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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Wakehurst Woods SSSI, West Sussex: Lichens, Bryophytes & Ferns. 04.10.23

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

The Wakehurst Woods are part of a larger SSSI: The Wakehurst & Chiddingly Woods SSSI; Wakehurst Woods are to the west of Kew's Wakehurst Botanic Gardens Visit Wakehurst | Kew, but includes the Rocks Walk (Francis Rose Nature Reserve) which is within the Wakehurst Botanic Gardens at the top of Bloomers Valley. Chiddingly Woods are to the east of Wakehurst Place, on the other side of the B2028 Ardingly to Crawley Road. The easiest way to get to Wakehurst Place by public transport is to catch the 272 bus 272 - Crawley - Brighton (Royal Sussex County Hospital) | Metrobus which goes approximately every 2 hours, and takes ca.1hr 40 mins

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

The photographs are presented in the chronological order of my walk.

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.

Defra/Nature England map of the SSSI:

I visited three parts of the Wakehurst Woods SSSI

(1) Sheetwash wood. These woods can be accessed from the footpath that starts in the Wakehurst car park and crosses through the Wakehurst estate. (It is not necessary to buy an entrance ticket for Wakehurst to enter this wood). Only the footpath (green slashed route on this OS map) is open to the public; the rest of the wood is "private"; although is nothing physical stopping you walking off the path (not that I am encouraging you to do so). I accessed the path from within Wakehurst; as I bought a ticket so that I could access the the Rocks Walk

(2) The Rock Walk (AKA The Francis Rose Nature Reserve), at the top of Bloomers Valler

(3) The woods around Ardingly Brook. Theses woods accessed from the footpath that starts at Wakehurst Place car park and crosses through the Wakehurst estate; or from a footpath that starts in Balcombe. Like Sheepwash wood, Only the footpath (green slashed route on this OS map) is open to the public I accessed the path from withing the Wakehurst estate.

I support a change in the law to permit the Right To Roam; see GET INVOLVED | Right to Roam

Ordance Survey map. Screen shot from Apps from Ordnance Survey

Wakehurst's Map

  1. From within Wakehurst access to Sheepwash wood is beyond Pearcelands Wood; Point 23 on the Wakehurst map; (entrance through a wooden gate)

  2. Point 22 on the Wakehurst map is the Rock Walk;

  3. Rhe entrance to Ardingly Brook from withn Wakehurst is just north Westwood lake; point 26 on the Wakehurstmap (entrance through a metal gate)

This map is rotated so that all three maps have the same compass orientation, with north at the top and south at the bottom

From the SSSI citation:

Wakehurst and Chiddingly Woods contain extensive exposures of sandrock, a nationally rare habitat, which are of biological and geological importance. This site has the richest sandrock community in the country, supporting a unique flora. It is the locality of an uncommon cranefly, and also has a diverse breeding community of woodland birds. The wooded ghylls have been formed by streams cutting through formations of Wadhurst clay and Lower Tunbridge Wells sands, leaving exposed outcrops of sandstone in the valleys.

The warm, moist micro-climate allows plants to flourish which are more typically restricted to the west of the country. The streams have been dammed to form a series of ponds with marginal vegetation which contribute to the value of the site for birds. Much of the woodland is semi-natural, but in some areas conifers and rhododendron have been planted. The sandrocks in Wakehurst and Chiddingly Woods support rich communities of ferns, bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and lichens. These are a remnant of a Western ‘Atlantic’ plant community which was once far more widespread in distribution. They include uncommon plants such as the Tunbridge filmy fern Hymenophyllum tunbrigense, bryophytes such as Dicranum scottianum, Orthodontium gracile, Tetrodontium brownianum, Scapania gracilis and Blepharostoma trichophyllum, and some lichens of county importance.

Several types of woodland are present. On the higher slopes woodland of oak Quercus robur standards and hazel Corylus avellana coppice grade into more varied oak wood with birch Betula spp., yew Taxus baccata, holly Ilex aquiifolium and some beech Fagus sylvatica. Ash Fraxinus excelsior is frequent in some areas and alder Alnus glutinosa occupies the springlines in the valley bottoms.

