A tour of the bryophyte
habitats of Dorset
... with Bryan Edwards
This tour, written by Bryan Edwards, is
essentially the chapter ‘Natural areas and bryophyte habitats’,
of Mosses and liverworts of Dorset by Mark Hill and Bryan Edwards.
It is reproduced here with permission from the authors and the Dorset
Environmental Records Centre.
The book can be purchased for £9.50
+ 50p p&p from:
Dorset Environmental Records Centre
Tel: 01305 225081
England is divided into 181 character areas, of which 23 are exclusively
coastal (Countryside Commission & English Nature, 1996). These character
areas are now usually called ‘Natural Areas’. Two Natural
Areas are completely included in Dorset and three have part of their extent
in Dorset and part in adjacent counties. The Dorset Natural Areas correspond
basically to geological strata of the underlying rocks.
The Blackdowns Natural Area is a dissected greensand plateau with clayey
valleys derived from the Lias and Trias. It includes those parts of the
county to the north and west of the Marshwood Vale and the areas of v.-c.
9 that are now in Devon and Somerset. The area largely comprises farmland
used for dairying, with very little arable land. A short stretch of the
river Axe flows through it.
There are many small woodlands, particularly along the streamsides, although
larger woods such as Wyld Wood have been replanted with beech and conifers.
Bickham Wood is a rich site with a characteristic wet woodland assemblage
including Hookeria lucens and Trichocolea tomentella
on muddy streamsides and Chiloscyphus polyanthos and Fissidens
pusillus on inundated boulders. Small remnants of ancient woodland
survive at Hewood, Hole Common and Sleech Wood. These have Rhytidiadelphus
loreus on the ground and Heterocladium heteropterum var.
flaccidum and Lophocolea fragrans on flints.
Small remnants of heathland and mire survive on the hill tops of Coney’s
Castle, Lambert’s Castle, Pilsdon Pen and Bewley Down. Champernhayes
Marsh was the outstanding mire until the 1960s when planted with conifers.
Gulielma Lister recorded Breutelia chrysocoma, Drepanocladus revolvens
and Scorpidium scorpioides about 1900; Francis Rose found Sphagnum
contortum and S. papillosum in 1954. S. capillifolium
and S. magellanicum persisted until 1966. The Wyld Warren also
had Sphagnum contortum until 1972 but the site deteriorated rapidly
thereafter. The best remaining mire survives at Fishpond Bottom. Sphagnum
capillifolium, S. inundatum, S. palustre and S. subnitens
are frequent Associated species include Calliergon stramineum, Riccardia
multifida and Warnstorfia exannulata. Humphry Bowen found
Sphagnum papillosum in 1992.
This Natural Area covers all the land to north, west and south of the
chalk massif. It is very varied geologically, comprising bands of Cretaceous
sands and Jurassic clays, limestones and sandstones. Much of the area
is used for dairy farming with only small amounts of arable. This large
Natural Area is best described within the following smaller sections,
based on the botanical divisions defined by Good (1948).
This section extends from Shaftesbury in the north to Sherborne in west.
It is very much dairying county with little semi-natural habitat surviving
except around Lydlinch Common, Deadmoor Common and Rooksmoor. The largest
ancient woodland, Duncliffe Wood, was replanted with conifers, but is
now being returned to broadleaves by the Woodland Trust. Other ancient
woods are Fifehead Wood and Piddles Wood. The latter is a rich site, with
Scapania nemorea, Dicranum majus, Hylocomium splendens, Leucobryum
juniperoideum and Rhytidiadelphus loreus in the ground flora.
The upper Stour and its tributaries such as the Caundle Brook provide
the best habitat in the county for a suite of riparian mosses. Dialytrichia
mucronata, Leskea polycarpa and Syntrichia latifolia are
frequent on silt covered tree bases. The rare Orthotrichum sprucei
is confined to this habitat.
