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SPRING FIELD MEETING 2006

Staffordshire, 6th - 10th April

 

M F Godfrey

6 Darnford Close, Parkside, Stafford, ST16 1LR

Introduction

Twenty-nine BBS members were present for at least part of this five-day meeting, one or two attending for the odd day whilst others stayed for the whole period. Attendees were Jessica Beever, John Blackburn, Tim Blackstock, Sam Bosanquet, Des Callaghan, Rachel Carter, Tessa Carrick, Sean Edwards, Joan Egan, Bob Ellis, Lorna Fraser, Richard Fisk, Mary Ghullam, Martin Godfrey, Mark Hill, Nick Hodgetts, David Holyoak, Joan James, Liz Kungu, Mark Lawley, Brian O’Shea, Mark Pool, Ron Porley, Chris Preston, Herman Stieperaere, Jonathan Sleath, Ray Tangney, Colin Wall and Jo Wilbraham. It was particularly nice to welcome Jessica Beever from New Zealand , on her first visit to Britain for about 15 years, and Herman Stieperaere from Belgium . We were joined on a few days by local mycologist Neville Walters, keen to learn more about ‘green stuff’, and by two members of staff from the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust (SWT), Dave Cadman and Claire Waterson.

The cost and financial commitment for the Society meant that using university rooms for the meeting was impractical, and so the majority of people used hotel and B&B accommodation, with one hardy soul camping on Cannock Chase.

All localities visited were in Staffordshire (v.-c. 39). It was hoped that exploration of this varied, but very under-recorded, county would contribute significantly to our understanding of its bryophytes, and prior to the meeting I published a provisional on-line atlas to give people some idea of what to expect. In the event, nearly 260 taxa were recorded, including some 30 new or ‘unbracketed’ vice-county records, as well as a possible new species for England in the form of Aneura maxima , which is the subject of further study to establish its credentials.

Thursday 6 April.

A group of a dozen or so of us met in icy winds near Knotbury to explore a small part of the Staffordshire moorlands. The rock here is mixed, with some limestone as well as more acid substrates, and this gave rise to surprised exclamations as calcicoles such as Encalypta streptocarpa were found growing on moorland as we walked from the cars. The pattern of finding vice-county records started just a few hundred metres from the cars when Herman Stieperaere found a small tuft of Orthotrichum stramineum * on an ash alongside the track. The commoner moorland species were quickly found but the sheer quantity of some, such as the blankets of Barbilophozia floerkei on drystone walls, were cause of comment. Small springs along the valley sides were not as productive as hoped but did turn up Chiloscyphus pallescens ,Riccardia chamedryfolia ,Scapania undulata , Cratoneuron filicinum and Philonotis fontana . A bit of oak woodland housed extensive carpets of Lepidozia reptans and some fertile Tetraphis pellucida , and nearby we found Ditrichum heteromallum * and Ptychomitrium polyphyllum *.

We had lunch in the shelter of a drystone wall overlooking the very picturesque bridge at Three Shires Head but we had hardly finished when a cold, hard, rain began to fall, which persisted for the remainder of the afternoon. Despite this, we walked up a stream valley onto the high moor, noting on the way extensive carpets of Polytrichum commune and Sphagnum denticulatum . En route, Mark Pool and I found some very large cushions of Atrichum crispum by the stream and, oddly for such apparently acid conditions, Climacium dendroides growing beside the track. We turned back when we reached the Derbyshire border where Richard Fisk found fertile Polytrichum longisetum amongst Sphagnum palustre . A small patch of willow scrub on the way back enabled us to add a few epiphytes, including Metzgeria fruticulosa , Orthotrichum diaphanum and Ulota phyllantha , as well as Barbilophozia attenuata . It was a very soggy group with misty lenses which found its way back to the cars with a very creditable first-day total of 79 species.

Friday 7 April.

Loynton Moss is a SWT reserve which has recently had extensive management to remove encroaching birch from the Sphagnum mire and reed cutting to give more open water whilst leaving the fringing alder wood intact. As an added bonus the reserve also has a stretch of canal and secondary woodland on its steep banks. The weather was much kinder than on Thursday, and new arrivals continued throughout the morning. Chris Preston turned up having already been recording in churchyards en route, and presented me with cards that included Didymodon vinealis * from Norbury churchyard.

