The BBS walked along the Duke of York Lane (SO522128-534126) on their way back to Monmouth from Lady Park Wood during the 1954 spring meeting (they were clearly hardy souls as it’s quite a trek!). They were revisiting Eustace Jones’ site for Cephaloziella turneri NT, which they located on soft sandstone near Beaulieu Farm. This rarity has not been seen since, despite several visits, although it is possible that attention has focused too much on the western end of the lane. Subsequent visits have produced Bryum donnianum NS and Scleropodium tourettii.
The surrounding woods have hardly been explored and seem likely to repay attention. Phaeoceros laevis was abundant on a path at SO542132, below Headless Hill, in 2000 and a single plant of Blasia pusilla grew with it; the potential for interesting Fossombronia seems high. Conglomerate crags near the Near Hearkening Rock (SO541139) hold a few calcicoles where lime-rich water seeps through them. Lady Grove (SO529140) and Garth Wood (SO525131) are steep, semi-natural woodlands that are notified as SSSIs.
4. Gwent Levels east
Magor Marsh LNR
The Gwent Levels are not a particularly rich area for bryophytes but they do support a couple of species that are not found elsewhere in the county. Most notable is Ricciocarpos natans NS at its only South Wales site. It has only been collected once, from a ditch at Magor Marsh (ST427860), but seems unlikely to be restricted to that site. Riccia fluitans is also found at Magor Marsh and has also not yet been found elsewhere to the east of Newport. There is a small carpark for the LNR on the west side of the road through Whitewall Common, south of Magor village. Searches of various other reens on the Levels have failed to turn up either of the floating liverworts but suitable habitat is found across a vast area stretching over 15km from Newport to Caldicot.
Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve
There are a few other species of some interest in the Levels area. Damp areas behind the seawall are worth searching for Drepanocladus aduncus which is widespread across the levels. Puddles on the edge of the carpark (ST334834) for the Uskmouth section of the Gwent Levels Wetland Reserve hold small pinnate plants that were once split as Drepanocladus polycarpos. Otherwise, the reserve’s bryological interest is restricted to some piles of metal-rich fly-ash at ST339828 that support Marchantia polymorpha ssp. ruderalis and Leptobryum pyriforme outside their usual plant pot habitat; a tiny brown acrocarp on the fly-ash has so far escaped identification.
Hennediella heimei grows at a few places on the upper edge of the saltmarshes that line the Severn; none is particularly accessible. Collister Pill is probably the easiest site to visit - cross the M4 on the bridge south of Severn Tunnel Junction, Rogiet, drive to the far end of the gravel road that heads south-westwards, park at ST451860 and cross the field to the seawall.
5. Wentwood area
Actively managed conifer forestry covers most of Wentwood, a plateau of Devonian Brownstones cut by narrow bands of Quartz Conglomerate. The rocks are predominately acidic and the bryophyte flora reflects this to a degree, although the lack of wet areas means that Sphagna are absent. Streams cutting through the forestry retain some deciduous woodland so these are the best areas to explore; parking is possible at Cadira Beeches (ST421949), Forester’s Oaks (ST428939) and by a road bend at ST410934. Metzgeria temperata, Microlejeunea ulicina, Hypnum lindbergii (on the damp edges of forestry tracks) and a range of Orthotrichum spp. can be expected. It is possible that Colura calyptrifolia could be discovered if willows overhung by conifers are searched, although this species is not currently known from the area. Plagiothecium laetum was collected in Wentwood in the 1980s, whilst Leptodontium flexifolium was found on Gray Hill (ST438935) at the same time.
