Monday, 23 September 2013

Trip Report Bathampton Down, 22nd September 2013

Bird’s Nests, Brown Trumpets, Brackets, Bryophytes and a Battle at Bushey Norwood and Bathampton Down, 22nd September 2013

Click Photos to enlarge

The party of 22 who gathered together for this meeting led by Marion and Alan Rayner were in for quite a few big surprises when they went down to the woods on this warm, humid Sunday afternoon.

Our adventure began quietly, taking a close look at the variety of mosses and liverworts adorning the dry stone wall at the southern entrance into the area of ancient wood pasture known as Bushey Norwood, which included the infrequent ‘Squirrel-tail moss’, Leucodon sciuroides and the ‘Wall Scalewort’, Porella platyphylla amongst a dozen or so different species. Next we walked over to the 20-year-old planting of oak trees – a memorial to young lives lost in India in 1992 – where we had an opportunity to observe, within easy reach,  the lichens, mosses and fungi growing on light-deprived lower branches undergoing the processes of death and decay that lead to ‘natural self-pruning’.One fungus in particular,Peniophora quercina, was noted, the fruit-bodies of which look remarkably different – respectively as flat, lavender-coloured crusts or pale brown patches like flaking paint – depending on whether they are moist or dry.

A fairly brisk walk then took us to the entrance of the steep, intensely shady, boulder-strewn, mossy, ferny realms of Bathampton Woods, a place in which the sense of history and mystery is tangible. As we examined the prolific tree-like outgrowths of the ‘Fox-tail feather moss’, Thamnobryum alopercurum, which resemble an aerial view of dense forest when viewed from above, Alan joked that we might bump into Merlin and King Arthur around the next turn of the narrow, winding, slippery path. Sure enough, we did – or at least a modern-day battle-re-enacting version of them, complete with swords, shields and armour! Apparently, Bathampton Down is reputed to be the location of the Battle of Mons Badonicus, King Arthur’s decisive victory over the Saxons. As a helicopter swooped overhead, we wondered just what we had let ourselves in for that our ‘risk-assessment’ hadn’t foreseen! Meanwhile, we examined the reputed burnt offerings (Daldinia concentrica) of another monarch, King Alfred, along the length of a fallen ash trunk, and a spectacular troop of around fifty trumpet-shaped fruit bodies of the shiny brown polypore, Polyporus badius on another log. Yet another ash trunk, more recently fallen across the path, gave us a chance to examine closely the rich variety of mosses inhabiting its bark – including ‘Bruch’s pincushion’, Ulota bruchii, and ‘Lateral Cryphaea’, Cryphaea heteromalla – and liverworts – including ‘Dilated Scalewort’, Frullania dilatata and ‘Forked Veilwort’, Metzgeria furcata.

Eventually we emerged back into the dull light of day on Bathampton Down and made our way across the golf course, noticing amongst other plants of calcareous grassland, a patch of ‘Upright spurge’, Euphorbia serrulata, which Rob Randall identified for us. Then as we walked along the ‘woodland trail’ and perimeter path of Bath University some of the day’s biggest surprises were still awaiting us. First, as Alan encountered a prolific outgrowth of ‘Conical Brittlestem’, Psathyrella conopilus on some wood chippings,
 Marion shouted urgently ‘look what you’re treading on!’. He looked down onto a carpet, around 4 m2  of densely packed fruit bodies of  Fluted Bird’s nest fungus’,‘Cyathus striatus. As if that wasn’t enough, a little further on we came across a beautiful young specimen of ‘Stubble Rosegill’, Volvariella gloiocephala, which resembles a death cap, except for its pink gills and absence of ring on its stem, then at the base of a large oak tree, large brackets, up to 40-50 cm across, of Inonotus dryadeus. Along a line of young oak trees, Rob Randall helped identify a variety of leaf and stem galls, including common and silk button spangle galls, cola nut galls, knopper galls and ram’s horn galls. Finally, at the base of two large beech trees we observed young outgrowths of the ‘Giant Polypore’, Meripilus giganteus.

Ulota bruchii
                 Thanks to Paul Wilkins for Photos
Marion and Alan Rayner

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