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Huntingdonshire is a lowland county, with altitudes ranging from just below sea level to around 70m above. Its landscape is predominantly that of arable farmland, the main crops being cereal and oil-seed. Where the fenland basin encroaches from the north-east, these are supplemented by root crops – including potatoes and beet. Two major rivers cross the Vice-county. The Great Ouse meanders through the central regions on its way to the coast at Kings Lynn and the Nene skirts around the northern areas, where it forms the boundary with neighbouring Vice-counties of Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire in places. It eventually emerges into the Wash on the opposite side to the Great Ouse. The County town of Huntingdon, with the nearby St Ives, and parts of Peterborough are the major conurbations. Other urban areas are mainly villages surrounded by farmland. Two patchy bands of ancient woodland cross Huntingdonshire. A broad one runs from Ramsey across to Kimbolton. The second band is in the south, near the border with Cambridgeshire (from Weaveley Wood across to Gransden Wood). An important bryological area of Huntingdonshire is where the fenland basin enters from the north-east boundary. After the draining of the fens this became an important agricultural area. The peat here is up to 4m in depth and some of the area is now being returned to a more natural state as part of the Great Fen Project: https://www.greatfen.org.uk/.
The solid geology of Huntingdonshire is primarily the Oxford Clay of the Jurassic period. To the north-west there is an outcrop of the Great Oolite Limestone (Jurassic) and in the south-east there are areas of Lower Greensand (Cretaceous) and the Corallian Beds, also from the Jurassic period. The superficial deposits from the Quaternary period are various boulder clays. Whilst there are some instances of calcareous clays and deposits, these are by no means as extensive as in Cambridgeshire. Along the Great Ouse valley there are also beds of high-level gravels. These, together with the higher Oxford Clay in the Peterborough area, have been exploited by gravel and brick works. Many such pits are water-filled and surrounded by recent woodland. (Adapted from Chatwin, 1961 and Hains & Horton, 1969.)
This and the following account by Mick Burton, December 2020
Despite being a lowland county with extensive arable farming on predominantly clay soils, Huntingdonshire contains a wide variety of habitats suitable for bryophytes. In addition to the dominant arable farmland and the rural / urban built environment, the following habitats contain interesting bryophyte sites:
These are described further in the paragraphs below.
The boundary of the fen region is often defined by the 5 metre contour, known as the Fen Edge. Within the Vice-county, this extends from just east of Peterborough, skirting west of Holme Fen NNR and south of Woodwalton Fen NNR, heading up just north of Ramsey and then out into Cambridgeshire beyond Warboys. See http://www.fenedgetrail.org/overview-2. The peat in this region of Huntingdonshire varies in depth from very shallow to around 4 metres. Such peat is subject to regular wind erosion (the so-called Fen Blows). The land is largely agricultural, criss-crossed by a network of ditches and drains. These tend to be steep-sided and often with shallow water levels for much of the year. However, since about 2005 the Great Fen Project started to restore a large part of this region to natural fenland and to maintain a high water table where water abstraction constraints permit. The two fenland National Nature Reserves are bryologically rich and include reedbed as well as wet woodland. Holme Fen NNR is the only site for Sphagnum species in the Vice-county with four taxa recorded recently (S. fimbriatum, S. palustre var. palustre, S. subnitens var. subnitens and S. squarrosum). A fifth species, S. fallax, has not been recorded since 1989.
The photo below was taken in winter from an area known as Rymes Reedbed. This was part of Trundle Mere and in the vicinity of Whittlesey Mere. Holme Fen NNR can be seen in the distance of this photo. Some pools were created in this area by the Great Fen team and amongst the spoil heaps M.O. Hill uncovered three subfossil bryophyte species: Sphagnum palustre, Tomentypnum nitens and a large leaved, narrow celled moss that may have been Pseudocalliergon lycopodioides. The latter two have not been recorded for Huntingdonshire as living plants.
The Great Oolite Limestone crops out around Stibbington in the north of the Vice-county and stone from quarries around this region has been used in the construction of churches, houses, walls and gravestones. The soil in the farmland and grassland is also somewhat calcareous where species such as Brachythecium glareosum and Homalothecium lutescens can be found along tracks and field edges. There are no quarries currently accessible in the Vice-county. The last one, Stibbington Quarry, just south of Wansford, is now overgrown and enclosed within a private housing area. This was the only site in the Vice-county for Fissidens adianthoides, found there by N.G. Hodgetts in 1989. Nevertheless, the small species Fissidens gracilifolius can be found fruiting on limestone tombstones and buildings, such as in Stibbington Churchyard.
