Categories
Bryophyte Trip report

Swindale bryophyte trip report 10 December 2023

The weather forecast for 10 December was for non-stop double rain all day, so it was a small and determined group that met at Swindale, three of us looking at bryophytes (Ian, Kerry and Clare) and Caz and Chris looking for lichens. We headed up the valley along the road, wading at times through deep puddles, to reach the bridge by the stepping stones over Swindale Beck. then followed the path to Gouthercrag Gill.

The first stop was by the bridge over the gill. There were many Racomitrium species on rocks near the water, including R. aciculare by the water’s edge, R. lanuginosum, R. heterostichum and R. fasciculare (both checked microscopically); also Polytrichum piliferum and a small cushion of Grimmia donniana with a single capsule. Some good mossy boulders had Barbilophozia attenuata and a small patch of Lophozia sudetica, tentatively identified by the red back to the stem and bilobed leaves. Later, under the dissecting microscope, some nice red perianths were found. A few yards from the beck, a rock face with water running down it had a good range of tufa moss: Amphidium mougeotii, Gymnostomum aeruginosum and Anoectangium aestivum, as well as Palustriella commutata, Conocephalum salebrosum, Preissia quadrata and Fissidens taxifolius. There were healthy patches of Loeskeobryum brevirostre by the beck, and a small amount of Fontinalis antipyretica at the edge of the water.

We headed away from the beck, past flushes where Dichodontium palustre was growing with Philonotis fontana and small amounts of Sphagnum auriculatum and S. inundatum. Scrambling up a slope that proved to be a stable boulder field, we found large amounts of Barbilophozia floerkei. In this promising habitat we hoped to find more Atlantic species such as Anastrepta orcadensis, but the Barbilophozia was predominant. Some of the boulders had large quantities of Gymnomitrion obtusum and some Andreaea rupestris, whilst low crags had cushions of Bartramia pommiformis. At the top of the boulder field, Gouther Crag provided some shelter so we stopped for lunch and a welcome hot drink under a hawthorn which occasionally showered us with drips. Although the crags themselves were dry and largely unpromising, we found some different species on boulders below, including Plagiomnium affine, Plagiothecium denticulatum var. denticulatum, Ptilidium ciliare and a small, narrow-leaved Polytrichum that turned out to be Polytrichastum alpinum. The weather had been showery rather than the unremitting heavy rain that the forecast suggested, but it was still starting to soak into the ends of sleeves and it was a bit on the chilly side to be sitting, so we decided to descend the slope and walk briskly up the valley to look at some hazel woodland. On the way down we passed a large cushion of Tortella tortuosa and an enormous colony of Gymnomitrion obtusum. The hazel woodland produced a few more species including Ulota bruchii, Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus and Frullania tamarisci. It was encouraging to see that the hazels all had abundant young stems as well as older wood. Unfortunately by this stage the rain seemed to be getting heavier and we were getting colder, so we decided to head back. It was a lovely site, quiet and unspoilt, and would definitely be worth revisiting in better weather, perhaps exploring further up the valley and some of the other crags. There was enough variety here to suggest it might warrant further exploration.

Text and photos: Clare Shaw and Kerry Milligan

Categories
Bryophyte Trip report

Blawith Common bryophyte trip report 14 November 2023

On the day before the trip date, the weather was appalling, with strong winds and relentless heavy rain, and the weather forecast was not amazing, so we set off for the day with some trepidation to see how the weather would evolve. There was a lot of standing water on the roads, with quite long stretches of the Burton road submerged, but two of us arrived safely at the meeting point on the A5084, near the small road to Stable Harvey (SD 28934 91049). There was a surprisingly good turnout, with eight people in the bryophyte group.

With the benefit of local knowledge from Rob, we decided to have a quick look at the quarry where some of us were parked. It was indeed a good site and the bare quarry floor was almost entirely carpeted in bryophytes, including Philonotis fontana, small amounts of Dichodontium palustre, Didymodon insulanis, Campylium stellatum, Cratoneuron filicinum, Calliergonella cuspidata and quite a surprising amount of Palustriella commutata (not as regularly pinnate as you would normally expect, but showing all the other features – plentiful rhizoids and paraphylla, curved leaves etc.). We had two beginner bryologists joining the group for the first time, so this was a good opportunity for teaching / revising some common species. The walls of the quarry also had quite a good variety of species: large quantities of Kindbergia praelonga in one corner, also Schistidium crassipilum and some small cushions of fruiting Ptychomitrium polyphyllum. At the far entrance there was further evidence of base-rich substrate, with Tortella tortuosa and Ctenidium molluscum. It was nice to see a good cushion of the tufa moss Gymnostomum aeruginosum, as well as Ptilidium ciliare and a small patch of Scapania compacta.

