BBS > UK Bryodiversity > Monmouthshire   

A bryological tour through

Monmouthshire (v.-c.35)

... with Sam Bosanquet

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Monmouthshire is the southeastern-most Vice-county in Wales and acts as something of a bridge between that country and England. It resembles much of the rest of Wales in the general diversity of the bryophyte flora and the local abundance of humidity demanders, but also supports a variety of lowland species, particularly calcicoles, which barely penetrate the Principality. The habitats and scenery of the county are rich and varied. North-western Monmouthshire’s Black Mountains have a distinctly upland character; the western coalfield consists of ridges and valleys and is similar to adjacent Glamorgan; a band of Carboniferous limestone runs southwards from The Blorenge and holds a wide range of exciting calcicoles; the central lowlands are gently undulating and include the floodplain of the River Usk; the predominately acidic sandstone/conglomerate ridges of Trellech and Wentwood dominate the east and beyond them lie the limestone crags of the Wye Valley; the southern edge of the county is occupied by coastal levels.

The bryological richness of the county is apparent even in lowland areas - the author’s home tetrad in SO40 supports more than 150 species of bryophyte, a respectable 10km square total in many parts of England! Meanwhile, the upland north-west, despite being less intensively covered, includes several tetrads with totals of more than 170 species. Species that are at or near their south-eastern limit include Bazzania trilobata, Calypogeia azurea, Jamesoniella autumnalis, Jubula hutchinsae, Lepidozia cupressina, Scapania aequiloba, Dicranum fuscescens, Encalypta ciliata, Polytrichum alpinum and Tetrodontium brownianum; English species that barely cross into Wales include Amblystegium humile, Aphanoregma patens, Didymodon vinealis, Microbryum curvicolle, Octodiceras fontanum, Syntrichia (Tortula) virescens and Tortula marginata.

The bryophyte flora of Monmouthshire has a similarly patchy history of coverage to its neighbours. There was a notable peak in recording in the V-c at the turn of the 19th century when visiting bryologists included Rev. Augustin Ley, Rev. C.H. Binstead and Miss Eleanora Armitage from Herefordshire and H.H. Knight from Carmarthenshire/Gloucestershire. The 1925 British Bryological Society meeting was held in Monmouth.

The inter-war years were as quiet in Monmouthshire as elsewhere in Britain but things picked up just before the war when Dr Eustace Jones made regular visits to Tintern to study the Wye Valley Woodlands. Jones’ discoveries, as well as those of Ley, Armitage, Knight and others, were brought together by Arthur Wade in the form of two Floras: Liverworts in 1946 and Mosses in 1953. The 1954 BBS meeting was again based in Monmouth.

The 1960s were a very quiet period for recording, although the 1968 BBS meeting, based in Ross-on-Wye, made a couple of visits to the county. The general pace picked up again in the 1970s when Bristol botanist George Garlick made several visits to Monmouthshire, concentrating on previously unvisited areas. Roy Perry, based in Cardiff, coordinated recording in the county from this time until 2001 and also made a few visits to little-known areas. The visits of Garlick, Perry and a few others coincided with the BBS mapping scheme and resulted in the county appearing relatively well recorded in the Atlas.

The BBS again visited the county in 1988 during a meeting based in Cirencester. Following this, in the late 1990s, there were occasional incursions from the surrounding Vice-counties, notably those of Dr Jonathan Sleath from Herefordshire, Alan Orange from Glamorgan and Ray Woods from Breconshire. The decade finished with another BBS meeting, led by Dr Sleath and based in Abergavenny (although most expeditions were into Breconshire).

Coverage between 1999 and 2003 has been on a tetrad/site basis and, by the end of 2003, at least an hour had been spent by the author in each of over 200 tetrads scattered across the county. Most of this recording has been by SDSB alone, but Graham Motley, CCW’s Senior Conservation Officer for the BBNP and BBS recorder for V-c 44, has accompanied him on several visits in county.

This travelogue covers a wide range of sites across the whole county. It is subdivided into 16 sections arranged in four north-running lines: from Chepstow in the south-east up the Wye Valley to Monmouth; from the Gwent Levels through Wentwood and Trellech to the far north-east; from Newport up the Usk Valley to Abergavenny; and from the western coalfield to the Black Mountains and Llanthony Valley.

1. Lower Wye Valley

The Carboniferous limestone of the Lower Wye Valley stretches, on the west side of the river, from Chepstow north to Tintern. It outcrops more extensively to the east in West Gloucestershire (V-c 34). Low crags are scattered throughout this area of ancient woodland, but taller ones are found below Chepstow Castle, by the river at Piercefield, at the Wyndcliff and at Blackcliff. The first two of these are almost entirely inaccessible, so visitors should concentrate on the Blackcliff and Wyndcliff crags, as well as the surrounding woodland.

The rarest extant species in the Wye Valley is Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD), which has its British headquarters here. It shares the appearance of S. recurvata (curved setae) with the habit of S. calycina (paucifolia). Colonies grow on small pieces of limestone partially embedded in the soil. Autumn leaf fall may be major factor in the distribution of this species - many stones of suitable size do not support S. campylopoda, which seems to be restricted to areas under Yew trees and steep banks. Augustine Ley collected Bryum turbinatum RDB(CR) from a roadside at the Wyndcliff in 1891; it has not been seen since and the habitat is likely to have changed significantly. C.H. Binstead and W.A. Shoolbred found Ditrichum flexicaule sensu stricto RDB(DD) here in 1891 and H.H. Knight collected it from a wall “near Tintern” in 1902. This species (which tends to look very different from D. gracile, usually growing in dense tufts and having much shorter leaves) has also not been seen in recent years. Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN) was also found “near Tintern”, by the BBS in 1925. Some large collections were made but their origin has not been traced precisely. It just about survives at Mounton but the rediscovery of a strong colony of this threatened plant in the lower Wye Valley would be very welcome.

Calcicoles form the bulk of the interest in this limestone-dominated area. As well as the RDB species mentioned above, notable bryophytes include Cololejeunea calcarea, C. rossettiana NS, Marchesinia mackaii, Amblystegium confervoides NS, Campylophyllum calcareum NS, Eurhynchium striatulum NS, Fissidens gracilifolius, Fissidens rivularis NS, Gymnostomum viridulum NS, Scorpiurium circinatum NS, Seligeria donniana NS and Thuidium recognitum NS. The humid woods provide suitable conditions for a few hepatics, such as Lophocolea fragrans, Metzgeria conjugata, Nowellia curvifolia and Riccardia palmata. Epiphytes include occasional Leucodon sciuroides, Neckera pumila and Orthotrichum species.

The Chepstow area
Before visiting the Wye Valley, there are a few places around Chepstow that are worth a quick stop. The roundabout above Junction 2 of the M48 (ST535916) is the unlikely setting for a strong colony of Microbryum rectum (Pottia recta). Park in the lay-by on the west side of the A466 just north of the roundabout then check the south-facing bank by the road heading north-east from the roundabout to Bulwark. A visit in late winter provides the only real chance of seeing this species as its fruiting is seasonal.

Golf enthusiasts can enjoy a strong colony of Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU), accompanied by a little G. laevigata NS, on the south side of the church roof at St Pierre (ST515905). I don’t know whether non-golfing visitors are officially allowed to visit but nobody seemed to mind when I examined the roof with my telescope in 2002.

Dr Shoolbred, resident of Chepstow and an excellent botanist and bryologist, published a Flora of the Chepstow area in 1920. Among the most notable species he mentioned were Funaria muhlenbergii NS at Chepstow Castle (ST533941), Scorpiurium circinatum NS in the old limestone quarry at ST537929 and Grimmia decipiens NS on a rock by the River Wye just south of Chepstow Station. The Funaria seems no longer to survive at Chepstow Castle but the castle’s spectacular setting makes it well worth a visit anyway. So far as I know, nobody has looked for the Grimmia or Scorpiurium since Shoolbred’s time; a lack of footpaths makes this a difficult place to visit.

Pierce and Alcove Woods
The southernmost of the Wye Valley woodlands are among the least known bryologically. Cololejeunea rossettiana NS and Fissidens gracilifolius have been recorded in Alcove Wood (ST529947), whilst Marchesinia mackaii, Plagiochila britannica, Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD) and Eurhynchium (Isothecium) striatulum NS grow on or near the Apostles Rocks (ST528948). Piercefield Cliffs and the Apostles Rocks are sections of the precipitous north-facing slope that towers above a large meander in the River Wye; the terrain is extremely difficult and the walk-in, from Chepstow (footpath starts at ST528943) or the Wyndcliff, is quite long. This area is probably the best bet for anyone hoping to rediscover Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN) in the lower Wye Valley.