Above is the calcareous farmland near Yarwell – just west of Stibbington. The track is a site for Brachythecium glareosum. The mill just to the left of the holiday lodges (right edge of the photo) is on the River Nene, the boundary with Northamptonshire. Below is a typical village, Water Newton, where the church, houses and walls have been built from local stone.
There are some areas of slightly calcareous clay, such as parts of Monks Wood NNR. This is one of a few areas where Ctenidium molluscum var. molluscum can be found. The stream flowing through this area supports Conocephalum conicum s.str. and Pellia endiviifolia.
Construction has also provided a man-made calcareous habitat in the form of banks by bridges and motorways and in railway cuttings. In such areas, Aloina aloides and A. ambigua have been found fruiting.
Analysis of Huntingdonshire bryophyte records from woodland shows that most of these are concentrated from the main ancient woodland sites. Records from more recent woodland have been a bi-product from visits to areas such as gravel pits.
There are two bands of ancient woodland in Huntingdonshire. A broad band runs from Ramsey across to Kimbolton. Most of the woodland is relatively high (40m or more above mean sea level), but there is lower woodland (around 10m above mean sea level) to the south of Ramsey. These woods are on clays deposited on top of the Oxford Clay. Most are neutral to moderately acidic, although there are some areas of calcareous clay, such as in Monks Wood NNR (Steele & Welch, 1973) The second band of ancient woodland is in the south, near the border with Cambridgeshire (from Weaveley Wood across to Gransden Wood). These mainly lie above the Lower Greensand and are generally on base-poor soils. In both of these bands, Oak, Ash and Field Maple are the most frequent trees, with Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Hazel as the commonest shrubs. Below is one of the less frequently recorded ancient woodland, Little Paxton Wood. It was recorded by N.G. Hodgetts in 1992 and again in 2011 by the CBE, During this latter visit, C.D. Preston recorded Orthotrichum striatum as a first record for the Vice-county.
Although recent woodland is widespread across Huntingdonshire it frequently occurs around the courses of the rivers Great Ouse and Nene. It has also been planted in small areas by farmers for pheasant cover. Such woodland has a wider variety of species of both trees and shrubs and a broader range of soils. There are no sizeable conifer plantations in Huntingdonshire, though a number of woods do contain conifer plantings. Orchards appear to be in decline in the vice-county with only a few commercial plantings near the eastern border with Cambridgeshire (around Bluntisham and Somersham). There are small, traditionally managed, orchards close to farm houses. Such orchards are also in decline, being replaced by ornamental trees, the land used for building or simply left unmanaged. There are bryophyte records from just a few orchards in Huntingdonshire – notably by C.R. Stevenson.
The table below is adapted from Burton (2018) and shows many of the species with a strong preference for ancient woodland, as well as indicating typical habitat in Huntingdonshire woodland.
|Cephalozia lunulifolia||Rotting wood|
|Dicranum montanum||Tree bases|
|Dicranum tauricum||Rotting wood|
|Lejeunea cavifolia||Tree bases|
|Lepidozia reptans||Rotting wood|
|Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans||Soil; tree bases|
|Plagiothecium curvifolium||Tree bases; rotting wood|
|Plagiothecium nemorale||Soil; tree bases; rotting wood|
|Homalia trichomanoides||Tree bases|
|Isothecium alopecuroides||Tree bases|
|Orthodontium lineare||Rotting wood|
|Anomodon viticulosus||Tree bases|
The two main rivers that flow through the Vice-county are the Great Ouse and the Nene. Both are associated with nearby lakes and gravel or brick pits. There is one major reservoir, Grafham Water.
Water control structures are not infrequent on these two rivers and such areas present suitable habitats for aquatic bryophytes. Below is the site of a former paper mill on the Great Ouse at Little Paxton. On submerged rocks, in the fast flow from water control outlets, can be found Dialytrichia mucronata and Cinclidotus fontinaloides.
In less turbulent flow can be found Fissidens crassipes and Fissidens fontanus. The former has been recorded from both the Nene and the Great Ouse. The latter has only been recorded once, on the River Nene at Wansford, by J.J. Graham in 2013. It was on wooden boards used for strengthening the river bank.
Former gravel workings, which line the route of the Great Ouse, are water-filled and surrounded by recent woodland. Often, access to the bare earth at the edge of the lakes is rather limited. Below is a typical pit at Little Paxton.
The woodland and gravel banks are more-readily accessible. During the 2015 visit to Little Paxton Pits by the CBE, J.J. Graham found fruiting Bryum algovicum in such habitat. It was only the second record for Huntingdonshire, the first being in 1977 (R.A. Finch, Molesworth). The abandoned processing areas also present good habitat, where these are accessible. In 2015, during the same visit to Little Paxton Pits, M.O. Hill found the first and only record of Didymodon icmadophilus sensu Kučera amongst gravelly spoils in a grading area. This location has subsequently been fenced off and is no longer accessible.
