Wessex Group: Piggledene, Marlborough

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14 January 2024

Piggledene is one of a cluster of sarsen stone sites near Marlborough and Swindon that are in the careful custodianship of the National Trust. The Wessex group has previously visited the largest of these, Fyfield Down, where we found many interesting bryophytes.

Meeting report

Piggledene was bathed in wintry sunshine the day of our visit and the chilly winds had dropped. We had half-expected to be chipping bryos out of the frost but it wasn’t necessary in the end.

A quick march from our parking spot in the nearby village of Fyfield along the side of the busy A4 led us over a stile and down into the small valley of Piggledene, nestled rather incongruously between two arable fields. It has hundreds of sarsen stones of various shapes and sizes in grazed, unremarkable neutral grassland punctuated by hawthorn and some lovely large ash trees.

Once there, it took our small group about an hour to get into the swing of things with the first few sarsens. Piggledene has been recorded in a rather ad hoc fashion previously, and we started adding new species to the record card immediately. Among these, Sciuro-hypnum populeum was surprisingly frequent on some sarsens and, without its tell-tale Brachythecium-like capsules, would possibly have been overlooked as one of the Hypnum cupressiforme complex that were also frequent. Quickly, we found some of the specialities of the site – Grimmia trichophylla, G. decipiens and Hedwigia ciliata var. ciliata.

Turf and barish soil around the sarsens and on ant-hills were also closely inspected and several species of interest found, including Rhynchostegium megapolitanum, Weissia brachycarpa var. obliqua and Ephemerum serratum (formerly E. minutissimum). A bright green, gregarious acrocarp that looked like Flexitrichum gracile in the wrong habitat was collected and found to be a good contender for Pleuridium subulatum, albeit without the tell-tale capsules. This will be grown on in the hope that these appear in due course [they did! and confirmed P. subulatum – 6/2/2024].

Exciting species kept coming. Nogopterium gracile was common on some sarsens and much admired. Jonathan found a good contender for Lewinskya rupestris, with quite a sprawling appearance and very hairy calyptra (it was subsequently confirmed microscopically). Other stones supported Hedwigia stellata, its upper leaves flexing backwards to impart its characteristic starry appearance. Frullania fragilifolia is known from Piggledene but we hunted fruitlessly for it until Dave Pearson found a stone with many patches, where we were able to demonstrate the ‘spotty fingers’ test that gives this liverwort its common name. An unfamiliar-looking hoary moss that seemed a bit large for Grimmia trichophylla turned out to have distinctively recurved leaves when moist: Grimmia lisae, found new to Wiltshire at Piggledene in 2023.

We also enjoyed the epiphytes on the ash trees. Fruiting Syntrichia laevipila was abundant on some trunks and branches and a spectacular sight. Orthotrichum tenellum was showing its characteristically pale and narrow capsules with a long calyptra and Syntrichia papillosa was new to some members of the group. After much searching, Leucodon sciuroides was eventually found, growing with Homalothecium sericeum on the bole of an ash.

All in all, Piggledene is a lovely site, and its management by the National Trust appears to be keeping its populations of special sarsen bryophytes in good heart.

Sharon Pilkington

Download species records

Meeting details

Leader: Sharon Pilkington

Piggledene is quite a small site, but we will find a community of sarsen specialists there, as well as Grimmia lisae, at its only known Wiltshire locality. There are also trees and shrubs with communities of epiphytes.

There is no parking at the reserve itself, so we’ll walk in from the nearby village of Fyfield, approximately half a mile away (easy walking). Driving from the A4, park in Fyfield along the roadside at SU14646845, approximately 50m beyond the private car park for Priest Acre Cottages on your right.

If you’d like to come along, please email Sharon Pilkington (sharon.pilkington1@(at)btinternet.com)



Piggledene SSSI

A4 Fyfield, Marlborough, Wiltshire