Summer meeting 1995: Durham/Northumberland

HomeEventsSummer meeting 1995: Durham/Northumberland

26 July 1995 - 2 August 1995

Meeting report

The attendance at this meeting was unusually low, no doubt owing at least in part to the entrancing alternative of the Tatra only a few days later. The leader, Stuart Hedley of the Northumbria Team of English Nature, ministered to the regulars – Frank Lammiman, Christine Rieser and Cliff Townsend, together with a welcome Belgian bryologist, Alain Vanderpoorten. John Blackburn came up on five days, Dr John Richards for three, and Steve Wharton for one.

Excursions were chiefly in S. Northumberland (v.-c. 67), with forays into N. Northumberland (v.-c. 68) and Durham (v.-c. 66). The meeting took place in arguably the hottest and driest part of a hot, dry summer – tiring, and with bryophytes so desiccated that sprays were in constant use. The main object was recording of bryophytes in English Nature sites, mostly designated S.S.S.I. or National Nature Reserve.

Thursday 27 July

On this first day a long journey was made to The Cheviot, where the well-known locality of the Bizzle Burn was investigated – usually just referred to as The Bizzle, though on this occasion it might more aptly have been called The Frizzle! This stream, bordered with extensive outcrops of granite and smaller areas of base-rich lavas, had been visited on two previous B.B.S. meetings based on Wooler in 1963 and 1984. No doubt owing to the longer journey, fewer pairs of eyes and the very dry conditions, much seen on these earlier trips was missed. However, John Blackburn turned up Hygrohypnum duriusculum* in the swift upper part of the stream, and other species of interest included Andreaea alpina, Kiaeria blyttii, Barbilophozia atlantica, Fissidens osmundoides, Grimmia torquata, Plagiobryum zieri, Sphagnum russowii, Gymnomitrion obtusum and Cololejeunea calcarea. In spite of considerable attention to small, flat, reddish patches of Andreaea, an attempt to refind A. mutabilis, collected here in 1930 by J.B. Duncan and Evelyn Lobley, was unsuccessful.

Friday 28 July

The morning of the second day was spent in Hareshaw Dene, an SSSI with a wooded river gorge cut through sandstones of the Lower Carboniferous, situated just north of Bellingham. This produced many of the species which might have been expected of such a situation, including Scapania gracilis, Dicranum fuscescens, Fissidens crassipes, Neckera crispa, Hookeria lucens and Hyocomium armoricum, but without the richness that might be encountered in similar areas in western England. Dicranella cerviculata and Pohlia annotina occurred on a bank of fine sandy soil by the stream but a clearly base-rich area nearby was disappointing, containing only common species. Sphagnum fimbriatum was near the stream, and in the upper parts of it Jungermannia atrovirens was common, with occasional J. pumila. Rocks by the path not far below the small waterfall at the head of the dene produced a good quantity of fruiting Tetrodontium brownianum, while a rocky cavity near the fall itself yielded Seligeria pusilla and S. donniana; Scapania umbrosa was on a single rotting log. In the afternoon we moved on to Hesleyside Park, also with old mature woodland, a smaller stream and waterfall, but much drier and less extensive. It supports a rich lichen flora, but a much less exciting assembly of bryophytes, of which the most noteworthy were Dicranum fuscescens, Hookeria lucens, Pseudephemerum nitidum, Blepharostoma trichophyllum and Plagiothecium latebricola. Tetrodontium brownianum turned up here also, in two localities not far below the waterfall, as did Scapania umbrosa.

Saturday 29 July

Kielder Forest is a horribly extensive area of planted conifers, but our objective was an area of unplanted moorland west of this, on the borders of Northumberland and Cumbria, though the sandstone crags we were to inspect are all within v.-c. 67 and rarely visited. The first stop was at Gill Pike. At first sight the small area of acid crag with large outcropping boulders in the surrounding moorland was uninspiring, but it was here that the most pleasing find of the week, Dicranodontium asperulum*, new to England, was made. There was also a good haul of Barbilophozia, Alain turning up B. kunzeana, Christine B. atlantica, and there was a good deal of B. attenuata; also present were Bazzania trilobata and Mylia taylorii in quantity. Nine species of Sphagnum occurred on the surrounding moorland, including S. tenellum, S. compactum and S. magellanicum. A distant view of Grey Mare’s Crags, also considered for a visit, showed them to be even more limited and, a long trudge through deep untracked heather in the heat being felt unattractive, it was decided to adjourn to a more accessible site. Pippa Merricks, our E.N. mentor while Stuart had his day off, then took us to Seven Linns, an attractive stream area with a gorge below. Only a flying visit was possible, and we did not get into the gorge. Little remarkable was found in the way of bryophytes, though Christine turned up Scapania subalpina and a dark form of Hyocomium armoricum growing in a rather dry rock crevice perplexed us in the field. Alain did, however, find the filmy fern Hymenophyllum wilsonii, a rarity in Northumberland.

