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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Devon Bryophytes, Lichen, Vascular Plants & Fungi: Dawlish Warren 28 & 31.02.24

Updated: Feb 19

I stayed in Newton Abbot for a few days to visit nature reserves in South Devon. I reachrd Newton Abbott by train from Brighton (via London Farringdon and London Paddington). Newton Abbot is a relatively good public transport hub in south Devon in Winter.


I visited Dawlish Warren on two half days by train, from Newton Abbot (frequent trains and a 16 minute journey times). Dawlish Warren is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a SAC (Special Areas of Conservation)


All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources sited.


I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me. If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com.


Please note this post is not a systematic survey of the lichens and bryophytes of this location (I do not have the level of knowledge to, nor did I have sufficient time do that); it is just the things I happened to notice!


I have just included the highlights in this post; if you want to see all the things I observed they can be viewed on my iNaturalist public page: Observations · iNaturalist 

You do not need an iNaturalist account to view my public iNaturalist page. The page opens by default to "grid view"; if you wish to see the locations switch to "list view" (top left on web page)


Dawlish Warren as a National Nature Reserve is well known to birders as a site to see overwintering geese, ducks and waders; see Dawlish Warren: Birdwatching at Dawlish Warren, and botanists, for the only mainland British population of the Warren Crocus Romulea columnae var occidentalis, SSSI citation I did not know, util I did some research, that among Devon bryologists, it is also known for two rare liverworts.


The site has a very useful listings website. I discovered the location of these first two liverworts from their page: Dawlish Warren Lower Plants; which records the sightings there of the Devon Group of the British Bryological Society Devon Group Archives - British Bryological Society. These liverworts are growing amongst the grass in the middle of a roundabout in the car park; so not in the designated nature reserve part of Dawlish Warren


With the exception of a few Oystercatchers, and a Stonechat, some Herring Gulls, Black-Headed Gulls, and four Brent Geese, I saw no other birds on both visits; which was quite surprising as Dawlish Warren is renowned for its bird abundance in winter: the massive Dawlish Warren sand spit at the mouth of the River Exe. ....is a vital home and migratory stopping off place for thousands of wading birds and wildfowl. Dawlish Inner Warren | Devon Wildlife Trust


However, I was very content with the interesting cryptograms (liverworts, mosses, lichens, ferns) that I saw.


Sphaerocarpos michelii, Micheli's Balloonwort




These species form a tiny, disc-like thallus which bears densely packed, balloon-like structures that surround the sex organs and spore bodies. Female plants grow up to 2 cm across, and the balloon-like structures are inflated and pear-shaped (up to 1.8 mm across). These structures are flask-shaped and smaller on male plants. The capsules are hidden in the female structures, and need to be collected ripe for identification. Male plants are less likely to be detected because they are much smaller (up to 5 mm across) than females, and often dark. In addition, the bigger female plants may partly grow over them. The male organs are surrounded by flask-shaped tubes less than 0.5 mm tall. Sphaerocarpos-michelii-texanus.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)


Riccia crystallina , Blue Crystalwort




Riccia crystallina grows in rounded rosettes up to 2.5 cm diameter, composed of rather few broad lobes that are rounded, but widest above the middle. The plants are pale green or bluish-green, without reddish pigment and become almost white or bluishgreen when dry. The upper surface has a very short, shallow groove near the tip, and becomes perforated (and later spongy) only in the older parts, Riccia-crystallina.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)


Context photo:



On the way into the car park of Dawlish Warren I saw the very common Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd's-Purse in flower.


The seedpods of this common wildflower resemble little drawstring pouches worn by medieval peasants, spilling out tiny copper-coloured seeds when broken apart

A member of the Cabbage family, this annual plant produces flowers throughout the year, and is able to yield hundreds of seeds. Shepherd's Purse - Plantlife


As an archaeophyte. Archaeophytes are non-native (alien) taxa that were introduced by humans, either intentionally or unintentionally, and became naturalised in Britain and Ireland between the start of the Neolithic period and AD1500. Most were introduced by early farmers mainly in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman or Medieval periods. Many originated as contaminants of crops or as escapes from gardens where they were grown for culinary or medicinal uses. Archaeophytes – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (bsbi.org)


this species had a Eurosiberian Wide-temperate distribution, but it is widely naturalized so that its distribution is now Circumpolar Wide-temperate. Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


Dawlish Warren has three landscape types:


  • Fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation (grey dunes). (Dune grassland)

  • Humid dune slacks

  • Shifting dunes along the shoreline with Ammophila arenaria (white dunes). (Shifting dunes with marram) Citation for Special Area of Conservation (SAC)


The fixed dunes had some of the same species as I have visited in my home county of Sussex, specifically at East Head, West Wittering, and West Beach/Climping Beach, Littlehampton, both on West Sussex coastal plane, and at Morfa Dyffryn National Nature Reserve, near Barmouth: with Peltigera spp. & Cladonia spp. lichens, Polypodium sp. fern and the moss Syntirchia ruralformis and Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis


Peltigera canina, Dog Pelt Lichen




Saddle-shaped chestnut-brown apothecia [spore-bearing structure]



Syntrichia ruraliformis, Sand-hill Screw-Moss; extremely abundant at Dawlish



Often forms extensive mats on loose sand in unstable coastal dunes. Syntrichia-ruralis-subsp.-ruraliformis.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)


Cladonia rangiformis



On neutral or basic dry grassland, chalk-flint grassland, cliffs and dunes, especially along the coast; often common. Cladonia rangiformis | The British Lichen Society


Probably, Oenothera biennis, Common Evening-Primrose



A tall biennial herb of open ground on sandy soils, found on sand dunes, ... O. biennis was cultivated in Britain by 1629 and was first recorded in the wild in 1725. It often grows with other evening-primroses, and hybrids may outnumber pure O. biennis. Losses since the 1960s are possibly due to the transient nature of some colonies and past misidentifications. Oenothera biennis L. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


Here is one in flower that I saw on the dunes at Morfa Dyffryn National Nature Reserve Gwynedd, in August 2023. I have also seen one in flower at East Head SSSI West Wittering in July 2023




I also saw Lupinus arboreus, Tree Lupin. widely planted on sand dunes ... where it can cover large areas by virtue of its copiously produced seed, which is long-lived. It also occurs

A neophyte. ... When first introduced to cultivation in 1793, L. arboreus was thought to need greenhouse protection. It was first recorded in the wild in 1926 (Freshfield, South Lancashire) and had become well-established by the end of the 1960s. It is considered a threat to native vegetation in some areas,-. Lupinus arboreus Sims in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020




On the shifting dunes along the shoreline I saw the fungus Psathyrella ammophila, Dune Brittlestem


Dune Brittlestems are saprotrophic on dead Marram Grass (Ammophila arenaria), and these little mushrooms can sometimes be found remarkably close to the littoral line, although stable dune slopes and dune slacks are the best places to look for them. Psathyrella ammophila, Dune Brittlestem mushroom (first-nature.com)




I

n an area of humid Dune Slack, I saw Juncus maritimus, Sea Rush




A rhizomatous, clump-forming perennial rush of saltmarshes and saline dune-slacks. ... J. maritimus has been lost since the 1960s from a number of sites on the coasts of southern and eastern England. Juncus maritimus Lam. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


Bryum argenteum, Silvery Bryum was also abundant



Habitats less influenced by man include sand dunes, eroding banks of streams and rivers, and unstable soil on lowland cliffs Bryum-argenteum.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)

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