Sterling moss


THE landscape can look a bit monochrome at this time of year, but there is one group of plants that positively thrive in the cold and damp – mosses. They are at their brightest just now, and you can see them more clearly when the branches are bare of leaves.

Most plants grow when the temperature is between 18 and 30 deg C (65-85F). In contrast, mosses can flourish in sub-zero temperatures. They do this by producing their own ‘anti-freeze’.

As always when I look something up I find there are far, far more varieties than I expected. There are more than 1,000 mosses in Britain and more than 20,000 around the world. Obviously it is a lifetime study and I am completely ignorant about mosses, but here are a few pictures I have taken over the last few days which I think show different species.

Mosses are important ecologically as one of the first colonisers of bare ground. They absorb huge quantities of water, helping to soak up rainfall. (I can vouch for this – our north-facing roof is covered in clumps of moss and when they get heavy with rain they drop on to our conservatory roof with resounding thuds.)

A moss covering is an important home for invertebrates such as woodlice and slugs. Blackbirds in particular tug it up looking for snacks. I am guessing this is the result of blackbird foraging, and I think the birds are also responsible for some of the chunks of moss that come off our roof.

Mosses are resilient, and although they don’t flourish in the summer they don’t die. If it is dry they go dormant until the rain returns – not something that happens much in Lancashire.


We have had frost many times recently, and during the day it has been cold and miserable, but this week I found a couple of little plants bravely flowering, a daisy and a groundsel. They must be tough.


As regular readers know, we are lucky to have a volunteer collator of anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Here is the first report from Kathy Nel, or ‘linuslimmy’.

Sometimes we notice usual seasonal sights and sounds have changed (e.g. why don’t I see sparrows any more?)  I pondered if a record could be maintained just for us on TCW space since we’re occupying varied geographical points. The wildlife we no longer see in our location could be merely a seasonal event and returns to normal or disappears from our living memory.  We shouldn’t take this for granted and a record could be maintained here, albeit just for our interest initially. 

I’m neither an expert on wildlife or computer skills but am very happy to volunteer to keep a record of what we see or don’t. Having wasted December in endeavouring to provide a separate email address for this purpose I finally thought to ask for help from Mike Fahey as to how he can post an email address for his TCW meets.  My problem was solved in minutes, thank you, Mike!

Most importantly, a very big thank you to those who have contacted me thus far. A wealth of information has been given – not only the missing but the thriving.  I’m keeping a separate record for those too. 

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your concerns. Your names will not be public knowledge but I do need your location.

Here are some of the first entries:

Norfolk: Not as many house flies and midges in summer 2021.

South and West Yorkshire: Jays are scarce the past couple of years but other corvids seem to be thriving.

Dyce, Aberdeenshire: A cuckoo has not been heard since a manufacturing facility was built some years ago.

Cardiff: A definite decline in bumblebees past few years. Also, both white-tailed and orange-tailed bees have been absent for past two years.

Border of Dewsbury and Wakefield: Only one sparrow in the garden but blackbirds and magpies are regular visitors.

Send your comments and observations to this address:

Kathy Nel/linuslimmy


Finally, readers who commented last week on my mention of the traditional song The Ash Grove might be interested in this piece I wrote in 2018 about the BBC programme Singing Together. 

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