Friday, 14 December 2012

Programme for 2013

In the end we were seven Merioneth Nats meeting here for our December social and planning meeting for 2013.  Polly and baby Jay were grounded as Polly isn't allowed to drive [and Jay can't yet].

Martin and Clare at Nantgwyrddail last summer
Still, Martin and Clare Rand came all the way from Hampshire and Paul Green from Cardiff and there was me, Jenny, Jacky and Andrew and we managed to eat almost all the food.

With ideas and contributions from other members added before the event we came up with the following list of targeted species and places:

Coeloglossum viride
Wikimedia Commons

Drosera intermedia Llyn Barfog 2011
Targeted places [All grid refs approx and of course, subject to access permissions.]

Cwm Cywarch especially SH8519
Unimproved grassland generally 
+ Brwyn Llyniau [SH5829] 
Rhobell [SH7825]
Cae Heuad [SH7722]
Dduallt and bog to the east [SH8128]
Cors Coch [SH7033 etc]
Maes y Pandy [SH6908]
Morfa Harlech North [SH5
Ynys Gifftan [SH53S]
Cynwyd [SJ04G] or Betws Gwerfil Goch [SJ04I]

Some target spp for 2013 [no particular order]
 Coeloglossum viride
Drosera intermedia
Eleocharis acicularis
Eleocharis parvula
Empetrum nigrum subsp hermaphroditum
Antennaria dioica
Galium boreale
Orthilia secunda
Hammerbya paludosa
Trollius europaeus

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A shame we had to cancel the last meeting - the very high winds forecast meant that the woods were not a safe place to be in - and our leader, Rod, had to cry off anyway, through illness.
All that is left to button up the field work for 2012 is the final gathering of Merioneth Nats on Thursday when the excitement will be meeting Jay Spencer-Price, Polly's little one and his mum, plus our acting Welsh Officer, Paul Green.  We hope to do some useful planning for next year then, too.

A sad event yesterday was the funeral of A J E [Tony] Smith, author of The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland [1978], and The Liverworts of Britain and Ireland [1990]   I have sent the following note for inclusion in the next Welsh Bulletin:
Tony Smith on holiday in Tenerife 2002

I am sad to tell you that Tony [A J E] Smith has died in hospital at the age of 77, having lived with diabetes since he was a small boy.
After a D Phil at Oxford, where he worked on the taxonomy of Cow-wheats, [Melampyrum],Tony lectured at Swansea University before he came to Bangor. There he became Reader in Botany and was also an external examiner at the University of Reading
He retired early in 1999 to look after his wife Ruth in her last illness.
He wrote the first bryophyte floras of the British Isles for almost 80 years [liverworts] and over 50 years [mosses]. A 2nd edition of his Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland was published in 2004.
After Ruth's death in 2000 Tony travelled widely, mostly on botanical tours, and cultivated his beautiful garden where he had an impressive collection of Pelargoniums among other treasures.
Tony was a quiet, gentle and almost reclusive man and he was a kind and generous friend. He helped me enormously when I was doing an MSc in 2005. His friends will miss him very much.

Mark Hill reminisced about his association with Tony over decades preparing the Atlas of the Bryophytes of Britain and Ireland, and Nigel Brown spoke movingly of Tony's part in the vibrant atmosphere in Bangor's School of Botany in the 70s, with a staff of 40 and an excitement in the air.  How sad that Botany now persists almost as a marginal subject, in most British Universities. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Thursday 22 November

Hymenophyllum wilsonii
Just a reminder that Merioneth Nats' last field meeting for 2012 will be led by Rod Gritten next Thursday.

It is billed as a bryophytes meeting, but both Hymenophyllums have been recorded in the wood at Coed y Parc, just above Dolgellau. No doubt we will record other ferns and higher plants there too. Meet 10.00 at SH737166

Our 2013 meetings programme will be posted here and on the Cofnod [North Wales Local Records Centre] website in the New Year.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Ash die-back disease.

Grim news about this disease spreading and being found in so many parts of the UK.  There are some very fine trees where I live, and I plan to survey these, so we can monitor their future health. [See questionnaire below]

Of course, as Alex Lockton says in his Ash die-back page "Ash die-back, like other diseases of wild plants, is simply part of [the] ecosystem" but I would take issue with his conclusion that "its main effect is likely to be to increase diversity and ultimately the stability of woods" - and what about "it is unlikely that a casual observer would even notice"?  Does he mean the average BSBI member for whom the page is presumably written - or just anyone who can't recognise an Ash tree?!

I do agree that there seems to be little that we can do now, apart from stopping the mad process of importing saplings from Holland, because it is cheaper than growing them here.  And I am sure that culling whole woodlands is not the answer either.  There is undoubtedly a lot of scientific work yet to be done on the disease and its etiology.
A fine old ash tree opposite my house

Some of you will know my views on tree-planting, anyway.  Much of that which is being done is a sop to the political perception that it is good for the environment and is an easy way to increase biodiversity.  In many cases it is done in inappropriate habitats, and in others all that is needed is to exclude grazing, for woodland to regenerate naturally.  Now, there's a way to stabilise the woods!