The bryophyte flora of Wentwood Reservoir (ST428935) is subtly different to that of Llandegfedd Reservoir (see below). As at Llandegfedd, Ephemerum sessile NT is frequent in the upper Carex hirta-dominated zone of the margin and Riccia cavernosa NS is locally abundant on wet mud. However, large parts of the margins are dominated by Aphanoregma patens, a species that has not yet been found at Llandegfedd. A Weissia with immature sporophytes, thought probably to be W. rostellata NT, was noted on the northern shore in August 2003. An unidentified Fossombronia, Riccia sorocarpa, Bryum klinggraeffii, Epipterygium tozeri, Leptobryum pyriforme and Pseudephemerum nitidum all occur in small quantity. The reservoir is privately owned, with signs and barbed wire making visitors feel unwelcome.
The south-facing side of the church roof at Llanfair Discoed (ST446924) supports at least 10 plants of Hedwigia ciliata sensu stricto RDB(DD) as well as quite a lot of Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU). The village is less than 5 miles from Junction 23a of the M4 and thus provides one of the most accessible localities for these species in southern Britain. Moss “twitchers” are advised to bring binoculars, or even better a telescope, to see these rarities on the roof, although a few tufts of G. ovalis can usually be found on the ground after wet weather has dislodged them from the tiles.
After seeing the Hedwigia at Llanfair Discoed you could celebrate with a beer at the Rock & Fountain, Penhow (ST425910). Before you enter the pub it’s worth having a look for Aloina ambigua NS on the stony bank behind the pub car-park. Most of the Aloina here is A. aloides, but careful examination of smaller plants should reveal some with the characteristic peristome of the rarer species. For bryologists keen on tiny species there is at least one small patch of Microbryum rectum (Pottia recta) here as well.
There are two churches at Llangwm; only the old one, at ST433006, is of bryological interest. The south side of the roof supports scattered Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU) and Hedwigia ciliata sensu stricto RDB(DD), the latter in greater quantity than at Llanfair Discoed. Cinclidotus fontinaloides grows on a path in the churchyard.
6. Trellech Ridge
Cleddon Bog & surroundings
Although years of neglect have coupled with surrounding aforestation to reduce the quality of the habitat at Cleddon Bog LNR (SO509039), a reasonable array of Sphagnum spp. and bog hepatics had survived until 2000. Cephalozia connivens and Kurzia pauciflora grow on the sides of Molinia tussocks or on Sphagnum, at least 8 species of which are present. There are no records of Mylia anomala or Odontoschisma sphagni since 1968, whilst Cladopodiella francisci, Riccardia latifrons and Sphagnum tenellum probably disappeared early in the 20th century. Luckily, a dramatic management plan (put together by CCW and the Gwent Wildlife Trust) aims to restore the bog; much scrub clearance has already taken place. It seems likely that Cleddon Bog will return to its status as one of top sites in the Vice-county soon. Park carefully by the Trellech to Tintern Road to access the bog.
The plantations around Cleddon Bog still hide some deciduous woodland in which species such as Barbilophozia attenuata, Bazzania trilobata and Cephalozia lunulifolia grow. Ninewells Wood (SO510037), Beacon Hill (parking at SO511052) and Trellech Common (SO511064) are all worth exploring. There is a 1956 specimen of Tritomaria exsecta NS from Parkhouse Rocks (SO500031) in NMW, which suggests that this may be an interesting site.
Trellech Hill Quarry
Quartz conglomerate has been quarried at Trellech Hill (SO504070), providing conditions that are very rare in eastern Monmouthshire. Acidic gravels support Cephaloziella divaricata, Gymnocolea inflata, Nardia scalaris, Ditrichum heteromallum, Pohlia nutans, Polytrichum spp. and Racomitrium ericoides, an assemblage that is more typical of the county’s western valleys. Conglomerate blocks hold other acidophiles, including Barbilophozia attenuata, Lophozia excisa, Racomitrium aciculare, R. heterostichum sensu stricto and R. lanuginosum. The site’s most notable moss, Schistostega pennata NS, glows in deep holes under two blocks; both colonies here, it’s only known site in the county, are tiny so please admire it without destroying them. There is room to park two or three cars at SO501072, the end of the track to the quarry.