Bracken Pteridium aquilinum, bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and honeysuckle Lonicera pericylmer dominate the ground flora on the higher slopes; on the clays bramble Rubus fruticosus is prevalent, while flush communities which include opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium occur with the alder. Several species which are uncommon in Sussex are present here, including hay-scented fern Dryopteris aemula, ivy-leaved bellflower Wahlenbergia hederacea and green hellebore Helleborus viridis.

The woodlands support a diverse community of breeding birds, including all three British species of woodpecker, grey wagtail and tree pipit. At least fifty species are known to breed in Wakehurst Woods and its associated lakes, among them great crested grebe and tufted duck.

The rare cranefly Erioptera nigripalpis has been recorded at the site, together with several uncommon beetles. The alder carr supports a diverse snail population which includes Spermod lamellata, Leiostyla anglica and Acicula fusca, all uncommon species with an “Atlantic” distribution. C:WindowsDesktopwakehurs.PDF ( C:WindowsDesktopwakehurs.PDF (

I didn't see any of the species listed in the SSSI citation; as far as I know, but I enjoyed what I did see.

Description of the Francis Rose Reserve: BBC News. UK mosses find safe haven, Alex Kirby, 16 September, 2003.

A refuge for some of the rarest UK examples of "living archaeology" is being provided by Kew Gardens (Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens).

The reserve - for mosses, liverworts, lichens and filmy ferns - is at Wakehurst Place, Kew's country branch south of London.

It will be opened by the naturalist Dr Francis Rose, after whom it is named.

Some of the species it shelters may be millions of years old.

Rocky home

The first of its kind in Europe, the Francis Rose reserve opens on 16 September.

About two-thirds of the 18 rarest species of cryptogam in Britain are being sheltered by the Kew project.

The cryptogams comprise organisms that produce spores, not seeds. Examples are algae, lichens, fungi, mosses, and ferns.

The new reserve's sandstone outcrops are an ideal site for re-introducing rare species.

Likely candidates for re-introduction include the slender thread moss, known now at only 18 sites across the UK, and Tunbridge filmy fern, which has virtually disappeared everywhere outside the reserve.

Mosses and lichens have no roots, and often survive by living on sandstone, which can absorb the large quantities they need.

Ice age link

Lichens are regarded as sensitive indicators of the health of an area, because of their need for clean air and water. There are 1,800 species in the UK, with between five and 10 new ones discovered every year.

The main problem for many plants in the high weald of Sussex, where the reserve lies, is the rhododendron.

Andy Jackson, the head of Wakehurst Place, said: "It devastates other species and is far worse than leylandii. It's extremely invasive, on the same scale as Japanese knotweed."

Many cryptogams evolved about 400 million years ago.

Dr Rose, a botanist who has spent much of his life studying mosses and lichens, said some of the plants in the reserve had probably been in Britain since the last ice age, and were the oldest native species.

Dr Rose said: "They are relics; they are living archaeology.

"Some may be millions of years old. I would be very sad if the disappeared."

(1) Sheepwash wood

Common Feather-Moss, Kindbergia praelonga

Black Spleenwort, Asplenium adiantum-nigrum

Common Feather-Moss, Kindbergia praelonga

Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia. On the top of the wooden gate into the wood. Thallus to 8cm diameter, white, pale grey or blue-grey. Lobes to 2mm wide with pale mottling best seen through a hand lens and more obvious when wet. Under surface white to tan with simple or forked rhizines. Apothecia usually abundant, large (to 3mm), prominent with a thick margin. Discs dark brown to black, sometimes white pruinose. Physcia aipolia (

The path into the wood has some steep scrambles down Ardingly Sandstone outcrops

The wood floor is covered in ferns and mosses.