The interesting thing to me about this tree is the 'shelf' at the base of the trunk, which is now sprouting multiple epicormic shoots.  I suspect that in former times the ground level was so much higher when it was part of the boggy river catchment.

I would be delighted to receive records of mature ash trees in VC48 with their girth at breast height [GBH] or 1.3m [see below] and sufficient location detail to be able to re-visit them.

If you are interested in helping, I have adapted this questionnaire from the Dorset Wildlife Trust's website with essential information asterisked

Name of recorder:*
Recorder details:*
Date of survey:*
Site of tree:*
       Tree Grid Reference:*
       Attach a photo:
       Attach a sketch plan:
Description of tree:
  Do you know anything special about the tree e.g. history, etc.  
Tree girth:*
  Please note the trunk girth at 1.3m above ground level.[images] 
Tree form:* See images above
        Standing or fallen?
        Is the tree alive or dead?
 Heavy deadwood:*
  Is there a lot of heavy deadwood about the crown?
  Are there any large holes in the main branches?
Hollow trunk:*
  Does the trunk have large holes?
Fallen deadwood:*
  Is there a lot of fallen deadwood on the ground?
Tears/Scars/Lightning strikes:*
  Are there any tears, scars, on lightning strikes on the tree?
What else is growing in/under the tree canopy?*
What signs of animal life are there?*
       Protective fencing around the tree?
       Management of competitive trees nearby?
       Substantial weed present under the canopy?
       Any tree surgery?

Monday, 29 October 2012


Wikimedia Commons
Definitely the wettest day of the year's botanical ones, as I met Jacky at the Oakley Arms.  We started with coffee there - and it took a bit of will power [and much discussion about where to go] before we set off to the back road to Gellilydan.  We took a footpath southwards and began recording.The first part of the walk was a dry-ish slope merging into neglected and post-mature woodland and we struggled to find our target of 20 species before we allowed ourselves to stop for lunch! It was so wet that we gave up writing and just collected 'bits' to write up later [which is what I should be doing now!]
Betonica officinalis
Photo: John Crellin

The walk along lanes back to the car would repay another visit - it must  be lovely in summer, with Bitter-vetch, Lathyrus linifolius  and Betony, Betonica officinalis, lining the hedgebanks.

Much of the walk was on the new-ish Arfordir long distance footpath and the plants we recorded also made it definitely worth a plan to revisit in the summer, and in better conditions: there was a promising-looking bog with Viola palustris subsp juressi, which I suspect prefers 'better' habitat than the commoner subspecies V. palustris subsp palustris.

It was pleasing to find that we managed to record over 70 species on such a really wet day in late October.

Viola palustris showing hairy petiole [on the left], with the bracteole above the mid point of the peduncle.  
Photo taken in Ireland in July 2012

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Las Ynys

Heather beside the ditch with abundant Apium nodiflorum

It must be autumn!  Only two of us ventured out on a lovely autumnal day in bright sunshine.  We parked on the edge of the planted area near the council tip at  Morfa Harlech and botanised that area and the busy roadside first. It was a relief to turn off at Ty'n yr Acrau to cross pasture land and reach the first of the drainage ditches which criss-cross this flat area between the sea and the higher land on which Harlech Castle is built.

Image from Wikimedia commons

There was so much to see that it seemed appropriate to have lunch while we worked the ditches and banks.  The most exciting find was another first Vice-county record - Rigid Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum.  Arthur Chater, in his flora of Cardiganshire, says that this is rarely native there, and is in fact rare in Wales.  However we felt that the plant looked quite at home here and there were no alien species in the immediate habitat such as Elodea.  It is such an architectural plant that this engraving print seems quite apt.

One of the drainage ditches

Other good plants in these ditches were Alisma plantago aquatica, Water-plantain, and an abundance of Apium nodiflorum, Fool's-water-cress.  The quality of the habitat was delightful in spite of the deposit of reddish fine sand which coated many of the plants. The banks were sandy too and carried such surprises as Erodium cicutarium, Common Stork's-bill, more usually found  in the dunes, and Spergula arvensis, Corn Spurrey.
We walked as far as the railway line where we found some weedy species like Lepidium heterophyllum, Smith's Pepperwort and Vicia hirsuta, Hairy Tare, and then took the long driveway back to the car park, while the sun gradually disappeared behind the building clouds.

Gelli Grin and Bryn Bedwog

Galium odoratum - photo: Wikipedia Commons
We were only three botanists meeting to explore this area where these two farms are located - on the Ordovician limestone of the Gelli-Grin Calcareous Ash Formation.There is very little trace of calcareous influence on the vegetation, and the best indicator we found was a single small clump of Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff, on exposed rock in the quarry at the first farm. There was Dog's Mercury, Mercuralis perenne,  Primrose, Primula vulgare, as well as Polypodium interjectum, Intermediate Polypody, which also suggest some base richness, but no out-and-out calcicoles.

