Tag Archive: moss

  1. Gathering Moss

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    The natural history collection at Gallery Oldham is much more than a store of objects; it’s an ongoing process. Over the years, many of the specimens were donated to the museum by local collectors, amateurs, enthusiasts, and local societies. Behind the scenes, the natural history curator and volunteers, often with a specialist understanding of the subject, sift through specimens and help to catalogue them.

    At the beginning of the project with Gallery Oldham, I asked for a list of local sites to visit, which would have been popular in the 18th century for collecting moss. The idea was to re-collect moss specimens from these sites and then send these for formal identification by the ‘vice-county recorder’, an expert Bryologist who remit is to cover the whole of South Lancashire. These will then be sent back to the museum to be catalogued and become part of the museum’s collection for posterity. I also asked to look at the moss specimens collected from these historic sites. It was a delight to explore a large box full of folded paper envelopes, each covered in elaborate handwriting. Some of these were over 150 years old. These specimens are from the James Nield collection. Nield was the owner of a printing business in Oldham, but he was also an avid geologist and botanist in his spare time. His plant and geological collection were donated to Oldham Museum via the Oldham Microscopical and Natural History Society while his microscope slides and microscope were donated to the museum by his great great granddaughter, Sue Willington [who also volunteers behind the scenes helping to catalogue the specimens]. 

    [Image 1: Glass Lantern Slide of James Nield sat in the Fossil Forest at Oldham Edge 1879]

    Click this Oldham Times article for more information.

    When these mosses were collected, they were placed into a folded paper envelope, sometimes made from old newspapers, with beautifully handwritten notes as to the date, location and species. These were taken home and dried before being stored. Amazingly some of the specimens are from 1874 but moss is still collected in this way today.

    For identification, bryologists sometimes rehydrate small pieces of moss for examination; this brings back some of the plant’s original vitality, making its structures and detail clearer. The sample is then dried out again and returned to the original envelope in a smaller paper wrap (see the yellow paper triangle in image 8), inside which you can find the minute fragment of moss that was investigated. I ended up adding a couple of my own triangular wraps to the collection. I like to think someone might stumble across these in 150 years’ time. This inspired me to make some time-lapse films of the rehydration process, and I have been amazed to see the results. This is still a work in progress, and I have also recorded the microscopic sound of the moss hydrating. Here is the work in progress without sound. 

    On my initial trips to collect moss, I struggled to find a wide variety of mosses. So to improve my skills, I met up with bryologist Anthony Gregory [the vice-county recorder] for a riverside walk to get a crash course in bryology.

    We met at Greenfield train station and made our way to a footpath alongside the River Tame. We walked slowly, stopping regularly at trees and venturing down to the waterside. It took us over 2 hours to get just 100 meters, identifying 14 different types of moss. I enjoyed listening to Anthony as he talked me through the different bryophytes and how to identify them. Some of the moss we found was considered extinct in the 1800s, due to the high levels of air pollution around the Oldham area [As mentioned in the last post https://galleryoldham.org.uk/biocrusts-and-blanket-bogs/]. However, as the air quality has improved in more recent times, these species have now become abundant. 

    Here is an extract from our conversation: 

    I repeated the same walks several times. On my most recent hike, I collected 25 different kinds of moss, only a handful of which I could guess the identification. I’m not sure any of these matched those already in the collection and need to return with the samples I collected to make a proper comparison. I have developed a series of local moss trails based on my explorations designed to take you through different environments, woodland, canal paths, grassland and riverbanks. See the moss trails here: https://galleryoldham.org.uk/moss-trails-with-anthony-hall/

    Over the following months, I will be releasing new works based on my experience and organising a guided walk and talking about the project. If you are interested in finding out more, contact me at info@antonyhall.net or check this webpage for a summary of the project.

  2. Moss Terrariums and Bottle Gardens

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    This is one of a series of blogs written by Anthony Hall who beginning a three-month project to explore the secret life of historical moss specimens in our natural history collection in April 2021. This week he shows us how to create our very own bottle garden or ‘terrarium.’

    Terrariums are kind of indoor garden housed inside a glass case, sometimes completely sealed,  with a naturalistic arrangement of small plants, ferns and mosses. These miniature worlds can be beautiful and calming objects to look at and create. They are also scientifically interesting.

    In recent times terrariums have become popular and they can be expensive. However, it is simple to create your own. Terrariums are self-contained ecosystems, which are powered by sunlight. The plants photosynthesise, releasing oxygen and water. The water is released into the air as gas which condenses on the sides of the tank. The water then trickles down into the soil. Bacteria in the soil break down the oxygen and creates carbon dioxide, which the plant can use. And so, the cycle continues.

