A bryological tour through Cheshire
…with Tony Smith, March 2003
Brabyn’s Park, Marple, Cheshire
Here we are not far from the edge of the Peak District National Park, where the bryologist is almost spoiled for choice. The rocks of the Peak district are mainly of Carboniferous age with the gritstones and shales of the Dark Peak overlying the limestones which are exposed in the White Peak. In the Dark Peak Sphagnum is coming back after being hit hard by the industrial revolution; of the calcicoles in the White Peak – the best areas may yield up to 100 species or more.
But spare a thought for the humble suburban park. Often there are surprises in store, especially where there is a good and varied habitat.
Brabyn’s Park is just around the corner from Marple Station and it is possible to walk around it in less than an hour. There is a BMX track, horse trails, playing fields and dog walkers galore. In fact it is typical of the multi-use parks on the urban fringe where the local councils are beset by demands to provide for the many whose leisure interests demand these expensively maintained facilities.
But the River Goyt flows into it and is joined by the Etherow half way round. Although much planted with exotic tree species, there are plenty of native species and there are still ‘green corridors’ into open country. The canal is nearby and there are plenty of stone walls and ‘wild’ areas.
Start at the car park signposted off Brabyn’s Brow (SJ964894) where there is a large map of the park and its boundaries. Head round the right hand side of the open area (sometimes muddy!), joining the path to walk downstream along the River Goyt which is overhung by oak and beech. The soil here overlies the coal measures of the Carboniferous and is composed of glacial and alluvial deposits; the bank is not very stable and is subject to subsidence. In fact there is evidence that the river has changed its course several times in the past. It can rise and fall very rapidly because it is fed by tributaries from a large catchment with run off from the Pennine slopes a few miles away.
Along the river edge (be careful! – and in summer do not disturb the sand martin colony in the large area near the seats where the bank has slipped), there are many large stones, subject to irregular inundation, which will certainly yield Rhynchostegium riparioides and Brachythecium rivulare as well as B. rutabulum. Lunularia cruciata is a frequent liverwort on the banks where Lophocolea bidentata and Pellia epiphylla will also be found. Eurynchium praelongum will be present almost as a matter of course. Syntrichia latifolia is likely on the emergent stones – it is found just over the border in South Lancashire and a record for this part of Cheshire would be welcome. On reaching the old and attractive iron bridge, veer left to skirt the cottage garden and rejoin the river.
After about 100 metres on the left is a large area of rough grassland, presently without a dedicated use (watch this space!). Not greatly productive of bryophytes, but Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus will always be there as will the ubiquitous Eurynchium praelongum and Brachythecium rutabulum. In the wetter areas, Calliergonella cuspidata is abundant. Scleropodium purum is also to be found. Just before reaching the far boundary of the park, beyond the confluence of the Goyt and the Etherow, you may be lucky in Autumn to see the attractive show of autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) which grows along the river bank. Beyond this, a stream flows below the wood. Turn to the left.
Epiphytes are definitely on the increase and, on this outward journey, the older oak trees will be found to support Orthotrichum affine and O. diaphanum, as well as occasional Ulota crispa. Other members of this genus are also to be expected. Rhynchostegium confertum grows on wood as well as on stones. Of course there is Hypnum. Hypnum cupressiforme is the most frequent but careful examination will show that H. resupinatum and H. andoi are also present. Sorting out which is which might occupy several winter evenings! At the tree bases Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans is frequent but look out also for Plagiothecium succulentum which is usually a more robust plant.
Keep to the boundary of the rough grassland and, as the North end of the park is traversed, there is an area of rough ground on which grows a variety of willows. Crack willow is always good for epiphytes when atmospheric pollution levels are low enough and at least the two above mentioned Orthotrichum species and Ulota crispa will be found here with Hypnum andoi and Rhynchostegium and Brachythecium species including B. populeum.
Follow the edge of the open space until you see a signpost bearing the acorn symbol of the Goyt Way and turn uphill through the trees past a pine tree and then a house on a track which should take you up to the canal where you should turn left along the towpath. The emergent stonework in and near the locks (A notable flight!) is worth exploring for Octodiceras fontanum. There are old records for this area and it has been refound a little farther up the canal. Rhynchostegium murale also occurs along here. Walk west along the canal for about 250 metres to lock number 7 when you should see a footpath on the left which heads down a slope followed by some steep steps, at the bottom of which, turn left, and eventually cross the railway bridge at SJ 962895. It is worth examining the coping here for Bryum capillare, Grimmia pulvinata and Schistidium crassipilum. (S. apocarpum is also in the area). Beyond the railway bridge and about 50 yards down the track look out for Elder trees on your right. One in particular has a nice growth of Metzgeria fruticulosa. Shortly, the track doubles back to the left. Willows are always good trees to look at – and just up the bank on the left is a large goat willow on which Frullania dilatata was found in 2001. It may be overgrown now by abundant Brachythecium rutabulum but a recent record would be welcome!
At the junction of paths, you should see the main area of the park and you can turn right to walk back past the clump of white willows to the car park.
Grateful thanks to Anita Partington for putting me right about some of my directions! Also to Mark Lawley for suggesting that I look harder at the Schistidium species!