7. North-east Monmouthshire
Most of the interesting sites in the area around Dingestow Court (SO450097) are on private land and cannot be reached on footpaths, although the author can give directions to them if asked. The area is mentioned here to illustrate the range of species that lurk undetected in the seemingly unpromising Monmouthshire lowlands. George Garlick collected Weissia multicapsularis RDB(VU) from a lane bank just north of Dingestow Vicarage; this is Dingestow’s most notable moss if it still persists. The church roof supports Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU), G. laevigata NS and Leucodon sciuroides (on the porch), whilst the nearby River Trothy has a fine assemblage of silt-lovers including Dialytrichia (Cinclidotus) mucronata, Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis, Orthotrichum sprucei NS and Tortula subulata var. subinermis NS. Dingestow Court garden has Didymodon nicholsonii and Syntrichia (Tortula) virescens NS (two widely overlooked species); Orthotrichum lyellii, O. pulchellum and Syntrichia (T.) papillosa on old apple trees; Hypnum lacunosum var. tectorum on asbestos; Racomitrium aciculare on sandstone; and Racomitrium heterostichum sensu stricto on a slate roof. The swamp at the head of Dingestow Court Lake supports the only known colony of Amblystegium humile NS in South Wales, and the arable fields west of the lake hold Anthoceros agrestis NS, Phaeoceros carolinianus RDB(EN) and Weissia rostellata NT.
The Penyclawdd ridge, south of Dingestow, has been extensively coniferised, although areas of semi-natural woodland remain. Penyclawdd Wood (SO440080) has permissive footpaths throughout it, allowing access to a small flushed area near its centre where Chiloscyphus pallescens, Campylium stellatum var. protensum, Fissidens adianthoides, Hylocomium brevirostre and Palustriella commutata grow. More flushes, similarly overlying a calcreteous limestone, are found at the bottom of the Yew Tree Wood (SO455088); Cololejeunea minutissima, Colura calyptrifolia NS and Nowellia curvifolia also grow in this wood. A small outcrop of the limestone in the Dyffryn Wood (SO459082) supports Jungermannia atrovirens, Didymodon (Barbula) tophaceus, Eucladium verticillatum and Rhynchostegiella teneriffae. 188 bryophyte species have been recorded within a 2 miles radius of Dingestow Court, surely an indication of the richness of the county’s lowlands.
Graig Syfyrddin (SO40-22-), called “Craig Seraphim” by locals, is an outlying area of the Brownstones that form the Black Mountains. The bryophyte flora on the low sandstone outcrops that are scattered along the western scarp includes Scapania nemorea, Didymodon (Oxystegus) sinuosus, Heterocladium heteropterum var. flaccidum, Neckera crispa, Seligeria recurvata and Tortula subulata. This is a typical Black Mountains assemblage, but is very different from that found in rest of the north-eastern part of the county. Footpaths lead from the end (SO409225) of a narrow road. Keen bryologists can walk down to Grosmont (SO40-24-), via a footpath with Aulacomnium androgynum on its banks and Hygrohypnum luridum on rocks in its middle, to see species such as Dialytrichia (Cinclidotus) mucronata, Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis and Syntrichia (Tortula) latifolia by the River Monnow.
A good introduction to Orthotrichum is provided by Clappers Wood (SO465184). There is room to pull in a car on the east side of the road from where you should walk (note, this isn’t a footpath) along the south-eastern edge of the plantation to an area of Ash and Hazels at SO466184. There is a little O. striatum on Hazels on the edge of the plantation, whilst O. lyellii, O. pulchellum, O. stramineum and O. tenellum are more widespread. Cut through the wood to the footpath alongside the River Monnow to see O. rivulare and O. sprucei NS. To bring the total up to 9, Orthotrichum affine is abundant and O. diaphanum occasional throughout the area.
