Monmouthshire (Vice-county 35)

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MONMOUTHSHIRE (Vice-county 35)

Monmouthshire is the southeastern-most Vice-county in Wales and acts as something of a bridge between that country and England. It resembles much of the rest of Wales in the general diversity of the bryophyte flora and the local abundance of humidity demanders, but also supports a variety of lowland species, particularly calcicoles, which barely penetrate the Principality. The habitats and scenery of the county are rich and varied. North-western Monmouthshire’s Black Mountains have a distinctly upland character; the western coalfield consists of ridges and valleys and is similar to adjacent Glamorgan; a band of Carboniferous limestone runs southwards from The Blorenge and holds a wide range of exciting calcicoles; the central lowlands are gently undulating and include the floodplain of the River Usk; the predominately acidic sandstone/conglomerate ridges of Trellech and Wentwood dominate the east and beyond them lie the limestone crags of the Wye Valley; the southern edge of the county is occupied by coastal levels.

The bryological richness of the county is apparent even in lowland areas - the author’s home tetrad in SO40 supports more than 150 species of bryophyte, a respectable 10km square total in many parts of England! Meanwhile, the upland north-west, despite being less intensively covered, includes several tetrads with totals of more than 170 species. Species that are at or near their south-eastern limit include Bazzania trilobata, Calypogeia azurea, Jamesoniella autumnalis, Jubula hutchinsae, Lepidozia cupressina, Scapania aequiloba, Dicranum fuscescens, Encalypta ciliata, Polytrichum alpinum and Tetrodontium brownianum; English species that barely cross into Wales include Amblystegium humile, Aphanoregma patens, Didymodon vinealis, Microbryum curvicolle, Octodiceras fontanum, Syntrichia (Tortula) virescens and Tortula marginata.
The bryophyte flora of Monmouthshire has a similarly patchy history of coverage to its neighbours. There was a notable peak in recording in the V-c at the turn of the 19th century when visiting bryologists included Rev. Augustin Ley, Rev. C.H. Binstead and Miss Eleanora Armitage from Herefordshire and H.H. Knight from Carmarthenshire/Gloucestershire. The 1925 British Bryological Society meeting was held in Monmouth.
The inter-war years were as quiet in Monmouthshire as elsewhere in Britain but things picked up just before the war when Dr Eustace Jones made regular visits to Tintern to study the Wye Valley Woodlands. Jones’ discoveries, as well as those of Ley, Armitage, Knight and others, were brought together by Arthur Wade in the form of two Floras: Liverworts in 1946 and Mosses in 1953. The 1954 BBS meeting was again based in Monmouth.
The 1960s were a very quiet period for recording, although the 1968 BBS meeting, based in Ross-on-Wye, made a couple of visits to the county. The general pace picked up again in the 1970s when Bristol botanist George Garlick made several visits to Monmouthshire, concentrating on previously unvisited areas. Roy Perry, based in Cardiff, coordinated recording in the county from this time until 2001 and also made a few visits to little-known areas. The visits of Garlick, Perry and a few others coincided with the BBS mapping scheme and resulted in the county appearing relatively well recorded in the Atlas.
The BBS again visited the county in 1988 during a meeting based in Cirencester. Following this, in the late 1990s, there were occasional incursions from the surrounding Vice-counties, notably those of Dr Jonathan Sleath from Herefordshire, Alan Orange from Glamorgan and Ray Woods from Breconshire. The decade finished with another BBS meeting, led by Dr Sleath and based in Abergavenny (although most expeditions were into Breconshire).
Coverage between 1999 and 2003 has been on a tetrad/site basis and, by the end of 2003, at least an hour had been spent by the author in each of over 200 tetrads scattered across the county. Most of this recording has been by SDSB alone, but Graham Motley, CCW’s Senior Conservation Officer for the BBNP and BBS recorder for V-c 44, has accompanied him on several visits in county.
This travelogue covers a wide range of sites across the whole county. It is subdivided into 16 sections arranged in four north-running lines: from Chepstow in the south-east up the Wye Valley to Monmouth; from the Gwent Levels through Wentwood and Trellech to the far north-east; from Newport up the Usk Valley to Abergavenny; and from the western coalfield to the Black Mountains and Llanthony Valley.