Yew, Taxus bocatta. Yews (one of the UK's few evergreen trees) are frequent in High Weald Gyll woodland, and at Eridge Rocks and the Rocks Walk in grow on Ardingly Sandstone.

Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa

Common Earthball, Scleroderma citrinum, a very common fungus in the autumn in ghyll woodland

An Opegrapha lichen; possibly O. vulgata; on an oak

with moss, possibly Isothecium myosuroides, Slender Mouse-tail Moss or Hypnum cupressiforme, Cypress-leaved Plait-moss,

Common Marsh-Bedstraw, Galium palustre

Various-leaved Crestwort, Lophocolea heterophylla. A widespread species, most common in southern England, especially on the base of trees, but also in a wide range of other habitats, including rotting logs, earthy banks and fallen twigs and litter in woodland. Further north and west, L. heterophylla becomes increasingly characteristic of ancient woodland, Lophocolea-heterophylla.pdf (

Probably Swartz's Feather-Moss, Oxyrrhynchium hians

Endive Pellia, Apopellia endiviifolia with probably Clustered Feather-Moss, Rhynchostegium confertum

Probably Mueller's Pouchwort, Calypogeia muelleriana

Common Pellia, Pellia epiphylla

Scaly Male Fern , Dryopteris affinis

Hard Fern, Struthiopteris spicant

Pellia epiphylla. Common Pellia and probably Swartz's Feather-moss. Oxyrrhynchium hians

Bridge of the ghyll (tributary of Ardingly Brook)

Possibly Elegant Silk-Moss, Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans

Common Smoothcap, Atrichum undulatum

A dry tributary ghyll to Ardingly Brook

Probably Bank Haircap Moss, Polytrichum formosum

Horn Calcareous Moss, Mnium hornum

Ghyll and ferns

Moss on bottom of Birch sp. probably with Common Striated Feather-Moss, Eurhynchium striatum

Probably, Common Striated Feather-Moss, Eurhynchium striatum

Probably Common Pocket-Moss, Fissidens taxifolius

Probably Common Pouchwort, Calypogeia fissa

Probably Flat-leaved Scalewort, Radula complanata

Probably Various-leaved Crestwort. Lophocolea heterophylla

Elegant Silk-Moss, Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans

Hart's-tongue Fern, Asplenium scolopendrium

Probably Common Striated Feather-Moss, Eurhynchium striatum

Silver Birch, Betula pendula

A Hypnum sp. moss with capsules

(2) The Rock Walk (AKA The Francis Rose Nature Reserve)

Probably Powder-foot British Soldiers, Cladonia incrassata, on Ardingly Sandstone; SEE: BGS Lexicon of Named Rock Units - Result Details

A small mat forming Cladonia with yellowish grey-green incised and crenulate squamules which are usually conspicuously farinose-granular sorediate below. Podetia small, and can be sparse and inconspicuous barely rising above the squamules, often deformed, unbranched or distortedly, with red apothecia at the tips. The UV+ bluish white florescence is a distinctive feature. The distribution is very patchy, rarely recorded over wider areas, but very locally frequent in a few areas. Found in a variety of damp acid habitats on humus, peat, soft sandstone and lignum. Possibly very under in neglected habitats such as peat cuttings, of which it is very characteristic. Cladonia incrassata | The British Lichen Society

Very locally frequent on damp soft sandstone and on acid, peaty soil in heathland, the sides peat hags or on old cut surfaces of peat, more rarely on damp lignum; local but easily overlooked. Occurs in a distinct series of habitats. It is most prominent on the soft damp sandstone of the Wealden sand rocks, where it can dominated many square meters of rock. Cladonia incrassata | The British Lichen Society

Possibly Goat's-Beard. Tragopogon pratensis

Probably Cladonia polydactyla

Yew Taxus baccata, on Ardingly Sanstone

Common Pouchwort, Calypogeia fissa on Ardingly Sandstone

Probably Stubby-stalked Cladonia Cladonia caespiticia, probably with the moss Cypress-leaved Plait-Moss Hypnum cupressiforme

Hart's-tongue Fern. Asplenium scolopendrium

Possibly Inoderma subabietina on Yew

I need to undertake further chemical reaction testing of pycnidia under my dissecting microscope - will uodate

Identification: Previously known as Lecanactis subabietina. The thallus is thin and pale grey. The surface of the thallus is dotted with small projections (pycnidia) which are covered with a white powder and are sometimes topped with a yellow gel. Apothecia have not been recorded. Chemistry: Thallus UV+ ice-blue. Pycnidia C-, K+ lemon yellow.

