Vice-county 46 (Cardiganshire)

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Moorland above Goginan

The modern county of Ceredigion differs little in its border from the vice-county of Cardiganshire.  Although all the county is upland as defined by the usual Exe-Tees rule, in fact much of the coastal plain, which extends several to many miles inland is a bit more lowland in character.  There are many diverse habitats in a county with a low population density.  It has extensive moorland, forestry, pasture, small lanes, lakes, rivers, ravines, fields and a dramatic coastline.  There are two large raised bogs of national importance but no real limestone in the county, although exposures of quite strongly basic rock help boost the total number of taxa (species, subspecies and currently accepted varieties) to 626 at the last count.  There are only 17 of those not seen in the last 30 years and just a few which are assumed to be extinct.  Out of the remainder, many are however restricted to just one or two sites.

The bryophyte distributions tend to follow the topography of the county (rather than the geology which is mostly Silurian and Ordovician shales).  Two species have been selected to illustrate this.  Andreaea rothii is rarely found outside of the higher parts of the county in the Cambrian Mountains and the central Mynydd Bach hills.  In contrast, the distribution of Oxyrrhynchium hians, essentially a lowland moss, neatly meshes with the Andreaea.  Neither map is yet complete but the pattern is striking.

Distribution of Andreaea rothii in Cardiganshire up to November 2020

Distribution of Oxyrrhynchium hians in Cardiganshire up to November 2020

Ceredigion is often visited as a holiday destination and bryologists may find themselves looking for somewhere to visit.  Here’s a suggestion and it allows many of the characteristic bryophytes to be seen.  The walk was devised during the second Covid-19 lockdown.

Tom Ottley, November 2020

Moss walk from Goginan

This walk starts at the foot of the hills, the hills being part of the Cambrian Mountains.  The land to the west is mostly lowland in character and this is a point is where it changes dramatically.  The annual rainfall changes here too with much of the coastal plain experiencing only a modest increase in precipitation to parts of SE England but becoming a lot wetter with increasing altitude.  In this walk we visit lane-side habitats to start with, then some mine spoil, forestry woodland, a rocky stream, rocky banks, more mining areas, some natural rock outcrops and finally moorland with small bogs, flushes and scattered rock outcrops.  The walk will take most of the day if the bryophytes are looked for but can be done in a couple of hours as a walk depending on how much of the moorland is explored.

The bryophytes mentioned here are some of the more interesting ones, not necessarily great rarities but intended to include species that a visitor from southern England for example would find of interest.  It might also suit relative beginners eager to see new things.  Many more bryophytes can be seen than those mentioned here however and over 250 species have been seen within a couple of miles of Goginan.

If a GPS is available then the supplied grid references can be entered as waypoints.  Alternatively, it should be possible to find the way with the aid of an OS map (Explorer 213).  All the land is public-access.  Watch out for steep slopes of course and please avoid going near mine shafts and adits.

The county recorder (currently the author) will always appreciate records from visiting bryologists, even for common species.

SN69018165 Start – Road junction

Lane bank with Riccia sorocarpa

Room for one or two cars to park near here or further SW at the stream bridge but please avoid blocking field gateways.  The bank here has a good population of Riccia sorocarpa and this is the commonest member of the genus in the county.  The tarmac on this particular lane is not good for bryophytes so the usual bryologist’s habit of spending the first hour within sight of the car will not be necessary.  Philonotis fontana occurs on gravel along the edge in a few spots but is much reduced in stature.  One tarmac specialist which is abundant elsewhere in the village is Scleropodium cespitans.  It seems to be coming increasingly common on shaded tarmac mainly in the lowland parts of the county and may well arrive at this lane at some point.

Follow the lane NW and uphill to the sharp bend where a couple of access tracks also converge.

SN68878175 Sharp bend to right

The lane banks here are very different from those at the start of the walk.  They are mainly covered in Pogonatum aloides, Thuidium tamariscinum and Dicranella heteromalla and as you head uphill on the lane, Diphyscium foliosum becomes increasingly common.  It appears as brownish patches towards the top of the bank and seems to be able to recover from drought with mixed success.  These banks are south-facing and do dry out after prolonged spells of dry weather.

Green and brown patches of Diphyscium foliosum towards top of bank

The strap-shaped leaves are distinctive  It is to be found on many lane banks in the county as well as rock exposures in valleys and in crevices in exposed rocks on moorland.  It occasionally produces capsules which are well worth looking out for.  The banks here are very acidic and the moss flora reflects that.  Diplophyllum albicans is locally dominant in many spots but we can see its close relative, D. obtusifolium later on.

