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Vice-county 29


Typical Cambrideshire countryside - the Barrington Cement Works


BBS Vice-county recorder:

Dr C.D. Preston
19 Green's Rd
Cambridge CB4 3EF

Cambridgeshire Local Group

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Recent Bryophyte Records in Cambridgeshire

C. D. Preston and M. O. Hill

There are two remarkable records in the list below, both of epiphytes which in recent decades have been more or less restricted in the British Isles to N.E. Scotland. Orthotrichum obtusifolium was found in an orchard in the north of the county, and follows the equally notable recent discoveries of Hypnum cupressiforme var. heseleri in the same orchard and of Antitrichia curtipendula at Leverington. We also include records of Leucodon sciuroides, Pylaisia polyantha and Zygodon rupestris from Robin Stevenson’s orchard survey. The second outstanding record is of Orthotrichum speciosum from Balsham Wood, the first confirmed record of this species in England since the mid 19th century. Like most of the remaining records, this was found on the Cambs Bryological Excursions, which were again focussed on recording for the proposed new bryophyte flora of the county. On 10 February 2008 we celebrated the seventieth anniversary of these excursions with a visit to Little Widgham Wood, the venue for the first excursion on 5 February 1938.

The number of species found in each 5-km square since the new Flora project started is shown in Fig. 1. All but five of the 134 squares have now been visited at least once, although this year’s records show that there is still much to be discovered. The note on Bryum caespiticium below continues our review of misunderstood species in the county, in preparation for this Flora.

Figure 1. Number of bryophyte taxa recorded in each 5 x 5 square, 1 January 2000 – 20 April 2008.



Amblystegium humile Growing close to water level on two posts by River GreatOuse SE of Aldreth, TL463717, M.O.H., 8.3.2008. In recent years A. humile has only been seen in the county at two sites in and just outside the Ouse Washes.

Bryum caespiticium This species differs from similar plants in its dioecious inflorescence and small spores. Proctor (1956) described it as “Very seldom recorded, but certainly very common on walls, etc., in Cambridge, and probably elsewhere in the county”. The reference to Cambridge is probably based on Rishbeth’s (1948) paper on ‘The Flora of Cambridge walls’, in which it was reported from 32 sites between 1937 and 1940. By 1964 Whitehouse described it as “Abundant on walls. Frequent on banks in gravel- and chalk-pits and on paths and railway ballast. Occasional on stumps”. However, it seems almost certain that the plants recorded as B. caespiticium on walls in this period included B. radiculosum, a smaller, tuber-bearing plant which was not really understood until Crundwell & Nyholm’s (1964) monograph of the Bryumerythrocarpum aggregate. B. radiculosum is common on walls in the county but in 1964 it was only known from chalk grassland on the Devil’s Ditch. By 1967 M.O.H., who knew both species well, concluded that B. caespiticium was “not really very common on walls” in Cambridgeshire. It is clear from Harold Whitehouse’s list of records for the 1964 Flora that he was much more careful in accepting records of the species from 1959 onwards than previously. From this date all the listed records are of fruiting plants (including some grown on in captivity). However, he never sorted out the earlier records. There are twelve plants in his herbarium in CGE and these have been checked recently by M.O.H.; eight are correctly identified, three lack sex organs and one fruiting plant, collected near Moor Barns Farm in 1957, is probably B. creberrimum or B. pallescens but cannot be identified with certainty. We therefore think it is reasonable to accept the records Whitehouse lists as fruiting. There are additional specimens in BBSUK,E and herb. M.O.H. From the mid 1960s until 1999 we have less detailed information associated with the records, and we have only accepted records backed by herbarium material. When revised along these lines, there are acceptable records for the period 1950–99 from TL23, 24, 29, 33-38, 45, 46, 49, 55, 57, 59, 65, 67, 68, 76; TF 20, 30, 41, 50. The habitats include active and disused railway tracks, sandy soil in gravel pits, sandstone rocks in Cambridge University Botanic Garden, fallen tree trunks, rotten tree stumps and plank bridges; there are also some reliable records from walls. We have rejected the published records for this period from TL 25, 39, 44, 48, 54; TF31, 40. Since 2000 we have been careful in accepting only records based on the microscopic examination of fertile material.

Bryum pallens On wet rotting wood at ground level and on the exposed roots of a cut birch stump, Compartment 5, Wicken Fen, TL552701 & 551702, and on peaty mud, Compartment 2, Wicken Fen, TL548700, M.O. Hill et al., 19.4.2008. Rather surprisingly, this species has never been recorded at Wicken and it is rare in the county, only recorded from four other sites and last seen in 1978 as an introduction on limestone in the Botanic Garden, Cambridge.

