Spring meeting 1997: Torquay, Devon

HomeEventsSpring meeting 1997: Torquay, Devon

2 April 1997 - 9 April 1997

Meeting report

As the Society had not met in Devon since 1982, it was felt the deficiency should be remedied. The centre chosen was Torquay, a town which is not only well placed for exploring the surrounding countryside but which also has a fascinating bryoflora of its own. The headquarters was the Norcliffe Hotel in Babbacombe Downs Road and the local secretary was Mark Pool.

The following members attended for all or part of the meeting: Ken Adams, Giles Clarke, Alan Crundwell, Dr and Mrs Sean Edwards, Jan Hendey, Mark Hill, Nick Hodgetts, David Holyoak, Roy Hurr, Roy Jeffery, Frank Lammiman, Martha Newton, Seán O’Leary, Jean Paton, Irene Perry, Roy Perry, Ron Porley, Sylvia Priestley, Michael Proctor, Christine Rieser, Gordon Rothero, Ron Shoubridge, Jonathan Sleath, Tony (A.V.) Smith, Graeme Smith, Philip Stanley, Rod and Vanessa Stern, and Harold Whitehouse.

Wednesday 2 April


A total of six enthusiastic members turned up for this short local excursion, on a gloriously sunny afternoon. Cockington is a well-preserved thatched village, with parkland and lakes, on the outskirts of Torquay; the bedrock is mostly sandstone.

The approach was made by way of a typical ‘red Devon’ sunken lane; the banks had quite a good bryoflora, including sheets of Lejeunea lamacerina. Bryum donianum and Scorpiurium circinatum were of great interest to those members not from the south-west. David Holyoak found a small, puzzling Tortula which might key out as T. solmsii or T. vahliana; unfortunately, there was too little of it to be certain. The local secretary hopes to keep an eye on it in the future, just in case. Cockington village itself had a useful wall with a fair amount of Tortella nitida; this is another plant which, while common around Torbay, is absent from much of the country. A good patch of Epipterygium tozeri, growing, as so often, in a sheltered soily chink of a hedgebank, also caused some excitement, but this was soon forgotten on the finding of a stone gatepost largely covered in Leptodon smithii, some of it fruiting.

After such a start, almost anything would have seemed an anticlimax. In any event, the few trees searched in the Cockington Court parkland held very little interest, and the impressive sandstone cutting by which the path reaches the lakes produced nothing more noteworthy than Leiocolea turbinata. Matters improved, however, near the lakes. Planted shrubs here sported a reasonable variety of epiphytes, including Cryphaea heteromalla, Neckera pumila, Orthotrichum lyellii and Metzgeria fruticulosa. Jean Paton found Brachythecium plumosum, a species usually found in more upland areas; she subsequently did even better, turning up both Anthoceros punctatus and Phaeoceros laevis within a metre or so of each other on a wet clayey bank. The other species found nearby were much more ordinary, but there were good colonies of Hookeria lucens and Plagiochila asplenioides.

Thursday 3 April

Steps Bridge and environs

It seems to have become a tradition for Fingle Bridge, in the Teign valley on the edge of Dartmoor, to be visited every time the Society comes to Devon. By way of a change, a trip had been scheduled to the less well-known area around Steps Bridge, a few miles further down the river. The bedrock here consists of Carboniferous shales and grits, and often forms small crags. Most of the valley is wooded; there has been some coniferisation, but much of the area is still covered by sessile oak.

The party gathered at the Steps Bridge car park and set off up-river along the right (south) bank. The bryophytes here were not of spectacular interest; the species seen initially were those typical of shaded acid banks. A rock outcrop by the track further along sported Plagiochila spinulosa, Saccogyna viticulosa, Andreaea rothii, Rhabdoweisia fugax and Racomitrium aquaticum (the last, despite its name, often occurs on sloping rock faces which are only seasonally flushed). Neckera pumila, seen on hazel bark further up-river, was of interest to some as a decidedly western species. A determined search was made for the rare liverwort Porella pinnata, which is known from riverside habitats in this general area; unfortunately, it was not found at this time.

Members adjourned to the car park for lunch, after which the group (augmented by Ron Porley) proceeded up-river along the north bank. The main objective was Orthotrichum rivulare, of which a fine fruiting colony was duly found on waterside roots. O. lyellii, seen on at least one tree en route, was of interest to some.

