Vice-county 59 (South Lancashire)

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A bryological tour through South Lancashire

…with John Lowell


South Lancs will not be high on most peoples list of places to go for bryophytes, but it has some interesting sites. The richest areas are the Sefton coast to the S of Southport, the west Pennine moors between Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley, and the south Pennines around Trawden and Pendle and between Burnley and Littleborough. Even the urban and ex-industrial areas can be of considerable interest.

Sefton Coast

The dune slacks of the Sefton coast have deteriorated somewhat during the 20th century, due to house building and golf course construction and the resulting fall in the water table, but they are still of interest, particularly for our prize species, Petalophyllum ralfsii. There is a convenient car park in Ainsdale at SD302128 with good slacks to the NW on the other side of the ornamental lake; the slacks to the S are also worth visiting, culminating in the National Nature Reserve a mile or so south of the car-park. Look for Petalophyllum among the very short turf of the wetter slacks; it is not easy to spot, definitely a hands-and-knees job. The slacks also have Aneura pinguisRiccardia spp., calcareous mosses such as Campylium spp., and interesting Bryums including B. warneumB. algovicum and B. neodamenseB. mammillatum used to be here, but is almost certainly extinct.

Between the coast and the industrial areas is an area of reclaimed mossland, intensively farmed and of little bryological interest, apart from a few wooded areas such as Mere Sands Wood (SD4415) and around the R.Tawd N of Skelmersdale (SD4708).

West Pennine Moors

North and West of Wigan, Bolton and Bury are the moors of the W Pennines; the rich areas here are chiefly wooded cloughs (steep sided valleys, often rocky) such as Lead Mines Clough (SD6316); Longworth Clough (SD6915); Healey Dell (SD8816 ) and Sunnyhurst Wood (SD6722). As well as common species such as Dichodontium pellucidumScapania undulata and Brachythecium plumosum, the faster streams often have Nardia compressa and Atrichum crispum in great abundance. With luck, one can find Discelium nudum on bare ground by streams, and Tetrodontium brownianum under the frequent overhangs of Millstone Grit. The area is generally acidic, but there are frequent shaly outcrops of the coal measures with populations of Cratoneuron filicinum, Palustriella commutata and Pellia endiviifolia; it is not uncommon to find Didymodon tophaceus making a rudimentary attempt at tufa formation. Jungermannia sphaerocarpa is by no means rare in these situations and several other members of the genus are also frequent. The many reservoirs of the region are worth a visit, especially where the habitat is enhanced by surrounding trees. Anglezarke (SD6117) Turton and Entwistle, with Wayoh, (SD7117) and Calf Hey with Ogden (SD7522) are good examples. The gritstone walls of these reservoirs are excellent habitats for Ptychomitrium polyphyllum and several species of Racomitrium.

South Pennines

The Southern Pennines between Burnley and Todmorden share much of the West Pennine Flora, with a better representation of the more basophile species such as Weissia controversa. This is the home ground of John Nowell, the handloom weaver of Todmorden, and other 19th century working men botanists. Ramsden Clough (SD9221); Greens Clough (SD8925); Ratten Clough (SD8826); Gorpley Clough (SD9123) and Thieveley Scout (SD8727) are frequent names on their herbarium packets and one has a sense of pilgrimage in visiting these places. The diversity of the bryophyte flora does not match their 19th century records but all these sites are still of interest; in addition to the W.Pennine species one may find Pohlia elongata, Seligeria recurvata, Brachydontium trichodes and much else.

North east of the vice county

The geology continues to become more base-rich as one approaches the NE of the vice-county. The valleys to the S of Trawden (SD9138) and Wycoller (SD9339) and the cloughs on the N side of Pendle Hill (eg Mearley Clough, SD7741 and Burst Clough, SD7842) are especially rewarding. In the flushes on the higher ground one encounters dense colonies of Climacium dendroides and in the rocky cloughs species of Campylium, Leiocolea, Weissia etcetera. Just South of the Ribble, there is an area of limestone stretching from Clitheroe (SD7442) to Chatburn (SD7644). This is not species-rich compared to many other limestone areas (eg N of the Ribble) but the old quarries (Lancashire Wildlife Trust Reserves) at Cross Hill (SD745434) and Salthill (SD758427) are easily accessible and worth a visit.

Remnants of industry

One might expect the heavily urbanised areas of South Lancashire to hold no interest bryologically, but derelict areas and old tips can be quite rewarding and many areas in the Wigan/St. Helens area marked “Tip (dis)” on the OS map are worth a look; good sites include Bold Moss (SJ5493), the Sankey Valley (SJ5495) and the “Flashes” to the South of Wigan. In many places, the wet areas of these derelict sites have been colonised by Willow, and yield a rich epiphytic flora including Ulota crispa s.l. and U. phyllanthaOrthotrichum affine and O. pulchellumFrullania dilatata and occasionally F. tamarisci, and Metgzeria furcata and fruticulosa. Some old tips, formerly used for alkali waste from the chemical or bleaching industry, have acquired a considerable basophile flora – notably Nob End near Bolton (SD748065) and “Mucky Mountain” near St Helens (SJ575945) where there is an enormous colony of Priessia quadrata.

Resources you may find useful

John Lowell has written a number of useful keys, checklists and distribution utilities, particularly for Cheshire VC58) and South Lancashire (VC59). These can be found on his website.

Browse John Lowell's website

Savidge, J.P., Heywood, V.H. & Gordon, V. 1963. Travis’s flora of South Lancashire. Liverpool: Liverpool Botanical Society.