As can be seen, the gravel heaps are now overgrown and any bryophytes may have been suppressed.
Grafham water is an 800 hectare SSSI and is surrounded by recent and ancient woodland on the western and north-western shores. It is the third largest reservoir in England, by area. The shoreline and surrounding woodland are relatively accessible, although it is a 16 kilometre trek to circumnavigate it. The east end (photo on the left below) is largely a grassland foreshore, with the dam structure in the centre of the photo. The woodland is mainly at the west end (photo on the right below). It is the dark line through the centre of this photo. Some of the woodland is private, but others are managed by the Wildlife Trust.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s N.G. Hodgetts undertook a systematic survey of the vast majority of churchyards in Huntingdonshire. This was continued in the 21st century by the CBE and M. Burton, though less extensively. An analysis of these records can be found in Burton (2019).
Of the 79 churchyards or cemeteries surveyed, Elton Church has the most number of recorded taxa (44) and the longest list recorded on any one visit (43).
This is not intended to be a bryophyte flora for Huntingdonshire, such as the excellent one for Cambridgeshire (Preston & Hill, 2019). It is a synthesis of the records in the BBS database intended to make a broad summary of the content accessible to the interested bryologist. It provides a major update to the preliminary account given in Horrill (1974). The major part is a checklist of the bryophytes of Huntingdonshire annotated by comments based on the recorder’s recollections of the records, where appropriate, and his assessment of the information included in the database. A link is given to a downloadable file. It is hoped that this presentation will encourage local and visiting bryologists to submit further records to enhance the understanding of this Vice-county’s bryophyte flora. Such records can be submitted via the email address above.
The first bryophyte record for Huntingdonshire was made by William Skrimshire, a surgeon from Wisbech who lived from 1766 to 1829 (Preston & Hill, 2019). He found Thamnobryum alopecurum during July 1794 in an area known at the time as Ripton Wood. It is now known as Wennington Wood and is part of the Abbots Ripton estate of Lord de Ramsey. The specimen survives and is in Wisbech Museum (WBCH). It was photographed by C.D. Preston during his research for the Cambridgeshire flora. This image is reproduced below with his permission:
Preissia quadrata was the second bryophyte to be recorded, in this case by M.J. Berkeley. He found it at Whittlesey Mere sometime during 1826. Berkeley was at Cambridge between 1821 and 1825. At the time of this record he was a clergyman at Thornaugh, Northamptonshire (Preston & Hill, 2019). The specimen was located in Cambridge Herbarium by C.D. Preston during research for the Cambridgeshire Flora (Preston & Hill, 2019). The specimen survives but the site was lost, due to the drainage of the Fens. Berkeley also recorded Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus from Stibbington sometime in 1836. It has not been recorded since from this location, although there are many recent records of this species – especially from Monks Wood NNR. Around the same time (1834 and 1835) a presumed acquaintance, C.E. Broome, recorded Splachnum ampullaceum from Whittlesey Mere. At the time, Broome was studying at Cambridge (Preston & Hill, 2019). These are the only bryophyte records known from Huntingdonshire during the 19th Century.
The graph below shows the number of bryophyte records annually between 1794 and 2020.
The scale of the horizontal axis is nonlinear as there are many of the earlier years with no records at all. It does, however, show some interesting features. There is clearly no continuity of recording, except in recent times. The very earliest records are described above. There are then a few records in the early 1900s, mainly by H.N Dixon and P.G.M. Rhodes, and another clump in the inter-war years. The recorders then were mainly Rhodes, J. Harrison Smith, Mrs J.R. Garrood and J.W. Bodger. Amongst the interesting taxa recorded in this period are Fontinalis antipyretica var. cymbifolia (W.E. Nicholson, 1901, Hemingford Grey – on the banks of the Great Ouse) and Leucodon sciuroides var. sciuroides (P.G.M. Rhodes, 1906, St Ives), neither of which have been recorded since from the Vice-county.
After the Second World War, bryophyte recording started to increase in Huntingdonshire as well as elsewhere. F. Rose visited Holme Fen NNR in 1948 and recorded, amongst other species, Calliergon cordifolium new to the Vice-county. This species has been recorded recently from both Holme Fen NNR and Woodwalton Fen NNR (2010 and 2012, CBE). In 1950, the Cambridge Bryological Excursions were initiated by H.L.K. Whitehouse. These were primarily to locations around Cambridge and were intended to teach bryophytes to undergraduates (Preston & Hill, 2019). However they did stray into Huntingdonshire and such visits contribute significantly to the peaks in the above graph in the 1950s and 1960s.