After a good explore of this area we thought it was time to head for the mires on Blawith common. We splashed up the Stable Harvey road, stopping to admire some lovely patches of the lichen Pannaria conoplea on an old ash (see lichen report!). The lower stretches of the road pass through open woodland with birch and some old ash and oak. Spotting a waterfall just off the road, we headed off to explore. The waterfall had Chionoloma tenuirostre, Metzgeria conjugata and a few nice cushions of Amphidium mougeotii (another tufa moss), but sadly no Jubula hutchinsiae, which has however been recorded in this tetrad. A veteran oak overhanging a rock face had a big cushion of prolifically fruiting Leucobryum at its foot – the capsules (with a white calyptra and distinctive but small bump at the base) pointed to L. glaucum as L. juniperoideum is more rarely seen fruiting and the capsules are slightly different. A sample was examined in case it was L. albidum, but it was confirmed by Tom Blockeel as L. glaucum. Hanging off the rock face, on a mat of decaying vegetative matter, was a small amount of Lophozia incisa. There was also some nice, gemmiferous Lophozia ventricosa on a tree root, Gymocolea inflata on a rock and a potential Rhytidiadelphus subpinnatus. We had lunch near the waterfall, then headed back to the road under a grey sky and light drizzle. Some flat rocks near the road had Polytrichum pilliferum, Racomitrium lanuginosum and Pogonatum urnigerum with Bryum alpinum and Breutelia chrysocoma in seepages. By the road edge there was some gold-tinted Sphagnum inundatum.

A little way up the road, we finally reached the mire, which at first was rather poor, mainly Molinia and Myrica gale with only small amounts of Sphagnum beneath. We collected a couple of Sphagnum species, then headed across the road to a better site, where there were cushions of Polytrichum strictum and Aulocomium palustre, as well as several Sphagnums: S. capillifolium subsp. capillifolium, S. auriculatum, S. fallax, S. inundatum, S. palustre, S. papillosum and S. russowii. There were patches of Odontoschisma Sphagni and one patch of Mylia anomala, with only a few shoots showing clusters of gemmae after the heavy rain. Straminergon stramineum was poking its head out of some of the mounds. A small escarpment of rocks above the mire had Andreaea rothii and Ptilidium ciliare.

A cold wind was starting to blow, so we decided to beat a retreat. It was an enjoyable day, and undoubtedly far better than any of us had been expecting.

Text and photos: Clare Shaw

Categories
Bryophyte Trip report

Brown Cove bryophyte trip report 11-6-23

Another blazing hot day was forecast, this time with the possibility of thunderstorms, so it wasn’t entirely surprising that I was the only bryologist that was up for the exposed slog up to Brown Cove in conditions where all the bryophytes would likely be too dessicated to identify. Fortunately there was a good lichen turnout and I was promised that there was some water still in Brown Cove, so we set off with hopeful hearts.

We hadn’t gone far before I spotted one of the papillose, Canescentia group of Racomitrium by the side of the track, which I later identified as R. elongatum. As we ascended the track there were small ditches and drainage channels running off the hillside which did indeed still have some water, and where Philonotis fontana, Dichodontium palustre and Scapania undulata flourished. We stopped for a water break – and to examine a large rock by the path – which had Andreaea rupestris and A. rothii, Racomitrium fasciculare and possible Racomitrium heterostichum. Sadly no Gymnomitrion, which surprisingly seemed to be absent from the whole site.

We passed the old dam and considered the enormous hole and the poor quality of the work as Pete told us the story of its very short life. The original dam, which seems to have been an earth barrier, was put up to provide electricity for the Greenside lead mine, but breached in a storm in 1927, causing extensive damage in Glenridding. It was replaced by the concrete dam which can be seen today in about 1929, but it seems to have failed almost immediately and the reservoir and dam were abandoned in 1931. A little beyond the dam we made our way down the earth bank of the original dam to the beck, which we then followed up to its source at the tarn in Brown Cove. The beck was bryophyte heaven, with huge mounds of golden Sciuro-hypnum plumosum and green Hygrohypnum ochraceum, with smaller amounts of Chionoloma tenuirostre, the ‘aromatic’ Jungermannia exsertifolia and some mounds of Amphidium mougeotii. Reaching the cove, we found that the tarn was a very shallow pool with green clumps of algae – I felt better about forgetting my swimming costume.