More people have seen Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD) in the Wyndcliff woods than anywhere else in Britain, indeed only 2 people alive today have seen it at any other site! The main colony at The Wyndcliff is on small pieces of limestone by the track to the disused quarry, just across the A466 from the Forestry Commission carpark (ST527971). The Quarry (ST527972) has been searched on several occasions by the BBS and other bryologists; it holds Encalypta vulgaris, Gymnostomum viridulum NS and various other common calcicoles. A footpath leads southwards from the carpark into Lower Martridge Wood (ST527969), where limestone outcrops support abundant Marchesinia mackaii and Porella platyphylla, as well as smaller amounts of Cololejeunea calcarea, C. rossettiana NS and Porella arboris-vitae. The path passes a ruined building surrounded by Plane trees, one of which supports Lophocolea fragrans on its trunk. A short distance on, the path crosses a rocky stream in which Fissidens rivularis NS is abundant. Trichocolea tomentella grows by the stream.

The Wyndcliff itself (ST527973) is best approached from the west, from a carpark at ST524972. A footpath and set of steps allow access to part of the cliff, and the rest can be explored by traversing along the cliff bottom (the terrain is steep and difficult). For the most part, the bryophyte flora is similar to that on the other Wye Valley Crags: Marchesinia mackaii, Porella platyphylla and Anomodon viticulosus are abundant, Cololejeunea rossettiana NS and Porella arboris-vitae rare. An open, south-facing area provides the distinction though - it supports several tufts of Schistidium elegantulum ssp. elegantulum and a large form of Orthotrichum cupulatum.

Rhodobryum roseum was collected in the Wyndcliff Woods by Shoolbred in the 19th century but has not been seen since.

The Blackcliff is another extensive limestone crag, this time facing north-east. There is a pull-in large enough for one car on the west side of the road at the end of the access track (ST533981) and a little more parking, with care not to block access for trucks, on the opposite side of the road at the quarry entrance. About 60 metres along the track there are small pieces of limestone embedded in the left-hand bank supporting Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD). Another colony is on the left after a further 200 metres, on pieces of limestone under some Yew trees. The crags themselves are tall and largely inaccessible; a walk along the bottom should reveal most of what grows here, although even this is made difficult by unstable ground and plenty of brambles. Marchesinia mackaii is more abundant on the Blackcliff than anywhere else in the county. It is joined by frequent Eurhynchium (Isothecium) striatulum NS, occasional Plagiochila britannica, a single strong colony of Metzgeria conjugata and at least one tiny patch of Cololejeunea rossettiana NS. Typical limestone species, including Porella platyphylla, Anomodon viticulosus and Rhynchostegiella tenella, are locally abundant on the crag, whilst Taxiphyllum wissgrillii is scattered on blocks below it. Campylophyllum (Campylium) calcareum NS grows in at least one place and is probably widespread on small pieces of limestone. Bare patches of soil by the road adjacent to the pull-in support Brachythecium glareosum.

Contrast with the steep Wye Valley woodlands is provided by Great Barnets Woods, which lie just west of Chepstow. There is a large parking area off the B4235 (ST513943) from which several forestry tracks lead. Carboniferous limestone outcrops in several places and supports a range of calcicoles; whereas the outcrops elsewhere in the Wye Valley are vertical crags, in Great Barnets Woods they are horizontal and resemble limestone pavement. Thuidium recognitum NS was collected at ST513942 in 2000 but could not be refound in the following year; it stood out from the abundant T. tamariscinum in its orange coloration and simple branching. Other species on the limestone include Hylocomium brevirostre, Taxiphyllum wissgrillii and Tortella tortuosa. Epiphytes on Beech trunks include Orthotrichum stramineum and O. striatum, although both are rather rare in the wood.

The west-facing limestone crag in Cliff Wood (ST507938) can be approached from the south end of Great Barnets Woods. A brief visit showed that Marchesinia mackaii is abundant here, but further searching could reveal something really special ... such as Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN), one patch of which persists on the opposite side of the valley in the Kite’s Bushes area. Shoolbred recorded Scorpiurium circinatum NS from Mounton in the late 19th century and it still grows on the north side of a limestone spur just north of the footpath at ST506936. Other calcicoles here include Cololejeunea calcarea, Plagiochila britannica, Eucladium verticillatum, Hylocomium brevirostre, Neckera crispa and Orthothecium intricatum.

2. Mid Wye Valley

Several of the top bryologists of the early 20th century visited Tintern on the 1925 BBS meeting, and bryology there nowadays seems to be a mix of following in their illustrious footsteps and enjoying the views. Tintern Abbey (SO533000) is breathtaking from a distance, but a closer look would be needed to reveal whether it still supports the Rhynchostegiella curviseta NS that the BBS found on one of its walls. Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU) was recorded on the roof of the Beaufort Arms Hotel so any stone-tiled roofs in the area should be examined through binoculars; it has not been recorded in the Wye Valley south of Monmouth since then. The only south Wales record of Pylasia polyantha NS comes from a hedge between Tintern and Catbrook, 2 miles to the northwest, again the result of the 1925 BBS meeting.

The Ancient Iron Works (SO514002) in the Angiddy Valley is a good introduction to the joys of the genus that used to be Barbula: 9 members have been recorded here, including Didymodon vinealis at one of very few known Vice-county sites. Gyroweisia tenuis grows on mortar of the ruined Iron Works buildings.

In 1946 Dr Eustace Jones was the first bryologist to explore the rocky, east-facing Bargain Wood, a mile south of Llandogo. He noted Jubula hutchinsae, Lejeunea lamacerina, Lophocolea fragrans, Saccogyna viticulosa and Fissidens rivularis NS. The Fissidens and all four humidity-demanding liverworts remain, although it is quite hard to find the Lophocolea. Park in the large carpark at SO523029 and then walk south-eastwards on the steep, narrow Llandogo road (stopping to admire Mnium stellare on the roadside wall on your left) until a path branches off to the right. This leads to the top of the ravine, at SO525025; from then onwards it’s a difficult, steep descent over large blocks.

The Gwent Wildlife Trust reserve of Cleddon Shoots can be reached either from above or below. Footpaths run through the wood but the terrain is still steep and tricky. The lower part, known as Llandogo Ravine (ST523040) has been explored more by bryologists than any other site in the mid Wye Valley. It was first searched by Eustace Jones in the 1930s and has been visited by the BBS in 1954, 1968 and 1999. The ravine provides sufficiently humid conditions for several Atlantic species to survive near the edge of their range. The most notable is Rhynchostegium alopecuroides (lusitanicum) NS, many miles from its nearest locality; others include Jubula hutchinsae, Lejeunea patens, Metzgeria conjugata and Plagiochila spinulosa, as well as Fissidens rivularis, F. rufulus and Plagiothecium laetum.

The BBS visited Whitebrook (SO52-07-) in 1954 and 1968, recording Riccia subbifurca NS as well as a number of commoner species. A network of footpaths and lanes through the woodlands here make this a very interesting area to explore, especially as its bryophytes have not been studied at all recently. At the head of the valley is Trellech Hill Quarry (see Trellech Ridge below).

A minor road running south-eastwards from The Narth leads to a small carpark at SO528059. From here, you can scramble northwards through Manor Wood to the rocky Manor Brook. Large blocks of sandstone-quartz conglomerate just below the carpark support the typical assemblage of this rock type, including Barbilophozia attenuata, Bazzania trilobata, Lepidozia reptans and Campylopus flexuosus; a colony of Jamesoniella autumnalis NS on one block is much more unusual. Rocks in the Brook have plenty of Jubula hutchinsae growing on them, together with Chiloscyphus polyanthos, Riccardia chamedryfolia and Scapania undulata. Hookeria lucens is frequent, whilst a stand of willows holds Orthotrichum pulchellum, Metzgeria temperata and various other epiphytes.