Polly and Lucia with a very tall Cirsium palustre!
We drove on to the second farm stopping on the way to have lunch by a small artificial lake beside the road - in the company of three friendly pigs who snuffled along the side of Polly's car! See Polly's blog We found some nice plants there as well including only the second record for Glyceria maxima - and the second this year!  At Bryn Bedwog we saw traces of the limestone extraction but found no sign of any calcareous influence there either.

We had a good day out without any very outstanding records but they included a Hieracium yet to be identified and a nice suite of plants of wet acid grassland.

Pont Croesor

I posted the Caerdeon blog at the beginning of October, so now 'all' I have to do to bring this blog up-to-date is write about the three months since the end of July!  it seems an impossible task, so I plan to concentrate on the subsequent three meetings of Merioneth Nats/Group Natur Meirionnydd.

Most of "the team" at Post Croesor

In August we had probably the best field trip of the year for Merioneth Nats, when we met at Pont Croesor to walk north through wet meadows, and even wetter woods, on the east bank of the Afon Glaslyn as it approaches the sea. It was the best attendance of the year, too, and we were rewarded with a good haul of records, as it appears that the tetrad has never before been recorded at that resolution. Even the hectad seems to be under-recorded, as only 49 of the 159 records for that square had been recorded before!

That branch was rotten!  Photo: Andrew Graham
There were rather a lot of aliens including
American Skunk-cabbage, Lysochiton americanus and rather a lot of Impatiens glandiflora, Himalayan Balsam which we enjoyed uprooting, although probably too late to prevent most of the plants from seeding!  Our best records were both aquatics, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontii, Grey Club-rush, rather further from the sea than it is usually found, and an honorary vascular plant, Nitella flexilis, Smooth Stonewort.

Cnicht, the Welsh Matterhorn
We then retraced our steps to record in the tetrad to the south particularly hoping to re-find the Carum verticillatum, Whorled Caraway, recorded from there previously.   We found it in abundance, together with a number of other nice species in the pools just south of the tetrad line and as we reached the road again a number of weedy species alongside.
The way home - Cnicht and the Moelwyns from Pont Croesor

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Caerdeon Residential

October 2012 

Ever since Caerdeon, in late July, I have been trying to catch up with myself and I think I am nearly there!  We have had two Merioneth Nats meetings since then and I will try to fill in the gaps over the next few days.  In the meantime, here is the Caerdeon report itself: - 

Caerdeon Residential [VC 48]  July 24-27 2012

Sarah Stille, with written contributions from Ginnie Copsey, Rod Gritten, Andy Jones, Jacky Langton, Wendy McCarthy and Polly Spencer-Vellacott - and thanks of course to all the people who came and helped with recording.

This “Residential” was a completely new venture for Merioneth, VC48, and an attempt at some concentrated recording at tetrad level or better for the next Atlas. We were lucky enough to find Caerdeon, a former “gentleman’s residence” near Barmouth, where Darwin once stayed, but which is now a Field Study Centre. Here we found a friendly welcome, good food and basic but very adequate accommodation for our stay. 

Tuesday 24th July
Melampyrum pratense and Erica cinerea
Photo: Polly Spencer-Vellacott
On a glorious, sunny day, most people wound their way to the house through the trees in time to leave luggage and go straight out into the field. Polly Spencer-Vellacott and Jacky Langton went to Coed Cors y Gedol, a broad-leaved woodland SSSI. Two monads were recorded in adjoining hectads in the wood and also in the lanes and farmland for a bit of habitat variety. The Atlantic oak woodland was not exceptionally species-rich but included lovely displays of Melampyrum pratense (Common Cow-wheat) sometimes in association with Erica cinerea, (Bell Heather) - a great colour combination - and Equisetum telmateia, (Great Horsetail) was a good update.

Road and miniature railway on Fairbourne Spit
Photo: E. Gammie
A larger group went to Fairbourne Spit where Isobelle Griffith (CCW) and other non-residents joined them. In spite of so many sharp-eyed spotters they failed to find the target species, Hypochaeris glabra (Smooth Cat’s-ear) which is perhaps now extinct in the vice-county. However, a good list of sand-loving species was recorded including Trifolium scabrum (Rough Clover), Calystegia soldanella (Sea Bindweed) and Leontodon saxatilis (Lesser Hawkbit). The group then drove on to Llwyngwril to botanise the beach and village environs, with many garden escapes and established aliens such as Buddleja davidii (Butterfly-bush), Clematis vitalba (Traveller’s-joy) and Pentaglottis sempervirens (Green Alkanet).