    Here are some ideas for experiments with making your own self-sufficient world in a jam-jar with moss found in your garden or street.

    You can find out more about Anthony’s project from his website and discover moss trails around Oldham in our latest blog.

  3. Snipe Clough: Moss Trail 1

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    Snipe Clough is a fantastic green site in the middle of Oldham with a range of open meadows, grasslands, woodland and boggy areas where moss can be found. Lookout for liverworts and moss growing on the damp branches under the tree cover and between the grasses in the boggy areas.

    There is a pond that is teeming with life, where you might be lucky enough to see large Dragonflies or Saw Flies, pond skaters and water boatmen under the surface. Also, look out for the mysterious concrete and brick vent structures; note the moss growing on these. See what insects you can find on these concrete structures. I found red spider mites, jumping spiders, and sunbathing Sawflies. The walk extends into densely wooded areas and a viewpoint overlooking Park Bridge. You will notice more mosses under the trees beside the trail and on soil banks.

    This trail is approximately 4 kilometres and take around 1 hour.

    Routplotter.com   https://www.plotaroute.com/route/1618426

    More information on Snipe clough can be found here: https://northern-roots.uk/ 

    More information on Park Bridge here: https://www.tameside.gov.uk/parkbridge  (which can also be a starting point for this walk).

    For more walks in search for moss, go back to the main page and see trails for Daisy Nook Country Park and Park Bridge.

  4. Park Bridge: Moss Trail 2

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    River at Park Bridge.

    Starting at the car park at Park Bridge Heritage Centre, this walk takes you into the woods, and to a viewpoint overlooking the Medlock Valley, there are exciting mosses throughout the woods under the trees and on the soil banks.

    The trail then heads down into the valley again to follow the riverbank before heading along a road towards park bridge and up a hill. Eventually, you reach a moss-covered Stone bridge. Here you can follow the trail past a picnic spot beside rocky outcrops and ruins. Then at the broken bridge, follow a narrow trail alongside the Medlock take note of the moss is growing underneath the trees and on the rocks. You may even notice some succulent sphagnum mosses on the riverbank.

    This trail is approximately 6.4 kilometres and will take about 1.5 hours.

    Routplotter.com https://www.plotaroute.com/route/1618419

    For more information seehttps://www.tameside.gov.uk/parkbridge 

    Anthony has more suggestions of where to hunt for mosses, go back to the main page to find walks around Daisy Nook Country Park and Snipe Clough.

  5. Daisy Nook Country Park: Moss Trail 3

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    Daisy Nook is a beautiful woodland following River Medlock, interested by the old Waterhouses Aqueduct and Hollinwood canal. It has a mixture of woodland paths and gravely wide tracks beside the canal, which are all great for moss. Look out for Liverworts on the muddy banks near the footpath and river. Also, check the fallen trees for different moss.

    Photograph showing bluebells at Daisy Nook

    The walk starts at a car park off the A627 walk into the woods and down to the riverside. Notice the damp stones by the river and many fallen trees with interesting mosses and liverworts. Following the moss trail, through the woods beside the River Medlock, you find more fallen trees for mushrooms and mosses, notice the steep banks beside the track, and mosses between the tree roots.

    When you get to the Waterhouses aqueduct, you can follow the brick embankment to Daisy nook country park visitor centre for a cafe stop. Double back to the aqueduct and follow the path up to the Hollinwood canal. Notice the mosses on the stonework and walls.

    The trail continues to a large pond, follow it round to the old Fairbottom Branch canal and all the way along the canal path to the A627 where you can get back to the car park.

    This moss trail is about 3.4 kilometres and will take approximately 1 hour to walk.

    Routplotter.com  https://www.plotaroute.com/route/1618255

    More Information: Visit Daisy Nook Country Park website, where you can download a map and plan your own day out.

    Interest to go on other moss trails? Go back to the main page to see walks around Snipe Clough and Park Bridge.

  6. ‘Biocrusts’ and ‘Blanket-bogs’

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    Moss can bio-engineer hospitable environments for other plants and animals. In this post I write about my urban explorations of mossy carpets growing in urban space, and the ancient blanket-bogs and peatlands in the Peak District National Park.

    I have developed a permanently active ‘moss radar’. My favourite mosses to spot are still the most common species found in the urban environment. Much to my family’s irritation, I often stop to inspect random brick walls or tree trunks. Moss can survive in the most extreme environments. It can grow on surfaces devoid of soil baked dry in the sunlight and scoured by rainfall and wind. The moss somehow hangs on; it is resilient, and slowly persistent. 