3. Upper Wye Valley

Lady Park Wood NNR
This National Nature Reserve lies a stone’s throw from England and is easier to reach from that country than from Monmouthshire; park at the Doward (SO547157) and walk SSE to The Biblins Campsite where there is a footbridge (SO549143) across the Wye. Lady Park Wood is a locus classicus for woodland ecologists and has been studied by many scientists in the past, including Dr Eustace Jones; the BBS have visited twice. A tall, east-facing limestone crag extends for several hundred metres and holds many of the reserve’s most notable species. The ground below it is steep and brambles are abundant but, with care, it is possible to traverse along the bottom of the crag. Marchesinia mackaii, Porella platyphylla and Anomodon viticulosus are generally abundant, Cololejeunea calcarea, C. rossettiana NS, Porella arboris-vitae, Eurhynchium (Isothecium) striatulum NS, Gymnostomum calcareum NS and Orthothecium intricatum occur in smaller quantity, although the last of these is locally abundant under some dry overhangs. Plagiochila britannica, Amblystegium confervoides NS, Campylophyllum (Campylium) calcareum NS and Taxiphyllum wissgrillii are more likely to be found on rocks below the crag than on the face itself. This is currently the only reliable site in Wales for Platygyrium repens NS, which grows on various tree species.

Six small patches of Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN) remain in one place on the crag. This rare moss has the bright colour of A. viticulosus but is the size of Heterocladium heteropterum; it is obvious enough to be identified in the field and must not be collected under any circumstances.

Most previous visitors have focused on the Whippington Brook, which forms the boundary with Gloucestershire. Here, the soft limestone is suitable for Seligeria spp.: S. donniana NS and S. acutifolia NS certainly occur, S. pusilla NS has been claimed in the past but specimens purporting to be it in NMW are a mixture of the other two species. This is also the part of Lady Park Wood where Apometzgeria pubescens reaches its southerly British limit; recent searches of the main crag have so far failed to reveal it. A quick nip across the border should give a better chance of seeing Anomodon longifolius as it is apparently still locally frequent on The Slaughter.

One of the most prominent mosses by The River Wye here is Mnium stellare; M. marginatum was recorded on an Alder stool in 1949 and should also be looked for. Other species on the river banks include Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis and Orthotrichum sprucei NS. E.F. Warburg collected a tiny scrap of Octodiceras fontanum NS from the river on the 1954 BBS meeting, whilst Joan Appleyard collected Fissidens rufulus NS at the same time.

A short distance to the north-west is Hadnock Quarry (SO540152), which provides open habitat that contrasts with Lady Park Wood’s woodland. Gymnostomum viridulum can be found in shaley crevices in the limestone quarry face, together with Leiocolea turbinata and Eucladium verticillatum. Hazel coppice near the quarry is a good place to look for Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD) (see Lower Wye Valley, above). There is an old record of Rhodobryum roseum from the railway track near Hadnock.

Reddings Enclosure
The BBS walked along the Duke of York Lane (SO522128-534126) on their way back to Monmouth from Lady Park Wood during the 1954 spring meeting (they were clearly hardy souls as it’s quite a trek!). They were revisiting Eustace Jones’ site for Cephaloziella turneri NT, which they located on soft sandstone near Beaulieu Farm. This rarity has not been seen since, despite several visits, although it is possible that attention has focused too much on the western end of the lane. Subsequent visits have produced Bryum donnianum NS and Scleropodium tourettii.

The surrounding woods have hardly been explored and seem likely to repay attention. Phaeoceros laevis was abundant on a path at SO542132, below Headless Hill, in 2000 and a single plant of Blasia pusilla grew with it; the potential for interesting Fossombronia seems high. Conglomerate crags near the Near Hearkening Rock (SO541139) hold a few calcicoles where lime-rich water seeps through them. Lady Grove (SO529140) and Garth Wood (SO525131) are steep, semi-natural woodlands that are notified as SSSIs.

4. Gwent Levels East

Magor Marsh LNR
The Gwent Levels are not a particularly rich area for bryophytes but they do support a couple of species that are not found elsewhere in the county. Most notable is Ricciocarpos natans NS at its only South Wales site. It has only been collected once, from a ditch at Magor Marsh (ST427860), but seems unlikely to be restricted to that site. Riccia fluitans is also found at Magor Marsh and has also not yet been found elsewhere to the east of Newport. There is a small carpark for the LNR on the west side of the road through Whitewall Common, south of Magor village. Searches of various other reens on the Levels have failed to turn up either of the floating liverworts but suitable habitat is found across a vast area stretching over 15km from Newport to Caldicot.

Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve
There are a few other species of some interest in the Levels area. Damp areas behind the seawall are worth searching for Drepanocladus aduncus which is widespread across the levels. Puddles on the edge of the carpark (ST334834) for the Uskmouth section of the Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve hold small pinnate plants that were once split as Drepanocladus polycarpos. Otherwise, the reserve’s bryological interest is restricted to some piles of metal-rich fly-ash at ST339828 that support Marchantia polymorpha ssp. ruderalis and Leptobryum pyriforme outside their usual plant pot habitat; a tiny brown acrocarp on the fly-ash has so far escaped identification.

Collister Pill
Hennediella heimei grows at a few places on the upper edge of the saltmarshes that line the Severn; none is particularly accessible. Collister Pill is probably the easiest site to visit - cross the M4 on the bridge south of Severn Tunnel Junction, Rogiet, drive to the far end of the gravel road that heads south-westwards, park at ST451860 and cross the field to the seawall.

5. Wentwood area

Actively managed conifer forestry covers most of Wentwood, a plateau of Devonian Brownstones cut by narrow bands of Quartz Conglomerate. The rocks are predominately acidic and the bryophyte flora reflects this to a degree, although the lack of wet areas means that Sphagna are absent. Streams cutting through the forestry retain some deciduous woodland so these are the best areas to explore; parking is possible at Cadira Beeches (ST421949), Forester’s Oaks (ST428939) and by a road bend at ST410934. Metzgeria temperata, Microlejeunea ulicina, Hypnum lindbergii (on the damp edges of forestry tracks) and a range of Orthotrichum spp. can be expected. It is possible that Colura calyptrifolia could be discovered if willows overhung by conifers are searched, although this species is not currently known from the area. Plagiothecium laetum was collected in Wentwood in the 1980s, whilst Leptodontium flexifolium was found on Gray Hill (ST438935) at the same time.

Wentwood Reservoir
The bryophyte flora of Wentwood Reservoir (ST428935) is subtly different to that of Llandegfedd Reservoir (see below). As at Llandegfedd, Ephemerum sessile NT is frequent in the upper Carex hirta-dominated zone of the margin and Riccia cavernosa NS is locally abundant on wet mud. However, large parts of the margins are dominated by Aphanoregma patens, a species that has not yet been found at Llandegfedd. A Weissia with immature sporophytes, thought probably to be W. rostellata NT, was noted on the northern shore in August 2003. An unidentified Fossombronia, Riccia sorocarpa, Bryum klinggraeffii, Epipterygium tozeri, Leptobryum pyriforme and Pseudephemerum nitidum all occur in small quantity. The reservoir is privately owned, with signs and barbed wire making visitors feel unwelcome.

Llanfair Discoed
The south-facing side of the church roof at Llanfair Discoed (ST446924) supports at least 10 plants of Hedwigia ciliata sensu stricto RDB(DD) as well as quite a lot of Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU). The village is less than 5 miles from Junction 23a of the M4 and thus provides one of the most accessible localities for these species in southern Britain. Moss “twitchers” are advised to bring binoculars, or even better a telescope, to see these rarities on the roof, although a few tufts of G. ovalis can usually be found on the ground after wet weather has dislodged them from the tiles.

After seeing the Hedwigia at Llanfair Discoed you could celebrate with a beer at the Rock & Fountain, Penhow (ST425910). Before you enter the pub it’s worth having a look for Aloina ambigua NS on the stony bank behind the pub car-park. Most of the Aloina here is A. aloides, but careful examination of smaller plants should reveal some with the characteristic peristome of the rarer species. For bryologists keen on tiny species there is at least one small patch of Microbryum rectum (Pottia recta) here as well.

There are two churches at Llangwm; only the old one, at ST433006, is of bryological interest. The south side of the roof supports scattered Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU) and Hedwigia ciliata sensu stricto RDB(DD), the latter in greater quantity than at Llanfair Discoed. Cinclidotus fontinaloides grows on a path in the churchyard.

6. Trellech Ridge

Cleddon Bog & surroundings
Although years of neglect have coupled with surrounding aforestation to reduce the quality of the habitat at Cleddon Bog LNR (SO509039), a reasonable array of Sphagnum spp. and bog hepatics had survived until 2000. Cephalozia connivens and Kurzia pauciflora grow on the sides of Molinia tussocks or on Sphagnum, at least 8 species of which are present. There are no records of Mylia anomala or Odontoschisma sphagni since 1968, whilst Cladopodiella francisci, Riccardia latifrons and Sphagnum tenellum probably disappeared early in the 20th century. Luckily, a dramatic management plan (put together by CCW and the Gwent Wildlife Trust) aims to restore the bog; much scrub clearance has already taken place. It seems likely that Cleddon Bog will return to its status as one of top sites in the Vice-county soon. Park carefully by the Trellech to Tintern Road to access the bog.