Hypericum humifusum Trailing St John's-wort
Wendy McCarthy led the lunchtime arrivals to the woods and picnic site at Farchynys with its saltmarsh fringes.. Recording began around the car-park, with species such as Vicia tetrasperma  (Smooth Tare) and Primula veris (Cowslip) unlikely to be native. A splendid clump of Dryopteris aemula (Hay-scented Fern) was found in the woodland, a fertile, creeping Potentilla species was confirmed as P. anglica (Trailing Tormentil) and the pretty little Hypericum humifusum (Trailing St John’s-wort) grew under the trees. Out on the saltmarsh, several sedges included Carex distans, C.otrubae and C.extensa (Distant, False Fox- and Long-bracted Sedges) and Eleocharis uniglumis (Slender Spike-rush) was confirmed from its fertile upper glume. Other typical saltmarsh plants included Oenanthe lachenalii (Parsley Water-dropwort), Bolboschoenus maritimus (Sea Club-rush), Glaux maritima (Sea Milkwort) and the coastal subspecies of Curled Dock, Rumex crispus ssp. littoreus.

Dduallt  Photo: Henry Patton
The ‘strenuous’ group drove a long way on dirt roads through forestry plantation and then plodded through tough, clear-fell territory and up onto the ridge of Dduallt (662m)  Some nice base-rich flushes produced records for Carex pulicaris (Flea Sedge) and Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew) withThymus polytrichus (Wild Thyme) nearby: Dryopteris oreades (Mountain Male-fern) and Phegopteris connectilis (Beech Fern) were found on the slopes and both Lycopodium clavatum (Stag’s-horn Clubmoss) and Huperzia selago (Fir Clubmoss) were there too. The large wetland to the east which looked so promising, proved to be surprisingly dry and unproductive, so old records for Carex magellanica (Tall Bog-sedge) were not updated.  Orthilia secunda (Serrated Wintergreen), found here in 1961 by Derek Ratcliffe, was the starred target for the day, but as so many people have failed to refind it in the past it was no surprise that this group also failed.

By suppertime all 16 residents had arrived and the noise level rose as the day’s records were discussed, experiences exchanged and material examined in the pleasant though rather crowded work space adjoining the dining room. The “classroom” would have provided more facilities and space, but is outside the main building, and is without Wi-Fi, which proved useful for synch-ing records via Mapmate direct to the VCR.

Wednesday 25th July
Coed Lletywalter
On Wednesday morning a group of eight went off to Coed Lletywalter, a Woodland Trust site, on the western flanks of the Rhinog mountains.  This was dryer than most western Atlantic Oakwoods and the records were rather predictable, with Carex laevigata (Smooth-stalked Sedge), Festuca gigantea (Giant Fescue) and Bromopsis ramosa (Hairy Brome) some of the better finds. Just before leaving Heather found the ‘lake’, a disused reservoir which had been searched for but overlooked - although lunch had been eaten just a few metres away!  That improved the total tally for the site, with Alisma plantago-aquatica (Water-plantain), Schoenoplectus lacustris (Common Club-rush), Lythrum salicifolia (Purple Loosestrife) and Veronica scutellata (Marsh Speedwell), growing in the derelict reservoir.

Stream vegetation at Pont Cerrig 
As a ‘reward’ for a not-very exciting site, the group then drove to Cwm Nantcol by the mountain road (with its many gates - thank you, Jo!) which gave new visitors to the county a taste of the dramatic scenery of the Rhinog mountains and the glittering expanse of Cardigan Bay to the west. Pont Cerrig provided a different grassland flora and a pleasant assemblage of clear, fresh water plants including Littorella uniflora (Shoreweed), Callitriche brutia (Pedunculate Water-starwort) and Eleogiton fluitans (Floating Club-rush).

Large burr on Oak
Photo: Polly Spencer-Vellacott
Polly,  Martin and Clare had a very good day around Cwm Crafnant, with a range of habitats leading to a very good species count (over 200) in one tetrad. Beginning along the river, then through the Coed Crafnant Nature Reserve, they made their way beyond the tree line to open wet heath, then back  to the other side of the valley across farmland to a small lake. Botanical highlights of the day included ferns in the woodland Phegopteris connectilis (Beech Fern) and Hymenophyllum wilsonii (Wilson’s Filmy-fern); wet heath areas with Rhynchospora alba (White Beak-sedge), Pinguicula vulgaris, (Common Butterwort) and Anagallis tenella (Bog Pimpernel); and the pond with Eleogiton fluitans (Floating Club-rush), Sparganium angustifolium (Floating Bur-reed) and Carex rostrata (Bottle Sedge). Returning along lanes there was a group of Euonymus europaeus, rather scarce in the county. Some oddities included burrs on both Ilex aquifolium (Holly) and Quercus petraea (Sessile Oak) and an oak tree with a single branch of holly growing from its centre!

