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BBS Survey of the Bryophytes of Arable Land (SBAL) – special meeting.

Turriff, N. Aberdeenshire (v.c. 93), 29 October-1 November 2004


Eight bryologists converged on Turriff on 29-31 October 2004 for this special BBS meeting. In the current Survey of the Bryophytes of Arable Land (SBAL), 100 ‘random’ tetrads have been selected for study in Britain , and our primary aim was to record two arable fields in each of the nine tetrads in north-east Scotland (v.-c. 90-94). We also hoped to survey as many other fields as possible, both for SBAL and to complement the records from other habitats made on the summer meeting in v.-c. 93.

Mark Hill, Ron Porley and Chris Preston travelled to Turriff via Fife . When leaving Fife on Friday morning we were delayed by local flooding, following heavy overnight rain. As we drove north in a continued downpour our subconscious doubts about the wisdom of holding an autumn meeting in Aberdeenshire began to surface. However, the rain stopped as we left the car for the first of the two Kincardineshire (v.-c. 91) tetrads. Ron collected a Didymodon in the first field at Chapelfield that turned out to be tuberous D. insulanus (see Figure 1); we later found the same plant in v.-c. 93 and v.-c. 94. The highlight of the remaining fields was a damp corner of a stubble field at Waterside of Phesdo (see Figure 2), where frequent fruiting plants of Anthoceros agrestis grew with Blasia pusilla amongst a sward of Plantago major subsp. intermedia. Ditrichum pusillum was detected in material from a second, setaside, field in this tetrad. David Chamberlain and Liz Kungu delayed their departure from Edinburgh because of the rain but nevertheless completed their allocated tetrad in Angus (v.-c. 90), finding Riccia glauca and R. sorocarpa in both fields. Phil Lambdon (from Brathens), Keith Watson (Glasgow) and Fred Rumsey ( London ) completed the group.

For the weekend’s fieldwork we split into three parties, radiating out from Turriff. We recorded 29 further fields, including 12 in the remaining random tetrads in v.-c. 92-94. Aberdeenshire and Banff are areas of mixed farming on undulating land. Calm, mild weather (very overcast on Saturday, much brighter on Sunday), the autumn colours of the beech trees, and the calling skeins of geese that frequently flew high over the SBAL parties, made for very pleasant field conditions. In the early evenings, Mark and Phil took over the kitchen of our self-catering accommodation to make the ‘mud pies’ needed for pH measurements, before joining the rest of the group clustered round microscopes on the dining-room table.

We found relatively little variation in the arable fields we recorded. The commonest crop was barley, and rape and potato fields were frequent; we also inspected fields of wheat, turnips and organic oats. Maize, such a frequent feature of mixed farmland in England , is not grown this far north. The soils were mainly loams or silts; almost all fields had a pH between 6 and 7. Many stubble fields were still unploughed, and so there was no difficulty finding fields ‘in suitable condition’ in the random tetrads. We recorded fields on a couple of organic farms, one found by chance and the other deliberately visited

We listed 10-20 species in most fields studied. Bryum rubens, Dicranella staphylina, Oxyrrhynchium (Eurhynchium) hians, Tortula truncata and Trichodon cylindricus (Ditrichum cylindricum), grew in almost all fields, and Riccia sorocarpa, Barbula convoluta, Brachythecium rutabulum, Bryum subapiculatum, B. violaceum, Dicranella schreberiana, Kindbergia praelonga (Eurhynchium praelongum), Phascum cuspidatum (Tortula acaulon), Pohlia camptotrachela and P. wahlenbergii were in over a third of those we visited. Only three fields had fewer than 10 species, the worst being an organic potato field at Crichneyled (v.-c. 93), where Liz and Ron found only Oxyrrhynchium hians. Ironically, the next worst, with seven species, was at Mosshead in the village of Whitehouse (v.-c. 92); in this field, Leptobryum pyriforme grew as protonema with tubers but we did not find leafy shoots. Two barley stubble fields were outstanding. Fred, Mark and Phil found one at Cultercullen (v.-c. 92) with 29 taxa, including, remarkably, Pogonatum urnigerum and Polytrichum commune. At Cornhill (v.-c. 94), Chris, Fred and Phil recorded 34 taxa, including seven liverworts: Blasia pusilla, Fossombronia wondraczekii, Lunularia cruciata, Marchantia polymorpha, Riccardia chamedryfolia, Riccia glauca and R. sorocarpa. The Cultercullen field had a low, damp area which had flooded in the past, and at Cornhill the lowest part of the field (with locally abundant Lunularia) was in the flood zone of the Burn of Boyne.

The weekend was successful in gathering data for SBAL and produced over 30 candidate new vice-county records. Loud laughter round the breakfast table on the Monday morning suggested that the party were leaving north-east Scotland in good heart.

C. D. Preston

CEH Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, Cambs PE28 2LS


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