Bryological recording in Huntingdonshire can be said to have started in earnest when N.G. Hodgetts moved to the Monks Wood Experimental Station in 1985. He visited a wide range of locations, rather than just focussing on the prime sites. He was the Regional Recorder for the BBS and participated in the CBE, presumably leading those meetings in Huntingdonshire. His systematic survey of churchyards has already been mentioned. He also recorded from much of the ancient woodland in the Vice-county. After he left the area there was a lull in recording, with a spike in the mid-2000s. This was when C.D. Preston and K.J. Walker performed a compartment by compartment survey of Monks Wood NNR. The last peaks in the graph correspond to when T.G. Charman was at Natural England. He became the Regional Recorder for the BBS and led the Huntingdonshire meetings of the CBE. When he moved to northern England, the current Regional Recorder, M. Burton, continued these recording activities – both independently and as part of the CBE. In the last decade or so there have generally been three of the Cambridge excursions dedicated to Huntingdonshire. The aim has been to extend the recording coverage of the Vice-county as well as to revisit some of the churches and woodland recorded by N.G. Hodgetts. In recent years it has become apparent that there has been a bias towards recording ancient woodland rather than secondary and recent woodland in Huntingdonshire. Some of the later excursions have tried to redress this imbalance.
Seventy one bryologists have been involved in the first records of taxa on the Huntingdonshire list, either solely or jointly. Those with more than 10 finds are given below:
Summary biographical details of some of these can be found in chapter 3 of Preston & Hill (2019). J.L. Gilbert worked in the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. He was the Fungi & Lichens recorder for the HFFS, but also had a strong interest in bryophytes. Mrs J.R. Garrood (1872 to 1962) was the wife of Dr J.R. Garrood, who had a practice in Alconbury Hill. She made only thirteen bryophyte records for Huntingdonshire, between 1928 and 1931. Eleven of these were new to the Vice-county at the time and accounted for more than 25% of bryophyte species on the list by 1931.
The checklist at the end of this section is based on the analysis of 15838 bryophyte records for Huntingdonshire over the period July 1794 to December 2020. The Vice-county is contained within 18 Ordnance Survey hectads and there are records from all of these. Going down to tetrad level, Huntingdonshire is contained within 299 two kilometre squares. However, there are records from only 188 of these. This seems a low proportion (63%), but many of the unrecorded squares contain habitats similar to those with bryophyte records. Whilst there are still, for example, areas of accessible woodland that are unrecorded, the majority of the remaining area is arable farmland or densely urban. Nevertheless, there are undoubtedly surprising finds to be made and there is plenty of opportunity for bryologists to add to the Vice-county taxon list. The map below shows the distribution of taxa recorded from Huntingdonshire between 1794 and 2020. The underlying map is from Ordnance Survey Open Data. The map also shows an outline (in blue) of the Vice-county boundary. This, too, was obtained from Ordnance Survey Open Data. The data was processed using MapInfo Professional Version 10. At each tetrad centroid, where there are bryophyte records, there is a circle, the size of which depends on the number of taxa present in the tetrad. Next to the map is a legend giving the range of bryophyte counts.
From these records, 266 taxa have been recorded. Sixteen have been, or are about to be, bracketed. Two are aggregate species, one is “sensu lato” (and so not to a definite taxon) and one, Metzgeria furcata var. ulvula, is yet to make it onto the British list. This leaves 245 confirmed taxa as of November 2020.
Many of these records are more than twenty years old. Of the 15838 records only 8986 have been recorded since the beginning of 2000. The total number of taxa involved is 230, including the two aggregates and the Metzgeria furcata variety. The distribution of taxa is much reduced as shown in the map below. The mapping and boundary are from Ordnance Survey Open Data and the data was processed using MapInfo Professional Version 10. The legend is the same as that above.
In this map the coverage gaps are probably significant and if a similar analysis, limited to this more recent data, were to be performed a focussed recording campaign would need to be undertaken to fill in the most important gaps.