After a pleasant lunch we explored the edges of the tarn where rare lichens had previously been recorded. A rock on the edge had a sprawling moss which later turned out to be Antitrichia curtipendula – a nice find as it is a formerly (relatively) common moss which seems to be struggling. The ’grappling hook’ shaped teeth on the leaves are very distinctive.

Antitrichia curtipendula leaf tips
Antitrichia curtipendula leaf tips

I thought I’d make my way up the beck above the tarn, towards the ridge, in the hopes that higher altitude might bring more variety. However the species seemed to be mainly more of the same, though growing in abundance. There was a pleasant breeze though at this height, and there were ring ouzels calling, though I couldn’t see them. The flowering plants were also lovely – lots of Starry and Mossy saxifrage and Alpine ladies mantle. After pushing on for a while in the hopes that the next waterfall might bring something new, I eventually decided to call it a day and return to the lichenologists who were still at the tarn.

Checking my list of previous records I realised that there was one very interesting liverwort recorded just above the water level of the tarn – Porella obtusata. There are I think four records from Cumbria, all around Ullswater, but I’d never seen it before. I finally found it after completing a full tour of the lake, right below our lunch spot.

Porella obtusata – golden brown shoots with large, plane lobules a similar size to the underleaves:

Porella obtusata – golden brown shoots with large, plane lobules a similar size to the underleaves
Porella obtusata – golden brown shoots with large, plane lobules a similar size to the underleaves

Heading back down the beck I wanted to have a closer look at some large rocks I noticed on the way up, and was pleased to see Andreaea alpina and Anomodon julacea.

Andreaea alpina

Andreaea alpina

Anomodon julacea growing in profusion with deceptively small Dichodontium pellucidum.

Although the thunderstorms hadn’t materialized, the heat was increasing as we descended into the valley, so some of us beat a hasty retreat and enjoyed a well-earned cold drink at the youth hostel bar. All in all, a very pleasant and rewarding day.

Text and photos: Clare Shaw

Categories
Bryophyte

Bryophytes of limestone regions in southern Cumbria

Limestone forms a striking part of the landscape in southern Cumbria and over the border into Lancashire. The cliffs and screes of Hutton Roof / Farleton Fell and Whitbarrow Scar loom over the M6 and A590 and are visible for miles. Gait Barrows NNR (Lancashire) claims to be one of Britain’s most important limestone habitats, and further stretches of limestone pavement appear throughout the Arnside and Silverdale AONB, which is where I live. The most visible and exposed stretches of limestone don’t look like ideal bryophyte territory, but the damp recesses of grikes in limestone pavement harbour a range of limestone specialists, and where the pavement is sheltered from the wind by trees, or in damp hollows, rocks and walls are usually covered in a carpet of mosses. Some of the commonest species are easily found and identified.

Rocks and stone walls in woodland

Bryophyte habitats on stone walls, rocks and remains of limestone pavement
Woodland rocks carpeted with bryophytes  
Bryophyte habitats on stone walls, rocks and remains of limestone pavement
Bryophyte cushions on stone walls

Several mosses are calcicoles – they prefer base-rich rock and are very abundant on limestone walls or rocks in woodland. Ctenidium molluscum is a distinctive moss which appears everywhere here, coating rocks and walls, but also growing among plants in grassland. The tips of the branches are tightly curved and reflect the light, so it appears silky, and often has golden tints. Neckera crispa also predominates, often hanging off walls and rocks in sheets, with large wrinkled, blistery leaves.

Ctenidium molluscum
Neckera crispa

Neckera complanata sometimes appears alongside and is a smaller, more elegant moss, with a similar habit of shoots flattened in one plane but with smooth rather than wrinkled leaves.

Neckera complanata
Neckera complanata close-up

Thamnobryum alopecurum is easily recognisable with its distinctive tree-like habit. It tends to grow over rocks on the ground, or at the base of walls.