The parish of Holwell was home to H.H. Wood, who intensively recorded
the bryophytes. He found Campyliadelphus elodes, Entosthodon obtusus,
Orthotrichum rivulare and Weissia rutilans, which have not
recently been found in the Blackmoor Vale, but some uncommon mosses, notably
Myrinia pulvinata and Pterogonium gracile, have survived.
Halstock Vales and Upper Frome Vales
This section lies to the south of Yeovil and Crewkerne, with streams draining
northward to the Bristol Channel. Although there is much intensive dairying,
the very varied geology produces areas of interesting semi-natural habitat.
Melbury Park is an outstanding site for epiphytic lichens, and the bryophytes
are also of great interest. Frullania tamarisci and Zygodon
rupestris are abundant on the trunks of many large oaks, with Pterogonium
gracile on the bases of a few trees. The basic bark of well-illuminated
maple and sycamore supports Leptodon smithii, Leucodon sciuroides,
Orthotrichum lyellii and Syntrichia laevipila. Soft limestone
beside a stream provides a substrate for Pterogonium gracile
and the uncommon liverworts Cololejeunea rossettiana, Lejeunea cavifolia
and Plagiochila porelloides.
The area is well wooded although most woodlands are small and many occur
along streamsides. Brackett’s Coppice is an interesting wood on
wet clay soil. The ground flora includes an abundance of Rhytidiadelphus
triquetrus and Thuidium tamariscum, together with in one
area the declining Hylocomium brevirostre. Lejeunea cavifolia
and Nowellia curvifolia occur on decaying logs. The most interesting
feature is the stream, with Mnium stellare on the bank and Dichodontium
pellucidum and Hygrohypnum luridum on boulders.
Small wetlands have developed at the junction of the gault and greensand.
Aunt Mary’s Bottom near Rampisham is the best example, with Trichocolea
tomentella, Aulacomnium palustre, Climacium dendroides, Palustriella commutata
var. commutata and Sphagnum palustre. The adjoining
alder-sallow wood formerly had Riccardia palmata and Scapania
gracilis on rotting logs, but these may have been non-persistent
Situated on the Dorset-Somerset border above Halstock is Sutton Bingham
Reservoir. In dry years the muddy margins support an abundance of Aphanorhegma
patens and Riccia cavernosa, with smaller quantities of
This small section consists of low-lying terrain between Crewkerne and
Beaminster, with streams draining northwards to the Axe. The soils are
mainly calcareous clays derived from fuller’s earth. The area lacks
Hooke and Powerstock Vales
The ‘ancient countryside’ between Maiden Newton in the east,
Beaminster in the north and Bridport is less intensively farmed than the
other sections of the Wessex Vales, with small fields, species-rich hedges,
wet flushes, swamp woodland and areas of ancient pasture-woodland.
Powerstock Common and Hooke Park are well known bryologically. Hooke Park
is a good site, with Jungermannia atrovirens and Seligeria
pusilla on dripping limestone rocks and Dichodontium pellucidum
in the stream. Nearby, wet alder-birch woodland at Wytherston Marsh has
carpet of Sphagnum fallax and S. palustre under which
lurks the strange liverwort Cryptothallus mirabilis. The Wildlife
Trust reserve at Lower Kingcombe has extensive areas of unimproved grassland,
much of which is bryologically poor, but there are small areas of acid
turf with an abundance of Hylocomium splendens and Thuidium
tamariscinum. Of most interest are two small acid flushes, with Calliergon
stramineum, Philonotis fontana, Sphagnum angustifolium and Warnstorfia
Marshwood Vale and Lyme Regis to Bridport coast
The Marshwood Vale is formed of Lias clays and much of the area is used
for dairying. Ancient woodlands are small and largely confined to streamsides.
There are no hard rock outcrops. The bryophyte flora is typical of rural
Dorset, but the lack of special features means that few rare or scarce
bryophytes are present.