Periodically, the BBS produces a Census Catalogue which gives, for each Vice-county, a list of current taxa. The current published version is Hill et. al. (2008). A taxon is considered current if there are records more recent than the cut-off date for bracketing. This cut-off date is about 50 years and, in 2021, is due to be updated to the end of 1969. That is, records from 1st January 1970 will be considered current. Once a taxon has been bracketed a fresh voucher is required from a current record in order to “debracket” it. There are sixteen taxa that have failed, or will fail, this requirement and these are shown in the table below:
|Name||First||Last||Recs||Last Location||Grid Reference|
|Preissia quadrata||1826||1826||1||Whittlesey Mere||TL29|
|Splachnum ampullaceum||1833||1834||3||Whittlesey Mere||TL29|
|Fontinalis antipyretica var. cymbifolia||1901||1901||2||Hemingford Grey, River Great Ouse||TL27|
|Leucodon sciuroides var. sciuroides||1906||1906||3||St Ives||TL37|
|Bryum caespiticium||1955||1955||1||Woodwalton Fen NNR||TL28|
|Dicranum polysetum||1956||1956||1||Woodwalton Fen NNR||TL2284|
|Riccia sorocarpa||1958||2012||3||Waresley Wood SSSI, Brownes’ Piece||TL25855494|
|Dicranella cerviculata||1959||1959||1||Woodwalton Fen NNR||TL2284|
|Campylium stellatum||1959||1959||1||Woodwalton Fen NNR||TL2284|
|Drepanocladus polygamus||1959||1959||1||Woodwalton Fen NNR||TL2284|
|Calliergon giganteum||1959||1959||2||Woodwalton Fen NNR||TL2284|
|Encalypta vulgaris||1964||1964||2||Holme Brook||TL186874|
|Sciuro-hypnum populeum||1964||1964||1||Woodwalton Fen NNR||TL2284|
|Entosthodon fascicularis||1967||1967||3||Monks Wood NNR, field near||TL200795|
|Campylium protensum||1950||1967||2||Monks Wood NNR||TL1979|
The first thing to notice from this table is that almost all the taxa are aquatic or fenland species. Some of these have disappeared due to the decline in such habitats. For example, Preissia quadrata was a rare plant of calcareous fens in SE England. It has also disappeared from Cambridgeshire, the only record being from Burwell Fen in 1832 (Preston & Hill, 2019). Similarly, Splachnum ampullaceum, which grows on decaying animal dung in wetlands, also disappeared from Cambridgeshire around the same time (Preston & Hill, 2019). Others are still found in suitable habitat in Cambridgeshire, for example the two Campylium species (Preston & Hill, 2018), so there may be scope for finding some of these again. One example that should be possible to locate is Riccia sorocarpa. This was actually found in 2012 close to the original record in a ditch just outside Waresley Wood SSSI. However, the Vice-county Recorder did not realise at the time that a voucher was required to remove it from being bracketed and no sample was retained. Encalypta vulgaris is another example that may not be lost to the Vice-county. Encalypta streptocarpa was also found at Holme Brook in 1964/65. It was not seen again until M. Burton found it in 2019 on a stone support buttress for the A1 where it crosses the River Nene at Wansford.
The checklist can be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet here or from the Resources section below.
This is a table of all the taxa recorded from Huntingdonshire with data on the number of records, the location, typical habitat in the Vice-county and the name of the first recorder of the taxon. Location includes the number of hectads and the number of tetrads in which it has been recorded. There is also a column for typical locations where it may be found. This includes the original location and some current locations.
The taxonomy, nomenclature and sequence of species follow Hill et. al. (2008). Habitat descriptions are based on the data in the records, where available. Otherwise, relevant habitat information has been adapted from Blockeel et. al. (2014) based on the locations of the records.
The following paragraphs highlight some of the interesting taxa to be found in the checklist. Inevitably it is subjective. These comments are organised into groups, following the taxonomy, with some brief introductory remarks. The groups are the main Classes in the bryophyte taxonomy:
The latter is very large so it is split up into conveniently sized groups of families:
These are thallus liverworts with pores or air gaps in the dorsal surface.
Not all records identified Marchantia polymorpha to subspecies level. The instances naming the subspecies polymorpha were reviewed by C.D. Preston and only those with confirmed identification were assigned to this subspecies. The others were just assigned to species level. Based on habitat, it is possible that some of these are the nominate subspecies but there is insufficient evidence.
After Conocephalum salebrosum was identified in the UK a check was made of the records of Conocephalum conicum in the area. None were found to be C. salebrosum. Those records confirmed as C. conicum were assigned to C. conicum s.str. Those unable to be refound were assigned to C. conicum agg.
This class includes the rest of the thallus liverworts and all the leafy liverworts.
The two Fossombronia species can only be reliably separated when ripe spores are present and the ornamentation on the spores is examined microscopically.
Metzgeria furcata var. ulvula is not yet recognised on the British & Irish list.
J.J. Graham first found Riccardia latifrons in an area of deep peat near the traditional Sphagnum area of Holme Fen in 2017 on a recording visit with F. Rumsey and P. Stroh. The area had been previously cleared by Natural England to encourage Sphagnum regrowth. He returned with the CBE in 2018 and submitted a voucher as a new Vice-county record.
Frullania tamarisci has only been recorded from two sites. The first, Aversley Wood in 1985, and then again, Hamerton Grove, in 2020.
