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.

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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.

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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).

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Homer, as bald as ever…

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Introduction to Bryophytes

Bryophytes are mosses, liverworts and hornworts, and they are an amazing part of natural history. However, many people don’t know that, so this is why you should become interested in Bryophytes:

  • They are rather unrecorded. It is so easy  just to note the bryophytes you see on a short walk that it is hard to believe how few people actually do it. With a better understanding of them, they will be easier to conserve.
  • They can be found nearly anywhere! On trees, walls, houses, all over the place, even one or two on cars and underwater!
  • There are so many species! There are only 4 species of Hornwort, but you can find 763 species of mosses in the UK and nearly 300 Liverworts. Bryophytes love wet climates so that’s why Britain has about two-thirds of all European species!
  • Unlike some species which can only be studied some parts of the year, Bryophytes can be studied year-round. It is probably even easier to find Bryophytes in winter as they are much less likely to be covered by large plants!

I’ve only found 32 species so far and some can be quite difficult to ID, especially Sphagnums (bog mosses), therefore I recommend buying the British Bryological Society’s Field Guide for UK and Ireland. It can help you identify most of the species you find and has been put together by ‘a team of expert bryologists’. It includes keys, photographs, similar species, colour coding, drawings of key features etc.

It is easy to get started with finding Bryophytes, there isn’t too much equipment involved. The only thing beginners really need is a good hand lens but don’t worry if you don’t have that just yet, many species can be easily identified with the naked eye. I would suggest starting in your own garden, big or small, as there is bound to be many easy species there and is a good way to practise. But most of all: enjoy it!

Dotted Thyme-moss

Dotted Thyme-moss

Urn Haircap, my 32nd species

Urn Haircap, my 32nd species