Returning to the bridge, we headed down-river on the south bank. Full advantage was taken of the low water-level to search for Porella pinnata, but some promising-looking rock outcrops a short way along proved to be dominated by Chiloscyphus polyanthos. After a few hundred yards the group left the riverside and struck steeply uphill to gain the main footpath. As in the morning, the bryophytes here were largely common species of shaded acid banks, perhaps the most noteworthy being Cephalozia lunulifolia and Diphyscium foliosum. The ground could not have been too acid, however, as Dicranella varia was present in abundance at one spot, and Rhytidiadelphus loreus, abundant in so many of these Dartmoor woods, appeared to be absent!

Unfortunately, the party became rather scattered; this meant that only a few saw Porella pinnata when it was eventually found (on the base of a riverside tree about half a mile below the bridge). Consolation was provided by a number of other species of at least local interest: Microlejeunea (Lejeunea) ulicina, Metzgeria temperata, Saccogyna viticulosa, Fissidens curnovii and Orthotrichum pulchellum.

On the way back to Torquay most of the party stopped at the former Wheal Exmouth mine near Chudleigh; this is the only Devon site so far known for the ‘copper moss’ Scopelophila cataractae. The abnormally dry spring had made it doubtful whether the plant (which dies down in summer) would be visible, but after patient searching a good colony was found on damp spoil some distance from the road. Because of the heavy metal contamination other bryophyte species were few. However, Pohlia andalusica (P. rothii) was found (among a much greater quantity of P. annotina) and was of considerable interest; it has been known from this site for a good number of years and is found elsewhere in Devon, but appears to be very local nationally.

Friday 4 April

Ashclyst Forest

Ashclyst Forest is an area of mixed woodland, owned by the National Trust, lying between Exeter and Cullompton. It occupies an inlier of the ‘Culm Measures’ (Lower Carboniferous shales and grits), which cover so much of mid and west Devon. Perhaps its most noteworthy feature is that it straddles the meeting-point of four 100 km National Grid squares, which can make things interesting when recording! It had never been fully surveyed for bryophytes, so the presence of so much relevant expertise was most welcome.

Members gathered at the former car park at Forest Gate, and set off eastwards along one of the many forest walks in the area. Initial impressions were disappointing, but matters improved once a move was made into the deeply-incised stream valley to the north. Nowellia curvifolia (new to the 10 km square) was quickly discovered on a rotting log (the local secretary, on a reconnaissance the previous week, had managed to walk past without seeing it!). Very soon afterwards, fruiting Plagiothecium curvifolium was found nearby; although spreading in Devon (and recently discovered in Cornwall) this plant is still very local here. The stream ravine itself was not particularly rich, although good quantities of Hookeria (some fruiting) were of interest to those members living in drier areas. Much of the ground was very wet, but the bryophytes were mostly common ones; other than Hookeria, Lejeunea lamacerina, Microlejeunea ulicina (on birch) and Chiloscyphus polyanthos were the most noteworthy. The drier ground tended to be covered by a mixture of Eurhynchium striatum and Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus, with Cirriphyllum piliferum in the moister spots; Ctenidium molluscum (apparently not the ‘woodland taxon’) was seen at one place, while Mark Hill found a good colony of Cephalozia connivens on a large rotting log.

The group divided after lunch, with Mark Hill leading a number of members northwards to explore Side Downs (grid square SY00). The main party initially followed the morning’s route, but continued along the eastern edge of the forest to the south-eastern corner before returning via Gookey Down and Forest Cottage. A considerable time was spent in an area of swampy woodland near the stream; this produced more colonies of Nowellia, while the less experienced members were able to learn some of the common species of such habitats. Two good patches of the lichen Lobaria pulmonaria, on an ash by the track, provided additional interest. At one point on the southern edge of the wood Leucodon sciuroides was seen growing on a young oak, associated with Orthotrichum lyellii and Neckera pumila; apart from this, the bryophytes were somewhat ordinary by Devon standards. For members not familiar with the west, however, their sheer luxuriance was an eye-opener. Mark Hill’s party came back from Side Downs with records for, among other things, Nowellia and Fissidens celticus.

