Ptyxis Ecology - Our Botany Blog

Friday, 16 November 2007

Bogs, farming and bryophytes

We are still surveying, this time on blanket bog in randomly chosen 1km squares scattered across the North Pennines Natural Area, or at least John is surveying, as I am stuck indoors report writing. The view out the office window isn't bad though (see photo above!) The problem with professional botany is that reports take 3 times as long as the survey work; and the bit you really enjoy is the surveying. I was warned about this when I went pro, I think I did loads more botany as an amateur even though I had to cram it in at weekends and on holidays.

My report this time is v interesting though - research on designing a training scheme for young wannabee upland livestock farmers in the Teesdale area. I do quite a lot of educational consultancy, as very few ecologists/agricultural advisers are also qualified FE teachers. We really need livestock farming to be sustained in the North Pennines for environmental reasons as well as more familiar socio-economic arguments; yet the average farmer's age is 58 and getting older all the time, as young people are not taking over their parents' farms anymore.

Sphagnum magellanicum in North Pennines

Our Sphagnum survey is progressing, blessed by sunshine as frozen moss is not easy to identify! The most common NVC type so far has been M19 heather - hare's-tail cotton grass blanket mire. We had this in the Perthshire NVC surveys (see blog archive 3rd June) but in the North Pennines, cloudberry is apparently not as abundant. The runner-up is M18 cross-leaved heath - Sphagnum papillosum mire. It is always striking how many times you can mis-id Sphag pap and Sphag pal if you (like most people!) rely on field characters. Even really experienced surveyors get these wrong sometimes on jizz; you really have to take the trouble to look for the papillose cell walls under x400. We had a similar experience with Sphagnum pulchrum in the Northumberland border mires recently; it wasn't. The field characters and its habitat didn't agree with the microscope or the national referee!

Sphagnum species by bog pool, Bell Crag Flow, v.c. 67, including putative S. pulchrum! What gorgeous autumnal colours!

Photo: Celia Port

John has found a mire community that is not described in the NVC but mentioned in that wonderful book by Ben and Alison Averis et al., An Illustrated Guide to British Upland Vegetation p 187. In Wales, these NVC gurus found small patches of bog with a canopy of Calluna and Erica vaginatum over a M6 ground layer. So now this vegetation has been identified from the North Pennines too.

John has just tested me, presenting me with a stringy moss, as I am writing this. I wasn't sure what it was. That, it turns out, was because it was only part of a moss - one shoot of Rhytididelphus loreus! Friday nights are moss night! Romantic isn't it?!

I am now going back to the Farmers of the Future research, and if you want to know more about this exciting proposed training project, call the Upper Teesdale Agricultural Advisory Service (UTASS) on 01833 640836 or the North Pennines AONB office on 01388 528801.



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