Arable Bryophytes Survey

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Arable land has a distinctive bryophyte flora, which has often been neglected in the past. Harold Whitehouse (1917-2000) took a keen interest in arable bryophytes from the late 1950s. He often astonished bryologists on BBS excursions to rich areas of the north and west by examining the local arable fields. Few other bryologists were so keen on the arable habitat, with the result that at the start of the 21 century we had little idea of how its bryophyte flora was changing.

Ron Porley reviewed the state of knowledge in 2000 and proposed a nationwide survey of bryophytes on arable land. The BBS Conservation and Recording Committee endorsed his proposals, a steering group was formed and SBAL took shape during the winter and spring of 2001/2002.

SBAL set up its own website for the duration of the project, and this was later retained within the main BBS website. With the launch of the new website in 2021, it was decided to archive the full SBAL website, but to retain useful resources and links. If you require any information from the original SBAL website, please contact the website editors by email at

Over the next 3 years, over 800 arable fields were surveyed: 200 randomly selected, and 620 selected by the surveyors. The species present in each field were listed and their frequency within the field assessed. Other data relating to the field were also recorded, such as crop details, cover of vascular plants, bare soil etc, soil pH and texture.

Finally, the data was collated, analysed and interpreted. Six species assemblages were described on the basis of a classification of the species recorded in each field and their frequency values. The results were published in the Journal of Bryology (Preston et al, 2010).


Porley, RD. 2000. The conservation ecology of arable plants: What role for research? In Fields of vision: a future for Britain’s arable plants (ed. P. Wilson and M. King), pp. 8-19. Plantlife, London.

This article reviews the status of arable bryophyte knowledge, and was one of the main triggers for the SBAL project. It was published on the SBAL website and is reproduced here in PDF format.

Download article
Porley, R. 2000. Bryophytes associated with arable land.

This list of bryophytes associated with arable land was produced by Ron Porley for the Plantlife Fields of Vision Conference in 2000, and was published on the SBAL website. It is provided here as a downloadable spreadsheet.

Download the spreadsheet

Progress reports

Hill, M. 2003. Bryological workshop 2002 (arable bryophytes), Preston Montford Field Centre. Bulletin of the British Bryological Society 80: 27-29.
Porley, R. (2001a). Recording Matters 19. Bulletin of the British Bryological Society 76, 45-47.
Porley, R. (2001b). Recording Matters 20. Bulletin of the British Bryological Society 77, 30-32.
Porley, R. 2002. Recording matters 22. Bulletin of the British Bryological Society 79: 33-35.
Preston CD. 2005. SBAL meeting at Turriff, North Aberdeenshire, October 2004. Field Bryology 85: 34-36.


Preston, CD, Hill, MO, Porley, RD & Bosanquet, SDS. 2010. Survey of the bryophytes of arable land in Britain and Ireland 1: a classification of arable field assemblages. Journal of Bryology, 32:2, 61-79.

The results of the survey were originally planned for publication in 2 papers in Journal of Bryology. In the event, only the first paper was ever published.