Woolmer Ranges, East Hampshire, 2 September 2012

Following the exciting discoveries on the New Forest Heaths, a look at the East Hampshire heaths was over due. There are still areas of short grazed lichen rich heath on much sandier soils than the New Forest; something interesting was expected. The richest area known is the old railway sidings in the west of Woolmer Ranges. We meet at 10.30am at the car park on the south west edge of Woolmer Ranges at SU7858 3193. Neil Sanderson was leading with Andy Cross, Eric Clement, Ginnie Copsey and John Norton attending. Ollie a long haired dachshund x Jack Russell belong to Neil also came along to his first WLG meeting. The forecast was for some light rain to have passed through earlier with a dry overcast day.

The meeting started by recording the revegetating sandy ground on a part of the car park which had been fenced off fairly recently. There were plenty of Pixy Cups with both Cladonia cryptochlorophaea and Cladonia chlorophaea s. str. present, the latter greener with denser unbroken soredia, the former with much more medulla showing through. A single plant of Cladonia ciliata var. ciliata had also colonised.

We then walked north along the old railway line to the edge of the target area. This was a former marshalling yards reverting to heathland. The Longmoor Military Railway was a military training railway which closed in 1969 and the lines lifted in 1972 (history map). The area we were looking at was Woolmer Yard; originally consisting of five sidings running parallel with the main, which were line built on heathland. The area has now reverted to a fantastically rich acid grassland site, with probably the largest area of inland lichen rich grass hearth (NVC Festuca ovina – Agrostis capillarisRumex acetosella Grassland Cetraria aculeataCladonia arbuscula sub-community, U1a) outside of the Breckland in England. The area is now cattle grazed to maintain open conditions for the sites most famous residents, the Woolmer Natterjack Toad population. We recorded north within grid square SU7832.

Lichen rich grass heath

As we got to the grassland, the rain, which was supposed to have passed over before we arrived, turned up. It was not enough to stop us, but was a bit annoying, and enough to force me switch over from my notebook to water proof paper. The grassland had a high cover of Cladonia ciliata var. ciliata, Cladonia cervicornis subsp. cervicornis (very vigorous and including proliferating forms often mis-named as Cladonia cervicornis subsp. verticillata) and Cladonia furcata with frequent Cetraria aculeata and Cladonia crispata. As we moved north, avoiding the cows and their bull, Cladonia uncialis became abundant. Cladonia arbuscula was scattered and other less frequent species including Cladonia gracilis, Cladonia foliacea, Cladonia ciliata var. ciliata, Cladonia cryptochlorophaea (with the elusive and very fleeting KC + purple-red reaction produced on one podetia), Cladonia diversa and Cladonia portentosa. The vascular plant flora was clearly interesting, with Smooth Catsear Hypochaeris glabra (NT), still just in flower. At Way Mark WO02 (SU78947 32461) Andy spotted some Diploschistes muscorum over growing Cladonia uncialis. At Way Mark WO03 (SU78939 32490) two very good Cladonia records were made: Cladonia cornuta, new to North Hampshire and Cladonia phyllophora NT (NS), the second record for North Hampshire. A little of the latter grew on a cinder bloc as well as on the sand. The cinders also added Cladonia pyxidata, Trapelia glebulosa, Trapelia obtegens and Xanthoparmelia mougeotii. At Way Mark WO04 (SU78951 32507) Andy found some odd looking squamules on cinders with dark grey centres and paler margins. I though this was probably the basal squamules of Stereocaulon vesuvianum. In fact it was Stereocaulon vesuvianum var. symphycheileoides, a stunted from of this mainly upland species found in brownfield sites in the lowlands. Concrete scattered around the site also added addition concrete "weeds" and a line of old posts produced some common lignum species. By now it was lunch time and the rain was had stopped, so we settled on the top of a sand berm over looking an enticing lichen scape to come of whitened grassland merging into heath.

More views and lichens in lichen grass heath

After lunch we crossed over more lichen rich grassland, adding Cladonia subulata to the list and then turned east into the heath. This was also the boundary with national grid square SU7932, so conveniently a new species list was started for the heath. The heath was quite old and dense tall areas were lichen poor but there were frequent open areas with diverse lichen communities. These were on more humus rich soils than the disturbed lichen rich grassland to the west. The first feature of interest seen was not a lichen but a tiny Naterjack toadlet spotted by Ginnie crawling through the lichens. At the start the lichen flora was similar to the grass heath but Hypogymnia physodes appeared and a fine stand of Cladonia phyllophora NT (NS) was found at Way Point WO05 (SU79023 32584). A large block of concrete than provide a list of concrete weeds, with a new one to me: Lecanora semipallida (Lecanora flotowiana) with a blackened thallus and a white, slightly crenulate margin, which is not as markedly crenulate as Lecanora crenulata. This is probably a very under recorded species and was new to Hampshire.

