Starting out in the study of bryophytes can be a lonely business. Your friends and family may have problems understanding the attraction of these jewels of the plant kingdom. Fortunately, help is at hand from the British Bryological Society, which will welcome you as a member and support you along the way.
To begin with, the number of different species can seem bewildering, and there is no substitute for going out in the field with someone more experienced to begin learning how to identify them. There are a number of ways to meet up with fellow bryologists:
- Attend a BBS local group field meeting. Local groups are run by BBS Regional Recorders and/or other experienced bryologists and are a great way to see many of your local species first-hand. Is there a local group in your area? Find out under Events (select the Local meetings category).
- Attend a national BBS meeting. Every year there are organised field meetings in different parts of Britain and Ireland. These often focus on collecting records but they attract all levels of interest and expertise and are great places to meet other bryologists and gain some valuable experience. Details of forthcoming meetings are given under Events (select the National meetings category).
- Attend a training course. Providers of bryophyte courses include the Field Studies Council and the Species Recovery Trust. From time to time the BBS also runs courses, taught by its own experts, covering topics at a range of levels. This is an excellent way of learning quickly with like-minded people. You will find a list of course providers in the Resources section, but remember that there may be other course providers that we’re not aware of, so do ask around.
Bryophytes can be found almost anywhere, including on man-made objects such as buildings and bridges, surfaces such as pavements and tarmac drives, and parks and arable fields. A wide variety of species can be found around houses and gardens, and many of these can be identified using the Mosses and Liverworts of Towns and Gardens sheet. Some common bryophytes that are likely to be found close to where you live are described here. See if you can find some of them!
Because the leaves of most bryophytes are only one cell thick, and very few of them have any specialised conducting tissue to transport water along the stem, they are very vulnerable to drying out. Although some species are adapted to prolonged desiccation, others cannot survive unless kept moist. Therefore, the best places to look for bryophytes are often sheltered and humid habitats such as woodlands, by watercourses, and in damp places such as bogs and fens.
Nature reserves can be excellent places to look. Wildlife Trusts usually do not mind bryologists collecting small amounts of common species for identification purposes (but if in doubt, do ask permission), but in return they should be sent a list of species found.
One of the fascinating things about bryophytes is how they differ from area to area and even site to site. The presence of particular species is influenced by the interaction of a number of factors including climate, topography, geology, hydrology and land management. Many of our Regional Recorders have written accounts of their own vice-counties, highlighting the kinds of habitats and bryophytes that may be found there. See our Vice County Explorer also for links to reports of past BBS national field meetings held in each area. Many of these give suggestions of sites to visit and the notable species that you might come across and are well worth reading.