Dark Peak and White Peak. The shale cliffs of Mam Tor in the background, viewed from the limestone of Cave Dale, Castleton, in the foreground
An overview of Derybyshire bryophytes
Tom Blockeel, October 2020
© Tom Blockeel
Derbyshire is a county in the middle. Geographically it occupies a more or less central position in England, and marks the point where the Pennine uplands finally fall away to the English midlands. It is also a county hemmed in between some of the country’s major conurbations – Manchester and South Yorkshire in the north, the Potteries and the East Midlands at the sides, and Birmingham not far to the south. In the northern and western parts of the county, geological diversity and varied physical relief provide a rich and productive mix of habitats. Eastern parts of the county are heavily populated, with industrial development. The south is largely agricultural, with only fragments of semi-natural habitat. Human exploitation has made its mark throughout. Formerly severe atmospheric pollution was injurious to the northern moors, and quarrying and mineral extraction are conducted on a massive scale. On the other hand new habitats have been created, especially through the construction of reservoirs, and these have undoubtedly enriched the flora, and some brownfield sites have proved to have surprisingly rich communities.
Much of the north of the county lies within the Peak District National Park. A large expanse of carboniferous limestone is exposed in the southern part of the Park (the ‘White Peak’), and this is Derbyshire’s best known region botanically. To the north and east the limestone is bounded by shale and gritstone country (the ‘Dark Peak’). This region includes high moorland in the north, where the Kinder-Bleaklow uplands exceed 600m altitude. To the east, the moors are lower. Along the Derwent valley, the gritstone forms a long series of crags, known as ‘edges’, these being very popular with rock climbers. Further to the east the moors fall away to Coal Measure country in the east. At the eastern limit of the county, along the border with Nottinghamshire, there is a narrow strip of Magnesian Limestone. Low crags are exposed here in a number of places. The southern part of the county is firmly anchored in the Midlands, and is traversed by the R. Trent. The underlying geology is varied but the bedrock is not often exposed. Habitats here are less diverse and less productive than in the north.
Gritstone and shale country – the Dark Peak
The Dark Peak. A view along Fairbrook Clough, Kinder Scout
The gritstone and shale country, like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided into three parts:
- The High Peak, the northernmost part of Derbyshire, including the Kinder-Bleaklow uplands and the headwaters of the Derbyshire Derwent around the Ladybower Reservoir complex, and extending southwards to Edale and Bretton Clough
- The Buxton moors, including the Goyt Valley and Combs Edge and Moss
- The Eastern Moors and ‘edges’ of the Derwent Valley, from Stanage Edge southwards.
The gritstone, known as ‘Millstone Grit’ because it was once used to fashion millstones, is an acid siliceous rock, but it varies in thickness and alternates with bands of shale and mudstones which may have some base enrichment. In places, therefore, the acidy of the substrate is moderated.
The High Peak
The core of the High Peak consists of two large expanses of moorland plateau, Kinder Scout and Bleaklow Hill, separated by the A57 ‘Snake Pass’ road. The area is bounded to the north by the Woodhead Pass, and in the south by Edale and Bretton Clough , where shale strata are more dominant. This is the wildest part of Derbyshire, high enough to support cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus and bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. It includes some relatively remote valleys. Ironically, however, the moorland plateau is one of the least productive habitats in the county for bryophytes, and it is possible to walk for long distances on the high desolate moorland and encounter only a handful of species. The impoverished flora may be explained by a combination of factors: the formerly severe atmospheric pollution, overgrazing, moorland fires, and progressive loss of woodland. There has been extensive erosion of peat on the plateau, and in recent years the moors have been the target of restoration activities. However, this work has involved the introduction of Sphagnum species, regrettably from external sources, and this complicates evaluation of the naturally occurring Sphagnum flora.
The plateau is dissected by numerous valleys, known as cloughs, through which the moorland drains. The High Peak cloughs are mostly open, with few or no trees. Their streams have a characteristic flora, including Racomitrium aciculare, Fontinalis squamosa, Hygrohypnella ochracea (Hygrohypnum ochraceum), Hyocomium armoricum, Scapania undulata and Nardia compressa. In a few places Andreaea rothii occurs on irrigated grit slabs in the stream beds. It also survives very locally on more exposed, periodically wet grit crags.
In many places in these cloughs there are runnels and seepages, and low cliffs and crags where the grit and shale beds are exposed. These low cliffs are often wet, and in places there is significant base and mineral enrichment, especially from beds of mudstone. These shale-grit cliffs contrast with the crags of massive, hard, acidic grit which bound parts of the high plateau. There are subtle differences in the flora of these rocks from one location to the next, depending on aspect, geology and hydrology. Species found on many of the wet shale-grit cliffs by streams are Amphidium mougeotii, Blindia acuta, Fissidens osmundoides, Solenostoma obovatum, and more rarely Pohlia elongata, P. flexuosa, Isopterygiopsis pulchella, Hygrobiella laxifolia, Riccardia multifida and Schistochilopsis incisa (Lophozia incisa). The more basic cliffs are sometimes draped with Palustriella commutata, and Fissidens adianthoides also favours slightly base-rich sites. Several notable species found in isolated locations where the basic influence is strongest. They include Seligeria brevifolia in three of the moorland cloughs, its only currently known English localities, Anoectangium aestivum at its only known South Pennine locality in the valley of the R. Alport, and Orthothecium intricatum. The Alport Valley is perhaps the richest single site. In addition to Seligeria brevifolia and Anoectangium aestivum, it has the only currently known county sites for Bryum julaceum (Anomobryum julaceum) and Bryum alpinum.
Tetrodontium brownianum, Solenostoma sphaerocarpum and Nardia compressa are characteristic of the more acidic sites, the latter being locally abundant. Racomitrium aquaticum occurs on a very few wet crags, and Bryum riparium has a single disjunct locality on a shale bank in Bray Clough on the western side of Kinder Scout, its only Peak District site.