This tiny church (SO389257), by the main Hereford to Abergavenny road, holds the county’s largest colony of Hedwigia ciliata sensu stricto RDB(DD). It is abundant, together with abundant Grimmia ovalis RDB(VU) and frequent G. laevigata NS, on both the south-facing roof and the porch. The porch roof is low enough that a close encounter with these rare mosses is possible, whilst there are usually a few fallen tufts of each on the ground below the roof that can be taken away for microscopic confirmation. A strong colony of Schistidium apocarpum sensu stricto is present on a horizontal grave stone, one of the typical habitats of this relatively uncommon segregate.
8. Usk Valley
The following four sites are probably the most interesting on the River Usk, three of them hold notable species, whilst the fourth is easily accessible from Abergavenny itself. Any section of the Usk Valley Walk should produce the commoner specialities of the river, particularly Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis and Orthotrichum sprucei.
The Usk Valley Walk meets the river for the first time at Llantrissant (ST390969), a few miles south of Usk. North of the pumping station, the footpath runs close to the river’s east bank and allows access to riparian epiphytes such as Eurhynchium (Cirriphyllum) crassinervium, Leskea polycarpa, Orthotrichum rivulare (in small quantity), O. sprucei NS (fairly plentiful), Syntrichia (Tortula) latifolia and Myrinia pulvinata NT. The last of these is otherwise known in South Wales only from Govilon (see below) and there it is present in tiny quantity; at Llantrissant it grows on at least 3 trees at ST388977. Bryum klinggraeffii, Dicranella schreberana and Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis are among the terrestrial mosses on the river bank.
Park in a small layby (SO349091) on the side-road running east from just north of Pant-y-goytre Bridge (SO348089), to access one of the most active sections of the Usk, where the meandering river is constantly changing its course. Footpaths run upstream on both banks of the river, although the one on the north-bank keeps quite a way back from the edge. Ox-bow lakes on the north side of the river may be productive when they dry out in late summer, but unfortunately there is no footpath past them; an older oxbow just north of the church could also be worth a look. Willows and alders by the river have Cinclidotus fontinaloides, Dialytrichia (C.) mucronata, Orthotrichum rivulare (rare), O. sprucei NS (frequent) and Scleropodium cespitans growing epiphytically. A pile of concrete blocks in the river on the south bank just upstream of Pant-y-goytre Bridge supports Schistidium platyphyllum NS. A similar area of riparian habitat can be accessed from the National Trust carpark at SO360084.
Castle Meadows, Abergavenny
This site, which can be reached most easily by parking just east of Abergavenny Castle in Mill Street Industrial Estate (SO300139) and following a footpath south-westwards, supports a typical range of riparian bryophytes. Alders and willows should be examined for epiphytes, including Orthotrichum sprucei NS and Scleropodium cespitans, whilst vertical soil banks set just back from the river have Hennediella (Pottia) stanfordensis during the winter, as well as Bryum gemmiferum and B. klinggraeffii.
At Govilon, both banks of the river are in Monmouthshire, whereas only the north bank is in V-c 35 for the next 2 miles upstream. A grove of willows on the south bank at SO267146 supports a range of epiphytes including Orthotrichum lyellii, O. pulchellum, O. rivulare (rare), O. sprucei NS (frequent), Syntrichia (Tortula) laevipila, S. latifolia, S. papillosa (rare) and Ulota phyllantha. Myrinia pulvinata NT was found on a sloping willow trunk in April 2000 but could not be relocated 6 months later; it is probably still present in small quantity. Myrinia is best searched for on a dry day when its appressed leaves are more apparent.
9. Central Monmouthshire
The only large water-body in Monmouthshire is Llandegfedd Reservoir, 2½ miles west of Usk. The eastern and western margins are stony and bryologically uninspiring but the north shore is muddy and, when water levels are low, interesting. Two notable species occur here: Riccia cavernosa NS is abundant around Sor Bay (SO320001) and by the inlet east of the carpark (SO333006), whilst Ephemerum sessile NT is locally abundant on the western shore of “The Island” (SO333003). The Riccia carpets the margins in favourable seasons but seems always to be a small form that is quite different to the one at Wentwood Reservoir. Both of Llandegfedd’s specialities are only visible when water levels are low so visits to the reservoir are rather hit-and-miss; good bird-watching often makes up for poor bryology though!