Cwm Gau Graig   Photo: Bill Rowley
Andy and Wendy had the distinction of being the only group to be rained on all week.  Mynydd Gwerngraig was targeted for an old [1963] record of  Meum athamanticum (Spignel) and for the assemblages of plants on the base-rich strata in Cwm Gau Graig.  Although the fields nearby had previously been much over-grazed, there was still good heath-y pasture and base-rich seepages, with Rhynchospora alba (White Beak-sedge) Carex dioica (Dioecious Sedge) and Pinguicula vulgaris. Unfortunately, as on previous visits, the Meum was not re-found.
The brief thunderstorm relieved the steep climb up to the cwm where signs of base-enrichment were already visible in the lower boulder field, with frequent, Thymus polytrichus (Common Thyme), occasional Phegopteris connectilis (Beech Fern) and an area of Wahlenbergia hederacea (Ivy-leaved Bellflower). A dried-up Hymenophyllum wilsonii (Wilson's Filmy-fern) was found on the central outcrop and abundant Succisa pratensis (Devil's-bit Scabious) and rare Geum rivale (Water Avens) on the adjacent wet hillside.  Ring Ouzels, Turdus torquatus, were heard and seen frequently amongst the fruiting Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry),.  A few scattered Picea sitchensis (Sitka  Spruce) and one lone Acer pseudoplatanus (Sycamore) were found on screes under the cliffs at the valley head at about 500m altitude with Cryptogramma crispa (Parsley Fern).  Abundant grey-green Sedum rosea (Roseroot) picked out the base-rich cliffs from a distance, with other notable species, Hieracium sparsifolium (Sparse-leaved Hawkweed), Selaginella selaginoides (Lesser Club-moss) and Thalictrum minus (Lesser Meadow-rue).  A single plant of Galium verum (Lady's Bedstraw) was found on a ledge – this base-rich indicator species had been first recorded there by E. Price-Evans, 80 years before.

Cwm Cau   Photo:  Eric Jones
Rod’s group took the very steep path to Cwm Cau, Cader Idris from Minffordd, past planted species like Amelanchier lamarckii (Juneberry) and Castanea sativa (Sweet Chestnut), through Quercus petraea (Sessile Oak) woodland where species such as Lathyrus linifolius (Bitter Vetch)and Circaea lutetiana (Enchanter’s-nightshade) grew. As the way opened out into montane heath, Ericas (Bell Heather and Cross-leaved Heath), Empetrum nigrum (Crowberry), Eleocharis multicaulis (Many-stalked Spike-rush) and Euphrasia scottica (an Eyebright) were found, and the group arrived at Llyn Cau, an ideal picnic spot, just under 500m. After lunch the anticlockwise path was taken round the lake, through increasingly base-rich grassland and flushes with Dryopteris carthusiana, (Narrow Buckler-fern) Carex caryophyllea (Spring Sedge) C. hostiana (Tawny Sedge), C. pulicaris (Flea Sedge) and Pinguicula vulgare (Common Butterwort), to the steep cliffs above.  Several exciting scrambles up rocky gullies brought rich chasmophytic and tall herb ledge plant records which included Crepis paludosa (Marsh Hawk’s-beard) Sedum rosea (Roseroot) and Thalictrum minus (Lesser Meadow-rue) with Leucanthemum vulgare (Oxeye Daisy) and Solidago virgaurea (Goldenrod).  The group returned back round the lake and down through the wood with its steps made for giants!

Thursday 26th July

Polly in Cwm yr Allt Llwyd
A long drive through the lanes around Llanfachreth eventually brought the ‘easy’ group to Cwm yr Allt Llwyd in the upper reaches of the Mawddach, not far from the start of the first day’s epic trip to Dduallt.  After picking off the ‘weedy’ records from around the abandoned farmhouse, the first target was the grassy slope to the south, with its swathes of Dactylorhiza maculata (Heath Spotted-orchid), and some flushing, but the area was very acid and its species typical of semi-improved grassland. Setting off again, this time to the north, the group traversed a swampy valley, also very acid, with Pedicularis sylvatica (Lousewort) and Carex panicea (Carnation Sedge) –the best finds there being Carex canescens (White Sedge) and Veronica scutellata (Marsh Speedwell) which are always good to see.  After lunch, taken in the lee of a strangely irrelevant windbreak plantation, Martin went off to explore the possibilities in some interesting gullies while Polly and Sarah set off towards the bwlch, which apart from some Thymus polytrichus (Common Thyme) and Carex hostiana (Tawny Sedge) held little that was remarkable. However spirits were raised by Martin’s excellent finds, which included Geum rivale, (Water Avens) Dryopteris oreades (Mountain Male-fern), Jasione montana, (Sheeps-bit), and Sedum forsterianum (Rock Stonecrop), a new hectad record and doubtless the best find of the day.

