The site of Bartramia stricta in Sussex

The first British record of Bartramia stricta was in Sussex in 1861. Now known in Britain only from Stanner Rocks (vc 43), its Sussex location has always been rather vague. George Davies reported it in The Phytologist in a single paragraph, noting that he had found the moss “in March this year, at Maresfield, Sussex”[1]. He added:

From B. pomiformis this Moss may be known by its smaller habit, rigid and appressed leaves, never crisped, and the fruit-stalk is erect; the leaves also have aristate points. (I depend on Mr. Mitten’s authority for the correctness of the species.)

The records in our data cover the range 1861-1865, and are all for the single site in TQ42. But where exactly was it?

Over thirty years later, on 6 January 1899, the 79 year old William Mitten wrote to Edward Morell Holmes at Sevenoaks[2]:

I went with Davies to see the spot where he had found a small colony of Bartramia stricta at Maresfield — I saw it again some time after when I walked down from Forest Row to Maresfield and passed the spot with Smith when he and I and Flora walked from Buxted to Hartfield[.] this time we could not exactly hit the spot from the growth of herb… &c

Going North from Maresfield on the way to Nutley after leaving the houses the wide road is bordered on the right and left by boundary hedges quite straight ending I think in open forest[.] it was about half way along this road between the hedges in a ditch on the right hand side — ditch may have been two feet deep had been fresh cut a year or two so not then overgrown[.] with the Bartramia was Tortula cuneifolia also very scarce inland[.] this hedge bank looked towards the road therefore faced west, I think. the place is high ground and I conclude there must be more of the Bartramia somewhere about for there was only about a square yard where it appeared.

Map of Maresfield in 1874

Maresfield in 1874

This gives us excellent detail about the location of this rare plant (and of the Tortula), allowing us to identify precisely where Davies found it. From the church, heading north up the road called Straight Half Mile, the road is still much as Mitten described it, though is more developed along its length. The margin is now very overgrown, and the road is very likely to have been widened a bit, but the remnants of a ditch can still be seen about half way along beneath the undergrowth. Realistically, it must have disappeared a very long time ago, but at least we can map it more accurately in monad TQ4624 (tetrad TQ42S). Tom also observed that there is a small lane running vaguely parallel with this road, and it may be worth exploring along there.

Picture of a hedge

It must have been about here. There appears to be a ditch under all this

While I was there last Sunday I also did a quick bit of recording. Though the tetrad had 77 species, from Tom’s recording in Rock Wood and Furnace Wood, and from when Sue and I visited Hendall Wood earlier in the year, there was still a large number of very common species as yet unrecorded. Many of these are typical urban species so, despite the rather parched and desiccated conditions, it was worth exploring the centre of the village, along the road edges and the churchyard.

Unsurprisingly, this brought the tetrad total up to 92, including the omnipresent Bryum capillare, Tortula muralis and Grimmia pulvinata, plus Campylopus introflexus, Ceratodon purpureus, and Dicranum scoparium. There were large mats of Homalothecium sericeum on the churchyard walls, with smaller clumps of Rhynchostegiella tenella, plus Polytrichum juniperinum and Pseudoscleropodium purum in the shady part of the churchyard, as well as a few Didymodons and Syntrichias for good measure. Now that the weather is a bit wetter a few more common things will no doubt be easier to spot, so a return visit will be necessary.

Wouldn’t it be rather splendid if the Bartramia is lurking out there somewhere too?

[1] Davies, G. (1861). Bartramia stricta, Brid. The Phytologist, 5, 223.

[2] Linnean Society, MS/235b: Holmes correspondence.

Picture of St Bartholomew's Church, Maresfield

St Bartholomew’s Church, Maresfield

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