A number of species are more characteristic of the drier grit-shale crags. They include Pohlia cruda, Bartramia pomiformis and, very rarely, B. ithyphylla. Outcrops of softer base-rich grit rock are usually small in extent, but often recognisable by their warmer brown colour, and they occasionally support extensive patches of Blindiadelphus recurvatus (Seligeria recurvata), as well as small populations of Frullania tamarisci, Tritomaria quinquedentata, Ctenidium molluscum, Fissidens dubius, Tortella fasciculata and T. tortuosa. Exposures of acidic gritstone support a few colonies of Brachydontium trichodes, and Andreaea rupestris has scattered sites on hard gritstone rocks, but always in small quantity. The dry shale cliffs of Mam Tor at the head of the Hope Valley are remarkable for the presence of fertile Coscinodon cribrosus.
The wet cliff habitat intergrades with runnels and flushes which often emerge along the clough sides. Like the wet cliffs, these vary in their extent of base enrichment. Some of the species of wet cliffs occur also in stony runnels and flushes, e.g. Aneura pinguis, Blindia acuta and Riccardia multifida, but there are additional species, notably Jungermannia eucordifolia (J. exsertifolia). A variety of ‘brown’ mosses may form lawns on flushed slopes, most commonly Calliergonella cuspidata but also Campylium stellatum, Palustriella falcata, Rhizomnium pseudopunctatum, Sarmentypnum exannulatum, Scorpidium revolvens and S. cossonii. Isolated basic flushes support Plagiomnium elatum and Trichocolea tomentella. A remarkable site on the Derwent Moors near Cutthroat Bridge has Calliergon giganteum. The more base-tolerant Sphagna are rare. S. teres has several stations, but S. warnstorfii has been recorded only twice. In many base-deficient springheads and flushes the association of Dichodontium palustre, Bryum pseudotriquetrum and Philonotis fontana is characteristic. Sphagnum species tend to dominate the more acid flushes, sometimes with Straminergon stramineum. Remarkably, Fossombronia fimbriata was found in 1997 on bare wet peat on a flushed bank in Hollingworth Clough near Glossop.
Although rare on the blanket bog of the high moorland, Sphagnum species are sometimes luxuriant on moist heathy banks on the clough sides, especially those with a northerly aspect. S. subnitens may form large cushions, especially over wet rocks; attractive beds of S. russowii are found among ericaceous shrubs, and S. girgensohnii and S. quinquefarium occur locally.
Mineral soil is often exposed on the steeper slopes. Oligotrichum hercynicum and Ditrichum heteromallum are frequent, at least in the upper parts of the cloughs, and invariably accompanied by Nardia scalaris. Polytrichastrum alpinum has a few localities on turfy banks. Of special interest is the occurrence of Endogemma caespiticia (Solenostoma caespiticium) on moist gritty soil, hitherto recorded from just three sites. Its habitat is unremarkable and its rarity therefore difficult to explain. Banks of wet, acid shale are exposed locally, and are one of the habitats favoured by Dicranella cerviculata. Discelium nudum occurs on banks of decomposing shale/clay, but is rather rare. The same habitat supports Dicranella rufescens and Pohlia annotina. Pockets of peaty-gritty soil, especially around the moorland edges and in rough acid grassland, very occasionally have Nardia geoscyphus and Isopaches bicrenatus (Lophozia bicrenata). Entosthodon obtusus has been recorded only once, in the lower part of Hollingworth Clough in 1997.
Unexpectedly, a fine stand of Breutelia chrysocoma was discovered in 2020 on a steep streamside bank on the western side of Bleaklow Hill, growing among scattered heather over mineral soil. This was the first record on the gritstone moors of the Peak District for over 150 years.
Block litter is not common on the high moors, but occasionally occurs below gritstone crags, often in hollows caused by slumping of rock over unstable shale. A classic example is at Alport Castle, where a massive detached pinnacle has slipped downslope, with block scree accumulating between it and the parent crag. Unvegetated blocky ground on drier (especially south-facing) slopes, including that at Alport, may be rather poor in species, although Orthocaulis atlanticus and/or O. floerkei (Barbilophozia atlantica, B. floerkei) are usually present. On north-facing slopes, or where the block litter is vegetated, there may be a rather richer flora. Examples occur on the northern slopes of Bleaklow, the western slopes of Kinder Scout, in the Westend valley, and in Grindsbrook Clough. Mylia taylorii occurs in several localities where the block litter is moist with accumulations of peat, more rarely associated with Kurzia trichoclados and Bazzania trilobata. Racomitrium lanuginosum and R. fasciculare are widespread. Many species in this habitat are restricted to a few isolated sites (sometimes only one). They include Barbilophozia barbata, B. sudetica (Lophozia sudetica) and Anastrophyllum minutum. Lepidozia pearsonii has been found at a couple of localities on blocky ground. Occasional fragments of softer, slightly basic rock sometimes occur in the block litter, as they do in the cloughs, supporting a similar flora.
Splachnum sphaericum formerly occurred on the open moorland when high numbers of sheep grazed the moors but it has not been seen since 2003. On the other hand Tetraplodon mnioides still turns up occasionally on bones and perhaps also on dung, often among rocks in scree. Blue Calypogeia, C. azurea, is another little gem confined to the high moorland, usually on bare peaty grit under rocks and by streams.
The Buxton Moors
The principal moors in the Buxton district are in the Goyt Valley, at Axe Edge, and at Combs Moss and Combs Edge. These moors lack the pockets of base-enrichment which give the High Peak its greater diversity of species, and they are dominated by calcifuge bryophytes. Doubtless also the two reservoirs which occupy the floor of the Goyt Valley have destroyed some good habitat. Nevertheless these moors share many of the characteristic acidophile species of the High Peak. Discelium nudum and Tetrodontium brownianum occur at the head of the Goyt Valley, and Dicranodontium denudatum has some strong populations in the valley, though mainly on the western side (vc 58).
There is a good area of crags and block litter along the escarpment at Combs Edge. Kurzia trichoclados, Mylia taylorii and Scapania gracilis occur in blocky ground, and there are records for Scapania umbrosa, Schistochilopsis incisa (Lophozia incisa) and Brachydontium trichodes.
Base-rich flushes are almost absent on the Buxton moors, except for one near Dove Head below Axe Edge, where Scorpidium cossonii occurs with Campylium stellatum and Palustriella falcata.
