A dozen bryologists decided to tempt fate after a week when the weather seemed to oscillate between mid-winter and spring, and head out to search the area around Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne, in Dorset, for some bryological gold.
Pamphill Green was chosen as a starting point as an Orthotrichum, possibly O. schimperi, had been found near the church a year earlier, but more material was needed to confirm its identity. However, despite diligent searching the group failed to find it, but patches of O. tenellum, Lewinskya affinis and Pulvigera lyellii, and other epiphytes were carefully scrutinised. A good range of common woodland plants was found nearby, but the pull of Badbury Rings and its chalk grassland was too great and we soon headed across to this.
At Badbury Rings on our walk from the car park we stopped to puzzle over a patch of Didymodon on one of the paths. Some later microscope work showed this included a mixture of D. icmadophilus and D. rigidulus – an unexpected bonus. Our first target area, a gentle slope of short turf, proved to be a real challenge, but after a hands-and-knees search we found several species of parched thin soils, including Microbryum rectum, M. curvicollum and some Weissia (probably mostly W. brachycarpa, but also W. angustifolia), with much Ctenidium molluscum, Entodon concinnus and Homalothecium lutescens nearby – Andrew had also found some Brachythecium glareosum here a few days earlier when checking the route.
Moving on to the impressive ‘rings’ – a series of circular ridges and ditches which were part of an Iron Age hillfort – we admired some large patches of Hylocomiadelphus triquetrus and more Entodon. In the wooded centre, the group soon found a splendid ash tree with a large population of the Dorset speciality, Neckera smithii, showing its clusters of inrolled branches to fine effect. Some of the plants were in fruit, the brown capsules only just showing above the crowded leaves. A detour to a nearby stubble field failed to turn up much beyond Barbula unguiculata and Tortula acaulon, so we returned to the ‘rings’ and despite the increasing drizzle discovered some bryological gold, with a south-east facing slope containing a rich assemblage, including more Weissia. Sharon soon located much National Scarce W. sterilis, frustratingly not in fruit, but showing the larger, straggly plants, in contrast to the smaller, ground-hugging Weissia species, and also some Neckera crispa. Here on the more open areas Sharon spotted the National Scarce Pottiopsis caespitosa, here as a chalk grassland outlier to its main central and eastern population. This diminutive moss was picked out in the thin turf by its chestnut-coloured mature capsules, and on closer inspection by its broad perichaetial leaves. Lyn’s sharp eyes picked out a tiny fragment of Mesoptychia turbinata. Also creeping through this sward were some strands of Campylium chrysophyllum. Yet more Entodon was found. The rain was coming down fairly steadily by now, so we made our way back to the cars, stopping to inspect the chalk grassland on the way. Jim spotted a clump of Chalk Milkwort in flower, a sure sign that spring was indeed just around the corner.