A move was then made to Muckle Samuel’s Crags (soon conveniently abbreviated to ‘Big Sam’s’), another area known for good lichens but apparently not investigated for bryophytes. On the conveniently trackside small system of crags and boulders, Dr Oliver Gilbert, our companion for the day engaged on a lichen survey, was able to demonstrate some of the rarer species of these plants. The bryophytes were of interest, the more engaging being Dicranum scottianum, Leptodontium flexifolium and Lepidozia cupressina; Scapania gracilis, Bazzania trilobata, Lophozia ventricosa var. ventricosa* and Ptilidium ciliare were also around, while just before departure John B. turned up Dicranella staphylina and Alain found a single tuft of Tetraplodon mnioides. Tiny tufts along crevices raised hopes of Orthodontium gracile, but subsequent large swards and later microscopic examination sadly dashed these hopes.

Sunday 30 July

The first visit of the day was to the famed valley mire, Muckle Moss, near Bardon Mill. This had clearly suffered in the drought. Many Sphagna were desiccated, and those who had visited the mire some years before remarked that it was now much easier to walk across, and very little of the surface water which previously characterised the deep lagg area was to be seen. Although eight of the commoner species of Sphagnum were found neither of the two specialities, S. balticum and S. majus, was encountered by anyone. The known association of S. balticum and Andromeda polifolia led Cliff to spend most of his time looking for Dicranum leioneuron, of which two small colonies were found; the only previous Northumberland record of this species was from Haining Head Moss, some distance westward. Other notable bryophytes seen were Calliergon stramineum, Polytrichum alpestre, Calypogeia sphagnicola, Cephalozia connivens, Mylia anomala and Odontoschisma sphagni. In the afternoon a visit was paid to the Mill Burn at Elsdon, some distance to the north-east. This is a stream on the Carboniferous Limestone with basic flushes and Sesleria grassland. The bryophyte flora was not rich, but included a few species not encountered previously, such as Climacium dendroides, Philonotis calcarea, Pohlia carnea, Campylium stellatum and Aneura pinguis.

Monday 31 July

On this day we were allocated the Muggleswick Woods and Derwent Gorge National Nature Reserve – an extensive area of woodland on sheltered slopes about four miles WSW of Consett. The upper slopes are of dry acidic soils, but damper base-rich soils occur along the bottom of the Derwent Gorge. Here again it would seem that the lichen flora is richer than that of the bryophytes, but species of interest occurred – principally along the stream, though one patch of Brachythecium glareosum was found on a sandy/marly bank descending towards this. One peculiarity of the week hitherto had been the total absence of Orthotricha; here, however, we came across five – O. affine, O. anomalum, O. diaphanum, O. stramineum and O. striatum. as well as both varieties of Ulota crispa. Species worth mentioning in the river and areas adjacent were Hygrohypnum luridum, Bryum flaccidum, Cirriphyllum piliferum, Dicranum tauricum on a single rotting tree, Tetraphis pellucida also, Calypogeia arguta, Jungermannia atrovirens, Mnium stellare, Homalia trichomanoides and Scapania nemorea. Pseudephemerum nitidum and Dicranella schreberiana were found in damp cart ruts.

Tuesday 1 August

For the final day the well-known locality of Widdybank Fell in Upper Teesdale was scheduled. This too was considerably desiccated, and streams which would normally be running sufficiently to irrigate the tufts of Gymnostomum recurvirostrum and other bryophytes growing along them were now almost totally dried up. We made our way across sugar limestone patches and the acid ground between, finding Breutelia chrysocoma, Bryum inclinatum, B. algovicum var. rutheanum, Campylium chrysophyllum, C. stellatum and var. protensum, Fissidens dubius (cristatus), Gymnostomum aeruginosum, Didymodon ferrugineus (Barbula reflexa), Lophozia excisa, Ditrichum crispatissimum, Philonotis calcarea, Racomitrium canescens, R. ericoides and R. elongatum, Leiocolea alpestris, Cololejeunea calcarea, Rhytidium rugosum, Tortella densa and Calliergon sarmentosum. From here we passed through peat haggs to the top of Falcon Clints, finding Dicranella cerviculata on vertical peat banks. Although several pairs of beady eyes sought it, Aplodon wormskjoldii was not seen – merely its poor relation Splachnum ovatum.

Working along the top of Falcon Clints, two or three species of the Racomitrium heterostichum group were found, together with Grimmia trichophylla. Continual sampling was made of fruiting nervate Andreaea looking at all unlike the masses of A. rothii spp. falcata, in the hopes of rediscovering A. megistospora, collected here by Black in 1854. This collecting continued beneath the crags, but in vain in spite of use of the spray; all gatherings subsequently proved to be rothii. On rock ledges on the crags were found Gymnomitrion obtusum, Diphyscium foliosum, Grimmia funalis, G. torquata, Campylopus atrovirens, Bryum alpinum, Rhabdoweisia crenulata and R. fugax. Meanwhile, other members of the party were in constant danger of immersion as they scraped rocks in the river in search of Schistidium agassizii, Steve being successful in finding a single small piece, also picking up Hygrohypnum eugyrium. Both subspecies of Schistidium rivulare were about, as was Racomitrium aquaticum and, on a rock by the river, Pterogonium gracile.

So ended a week which, although not notable for assemblies of rarities, still allowed all participating the chance of seeing something new, and of rendering good service to English Nature. Sincere thanks are due to Stuart Hedley and Pippa Merricks of E.N. for organizing, and guiding us on, our excursions, and to John Richards for sharing his fund of local knowledge. I am grateful to those participating for sending notes and records which have helped in the preparation of this report.

Cliff Townsend