The official excursion was now over, but a carload including David Holyoak and Jean Paton called at Dawlish Warren on the way back to Torquay. This is a nature reserve, consisting of dunes and salt-marsh, at the mouth of the Exe, and is famous as the only mainland site for the Sand Crocus Romulea columnae. David had hopes of finding Petalophyllum ralfsii (not previously recorded there); in the event the party not only did so but also discovered Fossombronia incurva*, new to Devon, nearby!

Saturday 5 April

Lustleigh Cleave and environs

Lustleigh Cleave, like Steps Bridge, lies in the valley of one of the fast-flowing Dartmoor rivers (in this case the Bovey). There, however, the resemblance ends; the bedrock of the Cleave is granite, and the whole area (though equally well wooded) is much rockier.

The car park for ‘our’ part of the Cleave is a rather small layby in the hamlet of Water; bearing in mind the size of the party, the popularity of the area, and the continuing fine weather, the local secretary was viewing the day with some trepidation! In the event all was well; by some miracle the car park was unoccupied when the Society arrived, and all members managed to park either in it or on the adjacent verges.

The granite in the vicinity of Lustleigh seems to be rather more basic than that of much of Dartmoor. Pterogonium gracile is known in some quantity from rocks at one spot, and Eurhynchium (Cirriphyllum) crassinervium can be quite frequent (although rather stunted). The latter species was seen on a large boulder by the track just after leaving the cars. Progressing on into the Cleave, the track became steadily more sheltered (and wetter); Dr Sean Edwards was delighted to find a patch of fruiting Hookeria in just the right position for a photograph. The banks and walls by the track had a luxuriant growth of common acidophile species, while towards the bottom of the valley proceedings were enlivened by the finding of a colony of Trichocolea tomentella by a small tributary stream.

Lunch was taken by the river at a small unnamed footbridge. The riverside bryoflora was not very rich at this point, but included a certain amount of Porella pinnata growing on tree roots; other than this, the most interesting species were Fissidens curnovii and Jungermannia pumila. Afterwards the party struck upstream along the right (south-west) bank; this sported a large number of flushes, most of which carried good colonies of Trichocolea and Hookeria. The flushes were obviously not too acidic, as was shown by the presence of healthy populations of Aneura pinguis, Pellia endiviifolia and Riccardia multifida. The epiphyte bryoflora was also of interest, although not very rich in species (probably due to excessive shade). Michael Proctor was, however, able to demonstrate both Ulota crispa and U. bruchii (U. crispa var. norvegica), which were found here growing side by side on the same branch. Porella pinnata was locally frequent on rocks in the river, Gordon Rothero finding perianths at one point.

As the group neared Horsham Steps the going became harder; the ground here is basically a wooded boulder scree (many of the boulders several feet across) with the river flowing through the middle. Climacium dendroides, an extremely local plant in Devon, grows here in detritus on the tops of some of the streamside rocks. One or two members remarked on the absence here of species such as Bazzania trilobata and Plagiochila punctata which are typical of such habitats in the Scottish Highlands; the reason is probably that Lustleigh Cleave, lying as it does at a fairly low altitude on the drier eastern side of Dartmoor, has insufficient ‘wet days’. The local secretary, his patriotism no doubt stirred, duly set off on a frantic (but ultimately fruitless) search for the Bazzania (which is known from further down the valley). In the process he managed to lose contact with most of the group; luckily, their navigational skills led them safely back to the cars, finding Plagiochila spinulosa on the way. The errant leader, meanwhile, had teamed up with Graeme Smith to return via the left bank; on the way they found a reasonable patch of bog with six Sphagnum species, including a little S. fimbriatum.

En route for Torquay, most of the party stopped at a site a mile or two down-river to see the Red Data Book moss Cryphaea lamyana. This plant was unrecorded in the Bovey valley until 1996, when a visiting Dutch bryologist chanced to find several thriving colonies while out for a walk! Bearing in mind that this area has supposedly been well worked, there is hope that the Cryphaea may turn up in more new Devon localities.

Sunday 6 April

Babbacombe Downs to Hope’s Nose, Torquay

The day started rather inauspiciously; the local secretary, not content with nearly losing part of the group the previous day, had unwittingly given different people different starting times! The party (the largest of the week) mercifully let him live, and duly set off for the bryological fleshpots of the Torquay limestone.