Pistyll Gain  Photo: Jeremy Bolwell
Wendy’s group went up the river to Pistyll Cain where Crepis paludosa was found with Polystichum aculeatum, Hard shield-fern, Phyllitis scolopendrium, Hart’s-tongue, and Phegopteris connectilis, Beech Fern around the waterfall. The whole area round the roads and paths is managed by the Forestry Commission and there were planted broad-leaved trees such as Castanea sativa (Sweet Chestnut) and Hornbeam Carpinus betula with the inevitable Picea sitchensis (Sitka Spruce) Larix x marschlinsii (a hybrid Larch) and Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir). Above the disused gold mine at Gwyn-fynydd was Hypericum hircinum (Stinking Tutsan) Equisetum telmateia (Great Horsetail) and possibly its hybrid Equisetum x font-queri with E palustre (Marsh Horsetail) (yet to be confirmed). Lower downstream was a large patch of coppiced Tilia cordata.(Small-leaved Lime). Best find of the day was Gymnocarpium dryopteris (Oak fern) by the side of the main road.

Llyn Aran  Photo: John Horner
Although it wasn’t actually raining, Rod’s group hiked through mist to Cwm Aran over tussocky heath and wet grassland, through Festuca ovina (Sheep’s Fescue), Deschampsia flexuosa (Wavy Hair-grass),Succisa pratensis (Devil’s-bit Scabious) and Trichophorum germanicum (Deergrass) with occasional Thymus polytrichus (Common Thyme) to the foot of the imposing cliffs above tiny Llyn Aran. In the lake, Sparganium angustifolium (Floating Burr-reed), Littorella uniflora (Shoreweed) and Lobelia dortmanna (Water Lobelia) were recorded. Intrepid sorties into base-rich gullies and screes, where the moss cover always threatened to peel away, brought good records for Sedum rosea, Asplenium viride, Oxyria digyna and, on the tall herb ledges, Selaginella selaginoides, Leucanthemum vulgare and Solidago virgaurea. It felt as if these cliffs had been untouched since the last ice age: there are records from the recent past for Saxifraga oppositifolia (Purple Saxifrage) and Silene acaulis (Moss Campion) which would make another visit to this very special place well worthwhile.

Friday 27th July
Thyme at Nant Gwyrddail

The last day’s excursions were planned to be within easy reach of routes home and Jacky, Richard and Polly visited Pant y Panel, the most conveniently located, north west of Dolgellau. This SSSI was originally designated as an unimproved grassland/meadow site, and it was optimistically hoped to monitor Platanthera bifolia and P. chlorantha, as well as possibly Pseudorchis albida (although perhaps slightly late for that). However as they were forewarned that the site condition had declined in recent years it was no surprise that the only orchids were just a few Dactylorhiza fuchsii and D. maculata (Common and Heath Spotted-orchids). Despite the lack of spectacular plants, a good list for semi-improved grassland was made, and plenty of time was spent debating whether hybrid rushes (Juncus inflexus x effusus = J.x diffusus or J. effusus x conglomeratus = J.x kern-reichgeltii) had been found. The challenge remains to determine these another day.

Martin and Clare botanising at Nant Gwyrddail
Sarah, Martin and Clare visited Nant-y-Gwyrddail where calcicoles had previously been reported. The bog alongside the stream attracted their attention first with a rich fenny flora included Galium uliginosum and at least ten Carices, including C hostiana (Tawny Sedge) and a putative C distans (Distant Sedge) which awaits re-confirmation. The Fraxinus excelsior (Ash) woodland was next where Martin struggled through the dense vegetation to find, Euonymus europaeus (Spindle) Melica uniflora (Wood Melick) and Mercurialis perennis (Dog’s Mercury)., The delightful field below was awash with a wonderful spread of Jasione montana, (Sheep’s-bit),Thymus polytrichus (Common Thyme) and Euphrasia species (Eyebrights) with a rich flush running through it with Pedicularis sylvatica (Lousewort), many sedges as before,  Ajuga repens (Bugle) and Triglochin palustris ( Marsh Arrowgrass) as they reluctantly returned to the road.

Llynnau Cregennen
Graeme, Priscilla, Heather and Andy investigated the area around Llynnau Cregennen, skirting roadsides and some semi-improved grazing around the two lakes with extensive areas of wet and dry heaths and bog pools to the north and east.  The submerged aquatic vegetation in the two lakes was particularly interesting and differed notably from the more usual oligotrophic upland lakes, with only scattered Littorella uniflora (Shoreweed) and Lobelia dortmanna (Water Lobelia), no Callitriche hamulata (Narrow-leaved Water-starwort) or Potamogeton polygonifolius (Bog Pondweed) and, instead, large amounts of detached Potamogeton perfoliatus (Perfoliate Pondweed) and P. praelongus (Long-stalked Pondweed) washed up on the shore with Isoetes lacustris (Quillwort).  P. perfoliatus is uncommon in Wales and P. praelongus is very rare.  Other pondweed and stonewort specimens (especially from near the inlet of the southern lake) have been sent off for expert determination.  Away from the lake shore the acidic bog pools supported both Nymphaea alba (White Water-lily) and Drosera intermedia (Intermediate Sundew), but there were also surprisingly base-rich rock outcrops, e.g. with Thymus polytrichus (Common Thyme), nearer the lake with a corresponding influence on the lake water chemistry. 

