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Small Worlds Bursting Forth

  • Thu 9th May, 2019

As I walk across the open windswept hills of the North York Moors National Park in search of wading birds my eye is taken by a riot of colour under my feet. Amongst the burnt dry heather, patches of new life thrive on waterlogged ground. Vibrant moss everywhere I look!

The only way to really appreciate these beautiful plants is to get down into their world. I drop onto my belly to see them really close, against dark storm clouds. The protective tips which contain the spores (sporophyte) of dwarf haircap reach for the sky like a forest of tiny lanterns. Small droplets of water glistening at the base of each cylindrical capsule.

Dwarf Haircap, a forest of sporophyte © Richard BainesDwarf Haircap, a forest of sporophyte © Richard Baines

By the side of the spore tips is a blazing carpet of dwarf haircap at a different stage of growth. Each tiny structure like a flower. A riot of colours; yellow, green and red in a fabulous spiked rosette.

Dwarf Haircap © Richard BainesDwarf Haircap © Richard Baines

Looking back at my photos I am struck by the contrast between this new life and the black and grey of the surrounding burnt ground. A fabulous colour palette; death of winter and the re-birth of spring side by side.

European Golden Plover North York Moors National Park © Richard BainesEuropean Golden Plover North York Moors National Park © Richard Baines

It is this precise combination of bare ground and tiny plants which bring waders such as golden plover, lapwing, snipe, curlew and with luck, migrant dotterel to our National Park. This hidden, wet dwelling place harbours the insect food these birds need to thrive.

Dotterel North York Moors National Park © Richard BainesDotterel North York Moors National Park © Richard Baines

Without the water, the burnt land remains dry. No burgeoning forth, the seasonal cycle is lost and a dead world, empty of bird song follows in the summer. If we really treasure these birds, we must look after and promote water retention on the moors. Dry ground soon falls silent.

So now I’m hooked on mosses, a gorgeously geeky world ignored by big foot but appreciated by tiny toed waders. Look-out for dwarf haircap moss on the moors and in many other parts of the UK. If you fancy delving deeper into this small and beautiful world, Nature Spot web page has a really good moss photo guide Click Here.

Richard Baines YCN