The Eastern Moors
From its headwaters in the High Peak the R Derwent flows in a more or less southerly direction through the heart of the county to the city of Derby. From Ladybower Reservoir in the north to Matlock and beyond in the south it cuts a broad valley through the Millstone Grit (and also through the Carboniferous Limestone at Matlock). Large stretches of the eastern side of the main valley are flanked by gritstone crags, known as edges, rising to 450 m at Stanage Edge. These ‘edges’ are backed by expanses of gritstone moorland which fall away gently to the east, to be succeeded by the Coal Measures. Southwards the edges decrease in both altitude and extent, but patches of moorland persist to the Matlock region. There is also an expanse of gritstone moor to the west of the R. Derwent, at Stanton.
The Eastern Moors are generally lower than the High Peak and do not have the same diversity of habitat. The moorland flora is therefore less rich, lacking many of the more northerly species and some of the basiphile species. However Nardia compressa and Oligotrichum hercynicum occur sparsely southwards at least to the Big Moor district near Baslow, and there is an isolated site for Scorpidium revolvens at Ramsley Dam. Atrichum crispum is widespread in the latter district. A noteworthy feature of the gritstone edges is the widespread occurrence of Leptodontium flexifolium on thin peaty soil, especially over rocks and boulders. Ptilidium ciliare is also widespread, though usually sparse.
Schistostega pennata has several sites in sandy rock crevices on the Millstone Grit in the middle Derwent Valley, for example at Stanton Moor and near Robin Hood Stride.
The R Derwent in some places has exposed banks of gritty clay soil, and Discelium nudum occurs here, albeit rarely, in a more pastoral setting than at its High Peak sites.
Peat Bogs in the Dark Peak
The peat bogs of the High Peak are badly degraded because of the severe atmospheric pollution which shrouded the moors during much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Fragments survive in boggy hollows and flushes, but the characteristic hepatics of healthy Sphagnum bog are scarcely present. Sphagnum capillifolium and S. rubellum are surprisingly rare, leaving S. papillosum, S. auriculatum (S. denticulatum), S. subnitens, S. fallax and S. cuspidatum as the prevailing species. A population of Sphagnum divinum (S. magellanicum agg.) occurs on the northern edge of Bleaklow, but whether or not this is a relict of the pre-industrial blanket bog is unclear. Associates of Sphagnum species on wet peat may include Campylopus flexuosus, Polytrichum strictum and Warnstorfia fluitans.
The Sphagnum flora of the Eastern Moors is equally depleted, being similar to that of the High Peak. Sphagnum medium (S. magellanicum agg.) survives precariously in very small quantity at Leash Fen.
There are very few bog hepatics apart from Cephalozia bicuspidata, Calypogeia fissa, C. muelleriana and Gymnocolea inflata. The Eastern Moors are slightly richer in this respect than the High Peak. Kurzia sylvatica, Mylia anomala and Cephalozia connivens occur in small quantity, notably on Leash Fen, and Odontoschisma fluitans (Cladopodiella fluitans) has a few localities, for example at Hipper Sick. C. connivens is known also from White Path Moss, and there is just a single recent record of Odontoschisma sphagni, growing with Mylia anomala on the Derwent Moors near Ladybower Tor.
Splachnum ampullaceum has been recorded several times in the area around Stoke Flat on the Eastern Moors and once further north near Moscar by the Derwent Moors.
Woodlands of the Dark Peak
The High Peak has only tiny fragments of deciduous woodland. More substantial woods occur along the ‘edges’ of the Eastern Moors, notably at Ladybower and Priddock Woods to the north, around Padley and Grindleford, and at Bar Brook and Gardom’s Edge. Further south in the Derwent Valley there are important woods near Beeley and Hall Dale. Most of these woods have rocky streams falling down from the moors.
The best of these woods contain block litter of millstone grit with a characteristic calcifuge flora. The richest woods have some or all of the following on the gritstone boulders: Orthocaulis attenuatus (Barbilophozia attenuata), Cephalozia lunulifolia, Scapania gracilis, S. nemorea, Tritomaria exsectiformis and Dicranum fuscescens. More common calcifuge species also occur, for example Lepidozia reptans, Campylopus flexuosus, Dicranum majus, Isothecium myosuroides and Plagiothecium undulatum. Rhytidiadelphus loreus is occasional, being still in recovery after the years of acid pollution. Leucobryum glaucum is very rare, the best locality being a well-known one in Padley Wood. Bazzania trilobata occurs sparsely at Ladybower Tor and Gardom’s Edge, and Dicranodontium denudatam is known from Padley Gorge. On some of the lightly shaded crags there are a few sites for Cynodontium bruntonii, growing characteristically along cracks and crevices on the sides of the rocks. Blepharostoma trichophyllum has been recorded on the gritstone in Padley Wood, though not seen since 1992.
There is additional diversity along the rocky streams. Chiloscyphus polyanthos, Hyocomium armoricum, Racomitrium aciculare and Thamnobryum alopecurum are frequent. More localised species of this habitat are Jungermannia pumila, Lejeunea lamacerina, L. cavifolia, Marsupella emarginata, Metzgeria conjugata, Plagiochila porelloides, Chionoloma tenuirostre (Trichostomum tenuirostre) and Heterocladium heteropterum. Nationally scarce species include Solenostoma paroicum, which occasionally forms patches on thin soil on grit rocks along the stream edges, and Fissidens rivularis at Smeltingmill Wood. Brachydontium trichodes is recorded from the Beeley Brook and near Darley Dale. Particularly noteworthy is the presence of Campylostelium saxicola at three sites in the area around Beeley and Two Dales, and Fissidens celticus near Bamford. The more sheltered stream banks occasionally have good patches of Hookeria lucens.
There is a particularly interesting site along the upper reaches of the Bar Brook, at the northern side of Gardom’s Edge by the A621 road. Isothecium holtii has an isolated site here, and Scapania lingulata is recorded from a grit boulder. There is some slight basic seepage on the stream banks, perhaps from the overlying drift. This may explain the presence of Barbilophozia barbata and Tritomaria quinquedentata. More remarkably, Scapania cuspiduligera has been recorded here on thin soil over rock.
Another special site is on the banks of the R. Derwent at Coppice Wood, Padley. There are some large grit boulders on the river bank here, supporting a very sparse population of Lophocolea fragrans, growing with Lejeunea lamacerina. This is the only county site for L. fragrans, and a very isolated one.