1. Lower Wye Valley

Chepstow area, Pierce & Alcove Woods, Wyndcliff, Blackcliff, Mounton

2. Mid Wye Valley

Tintern, Llandogo, Whitebrook

3. Upper Wye Valley

Lady Park Wood, Reddings Enclosure

4. Gwent Levels east

Magor Marsh LNR, Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve, Collister Pill

5. Wentwood area

Wentwood, Wentwood Reservoir, Llanfair Discoed, Penhow, Llangwm

6. Trellech Ridge

Cleddon Bog & surroundings, Trellech Hill Quarry

7. North-east Monmouthshire

Dingestow, Craig Syffyrddin, Clappers Wood, Llangua Church

8. Usk Valley

Llantrissant, Llanfihangel Gobion, Castle Meadows, Govilon

9. Central Monmouthshire

Llandegfedd Reservoir, The Usk Inlier

10. The Eastern Ridge

Pontypool, Abersychan, Mynydd y Garn Fawr, The Blorenge, Cwm Ifor, Gilwern Hill

11. Abergavenny

Ysgyryd Fawr, Bryn Arw, The Sugar-loaf, Cwm Coed-y-cerrig NNR

12. Western Monmouthshire

Rhymney Valley, Rhymney Hill & Mynydd Bedwellte, Sirhowy Valley, Ebbw Vale, Blaina & Abertillery, Mynydd Coity & Blaenavon

13. Grwyne Fawr Valley

Coed-dias, Pont Cadwgan, Bal-mawr, Blaen-y-cwm

14. Cwmyoy & Oldcastle

Cwmyoy, Hatterall Hill

15. Llanthony Valley

Llanthony, Mid-valley cwms, Tarren yr Esgob south

16. Newport area

1. Lower Wye Valley
The Carboniferous limestone of the Lower Wye Valley stretches, on the west side of the river, from Chepstow north to Tintern. It outcrops more extensively to the east in West Gloucestershire (V-c 34). Low crags are scattered throughout this area of ancient woodland, but taller ones are found below Chepstow Castle, by the river at Piercefield, at the Wyndcliff and at Blackcliff. The first two of these are almost entirely inaccessible, so visitors should concentrate on the Blackcliff and Wyndcliff crags, as well as the surrounding woodland.
The rarest extant species in the Wye Valley is Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD), which has its British headquarters here. It shares the appearance of S. recurvata (curved setae) with the habit of S. calycina (paucifolia). Colonies grow on small pieces of limestone partially embedded in the soil. Autumn leaf fall may be major factor in the distribution of this species - many stones of suitable size do not support S. campylopoda, which seems to be restricted to areas under Yew trees and steep banks. Augustine Ley collected Bryum turbinatum RDB(CR) from a roadside at the Wyndcliff in 1891; it has not been seen since and the habitat is likely to have changed significantly. C.H. Binstead and W.A. Shoolbred found Ditrichum flexicaule sensu stricto RDB(DD) here in 1891 and H.H. Knight collected it from a wall “near Tintern” in 1902. This species (which tends to look very different from D. gracile, usually growing in dense tufts and having much shorter leaves) has also not been seen in recent years. Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN) was also found “near Tintern”, by the BBS in 1925. Some large collections were made but their origin has not been traced precisely. It just about survives at Mounton but the rediscovery of a strong colony of this threatened plant in the lower Wye Valley would be very welcome.
Calcicoles form the bulk of the interest in this limestone-dominated area. As well as the RDB species mentioned above, notable bryophytes include Cololejeunea calcarea, C. rossettiana NS, Marchesinia mackaii, Amblystegium confervoides NS, Campylophyllum calcareum NS, Eurhynchium striatulum NS, Fissidens gracilifolius, Fissidens rivularis NS, Gymnostomum viridulum NS, Scorpiurium circinatum NS, Seligeria donniana NS and Thuidium recognitum NS. The humid woods provide suitable conditions for a few hepatics, such as Lophocolea fragrans, Metzgeria conjugata, Nowellia curvifolia and Riccardia palmata. Epiphytes include occasional Leucodon sciuroides, Neckera pumila and Orthotrichum species.
The Chepstow area

Before visiting the Wye Valley, there are a few places around Chepstow that are worth a quick stop. The roundabout above Junction 2 of the M48 (ST535916) is the unlikely setting for a strong colony of Microbryum rectum (Pottia recta). Park in the lay-by on the west side of the A466 just north of the roundabout then check the south-facing bank by the road heading north-east from the roundabout to Bulwark. A visit in late winter provides the only real chance of seeing this species as its fruiting is seasonal.