The group started its circuit of the site in wet woodland, which soon started producing plenty of epiphytes. Twenty years ago species of Orthotrichum and Ulota were described as rare in the county and so it gave great pleasure to find O. affine , O. lyellii, O. pulchellum,O. stramineum , O. tenellum,U. bruchii , U. crispa and U. phyllantha, which must say something about improving air quality. Mark Lawley found Microlejeunea ulicina *, whilst several of us refound Radula complanata *. Most people from outside the Midlands were amazed at the amount of Dicranum tauricum on the trees, in some cases in continuous sheets, and it was very useful for some to see this species together with D. montanum on the same trunk. I was also able to find a small clump of D. fuscescens growing at the base of a birch stump, quite an unusual species for this part of the world. The mire had plenty of Sphagnum but it was rather species-poor, having only S. fimbriatum , S. palustre and S. russowii ; now it is much more open it will be interesting to see what develops.

The canal stonework had a fine mixed colony of Conocephalum conicum and C. salebrosum , allowing those who had not seen the latter to make a comparison – some at least were highly sceptical as to its distinctness. At the same site was the unusual sight of Plagiomnium undulatum with abundant capsules and a, sadly, sterile Jungermannia that no one was prepared to guess at. The canal itself had little of note except for a small Fissidens found by Mark Lawley which turned out to be F. rivularis*.

Meanwhile, Sam Bosanquet had taken an away team to Bishop’s Wood, which he thought might contain Colura calyptrifolia . In the event it didn’t but they came back with a list of nearly 50 species, including Dicranum flagellare *, Leucobryum juniperoideum* and Zygodon conoideus* .

 

Saturday 8 April.

The target sites for today were two more SWT reserves: Weags Barn, an area of steeply sloping limestone grassland and scrub, and Castern Wood, limestone woodland on the sides of the Manifold valley. Because the rivers Hamps and Manifold have an unpredictable water level I needed to arrive early to sort out final routes and car parking, so imagine my dismay when, driving north in brilliant sunshine, I encountered deep snow on the high ground. Luckily, the valleys themselves were clear, although not so lucky was Liz Kungu, who told me that she had to clear snow from her tent on Cannock Chase – a first for her at a spring meeting. As the River Manifold was in water and the parking sites at the wood very wet, making parking for more than a few cars difficult, I decided to split the group – one team to go to the wood and the other to do the grassland, with the promise of some local woodland to follow.

The minute moss Amblystegium confervoides * was found new for Britain in Staffordshire by Dr John Frazer in 1866 but had not been seen here since. Castern Wood seemed the ideal habitat for the species, so I set Sam Bosanquet the task of refinding it. I am pleased to say that he did so, on both rock and on limestone pebbles. The woodland team also came up with a further slew of refinds and new vice-county records, including Riccardia palmata *, Dialytrichia mucronata*, Fissidens viridulus*, Mnium marginatum*, Orthotrichum tenellum*,Plagiomnium cuspidatum * and Taxiphyllum wissgrillii *.

Back at the Weags Barn grassland we were finding an interesting mixture of species as, although on limestone, there were pockets of more acid peat to keep us on our toes. Richard Fisk kindly took home an immature Fossombronia to grow on, which he later reported to be F. pusilla . The rocky outcrops we chose for lunchtime had Apometzgeria pubescens , new for quite a few people. Mark Lawley had been looking longingly at a large limestone cliff on the far side of the river, and after lunch he went off with a couple of others to explore – in the event crossing the river without getting wet. They produced a nice species list including Reboulia hemisphaerica , Didymodon acutus*, Ditrichum gracile, Funaria muhlenbergii and Pleurochaete squarrosa.

A few hundred yards from its confluence with the Manifold the River Hamps was dry, and so we were able to get into its bed and see Brachythecium rivulare ,Cinclidotus fontinaloides and Rhynchostegium riparium in situ, as well as look at normally inaccessible bridge footings. By this time the rain had started in earnest but we were rewarded by the largest colony of Rhodobryum roseum (Figure 1) that anyone had ever seen, growing beside the track into Old Soles Wood. Despite heavy rain we explored the wood, finding Apometzgeria pubescens again and also three species of Porella , allowing those who had not done so before to taste P. arboris-vitae . A fine, if very soggy, end to the day was the discovery of Plagiochila britannica*.

