After settling into our accommodation at the Alnatt centre, Swanage, the University of Reading MSc Plant Diversity field course continued into day 2 with a sunshine-filled trip to Studland and Godlingston Heath NNR which includes a fine expanse of heathland and bog habitats ideal for the #Botanybus2015 experience!
The higher ground of Godlingston Heath includes many fragments and boulders of ironstone. We stopped off for a photo opportunity at the impressive Agglestone Rock – the largest of the ironstone boulders – and found Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry) a scarce plant in Dorset heathland (BSBI Map here).
During the day the MSc group recorded quadrats in contrasting vegetation types:
(1) Slopes are well-drained and acid and support dry heathland dominated by common heathland plants such as Calluna vulgaris (Ling or Heather) with Erica cinerea (Bell Heather), together with two species of more restricted southern distribution, the grass Agrostis curtisii (Bristle Bent BSBI map here) and Ulex minor (Dwarf Gorse BSBI map here) and on pockets of deeper soil are stands of Ulex europaeus (Common Gorse) with a distinctive and heady fragrance akin to coconut sun lotion!
(2) Level ground with impeded drainage supports wet heathland dominated by Calluna vulgaris (Heather), Erica tetralix (Cross-leaved Heath) and the local speciality Erica ciliaris (Dorset Heath, BSBI map here) together with Molinia caerulea (Purple Moor-grass) and abundant lichens, e.g. Cladonia portentosa and the bog moss characteristic of wet heath, Sphagnum compactum.
(3) Off the slopes and on flatter ground with drainage impedance is ideal for the formation of valley mires with bog pools and a variety of bog mosses, Sphagnum spp., including S.papillosum (the main hummock builder), S.denticulatum – the Cow-horn Bog Moss, and S. cuspidatum – the drowned kitten bog moss (no this is not an official common name but it fits because it looks very much like the bedraggled fur of a kitten in watery peril!).
Other frequent species here were Narthecium ossifragum (Bog Asphodel) and Eriophorum angustifolium (Common Cotton-grass) as well as Rhynchospora alba (White-beaked Sedge).
In these places Dr Alastair Culham could not contain his delight at introducing us to his beloved Drosera (The Sundews) namely the relatively common D.rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew), the less common D.intermedia (Long-Leaved Sundew) and the very rare hybrid between these two Drosera X beleziana.(BSBI map here – just 3 dots!).
All six British reptiles are present and Common Lizard and Adder were spotted (but fortunately not bitten) by some of our group. This heathland is also one of the most important breeding sites in the country for the rare Dartford Warbler which we heard calling from it’s favourite vantage point atop Gorse bushes.
After a long, hot day we just made it back to the National Trust tea shop for well-deserved refreshment before returning to base camp to consolidate the botanical list so far, Dr M’s favourite being Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn) looking especially glorious this year!