The plantations around Cleddon Bog still hide some deciduous woodland in which species such as Barbilophozia attenuata, Bazzania trilobata and Cephalozia lunulifolia grow. Ninewells Wood (SO510037), Beacon Hill (parking at SO511052) and Trellech Common (SO511064) are all worth exploring. There is a 1956 specimen of Tritomaria exsecta NS from Parkhouse Rocks (SO500031) in NMW, which suggests that this may be an interesting site.

Trellech Hill Quarry
Quartz conglomerate has been quarried at Trellech Hill (SO504070), providing conditions that are very rare in eastern Monmouthshire. Acidic gravels support Cephaloziella divaricata, Gymnocolea inflata, Nardia scalaris, Ditrichum heteromallum, Pohlia nutans, Polytrichum spp. and Racomitrium ericoides, an assemblage that is more typical of the county’s western valleys. Conglomerate blocks hold other acidophiles, including Barbilophozia attenuata, Lophozia excisa, Racomitrium aciculare, R. heterostichum sensu stricto and R. lanuginosum. The site’s most notable moss, Schistostega pennata NS, glows in deep holes under two blocks; both colonies here, it’s only known site in the county, are tiny so please admire it without destroying them. There is room to park two or three cars at SO501072, the end of the track to the quarry.


7. North East Monmouthshire

Most of the interesting sites in the area around Dingestow Court (SO450097) are on private land and cannot be reached on footpaths, although the author can give directions to them if asked. The area is mentioned here to illustrate the range of species that lurk undetected in the seemingly unpromising Monmouthshire lowlands. George Garlick collected Weissia multicapsularis RDB(VU) from a lane bank just north of Dingestow Vicarage; this is Dingestow’s most notable moss if it still persists. The church roof supports Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU), G. laevigata NS and Leucodon sciuroides (on the porch), whilst the nearby River Trothy has a fine assemblage of silt-lovers including Dialytrichia (Cinclidotus) mucronata, Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis, Orthotrichum sprucei NS and Tortula subulata var. subinermis NS. Dingestow Court garden has Didymodon nicholsonii and Syntrichia (Tortula) virescens NS (two widely overlooked species); Orthotrichum lyellii, O. pulchellum and Syntrichia (T.) papillosa on old apple trees; Hypnum lacunosum var. tectorum on asbestos; Racomitrium aciculare on sandstone; and Racomitrium heterostichum sensu stricto on a slate roof. The swamp at the head of Dingestow Court Lake supports the only known colony of Amblystegium humile NS in South Wales, and the arable fields west of the lake hold Anthoceros agrestis NS, Phaeoceros carolinianus RDB(EN) and Weissia rostellata NT.

The Penyclawdd ridge, south of Dingestow, has been extensively coniferised, although areas of semi-natural woodland remain. Penyclawdd Wood (SO440080) has permissive footpaths throughout it, allowing access to a small flushed area near its centre where Chiloscyphus pallescens, Campylium stellatum var. protensum, Fissidens adianthoides, Hylocomium brevirostre and Palustriella commutata grow. More flushes, similarly overlying a calcreteous limestone, are found at the bottom of the Yew Tree Wood (SO455088); Cololejeunea minutissima, Colura calyptrifolia NS and Nowellia curvifolia also grow in this wood. A small outcrop of the limestone in the Dyffryn Wood (SO459082) supports Jungermannia atrovirens, Didymodon (Barbula) tophaceus, Eucladium verticillatum and Rhynchostegiella teneriffae. 188 bryophyte species have been recorded within a 2 miles radius of Dingestow Court, surely an indication of the richness of the county’s lowlands.

Graig Syfyrddin
Graig Syfyrddin (SO40-22-), called “Craig Seraphim” by locals, is an outlying area of the Brownstones that form the Black Mountains. The bryophyte flora on the low sandstone outcrops that are scattered along the western scarp includes Scapania nemorea, Didymodon (Oxystegus) sinuosus, Heterocladium heteropterum var. flaccidum, Neckera crispa, Seligeria recurvata and Tortula subulata. This is a typical Black Mountains assemblage, but is very different from that found in rest of the north-eastern part of the county. Footpaths lead from the end (SO409225) of a narrow road. Keen bryologists can walk down to Grosmont (SO40-24-), via a footpath with Aulacomnium androgynum on its banks and Hygrohypnum luridum on rocks in its middle, to see species such as Dialytrichia (Cinclidotus) mucronata, Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis and Syntrichia (Tortula) latifolia by the River Monnow.

Clappers Wood
A good introduction to Orthotrichum is provided by Clappers Wood (SO465184). There is room to pull in a car on the east side of the road from where you should walk (note, this isn’t a footpath) along the south-eastern edge of the plantation to an area of Ash and Hazels at SO466184. There is a little O. striatum on Hazels on the edge of the plantation, whilst O. lyellii, O. pulchellum, O. stramineum and O. tenellum are more widespread. Cut through the wood to the footpath alongside the River Monnow to see O. rivulare and O. sprucei NS. To bring the total up to 9, Orthotrichum affine is abundant and O. diaphanum occasional throughout the area.

Llangua Church
This tiny church (SO389257), by the main Hereford to Abergavenny road, holds the county’s largest colony of Hedwigia ciliata sensu stricto RDB(DD). It is abundant, together with abundant Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU) and frequent G. laevigata NS, on both the south-facing roof and the porch. The porch roof is low enough that a close encounter with these rare mosses is possible, whilst there are usually a few fallen tufts of each on the ground below the roof that can be taken away for microscopic confirmation. A strong colony of Schistidium apocarpum sensu stricto is present on a horizontal grave stone, one of the typical habitats of this relatively uncommon segregate.


8. Usk Valley

The following four sites are probably the most interesting on the River Usk, three of them hold notable species, whilst the fourth is easily accessible from Abergavenny itself. Any section of the Usk Valley Walk should produce the commoner specialities of the river, particularly Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis and Orthotrichum sprucei.

The Usk Valley Walk meets the river for the first time at Llantrissant (ST390969), a few miles south of Usk. North of the pumping station, the footpath runs close to the river’s east bank and allows access to riparian epiphytes such as Eurhynchium (Cirriphyllum) crassinervium, Leskea polycarpa, Orthotrichum rivulare (in small quantity), O. sprucei NS (fairly plentiful), Syntrichia (Tortula) latifolia and Myrinia pulvinata NT. The last of these is otherwise known in South Wales only from Govilon (see below) and there it is present in tiny quantity; at Llantrissant it grows on at least 3 trees at ST388977. Bryum klinggraeffii, Dicranella schreberana and Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis are among the terrestrial mosses on the river bank.

Llanfihangel Gobion
Park in a small layby (SO349091) on the side-road running east from just north of Pant-y-goytre Bridge (SO348089), to access one of the most active sections of the Usk, where the meandering river is constantly changing its course. Footpaths run upstream on both banks of the river, although the one on the north-bank keeps quite a way back from the edge. Ox-bow lakes on the north side of the river may be productive when they dry out in late summer, but unfortunately there is no footpath past them; an older oxbow just north of the church could also be worth a look. Willows and alders by the river have Cinclidotus fontinaloides, Dialytrichia (C.) mucronata, Orthotrichum rivulare (rare), O. sprucei NS (frequent) and Scleropodium cespitans growing epiphytically. A pile of concrete blocks in the river on the south bank just upstream of Pant-y-goytre Bridge supports Schistidium platyphyllum NS. A similar area of riparian habitat can be accessed from the National Trust carpark at SO360084.

Castle Meadows, Abergavenny
This site, which can be reached most easily by parking just east of Abergavenny Castle in Mill Street Industrial Estate (SO300139) and following a footpath south-westwards, supports a typical range of riparian bryophytes. Alders and willows should be examined for epiphytes, including Orthotrichum sprucei NS and Scleropodium cespitans, whilst vertical soil banks set just back from the river have Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis during the winter, as well as Bryum gemmiferum and B. klinggraeffii.

