Having watched the weather fronts and Storm Babet swirling around Britain over the days preceding National Moss Day, it felt like it was touch and go whether the joint Wessex Bryology and Southern Group meeting in the New Forest would go ahead. Happily, a showery window seemed to open up on the day and 14 or 15 intrepid bryologists gathered at Janesmoor, south of Fritham, to explore the area. In addition to those from Hampshire, people came from Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight and included no less than four vice-county recorders, so there was plenty of expertise to help people who were less sure of their plants.
With everyone togged up with waterproofs and wellies, we headed across the heathy plain. The target area was formerly part of the northern section of an airfield (Stoney Cross) during the Second World War. The remains of the runways from this short-lived facility (1942-1948), together with post-war reseeding and fertilising, has made the area more calcareous than one would expect in the Forest, providing an interesting mix of both calcifuge and calcicole communities.
Before we set off Jonathan Sleath showed us some impressive colonies of Bryum riparium and B. mildeanum collected from the BBS meeting in the Lake District that he had since cultivated in vitro. However, we were soon scouting around looking at low-growing cushions of acrocarps that were scattered throughout the turf. These included much Trichostomum crispulum, Streblotrichum convolutum var. convolutum, a strange form of ‘New Forest’ Bryum capillare growing in sterile clonal patches, scattered Fissidens dubius and Ctenidium molluscum growing next to Archidium alternifolium and Polytrichum juniperinum. Soon many were on their knees checking patches of mosses or scanning the turf through close-focus binoculars. It was a bit of a baptism for some of the beginners as so many of the species required close scrutiny or even double checking later under a microscope. The edges of the disused roads across the plain proved especially interesting, with scarce species such as Aloina ambigua and Didymodon icmadophilus (new to the vice-county) being found, as well as more common species, including Pseudocrossidium hornschuchianum, Orthotrichum anomalum and various Syntrichia. John Norton later came to the conclusion that a confusing little acrocarp was in fact Campylopus subulatus, a county notable species. The find of the day was made by Robert Sharp who spotted a nice patch of Plagiomnium cuspidatum growing in the turf amongst Bryum capillare. The Plagiomnium was later confirmed as new to VC11 by Sharon Pilkington. It is a scarce and apparently declining plant in southern England.
After lunch, we made our way to a gap between North and South Bentley Enclosures where some woodland and a flushed area at the head of a valley provided different habitats. Scapania irrigua was soon found in the turf at the edge of the gap and some calcifuges, such as Diplophyllum albicans, Dicranella heteromalla and Dicranum majus, were noted along a woodland bank. A rich area with a good range of Sphagna attracted much attention, with species including much Sphagnum palustre, S. auriculatum, S. subnitens and S. cuspidatum. Jonathan spotted a strand of Straminergon stramineum growing out from a hummock. More Scapania irrigua was noted, as was Lophozia ventricosa, showing its pale green clusters of gemmae. One of the highlights of the day was an excellent patch of Blasia pusilla found by Sharon on the edge of the flush. This showed well this liverwort’s peculiar combination of star-shaped gemmae in clusters on the surface of the thallus and gemmae in flask-like structures, as well as the dark patches of the blue-green alga Nostoc in the thallus. This is another plant that is scarce in southern England. Further up the slope the calcareous influence was more noticeable, with large patches of Campylium stellatum; some Scorpidium cossonii and Sarmentypnum exannulatum were also found. The surrounding sallows had a slightly disappointing epiphytic flora, but there were at least three species of Ulota on the branches.
The rain was starting to set in and the walk back to the cars was rather quicker than the walk out. We paid our respects again to the Plagiomnium cuspidatum, also allowing those who had missed it earlier to see it. It was a successful day out amongst the showers and more than 100 species had been recorded. As Sharon pointed out, for some ‘sploshing around in a mire in the pouring rain’ is a form of ‘Bryotherapy’!
Andrew Branson 1/11/2023Download species records