Ashdown Forest is particularly rich in bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). These are in many ways the Cinderellas of the plant kingdom; overlooked and under-appreciated, but a rich and important part of the Forest flora. In total, 250 species are currently known from the area, which is about half of those in the whole of Sussex.
Most of these lower plants are associated with damp habitats – ghylls and valley mires – but one habitat that is often ignored is the edges of paths and sandy rides. This is the home for several scarce liverworts, including Nardia scalaris (Ladder Flapwort), Jungermannia gracillima (Crenulated Flapwort) and Gymnocolea inflata (Inflated Notchwort). You have to love those common names!
At one time these were known to be frequent on the Forest but they are sensitive to any sort of pollution, and various factors – including increased vehicle numbers on the roads but also many more dogs in recent years – have led to them now being restricted to just a few places. Unlike most of the waste deposited on the Forest by deer and domestic livestock, dog faeces is high in nitrogen as a result of their protein diet. Dogs are also generally fed off the Forest, so their waste represents an importation of nutrients rather than a recycling of nutrients that were already present here.
Most people, particularly gardeners, would assume increased nutrients were a good thing. But many rare plant species are poor competitors and are easily crowded out by more aggressive species; increased nutrients can give those aggressive species an unfair advantage. A recent survey suggested that, out of all the bryophyte groups on the Forest, ride-side liverworts had suffered some of the most serious declines.
Just one reason why it is important to always pick up after your dog, and picking up doesn’t just mean bagging up – it means taking away too!
The issue of dog waste is covered in our new Dog Owners’ Code of Conduct, available from the Ashdown Forest Centre.