At Govilon, both banks of the river are in Monmouthshire, whereas only the north bank is in V-c 35 for the next 2 miles upstream. A grove of willows on the south bank at SO267146 supports a range of epiphytes including Orthotrichum lyellii, O. pulchellum, O. rivulare (rare), O. sprucei NS (frequent), Syntrichia (Tortula) laevipila, S. latifolia, S. papillosa (rare) and Ulota phyllantha. Myrinia pulvinata NT was found on a sloping willow trunk in April 2000 but could not be relocated 6 months later; it is probably still present in small quantity. Myrinia is best searched for on a dry day when its appressed leaves are more apparent.

9. Central Monmouthshire

Llandegfedd Reservoir
The only large water-body in Monmouthshire is Llandegfedd Reservoir, 2½ miles west of Usk. The eastern and western margins are stony and bryologically uninspiring but the north shore is muddy and, when water levels are low, interesting. Two notable species occur here: Riccia cavernosa NS is abundant around Sor Bay (SO320001) and by the inlet east of the carpark (SO333006), whilst Ephemerum sessile NT is locally abundant on the western shore of “The Island” (SO333003). The Riccia carpets the margins in favourable seasons but seems always to be a small form that is quite different to the one at Wentwood Reservoir. Both of Llandegfedd’s specialities are only visible when water levels are low so visits to the reservoir are rather hit-and-miss; good bird-watching often makes up for poor bryology though!

The Usk Inlier
Monmouthshire’s oldest rocks - Silurian limestones and shales - form the Usk Inlier at the centre of the county’s main syncline. The limestones provide suitable conditions for various common calcicoles, such as Porella platyphylla, Aloina aloides and Anomodon viticulosus, but nothing of note has been found so far. George Garlick recorded Blasia pusilla on tracks through Llangibby Park (ST35-97-) and Jean Paton collected Anthoceros agrestis NS and Phaeoceros carolinianus RDB(EN) from a field near Llancayo (SO36-03). These, and a few species recorded by the author, suggest that this under-recorded part of the county may hold a few surprises.

10. The Eastern Ridge

The Pontypool area has diverse geology and therefore a varied bryophyte flora; much more exploration is warranted. Several footpaths cross the fields around Cwmynyscoy Quarries (ST283997), where the calcicole flora includes abundant Aloina aloides, Ditrichum gracile (crispatissimum) and Encalypta streptocarpa, frequent Brachythecium glareosum and Campyliadelphus (Campylium) chrysophyllus and a little B. mildeanum on the quarry floor. Spoilheaps in the lower part of Cwm Lickey (ST27-99-) support Ptilidium ciliare, Scapania compacta, S. scandica (rare), Racomitrium ericoides, Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata (rare) and at least one patch of Plagiomnium cuspidatum. Five species of Sphagnum grow around the pond; conglomerate blocks in a small oak wood (ST268983) hold Barbilophozia attenuata and B. floerkii; above this, an outcrop of Pennant Sandstone has Lophozia bicrenata, Bartramia pomiformis, Pohlia cruda and Polytrichum alpinum growing on it.

Cwm y Glyn, between Pontypool and Crumlin, is the location of Monmouthshire’s oldest bryophyte record: J. Woods Jr recorded Antitrichia curtipendula there in the early 19th century. So far, attempts to relocate it have failed but anyone bryologising there should bear this stunning species in mind! The north-facing slopes of Buarth Maen can be reached from a layby at ST255999. Here, Diplophyllum obtusifolium NS is on a friable bank by the track to the quarry and Didymodon ferrugineus (Barbula reflexa) is present in small quantity on base-rich colliery spoil amongst an abundance of Fissidens adianthoides. Very little of the cwm has been explored.

A Carboniferous Limestone quarry at SO282045 provides the main bryological interest in the Abersychan area, although other smaller quarries nearby may prove just as rich if explored. The main quarry, at the head of Cwm Lasgarn, is filled with calcareous spoil on which Racomitrium canescens sensu stricto NS, R. ericoides, Thuidium philibertii and Tortula subulata grow. The northern quarry face supports a few patches of Plagiomnium cuspidatum, a very distinctive plant that has been over-recorded in Britain in the past, as well as commoner calcicoles such as Jungermannia atrovirens and Anomodon viticulosus. Further down the cwm, Hylocomium brevirostre grows on small blocks of limestone, whilst Nowellia curvifolia is locally abundant on fallen branches. Relatively convincing Hypnum lacunosum var. tectorum grows on the walls of Lasgarn Reservoir (SO277045), as does Orthotrichum cupulatum.

Mynydd Y Garn Fawr
One of the most accessible patches of block-scree in the county is Carn y Capel (SO272081) which can be reached by walking northeastwards from a small carpark at SO270077. Three patches of Lepidozia cupressina, one of Anastrophyllum minutum and one of Bazzania trilobata hide in the deepest holes. Please don’t collect any of them as their existence in Monmouthshire is highly precarious! There is more block-scree, most of it unexplored, to the south on Mynydd Garnclochdy (SO283060), as well as acidic flushes and moorland.

The Blorenge
This is one of Monmouthshire’s top sites for bryophytes, but a lot of walking is needed to get the best from it. Carboniferous Limestone and Old Red Sandstone form crags on the mountain’s northern and eastern sides, whilst Millstone Grit block-scree is scattered across the summit ridge; thus calcicole and calcifuge species are represented. The Blorenge is a SSSI for its moorland (which supports a reasonably strong colony of Red Grouse) and as it is also an urban common, access is open. The top (Hunter’s) car-park (SO262108) is the best for the main ridge and the scree beds; the eastern one (SO270109) for Waun Carn-y-defaid; a footpath running north-eastwards from Pen-ffordd-goch Pond carpark (SO255107) is the easiest way of reaching the northern crags. Andreaea rothii falcata is notably abundant on flat rocks near the top car-park, whilst Nardia geoscyphus NS was found on a ditch bank by the road by George Garlick in the 1980s.

Searching the scree beds is very hit-and-miss, although most will produce Barbilophozia attenuata, Bazzania trilobata, Scapania gracilis and Leucobryum juniperoideum. Dicranum fuscescens is widely scattered, although it may be masked by the abundant Campylopus flexuosus when not fruiting. Single patches of Anastrophyllum minutum and Lepidozia cupressina hide in very deep holes in a large band of scree near the northern end of the mountain but careful searching may reveal them elsewhere.

The best crag on the east side of the ridge, Craig-yr-hafod (SO274098), is on private land, but the species it holds (Orthothecium intricatum, Seligeria acutifolia NS and S. pusilla NS are the most interesting), can also be found on the common. The crag at Waun Carn-y-defaid (SO272099) has a little S. pusilla NS and damp turf below it holds abundant Breutelia chrysocoma and Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata; Tritomaria exsectiformis grows on top of one of the blocks under a large beech tree. It may be easier to reach Craig-y-cwm (SO282089) by walking up from the end of the minor road at SO288091, although I have only ever trekked in along the ridge. The limestone outcrops hold frequent Seligeria pusilla NS, occasional S. acutifolia NS and rare S. recurvata (which needs checking); Gyroweisia tenuis and Orthotrichum cupulatum are also here. Scleropodium tourettii grows in patches of thin turf at Craig-y-cwm with Aloina aloides and Tortula subulata.

Further north, the limestone is exposed in two series of small quarries, on the mountain’s north-western (SO269125) and eastern (SO276117) sides. The quarry faces, although more than 100 years old, do not support the Seligeria spp. that make the natural crags so interesting, so attention should be paid instead to the calcareous turf that has developed on the quarry spoil. Thuidium philibertii is locally abundant, more so than at any other site in south Wales; it was first collected here by H.H. Knight in 1928. Tortula lanceola (Pottia lanceolata) and Scleropodium tourettii are also frequent on the east side. Knight found Scapania cuspiduligera at the same time as the Thuidium, but this has not yet been relocated on the main Blorenge ridge.

Members of the local hang-gliding club, who own the Blorenge, use the northern crag (SO277122) as their playground, adding to the experience of bryologising there. This is already inspirational, with views over Abergavenny, Ysgyryd Fawr and The Sugarloaf. The bryology is suitably exciting, with various species reaching their southerly British limit on the crag. Highlights on the main sandstone crag include Cololejeunea calcarea, Lejeunea patens, Bartramia ithyphylla & B. pomiformis, Campylopus fragilis, Encalypta ciliata NS, Mnium marginatum & M. stellare, Orthothecium intricatum, Plagiobryum zieri, Platydictya jungermannioides NS, Pohlia cruda and Polytrichum alpinum. Small outcrops of limestone around SO275124 support Seligeria pusilla NS and gemmiferous Bryum pallens.