The coastal strip from Lyme Regis to Bridport is made up of constantly
eroding cliffs. Open turf on the cliff edge provides habitat for Acaulon
muticum in one of its few Dorset localities. At Eype the flushes
on the landslip have an interesting flora including the two hornworts
Anthoceros punctatus and Phaeoceros laevis. Greensand
boulders in this area support Aloina ambigua and Gyroweisia
tenuis. Further inland are the sandy banks and sunken lanes on the
Thorncombe Sands; these are noted for Epipterygium tozeri and
Bride and Wey Vales
Like the Marshwood Vale much of this section is intensively farmed, with
few notable features. The limestone ridge from Upwey to Portesham retains
small areas of unimproved turf and has scattered rock outcrops. The richest
site is the old quarry at Portesham which has Aloina aloides, Gyroweisia
tenuis, Scorpiurium circinatum and Weissia longifolia var.
Abbotsbury Castle comprises heathland, acid grassland and a small mire.
Species present include Aulacomnium palustre, Campylium stellatum
var. stellatum, Dicranum bonjeanii and Sphagnum subnitens,
all very local outside the Poole basin.
The coast is dominated by Chesil Beach and the Fleet, although the shingle
is not stable enough to support much vegetation. The most interesting
area lies at the eastern end at Ferrybridge. Here sand is mixed with the
shingle producing areas of maritime grassland. The short open turf includes
abundant Pleurochaete squarrosa and Syntrichia ruraliformis,
with Hennediella heimii and Tortella flavovirens on
This Natural Area includes all the chalk massif except for the Lulworth
coast and the Purbeck Ridge. It is split by the rivers Frome, Piddle and
Stour and is described in the following sections.
This section includes the area north and east of the River Stour. Much
of the chalk from Blandford north-east to the Bockerley Dyke on the county
boundary is gently undulating arable farmland. Pasture woodland in the
former royal forest of Cranborne Chase was underplanted with hazel. There
is a rich vascular plant flora but the Chase is not notable for its bryophytes.
The small remnants of chalk grassland are confined to the few steep slopes
such as Pentridge Down or ancient monuments including the Ackling Dyke,
Badbury Rings, Gussage Hill and Oakley Down barrows. Of these Badbury
Rings is particularly interesting. Ditrichum gracile, Entodon concinnus
and Weissia sterilis grow in the short turf. On bare soil
nearby are Microbryum curvicolle, M. starckeanum and Pottiopsis
caespitosa. Between Blandford and Shaftesbury, many steep-sided valleys
have escaped the plough and still support downland. Fontmell and Melbury
Downs are the largest, with several areas of bryophyte-rich turf. The
north-facing slope of Ashmore Down has an abundance of the spectacular
Rhodobryum roseum, together with Hylocomium splendens
and Tortella tortuosa. The flint scree formerly had Racomitrium
lanuginosum. In short turf on the warm south-facing slopes of Fontmell
Down there is abundant Entodon concinnus, with Ditrichum
gracile, Ephemerum recurvifolium and Pleurochaete squarrosa.
This large section includes the area between the River Stour and the Dorchester-Crewkerne
road. Dry valleys and northern scarp retain unimproved downland, but much
of the rest of the area has been ploughed. The high ground receives the
highest rainfall in the county, resulting in a luxuriant downland sward
in which small bryophytes cannot compete, so that only the more robust
pleurocarps occur with any frequency. Of most interest are the ancient
ash-hazel woodlands that are found on ridge and scarp between Maiden Newton
in the west and Shillingstone in the east. These often have extensive
areas of flints with a thick bryophyte carpet dominated by Eurhynchium
striatum, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus and Thuidium tamariscinum,
together with the more local Dicranum majus, Plagiochila asplenioides
and Rhytidiadelphus loreus. The stones themselves have a distinctive
flora including Lophocolea fragrans, Plagiochila porelloides, Heterocladium
heteropterum var. flaccidum and Taxiphyllum wissgrillii.
Plagiochila norvegica is confined to a single such stone in its only
British locality. Shaded chalk pebbles in these woods have a very limited
flora including Fissidens gracilifolius, Seligeria calycina and
This section comprises the land between the Dorchester-Crewkerne road
and White Horse Hill above Weymouth. Much of the downland is poor in bryophytes,
except for White Horse Hill itself with Ephemerum recurvifolium, Pleurochaete
squarrosa, Scorpiurium circinatum and Weissia sterilis.
