A shrouded Stanley Moss

Steve Gater DWT Botany Group, News

In anticipation our excursion to this blanket peat bog we were fearful that snow might make access difficult and so we were relieved to see rain in the forecast. We hadn’t expected the thick mist that enveloped the reserve and everything around, making driving difficult and direction finding almost impossible. In the end we all made it, all three of us – ‘we few, we happy few, we band of moss hunters’ to murder that wonderful line of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Then, as we were getting kitted up by our cars, the mist suddenly and miraculously departed – the view was glorious! Strange things happen in this part of County Durham, and this phenomenon was most welcome. Lead on Lizzie, to our first species, Polytrichum commune, common haircap;

Polytrichum commune, common haircap

Lizzie was keen that Keith and I used the keys again from the training day last Autumn, they are a great help along with the British Bryological Society Field Guide. Next up, Calliergonella cuspidate, pointed spear-moss;

Calliergonella cuspidata, pointed spear-moss

Followed by a bit of a favourite, Hypnum jutlandicum, heath plait-moss;

Hypnum jutlandicum, heath plait-moss

Then into the deep end, Sphagnum country! 

Stanley Moss Nature Reserve

Some of those pools are deep, much deeper than they look and the identification also became much more tricky. Not to stop Lizzie though, her infectious instruction, amazing patience and clear guidance took us through the key points to look for. We noted the capitulum (head) and looked for terminal buds. What about the fascicles – spreading and hanging branches, how many? Pull off the capitulum and carefully look for stem leaves – shape, orientation? Does the stem have a wide cortex or none? New terms, careful removal of parts for close observation, finding the right match of diagnostic features to those in the book – a whole new challenge with these mosses. We focused on a few; 

Sphagnum cuspidatum, feathery bog-moss


Sphagnum fimbriatum,  fringed bog-moss


Sphagnum denticulatum, cow-horn bog-moss

 Then to finish a fascinating and rewarding morning, our finds included;

Campylopus introflexus heath star-moss


Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus, springy turf-moss


  • Pseudoscleropodium purum, neat feather-moss
  • Sanionia uncinata, sickle-leaved hook-moss
  • Aulacomnium palustre, bog bead-moss

Many thanks go to Lizzie Maddison for her excellent guidance and company and to Richard Friend for helping to prepare for the day. If you are looking for training on mosses you could try John O’Reilly’s excellent courses. Alternatively, if you are looking for training on wildflower identification for beginners, the second of four sessions running at Rainton Meadows is on Thursday 16th March – click here for details.

Lizzie Maddison is running an eight session training course in Middleton-in-Teesdale as part of the Upper Teesdale Botany Group programme – see below for details;

8 Monday evenings with Lizzie Maddison

Discovering the secrets of flower identification

March 20th & 27th April 24th, May 1st, 8th, 15th, 21st, & 27th 2017
April 3rd Dr Ruth Star-Nectarworks
April 10th Tim Laurie Lime trees and Hazel in Teesdale
At Middleton-in-Teesdale in the Masonic Hall 7.15-9.00  £20
May 28th to end of July out-of-doors with Dr. M.E.Bradshaw, Lizzie
Contact: Dr M E Bradshaw mebhilltop@btinternet.com or 01833 650589



Steve Gater
Chair at Durham Wildlife Trust

Steve has a life-long interest in wildlife and a passion for flora. As an active member of the Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group Steve enjoys exploring Vice County 66, the area covered by Durham Wildlife Trust, with its many specialities and wide range of common species. Inspired by Albrecht Dürer, Steve is a strong advocate for enjoying, protecting and conserving habitats and the wildlife they support - a fundamental priority for us all!