Friday, 27 January 2017

Homage in the Hepste

It's nearly 18 years since Graham and I visited Sgwd yr Eira to pay homage to the southernmost British population of Sphenolobopsis pearsonii - found by Martha Newton in 1994 and 'twitched' by us in 1999.  We were glad to see that this Nationally Scarce liverwort is still present on one rockface (we assume it's the same one where Martha found it, though we haven't yet checked), but were worried to see that most of the patch looks moribund.

On our way to the Sphenolobopsis we searched the ravine downstream - where Plagiochila bifaria was present in a classic mist-zone location - and some south-facing cliffs where putative Ctenidium molluscum var robustum (or perhaps var condensatum) grew close to var molluscum and looked convincingly different (if un-nameable).  Nearby there was some Dicranum montanum on a log.

Then we reached Sgwd yr Eira, with its classic walk-behind waterfall and extensive mist zone.  Most Ash trunks were plastered with algae - too humid for anything else perhaps - but eventually we found some Plagiochila exigua at the base of an Ash.  Unlike the small Lejeuneaceae this species lacks propagules, so it's a sure-fire indicator of long-term Atlantic bryophyte richness in the valley.

The first stretch upstream of Sgwd yr Eira was a bit dull, but frequent Anastrophyllum hellerianum on logs and a few patches of Filmy Ferns kept us going until we reached a set of low cascades.  At long last there was some Aphanolejeunea - 30+ patches on a Willow and 1 on a massive boulder - the first record for the Hepste-Mellte catchment.  Careful scrutiny revealed a single shoot of Drepanolejeunea growing alongside one Aphanolejeunea patch, but we couldn't find any more.

Happy with our lot we continued upstream in the fading light, where a yapa (Bolivian word for an added bonus) came in the form of Hygrobiella laxifolia on a riverside rock shelf.  The godfather of south Wales bryology HH Knight found this species in "Hepste Glen" in the early 20th century, but nobody had seen it since.  This was a fitting end to an outstanding final day of our Coedydd Nedd a Mellte survey!


  1. I do like your virtual tours, yet another one I look forward to following in the footsteps of one day. I've always wanted to see Hygrobiella, which looks very twitch able, so this might take precedence on my hit list. Great work both.

  2. As Barry says, these 'virtual tours' are great, and will be very helpful if any of us get up there to try and twitch these rarties. Sounds like a fun day out!

  3. Please dont think we have scoured every part of part of these fantastic woodlands. We have only sampled some of the outcrops, boulders and trees ... Different eyes will see different things ... there is undoubtedly more to be found.

    You comments about virtual tours jogged my memory of a project I had in mind some years ago before health and work got in the way ... I was wondering if it would be useful to have a series of photo tours, aimed mainly at people starting to get into bryology, covering a range of relatively stable habitats and mostly common species (to reduce risks of pops being damaged) with a geographical spread and covering a variety of habitats, on the county pages of the BBS web site. Do you think this would be useful?

    1. I would welcome such an aid.

  4. Ps. I was thinking that the County Recorders could focus on their own county... Breconshire in my case.

  5. Sounds a very good idea Graham and a great way to encourage people to look and gain confidence.

  6. This would be a good add on to the BBS Travelogues, that Mark Lawley initiated - accessible from the website. However, I know that Mark put in a phenomenal amount of effort on the Travelogues with only partial uptake and a photo site guide would require much more work and would (I suspect) attract few volunteers. Many established bryologists would also claim a threat to the populations from collectors, whereas I would argue that few if any recent converts to bryology would collect something as a trophy and there would be more of a threat from unwitting collection of something unfamiliar. More local Blogs with location photos would perhaps be the best way of guiding people to colonies.

  7. I think providing help in understanding the key components of habitats, rather than purely a guide to rarities, to what I think would be most helpful in encourage beginners. Highlighting the main species, plus a few spp of special interest, in habitats around well known sites such as Bute Park, Kenfig NNR, Margam CP, Pennard Cliffs, etc. would have been invaluable for building confidence when i was starting off.

  8. That's what I was thinking of ... Choosing easy access sites in locations that aren't sensitive covering coarse habitats and pointing out the dominant bryos that are most obvious to the naked eye, probably only covering a dozen or so species at each site. Mainly aimed at people trying to get into bryology.... I'll draft something in next few weeks and see if it works.

  9. That does indeed sound excellent. There's an American equivalent called Virtual Birding - South Wales could be the go to place for Virtual Bryology.