The most interesting bryological site is the Valley of Stones near Little
Bredy. Here the numerous lichen-rich sarsen stones in the valley bottom
support an interesting flora including Frullania fragilifolia, F.
tamarisci, Porella obtusata, Grimmia trichophylla, Hedwigia stellata
and Pterogonium gracile. Rhodobryum roseum is present in small
quantity in the adjoining downland turf.
As well as the large rivers Frome, Piddle and Stour, there are smaller
valleys with chalk streams such as the North and South Winterborne, the
Bere Stream and River Cerne. The valleys are intensively farmed but retain
some interesting habitat. The manor houses had parkland trees, many of
which survive today. Avenues, or groups, of ash, lime and sycamore support
a rich lichen flora and are particularly important for bryophytes such
as Leptodon smithii, Leucodon sciuroides and Syntrichia papillosa.
of Portland and Purbeck
The Isle of Portland comprises beds of Portland and Purbeck limestone
over a bed of Kimmeridge Clay. The centre of the island has been extensively
quarried or built up, leaving few areas of the original limestone turf.
The coasts have been quarried to some degree, but still retain areas of
grassland, landslip, scrub and scree.
West Weares is an extensive area of scree and maritime grassland below
West Cliff. It has long been known as a site for Eurhynchium meridionale.
The grassland supports much Neckera crispa and Scorpiurium circinatum,
with Ephemerum recurvifolium, Microbryum rectum and M. starckeanum
on bare soil. Along West Cliff there are extensive areas of open bryophyte-rich
turf. Among the patches of Trichostomum spp. and Weissia
spp. are the rare liverworts Cephaloziella baumgartneri and Southbya
nigrella, together with Eurhynchium meridionale, Gymnostomum
viridulum, Microbryum curvicolle and abundant Tortula lanceola.
On the opposite side of the island East Weares is the richest area for
calcicolous bryophytes in the county. On sheltered screes below the cliffs
there is an abundance of Ctenidium molluscum, Homalothecium
lutescens, Hypnum lacunosum and Neckera crispa, together
with more demanding calcicoles such as Encalypta streptocarpa
and Fissidens dubius. Below the screes are boulders and scrub.
Among the carpets of Ctenidium, Homalothecium and Neckera
are Porella obtusata, Leucodon sciuroides var. morensis
and Tortella tortuosa. Sheltered limestone rocks support Cololejeunea
rossettiana, Lejeunea cavifolia, Marchesinia mackaii, Leptodon smithii,
Tortella nitida and Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii.
On boulders with veins of flinty chert there is a different flora including
Frullania fragilifolia, F. tamarisci, Grimmia trichophylla and
The landslip at Penn’s Weare south to Church Ope Cover is similar,
but there are more terricolous mosses, including Acaulon triquetrum,
Bryum canariense, Ephemerum recurvifolium, Encalypta vulgaris, Microbryum
curvicolle and Tortula lanceola.
Recently-worked quarries contain few unusual bryophytes. However, the
floors of older abandoned quarries such as Bowers, Broadcroft, King Barrow
and Tout have developed open calcareous turf with Cephaloziella baumgartneri,
Gymnostomum viridulum, Leiocolea badensis, L. turbinata and Southbya
This geologically varied area includes the Purbeck Ridge and all the land
to the south, together with the Lulworth chalk west to White Nothe.
The chalk ridge extends for 22 km from Lulworth Cove in the west to Ballard
Cliff in the east. It is formed of hardened upper chalk with superficial
deposits of flints. Bindon Hill in the west has an area of bryophyte-
and lichen-rich scree on the summit. Tortella tortuosa is locally
frequent among Anomodon viticulosus, Hypnum lacunosum, Neckera crispa
and Scorpiurium circinatum. Of most interest is the presence
of Eurhynchium meridionale in its only UK site outside Portland.
Further east Great Wood extends for 3 km along the north side of the hill.