The Pennine Reservoirs
The Ladybower Reservoir complex is the largest in Derbyshire. Howden, Derwent and Ladybower Reservoirs successively occupy 9 km of the Upper Derwent Valley, and a separate arm of Ladybower extends some 4 km along the R Ashop in the Woodlands Valley. Also important are the four reservoirs of the Woodhead Pass (Longdendale), the two Goyt Valley Reservoirs (Errwood and Fernilee), and Combs Reservoir near Chapel-en-le-Frith. The exposed margins have, in some summers, large expanses of peaty-gritty soil, and clay banks exposed locally. Many calcifuge species occur in this temporary habitat, including Archidium alternifolium, Calliergonella lindbergii, Dicranella rufescens, Ephemerum stoloniferum (E. serratum), Pseudephemerum nitidum, Pohlia camptotrachela, P. bulbifera and Fossombronia wondraczekii. Discelium nudum is more localised but sometimes forms extensive stands. Much rarer are Physcomitrium sphaericum (Combs and Ladybower), Riccia huebeneriana (Valehouse Reservoir), Riccia subbifurca, and Physcomitrium readeri (Ephemerella readeri), the latter recently found in great quantity on the Ashop arm of Ladybower Reservoir.
A notable feature of the reservoirs is the flora of the mortared gritstone walls. These are the principal habitat in Derbyshire for Ptychomitrium polyphyllum. Racomitrium lanuginosum and R. heterostichum also occur occasionally on these walls, and those by Kinder Reservoir have Grimmia donniana and Racomitrium sudeticum.
The Peak Fringe and Coal Measures
The Peak Fringe is the land to the east and south-east of the Peak District uplands, falling away from the Eastern Moors and the White Peak to be succeeded by the Coal Measures in the east of the county. The Coal Measures extend further to the west near Sheffield and underlie parts of the Eastern Moors. Coal was mined extensively in the lower-lying regions, and although mining has now ceased, the eastern Coal Measures are extensively industrialised. Westwards, along the fringes of the Eastern Moors, the countryside is more attractive, with rolling ridge and valley terrain. The Peak Fringe includes the Derwent Valley south of Matlock, which has much in common with the parts of the valley to the north around Chatsworth and Beeley, although more densely populated.
On the whole the Peak Fringe and the Coal Measures do not compare very favourably with the Peak District uplands in bryological diversity. The reasons are not far to seek: the gentler terrain, the near absence of massive rock outcrops, the more uniformly acid nature of the ground, and the more intensive cultivation and industrialisation. Against this background, there are three habitats of particular bryological note: wooded stream valleys, reservoirs, and arable fields. The latter habitat is considered separately below.
Stream valleys, particularly in the hillier parts, have some of the species of the gritstone country, including Calypogeia arguta, Chiloscyphus polyanthus, Jungermannia pumila, Plagiochila porelloides, Heterocladium heteropterum, Hyocomium armoricum, Sciuro-hypnum plumosum and Thamnobryum alopecurum, but most of these species quickly peter out towards the lower ground. Good examples of such valleys are found in the Holmesfield and Holymoorside districts, and further south at Ogston. However the most notable block of woodland in the Peak Fringe is at Shining Cliff Wood near Ambergate. It compares favourably with the woodlands of the ‘Edges’ of the Dark Peak, having exposures of gritstone rock with outlying populations of Scapania nemorea, Tritomaria exsectiformis and Dicranodontium denudatum. There is an area of block scree with Bazzania trilobata, and the stream at the southern end of the wood has Fissidens rivularis and Lejeunea lamacerina. Also remarkable are isolated populations of Fissidens celticus in the Moss Valley and near Wirksworth.
There are three principal reservoir developments, at Carsington, Ogston and Linacre. Carsington Reservoir, though not formally opened until 1992, already has a significant marginal flora, including Fossombronia wondraczekii, Riccia cavernosa, Didymodon tomaculosus, Physcomitrium patens (Aphanorrhegma patens) and Weissia rostellata. In the drought year of 2018, Riccia glauca appeared in large quantity. Ogston Reservoir likewise has Riccia cavernosa and Physcomitrium patens, as well as a small population of Ephemerum crassinervium subsp. sessile (E. sessile). At Linacre, however, water levels have been maintained at constantly high levels in recent years, supressing the bryophyte communities there. Archidium alternifolium and Ephemerum crassinervium subsp. sessile were recorded in 1994.
In the south of the Peak Fringe there are old sand-pits on sandstone south-west of Turnditch which contain isolated populations of several calcifuge species, notably Isopaches bicrenatus (Lophozia becrenata), Ptilidium ciliare, Pogonatum urnigerum and Polytrichum perigoniale (P. commune var. perigoniale). Another notable extraction site is on the Coal Measures south of Ripley, where Tortula amplexa has been recorded in an old clay-pit.
The White Peak – Carboniferous Limestone
White Peak. A mix of limestone habitat in Dovedale.
The Carboniferous Limestone forms a well-defined region, extending from Castleton in the north to Dove Dale in the south-west and Matlock in the south-east. There are small outliers to the east at Ashover and Crich. The limestone forms an undulating plateau dissected by deep valleys, collectively known as the Derbyshire Dales. These dales are botanically rich, and are well-known for northern plants such as globeflower Trollius europaeus, Jacob’s Ladder Polemonium caeruleum, melancholy thistle Cirsium heterophyllum, and mossy saxifrage Saxifraga hypnoides, along with southern plants such as dropwort Filipendula vulgaris and stemless thistle Cirsium acaule. The limestone is locally of high quality, and mineral veins occur frequently. The White Peak, especially in the vicinity of Buxton, Castleton and Wirksworth, is therefore one of the UK’s most important quarrying regions. The dales also have local intrusions of igneous rock, though these exposures are mostly small in extent. They are, however, significant bryologically.