Tyrrau Mawr across Llynnau Cregennen
Photo: W.M. Condry
After a very absorbing splodge through species-rich wetlands near Cregennen Lakes, with Triglochin palustre (Marsh Arrowgrass) and Utricularia minor (Lesser Bladderwort) at last, Rod’s group forged its way steeply up Tyrrau Mawr on Cader Idris’ northern flank, to search for more elusive gully vegetation. A good stiff pull brought the party out below the main gullies where there were again rewarded by some nice base-rich ledges with Solidago virgaurea (Goldenrod) and Succisa pratensis (Devil’s-bit Scabious). Carex flacca, C hostiana and C pulicaris (Glaucous, Tawny and Flea Sedges) were there with Thymus polytrichus also indicating a higher pH.  Montane species included Dryopteris oreades (Mountain Male-fern) and Diphasiastrum alpinum, (Alpine Clubmoss), another good update. Steeply back down to the car park to regroup with the others. 

A grand four days which produced over 3000 records in under-recorded squares, and provided an opportunity for botanists from outside the county to join us in Merioneth.

Thanks are due to all who came to Caerdeon, resident and non-resident, and worked so hard every day – and each evening - producing recording cards and Mapmate synchs.  Thanks also to Graham and Lei and all the staff at Caerdeon for their welcome and helpfulness, and to all the landowners who so freely gave permission for us to record on their land.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Glyceria maxima

I had found Glyceria maxima, Reed Sweet-grasson a previous visit to this site but not in flower, so I left the laptop and phone last week to collect a voucher. This is a first vice-county record.  Ian Bonner [pers. comm] says it is unlikely to be native in Anglesey and in Cardiganshire it is probably or certainly introduced [Chater, 2010]. 

It is an unusual site, the garden of a former farmhouse which stood beside the Corwen to Bala branch of the railway where it crossed the Dee.  The disused line can be seen continuing in the trees at the middle right of the picture and one of the stanchions of the bridge forms an island just visible above the gate.

 Hubbard [1984] says of G. maxima "....of value on river banks for the prevention of erosion."  It  grows on the bank just behind the gate, with Phalaris arundinacea, Reed Canary-grass, which Hubbard says also helps prevent erosion. I wonder if they were both planted here for that reason? 

The willow on the left was certainly planted during the present owners' tenure [c. 25 years], and has been identified by Desmond Meikle as Salix x fragilis L. with its partner [out of sight] as the Bedford Willow, Salix x fragilis L. var. russelliana (Sm.) Koch.

Chater, A O,  2010, Flora of Cardiganshire, Aberystwyth
Hubbard, C E, 1984,   Grasses, 3rd Ed revised by Hubbard J C E, Penguin Books

Friday, 13 July 2012

Wood Bitter-vetch - Vicia orobus V

I went back to Caerau Uchaf [see blog on 11th June] to see if this lovely and scarce vetch had appeared.  I made my way through large tussocks of Molinia into an unpromising corner of the field and there I found it in rough grassland below a stand of bracken.  It wasn't in flower and looked rather overwhelmed by the surrounding vegetation, common plants such as Holcus lanatus, Yorkshire Fog, Potentilla erecta, Tormentil,  Anthoxanthum odoratum, Sweet Vernal Grass and Carex binervis Green-ribbed Sedge.  It clearly seemed, as The New Atlas* says "...  adversely affected by overgrazing and undergrazing. "
Vicial orobus in flower
Thanks once again to John Crellin for both images

It has neat pinnate leaves with a short point instead of tendrils and the flowers are a lilac-pink veined with darker purple.  The whole plant has a bronze-ish tinge even before the calyx has  matured  and the pods are ripe, which helped me to find it even without flowers, but although I found more than two dozen clumps scattered through the grass, I left feeling concerned about it. 

V.  orobus, immature pods

"Britain has a significant proportion of the world population of this species" says the *Atlas, and I didn't feel confident that it was going to survive here.

The rest of the SSSI still looks as wonderful as before - I wonder what features of the habitat have led it to grow in this least special part of the site?!

*Preston, C D, Pearman, D A and Dines, T D, 2002, New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Far West

Llyn Llynerch  photo: Eric Jones
Another wet day  - and another bog!  I wanted to look at Llyn Llenyrch [SH6537] which we had failed to reach last week, so I made a date with Heather Garrett to go there last Friday.  It is very acid and very wet - but unspoiled and remote and surrounded by a fine bog and we made a good list. 

