This weekend we were lucky to have bryophyte expert Uta Hamzaoui lead a workshop on mosses and liverworts for our Wild Horizons group. Uta is the bryophyte county recorder for Leicestershire and also works as a Conservation Officer for Leicester and Rutland Wildlife Trust. Bryophytes consist of mosses, liverworts and hornworts, and over 1,000 species can be found in the UK. Almost all of the members of Wild Horizons had little knowledge of bryophytes before the session started, and Uta gave us an excellent introduction to the subject.

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We started by heading out into the field to see how many species we could find. Armed with a small ID guide featuring the most common species at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, we began looking for mosses and liverworts in a quiet, damp, wooded area of the reserve. We didn’t have to move very far, for within about a 10m radius we found 11 of the 12 species on our ID guide, with the final species just a short walk away.

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The only downside to finding so many bryophytes in such a small area was that we weren’t moving very much, so we soon got very chilly! After a couple of hours outside we retreated back indoors to look at the specimens we had collected with our hand lenses and microscopes.

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Charlotte with microscope

We learnt that bryophytes are non-vascular plants that reproduce by releasing spores from their ‘sporophytes’ (stalk-like structures), which can be carried on the wind to recolonise new areas. Instead of roots, bryophytes take up water by absorbing it through their surface, and as such they prefer damp places where they can thrive. We watched mosses drying out under our microscope lamps, which seconds later seemed to spring back to life when we sprayed them with water.

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Winter is the perfect time to study bryophytes, as the weather conditions are damp. At a time of year where our countryside can seem a bit lifeless compared to the warmer months, it was fascinating to discover a whole new world under the microscope, with mosses providing a home for tiny invertebrates.

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Thank you to Uta, her helper Sarah, and all the Wild Horizons members who attended for a brilliant day!

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Wild Horizons is a social group for 18 – 30 year olds interested in wildlife and conservation. If you would like to get involved please email Holly Hucknall community@rutlandwater.org.uk

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