Thursday, 6 June 2013

Monkton Farleigh Triangle Field trip

Wildlife of walls and waysides – ‘Monkton Farleigh Triangle’, 4th June 2013

Swifts screaming and scything through the air above the church tower, set against a clear blue sky in a quintessential English village in quintessential English countryside on a sparkling early summer’s day, greeted the arrival of seventeen members Bath Nats and Wiltshire Botanical Society. After leaders John Presland and Alan Rayner had described the intention of the meeting, we began with an intense scrutiny of the mortared stone wall opposite the church. We identified lichens which grow closely attached to he wall surface, including Aspicilia calcarea, Caloplaca flavescens, Diploicia canescens, Dirina massiliensis, Verrucaria baldensis and V. nigrescens; two ferns (maidenhair spleenwort and rusty-back fern) and a variety of flowering plants including ivy-leaved toadflax, wall pennywort, herb Robert and, rather remarkably, great mullein. Twenty minutes or so later, we started walking! We noticed Adria bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana), a Slovenian mountain plant which has been cultivated in gardens and escaped on to walls and then rounded the first corner of the triangle to encounter our first true dry stone wall. Guided by John Presland, we were able to notice its very different succession ecology compared to the mortared wall. Along its top were luxuriant growths of mosses including   Homalothecium sericium, Syntrichia intermedia, Tortula muralis and Grimmia pulvinata, together with another lichen growing attached to the wall surface Aspicilia contorta and the strange dark brown outgrowths of the lichen, Collema auriforme and the lichen Cladonia pyxidata, which is separate from the wall surface and has upright funnel shaped structures which bear the spores. Mixed with flowering plants like biting stonecrop and shining cranesbill, the feel of a rock garden of colour and texture was palpable. Further along the road we encountered a patch of shady woodland, with two surprises in store, by way of green hellebore and goldilocks – indicators of ancient woodland. Next we turned the corner into the second side of the triangle – a straight, slightly uphill road through an avenue of beech, birch and ash trees, with wide verges of species-rich calcareous grassland vegetation. We noticed the dominance of two mosses, Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus and Pseudoscleropodium purum on some of the banks, then stopped to examine the distinctive lichens (Lecidella elaeochroma, Lecanora chlarotera, Physcia adscendens, Evernia prunastri, Parmelia spp.) and bryophytes (Cryphaea heteromalla, Orthotrichum affine) on an ash tree, following the pattern of moisture drainage down the trunk and branches. We walked the last side of the triangle, back down into the village quite fast, but paused to look at the distinctive liverwort, Porella platyphylla and mosses Anomodon viticulosus, Eurhynchium striatum, Brachythecium rutabulum on the shaded walls. All in all, the meeting served to illustrate well the wide variety of plant life especially that can be found – with a little knowledge of where to look, how to look and what to look for – alongside minor village and country roads almost anywhere around Bath.

John Presland &

Alan Rayner

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