On rocks in this bank, where sufficiently shaded, there are small cushions of Rhabdoweisia crispata but that will be seen later as well.  The leaves are quite translucent and the nerve is easily seen.  It’s a bit similar to Dicranoweisia crispata but that crisps up more when dry and prefers more open sites.

Head on up the lane.  There is a small waterfall down below the road at this point (on private land) but in spite of looking promising it is disappointing for the bryologist, probably because the stream dries up completely in dry weather.  There are patches of Fissidens celticus on the bank on the left of the lane amongst a lot of F. bryoides var. bryoides.

After a few hundred metres, when two cottages are reached there are patches of Sciuro-hypnum populeum (Brachythecium populeum) on a low wall and this is a very typical habitat for it, with many cottages in the village having it on garden walls.  Continue uphill for 100m or so.

SN69058200 Lane

The tarmac here supports much Syntrichia latifolia.  It seems quite patchy in its distribution with many apparently suitable lanes lacking it but where it does occur it can be abundant.  The lane bank has small areas where more base-rich water seeps through and here there are patches of Ctenidium molluscum and right at the foot of the bank is some Chionoloma tenuirostre (Trichostomum tenuirostre, Oxystegus tenuirostris) and this is the var. holtiiEurhynchium striatum also indicates the less acidic conditions and is quite frequent on the bank.

Just before the next row of cottages is reached, there are good patches of Rhytidiadelphus loreus on the right and Fissidens exilis in a few places on the left bank but this is never present in large quantity in the county and it can be elusive.  Racomitrium aciculare adorns the shaded tarmac on the road which is often under flowing water in fact and other stream species can been found.

Keep going, past the cottages and turn right at SN69408202 down a track to the next waypoint which is some steep scree.

SN69258197 Scree slope

Mine spoil forming scree

The scree is mine spoil on a steep slope.  It has been colonised by heather and bilberry and there are good patches of rather glaucous Schistochilopsis incisa (Lophozia incisa) under the vegetation, particularly towards the top.

Mat of Schistochilopsis incisa (was Lophozia incisa)

Its close relative, L. ventricosa has not yet been found at this site but, in general, where it does occur it appears to be mainly var. sylvicola.  Growing with the Lophozia is Orthocaulis floerkei (Barbilophozia floerkii) .  Many small mats of a tiny liverwort are actually a minute version of Cephalozia bicuspidata, presumably affected by the heavy metals in the mine spoil and which crops up at many sites in a similarly reduced form.  Ptilidium ciliare may be spotted on this spoil too but is easier to find on or near rock outcrops on the moorland reached later in the walk.  Epiphytes on oak and willow nearby include Ulota crispula amongst the more numerous cushions of U. bruchiiU. intermedia has been found in a few spots in the county but not in this area and U. crispa sensu stricto is much less common than U. bruchii or even U. crispula at many sites.  Retrace the route back up the track but turn right before the road is reached and take the footpath (there are signs) that skirts the farm on your left.  Note the large mats of Rhytidiadelphus loreus along here.  Just past the farm there are numerous patches of Marsupella emarginata on rocks embedded in the track as well as Philonotis fontana.  Other species of the Marsupella genus are much less common although M. funckii is fairly frequently encountered on mineral soils, including on paths but usually on finer soil than here and can be found later on in the walk.  The path goes up through a gate, ignoring the turning to the right, and then downhill steadily on a small track through woodland.  After 200m reach a path crossing at SN69728186 – not marked on OS maps.

SN69728186 Path crossing

On the track before reaching the crossing there are numerous small patches of Racomitrium ericoides.  This is the commoner of the two closely related mosses, R. ericoides and R. elongatum.  It is particularly characteristic of forest tracks and is indeed often abundant but R. elongatum occurs quite frequently too, sometimes in slightly grassier locations but it is not easy to discern any consistent difference in habitat requirement.  Also at this junction is Pogonatum urnigerum, the glaucous leaves being easy to spot.

Turn right along the small path that contours the hillside but beware of mountain bikes which use these trails.  Reach the sharp bend and look on the exposed rocks on the right.