Campyliadelphus elodes Amongst Drepanocladus polygamus at edge of ditch, Gardiner’s Drove, Wicken Fen, TL559704, R.J. Fisk, 19.4.2008, det. M.O. Hill. This nationally scarce wetland species was last seen at Wicken in 1953 and in Cambridgeshire at Quy Fen in 1957.

Cinclidotus fontinaloides On wood of fishing platforms and boards edging the river, at and below water level, often in large quantity, N. bank of R. Nene near Fletton Parkway Bridge, Peterborough, TL19NE and E. of Peterborough, TL29NW, J. J. Graham, 25.5. & 31.5.2007. This species has hitherto been known in the county only from the River Great Ouse and the Ouse Washes; these are the first records from the Nene.

Didymodon nicholsonii Plants with frequent male inflorescences on compacted gravelly track by the Summer House, Anglesey Abbey, TL52936231, C.D.P., 24.3.2008. We know of only one previous report of male plants of this species in the British Isles, from a tarmac lane at Pucketty Farm, Faringdon, Oxfordshire.

Drepanocladus polygamus In some quantity at edge of ditch, Gardiner’s Drove, Wicken Fen, TL559704, R.J. Fisk, 19.4.2008, det. M.O. Hill. This very uncommon wetland species was last seen in Cambridgeshire at Wicken in 1957, near the Hide on the Sedge Fen.

Herzogiella seligeri Decaying conifer log, Little Widgham Wood, TL664548, M.O.H., 10.2.2008. A very uncommon species in Cambridgeshire, only recorded since 2000 at Chippenham Fen and Hardwick Wood.

Leucodon sciuroides Small patch on trunk of medium-sized ash by footbridge over inflow stream, R. Cam, Tadlow Bridge, TL28314635, C.D.P., 8.12.2007. On one old Bramleyapple tree, W. Norman’s Orchard, Begdale Road, Elm, TL4606, C. R. Stevenson, 4.1.2008. In 2004 this species was found growing as an epiphyte in the county for the first time since 1933; these are the second and third such occurrences.

Orthotrichum obtusifolium 75–100 shoots spread over 25 cm 2 of a branch of a Bramley apple tree, growing with O. diaphanum, W. Norman’s Orchard, Begdale Road, Elm, TL46130695, C. R. Stevenson, 31.12.2007, BBSUK, conf. G. P. Rothero (see British Wildlife 19: 217, 2008). The host tree is probably about 75 years old. An unexpected discovery of a rare British epiphyte with its only extant sites in eastern Scotland, although it was known in the 19th century in scattered sites in central and northern England. The only recent English record is an apparently casual occurrence of a single small tuft on a roadside elder in Norfolk in 1989.

Orthotrichum speciosum A few fruiting tufts on an ash trunk in a moist area of woodland, with Amblystegium serpens and frequent O. affine, Balsham Wood, TL58944953, M.O.H., 30.3.2008, BBSUK, conf. G.P. Rothero. The first vice-county record of a species which has its British headquarters in N.E. Scotland. It was last recorded in England in the mid 19th century, in Yorkshire and Sussex.

Orthotrichum striatum Over 100 freely fruiting tufts on a sloping ash trunk, with a little Hypnum cupressiforme and one tuft of Ulota bruchii, Balsham Wood, TL58694961, M.O.H., 30.3.2008. The third record of a species recorded previously from apple trees in a domestic garden in Cambridge in 1995 and an orchard in Leverington in 2006.

Plagiothecium undulatum Two small patches on decorticated rotting Pinus sylvestris log, Crishall Grange Plantation, c. TL455426, M.O.H., 26.1.2008. Large, vigorous patch on damp ground under brambles in an open area, Little Widgham Wood, TL662551, S. Damant, 10.2.2008. This calcifuge is common in Britain in the north and west but rare in Cambridgeshire, where it was last seen at Wicken Fen in 1999. It is not all that surprising to find it in the rather acidic Little Widgham Wood, but its presence in a plantation on the dry chalk uplands of southern Cambridgeshire is remarkable.

Polytrichum formosum Under Beech, Worts Causeway, TL4854, D.F. Chamberlain, 15.3.1961, E, det. M.O.H., 2007. When we revised the records of P. longisetum in the county (Nature in Cambs. 48: 97, 2006) we were unable to locate one from this site. We have subsequently come across this specimen which was labelled P. longisetum but proves to be P. formosum, like most material from the county.

Pylaisia polyantha Fruiting plants on a branch of a Lord Derby apple tree, planted c. 1967, W. Norman’s Orchard, Begdale Road, Elm, TL46090657, C. R. Stevenson, 26.11.2007. The second county record of a species discovered in Cambridgeshire in another orchard, at Wisbech St Mary, in 2004.

