Thursday, 23 March 2017

Blysmus intervention

Blysmus compressus grows in only one place in Oxfordshire (V.C. 23), in Old Marston within the complex of meadows and floodplain grassland along the River Cherwell designated as the Almonds Farm and Burnt Mill Meadows Local Wildlife Site. The population of Blysmus is quite healthy, extending over about 30m of the bank and with  thousands of inflorescences produced last summer. However, its future has been uncertain for several years with the cessation of grazing following the lapse of the previous tenancy and there has been no management for the last six years.

Not any more! This last weekend volunteers mowed the bank on which Blysmus grows in order to set back the coarse sedges and grasses beginning to overwhelm the smaller plants requiring shorter, finer vegetation, Blysmus included. Without this cutting Blysmus will eventually disappear under a thatch of coarse grasses and sedges, joining the list of Oxfordshire's extinct plants. Repeated again toward the end of summer and again in future seasons this management should result in a diverse sward of herbs and short sedges, just as it ought to look!

Many thanks to the volunteers who helped with this conservation intervention, to the owners Oxford City Council for their permission and assistance, and to the tenant farmer for his permission and sympathy for the cause of this threatened plant. Judy Webb who helped to organise the day has put some excellent photos and videos of scything in action on her website — except for the clothes and the kind of scythes used, the scene could be medieval.

Vegetation supporting Blysmus at Marston, dominated by grasses and with abundant Equisetum arvense and Potentilla anserina. According to results of the Threatened Plants Project the latter is a common associate of Blysmus compressus.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Otmoor Stoneworts

Do you know what a stonewort is? Did you know that in addition to vascular plants (i.e. flowering plants, conifers and ferns) the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) also collects records of stoneworts? I suspect that for some recorders the answer is 'no' to both. Stoneworts are a lovely, if obscure, group of aquatic green algae, but one could be forgiven for thinking they were some sort of weird vascular plant. Too big for proper phycologists, the BSBI seems to have adopted them out of sympathy.

I'd be really thrilled to receive any records of stoneworts from the county. If you feel like having a go then there's an excellent key to the commoner plants available from the BSBI here.
The Otmoor area has a lot of ditches and ponds, and it is not very difficult to find stoneworts round here. Indeed the moor is well known as an historic hot-spot for the nationally rare Tolypella intricata (tassel stonewort), recorded from the Saxon pond known as the Pill on Otmoor as well as a small number of ponds and ditches around the edge of the moor. The status of T. intricata is rather perilous nationally and around Otmoor owing to lack of pond and ditch management, and probably eutrophication, and it is listed as Endangered by the IUCN and is a species of principal importance (former UK BAP). The last report I know of it is from Nick Stewart, the national charophyte expert, who surveyed Otmoor for it in 2006 for the RSPB, finding a few plants in Greenaways on the reserve. I couldn't find it in 2016, but I was rather late — T. intricata gets going in March before aquatic vascular plants can grow up to out-compete it. The Freshwater Habitats Trust have been trying to rescue the plant, collecting soil (and, they hope, spores) from an historic Otmoor site for T. intricata and translocating it to ponds at the BBOWT reserve at Gallows Bridge Farm in the upper Ray, just within Bucks (V.C. 24).

Tolypella glomerata growing in a clean new ditch. The clusters of fertile branches give the species its name.
This weekend I thought I'd have a search for T. intricata in another Otmoor locality, Mansmoor in the parish of Charlton-on-Otmoor, to the north-west of Otmoor. Druce knew it from a ditch along Mansmoor Lane, which is now a dead end ending in the new railway. The area is anciently enclosed common land and most is a SSSI, including BBOWT's Wendlebury Meads, renowned for its ancient grassland. Sadly I didn't find T. intricata (the ditches were revolting), but I did find a stonewort almost as exciting: the nationally scarce T. glomerata. For some reason there are no records of this from Oxfordshire in the BSBI database or the NBN, but I know it has been recorded from the county, at least from Otmoor.

For this pretty little stonewort we have Chiltern Railways to be thankful, believe it or not. Although to build their new railway they had to clear many kilometers of hedgerow, an awful lot of new drainage has been constructed and many of these features now support stoneworts. My Tolypella was in a shallow surface water lagoon adjacent to the new bridleway over the railway from Mansmoor Lane, and which is now the main foot route to Wendlebury Meads. There were quite a number of plants scattered along the length of the lagoon. Where did the spores come from? Might T. intricata be in there somewhere too? You can be sure that I'll be looking for it.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Atlas 2020

This is a very brief post to advertise a new page on Atlas 2020 that I have finally finished tweaking (read: faffing about with) – see 'Atlas 2020' under the 'Recording' tab or click here. The spur to get it done came from the successful and highly enjoyable Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre recorders' conference held in Wallingford this last weekend. I gave a brief update on recording progress for the Atlas and following conversations with other recorders thought it was about time I gave the Atlas more prominence.

The new page does several things:
  • Outlines what Atlas 2020 is about.
  • Summarises my views on progress to date with Atlas recording in Oxfordshire (VC 23).
  • Provides some thoughts for future work with Atlas recording in order to get the county up to scratch by the end of 2019.
  • An interactive map showing the county, its tetrads and hectads, and how many taxa have been recorded and other statistics about each square.
I hope that the above will be of interest and use to recorders, both seasoned and prospective. As ever, do get in touch with me if you would like to be involved or want more information.