After this at Way Point WO06 (SU79084 32560) a fine clump of Cladonia cornuta was photographed and Cladonia scabriuscula and Cladonia humilis were added to the days list. East of this we entered an area with wide glades in the heather with a distinctly different lichen flora (Way Marks 07 & 08: SU79096 32559 & SU79107 32568) including large stands of Cladonia rei NT (NR), new to North Hampshire. This was confirmed by the UV + white fluorescence from the undersides of the squamules and the Pd + reaction. The latter was strongly orange, so may be the new chemical race of this species detected on heathland in the New Forest. Devils Matchsticks Cladonia floerkeana, which had been conspicuously absent until now appeared and there was a little Cladonia cervicornis subsp. verticillata. This is separated from proliferating Cladonia cervicornis subsp. cervicornis by the larger and less dissected basal squamules and the more elegant podetia. Cladonia macilenta was another common species that had been absent from the grass heaths. Cetraria muricata also formed large patches quite distinct looking from adjacent Cetraria aculeata. Baeomyces rufus and Trapeliopsis granulosa formed crusts on the humus rich soil.

Further east the heath became more closed and less lichen rich but another rich patch was found about Way Point WO09 (SU79208 32663), with more Cladonia rei NT (NR) and a large clump of Cladonia macilenta which caused a bit of excitement at first. It was K – and in the wet conditions, the yellower colour of the damp material gave rise to thoughts of the regionally rare Cladonia sulphurina. Dried out and checked with UV this proved to just be the K – form of Cladonia macilenta (formerly C. bacillaris).

Heath and lichens

Along the margin of the bog in Cranmer Bottom, we found some short lichen rich wet heath. This produced some large material of Cladonia squamosa var. squamosa but lacked the diversity that would be found in a similar New Forest Heath. Finally another rich patch of dry heath at WO10 (SU79386 32814) produced more Cladonia rei NT (NR) and Placynthiella dasaea crusting humus. The latter was new to North Hampshire.

We now crossed the causeway through the Cranmer Bottom mire and walk back south, picking our way around areas churned up by a recent motorcycle event. The wide ride through the Pine plantation of Brimstone Inclosure did actually produce another lichen rich site at Way Mark 11 (SU79472 32483). This had an abundance of Cladonia gracilis and a patch of Cladonia phyllophora, along with Cladonia furcata subsp. furcata, Cladonia portentosa, Cladonia scabriuscula, Cladonia subulata and Cladonia uncialis subsp. biuncialis.

Further along the ride at Way Mark WO12 (SU79438 32312) we found one plant of the vascular plant Chaffweed Centunculus minima (Anagallis minima) NT in a puddle on ride with Water Purslane Lythrum portula; apparently the first record for the Woolmer ranges since 1991. Back near the car park John, Andy and Eric dropped behind and found a patch of the moss Climacium dendroides in acid grassland. This is a declining moss in the lowlands, usual found in short base rich fen meadows, but occasional found in Parched Acid Grassland. I had seen it previously in the Woolmer Yard site, but we did not refund it in there in 2012.

Climacium dendroides

We recorded a total of 59 terricolous and saxicolous species and six additional species on lignum. The species recorded included several new species to North Hampshire, with significant records including small amounts of Cladonia phyllophora NT (NS), Cladonia cornuta and and locally abundant Cladonia rei NT (NR). Overall we recorded a CCP index (Cetraria/Cladonia/Pycnothelia papillaria index) score of 29, a very high total for a single survey, with 20 from the grassland in the west and 24 from the heath to the east, equivalent to typical scores from good quality New Forest heathland at a 1km grid square basis. This is certainly an nationally important heathland lichen site.

The U1a lichen rich grass heath was unlike the communities recorded in the New Forest, especially the abundance and vigour of the Cladonia cervicornis subsp. cervicornis and the diversity of lichens with the a grassland community. This is probably a very eastern community; New Forest grasslands are much damper than these. The heathlands were less distinct, but I have not yet found Cladonia rei NT (NR) in anything like the abundance we found at Woolmer.

Download route & way marks to view in Google Earth Woolmer_2_9_12

Species List