Sunday, 18 January 2015


I was down at Porthkerry Country Park with the family today, and couldn't resist a quick look at the base of the main coastal cliff (Bull Cliff) - particularly as there are two previous records of Southbya tophacea from Porthkerry. Sadly there seems to be no specific indication of where the Southbya might have been. The Flora of Glamorgan states that the first record was made by Wade in 1950, and was then refound by Roy Perry in 1974, but both records are simply labelled "Porthkerry". Googling produced a bit more information from the Transactions of the Cardiff Nats:

Botanical Notes, 1949-50
"Southbya nigrella (De Not.) Spruce. On calcareous tufa, in sheltered crannies of the cliffs between Aberthaw and Fontigary, 1949, and Porthkerry, 1950, associated with the mosses Weisia verticillata and Barbula tophacea and with the Maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris), A.E.W."

Botanical Notes, 1960 
"Southbya tophacea Spruce. Wet cliffs, Font-y-gary, 1949 and Porthkerry, 1950. Previously recorded as Southbya nigrella, but recently re-identified as S. tophacea and constituting the first record for that species in the British Isles."
Anyway, I couldn't resist a quick scoot along the bottom of Bull Cliff (ST0966). In the event the cliffs were soaking wet and there had been a lot of recent slumping, and I couldn't safely ascend off the beach. The slumped material contained only vascular plants. However, looking up, there did seem to be some tufa mounds high on the cliff (in the rubbish phone photo below the tufa was just below the horizontal band of scrub towards the left of the pic).  But completely inaccessible.
Bull Cliff
It is possible that the records are from the cliffs further west (near the fort) rather than Bull Cliff itself. Does anyone know? And has anyone looked for it since 1974??


  1. This is a species we need to understand better given its status. I'll see if Julian can provide me with any additional records and/or site details, but other than the last record below, which is from the site shown to me by Julian where there's a healthy colony, I have no idea what the status is at the other sites. The aerials show there has been a major cliff collapse at the 6-fig Porthkerry site, so that may have gone? The 'Wet Cliffs, Font-y-gary' site looks easy to access and would be worth a visit if anyone is down that way. The hectad records aren't very helpful, but it seems likely these relate to one of the three 6-figure sites listed. I'm not aware of any records from Bull Cliff.

    Wet Cliffs, Font-y-gary ST051658 (1949)
    Porthkerry ST078661 (1950)
    Porthkerry ST06 (30-May-50)
    East Aberthaw ST06 (01-Sep-60)
    near East Aberthaw ST06 (11-Mar-61)
    Aberthaw-Fontygary ST0565 (05-Apr-63)
    East Aberthaw ST046659 (28-Sep-11)

  2. Thanks Barry, I'd somehow missed the Porthkerry record with the 6-fig grid ref in the database. Presumably all the Porthkerry records relate to that site and not Bull Cliff, though it could be there as most of the cliff is impossible to access without specialist equipment.

    Yes, the recent major cliff collapse at the Porthkerry site probably means it's not worth checking that one as a priority. I'll try and get down to the Font-y-gary site at some point...

  3. I saw Southbya at Portkerry a few years ago (5 or 6 or perhaps even a couple more) - I can't remember much about it now apart from fact that it was on a dripping bit of cliff and that we walked west from car parking area on sea front - main thing that excited me at time was that I thought I had recorded it for a new 10km, but realised later that I was just to west of 10km boundary.

  4. p.s. I have also saw it at East Aberthaw, must be over 10 years ago - seem to recall that it wasn't too difficult to find - I was botanising with Julian woodman at time, so perhaps that was colony he showed you?

  5. It sounds like you parked at The Knap, so the site is presumably Bull Cliff where it doesn't seem to have been recorded previously. It would be a different tetrad to the 1950 Porthkerry record.

    I haven't checked that end of the cliff...will endeavour to do so next time I'm down that way.

  6. I too had a wonder along the Cold Knap - Porthkerry Section on Sunday (22.1.15). You are right the Bull Cliff is extremely dangerous - I saw at least 5 small rock falls and the slumped material was actively moving - from a geologists point of view this is not a cliff to climb !

    Anyhow back to the moss, I couldn't see Southbya but I did locate two areas of tufa with moss (ID tbc) and small algae which could be worth a more experienced eye.

    1) Cliff face tufa about 20m in length ST0914666723

    2) Tufa spring in small wooded area just of the very end of the car park where the fence has been put in place by the council, follow the water into the bush and about 10m up the slope ST0952666719

    Samples off to George for ID (sorry George) but a more trained eye may find these two locations worth a look.