Footlands Wood, Vinehall Forest

BBS SE group field meeting

We were lucky to have a rare dry day for our field meeting at Vinehall Forest near Battle, East Sussex. It was ideal for a moss trip as the air was damp with no wind to dry out bryophytes. The last couple of months of wet weather also meant that many mosses were fruiting profusely.

Vinehall forest, just to the north of Battle is on the Hastings beds. It is managed by the Forestry commission and is an area of mixed woodland, mostly young trees with a few large veterans. It was well used by Sunday morning dog walkers but they only bothered us near the car park. The forest is bisected by the B2089 and we concentrated on Footlands Wood to the south of the road. There were no previous bryophyte records for the forest which stretches across three tetrads.

We were a group of ten with a few new faces and we started as we meant to go on, standing in a puddle for ages looking at Calliergonella cuspidata and Cratoneuron filicinum. Jacqui Hutson found a large, epiphyte covered Goat Willow and we spent a while here too, finding Radula complanata with gemmae around the edge of its round leaves and Orthotrichum lyellii with brown gemmae at the tips of its long leaves. Steve Lemon found Orthotrichum striatum on a nearby Oak.2E80DA0A-578D-4BB8-93F0-8F130BB466C6

The next stop was the bank at the edge of the wide woodland ride. The vertical edge had a valance of Pellia endiviifolia with autumn branches. Pale threads of Calypogeia fissa threaded through Dicranella heteromalla and Cephalozia bicuspidata on top of the bank and on an old ants nests.

Further down the track a huge old Beech tree, one of the few veteran trees that we saw in the forest, drew us away from the path. The first eye catching moss was growing in dense cushions of luminous green on stumps. Cross sections of the leaves showed the distinctive arrangement of large cells of Leucobryum juniperoideum, (like a row of monkfish tail steaks at the fishmonger). Longer, darker green leaves poking through were Campylopus flexuosus and this was also growing in cushions on stumps and at the base of the Beech.

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Leucobryum juniperoideum

Brad took a sample of Zygodon that was growing in a long vertical line down one side of the Beech and found it to be Z. rupestris which was the top find of the day. There are just six recent ( found in the last 20 years) records in East Sussex, the nearest is a record from an Ash tree in Wellhead Wood by Tom Ottley in 2012. It seems to be scattered throughout the Weald but is absent from trees on the chalk. There was a tiny scribble of Microlejeunea ulicina to the side of the Zygodon.

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Zygodon rupestris. Photo: Brad Scott

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Zygodon rupestris showing small leaf cells and gemma. Photo: Brad Scott

Somehow it was already time for lunch so we sat on a soft heather covered bank which turned out to be rather damp and chilly but we did find a featureless Cephaloziella on peaty earth between tree roots. I sent it to Tom Ottley who pointed out tiny underleaves which I had failed to spot and made it C. divaricata but it wasn’t a very satisfactory example.

I was hoping to find a decent colony of Fossombronia with capsules after finding a tiny scrap on the recce but there was none to be seen. We did find masses of Scapania irrigua and some strands of Solonostema gracillima. On a drier part of the track where it climbed away from the stream swathes of green were Pseudocrossidium hornschuchianum and Didymodon fallax.

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Scapania irrigua. Photo: Brad Scott

We followed the lower, wetter path, sticking by the stream although it wasn’t the most attractive or interesting waterway. Inundated areas were full of Sphagnum denticulatum and Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus vied with Calliergonella cuspidata and Pseudoscleropodium purum to fill up the grassy edges of the track.

This wet area straddled two tetrads so we recorded these mosses and the Scapania irrigua in both squares.25BB7664-E6B9-45F0-AAB8-6793DDC901B9

We had been looking out for a good example of Isothecium or Mousetail Moss on a tree base and stopped at an Oak which was covered in Isothecium myosuroides with a mass of capsules. Nearby was another tree cloaked in the less common Isothecium alopecuroides. This was a good spot to record all the common woodland species again and we added Dicranella heteromalla, Hypnum jutlandicum and Pseudotaxyphyllum elegans. A small Fissidens with bordered leaves was shimmering with young capsules on fine setae. When checked it was clear that there were male buds in the leaf axils so it was small F. bryoides.

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Admiring Isothecium myosuroides

Stumps were also a rich habitat and David Streeter found the leafy liverwort Scapania nemorea with brown gemmae on rounded shoot tips. Further along we found another soil covered stump with a glorious array of leafy liverworts; more Scapania nemorea, (cute enough to include the photo twice), frills of Diplophyllum albicans and bright gemmae of  Calypogeia arguta. A few white dots were the hairy, slightly elongated capsules of Pogonatum aloides.

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The bryophyte assemblage, including Scapania nemorea on an earth covered stump in the wood

Before this we had recorded a few epiphytes on Willows leaning over the stream including the first find of the day of Metzgeria consanguinea. Further along, we paddled warily in the stream as its bottom was solid rock. but it was largely devoid of bryophytes and we almost wished it was more slippery with liverwort cover. There was a little bit of Rhizomnium punctatum and Steve found a small patch of the attractive moss Cirriphyllum piliferum.

We took a diversion along a narrow path back to the car park, stopping to look at a fine patch of Polytichiastrum formosum with a few tall capsules. It was inundated with water and seemed to have some features of Polytrichum commune but when checked microscopically it had the rounded lamellae of P. formosum. Further up the bank was a grand display of Tamarisk Moss, Thuidium tamariscinum. We had only found scraps earlier on. There were Fly Argaric toadstools but not the swathes of fungi that I have seen in other woodlands this autumn. Several people commented on the small raspberry-like pustules on the trunk of a young Sycamore which David S. photographed and consulted a mycologist friend. It was the ascomycete fungus Nectria cinnabarina or Coral Spot. 

The first tetrad, TQ72Q, had one previous record of Hookeria lucens with no site name. We didn’t find this in Footlands wood but added 51 taxa on the field meeting. On my recce a couple of weeks earlier I also found Tetraphis pellucida on a rotten log and had a brief walk into Barne’s Wood to the north of the road where I didn’t find anything different.

The second tetrad, TQ71U had five previous records, some from Whatlington churchyard and the others from woodland. We added 37 taxa. With a couple of extra records from my recce the total now stands at 45 taxa.

A return visit will be needed to look at TQ72K and there must be more to be found in the whole forest as we only covered a small area.

Many thanks to the good company of the group and all the help with identifications.

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