You may have read elsewhere on the website that the Society ‘actively promotes bryophyte recording’. But what is bryophyte recording, and how and why do we do it?
This page attempts to answer the 5 Ws (and the 1 H) questions about recording, that is, Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.
For more information, check out the BBS’ Bryophyte Recording Handbook, written in 2012 by some of our most experienced members. It covers everything mentioned in here in much more detail, and also explains what happens to your records.
BBS Recording Handbook
Who can record bryophytes?
Basically, anyone who can reasonably confidently identify a few of the easier species can start to record these species whenever they see them. There is no better way of improving your identification skills than going out recording regularly. The discipline of trying to identify what you see, taking home anything you’re unsure of and looking at it under a microscope if you have one, and checking your identification with others, is a great way of practising.
What should I record?
Well, the obvious answer is, bryophytes! Any moss, liverwort or hornwort that you are able to identify with a good degree of confidence. You don’t have to record absolutely everything you see, but as time goes on you will find that you are able to distinguish and identify more and more species.
For your records to be of use to the BBS, you need to record 4 pieces of information about each species as a minimum. These are:
- Your name, and the name of any determiner (somebody who identified the species if it wasn’t you)
- The species you saw
- When you saw it, ideally the exact date
- Where you saw it, preferably an Ordnance Survey grid reference as well as a place name
If you have done any other biological recording, vascular plants perhaps, or birds, then this will be familiar to you.
Where can I record bryophytes?
The short answer is, anywhere!
No matter where you live, there will be bryophytes close by, and even town and city centres can produce some rarities. For example, Nyholmiella obtusifolia has recently been found on a tree in a Sheffield park and Habrodon perpusillus in urban Cardiff. Urban walls may have a characteristic community of common mosses alongside occasional rarities such as Grimmia dissimulata and even old roof tiles can be home to notable mosses, for example Grimmia tergestina and Hedwigia ciliata.
If you’re just starting, then it makes sense to start recording locally – perhaps in your garden if you have one, or in a local park or woodland. In lowland areas, woodland can be a particularly good starting point as they aren’t usually very rich and the species are bigger. Tempting though it may be to head for the hills where everyone tells you the rarities live, you are likely to be overwhelmed and it may actually put you off. Familiarising yourself with the bryophytes in your local area is a much gentler way to learn.
When is the best time to record bryophytes?
It depends where you bryologise. In many districts, the traditional bryophyte ‘season’ runs from autumn through to spring. During the summer it’s often warm and dry, so bryophytes dry up and become harder to spot and identify. At this time the growth of associated vegetation is also at its peak and often obscures bryophytes and their habitats. However, there is much to be said for continuing recording during the summer if you can. Firstly, many species characteristically produce capsules at this time of year; for example, some species of Bryum and Ulota only produce capsules in the summer – and these are usually vital for certain identification. Secondly, a long summer break plays havoc with your memory, and most people find they’re a little rusty when they start again in the autumn. When you are just beginning, it can feel as though you’re starting from scratch again each year.
Why do we record bryophytes?
In his Foreword to the BBS’ Bryophyte Recording Handbook, Mark Hill wrote the following, which illustrates what we achieve by recording, and at least partly, why we do it.
“In 1964, I recorded bryophytes on Harold Whitehouse’s Cambridge excursions. In 2012, I continue to record the bryophytes of Cambridgeshire with great enjoyment. The changes over 47 years are remarkable. Back in the 1960s Plagiochila asplenioides and Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus were common and locally abundant in the boulder-clay woods. Now they are scarce and seen only in small quantity. In those days, pollution-sensitive epiphytes such as Cryphaea heteromalla, Orthotrichum lyellii and O. pulchellum were absent or very rare. Now we see them on most excursions.
“Sometimes the causes of change are obvious: atmospheric sulphur has decreased dramatically, so the epiphytes have returned. But without good recording both here and in the rest of Europe, we cannot see clearly what is happening or understand its wider significance. Orthotrichum pulchellum, for example, has extended its range as well as its frequency. It used to be an ‘Atlantic’ species. Now it is widespread in central Europe. Likewise, Didymodon nicholsonii, long misunderstood on the Continent, has greatly increased and is now abundant along the Rhine. No longer does it have its headquarters beside the gurgling rivers of Yorkshire. Even more remarkable is the expansion of the hyperoceanic Colura calyptrifolia and Daltonia splachnoides in western Ireland and also Britain. Cololejeunea minutissima, formerly with a Mediterranean–Atlantic distribution, is rapidly colonizing eastern England. Are these species responding to climate change? They may be. Oceanic species are spreading also in the Alps.
“These phenomena would not be observed, let alone understood without a network of recorders. Individually, an isolated observer can achieve relatively little. The really big gains come from sharing data.”
A database of British and Irish bryophyte data derived from records generated by numerous recorders over many years is maintained by the British Bryological Society. It is employed in many different ways by members of the BBS and other individuals and organisations studying bryophytes and their interactions with their environments.
OK, so how do I go about recording?
The best way to start is to join a local BBS group if you have one. Most local groups welcome anyone interested in bryophytes regardless of their level of knowledge, and most groups record what they see during a meeting (and if this is circulated afterwards it can be a useful reminder). By attending a few of these meetings, you can see how other people record. Recording bryophytes with others is also fun and you can make new friends via local groups and nationally-organised BBS recording meetings.
Most groups use a standard BBS ‘recording card’: fill out header information with recorder names, date, location etc., and tick or cross off the species seen. These recording cards use abbreviations of scientific names, so do take some getting used to!
Completed cards are usually given to the Regional Recorder responsible for the area recorded. There is also an electronic version of the standard recording card. This is an Excel spreadsheet with the same layout as the card, but filled out by entering an ‘x’ against each species seen. It generates a list of species seen which can be saved and emailed to the Regional Recorder. Many Regional Recorders prefer records to be submitted this way as it saves them time and allows them to focus on validation of the dataset.
An alternative approach is offered by some Local Record Centres. They have developed smartphone apps which allow you to enter records directly. Appealing though this approach is, it has the disadvantage that records go straight into the Local Record Centre database, without first being validated by the BBS. This can lead to erroneous records – and confusion if the records reach the BBS Database without being picked up. Records submitted via other online recording resources, such as iRecord and Living Record have merit too but may also be hard to validate properly. For this reason, the BBS strongly encourages members to submit all records to their local Regional Recorder if possible.
When you are out recording, it is important to recognise your own limits and to seek help to identify species you are unsure about. Ask your Regional Recorder for help where possible and develop relationships with other experienced bryologists. The BBS also has a network of specialist Referees, who are mostly there to help with identification queries for particular genera. These days some people prefer to post photographs on online identification websites, such as iSpot, but because many bryophytes need to be examined microscopically for certain identification, this is not always useful.
If you haven’t already done so, check out our Bryophyte Recording Handbook which contains a wealth of information about recording and is well worth getting to know.
Then, have a look at the Vice-county explorer and see what can be found in your area. Check out the latest Census Catalogue which will list all the species found in your vice-county – you can use this to sense-check your records. Get to know your local Regional Recorder if you can – he or she is likely to be at the forefront of any group-based activities in your area and will almost certainly be a mine of useful information.
Download the recording cards in your preferred format – a printable ‘card’ version, or Excel spreadsheet (see Recording cards).
Pack a bag with other essentials (hand lens, Field Guide, moss packets, food and water) and head out!