Figure 1.Rhodobryum roseum , Old Soles Wood. Photo: Martin Godfrey.

Sunday 9 April.

Cannock Chase is a huge and varied site, and so we started from two separate points to cover as much ground as possible, meeting up in the middle at the end of the day.

On the western side of the Chase, the first team started with the Oldacre valley, a mire with a mineral-rich flush running through it to provide a bit of variety to the flora. Eight species of Sphagnum were found here, including S. teres *. Herman Stieperaere found what looks like Aneura maxima (Figure 2), new for England . Post-meeting study of the plant by both Herman and Ron Porley seems to support the identification but, as the status of the taxon is open to question, we will have to wait for their final views. Before the meeting Herman asked me what the habitat of the Chase was like and, when I told him, he predicted that Lophocolea semiteres * would be found. Sure enough, Ron Porley found it on the ground in the abandoned Brocton Quarry, and Herman and others also found it in a conifer plantation. The quarry also had Brachythecium mildeanum *, and nearby Sam Bosanquet found Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus – odd for an apparently acid site.

Figure 2. Possible Aneura maxima, Cannock Chase. Photo: Ron Porley.

On the other side of the Chase the rest of the party started with wet acid woodland and conifer plantation. As elsewhere on the Chase, Dicranum tauricum was pretty ubiquitous but for many the initial interest was the opportunity to see Calliergonella lindbergii . Field dissection shows up the big auricles nicely but the view was that it still looks like a Hypnum! This side of the Chase has a big population of Schistostega pennata growing under overhanging heather in the conifer plantations. We were able to see the glow of ‘Goblin Gold’ and were rewarded by finding it abundantly fertile; many who had not seen them before were surprised at how minute the capsules were.

Whilst the majority worked their way back to the car parks along the Sherbrook valley, with its big stands of Carex and alder carr, I took Jessica Beever to see Octodiceras fontanum in a nearby canal. As a Fissidens taxonomist she was keen to see the species in its ‘natural’ habitat and compare it with its southern hemisphere cousin Fissidens berteroi . The Sherbrook valley produced Diplophyllum obtusifolium *, growing on a vertical exposure of bare sandy soil, and Mark Lawley turned up some Polytrichum longisetum on a patch of burnt heath.

Monday 10 April.

The majority of attendees had left on Sunday evening, so it was a small, but select, group which met to explore the Caldon Canal on Monday morning. The stretch of canal leading to its terminus at Froghall passes through limestone woodland and has interesting old retaining walls and lock brickwork to explore. I had also kept a little surprise until last and was able to show a large tufa mound completely covered with Conocephalum salebrosum (Figure 3) – this time the sceptics were convinced that it looked pretty distinct from C. conicum .

Figure 3. Chris Preston inspecting Conocephalum salebrosum by the Caldon Canal . Photo: Martin Godfrey.

As well as big clumps of Mnium stellare, an unusual plant for our visitors from East Anglia , there was some excitement when a tiny moss was found which might have been Leptobarbula berica . Alas, later microscopic examination showed it to be Gymnostomum calcareum . A small patch of Fissidens viridulus * was found on bare mud just inside the wood. Lunch of beer and doorstep sandwiches at the Black Lion pub was interrupted by the passage of a steam locomotive on the Churnett Valley railway (Figure 4). It probably says a lot about the age of the group that this aroused as much interest as the bryophytes.

 

Figure 4. A distraction – a train on the Churnett Valley railway. Photo: Martin Godfrey.

After lunch, we explored the old limekiln and surrounding woods at Consall Forge, just over the river. The kiln stonework had extensive carpets of fertile Conocephalum salebrosum (I think even Chris Preston was surprised at the amount we were finding in Staffordshire) and fertile Gymnostomum calcareum , whilst Eucladium verticillatum ,Pseudocrossidium hornschuchianum and P. revolutum were a splendid sight for those not used to limestone areas. At this point people started to leave to meet trains and begin long car journeys but a hardy few stayed to record in Sprink Meadow next to the River Churnet, producing a list of another three dozen species

Concluding remarks

I would like to thank everyone who took part in the meeting for their hard work in the field and, in particular, for giving us such good baselines for the SWT reserves. We will be able to use these in future years to see what effect management actions have had on the bryophyte communities. All of the records have now been added to the on-line atlas at www.staffs-ecology.org.uk/atlas/atlas.php.

 

 
 
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