After a brief walk-in via the manicured flowerbeds of Babbacombe Downs, members’ first port of call was an area of shaded rock outcrops by Walls Hill Road. This had a number of common and conspicuous limestone species (Anomodon viticulosus, Neckera crispa, Ctenidium molluscum etc.), together with a much less common (and much less conspicuous) one in the shape of Cololejeunea rossettiana. A thorough investigation of a large Acer nearby produced not only the uncommon Mediterranean moss Leptodon smithii but also another Cololejeunea, C. minutissima.

The group fragmented somewhat as we walked up through pleasant limestone woodland to reach the open downs of Walls Hill. The woods produced nothing dramatic, but there was a reasonable list of calcicoles. The party duly coalesced at the site for Cheilothela chloropus, a Mediterranean moss which is extremely local in Britain (apart from the Torbay limestone it is known only from Somerset). It proved a little hard to find at first, with Didymodon acutus (Barbula acuta) being hopefully investigated by more than one of us, but Ron Porley’s previous knowledge of the site soon turned up a large population.

Lunch was taken near another Walls Hill speciality, the liverwort Petalophyllum ralfsii. This plant was discovered here in 1980, and the site (dry, open limestone grassland) is noteworthy as one of a very few in the British Isles where the plant grows away from sand dunes. Owing to the dry winter it was in small quantity and not in good condition, but enough was seen to satisfy those members who were unfamiliar with it. After lunch the group looked initially at a dripping basic cliff at Anstey’s Cove; this produced the usual bryophytes of such places, including Didymodon tophaceus (Barbula tophacea), Eucladium verticillatum, Palustriella commutata (Cratoneuron commutatum) and Riccardia chamedryfolia. The party then divided; a small splinter group (Martha Newton, Nick Hodgetts and others) set off to take the rather precipitous anglers’ path down to Long Quarry Point, while the rest headed for the Bishop’s Walk footpath and Hope’s Nose.

The Bishop’s Walk (named for a former Bishop of Exeter who lived nearby) starts off as a ledge along a limestone cliff, fortunately protected by a guard rail. The cliff face has a good bryophyte flora, highlights being Cololejeunea rossettiana, Eurhynchium (Isothecium) striatulum and Marchesinia mackaii. A short distance further along, the path leaves the cliff behind and continues through pleasant basic woodland; it was from somewhere here that Jean Paton collected a Plagiochila which she subsequently identified as P. britannica*, a new Devon record. A good patch of Bryum donianum nearby was of interest to some members.

The Bishop’s Walk epitomises to some extent the great geological variety of Torquay. It begins on limestone, passes on to basic shale, and then crosses an outcrop of dolerite in the vicinity of Black Head. This variety is echoed in the bryoflora; limestone saxicoles at the start, common species of basic woodland in the middle (Cololejeunea minutissima, on an ash, relieved things a little here), and plants of dolerite rocks further along. Outcrops in this last area have Porella arboris-vitae and Pterogonium gracile, together with sheets of Lejeunea lamacerina; unfortunately Lophocolea fragrans, noted in small quantity by the path on several previous visits, could not be refound on this occasion. Consolation was provided by sizeable amounts of Leptodon, growing here on Acer campestre.

Interest was flagging by the time the end of the footpath was reached, but a small band of stalwarts continued on to the headland of Hope’s Nose. Much of the rock here is a relatively acid slate, but there is limestone at the end of the promontory; perhaps unsurprisingly, all the remaining members concentrated on the latter. The ground was very exposed and the bryophytes correspondingly stunted; the predominant species were Trichostomum crispulum and Barbula unguiculata, but Scleropodium tourettii provided some extra interest.

The Long Quarry Point party had also had a productive afternoon, perhaps the best of a presentable list being Gymnostomum viridulum.

Monday 7 April

Noss Mayo and the Warren

Noss Mayo is a village on the estuary of the Yealm, south-east of Plymouth; the bedrock is Devonian slate and most of the surrounding countryside is owned by the National Trust. Prior to this excursion the bryophytes of the area were not well known, but were thought likely to be interesting.