The Usk Inlier
Monmouthshire’s oldest rocks - Silurian limestones and shales - form the Usk Inlier at the centre of the county’s main syncline. The limestones provide suitable conditions for various common calcicoles, such as Porella platyphylla, Aloina aloides and Anomodon viticulosus, but nothing of note has been found so far. George Garlick recorded Blasia pusilla on tracks through Llangibby Park (ST35-97-) and Jean Paton collected Anthoceros agrestis NS and Phaeoceros carolinianus RDB(EN) from a field near Llancayo (SO36-03). These, and a few species recorded by the author, suggest that this under-recorded part of the county may hold a few surprises.
10. The Eastern Ridge
The Pontypool area has diverse geology and therefore a varied bryophyte flora; much more exploration is warranted. Several footpaths cross the fields around Cwmynyscoy Quarries (ST283997), where the calcicole flora includes abundant Aloina aloides, Ditrichum gracile (crispatissimum) and Encalypta streptocarpa, frequent Brachythecium glareosum and Campyliadelphus (Campylium) chrysophyllus and a little B. mildeanum on the quarry floor. Spoilheaps in the lower part of Cwm Lickey (ST27-99-) support Ptilidium ciliare, Scapania compacta, S. scandica (rare), Racomitrium ericoides, Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata (rare) and at least one patch of Plagiomnium cuspidatum. Five species of Sphagnum grow around the pond; conglomerate blocks in a small oak wood (ST268983) hold Barbilophozia attenuata and B. floerkii; above this, an outcrop of Pennant Sandstone has Lophozia bicrenata, Bartramia pomiformis, Pohlia cruda and Polytrichum alpinum growing on it.
Cwm y Glyn, between Pontypool and Crumlin, is the location of Monmouthshire’s oldest bryophyte record: J. Woods Jr recorded Antitrichia curtipendula there in the early 19th century. So far, attempts to relocate it have failed but anyone bryologising there should bear this stunning species in mind! The north-facing slopes of Buarth Maen can be reached from a layby at ST255999. Here, Diplophyllum obtusifolium NS is on a friable bank by the track to the quarry and Didymodon ferrugineus (Barbula reflexa) is present in small quantity on base-rich colliery spoil amongst an abundance of Fissidens adianthoides. Very little of the cwm has been explored.
A Carboniferous Limestone quarry at SO282045 provides the main bryological interest in the Abersychan area, although other smaller quarries nearby may prove just as rich if explored. The main quarry, at the head of Cwm Lasgarn, is filled with calcareous spoil on which Racomitrium canescens sensu stricto NS, R. ericoides, Thuidium philibertii and Tortula subulata grow. The northern quarry face supports a few patches of Plagiomnium cuspidatum, a very distinctive plant that has been over-recorded in Britain in the past, as well as commoner calcicoles such as Jungermannia atrovirens and Anomodon viticulosus. Further down the cwm, Hylocomium brevirostre grows on small blocks of limestone, whilst Nowellia curvifolia is locally abundant on fallen branches. Relatively convincing Hypnum lacunosum var. tectorum grows on the walls of Lasgarn Reservoir (SO277045), as does Orthotrichum cupulatum.
Mynydd Y Garn Fawr
One of the most accessible patches of block-scree in the county is Carn y Capel (SO272081) which can be reached by walking northeastwards from a small carpark at SO270077. Three patches of Lepidozia cupressina, one of Anastrophyllum minutum and one of Bazzania trilobata hide in the deepest holes. Please don’t collect any of them as their existence in Monmouthshire is highly precarious! There is more block-scree, most of it unexplored, to the south on Mynydd Garnclochdy (SO283060), as well as acidic flushes and moorland.