Cololejeunea minutissima was first recorded from Warboys Wood SSSI in 2011 by J.D. Shanklin and has steadily spread across the Vice-county.
Although Lejeunea cavifolia was found in Sand Wood in 1993, it was not refound there when the CBE visited there in 2019. The first record, from Monks Wood NNR, was by N.G. Hodgetts in 1986.
Microlejeunea ulicina has essentially been found only three times. The first two records, from 1994, appear to be the same plants. It was then found in 2004 in Monks Wood NNR by C.D. Preston and K.J. Walker, during their compartment survey of that reserve. M.O. Hill found in in 2014 in Archers Wood.
Blockeel at. al. (2014) suggest that populations of Ptilidium pulcherrimum were ephemeral in southern England in the 1980s, when its disappearance coincided with reduced levels of SO2 in the atmosphere. It has certainly not been seen since 1987 in Huntingdonshire and since 1980 in Cambridgeshire (Preston & Hill, 2019).
All the records for Lepidozia reptans come from the Greensand area in the south of the Vice-county. The records from the late 1970s and 1980s come from Waresley and Gransden Woods. There is then a gap of nearly 40 years when C.D. Preston refound it on an Oak Stump in Sand Wood.
Although Chiloscyphus polyanthos was recorded from various localities by C. Jeffrey in 1955, C.D. Preston, when reviewing the data for the Atlas, assigned all existing records to Chiloscyphus polyanthos s.l. None of the records appear to have been examined microscopically and there is no evidence that female plants with perianths were found.
Another species not to survive the Atlas review is Plagiochila porelloides. It was not clear that the habitat was right or that the distinguishing thread-like shoots were observed.
Cephalozia bicuspidata has been recorded from Woodwalton Fen NNR and Holme Fen NNR since 1959. However, a voucher was never submitted and it did not get onto the Huntingdonshire list until J.D. Shanklin submitted a voucher from Holme Fen NNR in 2018.
The only site for Sphagnum species is Holme Fen NNR, where there is a wet hollow with underlying deep peat in woodland that is predominantly Birch. The earliest record was in 1955 and a recent visit by the CBE, 2018, recorded four of the five know taxa recently (S. fimbriatum, S. palustre var. palustre, S. subnitens var. subnitens and S. squarrosum). About six years prior to this, Natural England had cleared an area adjacent in order to promote Sphagnum growth. This has apparently been successful. In addition, two new liverworts were recorded for the Vice-county from this area, Riccardia latifrons and Cephaloziella hampeana.
A sixth taxon has been recorded from the original area, Sphagnum recurvum s.l. This was by H.J.B. Birks in 1964. This is no longer a distinct taxon. The name has been associated with Sphagnum flexuosum, Sphagnum angustifolium and Sphagnum fallax. Only the last of these has been recorded in Huntingdonshire.
Most of the Polytrichum records are from fenland or woodland as expected. Two unusual records are from a nursery near Somersham where Polytrichastrum formosum and Polytrichum juniperinum were found on the floor of a former greenhouse in 2018.
Neither Polytrichum longisetum nor Polytrichum piliferum have been recorded since the 1980s. These species are similarly uncommon in Cambridgeshire (Preston & Hill, 2019).
This is a large class and contains the rest of the mosses, both acrocarps and pleurocarps. For convenience, it is broken down into groups of families.
Encalypta streptocarpa and E. vulgaris were recorded from the Holme area in the mid-1960s but not since until M. Burton discovered E. streptocarpa in 2019 on a stone buttress supporting the A1 where it crosses the River Nene at Wansford. The latter has not been recorded since and is now bracketed.
The habitat for the first record of Physcomitrium pyriforme is not stated, but M. Burton found it in 2012 with old capsules, without lids or calyptrae, in a cow-poached area of a stream running through the site of the medieval village of Boughton.
Similarly, habitat for early records of Aphanorrhegma patens were not stated, but were from ancient woodland and Holme Fen NNR – presumably wet areas. M.O. Hill refound it in Cow Lane Gravel Pits (now Godmanchester Nature Reserve) during a CBE meeting in 2011. Again the habitat was not recorded. The Habitat description in the checklist is based on M. Burton’s recollection of the meeting (nutrient rich mud in draw-down area of gravel pit).
The site of the first record of Fissidens bryoides var. bryoides, Elton Furze Main Wood, is now a golf course. The current secretary advised M. Burton that it would not be possible to revisit the area as it is “in play” for golfers and other visitors would represent a safety hazard.
The two aquatic Fissidens, F. crassipes and F. fontanus have been associated with man-made structures on river banks and there are only a few records. The former has been found on both of the two main rivers, whilst the latter has only been found on the River Nene. J.J. Graham, who has recorded both in Huntingdonshire and elsewhere, has suggested that a search of such structures along the two river courses may reveal more instances of these species.