SN69468174  Sharp bend in path

The rocks themselves are covered in Campylopus introflexus but on bare soil adjacent to and above them are good colonies of both Diplophyllum obtusifolium and Isopaches bicrenatus (Lophozia bicrenata).  Both fruit frequently which makes the Diplophyllum easier to confirm if a microscope is available since it is paroicous whereas its abundant relative, D. albicans, is dioicous.  The pale green, more concave, relatively broader leaves without a ‘mid-rib’ can be spotted in the field too.  D. albicans is very close by though so care is needed.  The Isopaches has pale brown gemmae and a very distinctive aroma.  Note that Barbilophozia sudetica (Lophozia sudetica) can have gemmae of the same colour and is frequent on and near rock exposures on the moorland higher up.

Continue down this small path until the main forest track is reached at the bottom and turn left.  After a short while take the obvious path to the right and follow this track down as far as the first bend where you will be going to keep straight on along the footpath.  But first stop to admire the vast quantities of Campylopus subulatus on the gravel at the bend, here growing with Pogonatum urnigerum and Brachythecium albicans.  The Campylopus has the agreeable habit of shedding complete whorls of leaves as a means of asexual reproduction.  Head down to the stream – the Afon Melindwr.

SN70288163 Afon Melindwr

A small cascade in the Afon Melindwr

On rocks below the footbridge there are copious patches of Jungermannia pumila, which although quite frequently found near streams is not often as prolific as here.  After wet weather it could be submerged of course.  Work upstream to where the stream becomes quite incised and you should encounter the two common Fontinalis species (F. squamosa and F. antipyretica).  The var. gracilis of the latter does occur elsewhere in the county but at higher altitude and appears to be quite scarce.  Also on these rocks are Platyhypnidium lusitanicum growing particularly luxuriantly but often deeply submerged, Hygrohypnella ochracea (Hygrohypnum ochraceum) and Solenostoma  paroicum, the latter also on tree roots.  Out of the other ‘Hygrohypnum’ species, Hygrohypnum luridum occurs in a few spots in the county in quite basic conditions but Pseudohygrohypnum eugyrium and related species have not been found, most streams being too acidic.  The Solenostoma is one of the more frequently encountered ones in what was all Jungermannia in the Field Guide.  It needs a well sheltered spot, often in ravines, but is widely distributed along the ‘upland edge’ in the county.

Retrace your steps, go back up to the forest track and turn right.

SN70298176 Edge of forest track

Edges of forest tracks are an important habitat in Cardiganshire.  Further south, in the Tywi Forest, the soil is a much finer sand and Fossombronia incurva is locally plentiful but here the soil is grittier and not so species-rich.  There is more Campylopus subulatus in several places along the track and Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens occurs just a bit further on from this waypoint.  B. ferruginascens is quite common in the county and is often found along edges of lanes on fine gravel.  Keep going until the stream bridge is reached, noting abundant Weissia controversa var. densifolia on wet rocks on the left.

Cross the stream and continue along the main track.  Try to ignore the densely moss-covered rocks on the right but continue round the first bend to the right to reach the second set of rocks.

SN70918184 Rocks at side of track

Firstly, the edges of the track are worth looking at here.  There is abundant Polytrichum commune var. perigoniale, readily distinguished with a microscope but not 100% reliable in the field although it is markedly smaller and with more wiry stems.  Oligotrichum hercynicum is locally abundant too.  On the rocks themselves and on small banks below there is much Breutelia chrysocoma, a very attractive species.  It’s interesting to reflect that the track was made when the forest was planted and so is unlikely to be more than 80 years old (the author is still trying to find out when the track was constructed).  The exposed rocks date from then and there are no natural outcrops on the slope so the bryophytes must all be fairly recent colonists.

Breutelia chrysocoma at the foot of a steep rocky bank

Also prominent on these rocks is a bog moss that looks like large Sphagnum subnitens but which is actually S. skyense.  This handsome species was first found in the county by Sam Bosanquet at Bryn Bras, just two miles away as the kite flies.  The fascicles on S. skyense have four branches typically (2 pendant, 2 spreading) as opposed to the more usual 3 in S. subnitens but there are cellular differences too including the large hyalocysts in the divergent branches which were measured at 65 microns in width in a sample from here.  Several other species of Sphagnum are on these banks too, including S. quinquefarium, S. capillifolium subsp. rubellum and S. subnitens and that list is by no means complete.

Sphagnum skyense

Also on these rocks are some huge cushions of Amphidium mougeotii, abundant Ptychomitrium polyphyllum often covered with capsules and Fissidens osmundoides.  A large Fissidens is actually F. dubius (small cells, bistratose in patches) but, given the habitat and the size up to 6 cm long, would be likely to be mistaken for F. adianthoides unless checked.

