Author Graeme Lyons
On the 9th January I met up with Sharon Pilkington and Tom Ottley to look at some of the rare bryophytes growing on the sandrocks at Eridge Rocks. It was an interesting day, I managed to see seven species I hadn't seen before (4156) including some quite scarce ones for this region. It was good to talk about the management of these often over-looked plants and to see that we are mostly getting it right too. Tom thought that the rocks were probably looking the best they had done in the last 50 years for this rare assemblage of tiny plants. A few tweaks that we could make include clearing brambles from some of the boulders and removing some of the lower branches from evergreen shrubs to let the dappled sunlight that these plants demand (direct sunlight or complete shade are a sure way to eradicate most of the species).
Here are a few of the species we saw. This first was perhaps the rarest of the mosses, Dicranum scottianum (we only saw three tiny plants) but I was particularly pleased with this shot. It is taken with the lens looking directly up the side of the sandrocks. It was an incredibly dull, overcast day which I think the Coolpix 4500 does well in.
This TINY liverwort is known Scapania umbrosa and was yet another species the bryologists were quite excited by. Nearby, this boulder, with a birch growing from it, was also a hot spot for a few scarce bryophytes.
Including this endearing little acrocarp (did I just say that). Tiny luminous-green sea urchins spring to mind. It's yet another species that can thrive on the sandrock, Campylopus fragilis.
A phrase that kept popping up in the species accounts in the literature for these scarce species was 'hyper oceanic', essentially meaning of a far north-westerly distribution close to the Atlantic. In the Weald, we have many of these species, particularly on the sandrocks, but they are often very rare in the region (where they might be common in the north-west). It must be a specific set of climatic and substrate conditions that are provided here but it is something well worth holding on to. Without the appropriate management at Eridge we would certainly lose these plants to succession as holly, yew and rhododendron cast their dense winter shade over the rocks.
This is a great example of monitoring and management working hand in hand with the specialists feeding their knowledge and advice straight to us at the Sussex Wildlife Trust in the field. If we want to hold on to rare and scarce species that have such specific requirements, we cannot rely on a 'one-size fits all' approach to their management and natural processes here would be damaging. Species-assemblage focused management is therefore vital if we are to maintain the more unusual plants and animals at Eridge. Small scale management like this is often referred to as 'gardening' by some conservationists these days. Call it what you like, I see it as exactly what is required to maintain a rare and precious assemblage and that's exactly why I have conservation written through me like a stick of rock!
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