Saturday, 28 September 2019

Searching the pool margins for bryophytes at Brown Moss SSSI

Our last field meeting of the year was at Brown Moss SSSI, near Whitchurch today.  The small group, welcomed a new member and we all benefited from Martin Godfrey's tremendous bryophyte knowledge.  The whole site was quieter than expected with most of the dog walkers staying home, perhaps afraid of what the weather might do.  We had a lovely, mainly sunny, few hours of mooching about the wetlands, with an occasional foray into the woods.

We were hoping to find the rare Riccia canaliculata, Channelled Crystalwort, but recent rains had covered any exposed mud, which is its favoured habitat.  The remainder of the drawdown zone was already colonised by aquatic plants for which Brown Moss is well known.  

There was plentiful Lythrum portula, Water Purslane which has clearly had a good year.  

Amongst the Water Purslane was Persicaria mitis, Tasteless Water-Pepper and abundant Ranunculus peltatus.
When examining bryophytes through the hand lens you never know what invertebrate might enter your field of view.  On a young oak tree on the 'island' we came across this Yellow Tail moth caterpillar.  They feed on various deciduous trees and will overwinter as a larvae to resume development next year.  It was crawling on Metzgeria furcata and Ulota crispa.

It was a good end to the 2019 field season and we shall now be finalising next year's programme.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Only one more field meeting to go this year - Brown Moss SSSI, 10.30am, Sat. 28th September 2019

Ranunculus peltatus (photo M.Cousins)
There is always a tinge of regret when nearing the end of the field meeting programme.  So it is nice to finish with a flourish at Brown Moss SSSI, a very diverse and interesting site, renowned for wetland rarities.  So make sure the date is in your diary, Sat. 28th Sept.

We will be privileged to have Dr Martin Godfrey as the leader of this event.  Martin is an experienced teacher, bryologist and pteridologist.

Riccia canaliculata (photo S.Pilkington)
We hope to find the rare liverwort Channelled Crystalwort Riccia canaliculata at its only site in England.  Bring your boots or wellies as it grows on the mud around the pools.  There will be a focus on bryophytes which will be a good run up for autumn/winter recording, when bryophytes really come into their own.

If you would like some background on this enigmatic liverwort, Dr Sharon Pilkington surveyed and reported on the status of Riccia canaliculata at Brown Moss in Field Bryology No 116, p 6-9, Nov 16: Article

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Loton Deer Park, Alberbury 27th April 2019

At our most recent meeting we joined forces with the Alberbury community for the annual nature walk to Loton Deer Park.  We were all guests of Sir Michael Leighton who has looked after the deer park as a haven for wildlife all his life and who joined us for the morning along with birders and entomologists.  The blustery weather kept birds and insects quiet but we saw lots of nice plants in the varied habitats of the park.  We started in the shelter of the broadleaved woodland where everyone's favourites Tammus communis, Black Bryony and Ranunculus auricomis agg. Goldilock's Buttercup were gracing the side of the path as we wound our way up to the deer park past the quarry.

The top find in the deer park was this Potentilla argentea, Hoary Cinquefoil (spotted by Penny).  It is not very common in Shropshire but was known from this site.  It was nestled amongst the Erodium cicutarium, Common Stork's-bill and other ephemerals on the track side.

The finale was a rare treat for a Botanical Society outing as there were refreshments afterwards at the village hall including bacon butty, tea and cakes all made by the local community and in aid of the Cardeston Church Faulty Tower Appeal.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

There was a great turnout for the first field trip on Saturday, 30th March which took us up Caer Caradoc in some very fine weather.

Teesdalia nudicaulis, Shepherd's Cress was the star of the show with many rosettes in flower on the first steep slope we encountered.

The group fanned out for a finger tip search and also found the diminutive Gnaphalium sylvaticum, Heath Cudweed and plentiful Rumex acetosella, Sheep's Sorrel.

We had lunch below the rocks on the Iron Age hillfort to stay out of the fresh breeze which was blowing across the top.  This helped clear the haze and we were rewarded with fine views of the Strettons below.

Dan Wrench captivated everyone with the finer details of identification of some more difficult plants.

We decided to descend via Helmeth Hill, the beautiful Woodland Trust woodland, where the spring flowers were just coming into bloom.

There was a fetching clump of Luzula pilosa, Hairy Wood-rush beside the path which wound its way gently through this very beautiful ancient woodland.  The bluebells will be spectacular in a few weeks time.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Search for Spring ephemerals- first field meeting of 2019

The 2019 Field Meetings Programme is now on the calendar and the first meeting is this Saturday, 30th March and takes us up Caer Caradoc in a search for spring ephemerals.  We had to cancel last year's planned trip up Ragleth as the weather was so awful and there was no shelter, so this time if it is bad weather we'll stick to the sheltered lower slopes of Caradoc and maybe go into Helmeth Wood instead.  The forecast actually looks good for the weekend with more warm weather this week which might bring on some spring flowers.  If not, it will still be a nice walk!  See you soon.  Check the Field Meetings Programme for details.

Blinks and Parsley Piert

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Field meetings past!

We're having fun mapping where past field meetings have taken place, there seem to be a few 'holes':
Map of SBS field meetings

It helps to have a visual record of where we've been and to ensure no parts of the VC 40 remain unrecorded for too long.  Not only that we want all members to get a chance to attend field meetings and not to have to travel too far.  If you have any suggestions or requests for 2019 do let us know.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Shropshire Botanical Society - Out and about with beginners at Oswestry Hill Fort

In the giddy heights of an English summer with the surrounding countryside humming with life, Sue Townsend, the Botanical Society Treasurer looks back on two beginners plant hunts where great records were made, learners engaged and conservation objectives were discussed.  What more can you want from a beginners day?