The highlight of these rocks though and unique to Cardiganshire is Campylopus setifolius and is in a place where water frequently drips on it from above.  There is one large cushion of it which is rather precariously attached to the rock so please avoid collecting it in this, its southernmost station in Britain.  Other species of Campylopus are nearby: C. atrovirens, C. flexuosus, C. fragilis, C, introflexus and C. pyriformis but these are of course widespread in the county.  With the C. subulatus on the track that makes seven species in the genus just here.

Campylopus setifolius

Below the road is boulder scree from where the road was blasted through.  The boulders are covered in bryophytes of course and there are a few interesting ones to be found here.  There is much Scapania gracilis and several large patches of Tritomaria quinquedentata.  More unusual is Didymodon umbrosus which often escapes attention on walls but does appear to be quite scarce in the county.  Finally, just near the very edge of the track, at the top of the steep slope below is a liverwort that could easily be mistaken for fruiting Solenostoma gracillimum.  But this is S. sphaerocarpum.  The perianths are quite similar being strongly winged and beaked but there is no large-celled border to the leaves and the inflorescences are easily shown to be paroicous.

Retrace your steps back to the stream-crossing and turn right with the stream now on your right.  After only 40m there are large patches of Ditrichum lineare on gritty soil just to the left of the path.  Although tiny, it is larger than D. plumbicola which is considerably rarer and needs a much finer sediment but is likewise, and more exclusively, associated with lead mines.  A bit further on, locate a small path in the bushes on the left through mine building ruins (much Fissidens dubius and a good range of common wall species) and follow it steeply up the slope.  This path is another cycle trail so beware of oncoming mountain bikes although infrequently used.  The first patch of mine spoil is traversed on a zig-zag path but is not very useful for bryophytes.

The path improves and leads up to another mine.

SN70718199 Mine workings

The mines in this part of Wales were mostly mixed, with lead and zinc being the primary ores being worked.  Ditrichum lineare is again quite plentiful around the banks and edges of the path along here.  A small stream issuing from an adit has Solenostoma hyalinum (dioicous, purple rhizoids, perianths on substantial perigynium) and much Bryum pallescens and Dicranella varia as well as copious Weissia controversa var. densifolia.  Continue along this now horizontal section of the path until some steeply sloping rock exposures on your right are reached.

SN70648200 Pen y Graig-ddu, lower part of crags

This is the best site in the county for Braunia imberbis (Hedwigia integrifolia) and it is indeed abundant, forming huge patches the size of dinner plates which extend all the way up the steep slope and will be encountered later on in the walk much higher up.  In places further up the slope, it is completely dominant and there is little room for other bryophytes.

Huge patches of Braunia imberbis (was Hedwigia integrifolia) on steep rocks at Pen y Craig-ddu

H. stellata occurs here too but in much smaller quantity and there are small cushions of Rhabdoweisia crispata in crevices and a few small cushions of Grimmia arenaria.  The Rhabdoweisia is the commonest member of the genus in the county although all three occur.  Generally they are straightforward to identify but occasional aberrantly narrow shoots of R. crispata are likely to be mistaken for R. fugax which seems to favour much more sheltered spots and is rare in the county.  R. crenulata is quite widespread though but has not been found on this walk although the shaded rocks by the track earlier on would be a suitable place to look for it.  Grimmia arenaria is hard to find just here but there are large colonies of it further up to enjoy.  Cynodontium bruntonii is rather easier to find and often has capsules.  It tends to prefer more shaded parts of the rock than Dicranoweisia cirrata with which it can be easily confused.

Braunia imberbis (was Hedwigia integrifolia). Drawing by Sue Rubinstein

The path continues across a small stream (Scapania undulata), into some forestry, and back across some mine scree.  If the reader wants to see some nice Cephaloziella stellulifera then they should follow the stream down 60m or so and it is abundant on several rocks in the stream.  Otherwise continue on the path to pass near the edge of the crag which is easily reached in a couple of places, more so towards the top.

SN70738211 Pen y Graig-ddu, upper part of crags

There is a lot more of the Braunia imberbis up here as well as much Grimmia trichophyllaGrimmia arenaria is locally plentiful too but might take a while to locate (the top-most crag has a good population if not seen before then).