Members gathered at Ferry Cottage, west of the village, and walked westward along the public footpath through Passage Wood. Initially the bryology seemed very dull; with the exception of Lejeunea lamacerina, Epipterygium tozeri and a possible candidate for Fissidens celticus, little of interest was found, and Rod Stern’s suggestion that we should aim for ninety taxa before lunch was greeted with near-derision! Matters eventually began to improve, however; the wall around Battery Cottage produced a useful list, of which the best was probably Orthotrichum cupulatum (not often recorded in Devon – perhaps overlooked?), and other interesting species appeared on the way down to the lunch spot at Cellar Beach. Orthotrichum tenellum, Metzgeria fruticulosa, Cololejeunea minutissima and Ulota phyllantha all occurred as epiphytes hereabouts; the Ulota is common on coastal bark in Devon, while the Cololejeunea can often be found in such habitats where the bark is basic. Rocks at Cellar Beach had Tortella flavovirens.

Moving on westwards in hot sunshine, members were glad of the shade of Brakehill Plantation. This consisted largely of beech and sycamore and, as would be expected in such an exposed coastal site, the bryoflora was not of great interest. Neckera pumila, hanging on grimly in one place, was perhaps the best find. A Radula, growing in abundance on a nearby wall, was collected and thoroughly checked in hopes of R. lindenbergiana; unfortunately the specimen was totally sterile and so could not be confirmed. In the prevailing conditions, searching the open coastal slopes around Mouthstone Point needed determination; the list was steadily growing, however, and the finding of Plagiochila killarniensis (another under-recorded species in Devon) on a rock outcrop provided a much-needed fillip. A better one came soon afterwards; a small group of enthusiasts (Ron Porley, Gordon Rothero and others) had been scrambling around the loose slaty cliffs of the area looking for the rare Tortula canescens. This hope was not fulfilled, unfortunately, but a specimen collected for checking was found later to be T. cuneifolia, a plant which may be even rarer. A Grimmia was common on the slate outcrops, but it all turned out on examination to be one or other of the forms of G. trichophylla. Rod Stern collected a sterile Fossombronia, resembling F. angulosa, from damp soil near Warren Cottage, but unfortunately this could not be satisfactorily determined; it would have been a new Devon record if correct.

By the time the group dispersed, the list total stood at something over a hundred; honour had definitely been satisfied! Much of this slate coast tends to be under-worked, perhaps because of its nearness to the more obviously interesting schists of the Bolt Head-Prawle Point area. The results of this excursion suggest that this neglect is unjustified.

Tuesday 8 April

Shipley Bridge and the Avon valley

The Avon (locally Aune) is another Dartmoor river. Its valley is more open than those visited earlier in the week, so it was felt that it would give members a taste of true moorland conditions without losing the variety conferred by the presence of a river. The area was known to be interesting (89 species previously recorded from the tetrad) but it was hoped it would benefit from a more concentrated survey; in the event this hope was fully justified.

Once again, members awoke to perfect weather. After parking at Shipley Bridge, the first port of call for most (David Holyoak and Jean Paton, arriving early, had already produced a list rivalling the former tetrad total) was an area of Sphagnum flush just to the east, together with the adjacent riverbank. The most interesting species here was probably Atrichum crispum, present as a single colony among riverside boulders.

Members soon moved upstream to the river bed immediately above the bridge; the granite bedrock here forms wide shelving ledges, approximately at normal water-level, which are partly shaded and therefore sport a respectable bryophyte cover. The party took advantage of the low water-levels to study them in detail. The highlight here was Tetrodontium brownianum, found by David Holyoak on a vertical rock face; another noteworthy species was Isothecium holtii, a plant locally abundant in many of these Dartmoor rivers but new to several members. Much interest was also taken in a Heterocladium growing on the rocks more-or-less at normal water-level; this was found to be H. wulfsbergii, a plant known to occur in this type of habitat but almost completely neglected over the last forty years.

Fortified by this and other discoveries, the group moved slowly upstream. Like several other valleys on Dartmoor, the main bryological attraction of the Avon lies in its variety. Rocks in the river produced the usual crop of calcifuge aquatics; trees of various types (oak, elder, sallow, sycamore, ash and rowan) supported a good variety of epiphytes (highlights being Orthotrichum pulchellum, O. striatum and Metzgeria fruticulosa). A surprising number of common calciphiles was found on masonry, including Bryum radiculosum, Didymodon rigidulus (Barbula rigidula) and Encalypta streptocarpa, while a patch of flushed grassland sported Thuidium delicatulum.

