Vice-county 8 (South Wiltshire)

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Bryology of South Wiltshire

Wiltshire was the least well-known bryologically of all the Counties of southern England, and the first records were not published until 1891. South Wiltshire comprises the southern half of the County, the northern boundary of VC8 being the Kennet and Avon Canal. There are some significant differences from the present administrative boundary.

Large parts of VC8 are on chalk, some of which is covered with Clay-with-Flints. Other important geological formations include the Upper Greensand which gives rise to relatively acid soils, Jurassic limestones in the west and Tertiaries in the south-east with acid sands and gravels.

Wiltshire is less wooded than most other counties in south England, but there are extensive areas in the west on some large estates. Some of the more interesting bryophytes in ancient woodlands (i.e. woodlands since at least 1600 A.D.) include Hylocomium brevirostre, Rhytidiadelphus loreus, Herzogiella seligeri, Plagiothecium latebricola and Trichocolea tormentella.

There is much arable land on the chalk as well as unimproved grassland. The latter is particularly extensive on the Ministry of Defence lands, the largest being Salisbury Plain Training Area which occupies about one-fifth of the vice-county and on which most of the grass is too long for bryophytes. Generally the chalk grassland is not very interesting bryologically but some closely grazed areas, mainly in nature reserves such as Martin Down NNR, have characteristic mosses such as Weissia species (including sterilis), Rhodobryum roseum and Thuidium abietinum subsp. hystricosum, while bare chalky patches may have Microbryum rectum, M. curvicolle, M.floerkeanum, Acaulon muticum and Ephemerum recurvifolium.

The south-east part in or near the New Forest (much now being in Hampshire) has wet and dry heathland with Dicranum spurium, Splachnum ampullaceum, Calliergon stramineum, Hypnum imponens, Campylopus brevipilus, Odontoschisma fluitans (Cladopodiella fluitans), O.francisci, Cephalozia macrostachya, Ptilidium ciliare and many other bryophytes of interest including fifteen Sphagnum species.

The main bryologists in the first half of the 20th Century were C.P.Hurst in the north-east and the Dunston brothers in the south-west. After 1950, much useful recording was done by Jean Paton, Joan Appleyard, Ted Wallace and Francis Rose. The BBS had its spring meeting in 1989 based at Salisbury, and it became clear that much of v-c 8 was still little known bryologically. A relatively intensive survey was carried out by R. Stern over a period of eight years until 1999 and distribution maps were prepared on a 10km square basis. A bryophyte flora of the vice-county was published in the Journal of Bryology 23:221-260. Reprints are available from the author.

Rod Stern, 2001

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Resources you may find useful

Stern, R.C. 2001. A bryophyte flora of South Wiltshire. Journal of Bryology23, 221-260.