The Border Bryologists and The British Bryological Society

By Mark Lawley

[The Border Bryologists have recently been contacted by both Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and the Worcestershire BRC. This has already led to survey work at a couple, of sites in the Teme Valley and the opportunity to join beginner's courses in Ludlow. This is very useful and helpful because there has been little bryophyte recording in Worcestershire in recent years. The following note by Mark Lawley explains the thinking behind the foundation of the Border Bryologists and its relationship to the national society. Ed]

The Border Bryologists meet to look for and identify bryophytes in Shropshire, Herefordshire, and east Wales. We found it easy to start up our group because the Herefordshire Botanical Society was already providing a forum for active local botanists, to whom we could advertise. And since the Border Bryologists have come into existence, the Shropshire Flora Group has constituted itself into the Shropshire Botanical Society, which also advertises our activities to its members. So, with free advertising and postage provided by two local botanical societies, the Border Bryologists enjoy negligible running costs. Long may our two sugar-daddies remain solvent.

Why have a local bryophyte group? What purpose does it serve? We wanted first to learn how to identify bryophytes in the field, which necessitated regular meetings close to hand, with an accomplished bryologist in attendance. During our first two years - 1994 and 1995 - Roy Perry attended nearly all our meetings, and provided the required expertise. Without Roy we would have struggled to identify the plants we found, and quite likely lost heart. Instead we gained sufficient momentum for lift-off. Latterly, Ray Woods and Jonathan Sleath have given expert help, despite busy professional careers. Gradually, the other members of our group have gained in confidence (if not in competence), even though it sometimes seems that the partly sighted are leading the blind.

And what of our future? Rather than allow our group to become a coterie of experienced bryologists, too daunting for beginners to join, those of us who have acquired a little bryological knowledge are trying in turn to help Stage-1 novices gain some bryological ability. Indeed, our most important function is to help interested but ignorant botanists gain a foothold on the lower rungs of cryptogamic competence. Collecting and compiling records for a site or grid-square, and finding uncommon species are of secondary importance at our arranged meetings, and better catered for during ad hoc or solo sorties.

To further this educational gearing, the Border Bryologists have arranged an indoor workshop at Ludlow Museum this winter. Both the Museum and the bryologists stand to gain: the Museum benefits because more people in through the front door this year brings a bigger grant from local government next year. Consequently we have not been asked to pay to hire the museum's facilities. And budding bryologists will also benefit by acquiring confidence in examining and identifying bryophytes under the microscope: how to dissect leaves off stems, look for auricles on Plagiothecium stems, prepare peristomes for examination, or search for stomata on Orthotrichum capsules, or for gemmae and gametangia.

So an active Local Interest Group, by getting beginners started - both in the field and indoors - may serve a different function to that of the British Bryological Society (BBS). A local group is better placed than the BBS to cater for beginners, who are more likely to become aware of and attend local meetings than make the effort to travel long distances for national meetings. In this way a local group can act as a nursery for L-plate bryologists, who may subsequently join the BBS and the national scene. Indeed, several people from the Welsh borders have recently joined the BBS, apparently as a consequence of interest generated locally.

On the Welsh borders, as elsewhere, local natural history societies and wildlife trusts arrange meetings quite independently of each other, and indeed often seem entirely ignorant of each other's programmes. I certainly met with genuine rather than merely polite surprise and interest when mentioning the Border Bryologists to local wildlife trusts, and improved communication between groups of local naturalists may well bring more potential bryologists on to the scene. The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust has recently expressed interest in the Border Bryologists as a convenient local vehicle for introducing their members to bryology. At present, no one regularly records bryophytes in Worcestershire, and it will be interesting to see if anything develops in the county as a result of the Trust's initiative. I suspect that members of other local wildlife Trusts would like to learn about bryophytes, but that neither the Trusts nor their members know who to approach locally, and understandably blanch at the prospect of going it alone.

By regarding local groups as nurseries for budding bryologists, one sees the role of our national bryological society in a new light. The British Bryological Society is better placed than local groups to promote bryology to a wider public. My tip as top priority for the BBS's publicity arm in the coming century is publication of a popular, user-friendly field-guide to genera of British and Irish mosses and liverworts: a guide with lifelike drawings of the forms of bryophytes and any of their other characteristics which are visible through a lens, while leaving microscopic details for Floras which distinguish species. Its key might also have line-drawings instead of (or at least, as well as) polysyllabic tongue-twisters. The guide would also have distribution and habitat notes as in the 3-volume Atlas of the Bryophytes of Britain and Ireland.

A well-produced field-guide to genera of British bryophytes could not fail to become the BBS's flagship publication, and do far more to attract the public to bryology than any coffee-table book or symposium-volume of abstruse scientific articles. Bookshops abound with popular guides to vascular plants, birds, mammals and insects. It is time bryophytes joined them. The Border Bryologists will certainly find it much easier to introduce beginners to bryology once we have a good field-guide to take out with us on our excursions.

Border Bryologists, 1999-2000

Copies of our programme are available from Mark Lawley (address below)).

Publications of interest:

The Bygone Botanists of Herefordshire

traces the social and personal histories of botanists who explored Herefordshire, with accounts of several accomplished bryologists, including Augustin Ley, Eleonora Armitage and Charles Herbert Binstead. 3.75 (inc. 50p P & P) from Heather Colls, The Steppes Cottage, Jingle Street, Wonastow, Monmouth, Gwent NP5 4DL. Please make your cheque payable to "Herefordshire Botanical Society".

A Botanical Stroll through North Herefordshire

describes the plants of interesting botanical sites in the countryside between Ludlow, Leominster and Presteigne, with annotated lists of bryophytes and vascular plants. 4 (inc. 50p P & P) from Heather Colls (see above) ; cheque payable to "Herefordshire Botanical Society".

All proceeds from sales of these booklets will help defray costs of publishing a projected Herefordshire Plant Atlas.


Border Bryologists - Mark Lawley, 12A Castleview Terrace, Ludlow, SY8 2NG. Tel: 01584 876564.
British Bryological Society - Mr M.A. Walton, Ivy House, Wheelock Street, Middlewich, Cheshire, CW10 9AB.
Herefordshire Botanical Society - Mr Les Smith, Lonsdale, Firs Road, Ross-on-Wye, HR9 5BH. Tel: 01989 563599.
Shropshire Botanical Society - Sarah Whild, 66 North Street, Castlefields Shrewsbury, SY1 2JL.

Botanical meeting at Ardtornish, Morvern,

August 9th-16th 2000 provisional dates), by kind invitation of Faith Raven.

Leader: Brian Brookes.

Ardtornish is an estate on Morvern, a peninsula on the west coast of Scotland opposite Mull, south-west of Fort William. Its mires, woods, cliffs and coast carry an exceptionally varied flora. For bryologists, the hepatic mats and tiny liverworts in the moist ravines are particularly choice. If the remote splendour of a Scottish mansion and countryside sounds like your sort of holiday, contact Brian Brookes at Borelick, Trochry, Dunkeld, Perthshire PH10 OBX; Tel: 01350 723222. Inclusive cost will be in the region of 375.

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