The bryophyte flora includes Fissidens gracilifolius, Seligeria
calycina and Tortella inflexa on the numerous chalk pebbles.
Midway along the ridge the Wildlife Trust reserve at Stonehill Down is
a rich site. Bryum canariense, Pleurochaete squarrosa and Weissia
condensa occur on the south-facing slope; Porella arboris-vitae
and Hylocomium splendens are found on sheltered northerly aspects.
On terraces in an old chalk pit on West Hill, there are mats of Frullania
tamarisci and Porella arboris-vitae among an abundance of
Ctenidium molluscum and Hylocomium splendens.
The eastern end of the chalk ridge from Godlingston Hill to Ballard Cliff
is the richest site for bryophytes on the Dorset chalk. Pleurochaete
squarrosa is frequent in short turf on the warm south-facing slope
of Godlingston Hill. On the northern slopes are Frullania tamarisci,
Plagiochila porelloides, Porella arboris-vitae and, most notably,
Scapania aspera in its only recent Dorset site.
The valley between Tyneham and Swanage is largely agricultural. However,
Corfe Common is a rich and well-worked site. Of most interest are the
basic flushes, which are unique in Dorset in the abundance of ‘brown
mosses’ including Campylium stellatum var. stellatum,
Drepanocladus cossonii and Palustriella commutata var.
falcata. Philonotis calcarea occurs here in its only Dorset site.
There is also a small acid mire with Riccardia multifida, Aulacomnium
palustre, Sphagnum capillifolium, S. fallax and Warnstorfia exannulata.
The limestone plateau is largely used for quarrying and agriculture with
little semi-natural habitat. The coastal slope from Anvil Point to St
Aldhelm’s Head has extensive areas of limestone grassland. Bryologically
it is rather poor with the most interesting areas confined to the abandoned
coastal quarries. Scorpiurium circinatum is frequent in the turf.
Microbryum starckeanum, Tortella flavovirens, Tortula acaulon
var. pilifera and T. protobryoides are found on bare
soil. The landslips from St Aldhelm’s Head to Chapman’s Pool
are similar to those on the east side of Portland. Sheltered rocks among
the scrub support Cololejeunea rossettiana, Lejeunea cavifolia, Marchesinia
mackaii, Tortella nitida and Zygodon viridissimus var.
stirtonii. Below the cliffs is the largest British population of
Acaulon triquetrum. Similar limestone undercliffs are found further
west at Dungy Head and Gad Cliff. The valley inland from Chapman’s
Pool is the only Dorset locality for the very rare Habrodon perpusillus,
which grows on the trunk of one ash tree.
The coast from Durdle Door to White Nothe is mainly composed of chalk.
The steep slope below Hambury Tout is particularly interesting. The calcicolous
ephemerals Acaulon triquetrum, Ephemerum recurvifolium, Microbryum
starckeanum, M. rectum, Pterygoneurum ovatum and Tortula lanceola
occur on bare soil, and Weissia condensa is present in nearby
This Natural Area, also known as the Poole basin, includes all the land
on the Bagshot Beds and the adjoining Reading and London Clays. The rivers
Frome, Piddle and Stour flow through area.
Poole basin north
This section includes all the land on Tertiary substrata north-east of
the Stour. The band of clay is largely agricultural but there are extensive
areas of ancient woodland at Boys Wood, Castle Hill Wood, Holt Forest
and Woodlands Park, although the last has been planted with conifers.
Bryophytes on the ground under trees are not remarkable but some interesting
species are found on the rides.
Holt Heath is the largest remaining area of heathland and mire. Sphagnum
cuspidatum and S. tenellum are abundant in the mires; S.
magellanicum and S. papillosum are more local. An orange
form of Sphagnum fallax replaces S. pulchrum. The heaths
between Ferndown and Verwood have largely been built over; the remnants
are subject to scrub encroachment and frequent fires. Dicranum spurium
was formerly found in a number sites but has not been seen since 1981.