The first of the two beginners field meetings last year was at Old Oswestry Hill Fort on 1st July 2017.  Most of the records were taken at SJ2931.  This fabulous ancient monument is owned by English Heritage and managed mostly through volunteer efforts.  It was even reported in the Oswestry Advertiser as we were part of a Bioblitz event.  The headline was “This was a special day as It’s official – Oswestry Hillfort is a haven for wildlife galore”.  This event was organised by a Botanical Society member Clare Knight who works for the Shrewsbury based consultantsTurnstone Ecology.

Entrance to Old Oswestry Hill Fort
So we were not alone.  Specialists in moths, bats, birds, bees, beetles, spiders and small mammals came from all over Shropshire to take part in the BioBlitz.

The aim was to take a snapshot of the hillfort’s flora and fauna over 24 hours, most likely the first major ecological study in its 3,000-year history.

Data was collected to guide on-going landscape maintenance to ensure it safeguards the hillfort’s archaeological structures and thriving ecology.  More than 400 species of flora or fauna were logged on the day, including an encouraging number of invertebrates not previously recorded.

The Botanical Society assembled from midday and Clare joined us along with members Dan Wrench, Tina Tearu, Ed Lomax and Gill Wilson.  Members of the public joined in along the way and eagle eyes spotted plants which we were hunting from pre-existing records. 

Old Oswestry was built and occupied during the Iron Age (800 BC to AD 43) and is one of the best-preserved hillforts in Britain. It remained in use for almost 1,000 years.  It is composed of banks and ditches which would have been formidable obstacles to any attacker – but more importantly for the naturalist gives a mixture of sands, clays and gravels lifted up and away from the influence of agriculture and roads to give us a selection of grassland habitats. The ramparts are among the most impressive of any British hillfort, enclosing a central area of 8.4 hectares. 

The steep grassy ramparts with scrub and trees
For centuries the slopes were densely covered by trees, and an 18th-century writer describes threading his way ‘through the thorny intricacies of this sylvan labyrinth’. 

This tells us that there was scrub and perhaps wooded areas – but there are also deep clay lined pools which were a joy to descend into and discover some aquatics.  

Our full list is a little long to include here – so I thought I would concentrate on the 21 axiophytes which you will all remember as those special plants, often but not always rare – but indicative of Shropshire’s special flora.  The full list of the plants recorded at the site can be accessed from the Records Database at Shropshire Ecological Data Network.  All these records have been checked by Sarah Whild, our County Recorder, who received our 166 plant records for this site to add to this data.  

We did not record some species found in previous years, particularly the ferns Scaly Male-fern Dryopteris affinis, Broad Buckler-fern D. dilatata and Male Fern D. felix-mas; they were possibly  there – but too small to confirm with no spores.  We were also unsure of the presence of Nodding Bur Marigold Bidens cernua (there were some young shoots but in amongst the Trifid bur-marigold Bidens tripartita) and the Water Starworts or Water Crowfoot Ranunculus peltatus were not found in the drying, shallow ponds. We saw no violets as they would have withered to nothing being spring flowers but other spring flowers were seen hidden amongst the lovely Great Wood-rush Luzula sylvatica.  These included both Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta  and Wood Anemone Anenome nemorosa which were thriving relics of past woodland cover on the slopes.  We were determined to work at the hawkweeds that we discovered on the steep sandy slopes and valiantly keyed them out using the well-known tome of Stace.  We did send samples as pressed specimens to Tim Rich – national referee, as these are cryptic species that are very difficult for the non-specialist to determine.  Tim was really helpful and got back to us within 2 weeks so we could add these to our species list with confidence. The hawkweeds Hieracium argillaceum and H.vulgatum were confirmed and to our delight we actually got one right ourselves! We found some really lovely plants and one of the highlights was Greater Broomrape Orobanche rapum-genistae Thuill. We found this in it’s usual place, just off the footpath in the patch of broom to the left of the path.  It has been there for years and as a parasitic plant, has no chlorophyll but inserts its roots into the roots of the host plant and extracts nutrients direct from the Broom Cytisus scoparius.  It was very withered so our photos did not do it justice – the photo below is taken from the BSBI website.   Another lovely plant was Wild Basil Clinopodium vulgare which we found at the foot of one of the ramparts, photo from the NBN Atlas

Greater Broomrape Orobanche rapum-genistae

Wild Basil Clinopodium vulgare

The day was a great success in terms of enjoyment and interaction with many other naturalists.  We had fun, learnt some botany and rediscovered some lovely plants.  The full list of axiophytes is shown in the table below:

Scientific name
Common name
Aira praecox
Early Hair-grass
Alchemilla filicaulis
Common Lady's-mantle
Allium ursinum
Anemone nemorosa
Wood Anemone
Bidens cernua
Nodding Bur-marigold
Blechnum spicant
Hard Fern
Calluna vulgaris
Carex vesicaria
Bladder Sedge
Clinopodium vulgare
Wild Basil
Deschampsia flexuosa
Wavy Hair-grass
Galium odoratum
Sweet Woodruff
Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Hypericum pulchrum
Slender St John's-wort
Luzula sylvatica
Great Wood-rush
Lythrum portula
Water Purslane
Orobanche rapum-genistae
Greater Broomrape
Oxalis acetosella
Polygala serpyllifolia
Heath Milkwort
Trisetum flavescens
Yellow Oat-grass
Vaccinium myrtillus
Veronica officinalis
Heath Speedwell

I would like to thank Claire Knight and Turnstone Ecology for making the Botanical Society so welcome and English Heritage for their permission to use the site on the day.