Tortula acaulon var. schreberiana On side of ditch, The Gault, Chattteris, TL38748659, C.D.P., 13.1.2008, BBSUK, conf. G. P. Rothero. This represents the first record from the county since Relhan’s (1820) from Gamlingay Heath, but taxonomic doubts about the validity of this variety have discouraged bryologists from reporting it.

Zygodon rupestris On very old Bramley apple, Bunting’s orchard, Popple Lane, Leverington, TL40820903, C. R. Stevenson, 14.11.2007, conf. C.D.P. Old Bramley apple, W. Norman’s Orchard, Begdale Road, Elm, TL4606, C. R. Stevenson, 26.12.2007, conf. C.D.P. The second and third records of a species which was discovered in 2005 at the southern edge of the county


Cololejeunea minutissima Dense patches of plants with perianths and frequent gemmae, growing with Dicranoweisia cirrata and Hypnum cupressiforme on one willow in an area of Salix scrub in a low-lying disused brick-pit, Lattersey Local Nature Reserve, Whittlesey, TL28189652, C. R. Stevenson, 25.11.2007, BBSUK, conf. T. H. Blackstock. The first county record of a Mediterranean-Atlantic species which until recently had an almost exclusively coastal distribution in S. England and Wales. However, it is now spreading into more inland and northerly sites and we have been anticipating its discovery in Cambridgeshire for some years.

Riccia fluitans On wet peaty soil and in shallow water at the edge of a temporarily flooded arable field, with Lemna minuta, Ranunculus sceleratus, Rumex palustris and Ricciocarpos natans, between R. Great Ouse and R. Cam, Holt Fen, TL531744, C.R. Stevenson, 20.10.2007. This organically farmed field had been flooded as a control measure against eelworms and slugs. It is surprising to find R. fluitans and Ricciocarpos natans, both very scarce species in the county, in this transient habitat.

Sphaerocarpos michelii Abundant at edges of ‘hoggin’ path, Rose Garden, Anglesey Abbey, TL529622, D. Jordan, 24.3.2008, det. C.D.P. Vegetative Sphaerocarpos plants were first found at Anglesey Abbey on an excursion in March 2007 (see Nature in Cambs 49: 98, 2007). Shortly afterwards (23.3.2007) David Jordan found further plants here on the Rose Garden path, and this winter the Rose Garden population was much larger. By March 2008, when he showed the site to C.D.P., plants were frequent to abundant on the edges of the path for 30 metres, and thinly scattered for a further 25 metres. Both male and more numerous female plants were present. One capsule was ripe enough to identify the species as S. michelii at the time of collection but there were many green capsules and a further 15 were checked after they had been grown on to maturity. This is the second recent record of a plant first reported from the county in 1802 but not refound until 2006 (at Ashley).

Bryology in Cambridgeshire

by Chris Preston


Few bryologists living in the moister areas of Britain would relish the prospect of bryologising in Cambridgeshire. The dry climate, inland situation, subdued topography and predominantly calcareous soils of the county limit the number of potential species, and several centuries of agricultural improvement have reduced the formerly extensive semi-natural habitats in the county to small islands in a sea of arable land. Cambridgeshire bryologists have, therefore, to learn to live with the gentle sneers of their colleagues in more species-rich areas. However, much can be learned about mosses and liverworts by considering their habitat preferences in relatively hostile terrain, and it is easy to under-estimate the bryological interest of the county. Ancient woodland on calcareous boulder clay soils and the remaining fragments of chalk grassland and fenland are the richest habitats, and churchyards, chalk and gravel pits and even arable fields provide interesting artificial habitats.

Paradoxically, considering its reputation as Dullsville, the county boasts a bryological tradition that few others can match, including, most recently, an unbroken sequence of recording extending from 1927 to the present day. Recording has mainly taken place on organised bryological excursions, which have been held each winter since 1938. Much of the interest of the county to bryologists lies in the opportunity to assess the current flora of the county against this historical baseline. As M.C.F Proctor has written, “v.c. 29 is beginning to show us a county flora as the dynamic entity we know it must be, and to show that even considering our long-established native species, not all change is loss. It probably also shows too that we can never expect to know the flora of an area finally and completely, and probably we should rejoice that this is so” (Proctor 1984).


Proctor’s bryophyte flora of Cambridgeshire (Proctor 1956) sets out the history of bryophyte recording in the vice-county and provides a guide to the main habitats. A briefer flora was provided by H.L.K. Whitehouse (Whitehouse 1964) and updated in a later checklist (Crompton and Whitehouse 1983). Bryological records of interest have been published annually in Nature in Cambridgeshire since 1985. The main sites of bryological interest have been assessed (Newton 1986) and some have been studied in some detail. These include major sites such as Wicken Fen (Lock 1990; Lock 2000) and Hayley Wood (Rackham 1975), and smaller areas such as the winter-flooded hollows in arable fields in S. Cambridgeshire that support the rare flowering plant Lythrum hyssopifolia (Preston and Whitehouse 1986; Preston 1989) and the imported limestone in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden (Preston and Whitehouse 1992). The first 50 years of bryological excursions have been chronicled by Richards & Whitehouse (1988). For obituaries of Paul Richards, who started the modern era of bryological recording in the county in 1927, and Harold Whitehouse, who sustained it for over 50 years, see Whitehouse (1996), Stanley et al. (1998), Hill (2000) and Preston (2001).