This is one of Monmouthshire’s top sites for bryophytes, but a lot of walking is needed to get the best from it. Carboniferous Limestone and Old Red Sandstone form crags on the mountain’s northern and eastern sides, whilst Millstone Grit block-scree is scattered across the summit ridge; thus calcicole and calcifuge species are represented. The Blorenge is a SSSI for its moorland (which supports a reasonably strong colony of Red Grouse) and as it is also an urban common, access is open. The top (Hunter’s) car-park (SO262108) is the best for the main ridge and the scree beds; the eastern one (SO270109) for Waun Carn-y-defaid; a footpath running north-eastwards from Pen-ffordd-goch Pond carpark (SO255107) is the easiest way of reaching the northern crags. Andreaea rothii falcata is notably abundant on flat rocks near the top car-park, whilst Nardia geoscyphus NS was found on a ditch bank by the road by George Garlick in the 1980s.
Searching the scree beds is very hit-and-miss, although most will produce Barbilophozia attenuata, Bazzania trilobata, Scapania gracilis and Leucobryum juniperoideum. Dicranum fuscescens is widely scattered, although it may be masked by the abundant Campylopus flexuosus when not fruiting. Single patches of Anastrophyllum minutum and Lepidozia cupressina hide in very deep holes in a large band of scree near the northern end of the mountain but careful searching may reveal them elsewhere.
The best crag on the east side of the ridge, Craig-yr-hafod (SO274098), is on private land, but the species it holds (Orthothecium intricatum, Seligeria acutifolia NS and S. pusilla NS are the most interesting), can also be found on the common. The crag at Waun Carn-y-defaid (SO272099) has a little S. pusilla NS and damp turf below it holds abundant Breutelia chrysocoma and Sanionia (Drepanocladus) uncinata; Tritomaria exsectiformis grows on top of one of the blocks under a large beech tree. It may be easier to reach Craig-y-cwm (SO282089) by walking up from the end of the minor road at SO288091, although I have only ever trekked in along the ridge. The limestone outcrops hold frequent Seligeria pusilla NS, occasional S. acutifolia NS and rare S. recurvata (which needs checking); Gyroweisia tenuis and Orthotrichum cupulatum are also here. Scleropodium tourettii grows in patches of thin turf at Craig-y-cwm with Aloina aloides and Tortula subulata.
Further north, the limestone is exposed in two series of small quarries, on the mountain’s north-western (SO269125) and eastern (SO276117) sides. The quarry faces, although more than 100 years old, do not support the Seligeria spp. that make the natural crags so interesting, so attention should be paid instead to the calcareous turf that has developed on the quarry spoil. Thuidium philibertii is locally abundant, more so than at any other site in south Wales; it was first collected here by H.H. Knight in 1928. Tortula lanceola (Pottia lanceolata) and Scleropodium tourettii are also frequent on the east side. Knight found Scapania cuspiduligera at the same time as the Thuidium, but this has not yet been relocated on the main Blorenge ridge.
Members of the local hang-gliding club, who own the Blorenge, use the northern crag (SO277122) as their playground, adding to the experience of bryologising there. This is already inspirational, with views over Abergavenny, Ysgyryd Fawr and The Sugarloaf. The bryology is suitably exciting, with various species reaching their southerly British limit on the crag. Highlights on the main sandstone crag include Cololejeunea calcarea, Lejeunea patens, Bartramia ithyphylla & B. pomiformis, Campylopus fragilis, Encalypta ciliata NS, Mnium marginatum & M. stellare, Orthothecium intricatum, Plagiobryum zieri, Platydictya jungermannioides NS, Pohlia cruda and Polytrichum alpinum. Small outcrops of limestone around SO275124 support Seligeria pusilla NS and gemmiferous Bryum pallens.