Golf enthusiasts can enjoy a strong colony of Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU), accompanied by a little G. laevigata NS, on the south side of the church roof at St Pierre (ST515905). I don’t know whether non-golfing visitors are officially allowed to visit but nobody seemed to mind when I examined the roof with my telescope in 2002.
Dr Shoolbred, resident of Chepstow and an excellent botanist and bryologist, published a Flora of the Chepstow area in 1920. Among the most notable species he mentioned were Funaria muhlenbergii NS at Chepstow Castle (ST533941), Scorpiurium circinatum NS in the old limestone quarry at ST537929 and Grimmia decipiens NS on a rock by the River Wye just south of Chepstow Station. The Funaria seems no longer to survive at Chepstow Castle but the castle’s spectacular setting makes it well worth a visit anyway. So far as I know, nobody has looked for the Grimmia or Scorpiurium since Shoolbred’s time; a lack of footpaths makes this a difficult place to visit.
Pierce and Alcove Woods

The southernmost of the Wye Valley woodlands are among the least known bryologically. Cololejeunea rossettiana NS and Fissidens gracilifolius have been recorded in Alcove Wood (ST529947), whilst Marchesinia mackaii, Plagiochila britannica, Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD) and Eurhynchium (Isothecium) striatulum NS grow on or near the Apostles Rocks (ST528948). Piercefield Cliffs and the Apostles Rocks are sections of the precipitous north-facing slope that towers above a large meander in the River Wye; the terrain is extremely difficult and the walk-in, from Chepstow (footpath starts at ST528943) or the Wyndcliff, is quite long. This area is probably the best bet for anyone hoping to rediscover Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN) in the lower Wye Valley.


More people have seen Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD) in the Wyndcliff woods than anywhere else in Britain, indeed only 2 people alive today have seen it at any other site! The main colony at The Wyndcliff is on small pieces of limestone by the track to the disused quarry, just across the A466 from the Forestry Commission carpark (ST527971). The Quarry (ST527972) has been searched on several occasions by the BBS and other bryologists; it holds Encalypta vulgaris, Gymnostomum viridulum NS and various other common calcicoles. A footpath leads southwards from the carpark into Lower Martridge Wood (ST527969), where limestone outcrops support abundant Marchesinia mackaii and Porella platyphylla, as well as smaller amounts of Cololejeunea calcarea, C. rossettiana NS and Porella arboris-vitae. The path passes a ruined building surrounded by Plane trees, one of which supports Lophocolea fragrans on its trunk. A short distance on, the path crosses a rocky stream in which Fissidens rivularis NS is abundant. Trichocolea tomentella grows by the stream.

The Wyndcliff itself (ST527973) is best approached from the west, from a carpark at ST524972. A footpath and set of steps allow access to part of the cliff, and the rest can be explored by traversing along the cliff bottom (the terrain is steep and difficult). For the most part, the bryophyte flora is similar to that on the other Wye Valley Crags: Marchesinia mackaii, Porella platyphylla and Anomodon viticulosus are abundant, Cololejeunea rossettiana NS and Porella arboris-vitae rare. An open, south-facing area provides the distinction though - it supports several tufts of Schistidium elegantulum ssp. elegantulum and a large form of Orthotrichum cupulatum.
Rhodobryum roseum was collected in the Wyndcliff Woods by Shoolbred in the 19th century but has not been seen since.

The Blackcliff is another extensive limestone crag, this time facing north-east. There is a pull-in large enough for one car on the west side of the road at the end of the access track (ST533981) and a little more parking, with care not to block access for trucks, on the opposite side of the road at the quarry entrance. About 60 metres along the track there are small pieces of limestone embedded in the left-hand bank supporting Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD). Another colony is on the left after a further 200 metres, on pieces of limestone under some Yew trees. The crags themselves are tall and largely inaccessible; a walk along the bottom should reveal most of what grows here, although even this is made difficult by unstable ground and plenty of brambles. Marchesinia mackaii is more abundant on the Blackcliff than anywhere else in the county. It is joined by frequent Eurhynchium (Isothecium) striatulum NS, occasional Plagiochila britannica, a single strong colony of Metzgeria conjugata and at least one tiny patch of Cololejeunea rossettiana NS. Typical limestone species, including Porella platyphylla, Anomodon viticulosus and Rhynchostegiella tenella, are locally abundant on the crag, whilst Taxiphyllum wissgrillii is scattered on blocks below it. Campylophyllum (Campylium) calcareum NS grows in at least one place and is probably widespread on small pieces of limestone. Bare patches of soil by the road adjacent to the pull-in support Brachythecium glareosum.