Current work towards a new bryophyte flora of Cambridgeshire

Currently, recording in the vice-county is aimed towards the production of a new bryophyte flora, and is co-ordinated by Chris Preston and Mark Hill (Preston & Hill 2000). We started a fresh survey of the county in January 2000, and aim to complete the fieldwork in the 10-year period 2000-2009. In the first 3.5 seasons (January 2000-April 2003), we have recorded 204 mosses and 31 liverworts, and added 6 species to the county list. Recording is in full swing; all interested botanists, whether experts or beginners, are invited to help. Details of the winter excursions of the BBS Cambridgeshire Group are posted on the BBS website under local meetings. We also have a one-day excursion in June, for the special purpose of finding ruderal Bryum species which fruit then.

The field survey is designed to obtain coverage of all 5 x 5 km squares in the vice-county, by recording representative sites in each. We not only aim to resurvey the areas that were well-known to earlier generations of bryologists but also to obtain adequate coverage of large tracts of Fenland for the first time. The latter areas have not hitherto been recorded adequately because of their distance from Cambridge and their lack of semi-natural vegetation. An annual situation map showing the number of species recorded in each 5km square is published annually in Nature in Cambridgeshire. There is still much to be done!


Crompton, G. & Whitehouse, H. L. K. (1983). A checklist of the flora of Cambridgeshire. Cambridge, privately published.

Hill, M. O. (2000). Harold Whitehouse (1917-2000). Nature in Cambridgeshire 42: 73-75.

Lock, J. M. (1990). Calcifuge bryophytes at Wicken Fen. Journal of Bryology 16: 89-96.

Lock, J. M. (2000). Bryophyta. In Checklist of the flora and fauna of Wicken Fen, compiled and edited by L. E. Friday and B. H. Harley, pp. 11-12. Colchester, Harley Books.

Newton, A. E. (1986). Bryophyte sites in Cambridgeshire. Nature in Cambridgeshire 28: 23-28.

Preston, C. D. (1989). The ephemeral pools of south Cambridgeshire. Nature in Cambridgeshire 31: 2-11.

Preston, C. D. (2001). Harold Leslie Keer Whitehouse (1917-2000). Journal of Bryology 23: 155-160.

Preston, C. D. & Hill, M. O. (2000). A new survey of the bryophytes of Cambridgeshire (v.c. 29). Nature in Cambridgeshire 42: 96.

Preston, C. D. & Whitehouse, H. L. K. (1986). The habitat of Lythrum hyssopifolia L. in Cambridgeshire, its only surviving English locality. Biological Conservation 35: 41-62.

Preston, C. D. & Whitehouse, H. L. K. (1992). Bryophytes on imported limestone in Cambridge University Botanic Garden, 1955-1991. Nature in Cambridgeshire 34: 45-49.

Proctor, M. C. F. (1956). A bryophyte flora of Cambridgeshire. Transactions of the British Bryological Society 3: 1-49.

Proctor, M. C. F. (1984). A checklist of the flora of Cambridgeshire [review]. Journal of Bryology 13: 295-296.

Rackham, O. (1975). Hayley Wood. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire & Isle of Ely Naturalists' Trust.

Richards, P. W. & Whitehouse, H. L. K. (1988). Fifty years of the Cambridge Bryological Excursions. Nature in Cambridgeshire 30: 41-49.

Stanley, P. E., Argent, G. C. G. & Whitehouse, H.L.K. (1998). A botanical biography of Professor Paul Richards C.B.E. Journal of Bryology 20: 323-370.

Whitehouse, H. (1996). Professor Paul W. Richards CBE (1908-1995). Nature in Cambridgeshire 38: 69-70.

Whitehouse, H. L. K. (1964). Bryophyta. In A Flora of Cambridgeshire by F. H. Perring, P. D. Sell & S. M. Walters, pp 281-328. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Local Floras

CROMPTON, G. & WHITEHOUSE, H.L.K. (1983). A checklist of the flora of Cambridgeshire. Cambridge: Privately published.

WHITEHOUSE, H.L.K. (1964). Bryophyta. In: A flora of Cambridgeshire by Perring, F.H., Sell, P.D. & Walters, S.M., pp. 281-328. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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