Wessex Group: Langport (Huish Moor and River Parrett), Somerset

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21 November 2021 (10:30 - 16:00)

Meeting report

Fine weather welcomed the 8 attendees of this meeting, led by Sharon Pilkington. Langport is a pretty little town in the southern Somerset Levels. It lies where the River Yeo joins the R. Parrett and the flat grazing pasture around the town is well known for its winter floods.

Setting out along the bank of the Parrett, we quickly found lots of willows with Leskea polycarpa and Syntrichia latifolia so silt-encrusted it was hard to recognise as a moss. Then came epiphyte-rich willows with a nice selection of common species to show Anna, Jasmine and Mariko, who had come along as relative newcomers to bryology.

Things got a little more interesting in the next field, where there was a shallow rhyne (Somerset speak for wet ditch). Cattle had nicely poached it, resulting in lots of sticky clay clods in shallow water – bryophyte heaven. The first of the anticipated Levels specialists duly made an appearance here: Hygroamblystegium humile, a straggly, nondescript pleurocarp which is Nationally Scarce but actually rather common on the Levels. It was growing alongside more robust plants of Oxyrrhynchium speciosum, Leptodictyum riparium (found by Marion) and a small, pretty acrocarp on the banks of the rhyne. Large cells could be seen with a hand-lens, but without capsules it could not be identified beyond being one of the Funariaceae – most likely Physcomitrium pyriforme, which would have sporophytes in late winter or spring.

Moving on, we drew curious looks from passers-by whilst searching for Neckera (Leptodon) smithii in a straggly lane side hedgerow. This is quite a common epiphyte in Somerset but always a nice find. With some of the shrubs still in leaf, it took a while to see its curled up shoots, resembling little clenched fists. Nearby, the rare Dialytrichia saxicola was much admired on masonry near Huish Bridge, an area which presumably must flood from time to time. Annoyingly, it was nowhere to be seen on the next bridge, in the neighbouring vice-county of South Somerset, where it is yet to be recorded.

From here we struck south across low-lying pasture to Litness Drove, whose outgrown double hedgerows kept us nicely entertained. Epiphytes included Orthotrichum tenellum and Pulvigera (Orthotrichum) lyellii. Robert excitedly called out another patch of Neckera smithii and then it seemed to be everywhere, on numerous old Field Maples Acer campestre. Scleropodium cespitans was found by Sharon adorning exposed tree roots in the same area, indicating that floodwater lies here at times. At the next bridge Dialytrichia mucronata grew on masonry and the (mostly) entire leaves without crenulations at the tip could easily be seen.

By now there was a keen wind cutting across the fields and the light was beginning to fade, so we hurried back, with an occasional detour to inspect yet more willows. A street tree back in Langport yielded a bit of Syntrichia papillosa and then we were back at our cars, having all enjoyed a rather atypical field meeting. Thanks to everyone who came and shared their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Meeting details

Leader: Sharon Pilkington

Langport lies at the confluence of the Rivers Yeo and Parrett in the southern Somerset Levels. The area floods regularly in winter and is very humid. Not surprisingly, it is rich in bryophytes; Hygroamblystegium humile, a speciality of the Levels, has been found, as well as Dialytrichia saxicola and Oxyrrhynchium speciosum. Bankside trees in the flood zone support characteristic floodplain communities and Neckera (Leptodon) smithii is one of many epiphytes.

Meet at the river end of the free public car park in Langport (off the A378) at ST 41922665. The ground in this area can get very muddy after rain or flooding so wellies are recommended. Note: this meeting may have to be cancelled if the river is in flood – please watch for announcements on the Wessex Bryology Group website www.wessexbryologygroup.org or contact Sharon beforehand for an update.