A break from London (with science!) part 1 – meetings with tiny plants

The Natural History Museum organises a field trip in Dorset for its postgraduates each year, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get out of London and spend a weekend in the countryside. A group of PhD students and post-docs from a variety of disciplines set of to the Old Malthouse on the Isle of Purbeck (which is not a proper island but a sticky out bit of the southern coastline of Britain).

After settling in at our accommodation and being fed a good lunch we set off to Hartland Moor National Nature Reserve with Museum botanist Fred Rumsey. We were introduced to the plants that inhabit the Moor, and I was particularly excited to meet Dorset Heath Erica ciliaris, a type of heather, which I had not seen before. We also learned lots about the different species of mosses of Hartland Moor. The UK is particularly rich in mosses and their relatives (bryophytes as they are collectively known) with 8% of the world’s known species found in the British Isles.

Fred Rumsey at Hartland Moor
Fred Rumsey at Hartland Moor
Bog pools at Hartland Moor
Bog pools at Hartland Moor

In wet areas sphagnum mosses are particularly important, holding large quantities of water and as dead plants accumulate they produce peat. I knew there were quite a lot of species of sphagnum in the UK but was surprised that we found seven species within just a small area of the boggy areas of Hartland Moor.

In the evening, Eileen Cox, who is Head of Postgraduate Studies at the Museum and an expert on a group of algae called diatoms, gave us an introduction to the many varied forms of algae. We also had a look under the microscope at some algae which had been collected from the Moor.

Eileen Cox (3rd from left) enthuses about algae
Eileen Cox (3rd from left) enthuses about algae

The next day we went out with Fred again to the last recorded location of a rare moss called Habrodon perpusillus, to see if it was still there. Unfortunately we did not manage to find it, but perhaps a more thorough search another time will rediscover it.

Fred shows us epiphytic mosses on elder
Fred shows us epiphytic mosses on elder

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