This meeting was supposed to happen in 2020, but was postponed when the country went into the first Covid lockdown, and again in March 2021. So, third time lucky!
Seven of us met to look at the bryophytes in the heart of the former Somerset lead mining area on a chilly, breezy day after rain. We started off gently, by looking at a range of (mostly) large and common mosses in the grassland near where we parked. Pseudoscleropodium purum, Homalothecium lutescens, Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus and Hylocomium splendens were all abundant in this area but several small species provided an additional challenge and Trichostomum crispulum, Didymodon fallax and Flexitrichum (Ditrichum) gracile were new to some of us. We also found a patch of the locally rare and very pretty Didymodon ferrugineus on the ground among these species and Andy collected a Thuidium which turned out to be T. assimile.
At the top end of Velvet Bottom we came across a summer-droughted bank set back from the path, where Reboulia hemisphaerica was much admired. Tortula lindbergii (lanceola) seemed to be everywhere and, though small, attracted the eye with its long, strikingly pale peristome teeth. It grew with Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens, a pretty little orange-hued sub-montane moss that is now common on the Mendip limestone.
A little further on, Tortella (Pleurochaete) squarrosa was abundant on a rocky bank and we could see how different its wet and dry states are. Tortula subulata, its long capsules as yet immature, grew nearby.
Lunch beckoned, and we took shelter in a bit of woodland to escape the keen wind that was whipping up the valley. It was a good opportunity to chat about the forthcoming BBS spring meeting in Cornwall and about what to consider when buying microscopes, among other things.
After lunch we walked further west along Velvet Bottom, eventually coming to a large bank of black glassy slag that is a legacy of its lead-mining past. Apart from numerous reddish cushions of Ceratodon purpureus nestled among the ‘stones’, this area only produced Brachythecium albicans and Bryum donianum, the latter quite a scarce moss on Mendip. A sheltered woodland nearby supported fruiting Sciuro-hypnum populeum and Rhynchostegium murale on stones on the ground and Marion spotted some Lejeunea cavifolia.
By early afternoon, Marion, Jean and Paul had all had to depart and Cath, Pete, Andy and Sharon carried on down the valley into bryologically dull ‘gruffy ground’ – mine waste covered in species-poor rank grassland. Casting our eyes about for something more interesting, we noticed that beyond the nature reserve wall was an interesting-looking grassy slope punctuated by some impressive-looking north-facing limestone outcrops. So over we went, only pausing to admire some Neckera crispa on the wall.
We struck gold immediately, finding a small ledge over a rock outcrop, which glistened with the massed capsules of Entosthodon mouretii. This rare moss is very similar to E. pulchellus, which was also seen nearby, but differs in having a symmetrical capsule. It was found in 2021 new to Somerset, not far away at Cheddar Head. It was growing in illustrious company, with Riccia sorocarpa, R. subbifurca (or R. warnstorfia? – needs checking), Weissia brachycarpa var. obliqua, yet more Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens and Pleuridium subulatum.
There followed some enjoyable pottering about on the slope, finding Frullania tamarisci in the turf, Scapania aspera on rocks and the exceptionally slender Serpoleskea (formerly Amblystegium) confervoides, on a stone embedded in the grassland.
Just as we returned to our cars, the promised rain arrived and marked the end of a very enjoyable day.