14 Jul 2016

A commoners view of the Royal Fern

Bruce Langridge

How do celebrate your birthday?

Having grown out of party games and jelly, I love to go out exploring nature.

This year’s birthday trip was inspired by a year long Heritage Lottery Fund project run by Carmarthenshire Council’s biodiversity team. This is to improve the condition of the county’s upland bogs and to let people know about them.

One of these bogs is on Mynydd Figyn, a 1000ft high hilltop between Capel Isaac and Abergorlech. I’ve walked around the road that circles the bog here a few times – you get great 360 degree views along a pretty road which in places is grassing over from lack of car use.  Alongside the road is a great expanse of bogland which looks fascinating but which I thought was too wet and boggy to walk on.  But enthused by the project I decided to take a risk and have a close look. I’m glad I did.

I came across pink clumps of cross-leaved heather and lousewort, white whisps of cotton-grass and odd spikes of deer grass. Squelchy ground held deep saturated sphagnum moss, the plant that forms the main building blocks of peat.  There was plenty of bouncy Polytrichum moss, in the flush of producing thousands of stalked seedpods, entwined by bedstraw. Beyond these treasures I could see something standing high above the ground. Intrigued, I ignored the discomfort of my wet feet and headed on. Again, I’m glad I did. Standing proud was a large clump of royal fern Osmunda regalis.  I’ve only found this growing wild a few times before and never on a peaty bog – royal fern has largely disappeared from our countryside as our farmlands have been drained.

Fossil evidence suggests that this plant has changed little in 180 million years – it’s like looking at a living fossil.

But what a beautiful co-incidence this was

I’ve recently processed a loan agreement with artist Glenn Morris to continue to show his sublimely smooth sculpture of the royal fern which you can see along our Broadwalk. I’ve also just finished installing the interpretation for a display of the evolution of plants in our Wallace Garden. This has taken a long time to do as not only are the facts/theories of the process of evolution of land plants hotly disputed but these are difficult processes to explain in words on short information panels. Luckily I’ve got some great horticulturalists and designers to work with, and part of the display features a wonderful display of royal ferns so you can see for yourself why I was so thrilled to find them.

You might also think about visiting us on September 17th. We’re hosting Boggy Day, an event that brings together ecologists, Dyfed Archaeological Trust, Swansea Print Workshop, Swansea University, Carmarthenshire Council and storytellers to tell the story of these fascinating upland bogs. We’ll also have Melcourt at hand to demonstrate how you can garden with peat-free compost. See you then!