Contrast with the steep Wye Valley woodlands is provided by Great Barnets Woods, which lie just west of Chepstow. There is a large parking area off the B4235 (ST513943) from which several forestry tracks lead. Carboniferous limestone outcrops in several places and supports a range of calcicoles; whereas the outcrops elsewhere in the Wye Valley are vertical crags, in Great Barnets Woods they are horizontal and resemble limestone pavement. Thuidium recognitum NS was collected at ST513942 in 2000 but could not be refound in the following year; it stood out from the abundant T. tamariscinum in its orange coloration and simple branching. Other species on the limestone include Hylocomium brevirostre, Taxiphyllum wissgrillii and Tortella tortuosa. Epiphytes on Beech trunks include Orthotrichum stramineum and O. striatum, although both are rather rare in the wood.

The west-facing limestone crag in Cliff Wood (ST507938) can be approached from the south end of Great Barnets Woods. A brief visit showed that Marchesinia mackaii is abundant here, but further searching could reveal something really special ... such as Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN), one patch of which persists on the opposite side of the valley in the Kite’s Bushes area. Shoolbred recorded Scorpiurium circinatum NS from Mounton in the late 19th century and it still grows on the north side of a limestone spur just north of the footpath at ST506936. Other calcicoles here include Cololejeunea calcarea, Plagiochila britannica, Eucladium verticillatum, Hylocomium brevirostre, Neckera crispa and Orthothecium intricatum.
2. Mid Wye Valley

Several of the top bryologists of the early 20th century visited Tintern on the 1925 BBS meeting, and bryology there nowadays seems to be a mix of following in their illustrious footsteps and enjoying the views. Tintern Abbey (SO533000) is breathtaking from a distance, but a closer look would be needed to reveal whether it still supports the Rhynchostegiella curviseta NS that the BBS found on one of its walls. Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU) was recorded on the roof of the Beaufort Arms Hotel so any stone-tiled roofs in the area should be examined through binoculars; it has not been recorded in the Wye Valley south of Monmouth since then. The only south Wales record of Pylasia polyantha NS comes from a hedge between Tintern and Catbrook, 2 miles to the northwest, again the result of the 1925 BBS meeting.

The Ancient Iron Works (SO514002) in the Angiddy Valley is a good introduction to the joys of the genus that used to be Barbula: 9 members have been recorded here, including Didymodon vinealis at one of very few known Vice-county sites. Gyroweisia tenuis grows on mortar of the ruined Iron Works buildings.

In 1946 Dr Eustace Jones was the first bryologist to explore the rocky, east-facing Bargain Wood, a mile south of Llandogo. He noted Jubula hutchinsae, Lejeunea lamacerina, Lophocolea fragrans, Saccogyna viticulosa and Fissidens rivularis NS. The Fissidens and all four humidity-demanding liverworts remain, although it is quite hard to find the Lophocolea. Park in the large carpark at SO523029 and then walk south-eastwards on the steep, narrow Llandogo road (stopping to admire Mnium stellare on the roadside wall on your left) until a path branches off to the right. This leads to the top of the ravine, at SO525025; from then onwards it’s a difficult, steep descent over large blocks.

The Gwent Wildlife Trust reserve of Cleddon Shoots can be reached either from above or below. Footpaths run through the wood but the terrain is still steep and tricky. The lower part, known as Llandogo Ravine (ST523040) has been explored more by bryologists than any other site in the mid Wye Valley. It was first searched by Eustace Jones in the 1930s and has been visited by the BBS in 1954, 1968 and 1999. The ravine provides sufficiently humid conditions for several Atlantic species to survive near the edge of their range. The most notable is Rhynchostegium alopecuroides (lusitanicum) NS, many miles from its nearest locality; others include Jubula hutchinsae, Lejeunea patens, Metzgeria conjugata and Plagiochila spinulosa, as well as Fissidens rivularis, F. rufulus and Plagiothecium laetum.