Cwm Ifor
The only limestone gorge in western Monmouthshire is Cwm Ifor (SO255113), which lies at the head of Cwm Llanwenarth between The Blorenge and Gilwern Hill. Although there is parking at Pen-ffordd-goch Pond (see above) the descent from there into the cwm is very steep; it is better to park at Garnddyrys (SO258118) and follow the old tramroad southwestwards. Garnddyrys itself has a reasonably rich bryophyte flora, including Bryum pallescens on the massive blocks of slag, Lophozia bicrenata (acidic spoil), L. excisa (calcareous spoil) and L. sudetica (slag) and Campylium stellatum var. protensum and Campyliadelphus (Campylium) chrysophyllus in calcareous turf. Scapania cuspiduligera NS grows in very small quantity in one of the quarries above the road. The grassland fungus flora at Garnddyrys is exceptionally rich.

As the tramroad reaches the head of Cwm Ifor it passes numerous limestone crags on which a range of calcicoles grow. These include Campylopus fragilis and Plagiobryum zieri on thin soil and Leiocolea badensis in damper turf. A few plants of Funaria muhlenbergii NS grow on top of a limestone boulder by the tramroad, at the only Monmouthshire site for this species. Preissia quadrata can be found in abundance on the mortar of a ruined building, often with sporophytes. Scrambling down into the gully is difficult but rewarding - highlights at the bottom include Cololejeunea calcarea, Plagiochila britannica, Bartramia ithyphylla, Orthothecium intricatum, Platydictya jungermannioides NS and Seligeria pusilla NS. The sporophyte enthusiast can have an enjoyable time in Cwm Ifor; rarely-fruiting species that have done their thing here include Breutelia chrysocoma, Neckera crispa and Tortella tortuosa.

Gilwern Hill
The Vice-county boundary cuts Gilwern Hill (SO24-12-) in half; the Monmouthshire part includes limestone quarries and woodland, whilst the Breconshire part also supports some peatland. Extensive areas of calcareous spoil in and around the quarries hold abundant Trichostomum crispulum and various other calcicoles, but the two specialities - Scapania cuspiduligera NS and Rhodobryum roseum - are very restricted in extent and are difficult to find. The woodland is, for the most part, private, but a footpath can be followed through Graig Wood into Cwm Llanwenarth. Where a layer of bryophytes has developed over shaded limestone blocks, there is a chance of finding Tritomaria exsectiformis, currently known from two places in the area. Any natural limestone faces should be examined for Seligeria spp. as S. acutifolia NS and S. donniana NS are present in small quantity. There is room for a couple of cars at SO243119.

11. Abergavenny

See also Castle Meadows in Usk Valley above

Ysgyryd Fawr
The distinctive lumpy profile of “The Skirrid” is one of Abergavenny’s main landmarks. Although there are footpaths on to the mountain from the north there is limited parking there, so it is best to park at SO328163 and follow the main path. The wall at the top of Caer Wood (SO327169) supports abundant Porella platyphylla, among which is a little P. arboris-vitae. From here, one can scramble up on to the southern lump (SO327170), the dry southern slopes of which hold Ditrichum gracile (crispatissimum), Encalypta vulgaris, Microbryum (Phascum) curvicolle and Tortula subulata. The best ground on the mountain is the northern landslip (SO330182), said to date from Christ’s crucifixion and giving Ysgyryd Fawr another alternative name of “The Holy Mountain”. Careful searching of the Old Red Sandstone blocks here should reveal Scapania aspera, Hedwigia stellata, Leucodon sciuroides and Pterogonium gracile and, given the similarity of the habitat to that at Cwmyoy (see below), Grimmia longirostris (affinis) should also be borne in mind. Patches of thin soil may have Acaulon muticum or Tortula lanceola (Pottia lanceolata) growing on them. The ridge walk gives stunning views of northern Monmouthshire and the southern Marches, but the descent at the north end is very steep so turning back once the summit is reached is advisable.

Bryn Arw
The only part of bracken-dominated Bryn Arw that is worth the bryologist’s time is the southern end. This is an alternative to Ysgyryd Fawr and Cwmyoy, supporting a typical Old Red Sandstone bryophyte flora, including Acaulon muticum, Aloina aloides, Dicranum bonjeanii, Leucodon sciuroides, Pterogonium gracile and Tortula lanceola (Pottia lanceolata). The Leucodon is more abundant here than anywhere else in the Vice-county.

The Sugar-loaf
It is quite a long walk to get to the top of The Sugar-loaf (SO273188) and the effort is of questionable value - Dicranum fuscescens is the only interesting species that grows there. The north-facing slopes are, however, of significance as the only site in the county where Marchantia polymorpha ssp. montivagans grows (in Nant-du) in any kind of abundance. They also support Drepanocladus cossonii, Plagiomnium elatum, Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata and a little Trichocolea tomentella. The northeast-facing wooded slopes of St Mary’s Vale (SO278169) hold locally abundant Bazzania trilobata near the edge of its British range. Other species in the woodland include Ptilidium pulcherrimum and Trichocolea tomentella, although both are difficult to find. The latter species also grows in Park Lodge Wood (SO284185), sharing a stony flush with one of the county’s few colonies of Thuidium delicatulum.

Cwm Coed-y-cerrig NNR
Boardwalks leading from the car-park (SO292211) allow access to much of this National Nature Reserve. Alder carr, supporting Eurhynchium speciosum, Plagiomnium elatum and possibly P. ellipticum, is the principal habitat; conditions also appear to be ideal for Amblystegium humile but this has not yet been recorded. A number of good bryologists have visited the NNR in the past. Jonathan Sleath found Platygyrium repens NS in willow carr west of the car-park in 1995, whilst Martha Newton carried out a full survey of the site in 1997 and noted Plagiothecium laetum NS amongst other species. Roy Perry found Plagiothecium latebricola in 1982 and a BBS visit in 1968 turned up Thuidium recognitum NS on base-rich rock, the latter would be a superb species to refind.

There is an old record of Antitrichia curtipendula from this area: Augustin Ley collected it between The Queen’s Head and Pontyspig in the late 19th century. Walls around the Gaer (SO293219) or by the track between Pen-rhiw and New Inn Farm would be ideal places to start a search, but there are no public rights of way here.

12. Western Monmouthshire

This area is almost the most poorly recorded in the county (the levels west of Newport are even less well known), although several visits have shown that it has a rich bryophyte flora. Parallel valleys (Rhymney, Sirhowy, Ebbw & Afon Llwyd), running north-south, and an industrial past give this area a similar appearance to mid Glamorgan. The underlying rocks are, for the most part, Devonian and include the Pennant Sandstone and the Coal Measures. The sandstone forms crags that support a characteristic assemblage of mosses, including Cynodontium bruntonii and Racomitrium aquaticum, which does not penetrate further east in Monmouthshire. Records of Barbilophozia kunzeana and Scapania paludicola suggest that the marshy grassland and flushes on the Coal Measures deserve more attention.

Rhymney Valley
The Carboniferous Limestone that forms the eastern edge of the Coalfield is exposed in a large working quarry at Machen and also as small natural outcrops. The footpath past Castell Meredydd (ST224886) may reveal Pterogonium gracile, which occurs in abundance on an old Ash, Reboulia hemisphaerica, which grows on thin soil by the drive, and a few epiphytes such as Dicranum tauricum or Orthotrichum lyellii. The quarry should not be visited as it is dangerous. Further up the Rhymney Valley, Lejeunea lamacerina, Fissidens celticus and F. curnovii grow in a shaded valley at Trethomas Park (ST188889).

Rhymney Hill & Mynydd Bedwellte
One of the best remnants of bog in Monmouthshire is at the north end of Rhymney Hill (SO126084), the ridge between the Rhymney and Sirhowy Valleys. Cladopodiella fluitans is abundant here, in contrast to its only other Vice-county site, Waun Afon (see below), where it is very rare, and Splachnum ampulaceum also occurs in quantity. Cattle and horse grazing of this common is undoubtedly the reason why Splachnum persists here but is so rare elsewhere in south Wales. A patch of Scapania paludicola NT was found on trampled ground at the south end of the bog in 2002. The rest of the hill is covered with acidic grassland, acid flushes and heathland, some of which holds Sphagnum compactum. There are old records of Saccogyna viticulosa and Bryum alpinum from Cwm Tysswg (SO13-06-); unfortunately there are no public footpaths in this cwm, which is crying out for more thorough exploration.