Aspect is important in the dales in determining the composition of the vegetation. Skeletal soil on stony ground and earthy rock ledges on open (often south-facing) dale sides support some very distinctive communities. These are mostly found on seasonally dry and sunny slopes. Many of the species are ephemeral and are most evident in winter and spring. They include Riccia sorocarpa, Encalypta pilifera, E. vulgaris, Entosthodon fascicularis, E. muhlenbergii, Microbryum davallianum, M. rectum, Tortula lindbergii (T. lanceola), T. caucasica (T. modica), T. protobryoides and Weissia brachycarpa var. obliqua. Other species of a more perennial nature also occur in this habitat: Bryum canariense, Didymodon ferrugineus, Flexitrichum flexicaule (Ditrichum flexicaule), F. gracile (D. gracile), Tortella squarrosa (Pleurochaete squarrosa), Tortula subulata and Targionia hypophylla, the latter always on thin soil on rock outcrops. Reboulia hemisphaerica is rather common, but is not confined to the drier slopes. There are isolated localities on sunny slopes in Dovedale for Bryum concinnatum (Anomobryum concinnatum) and Tortella nitida. Short grazed turf generally occurs on the sunnier dale sides and in disused quarries and workings, but is less extensive than in the past. Campylium chrysophyllum (Campyliadelphus chrysophyllus) is widespread, but Thuidium assimile more local, and Entodon concinnus rare and mostly restricted to old limestone spoil. Rhodobryum roseum is a rare component of short limestone turf.
North-facing slopes and crags often contrast strongly with their south-facing counterparts. Earthy ledges are moister and the soil is often leached, to the extent that sparse limestone heath is occasionally developed. Where there is bare soil on rock ledges, Lophozia excisa, Tritomaria quinquedentata, Bryum zieri (Plagiobryum zieri), Campylopus fragilis and Pohlia cruda may sometimes occur. Some north-facing crags may accumulate deep humus and, especially where lightly shaded, may support dense turfs of Dicranum majus, D. scoparium, and robust pleurocarps such as Hylocomium splendens and Hylocomiadelphus triquetrus (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus). Ptilidium ciliare sometimes occurs as isolated stems in mixture. Moist stony grassland also supports plentiful H. splendens and H. triquetrus, more rarely with Dicranum bonjeanii. Climacium dendroides is characteristic of moist grassland at the base of rocks and walls. Of particular interest in limestone grassland is the occurrence in a few places of Breutelia chrsyocoma, sometimes in short turf but also on rock ledges.
Limestone scree occurs in many of the dales. Consolidated scree is the characteristic habitat of Rhytidium rugosum, which occurs at several sites but is particularly fine in the lower part of Monks Dale. Racomitrium lanuginosum occurs very locally in this habitat, and Barbilophozia barbata has been found sparsely in the upper part of Cressbrook Dale. Consolidated scree shares many species with stony grassland and blocky ground. Homalothecium lutescens is widespread, and sometimes occurs in an appressed form closely attached to the rock. Frullania tamarisci occurs locally in scree and on stony banks and skeletal soil.
Sheltered limestone rocks in the wooded dales and on more open sites on the more northerly slopes often support a profusion of calcicolous bryophytes, including many conspicuous species. The long list includes Metzgeria pubescens, Plagiochila porelloides, Porella platyphylla, P. cordaeana, Anomodon viticulosus, Ctenidium molluscum, Eurhynchium crassinervium, E. striatum, Fissidens dubius, Mnium stellare, Neckera crispa, N. complanata, Plagiomnium cuspidatum, P. undulatum, Rhynchostegiella tenella, Trichostomum brachydontium, Taxiphyllum wissgrillii, Thamnobryum alopecurum and Tortella tortuosa,. A notable recent discovery in Dimin Dale near Ashford-in-the-Water is the nationally rare Anomodon longifolius growing sparsely in recesses on the limestone rocks. Bare, often vertical rock faces where there is sufficient moisture support Cololejeunea calcarea, Mesoptychia collaris (Leiocolea collaris), Scapania aspera, Marchantia quadrata (Preissia quadrata), Gymnostomum aeruginosum, Seligeria acutifolia, S. pusilla, S. donniana and (very sparsely) S. trifaria. Serpoleskea confervoides (Amblystegium confervoides ) appears to be rare, while Orthothecium intricatum is usually found in rock crevices. Rhynchostegiella teneriffae is very local on wet rocks. In some of the dales there are accretions of tufa (travertine), and this is a highly characteristic habitat for Gymnostomum calcareum. Platydictya jungermannioides also occurs, rarely, on tufa and at the entrance to wet holes and fissures. Conardia compacta occurs in a cave in Dove Dale.
Wooded limestone crags, especially the more northerly ones, support a few species of a montane character, notably Plagiopus oederianus and Mnium thomsonii, but these are rare. Distichium capillaceum has only one currently known natural site (Lathkill Dale), but it has also been recorded a few times on old railway cuttings. Pedinophyllum interruptum is possibly confined to the crags and cliffs of Chee Dale. A notable moss of sheltered but dry crags is a form of Scleropodium cespitans, which was formerly thought to be a distinct species (Brachythecium appleyardiae). It is particularly characteristic of dry ledges at the base of crags, where there is little competition from other species. Bryophytes occurring in warmer woodland sites include Cololejeunea rossettiana, Marchesinia mackaii and Plasteurhynchium striatulum, but all of these are rare.
The ground flora of the limestone woods sometimes has a profuse growth of robust bryophytes, notably Plagiochila asplenioides, Cirriphyllum piliferum, Eurhynchium striatum, Thamnobryum alopecurum and Thuidium tamariscinum. Loeskeobryum brevirostre is a much rarer component of the ground flora, and Thuidium recognitum even more so. Old decaying logs on the damper slopes sometimes have plentiful Cephalozia curvifolia (Nowellia curvifolia), and occasionally Riccardia palmata, which has only recently become established in the Dales. Logs also provide a niche for calcifuge bryophytes such as Mnium hornum and the liverwort Lepidozia reptans.
Old limestone walls are often clothed in bryophytes, Neckera complanata and Homalothecium sericeum being particularly frequent, and some species are commoner on walls than elsewhere. The majority of recent records of Leucodon sciuroides are from this habitat. Flexitrichum flexicaule (Ditrichum flexicaule) favours old, broken walls, but also occurs on stony ground.
In the southern part of the White Peak, there are places where the limestone is dolomitised, i.e. the calcium in the rock is replaced by magnesium. The dolomitised limestone tends to have a darker appearance than the pure calcium-rich limestone, and it often forms tor-like outcrops. There are exposures in Long Dale, and in the Brassington and Carsington areas. Nogopterium gracile (Pterogonium gracile) is known only from this habitat, at Rainster Rocks and near Carsington, its only known sites in central England. Rainster Rocks is a regionally important bryological site, having in addition to Nogopterium a population of Marchesinia mackaii and (in small quantity) Porella arboris-vitae. Another species characteristic of dolomitised limestone is Grimmia dissimulata, though not confined to it. At some sites Frullania tamarisci grows directly on the face of dolomitic rock. On the purer limestone, this species normally occurs on thin soil and in turf.