 The highlights were lovely patches of Hypericum elodes, Marsh St. John's-wort, with very small amounts of Carex pulicaris, Flea Sedge, and C. dioica, Dioecious Sedge [all  female]

Rain water lying on the leaves of Hypericum elodes,
with Juncus acutiflorus, Eriophorum angustifolium  and Carex echinata  
In the lake itself we found lots of Lobelia dortmannia, Water Lobelia, just coming into flower, with Littorella uniflora, Shoreweed, along the shore line.  We did a bit of grapnelling but the water level was very high and we didn't even find any interesting 'bits' washed up.  As we were deciding to give the weather best, we looked along the roadside verge and were rewarded with patches of Wild Thyme, Thymus polytrichus, and an Eyebright, Euphrasia confusa.

The next day I led a botanical walk [in Welsh] from Plas Tan-y-Bwlch to Llyn Mair for Llen Natur and Cofnod. It was their Bioflits event, the idea being to combine an open event for the general public with intensive recording of a site.  All sorts of wildlife are included from spiders to mammals to higher plants and bryophytes.  

It went quite well but I might have been a little more coherent if I hadn't got lost on the 'reccy' and had to miss lunch!  We walked through the great Japanese cedars, Cryptomeria japonica, amid some typical woodland plants but some odd ones too.  The strangest, which I had never seen before, was Sheep-laurel, Kalmia angustifolia, looking perfectly natural beside the lake.  Its single remaining flower was enough to help us to identify it later.  A strange record to add to the county list!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Merioneth Naturalists: Nant Pasgan (SH63N) John Hughes

June 19 2012

Present: Andrew Graham, Rod Gritten, John Hughes, Jenny Lees, Sarah Stille

Nant Pasgan Mawr
David M Jones
In another wet month for VC48 [235.8mm at Llanymawddwy by 19/6], five of us met at Llandecwyn [Cilfor] to share cars for the trip up to Nant Pasgan. It was the sort of day where the weather could have gone either way. Low cloud, a cold north wind and warm clothes to start with. By mid-morning, however, the whole bulk of Manod was clear, Moelwyn by midday and Yr Wyddfa itself by mid-afternoon. So we were again lucky with the weather and had a marvellous sunny day out on the northern slopes of the Rhinogydd.

Myrica gale
thanks to John Crellin
The first port of call was the flat, wet ground by the old mine buildings just east of Coed Caerwych. Here, many of the chacteristic plants of the day were evident: plentiful Myrica gale, Bog Myrtle, with Menyanthes trifoliata, Bogbean, Angelica sylvestris, Wild Angelica, Narthecium ossifragum, Bog Asphodel,  and other wetland specialists, though we did not come across either Scutellaria, Skullcaps, here or elsewhere during the day. On the path up to Hendre Cerrig there was Vulpia bromoides, Squirrel-tail Fescue, and Aphanes australis, Slender Parsley-piert, with its oblong stipule lobes [triangular in A.arvensis].

There were plenty of good flushes to search for Carex species and we got a good haul, although it was not quite base-rich enough for Carex dioica, Dioecious Sedge. Both Carex hostiana, Tawny Sedge, and C.demissa, Common Yellow Sedge, were present in plenty. There was some optimism about finding their cross, C. x fulva, but the wiser heads in the company determined that it was too early in the season to be confident because the young fruits of  C.hostiana had not matured sufficiently to distinguish them from the ‘squeezable’ fruits of the hybrid. In the ‘quite frequent but easy to overlook’ category Isolepis setacea, Bristle Club Rush, was a good find.
The green lane from Nant Pasgan Bach
Barmouth Walking Festival

We had lunch just to the east of Nant Pasgan Mawr, in whose small abandoned garden was Levisticum officinale, Lovage, [presumably planted] and Carex pilulifera, Pill Sedge. After lunch it warmed up considerably and we headed off in the direction of  Llyn Llenyrch. The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries were plentiful in the sun as was their larval food plant, Viola palustris. We were able to compare subsp.juressi with the commoner subsp. palustris, the hairy petioles of the former showing clearly in the sun even without the use of a magnifying lens. We also had time to determine Anagallis tenella in its vegetative state and to distinguish it from the superficially similar Epilobium brunnescens. Both root at the nodes and have paired leaves: these have stomata on both sides in the former, which is hairless. In the Epilobium, which is often purplish and has two lines of minute hairs on the stem, the stomata are above only. Thank goodness for 'Poland'*!

In the event, we decided to turn back before reaching Llyn Llenyrch, to have time to look at the very different habitat of  Coed Caerwych. In the moistness of the wood there was luxuriant Phegopteris connectilis, Beech Fern, as well as fine ‘shuttlecocks’ of Dryopteris affinis, Scaly Male-ferns. As we were returning to the cars for the many-gated drive back to Llandecwyn, we finally saw Melampyrum pratense, Common Cow-wheat, although Ceratocapnos claviculata, Climbing Corydalis, continued to elude us.

The 147 species we saw made for a comprehensive list, albeit without any particular ‘rarities’ on it. Apart from the sun, the views and the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, the main non-botanical delights were the Cuckoo and the frequent sight and rich sound of Tree Pipits parachuting down to earth.

*Poland, John and Clements, Eric J. 2009, The Vegetative Key to the British Flora