Searching for Sandstone Bryophytes: Part 2

I recently visited Eridge Rocks to look for some more sandstone Bryophytes. Eridge Rocks is a superb site with a line of sandstone cliffs running through the 43 hectare woodland towards the nearby nature reserve Broadwater Warren. The cliffs are very tall and I have never explored a habitat quite like it before. It is known for its incredibly diverse community of lower plants (ferns, mosses, liverworts, lichens etc.)

When I arrived I immediately found a new species to me in the form of a nondescript Bramble in the car park. I took photos so that I could identify it at home and it turned out to be Rubus scaber. New species #1 and my 7th Bramble species ever identified (I recently found a lot along our private road). All Brambles might look similar, but they are subtly different in the spine structure, stem hairiness, stem shape, leaf shape and flower shape.

DSCN0596

Unlike Loder Valley, you don’t have to walk far to reach the site. You can see the rocks before you even reach the car park! The first thing I saw when I got to the rocks wasn’t a Bryophyte but in fact a species of Bamboo! It was a bit out of place, but again I took some photos for it to be identified back home. Several different webpages on Eridge Rocks say that Bamboo is found here, but I’m not sure why. There are only two or three healthy shoots and several scraggly ones. After a bit of internet searching I think they are Pseudosasa japonica. If anyone has any other ideas, please comment.

DSCN0628

I quickly moved on to the Bryophytes on the first rock. The variety really amazed me, I wasn’t familiar with most of the Bryophytes except for the few that I had found a few days earlier at Loder Valley. I quickly got my eye in however, my marked pages once again proving useful. By the end of the walk I saw nearly all of the Bryophytes whose pages I had marked. I was following in the footsteps of the British Bryological Society South-East group, who visited the site 13 months ago. Therefore my account is rather similar to the meeting report compiled by Brad Scott: https://diversionsinnaturalhistory.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/eridge-rocks-east-sussex-vc-14/

On the first rock, I immediately saw Dicranum scottianum, Calypogeia integristipula, Odontoschisma denudatum and Barbilophozia attenuata in one cramped patch. They were all out in the open apart from Odontoschisma denudatum which was annoyingly only to be seen in a small crag on the rock face at that particular section. Dicranum scottianum dominated, with Calypogeia integristipula second in command and spreading out from beneath the tufts of Dicranum scottianumBarbilophozia attenuata was only found in certain small patches but more cooperative than the seemingly shy Odontoschisma denudatum. 

Around the other side of the rock (I should mention that the rocks are ten to twenty metres high and up to thirty metres wide) there was a similar patch. There was an old rotting stump leaning against the rock face near that patch and that was dominated by Barbilophozia attenuata. 

The rest of the rocks had communities very similar to that of the first rock, but different micro-climates offered a slightly different array of species. In the darker areas like small caves or heavily shaded sections, the Cephalozia species (C. connivens and C. bicuspidata) were most prominent whereas in the slightly wetter areas Tetraphis pellucida was more dominant.

It wasn’t just the Bryophytes that were interesting though. I was able to find two very interesting lichens that were mentioned in the meeting report above: Cladonia incrassata and Bunodophoron melanocarpum. Cladonia incrassata was the most common one, with the thalli present on nearly every rock. The fruits were less abundant, but where they were present they were very pretty. Bunodophoron melanocarpum I only found one patch of, but it is my favourite lichen I’ve seen so far. It seems very exotic, a lichen I would’ve expected to see in Western Scotland or Cumbria. As said in the meeting report though, it is quite notable in the South-East.

When I got home I was able to count how many new species I had seen. I was very pleased with a total of 16 species, 12 Bryophytes, 2 lichens and 2 vascular plants.

My family and I haven’t explored a habitat quite like Eridge Rocks before. We even saw Homer Simpson (see below).

DSCN0690

Homer, as bald as ever…

Searching for Sandstone Bryophytes: Part 1

Today we visited Loder Valley Nature Reserve near Wakehurst Place. It is special not only for its excellent Hazel coppice (great for Dormice) and sandstone outcrops but because it only allows 50 people in per day; but we may have been the only people to brave the mud. This was good because the birds on the Ardingly Reservoir were very anxious and agitated.

I had marked some of the species of moss and liverwort found on sandstone in the South-East in my field guide (Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland: a Field Guide), which has its first birthday in 8 days. There weren’t many, so that made identification relatively easy. That’s crucial when it is unseasonably hot, you are carrying lots and you forgot to bring a water bottle! Not to mention the field guide weighs a tonne!