Intrusions of igneous rock in the limestone dales include basalt. The larger exposures of igneous rock have all been quarried, leaving only small outcrops intact. There are significant outcrops in Tideswell Dale, where Ptychomitrium polyphyllum has one of its few sites on natural rock in Derbyshire. Bartramia pomiformis and Scapania compacta also occur there. Two species are known only from the igneous rocks. One is a restricted and solitary population of Grimmia laevigata at the northern end of Dam Dale near Peak Forest. The second is Schistidium pruinosum in Cressbrook Dale and near Ashford-in-the-Water. Curiously, Racomitrium aciculare, normally a species of streamside rocks, occurs on several of these dry outcrops. Grimmia trichophylla and Leptodontium flexifolium also occur on igneous outcrops but are otherwise unknown in the limestone dales.
The limestone plateau has deposits of silica in places, and the major deposits have been extracted. Old sand-pits are a refuge for calcifuge species in the limestone Dales, though mostly the commoner ones. However Bees Nest near Brassington is the only recorded site for Fossombronia incurva in Derbyshire. Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens also occurs here. Old lead workings are common on the limestone in Derbyshire, but are not known to support any of the specialist bryophytes that are tolerant of heavy-metal contamination. However B. ferruginascens and Microbryum starckeanum occur in a few places, and Thuidium assimile and Sanionia uncinata has been found in turf on old spoil heaps.
Wetlands are very few and of small extent in the White Peak. The most notable is a small area of calcareous marsh in Monks Dale, with Campylium stellatum, Palustriella falcata and Philonotis calcarea. A few wet crags have Palustriella commutata.
Quarries in all stages of operation and abandonment occur throughout the White Peak. Bryologically, they are most interesting when disused but not overgrown. Bare soil on rock ledges and on quarry floors sometimes support distinctive communities. Earthy ledges are the usual habitat in the county for Aloina aloides. Bare calcareous ground occasionally produces Mesoptychia badensis (Leiocolea badensis) and very rarely Oleolophozia perssonii (Lophozia perssonii). Distichium inclinatum occurs in the vicinity of Topley Pike Quarry, and Marchantia quadrata (Preissia quadrata) has colonised old damp quarry faces in a few places.
The Magnesian Limestone
The Magnesian limestone is of Permian age. It is separated geographically and geologically from the Carboniferous Limestone. It is low-lying and softer than the Carboniferous limestone, but is exposed in a few places as low crags and outcrops in shallow valleys known as Grips. Creswell Crags, straddling the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border, are famous for their caves, occupied by prehistoric humans during the last ice age. Because of its geographical position overlying the Coal Measures, the Magnesian limestone is adjacent to many of the former mining villages of East Derbyshire. Much of the ground is given over to cultivation or is occupied by villages, and very little natural grassland survives. There are several large blocks of woodland, but all of them were clear-felled at times during the 20th century, though they are still of value.
Given the history of exploitation in this part of Derbyshire, and the formerly high levels of pollution from the mining industry, a surprisingly rich flora persists on some of the limestone outcrops, especially those in wooded or sheltered sites. Some of the common calcicoles of the Carboniferous limestone are also present on the Magnesian, though in smaller quantity and often in reduced luxuriance. They include Porella platyphylla, Anomodon viticulosus, Ctenidium molluscum, Neckera complanata, N. crispa, Taxiphyllum wissgrillii and Tortella tortuosa. One moss, Tortula marginata, is frequent on the Magnesian limestone though hardly known on the Carboniferous. Other species of very localised occurrence include Metzgeria pubescens, Distichium capillaceum, Gymnostomum calcareum, Mesoptychia collaris (Leiocolea collaris), in a very diminutive form, Jungermannia atrovirens, Campylophyllopsis calcarea (Campylophyllum calcareum) and Conardia compacta, some of these confined to single locations. Particularly noteworthy is the occurrence of Marchesinia mackaii on the low crags on the northern side of Whitwell Wood. Hennediella macrophylla occurs on sheltered paths on the limestone at Nether and Upper Langwith.
There are springs with Palustriella commutata at Markland Grips and at the northern end of Whitwell Wood. Trichocolea tomentella has been recorded in the spring-fed marsh at the latter site, but has not been seen there since 2004.
There are only a few surviving fragments of grassland, as at Markland Grips near Clowne, at Upper Langwith, and in Pleasley Vale near Mansfield. Weissia angustifolia and Ephemerum recurvifolium have been recorded at the latter site on thin soil over the limestone. Microbryum davallianum and M. rectum also occur in this habitat.
The limestone is actively quarried near Whitwell, but small-scale quarrying ceased long ago and there are now very few areas of bare calcareous ground. Pioneer species of this habitat are therefore scarce. Armstrong Quarry, a disused quarry near Darfoulds in the extreme north-east of the county, contains alkaline waste with a large population of Tortula cernua, and also Oleolophozia perssonii (Lophozia perssonii), Tortula lindbergii (Tortula lanceola) and Aloina ambigua. This interesting site is not currently accessible and its future is uncertain. Microbryum curvicolle was formerly widespread but has not been found recently. Encalypta vulgaris is confined to three sites on old walls.
South of the White Peak and the Peak Fringe/Coal Measure country, Derbyshire north of the R Trent is occupied by rolling agricultural terrain, mostly intensively farmed and retaining only fragments of semi-natural habitat. The bedrock is largely composed of Mercia Mudstones, in part covered by glacial till (boulder clay). The mudstones give rise to heavy clay soils and the region between the lower R. Dove in the west and Derby city to the east is sometimes known as the Claylands. To the south of this area is the floodplain of the lower Dove and the R Trent, crossing the county from west to east. The floodplain has extensive sand and gravel beds. These have been heavily worked, and some of the older abandoned pits are managed as nature reserves.
South of the Trent, between Burton upon Trent and Melbourne, there is a small rural area that is geologically diverse and is the richest area for bryophytes in the south of the county. It includes small outliers of Carboniferous limestone and Millstone Grit, an area of old parkland at Calke Abbey, and two substantial reservoirs (Foremark and Staunton Harold).
