Ptyxis Ecology - Our Botany Blog

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Botany in Flatts Wood, Co Durham

Our first proper days botanising for a long while. We have been too busy renovating the new house lately - so we took a day off from that and had a great time! Some patches of winter aconite and snowdrops in flower at the top of the wood. Funny, I can't ever remember seeing winter aconite before. Found some yellow star-of-Bethlehem leaves just coming through in the area where we found it last year. None of it flowering yet. No sign of the toothwort coming among the hazels along the riverbank yet. Its been a warm winter (really nice mild spring day today) so maybe some more things will be in flower early in a couple of weeks when Clare is doing a 'first day hunt' walk - looking for species in flower on 1 March.
We tried out the new bryophyte ecology survey in the wood. Did 10 quadrats on the woodland floor. Its a well-designed survey method which will really expand our understanding of the ecology of some of our most common and abundant bryophytes. Hopefully it will also encourage more people to get interested in mosses and liverworts as the survey can be done by people without much identification experience. More about this survey later!


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Saturday, 10 February 2007

Mosses on Palace Leas

Had an interesting day surveying the mosses growing on the Palace Leas long-term hay meadow fertilizer experiment Having seen the very striking differences in the vascular plant flora on the different plots before, I thought it would be interesting to investigate the bryophytes. There are very few published papers on bryophyte ecology even of the common species.

Another reason to investigate this was to see if there was any relationship between hay production and moss cover. In the dales, one of the reasons that farmers give for chain harrowing in spring is to get rid of the mosses. They have a perception that high moss cover prevents the crop from growing well. I suspect myself that moss cover might have no impact on the growth of the vascular plants. By chain harrowing of course they are very efficiently spreading moss propagules evenly around the field! Chain harrowing in spring is very damaging for the ground-nesting birds, so it would be useful to find another reason to discourage people from doing it.

Anyway, what I found was interesting enough to encourage me to go back in March/April to do a proper survey with precise %cover measurements on 10 quadrats per plot.On this visit I just walked over each plot for about 15 mins and recorded the bryophyte species. At the end of each plot I gave each species a DAFOR score and gave a rough extimate of %cover of all bryophytes on the plot. Here's what I found
You can compare these results with the data on the Palace Leas website on the link above and see what you think!

On plot 1 I found only one shoot of both Eurhynchium praelongum and Brachythecium rutabulum - I thought at this stage I had come a long way for nothing! It got more interesting after that. Eurhynchium praelongum was on every plot, but at different levels of cover on different ones. Brachythecium rutabulum was noticeably more frequent on plots 8 & 12 which are also the most species-rich plots for vascular plants. Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus also had a very striking pattern being frequent to abundant on plots 6, 7 & 9 and more or less absent from all of the others. Trying to work out what's behind these patterns will be interesting. These are very common species, but it is amazing how little we know about their ecology.



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Wednesday, 7 February 2007

South Northumberland Rare Plant Register

We can't conserve plants unless we know what we have got and where it is. Therefore County Rare Plant Registers (CRPRs), produced by the Botanical Society of the British Isles, are a vital resource for conservationists.

We are working with John Richards, BSBI recorder, and members of the Northumbria Natural History Society botany group to get started on producing a CRPR for South Northumberland v.c. 67.

What is a County Rare Plant Register?
Listings of all the vascular plants recorded from a county which are on the National Red list (and other nationally Rare and Scarce plants not covered there), together with the locally rare (three or fewer sites) and other locally important or declining species. Details provided include grid references, and often details of the conservation status and ecology of the site.

Surely we know all of this already?
No we don't as the records behind the most recent Flora of Northumberland often only provide details to a 5km grid square - no where near precise enough to locate a plant and protect it.

How is a CRPR produced?
By volunteers devoting many, many days to finding and recording wild plants. I think some people assume Defra/local authorities/ngo etc employees are out there furiously recording plants and animals as part of their jobs, when the vast majority of records are made by volunteers in naturalist societies. The BSBI alone has generated c. 38 million records! In other words, the whole conservation movement largely depends on the naturalist societies for their basic data.

Can I take part?
Yes, especially if you would like to learn more about plant identification and recording! Contact us via our website at

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