Two other Fissidens species have effectively had just one record each. F. adianthoides was found by N.G. Hodgetts in the disused Stibbington Quarry. When last visited (2013), this area was overgrown and was within the security gates of a private housing estate. F. dubius was found on the side of an old ant hill in calcareous grassland on the banks of a railway cutting (Great Stukeley Lodge Railway Cutting SSSI). This grassland was not natural, but created during the construction of the cutting. It is sheep-grazed.
Pseudephemerum nitidum was found at the edge of a pool in Brampton Wood NNR growing with Fossombronia wondraczekii. This was the only time either species had been recorded in Huntingdonshire.
Two of the Dicranaceae species have been bracketed. Dicranella cerviculata and Dicranum polysetum were recorded from Woodwalton Fen NNR in the late 1950s. The grid reference for these refers to the western section of the fen south of the main ride. This is a combination of wet deciduous woodland with some reedbed. This area has only been recorded twice since the early 1980s, whereas there were multiple visits in the 1970s and earlier. It is possible that these species have been overlooked. However, the Atlas (Blockeel et. al., 2014) states that there has been a sharp decline in the number of records of the former from lowlands. It also says that the increase in records of the latter during the 20th century may have been transitory.
Many of the Weissia records date from the late 1960s, with Weissia longifolia var. angustifolia being first recorded in 1937. However, in the last decade there have been refinds of these species and also the addition of Weissia brachycarpa var. brachycarpa. C.D. Preston saved Weissia squarrosa from bracketing when he found it on barer higher areas of wet grass with much short Carex pendula in Monks Wood NNR, Compartment 23 early in 2020.
When Didymodon icmadophilus sensu Kučera was first found by M.O. Hill it was recorded as Didymodon acutus. The site was a former grading yard at Little Paxton Pits and it was on a heap of gravel. Now the site is overgrown and behind locked gates. At the BBS workshop on Didymodon (Blockeel & Kučera, 2019) it was found that all bar two of the UK records of Didymodon acutus belong to Didymodon icmadophilus.
After M.O. Hill pointed out the field characteristics and recent preferred habitat of Didymodon nicholsonii at a Cambridgeshire meeting of the CBE, the species was found for the first time in Huntingdonshire by M. Burton and subsequently there has been a steady increase in records.
Hennediella stanfordensis and Hennediella macrophylla were both recorded by C.D. Preston during a combined visit to Hinchingbrooke Country Park and Cow Lane Gravel Pits (now the Wildlife Trust’s Godmanchester Nature Reserve.) On this same visit Tortula schimperi was recorded new to Huntingdonshire – also by C.D. Preston. These remain the only records of these three species in the Vice-county.
Cinclidotus fontinaloides has been recorded from several places along the River Great Ouse and once from the River Nene. Dialytrichia mucronata has been recorded from the Great Ouse, but so far not from the Nene. The absence of accessible submerged rocks in fast flow may be a reason. The first record of this latter species was from the River Kim, a tributary of the Great Ouse, in an area subject to regular flooding (a ford).
Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii has only been recorded once (from the wall of Chesterton Church by N.G. Hodgetts). This was looked for recently but not found. The nearby Elton Church is of similar stone and it was looked for there by the CBE, again without success. C.D. Preston found Zygodon rupestris in abundance on a mature Elm in Aversley Wood SSSI. The only other record is from a vertical Ash trunk in Lady’s Wood, found during a CBE meeting.
Over the last ten years, three Orthotrichum species have been added to the Huntingdonshire list. In 2011 O. striatum was found at Little Paxton Pits by C.D. Preston. It was subsequently found at various sites in Monks Wood NNR. In the same year, J.G. Duckett found O. obtusifolium on a leaning Ash in Warboys Wood. This is the only record. C.D. Preston also found O. stramineum on Ash in Ash Wood in 2015.
Following the review of the Ulota crispa group (Blockeel, 2017) there were no confirmed records of this species with a voucher. The existing records were assigned to Ulota crispa sensu Smith (2004). However, the position was rectified when C.D. Preston found the species in Monks Wood NNR and submitted a voucher. The same article gives the characteristics of Ulota crispula, which M.O. Hill found on Cercis siliquastrum in Diddington churchyard. A second record of this species was subsequently found in an apple orchard by D.J. Scott.
This group comprises the remaining acrocarp species. Several of the Bryum species are worthy of mention. B. algovicum was found by J.J. Graham on a shaded sandy bank in Little Paxton Pits. This was almost 40 years after the only previous record. However, the same visit failed to refind B. intermedium, which had been found there in 1992 by N.G. Hodgetts. The variety Bryum pseudotriquetrum var. bimum had only been recorded three times since 1940 when S. Hartley found it on peat at the edge of a dried up reservoir in Rymes Reedbed. However, B. caespiticium has not been recorded since its initial find in Woodwalton Fen NNR by C.C. Townsend (1955).It is now bracketed.