The southernmost lobe of the county extends south-west from Swadlincote to the R. Mease. Swadlincote lies on Coal Measures and is an industrial town, but there are some productive brownfield sites in its vicinity. The small area north of the Mease around Coton-in-the-Elms and Rosliston is low-lying agricultural land, interspersed with young plantations created under the auspices of the ‘National Forest’.
Woodlands in the Claylands
The Claylands are poorly forested and there are only a few significant blocks of woodland, notably at Eaton Wood north of Doveridge, at Shirley Park, and in the parkland at Kedleston. These woods have a largely calcifuge flora, mostly of common woodland mosses such as Atrichum undulatum, Mnium hornum and Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans. Shirley Park has outlying populations of Cephalozia lunulifolia, Diplophyllum albicans and Pogonatum aloides, among other calcifuge species. Lejeunea cavifolia has been recorded nearby at Wyaston Grove. Isothecium alopecuroides and Plagiochila asplenioides are recorded at Eaton Wood, while Kedleston Park is a very isolated site for Leucobryum glaucum.
Wetlands in the Claylands
A few of the stream valleys in the Claylands contain remnants of marsh and bog, as at Mercaston Marsh and Mugginton Bottoms. Sphagnum fimbriatum and S. palustre are recorded, and Straminergon stramineum occurs at Mugginton. Several marshy areas have colonies of tussock sedge, and Plagiothecium latebricola is known from this habitat near Osmaston.
The Trent valley
There are Nature Reserves at Hilton Gravel Pit and Wliington Wetlands, though the latter has much open water and little bryophyte habitat. There is a further Reserve at Drakelow to the SW of Burton upon Trent. In the 1980s Hilton was more open and supported four Sphagnum species and other calcifuge bryophytes. However succession and reduced acidification appear to have eliminated the Sphagnum species, which have not been found recently. However both Hilton and Drakelow have Calliergon cordifolium, which is surprisingly scarce in Derbyshire.
Limestone at Ticknall and Calke
Calke Park SK367225 is one of several parkland estates in south Derbyshire, and is now owned by the National Trust. There is an outlier of limestone in this region, and there are old quarries at Ticknall Limeyards SK361239 (also National Trust), now mostly recolonised by woodland. Several calcicoles have outlying localities in the Limeyards, e.g. Mesoptychia turbinata (Leiocolea turbinata), Plagiochila porelloides, Brachythecium glareosum, Ctenidium molluscum, Taxiphyllum wissgrillii, Tortella tortuosa and Tortula marginata. The limestone is not much in evidence in Calke Park, although Porella platyphylla and Neckera complanata occur sparsely, and Microbryum davallianum and Ephemerum recurvifolium have been recorded on a grassy bank near the Abbey.
Woodlands around Repton and Melbourne
Carvers Rocks SK330227 is a Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Reserve on an outcrop of Millstone Grit at the southern end of Foremark Reservoir. It has a fragment of mire with a few Sphagnum species (including S. flexuosum). Vertical outcrops of sandstone are notable for Calypogeia integristipula, Schistostega pennata and a small quantity of Scapania nemorea. Plagiothecium latebricola occurs in the woodland. Other substantial blocks of woodland occur in this area, as at Repton Shrubs, Sharp’s Bottom, Robin Wood and on the Calke estate. They are acidic in character, and many of them have planted conifers. Although the flora mostly consists of common woodland species, there are some that are very scarce in south Derbyshire, including Lepidozia reptans, Scapania undulata and Plagiothecium undulatum. Hylocomium splendens is recorded from Robin Wood, and Dicranella rufescens from Repton Shrubs.
Foremark and Staunton Harold Reservoirs
These reservoirs are rather different in character from those in the Dark Peak. They are eutrophic and lack many of the distinctive species of the peaty-sandy soils of the northern reservoirs. However good populations of Riccia cavernosa and Physcomitrium patens (Aphanorrhegma patens) have been recorded in recent drought years, and Leptobryum pyriforme was common at Foremark in 2018.
Swadlincote and the Mease
Several good brownfield sites are located near Swadlincote. Otherwise, the Mease lowlands have very limited bryophyte potential, with mainly arable and ruderal habitats. Most of the new woodlands of the National Forest are too immature to have anything recognisable as a woodland flora. However a small strip of older woodland north of Rosliston unexpectedly produced Cephalozia curvifolia (Nowellia curvifolia) and Plagiothecium latebricola in 2016.
Stubble fields on the Coal Measures and in South Derbyshire mostly have circum-neutral to mildly acidic soils, many of them on clay or clay-with-loam. They have a characteristic bryophyte flora which includes Bryum klinggraeffii, B. rubens, B. subapiculatum, B. violaceum, Dicranella schreberiana, D. staphylina, Ephemerum serratum (E. minutissimum), Pohlia melanodon, Tortula truncata and Trichodon cylindricus. Tortula acaulon (Phascum cuspidatum) is frequent but tends to occur on the more base-rich soils. Other species which occur widely but less frequently are Riccia glauca, R. sorocarpa, Leptobryum pyriforme and Pseudephemerum nitidum.
Several other bryophytes occur only rarely and are in general decline from increasingly intensive cultivation. Anthoceros agrestis has been recorded just twice in small quantity in recent years. Acaulon muticum has been found at one site in the Moss valley and at two other non-arable sites. Almost as rare as arable species are Fossombronia pusilla, F. wondraczekii, Weissia rostellata and W. brachycarpa var. brachycarpa. Fortunately some of these have strong populations in other habitats, notably F. wondraczekii by Pennine reservoirs. Of special note is Didymodon tomaculosus, which is characteristic of heavy clay soils. It is recorded from more than 20 localities along the Coal Measure belt. Unlike other rare species it is perhaps well-adapted to survive early ploughing because of its abundant rhizoidal tubers, present even on young shoots.
Markedly base-rich soils are present in a few fields, especially on the Magnesian Limestone. Dicranella varia sometimes replaces D. staphylina in such fields. Microbryum floerkeanum has been found a few times but is very rare. M. rectum is also rare in this habitat, but M. davallianum slightly more common. Ephemerum recurvifolium was found in an arable field on the Magnesian Limestone in 2019.