The flat top of Mynydd Bedwellte (SO14-05-) is pretty unremarkable, although a mysterious, non-fertile large Fossombronia collected here in 2002 hints that a thorough exploration could be worthwhile. The east-facing crags, formed of Pennant Sandstone and therefore with a similar flora to parts of the Glamorgan Valleys, hold most of the hill’s specialities. Andreaea rothii, Cynodontium bruntonii, Polytrichum alpinum and Racomitrium aquaticum are locally abundant, whilst careful examination of crevices could reveal Rhabdoweisia crispata, R. fugax or Scapania scandica, all of which have been found there. This is the only Monmouthshire site west of The Blorenge from which Seligeria recurvata has been recorded.

Sirhowy Valley
A waterfall by the visitor centre at the Sirhowy Valley Country Park (ST210911) supports Saccogyna viticulosa at one of its few Vice-county localities. Microlejeunea ulicina and Orthotrichum stramineum are among the epiphytes on willows in the woodland here, whilst Bryum laevifilum (subelegans) has been noted on an elder. The damp floor of the drained Scotch Peter’s Reservoir (SO155089) is Fossombronia heaven: F. wondraczekii is plentiful, whilst F. incurva NS (at its only known V-c 35 site) and F. pusilla occur in smaller quantity. Bulbiferous Pohlia spp. should be searched for although none have yet been found. There is room to pull in a car on the Tredegar to Ebbw Vale road at SO151087. A ditch by one of the Waun-y-pound pools (SO152107) also holds Fossombronia wondraczekii.

Ebbw Vale
At the southern end of Ebbw Vale, Cwm Carn Forest Drive (ST239935) gives access to an extensive area of conifer plantations in a steep-sided valley. A brief visit revealed Diplophyllum obtusifolium NS on a friable bank next to the entrance gate and Colura calyptrifolia NS on a willow next to Nant Carn just nearby. Numerous forestry tracks, as well as the drivable loop, can be explored. The next cwm to the north, Cwm Gwyddon (ST23-95-) can only be explored on foot; its flora is similar, and includes D. obtusifolium and a few epiphytes. The most interesting part of the cwm, the headwaters in ST24-97- & ST25-97-, are best reached from the road at ST236980. The sides of the cwm are steep, making for difficult walking, but these protect several bryophytes of local interest as well as a strong population of Ivy-leaved Bell-flower Wahlenbergia hederacea. The most notable species in the cwm are Andreaea rupestris, at its only known V-c site, A. rothii falcata, Dicranella palustris (quite scarce in the county) and Diphyscium foliosum, whilst Jungermannia pumila, Lophozia ventricosa var. sylvicola and Racomitrium aquaticum grow in a gully at ST251977.

Shopping in the Garden Festival retail outlet, which has a large carpark at SO175060, can be combined with a visit to Craig Rhiwargan (SO176055) on the northeast-facing slopes above Cwm. The dramatic wooded block-scree above the carpark holds locally abundant Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata and Schistidium apocarpum and a little Lophozia bicrenata, whilst natural crags further north have locally abundant Cynodontium bruntonii and Racomitrium aquaticum as well as smaller amounts of Bartramia pomiformis and Diphyscium foliosum; generally the quarried faces are bryologically poor. The Gardens themselves (SO175063) are fairly good for epiphytes, including Orthotrichum striatum and O. tenellum. An alternative suite of epiphytes is found on Poplar trunks by the approach road: Grimmia pulvinata, Ptychomitrium polyphyllum, Racomitrium aciculare and R. fasciculare all grow on the bark, which has presumably been affected by air pollution from the nearby steelworks.

Cwm Merddog LNR (SO187063) on the opposite side of the valley is an ancient semi-natural woodland that would probably be bryologically interesting.

Blaina & Abertillery
There are carparks and a picnic site down the valley from the reservoir in Cwm Tillery (SO219065). A bridleway runs northwards across the slopes above the reservoir, giving access to rocky oak woodland in which Barbilophozia floerkii and a wide range of fairly common mosses grow; Andreaea rothii falcata has been noted on a more exposed rock. The west-facing slopes and quarries around SO223067 should also be explored, as should springheads on the slopes above the reservoir. Sadly the reservoir’s water levels are maintained too high for any interesting bryophytes to grow on the margins. Cwm Celyn (SO20-09-) may be similar. However, if access to the species-rich marshy grassland - which supports Carum verticillatum and Vicia orobus, amongst other interesting vascular plants - could be arranged, it would probably prove to be much richer.

The extensive east-facing crags of Darren Ddu (SO198060) and West Side (SO193076) would probably hold a similar array of bryophytes to those on Mynydd Bedwellte and Craig Rhiwargan.

Mynydd Coity & Blaenavon
Mynydd Coity (SO23-07-) itself is a large expanse of moorland with little of bryological note; lower lying ground on the ridge’s eastern side is more interesting however. The British (SO25-03-) and Varteg Waste (SO25-05-) may be worth a look as they hold fragments of undisturbed semi-natural vegetation set in a sea of colliery spoil. A little further north, there is a colony of Schistidium platyphyllum NS on a concrete weir (SO253078) in one of the streams flowing through the Waun Hoscyn spoilheaps. The colliery spoil at Waun Hoscyn is base-rich in places; these areas support Climacium dendroides, Didymodon (Barbula) tophaceus forma acutifolia and Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata. There is a wide gravel layby next to the Blaenavon Cemetery, from which Waun Hoscyn can be explored. Barbilophozia attenuata, Scapania gracilis and Dicranum fuscescens grow in small patches of block scree at the northern end of Mynydd Farteg Fawr (SO245076). Old poplars east of the school in Forge Side (SO247085) are worth a quick look as they support Orthotrichum lyellii and O. striatum.

The largest semi-intact peat bog in Western Monmouthshire is Waun Afon (SO220103), three miles west of Brynmawr. Given the rarity of this habitat in Monmouthshire, the presence of several bog hepatics is notable; unfortunately Cephalozia connivens, Cladopodiella fluitans, Odontoschisma sphagni and Mylia anomala are only present in tiny quantity. Splachnum ampulaceum is slightly commoner here; dense tufts were noted on 8 cowpats at the northern end of the bog (SO219108) in May 2003. A footpath runs southwards along a track from parking at SO218110 and the best bryophytes are all to the east of this path.

On the other side of the B4248, Cefn Garnyrerw (SO229109) is the county hotspot for Sphagnum compactum, whilst the spoil heaps and remnant bog northeast of Garn-yr-erw (SO23-10-) support a wide range of bryophytes including Cephaloziella hampeana, Archidium alternifolium, Hypnum lindbergii (these last two on the track at SO232103) and a single mound of Polytrichum strictum (alpestre). Blaenavon (SO25-09-) is a World Heritage Site with exceptionally interesting industrial archaeology. Although Ptychomitrium polyphyllum has been noted on a slag wall in the town, it has a fairly poor bryophyte flora.

13. Grwyne Fawr Valley

The bridge over the Grwyne-fawr at Coed-dias supports a tuft of Grimmia decipiens, found during the 1999 BBS meeting. The eastern bank held Bryum gemmiparum RDB(EN) in 1954 but this species may have been lost due to over-shading as it was not refound in 1999. The slopes above Coed-dias are reached from the Pont Cadwgan car-park (SO267251) by walking south-eastwards through the forestry to Nant Bran. This cwm, which runs along the edge of the forestry, includes a few outcrops of Old Red Sandstone, with Bartramia ithyphylla, Campylopus fragilis and Seligeria recurvata present in small quantity. At the head of the cwm, a flush system holds small amounts of Cephalozia pleniceps NS, Plagiomnium elatum, Rhizomnium pseudopunctatum and Scorpidium scorpioides. These also occur as slightly larger patches further southeast around SO276247, together with other Vice-county rarities such as Calliergon giganteum, Drepanocladus revolvens and Fissidens osmundoides and frequent D. cossonii.

Pont Cadwgan
Parking for at least 10 cars at SO267251 provides access to the southern part of Mynydd Du Forest. The Grwyne-fawr forms the county boundary here so the author has concentrated on the eastern side of the river. Flat rocks in the river support Jungermannia exsertifolia, Didymodon (Barbula) spadiceus, Fissidens rufulus NS and Hygrohypnum luridum, whilst low rock outcrops next to it have a little Metzgeria conjugata. Poplars near the car-park have a rich epiphyte flora including frequent Orthotrichum stramineum, occasional O. lyellii and at least one patch of Leucodon sciuroides.