Hypnum imponens has its only Dorset site near West Moors, in
an area of wet heath that also has Racomitrium lanuginosum. The
flora Cranborne Common is similar to that of Holt Heath, although one
acid flush supports Calliergon stramineum, Dicranum bonjeanii
and Warnstorfia exannulata.
Poole basin central
This area includes the land between the rivers Stour and Frome
and the heaths to the west of Wool, together with all of urban Poole.
Canford and Upton Heaths are the largest remaining blocks of heathland
within Broadstone and Poole. The dry heath is regularly burnt. Campylopus
introflexus has largely replaced the native bryophytes. Small mires
still support Sphagnum magellanicum and S. pulchrum,
but are most notable for S. molle which is locally frequent.
The most interesting bryophyte recorded from the area is the rare alien
liverwort Telaranea murphyae, which grows on peaty soil and rotting
logs under rhododendron in the sheltered conditions of Branksome Chine.
Wareham Forest is a large area of conifer plantation with remnants of
heathland and mire vegetation. The rare liverwort Lophozia capitata
was recently found in a wet firebreak. The extensive valley mires at Hyde
Bog, Morden Bog and Oakers Bog are dominated by Sphagnum papillosum
and S. pulchrum, with S. magellanicum and S.
molle present locally, along with a full range of bog hepatics. Winfrith
Heath in the west has typical acid mire sphagna, and also a basic flush
with Campyliadelphus elodes, Drepanocladus revolvens
and Scorpidium scorpioides. The heaths between the Piddle and
the Frome and around Moreton have been fragmented by sand and gravel extraction.
Abandoned workings provide a habitat for a number of interesting liverworts
including Diplophyllum obtusifolium, Fossombronia foveolata, Lophozia
excisa and, notably, the alien Lophocolea bispinosa.
The London and Reading clays are used mainly for agriculture, but there
are areas ancient woodland at Bere Wood, Bloxworth, Lytchett Matravers,
Morden and Oakers Wood. Bere Wood has been largely replanted with conifers
but is remarkable for the liverwort Fossombronia husnotii, which
occurs beside a track. Oakers Wood is a rich site with recent records
for Scapania nemorea and Orthotrichum striatum.
Poole basin south
The area between the river Frome and the Purbeck Ridge is very varied,
with large blocks of heathland split by forestry plantations. The valley
mires of Arne, Creech, Godlingston, Holme, Povington and Stoborough Heaths
all support a similar flora with dominant Sphagnum papillosum
and S. pulchrum. Sphagnum magellanicum is much more
local. Kurzia pauciflora and Odontoschisma sphagni are
the commonest bog hepatics. Calypogeia sphagnicola, Mylia anomala
and Riccardia latifrons are more local and often confined to
flushed sites. On the adjoining wet heath Leucobryum glaucum, Sphagnum
compactum and S. tenellum are frequent, and Campylopus
brevipilus is widespread but seldom found in quantity. The largest
area of heathland survives within the army ranges near Lulworth. Povington
Heath is the only recent site for the declining Dicranum spurium,
which is found in areas with a long history of grazing. Hartland Moor
had a basic flush similar to that at Winfrith, but it was badly burnt
in 1976. Drepanocladus revolvens and Scorpidium scorpioides
disappeared and have not recolonized the site.
The South Haven peninsula of Studland Heath was the subject of a detailed
ecological survey by Cyril Diver during the 1930s. E.W. Jones surveyed
and mapped the bryophytes of the peninsula and his specimens and maps
are kept by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Winfrith. Jones found
Cephaloziella rubella, Lophozia incisa, Scapania irrigua, Campylopus
fragilis and Drepanocladus polygamus. C. fragilis
survives today among marram-grass on the outer dunes, but has been replaced
further inland by C. introflexus. Lophozia incisa has not been
refound. Spur Bog is the richest mire, with abundant Sphagnum pulchrum.
There is also a small basic flush with Drepanocladus revolvens.
Countryside Commission & English Nature. (1996).
The character of
England: landscape, wildlife and natural features. Countryside
Good, R. (1948). A Geographical Handbook of the
Dorset Flora. The
Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, Dorchester.
Copyright © British Bryological Society