Similar species: Lecanactis abietina has pycnidia which are C+ red.

Opegrapha vermicellifera, which is seen on more basic bark, is C-, K- and UV- Inoderma subabietinum (

View of the Rocks Walk

The extraordinary roots of Yews, hanging on to Ardingly Sandstone

Probably Silky Forklet-Moss, Dicranella heteromalla, with probably Swan’s-neck Thyme-moss, Mnium hornum, with a Lepraria, probably L. lobificans lichen growing over the mosses

Possibly, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis

Another incredible Yew

Graffito; possibly 17th century?

(3) The woods around Ardingly Brook

The path beyond the perimeter of Wakehurst Botanic Garden into the the woods

Hard Fern, Struthiopteris spicant

The woodland floor

Scaly Male Fern, Dryopteris affinis

Ardingly Brook

Mouse-tail Moss, Pseudisothecium myosuroides

Fallen Beech, with new beeches growing from the fallen trunk


Pendulous Sedge, Carex pendula; characteristic of ancient woodland

Ardingly Brook

Common Pellia, Pellia epiphylla

Great Scented Liverwort, Conocephalum conicum with Endive Pellia Pellia endiviifolia, with its autumn/winter thalli form in autumn and early winter they develop numerous, narrow (to about 6 mm wide) branches at the tips (see right photograph) which are sometimes so abundant that they obscure the broader thalli on which they have developed. Pellia-endiviifolia.pdf (

Bridge over the Ardingly Brook; the banks of the brook were the habitat for the Conocephalum conicum and Pellia endiviifolia above

Ardingly Brook

Oak with Old-wood Lichen, Lecanactis abietina and Mouse-tail Moss, Pseudisothecium myosuroides. Lecanactis abietina is a New Index of Ecological Continuity ancient woodland indicator species.

On dry, often shaded acid bark and exposed wood in woodland on medium-aged to old trees, deciduous and, sometimes, coniferous trees; best developed in vertical crevices on N. or N.E. sides of trunks; occasionally under overhangs of acid rocks, bryophytes or plant debris; locally common. Dominant on dry bark on mature trees in the species poor Mature Dry Bark Community (Lecanactidetum abietinae). Lecanactis abietina | The British Lichen Society

Mouse-tail Moss, Pseudisothecium myosuroides

Old-wood Lichen, Lecanactis abietina

Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica

Common Bent, Agrostis capillaris

Common Feather-Moss, Kindbergia praelonga

Hard Fern, Struthiopteris spicant

More Endive Pellia, Apopellia endiviifolia

More Pendulous Sedge Carex pendula

Ardingly Brook - the bank at this point had much Hookeria lucens growing on it

Shining Hookeria, Hookeria lucens

Those who have not encountered Hookeria before are wowed by its beauty and distinctiveness but because it’s very complanate and quite large, may assume it is a leafy liverwort. However, it lacks complicate-folded leaves, underleaves, trigones, oil bodies and any of the other features that are often present in the leafy liverworts. Hookeria lucens - British Bryological Society

Probably a Frankia sp. bacteria. Frankia is a genus of nitrogen-fixingbacteria that live in symbiosis with actinorhizal plants, similar to the Rhizobium bacteria found in the root nodules of legumes in the family Fabaceae. Frankia also initiate the forming of root nodules. Frankia - Wikipedia

Common Pocket-Moss, Fissidens taxifolius



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