Of the three Pohlia species on the Huntingdonshire list, Pohlia wahlenbergii var. wahlenbergii has been recorded the least. After it was found new to the Vice-county at Waresley Wood SSSI (C.D. Preston, 1983) it has only been found three times. The latest, from the same area by M.O. Hill was only a few shoots on a ride.
All the pleurocarp mosses are in this group. Fontinalis antipyretica var. antipyretica is found regularly in and by water. However, the variety cymbifolia has only been recorded in 1901. It was found by W.E. Nicholson on the banks of the River Great Ouse. Subsequently that year H.N. Dixon also recorded it.
Between 1957 and 1966 Climacium dendroides was found at sites such as Woodwalton Fen NNR and Monks Wood NNR. It then disappeared for 40 years until M.O. Hill found it in a lawn at the Monks Wood research station. This area is now a private training centre and the site is not accessible.
Three species of Hygroamblystegium have been recorded occasionally in Huntingdonshire. H. tenax at Stibbington Gravel Pits, H. varium from Aversley and Warboys Wood and H. humile from water mills on the River Great Ouse. There have been essentially only four distinct records between them.
The two species of Calliergon (C. cordifolium and C. giganteum) have been recorded only from Holme Fen NNR and Woodwalton Fen NNR. The former was recorded in the 1960s, again in 1996 and twice since 2010 – the latest being by M.O. Hill. However the latter has not been refound since it was first recorded in 1959 and is now bracketed.
Whilst Rhynchostegium confertum is regularly recorded from woodland and churchyards and Rhynchostegium murale is occasionally recorded from the base of gravestones, Rhynchostegium megapolitanum is a relatively new addition to the Huntingdonshire list. It was found by M.O. Hill in 2010 on a peaty bank of a drain in Holme Fen NNR. He found it again on a mown grass verge in Hemingford Grey. An unusual find was by S. Hartley on stone in Ramsey Abbey. These are the only three instances in the Vice-county.
Brachythecium glareosum only grows in Huntingdonshire in calcareous farmland around Stibbington and Wansford. In that area it is not infrequent on tracks and at the edges of fields. M.J. Wigginton first found it in 1989 and when M. Burton revisited the area in 2018 it was locally common. Conversely, Brachythecium salebrosum has been transient. N.G. Hodgetts found it in woodland on the banks of the River Great Ouse in 1990 and in Weaveley Wood in 1993. Both of these areas were visited by the CBE in recent years and the species was not found.
Calliergonella lindbergii has only been found in two ancient woods, Aversley Wood SSSI and Brampton Wood SSSI, where it was found at the edges of rides. It was first recorded in 1959 but has not been seen since 1986. The Atlas (Blockeel at. al. 2014) suggests losses in lowland England may be due to deterioration of woodland rides.
There have been a few additions to the Huntingdonshire list this year (2020) from ancient woodland seldom visited. Salome Wood is a partially re-planted fragment that once included a deer park and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Here Rhytidiadelphus loreus was found new to the Vice-county in leaf litter. Although not new, Herzogiella seligeri was also found here on a rotting log. There have been three other records, all from Monks Wood NNR. Quite close to Salome Wood is another ancient wood with some replanting, Hamerton Grove. This was only visited in 2020 and Neckera crispa was found new to Huntingdonshire by M.O. Hill on Elm.
Burton, M. 2020. Checklist of Huntingdonshire bryophytesDownload the checklist
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Burton, M. 2018.Woodland bryophyte preferences in Huntingdonshire. Report of the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society, 71, 21-26.
Burton, M. 2019. The bryophytes of Huntingdonshire churchyards. Report of the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society, 72, 30-34.
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Hill, M.O., Blackstock, T.H., Long, D.G. & Rothero, G.,P. 2008. A checklist and census catalogue of British and Irish bryophytes: updated 2008. British Bryological Society, Middlewich.
Hodgetts, N.G. 1985. The bryophyte site register for Huntingdonshire. Report of the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society, 38: 17-21.
Horrill, A.D. 1974. A preliminary account of the bryophyte flora of Huntingdonshire. Report of the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society, 26, 14-34
Preston, C.D. & Hill, M.O. 2016. Does Cambridgeshire have ancient woodland bryophytes? Nature in Cambridgeshire, 58: 3-15.
Preston, C.D. and Hill, M.O. 2019. Cambridgeshire’s Mosses and Liverworts – a dynamic flora. Pisces Publications, Newbury
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