Proof of the interest being taken in the area was provided by the fact that lunch was taken some 400 metres from the starting point. The spot chosen was a pleasant area of grassy river bank; Jonathan Sleath enlivened the proceedings here by finding an unusual waterside Fissidens, which appeared to be the extremely local F. rivularis. Unfortunately, the plant turned out on further checking to be F. curnovii. An attempt by Mark Pool to find Cryptothallus mirabilis in a Sphagnum lawn on the far bank was also unsuccessful.

After lunch members continued northwards up the riverside track. The valley gradually became more open and more typically ‘moorland’, but there was still great variety. The ruins of the former Brent Moor House produced more calcicoles, including Pseudocrossidium revolutum (Barbula revoluta); a shaded rotting log nearby had Barbilophozia attenuata (apparently a local plant in Devon), while Sphagnum quinquefarium occurred in reasonable quantity further along the road. Probably the best find of the day, however, was Seán O’Leary’s discovery of Mylia taylorii*, a long-awaited new vice-county record, from a bank not far from the track. It was accompanied by Lepidozia cupressina, another species which is very local here.

A combination of advancing time and bryological repletion meant that the party turned back well short of the Avon Dam, after a final look at a rather uninteresting (and very wet) patch of bog. The day resulted in a prodigious list; the local tetrad now has a total of 165 species, making it one of the top half-dozen in Devon. Jean and David headed for home from Shipley Bridge, but the rest moved further down the river for a look at the rare Fissidens polyphyllus in one of its several Devon sites.

Wednesday 9 April

Kerswell Down Hill

A small group of diehards met at the Norcliffe Hotel for a morning visit to two local limestone sites. The first of these, Kerswell Down Hill, is an area of woodland and scrub, with some open downland, on the edge of the village of Kingskerswell. Unfortunately, much of the site now belongs to a quarry company but, after a public enquiry, permission to quarry was refused so the area should be safe for the foreseeable future! Members concentrated mainly on the woodland, as the day was hot and the best of the downland, which was some distance from the car park, was not expected to have anything not already seen on the Sunday. An attempt by the local secretary to refind Seligeria pusilla (found ‘just near here two years ago’) was probably a forlorn hope from the start, but it did result in the finding of a healthy tuft of fruiting Orthotrichum striatum. Porella arboris-vitae was in fine form nearby, along with Marchesinia mackaii and Neckera crispa.

Broadridge Wood, Newton Abbot

Moving on from Kingskerswell, the group managed to reconvene (just!) in the busy car park at Baker’s Park on the western edge of Newton Abbot. The goal was Broadridge Wood, a fine limestone woodland reached by way of the National Trust’s Bradley Manor estate. This whole area is good for bryophytes; among many other things the tiny Fissidens exiguus, known nowhere else in Devon, has been collected from the riverbank here (unfortunately it was not seen on this occasion).

The walk in via Bradley Manor produced a considerable number of species (Hookeria, Anomodon viticulosus and Neckera pumila, to name but a few); the focal point was, however, the former Broadridge lime quarry. This is almost certainly the best, and may be the only, current Devon site for the rare Grimmia orbicularis, which grows in quantity on many of the limestone slabs and faces. In addition to this, members noted several colonies of both Pleurochaete squarrosa and Bryum canariense, some of the latter fruiting, while things like Syntrichia (Tortula) intermedia and Trichostomum crispulum were locally abundant.

Considering that all the excursions were held in the relatively well-worked VC 3 (South Devon), the finding of three new county or vice-county records is most impressive. There were also a considerable number of new 10 km grid square (and, of course, tetrad) records, which have been duly incorporated into the county database and for which I am most grateful.

As this had been the first meeting I had led for the Society, I had been viewing it with a mixture of euphoria and abject terror! In the event, it proved most enjoyable; my sincere thanks go to all those participating for making it so. Our thanks as an organisation go to the management and staff of the Norcliffe Hotel, for the efficient way in which they catered for our needs; to English Nature, the National Trust and the Devon Wildlife Trust, for permission to visit and/or collect on their land; and last, but not least, to whoever organised the weather. April in Devon can be a very unpredictable time; as it turned out, our only problem was potential dehydration! No doubt the manufacturers of spray bottles enjoyed it too….

Mark Pool


Torquay, Devon