The trek up through an area of forestry from the Pont Cadwgan car-park is very tedious, even Diplophyllum obtusifolium seems to be absent! Once you reach the flushes on the south face of the Bal-mawr you should find that the walk was worthwhile, at least in a Monmouthshire context. Drepanocladus cossonii is more abundant here than anywhere else in the county, D. revolvens is frequent and Scorpidium scorpioides grows in at least two places. Sphagnum tenellum grows on the edge of at least one flush and there is surely a better chance of adding S. contortum to the county list here than anywhere else. The star species is rather tricky to find - Calypogeia azurea NS was collected from the upper bank of the track on the south-western side of the hill in 2002; this is its most southerly known site in Britain. Augustine Ley bryologised in this area and, as well as the Scorpidium, recorded Grimmia donniana on one rock somewhere around here in the 19th century; no other V-c 35 records of this species are known.

Bryologising at Blaen-y-cwm (SO252285) involves flirting with the county boundary, which follows a stream down from Chwarel y Fan to the Afon Grwyne Fawr. The boundary stream is bryologically unremarkable, at least on the Monmouthshire side, although low sandstone outcrops support a little Metzgeria conjugata. Following the river southwards from the carpark is more productive, as it leads one past more low crags - with Plagiochila spinulosa, M. conjugata and locally abundant Porella arboris-vitae - and through unimproved grassland with Barbilophozia barbata. Climbing eastwards on to tracks through the conifer forest allows access to Diplophyllum obtusifolium; look for small rosettes of it on very friable, reddish soil that has hardly been colonised by other bryophytes. Oligotrichum hercynicum was found on a track here in 1999 but was not collected and has not been seen in the county since then.

14. Cwmyoy & Oldcastle

From the limited parking next to Cwmyoy Church (SO298233) follow a footpath northwards then eastwards for a couple of hundred yards to get to Cwmyoy Graig, the two-part mound above the village. This is one of the richest bryophyte sites in the county although several of the more interesting species are hard to find. Most notable is Grimmia longirostris (G. affinis) NS which grows on a sandstone block in the central valley (SO300237); this species is known from only one other site in Wales and should not be collected, its upright sporophytes but overall Grimmia-like appearance make it distinctive in the field anyway. Also in the central valley are locally abundant Leucodon sciuroides and Pterogonium gracile, about 100 Rhodobryum roseum (western side at northern end of valley) and a few tufts of Bryum donnianum NS. The dry, south-facing slopes of the Graig provide ideal conditions for strong colonies of Microbryum (Phascum) curvicolle and Tortula lanceola (Pottia lanceolata) as well as smaller quantities of T. modica (Pottia intermedia), M. davallianum and M. rectum (Pottia recta). Other species recorded here include Cephaloziella stellulifera NS, Bartramia ithyphylla, Brachythecium glareosum, Encalypta vulgaris, Hypnum lindbergii, Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata, Scleropodium tourettii and Tortula subulata var. graeffii NS. The walls around Cwmyoy Church support an abundance of Anomodon viticulosus and Porella platyphylla whilst the tiles of the church itself hold Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU).

The British Bryological Society visited Cwmyoy Darren (SO296245) in 1999 and recorded over 100 species of bryophytes. Among the more interesting were Porella arboris-vitae, Leucodon sciuroides, Pterogonium gracile and Didymodon ferrugineus (Barbula reflexa). Jonathan Sleath noted Grimmia longirostris (G. affinis) NS near the southern end of the Darren in 1998; it has not been recorded since but is no doubt lurking somewhere in the extensive sandstone block scree. A quick stop at a large Ash tree on the right hand side of the track to the Graig, just beyond the tin buildings should reveal a few interesting epiphytes - these include Orthotrichum striatum, O. lyellii and O. stramineum.

Hatterall Hill
Hatterall Hill is the south-eastern extremity of the Black Mountains; its southern end can be accessed by walking from Cwmyoy (park at the church). Flushes at SO305249 and SO 308253 support Drepanocladus cossonii and D. revolvens, the latter at one of only three known V-c sites; those to the east of Blaenyoy (SO313245) have not been explored in detail but hold Plagiomnium elatum as well as D. cossonii. The stream above Blaenyoy (SO308249) has a few low sandstone outcrops with Gymnostomum aeruginosum and Eucladium verticillatum but is generally dull. The eastern slopes of the hill can be visited by parking at Oldcastle (SO325246) and walking north-west. Sandstone blocks in an old quarry support a little Tritomaria exsectiformis and low crags near the county boundary hold several of the common calcicoles of the Black Mountains sandstone including Neckera crispa and Seligeria recurvata.

15. Llanthony Valley

The southwest-facing slopes of Loxidge Tump and Cwm Siarpal (SO289289), above the Priory at Llanthony, offer an alternative to Cwmyoy Darren and support most of the same species. Base-rich sandstone in Cwm Siarpal holds Gyroweisia tenuis, Neckera crispa, Seligeria recurvata and Tortula subulata var. graeffii NS. The southwest-facing Darren (SO295283) above Cwmyoy is rather more diverse with Encalypta vulgaris, Leucodon sciuroides, Orthotrichum cupulatum, Pterogonium gracile and Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii amongst the more interesting species. Didymodon ferrugineus (Barbula reflexa) grows in slightly damp, base-rich turf below the crag. The Priory Church has a little Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU) on its roof but this is almost impossible to view.

Mid Valley cwms
Cwm Bwchel (281272), Cwm Nantygwyddel (SO275280) and Cwm Nant-y-carnau (SO272285) were amongst Augustine Ley’s principal hunting grounds in Monmouthshire and he recorded a number of interesting species including Bartramia halleriana NS, Leptodontium flexifolium, Orthothecium intricatum, Rhynchostegiella curviseta NS and Tortula subulata var. angustata in Cwm Bwchel. Recent brief visits to the three cwms located Plagiochila spinulosa and Metzgeria conjugata in some abundance in Cwm Bwchel; Leiocolea alpestris, Trichocolea tomentella, Plagiomnium elatum and abundant Seligeria recurvata in Cwm Nantygwyddel; and Blindia acuta, Hygrohypnum ochraceum and L. alpestris in Cwm Nant-y-carnau. Further searching should reveal a few more of Ley’s species.

Tarren yr Esgob south
Most of the long crag of Tarren yr Esgob lies in Breconshire but the south-easternmost section (SO255305) is in Monmouthshire. It looks a tiny area on the map but its crags are surprisingly extensive and would take a good couple of days for a thorough examination. The crags are not a single vertical cliff but comprise many outcrops of Old Red Sandstone at various levels on a very steep slope. With care almost every outcrop can be searched, traverses along each of 4 or 5 levels being the easiest way to proceed.

Early in the year the scree below the crags can be seen to be quite extensive but by late summer much of this has been lost below Bracken, making climbing difficult and bryology almost impossible. Hiding within the scree is at least one colony of Frullania fragilifolia as well as various Grimmiales, Neckera crispa and Tortella tortuosa. These last two species pick out the more base-rich blocks of sandstone and allow one to home-in on what are usually more interesting associates.

The crags themselves hold county rarities such as Anomobryum julaceum, Bartramia halleriana NS, Fissidens osmundoides, Plagiopus oederianus NS, Plagiobryum zieri and Pohlia elongata (all in small quantity and difficult to find), whilst damp turf has Jungermannia paroica and Scapania scandica. The supporting cast includes locally abundant Lejeunea patens and Plagiochila spinulosa as well as scattered Blepharostoma trichophylla, Cololejeunea calcarea, Leiocolea alpestris & L. bantriensis, Metzgeria conjugata, Bartramia ithyphylla, Brachydontium trichodes NS and Mnium marginatum. The potential for new discoveries can be illustrated by the last visit, in late 2002, which produced Tetrodontium brownianum and Entosthodon (Funaria) obtusus new for the county. Augustine Ley recorded Encalypta ciliata here but it has not been recorded since and the record was disregarded by some experts - its rediscovery seems likely, given its presence further south on The Blorenge. Distichium capillaceum has also not been recorded for almost 100 years and surely also awaits rediscovery on the Tarren.

16. Newport area

The levels west of Newport are the still almost unknown bryologically. A few visits to the area have produced Calliergon cordifolium, Drepanocladus aduncus, Microbryum davallianum and various epiphytes, but there appear to be relatively few suitable places for a diverse bryophyte flora to develop. Rather than recommending sites, it seems best to suggest that the reens and saltmarsh are the habitats most likely to repay a search. I hope that someone will surprise me and find something exciting on the levels!

Sam D.S. Bosanquet,
BBS recorder for V-c 35
Copyright © British Bryological Society .