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Local Meetings of the BBS

South East Group 2005

Burham Down (v.-c. 15), 12 February 2005

This is a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve on the North Downs at the eastern side of the River Medway gap north of Maidstone . The area is chalk grassland, scrub and woodland, with two large disused chalk quarries below the escarpment. Six members met at Bluebell Hill picnic site, overlooking the reserve, and were joined by the Trust’s Medway Valley warden, Steve Weeks. We are very grateful for Steve’s help and guidance during the morning.

After a kilometre’s downhill walk attempting to avoid the distractions of Pseudocrossidium hornschuchianum and other chalk field species, we reached the lower quarry, Lower Culand Pit. This is entered from the bottom through a substantial tunnel beneath the road that runs along the foot of the hills. A flight of steps from the scrub next to the road leads down the side of the tunnel archway to where a rail track once took the chalk down to the river. The brickwork of this structure is fairly mossy with a limited range of the commoner species. The main floor of the pit is rectangular, about 500 m long, and has a thin covering of scrub. The substantial areas dominated by Homalothecium lutescens had been seen from the top of the downs as a golden-green carpet amongst the leafless bushes. As we made our way along the meandering open track into the pit, it was noticeable how the bryoflora gradually took on the characteristics of the chalk substrate. Brachythecium rutabulum and Kindbergia praelonga (Eurhynchium praelongum), which were dominant on the wooded slopes at the tunnel, were soon replaced by the Homalothecium, joined first by Ctenidium molluscum, a little Abietinella abietina var. histricosa (Thuidium abietinum subsp. hystricosum) and some nice patches of Bryum pseudotriquetrum. Here too was plenty of Fissidens adianthoides. Towards the centre of the pit Campyliadelphus chrysophyllus and Hypnum lacunosum were much in evidence. Lunch was taken making use of the slope of the western side of the pit as seating and a windbreak. Here we found many of the more interesting finds of the day, including Leiocolea badensis (confirming the view that it has previously been overlooked), L. turbinata, Seligeria calcarea and S. calycina. In many areas Trichostomum crispulum was abundant.

After lunch we returned up the hill on a route that included a lane with, at one point, a hedgebank of mown Eurhynchium striatum. This was quite impressive, although the plants were somewhat stunted compared to the usual form seen in woodland habitats. On the path was Weissia longifolia var. angustifolia. At the top we reached one of the patches of woodland included in the reserve, containing familiar species of the dry chalk woods of East Kent : Fissidens incurvus , F. taxifolius, K. praelonga, Oxyrrhynchium (Eurhynchium) hians, Rhynchostegiella pumila (Eurhynchium pumilum) and Rhynchostegium confertum. Also here was Rhynchostegiella tenella, generally not so common locally. Turning our attention to look at the chalk grassland, we entered one field that had been very recently cleared of scrub. The results were disappointing: mostly Scleropodium purum, with some Fissidens dubius and one small area of scattered Plagiomnium affine. Approaching heavy showers thwarted our attempts to look further, and the day finished with mixed cloud, rain and sunshine rapidly changing the spectacular views of the valley below.

Orlestone Forest (v.-c. 15), 26 March 2005

This was a return to the location of last year’s meeting, as described in Field Bryology84: 25-26. The intention was to concentrate on some of the 180 or so small ponds in the Forest , hoping that investigation of the surrounding trees and banks would be fruitful. Very useful details had been obtained from a survey of 53 of the ponds in 2000 by D.A. Saunders (English Nature, Wye, Ashford , Kent ). Time allowed for the study of six ponds in the middle of Longrope Wood in the northern half of the Forest .