The BBS visited Whitebrook (SO52-07-) in 1954 and 1968, recording Riccia subbifurca NS as well as a number of commoner species. A network of footpaths and lanes through the woodlands here make this a very interesting area to explore, especially as its bryophytes have not been studied at all recently. At the head of the valley is Trellech Hill Quarry (see Trellech Ridge below).

A minor road running south-eastwards from The Narth leads to a small carpark at SO528059. From here, you can scramble northwards through Manor Wood to the rocky Manor Brook. Large blocks of sandstone-quartz conglomerate just below the carpark support the typical assemblage of this rock type, including Barbilophozia attenuata, Bazzania trilobata, Lepidozia reptans and Campylopus flexuosus; a colony of Jamesoniella autumnalis NS on one block is much more unusual. Rocks in the Brook have plenty of Jubula hutchinsae growing on them, together with Chiloscyphus polyanthos, Riccardia chamedryfolia and Scapania undulata. Hookeria lucens is frequent, whilst a stand of willows holds Orthotrichum pulchellum, Metzgeria temperata and various other epiphytes.
3. Upper Wye Valley
Lady Park Wood NNR

This National Nature Reserve lies a stone’s throw from England and is easier to reach from that country than from Monmouthshire; park at the Doward (SO547157) and walk SSE to The Biblins Campsite where there is a footbridge (SO549143) across the Wye. Lady Park Wood is a locus classicus for woodland ecologists and has been studied by many scientists in the past, including Dr Eustace Jones; the BBS have visited twice. A tall, east-facing limestone crag extends for several hundred metres and holds many of the reserve’s most notable species. The ground below it is steep and brambles are abundant but, with care, it is possible to traverse along the bottom of the crag. Marchesinia mackaii, Porella platyphylla and Anomodon viticulosus are generally abundant, Cololejeunea calcarea, C. rossettiana NS, Porella arboris-vitae, Eurhynchium (Isothecium) striatulum NS, Gymnostomum calcareum NS and Orthothecium intricatum occur in smaller quantity, although the last of these is locally abundant under some dry overhangs. Plagiochila britannica, Amblystegium confervoides NS, Campylophyllum (Campylium) calcareum NS and Taxiphyllum wissgrillii are more likely to be found on rocks below the crag than on the face itself. This is currently the only reliable site in Wales for Platygyrium repens NS, which grows on various tree species.

Six small patches of Anomodon longifolius RDB(EN) remain in one place on the crag. This rare moss has the bright colour of A. viticulosus but is the size of Heterocladium heteropterum; it is obvious enough to be identified in the field and must not be collected under any circumstances.
Most previous visitors have focused on the Whippington Brook, which forms the boundary with Gloucestershire. Here, the soft limestone is suitable for Seligeria spp.: S. donniana NS and S. acutifolia NS certainly occur, S. pusilla NS has been claimed in the past but specimens purporting to be it in NMW are a mixture of the other two species. This is also the part of Lady Park Wood where Apometzgeria pubescens reaches its southerly British limit; recent searches of the main crag have so far failed to reveal it. A quick nip across the border should give a better chance of seeing Anomodon longifolius as it is apparently still locally frequent on The Slaughter.
One of the most prominent mosses by The River Wye here is Mnium stellare; M. marginatum was recorded on an Alder stool in 1949 and should also be looked for. Other species on the river banks include Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis and Orthotrichum sprucei NS. E.F. Warburg collected a tiny scrap of Octodiceras fontanum NS from the river on the 1954 BBS meeting, whilst Joan Appleyard collected Fissidens rufulus NS at the same time.
A short distance to the north-west is Hadnock Quarry (SO540152), which provides open habitat that contrasts with Lady Park Wood’s woodland. Gymnostomum viridulum can be found in shaley crevices in the limestone quarry face, together with Leiocolea turbinata and Eucladium verticillatum. Hazel coppice near the quarry is a good place to look for Seligeria campylopoda RDB(DD) (see Lower Wye Valley, above). There is an old record of Rhodobryum roseum from the railway track near Hadnock.

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