During most of the 20th century, Derbyshire, along with many other parts of Britain, experienced high levels of SO2 pollution. Most specialist epiphytic bryophytes were highly sensitive to this and other aerial pollutants and either declined greatly in occurrence or were eliminated. A few acid-tolerant species (e.g. Dicranoweisia cirrata, Dicranum tauricum) prospered.
The elimination of high levels of acid deposition has led to a remarkable recovery in the county’s epiphytic bryophyte flora during the present century. Species that were unknown at the turn of the century are now common. Most epiphytes are very mobile plants. Individual tufts or patches of epiphytic species may be short-lived, and their host trees may perish, but they move on elsewhere. Consequently it is often not possible to guarantee that a species can be found in any particular locality. The commoner, ubiquitous species are, of course, easy to find. Most specialist epiphytes grow on well-illuminated trees, and rich communities can often be found in light scrub and open woodland, by tree-lined streams and rivers, and along disused railway trails.
The commonest of the county’s specialist epiphytes are:
Frullania dilatata, Metzgeria violacea, Cryphaea heteromalla, Lewinskya affinis (Orthotrichum affine), Orthotrichum diaphanum, O. pulchellum, Ulota bruchii and U. phyllantha.
The following are widespread and of occasional to frequent occurrence:
Metzgeria consanguinea, Radula complanata, Lewinskya lyellii (Orthotrichum lyellii), L. striata (O. striatum), Orthotrichum stramineum, O. tenellum, Pylaisia polyantha, Ulota crispa, U. crispula, U. intermedia, Zygodon conoideus and Z. viridissimus.
Pylaisia is an interesting case. It seems that it survived near limestone quarries when pollution levels were high, benefitting from the deposition of lime dust. It has spread gradually from these refuges over much of the county, and seems to be commoner in Derbyshire than anywhere else in Britain.
The following are rare, but are probably slowly increasing:
Lewinskya speciosa (Orthotrichum speciosum), Orthotrichum pallens, Syntrichia laevipila and S. papillosa.
Other rare epiphytes have been recorded only on one or two occasions and probably result from random and transitory colonisation. They may or may not eventually become established members of the county’s flora. They include:
Lewinskya acuminata (Orthotrichum acuminatum), Nyholmiella obtusifolia (Orthotrichum obtusifolium), Orthotrichum columbicum, O. patens, O. pumilum, O. scanicum, Platygyrium repens.
Some transitory occurrences have been of species that are not obligate epiphytes, although some of them commonly occur on trees. Notable is Antitrichia curtipendula, which had been unknown in Derbyshire since the early 19th century until it turned up on the western edge of Derby in 2014. A tuft of Hedwigia ciliata, normally a species of hard rocks, persisted on Sallow for a few years at Carsington Reservoir. Lewinskya rupestris (Orthotrichum rupestre), also normally a rock species in Britain, was found on an Ash tree near Hayfield in 2017.
The most remarkable phenomenon in recent years has the been the appearance of three epiphytes in the county since 2010 whose presence could hardly have predicted during the 20th century. These are Myriocoleopsis minutissima (Cololejeunea minutissima), Colura calyptrifolia and Ulota calvescens. Although cleaner air has been a pre-condition for their appearance, it seems that a warming climatic has enabled them to spread east and north from their earlier restricted ranges, which were largely confined to the far west and south of Britain. Indeed Colura calyptrifolia and Ulota calvescens were considered to be hyper-oceanic bryophytes. and had very few sites at all in England and Wales in the 20th century. Colura calyptrifolia has been found at a few sites on the north-western fringe of the county, but appeared in 2020 further east in Priddock Wood, near Ladybower. Ulota calvescens has proved to be widespread throughout the northern half of the county. Myriocoleopsis minutissima is even more frequent, now recorded from around 50 localities. A fourth species, Microlejeunea ulicina is a less extreme case, having a suboceanic distribution. It might well have occurred in the county in pre-industrial times, but was not confirmed here until 2005.
The larger rivers of Derbyshire, the Derwent, Dove and Trent, are subject to occasional flooding and have a distinctive riparian flora, mostly on the bases and roots of trees. The Trent was heavily polluted in the industrial era and it has a more restricted flora, largely limited to Leskea polycarpa and Syntrichia latifolia, though both may be abundant. Scleropodium cespitans is occasional, but Cinclidotus fontinaloides is very rare and in small quantity.
The middle reaches of the Dove and Derwent are more diverse. Occasional patches of Orthotrichum sprucei accompany Leskea polycarpa and Syntrichia latifolia, and Scleropodium cespitans is locally frequent. Other species sometimes present in these riparian communities are Tortula subulata, Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum and Homalia trichomanoides. Dialytrichia mucronata is restricted to a small part of the Dove and its tributary the Bentley Brook.
Cinclidotus fontinaloides occurs at lower levels in the flood zone and becomes more common in the upper reaches of both rivers, and then often on rocks. Fissidens crassipes is nearly always on rocks and stones, and also grows low in the water, usually submerged in winter. Schistidium rivulare has its only known county sites by the Derwent in the Grindleford area.
The cessation of coal-mining in the East Midlands in the late 20th century created many derelict colliery sites and coal-stacking yards. Other occasional plots of developed land also became abandoned, such as the former railway sidings at Rowsley. Some of these brownfield sites have since been landscaped, others left to nature, at least for a time. Many of them have developed rich bryophyte communities. Of particular note is the colonisation of these sites by several robust mosses previously very rare or unknown in these lowland areas. Hylocomiadelphus triquetrus (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus), Hylocomium splendens, Pleurozium schreberi and Rhytidiadelphus loreus are all known from several sites. Even more remarkably, Loeskeobryum brevirostre has been recorded twice, and there have been single occurrences of Climacium dendroides, Dicranum majus and D. polysetum, the latter a nationally scarce species. These mosses often occur in young woodland, and may be accompanied by patches of Eurhynchium striatum, Thuidium tamariscinum and Pseudoscleropodium purum.
Some of the wetter sites have been colonised by Sphagnum and other mire species, notably at Holbrook in Sheffield, West Hallam near Ilkeston, and Coton Park near Swadlincote. Five Sphagnum species were found at West Hallam in 2012. Other mire species have included Warnstorfia fluitans and Aulacomnium palustre, although the latter also colonises dry mineral spoil. Lophocolea semiteres is present on several brownfield sites.