To get to the reserve, we had to go through Wakehurst Place. Wakehurst is a garden run by Kew and there are a variety of habitats. There are even a few sandstone outcrops. We passed one on the way to the reserve and we could see quite a lot of species even though it was quite crumbly. As well as the Bank Haircap (Polytrichastrum formosum) and the Swan’s-neck Thyme-moss (Mnium hornum) that can be found pretty much everywhere, I found two new species for me: Pellucid Four-tooth Moss (Tetraphis pellucida) and Stipular Flapwort (Harpanthus scutatus). Also on that outcrop was a Garlic Snail, which I wasn’t expecting. Not a new species but it was stunning with the blue on the ‘head and neck’ being very clear.

DSCN0443

A little further along, we came to a stand of Yews. For a while I’ve been looking for a species of midge: Taxomyia taxi. This might seem a little off-topic, but they create galls on Yew to raise their young in safety. And believe it or not, one tree was covered in the galls! New species #3!

DSCN0451

We still hadn’t reached the reserve when I found two more species new to me. I found a patch of Fork-moss (Dicranum) at the base of a large conifer and tried to identify it. It took longer that the two sandstone species to identify but I managed. It turned out to be Whip Fork-moss (Dicranum flagellare). While I was kneeling on the cushion of soft pine needles, I spotted a small insect crawling along one of the roots of the conifer near the moss. On closer inspection I saw it was a globular springtail. I can’t do these by memory, so I took a few photos to look at when I returned home. Recently someone recommended www.collembola.org so that was my resource. It was easy to find as it seems to be quite common and I had a rough idea of which genus it was thanks to browsing the gallery on the NatureSpot website. New species #5 was Dicyrtoma fusca which is also my 5th ever springtail species identified.

RSCN0460

We eventually reached the reserve. There were a couple of trails to choose from but we seemed to choose the wrong one and we only came across a few sandstone outcrops. We did manage to find two new species though, Scott’s Fork-moss (Dicranum scottianum), our second Dicranum species of the day, and the Forcipated Pincerwort (Cephalozia connivens). There weren’t as many bryophyte species as I hoped there would be, but I shall be following in the British Bryological Society (South-East Branch)’s footsteps and visiting Eridge Rocks on Sunday. According to our county recorder, Tom Ottley, the site is looking at its best for 3 decades so I hope to find lots more species.

The Loder Valley Reserve is situated around one of the two arms of Ardingly Reservoir. Therefore in the absence of sandstone, I could enjoy the birds that were on offer. I failed to see the Willow Tits that supposedly breed in the reserve, but I did see 7 Gadwall, 5 Mandarin Ducks and a Common Gull soaring high above us.

 

Exploring the British species of the Ambigolimax genus

There are only two!

In the summer, I photographed an unidentified slug and posted it on iSpot to see if anyone knew what it might be. Recently someone tentatively commented on the observation and said that it might be Ambigolimax nyctelius, the Balkan Threeband Slug. If you have a look at the National Biodiversity Network map for this species, you will see that there are few records for this species (only five!) so I was quite excited!

I emailed Martin Willing, the mollusc recorder for Sussex, and he replied saying that it is likely that the slug is Ambigolimax nyctelius! He couldn’t be certain though, as it needs dissection to reliably identify it. Therefore he forwarded my email to Dr Ben Rowson, the curator for Mollusca at the National Museum Wales. Dr Rowson replied asking if I could confirm if I still had the specimens, which I didn’t, and if I could send some specimens to him for dissection. I sent two new ones along with one of the original three in a pot to the museum, a concept my mum found quite comical. It was probably the idea of three slugs going on holiday to Wales!

He received the slugs surprisingly quickly and he was also kindly quick to identify them. He replied with the scenario I was hoping for: the specimens were of two different Ambigolimax species: Ambigolimax valentianus (the Greenhouse Slug) and Ambigolimax nyctelius (the Balkan Threeband Slug).

What concerned me is that he only received two specimens. The image that immediately sprang to mind was one of a slug crawling around a Welsh post office or somewhere in a postman’s bag in Cardiff. However when I asked about the third slug, he replied saying that the other two slugs were in fact cannibal slugs! I wasn’t expecting that!

Both of these species are special as they aren’t native to this country, the Greenhouse Slug is an alien from Spain; and I’m assuming the Balkan Threeband Slug comes from the Balkans, but there is little information on this little-known species. They are usually imported here by accident in pot plants and survive and breed well in greenhouses (hence the common name of Ambigolimax valentianus). The most obvious place these slugs could have come from is our local garden centre, Haskins. It’s still about a mile away (as the slug crawls)! Most of their route, if they do come from there, is through suitable woodland. Therefore I’m surprised that they’ve come so far. I’m hoping this is because my efforts at creating a wildlife garden are paying off!

DSCN0383

Ambigolimax nyctelius