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Local Meetings of the BBS

South East Group 2003/4

Brede High Wood (v.-c. 14), 2 October 2003 : hornworts and a hornet

This was a joint meeting of the Southern and South-East Groups. Ironically after a very dry summer and early autumn, the day of the excursion was very wet and limited our list to just 96 species; had the weather been better goodness knows what else we might have found. Brede High Wood and adjacent parts of the Great Saunders Estate cover some six square kilometres, and provide a wide range of habitats on Wealden clays and sandstones. It is one of the few large wooded areas in East Sussex for which there appeared to be almost no bryological records. The day’s exploration only embraced the area from south of the B2089 (public car park at TQ804196) down to the northern banks of the Powdermill reservoir constructed in the 1930s and now owned by Southern Water, and further visits should be a priority. Since the field trip, several waymarked walks through the woods have been installed by Southern Water, making this a practical and attractive place for bryologists and others to visit.

Despite the rain, the woodland rides yielded all the usual suspects (Fossombronia wondraczekii, Archidium alternifolium , Dicranella schreberiana, D. staphylina, Ditrichum cylindricum and Pseudephemerum nitidum). In addition, it was particularly pleasing to see Anthoceros husnotii (a new vice-county record) and Phaeoceros laevis. Hornworts are increasingly uncommon in south-east England , and indeed Wakehurst Place is one of the few places where a sighting of Phaeoceros can be virtually guaranteed. The most notable epiphytes were Orthotrichum tenellum and Ulotabruchii on Acer campestre , and Dicranum montanum on coppiced Castanea (we looked in vain for D. flagellare ). Most spectacular on water-covered tree trunks were sheets of dehiscing capsules of Frullania dilatata and Radulacomplanata , presumably derived from sporophytes that had lain dormant through months of drought. Boulders in the sandstone cliff, whence spoil for the reservoir dam had been extracted 80 years previously, were covered in Diplophyllum albicans and Scapania nemorea , with Pogonatum nanum on the soil between. The woodland floor in the flat area below this cliff was dominated by an almost pure carpet of Sphagnum palustre, and literally dozens of young Wild Service-trees (Sorbus torminalis ). Fissidens celticus was found on a bare, dry stream bank, with large quantities of Plagiochila asplenioides on adjacent boggy ground.

Like all bryologists after a dry summer, we approached the reservoir with considerable alacrity only to find acres of mud covered with fetid mats of New Zealand Pigmyweed (Crassula helmsii ) as is increasingly the case in south-east England . This unwelcome alien was almost certainly the reason why not a single Riccia thallus was found. Mercifully, the Crassula does not seem to thrive in the vicinity of bankside trees and shrubs. Beneath these, there were literally square metres of Aphanorhegma patens , and, on steeper banks, small amounts of Discelium nudum with female gametophores and Bryumklinggraeffii.

The highlights of the day were Discelium (only the fourth locality in south-east England , and now virtually extinct at its former stronghold at Crowborough due to the construction of retail outlets over the former brickworks), Orthotrichum tenellum, the two hornworts and, at lunchtime, when briefly the rain ceased, a most memorable close inspection by a queen hornet.

Jeff Duckett (School of Biological Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS) & Patrick Roper.

Oaken Wood (v.-c. 16), 14 February 2004

It was a cool, overcast day with light rain when the four who attended this meeting (Sylvia Priestley, Roy Hurr, Malcolm Watling and myself) met up. However, by early afternoon the rain cleared, the sky lightened and there was even a glimmer of watery sunshine. We parked in a residential road nearby and walked into the wood, moving north-west over a rather flat scarp plateau on the greensand ridge. The soils here are deep loams and the woodland is well-managed sweet chestnut coppice with occasional oak standards. The sweet chestnut leaves form a dense carpet under the trees and the wood is well-used by horse riders and dog walkers, so many paths were rather muddy and not very bryologically interesting. The coppice stools were old and up to 4 feet across with Lophocolea bidentata, Metzgeria furcata, Amblystegium serpens, Hypnum resupinatum, Mnium hornum and Tetraphis pellucida almost ubiquitous, and reasonably frequent Dicranum scoparium, D. tauricum and Leucobryum glaucum. Much less frequent were Aulacomnium androgynum, Campylopus introflexus and Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans. In places, the path sides had bryophyte carpets dominated by Atrichum undulatum, Eurhynchium praelongum, Mnium hornum, and, where the track had been worn down to make low vertical sides, Fissidens bryoides and occasionally Diplophyllum albicans.

After lunch, we moved south-west through the area known as Seven Wents where Rhododendron ponticum is spreading – presumably introduced as a decorative feature earlier last century around this meeting point of seven trackways through the wood, it is clearly becoming a menace on this acid-neutral soil. As the woodland dropped down towards the road, the soil became sandier and we found ourselves on a seldom-used track with nice fruiting colonies of Pleuridium acuminatum, patches of Polytrichum juniperinum, and carpets of Thuidium tamariscinum.

