Bryophyte report of visit to Chedington Woods

Chedington Woods

Andrew Branson | 9-03-2023

Bryophyte report of visit to Chedington Woods

This visit encompassed a walk along the northern woods, including Pryme Plantation, Higher Riscombe Plantation, Great Frenchays Coppice and Ashland Coppice.

I first stopped at the east side of the lake and looked at the marginal vegetation. This is mostly dominated by a few common species, such as Calliergonella cuspidata, whose bright green and golden colours were highly noticeable. However, a closer look near the large boulder revealed that the swampy edges also included Drepanocladus aduncus (Kneiff’s Hook-moss), with its upright stems and uppermost leaves forming a distinct hooked tip. This is a local species in Dorset, but can be quick to colonise suitable habitat, such as edges of waterbodies and wet depressions in fields. I think Kneiff was a 19th-century German botanist. Also growing here were some large plants of a pretty moss: Philonotis fontana (Thick-nerved Apple-moss). Again, this is fairly local in Dorset, and usually grows on seasonally damp or flushed neutral to acid soils. The ‘apple’ part of its name refers to its round green capsules.

Pryme Plantation was intriguing, with its hornbeam and aspen, mixed with ash, field maple, holly, oak and birch and an understorey of hazel. Unfortunately, the dry conditions meant I could only find a few bryophytes. Some of which, including the Polytrichum formosum, indicate more neutral soil conditions than some of the main woods.

The top edge of Higher Riscombe Plantation had some lovely old ash, oak and field maple. Looking at the 19th century OS six-inch map it appears that much of the east part of today’s ‘Higher Riscombe Plantation’ was in fact open ground until it was planted in the 20th century, So the trees along top edge possibly mark an old field boundary. The conditions are generally calcareous, reflecting the underlying geology of Forest Marble, which can be quite shaley or sandy. The epiphytes on the trees are generally common species, including those found on base-rich substrates, such as Homalothecium sericeum, Neckera complanata, Isothechium alopecuriodes and Porella platyphylla. Interestingly, some of the large oaks have quite a basic bark, as indicated by the mosses growing on them. Usually oak has an acid bark, hence its use in the tanning industry, but sometimes the genetics of individual trees mean they are more basic. At the junction of the old county boundary where the woodland edge turns northwards, there are some nice old field maples with Neckera smithii (Prince-of Wales Feather-moss) and here the wood becomes predominantly a hazel coppice. This part is the original Higher Riscombe Plantation, which, looking at the OS map, had been partially planted with conifers more than 100 years ago. The epiphytic moss Lewinskya striata (Smooth Bristlemoss) was found on one or two of the boundary trees in this section. This species was considered to be quite local in Dorset, but has been found with increasing frequency in recent years. I assume at one point most of the larger trees in the coppice would have been felled. The geology changes here to the Frome Clay Formation, but still remains essentially calcareous.

I looked at the trees along a field edge on Ashland Hill, but these had a similar flora to the woods. Crossing down to Great Frenchays Coppice, produced some more large ash trees, one of which had a small population of Leucodon scuiroides (Squirrel-tail Moss), an attractive moss of well-lit ash, usually in a parkland setting. This is the first record at Chedington Wood for this species. In Great Frenchays Coppice was a good population of Neckera smithii, unusually growing on what looks like a fallen hazel (see photograph).

Also, growing nearby was a nice patch of Cephalozia curvifolia (Rustwort) on a conifer log. One of the ashes here also had Zygodon rupestris (Park Yoke-moss), a small moss which mostly grows in ancient woodlands and parklands on large trees with basic bark, such as ash.
The western edge of Lower Ashland Coppice has an old woodland boundary, again with some lovely field maples (see photograph below) and ash trees, but the main part of the wood is a conifer plantation with a thick carpet of Eurhynchium striatum. The dominance of this species reflects the calcareous nature of the geology. A few old stumps had a more acidic flora, with species such as Mnium hornum, Lepidozia reptans and I found one classic rotting conifer log with Sematophyllum substrumulosum – a recent colonist, as described in my last report. Some ravines had a few species of wetter habitats. I had a closer look at one section of a stream in a deep gulley (goyle) in Riscombe Coppice at ST499079. This had a typical flora of humid basic clay substrates, with running water, including Rhizomnium punctatum, Rhynchostegiella teneriffae and Rhynchostegium riparioides.

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Old coppiced hazel and ash in Higher Riscombe Plantation.

Lewinskya striata at Higher Riscombe Plantation. Note the smooth capsule, with a peristome of curled back segments, and the sharply pointed leaves.

Coppiced Hazel at Higher Riscombe Plantation, with some Primroses starting to flower.

Neckera smithii at Great Frenchays coppice, showing how the branches curl back in dry conditions, which gives it its name of Prince-of-Wales Feathermoss.

A fine old pollarded field maple, perhaps marking an old path into Lower Ashland Coppice as it is at the junction of two footpaths on the western edge of the wood.