inadvertently missed from the account above; and lastly, but by no means least, to Peter Bullard, whose sheer hard work as local secretary did so much to make the meeting the success it was.

Mark Pool


Ambleside, Cumbria