Once across the road we were in an area of disused workings that on the map appeared to contain at least two old quarries and areas of disturbed hummocky ground, but the bramble growth became impenetrable as we approached these. It was clear we were now on ragstone. Ragstone is a grey calcareous sandstone and until the 20 th century was widely used for building in the local area and even exported by boat for buildings in London . Its bryological specialty is Didymodon sinuosus which we failed to find. The vascular flora changed in this part of the wood; elder appeared along the trackway, and there were incursions of young birch, primroses and moschatel, all indicating more calcium in the soil. Cirriphyllum piliferum was fairly frequent on the floor of the wood and on shaded tracks. The elder produced Orthotrichum affine. The vertical trackside banks had Calypogeia fissa, Plagiochila asplenioides, Homalia trichomanoides and Plagiomnium undulatum. Malcolm Watling, on going through material collected in this area once home, found Fossombronia pusilla.

Exposed trackways, pieces of concrete and bits of old carpet from the far too frequent fly-tipping in the wood added ruderal-type habitats, and helped boost numbers to give a total of 62 species for the day.

David Newman, 40 Durrants House, West Street , Hunton, Maidstone , Kent , ME15 0RY .

Orlestone Forest (v.-c. 15), 21 March 2004

To the south of Ashford, the Weald of Kent falls away southward onto Romney Marsh at the former Saxon shore. On the edge of this low escarpment are the woodlands of the Orlestone Forest , sitting largely on Weald Clay. The slopes have exposures of the underlying Tunbridge Wells Sands, with ponds and streams fed by the artesian system in this layer, which includes ragstone, the calcareous sandstone of building fame. Two of the woods with this structure received the attention of Jeff Duckett, Sylvia Priestly, Roy Hurr and myself on a calm, mainly bright day after a week of storms.

In the morning we visited Ham Street Woods National Nature Reserve, next to the village of that name, accompanied by David Maylam, the English Nature warden. He showed us the way to the two ponds at the top of the wood and the return route back down the stream system. David was unfortunately not able to carry out his original intention of spending the rest of the day with us but we were very grateful for his help and useful information. The wood has had a chequered past, having been affected by various local industries and work on the Marsh, and consequently the bryoflora was fairly standard. In places, the streams cut nice gullies, which contained a fair selection of the commoner species and Chiloscyphus pallescens, scarce here at the edge of its range. One of the ponds yielded small amounts of Sphagnum fallax and S. palustre, some consolation for the fact that the ponds had been misguidedly cleared of Sphagna in the past. The sole reason for choosing this wood for a visit was the fact that in September 1969 a meeting of the Kent Field Club had found Discelium nudum. It was spotted by Peter Wilberforce in wheel ruts in the clay of the ride near the reserve entrance and identified by Trudy Side. This is the very gathering illustrated in the article by Trudy and Harold Whitehouse in Journal of Bryology (1987) 14: 741-743 about the rhizoidal tubers of Discelium. Despite 35 years of forest development and the building of the standard gravel paths, fences and notice boards, Jeff was able to find more of the characteristic light-green protonema with scattered gametophores; starch-filled tubers were confirmed later under the microscope. This time it was at the top of the steep clay bank of the stream, but clearly within yards of the original location. This was a triumph for recording, communication and experience from members past and present!

The afternoon location was Fagg’s Wood, one of several large woods in the Forest owned by the Forestry Commission. The area skirting the stream that we followed was quite variable: conifer plantation, young oak and birch, and scrub and willows around a couple of ponds at the top end. As with Ham Street , the river cut a pleasant course into the sandy layer, providing substrates of variable pH with a good range of the common bryophytes. Then, of course, there was the inevitable spectacular find by Jeff: Ulota coarctata, growing with U. crispa on a willow overhanging one of the ponds. This rarity is found mainly in western Scotland , with only two locations currently known in the south of England . We were further privileged that Jeff made sure that all the members of the party had a good lens-full of the pale, round-topped, narrow-mouthed capsule. Cryphaea heteromalla was found on elders amongst a stand of young birches; this is widespread but scarce in east Kent , and is a new 10-km square record. Also recorded were Plagiochila porelloides, Orthotrichum lyellii and U. phyllantha, more local rarities.

The day’s exploration and findings were a good appetite-whetter for further study, particularly of the ponds, in these woodlands. The impermeability of the clay and the reliable water-table in the sandstone make them a good habitat for bryophytes in an otherwise relatively dry area.

Malcolm Watling, 23 Dane Hill, Margate , Kent , CT9 1QP .


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