    As an ‘early coloniser’ moss can grow on bare soil or rock, helping to lock in moisture and bind the soil together. It can also help to form the growth substrate for other plants. A single spore slowly develops into a tuft and then a small clump, which can eventually conjoin with others to make a moss-carpet or ‘biocrust’ as is the more delightful scientific term. ‘Spreading earth moss’ (Physcomitrella patens) is known for its tolerance to drought and rapidly appearing on bare soil. It is widely studied by scientists, with the potential to be used as a tool to combat desertification[3]. Leptobryum pyriforme is a moss that grows on bare soil after forests fires. Some of the most fascinating urban moss sites I have visited are obscure abandoned car parks and buildings. I love how the moss envelops and subsumes and softens concrete blocks and jagged rock, or with enough time, almost any object that remains still for long enough. 

    While many mosses are resilient and seem to thrive in the urban environment, some are very sensitive to pollution and are only found in more remote areas of the countryside. This panorama makes me think about what the air quality would have been like at the time. You can see the train carts arriving piled high with coal and the smoke-blowing chimneys rising into the skyline. In the distance, you can just make out the hills of the Peak District. During the industrial revolution, the hillsides of the Peaks District were stripped bare of plant life by acid rain. Sites such as ‘Bleaklow’ and ‘Blackhill’ (possibly named after the bare peat hillsides) were “downwind from some of the worst pollution the world has ever seen” [2]. Despite improvements in air quality these sites still need urgent need of protection. Pressures on peatlands from intensive land management, industrial pollution and wildfires have left them in a degraded and eroding state.

    I met up with Hydrologist Adam Johnston who took me on a walk from Edale up to the peatlands or ‘Blanket-bogs’ on the Kinder plateau. This remote site takes several hours to walk to. After a steep climb, the terrain change as we walked into the blanket bog was clearly defined by the blacked edges of exposed peat and a distinct sponginess underfoot. There is a wide diversity of plants and grasses and mosses and animals, some unique to this environment. There is something about the bleakness and quietness of this landscape that I find strangely calming. 

    Photograph of Sphagnum moss

    These unique blanket bogs are home to specialist plants, such as Sphagnum moss which can hold 20 times its own weight in water. This kind of moss play a vital role in maintaining the wet conditions necessary to slowly create peat. 

    It is estimated that these blanket bogs have been growing for up to 8000 years. Without the active ‘biocrust’, the mosses and other plants, the peat dries out. It reacts with the air, releasing the carbon dioxide trapped in the peat over thousands of years. The exposed peat is less able to retain water and is washed away by rainwater or blown away by the wind. This also contributes to flooding in the lowlands. 

    Photograph of peatlands restoration work showing small dams ['Bunds'] in the gullies.

    The peatlands restoration work involves installing small dams [‘Bunds’] in the gullies. They help to retain water and create damp conditions for sphagnum moss and other wetland plants to grow back. In this image, you can clearly see how plant life is growing back behind the dam.

    To find out more about the restoration work or to get involved, visit: https://www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/our-work/restoring-blanket-bog

    This is one of a series of blogs written by Anthony Hall who is exploring the secret life of moss specimens in our natural history collection. Click here to see his other blog, Moss is not the Enemy.


    [1] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/jun/19/robin-wall-kimmerer-gathering-moss-climate-crisis-interview?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

    [2] Polluted legacy: Repairing Britain’s damaged landscapes https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-17315323

    [3] Moss biocrusts buffer the negative effects of karst rocky desertification on soil properties and soil microbial richness: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11104-020-04602

    Could you use Physcomitrella patens in the combat of desertification, a moss that is highly tolerant against drought? https://desertification.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/could-you-use-physcomitrella-patens-in-the-combat-of-desertification-a-moss-that-is-highly-tolerant-against-drought/

    [5] Find a detailed downloadable PDF of the Oldham Diorama here

  7. Project launch: Moss Bothering

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    We are pleased to announce that artist Antony Hall is beginning a three-month project to explore the secret life of historical moss specimens in our natural history collection.

    close up of feathery moss fronds
    A feathery moss growing on a concrete wall

    Mosses are bryophytes, which are a group of plants without roots. Antony will investigate our bryophyte collection and revisit the sites around Oldham where these specimens were originally collected, talking to experts and enthusiasts along the way.

    Antony will be recording his project on his own blog and via posts here on the Gallery Oldham blog.

    Part of Antony’s project will be taking beautiful photographs of these often over-looked plants. Antony will be recording his findings on his own blog and Instagram account. We will be sharing some of these each week on Gallery Oldham’s Instagram.