Grimmia arenaria. Drawing by Sue Rubinstein

Grimmia arenaria

The closely related G. donniana also occurs on nearby rocks but G. arenaria has longer hair points, usually aligned and, having curved setae, it means that capsules are hardly exserted from the cushions.  Also on these rocks is Racomitrium obtusum.  This is a tricky species, now considered distinct from R. heterostichum and is locally abundant in Cardiganshire.  It has to be distinguished from other members of the genus without hair points.  The common R. fasciculare has distinctive short branches, often curved, and with crowded leaves thus appearing as bunches.  The leaf apex is usually sharper than R. obtusifoliumR. aquaticum has stiff leaves, with the nerve wide and reddish at the base.  R. obtusum is a more lax plant with the habit of R. affine or R. heterostichum but with blunt leaf apices lacking a hair point.  Another useful character which can be seen in the field is the widely recurved leaf margins but a microscope is needed to be certain.  R. affine, R. heterostichum and R. sudeticum are all common on rock outcrops on the moorland above and require some patience to get to know.

Continue up the path, getting much easier now and when open country is reached after a bend, turn left along a short fence to reach a place where the main boundary fence can be easily crossed In the corner, making use of a small concrete post.  Before heading down to the bend in the track, stop to look at the concrete post you have just stepped on; it has Schistidium elegantulum on it and this is not the only place where it has been found on exposed concrete posts on moorland.

SN70708223  Bend in track

Anastrepta orcadensis is on the steep bank of the track and there is more further down (i.e. west) by the side of the wood.  It frequently has dark brown gemmae but the leaf shape is distinctive.  It’s similar enough to the very common Orthocaulis floerkei (Barbilophozia floerkii) to be overlooked but does seem to be genuinely scarce.

We are now on open moorland.  To get back to the start from here, simply follow the track downhill; it merges with the road near the gate that leads out from the moorland and continue downhill.

Alternatively, there are several more spots that could be visited.  Here is a suggestion of a few.  To get to the first, turn right and go through the gate, noting a little Bryum alpinum on rocks on the right, some of it lacking any trace of red colour, as is often the case.

SN70948238 Edges of Track

There are numerous spots to find Dicranella rufescens along the edges of the track but Odontoschisma francisci (Cladopodiella francisci )has been found just once here and in one other place in the county.  It likes vertical peaty banks so the edges of tracks across moorland are certainly suitable.  Also along here is Oligotrichum hercynicum amongst commoner bryophytes, with Nardia scalaris and Solensotoma gracillimum both abundant.

SN70878258 Flushes, streams

A small area of flushes is reached by first following the fence downhill from the gate.  The second stream is better than the first.  Blindia acuta is to be found on small rocks in the stream. Breutelia chrysocoma and Fissidens osmundoides where the slope is steeper, Jungermannia atrovirens on stream banks and Scorpidium cossonii in small flushes at the side of the stream.  Following the stream uphill leads to a mire.

SN70908265 Mire

More base enrichment is evident here.  Sphagnum contortum and S. teres both occur.  At one spot there is abundant Sarmentypnum exannulatum.

Sarmentypnum exannulatum (was Warnstorfia exannulata). Drawing by Sue Rubinstein

SN70868282 stream gully

M. funckii occurs here on fine mineral soil. There was mining over much of this area and there are frequent signs of activity, all ceased long ago now.

SN70958314 Small rock outcrops

Leptodontium flexifolium is found on or near several small rock outcrops up near the highest part of the moor.  It looks quite an untidy plant in the field, suggesting Barbula unguiculata perhaps and the teeth at the leaf apex, whilst well-developed, are not all that easy to see in the field, especially in dry conditions.  The only other place in the county where it has been seen is above Cwmystwyth.  It is likely to have been overlooked however.

There are numerous other places of interest on moor but when its time to return a short diversion to look at some spruce logs might be worthwhile.

SN69938207 Spruce logs

Sematophyllum substrumulosum is on logs at this point.  It’s certainly not common in the county but easily overlooked and more records would be most welcome.  As often, it is associated with Lophocolea heterophylla.

Bates, J.W. 2015.  The Mosses and Liverworts of Mid-West Wales.  Privately published.

Full of valuable ecological notes and covering the northern half of the county approximately.  For habitats in the south of the county there is nothing published but both the Pembrokeshire and the Carmarthenshire floras are useful.

Bosanquet, S.D.S. 2010.  The Mosses and Liverworts of Pembrokeshire.  Privately published.

See Vice-county 45 for details of how to order a copy.

Vice-county 45 (Pembrokeshire)

Bosanquet, S.D.S, Graham, J.G. & Motley, G. 2010.  The Mosses and Liverworts of Carmarthenshire.  Privately published by the first author.

See Vice-county 44 for details of how to order a copy.

Vice-county 44 (Carmarthenshire)