Thamnobryum alopecurum
Ctinidium molluscum with Thamnobryum alopecurum over rocks

Anomodon viticulosus is less ubiquitous, but where it occurs it can form huge patches on walls or rocky banks, sometimes in more exposed locations. It is often a bright, lime green colour and has a very neat habit, which makes it easy to spot.

Anomodon viticulosus covering several feet of stone wall
Anomodon viticulosus close-up

Porella platyphylla is a liverwort that grows in similar conditions on damp walls, but is slightly less common. It can look similar to Neckera crispa, but the branches divide more regularly to form flat fans, and it has underleaves and lobules on the underside of the leaves. Porella arboris-vitae can occasionally be found on rock or in grykes on limestone pavement. It’s a darker, more olive green, with leaves that curl under to form almost tube-like shoots, and under a microscrope you can see that the underleaves are toothed. If you feel like tasting it, it is supposed to have a peppery taste.

Porella platyphylla
Porella platyphylla close-up showing underleaves and lobules
Porella platyphylla close-up showing underleaves and lobules

Porella arboris vitae
Porella arboris-vitae
Porella arboris vitae close-up showing toothed underleaves
Porella arboris-vitae close-up showing toothed underleaves


A final interesting and uncommon species is worth mentioning as it’s relatively easy to find. Marchesinia mackaii grows on shaded limestone outcrops and has been described as looking like graffiti. It occurs in several places in Arnside/Silverdale and also around Grange over Sands.

Marchesinia mackaii
Marchesinia mackaii
Marchesinia mackaii close-up
Marchesinia mackaii close-up

Exposed rocks

Bryophytes on exposed rock
Mosses growing in damp hollows in limestone pavement
Bryophytes on exposed rock
Limestone pavement on Whitbarrow Scar

More exposed rocks are likely to be less heavily overgrown with moss, but a good variety of species can be easily found. Homalothecium sericeum is common on limestone, it grows appressed to the rock and has a velvety appearance.

Homalothecium sericeum
Homalothecium sericeum

Other mosses tend to form cushions. One of the most common of these is Tortella tortuosa, which is quite a bright or light green and has long wavy leaves that twist into a spiral when dry.

Tortella tortuosa with ctenidium molluscum
Tortella tortuosa with ctenidium molluscum
Tortella tortuosa close-up
Tortella tortuosa close-up

Other Tortella species include Tortella nitida and Tortella densa. T. nitida is fairly common on stone walls and rocks on the south-facing slopes of Silverdale. It likes sunny situations and also seems to be well recorded around Grange over Sands. It forms tight cushions, the leaves are shorter and straighter than T. tortuosa, they often lose their tips and curl distinctively into tight balls when dry.

Tortella nitida
Tortella nitida
Tortella nitida close-up
Tortella nitida close-up

Tortella densa is a rare moss (described as ‘very rare’ in Smith) that is worth looking out for. It grows in a couple of places on the limestone pavement in Arnside and Silverdale AONB. The leaves are erect and straight, and it tends to be a duller green than the other Tortella species.

Tortella densa
Tortella densa

A very common cushion-forming moss is Schistidium crassipulum, widespread everywhere as it grows on tarmac, concrete and mortar in walls as well as on natural limestone. It forms looser cushions than Tortella species and usually has hair points. It can also be identified by the capsules, which are red when ripe but usually hidden among the leaves, so you need to search them out.

Schistidium crassipulum
Schistidium crassipulum
Schistidium crassipulum capsule
Schistidium crassipulum capsule

Two Orthotrichum species are common on limestone. Orthotrichum anomalum has reddish brown capsules with a sparsely hairy caliptra which are held clearly above the leaves, whereas Orthotrichum cupulatum has lighter, brownish capsules which are held barely clear of the leaves.

Orthotrichum anomalum in the foreground, with Orthotrichum cupulatum behind and right
Orthotrichum anomalum in the foreground, with Orthotrichum cupulatum behind and right

Another very common moss here, growing in rock crevices and on rocky paths, is Fissidens dubius or ‘rock pocket moss’, recognisable from other Fissidens species by its toothed margin and rows of pellucid cells. There are about twenty Fissidens species, but this one seems to predominate in this area.

Fissidens dubius
Fissidens dubius
Fissidens dubius leaf under microscope
Fissidens dubius leaf under microscope

Obviously, this is just a snapshot of the main species. If you find any more interesting bryophytes that you’d like to share, from limestone habitats or elsewhere, or if you’d like help with identification, please share your photos on the Facebook group.

Clare Shaw