The ponds are mainly in the deciduous areas of the Forest , amongst oak, birch and coppiced hornbeam, where tree bases have Hypnum andoi, H. cupressiforme and Isothecium myosuroides, and the main floor flora is a rather patchy covering of Mnium hornum, Polytrichastrum (Polytrichum) formosum and Thuidium tamariscinum. The ponds vary in their permanence, degree of vegetation density and bank structure; those with the best array of bryophytes were fairly overgrown, and contained fallen trees and small islands. Despite the greater moss density caused by the moister habitat, epiphytes were as scarce on and around the ponds as in the rest of the woods, with just one find each for Frullania dilatata and Ulota crispa. Sphagnum cuspidatum, S. fimbriatum and S. palustre were dominant on some of the islands and semi-submerged tree masses in the ponds. Locally scarce species found were Calliergon cordifolium at a pond edge, Plagiothecium undulatum on an island, and Rhytidiadelphus loreus close to a pond. The species total for the day was 31.

This small study gives a good bryological view of Orlestone Forest : not impressive by national standards but always worth exploring for the occasional interesting find. It has to be pointed out that this is in contrast to many other areas of natural history, for which the Forest is of great value and importance.

Ham Fen (v.-c. 15), 3 December 2005

Beavers are the main point of interest in this Kent Wildlife Trust reserve near Sandwich . Cattle and sheep are used to graze the land and the beavers were introduced in 2003. From 1998 to 2003 the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled the removal of some areas of recent topsoil, exposing peat and alluvial layers. This provides more open water and good colonising sites. The reserve covers about a third of a square kilometre, just at the edge of the flat land associated with the Stour estuary, overlying the dipping chalk at the northern edge of the North Downs . It is mostly open grassland, fen and ponds with an area of open woodland that includes alder carr. A natural stream runs through the site and it is cut into rectangular sections by a number of drainage channels.

We were asked to look for any bryological interest as a result of the management changes. Following a provisional visit in April, a group of four met Pete Forrest, the Trust area warden, to whom we extend our thanks. Pete showed us how to negotiate the electric fences and the highland cattle. The latter had refused, the previous week, to board the lorry intended to take them to another nearby reserve to continue their winter grazing duties, and were hungry. A distracting bale of hay enabled unpestered access. The weather allowed good bryology until the middle of the day when rain caused a standing lunch under dripping trees. Its unexpected continuation meant that exploration of some of the open areas was replaced by an afternoon of learned discussions in a camper van!

One section of exposed clay had many mosses, noticeably patched with the pink of young plants of Bryum pseudotriquetrum, rare in Kent . Also here were Bryum dichotomum (B. bicolor), Dicranella varia, Didymodon tophaceus and Funaria hygrometrica. On the peat and pond edges Physcomitrium pyriforme was abundant, the massed capsules showing bright green patches in the spring, but somewhat ‘washed-out’ by December.

The main beaver-influence feature is a small lodge which they built in their first enclosure, essentially a pile of sticks and packed soil with about 10% moss cover at the time of visiting. This was mostly Barbula convoluta with small amounts of Brachythecium rutabulum, Bryum rubens and Funaria hygrometrica. A pond edge in this enclosure produced Leptobryum pyriforme, not often seen in the wild in this district. The beavers are currently living in a burrow, so apart from small man-made drainage channels cut recently to provide extra water, there is little sign of any further direct influence. As yet, the cuttings have not attracted colonisation by bryophytes.

On the open fen are reed beds crossed by pathways in varying degrees of wetness. The dominant moss was Brachythecium rutabulum, added to at the river edges and in wetter parts by B. rivulare. The latter engages in its annoying lowland habit of merging into the former in its alar cell structure. Kindbergia praelonga (Eurhynchium praelongum), Leptodictyum riparium, and Oxyrrhynchium (Eurhynchium) hians were also common.

The woods were generally devoid of epiphytes, just a couple of samples of Orthotrichum affine being found. Tree bases in wetter, nicely mossy areas also had Amblystegium serpens, Hypnum cupressiforme, Orthotrichum diaphanum and Rhynchostegium confertum. The alder carr was much the same but with a little Plagiothecium nemorale and the exciting addition of Oxyrrhynchium (Eurhynchium) speciosum. A river bank under tree shade had a delightful sward containing O. speciosum abundantly in fruit, Pellia endiviifolia and the slender form of Cratoneuron filicinum. This was well worth the slightly intrepid effort needed to cross the river on a plank under a low overhanging tree!

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


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