There are several good reasons for collecting samples of Bryophytes, there are also some good reasons why you have to be careful and follow guidance when doing this. Again, the choice whether or not to collect is yours.
I collect samples for the following reasons:
A. I am rubbish (though slowly getting better) at Field Identification. This is a skill that only improves with knowledge and experience, not things you can acquire overnight
B. Bryophytes are very photogenic and I prefer to photograph them in detail in my workshop (a large shed!) where I have control over the lighting, weather and temperature.
C. Identification for me can take much more time than I would have in the Field.
D. Bryophytes are easily stored after drying, take up little room and can be re-hydrated years after they were collected to be identified and photographed.
What do I need to know before I collect samples?
Below is a link to the BSBI (Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland) Code of Conduct for picking, collecting, photographing and enjoying wild plants. This is the BBS recommended advice for Bryophyte collectors, photographers and students and Groups to follow. Please read it.
This paragraph from the BSBI Code sums up the main points you need to keep in mind if you collect:
"Collecting small amounts of plant material for identification purposes, for private herbaria, for research or as voucher specimens is usually acceptable, except in the case of protected or rare species. Indeed, collecting is often necessary if botanical expertise is to be developed and passed on across generations via herbaria. If a plant can be named in the field take the field guide to it, not vice versa. If a specimen really is needed, remove the minimum quantity of material for identification, and also take a photo. "
It is important, as a beginner, to remember that some species of Bryophytes can be and are extremely rare with several on the brink of extinction in the UK. If you visit a location where there are known rare species it is probably advisable to look but not collect at all unless you have an expert to guide you.
Nature Reserves and SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific interest) will all have their own guidelines about collecting and whilst you may be able to photograph specimens, you may not be permitted to take samples.
Obviously, if you know what species you are looking at and already have a sample, there is no need to collect another. If I eventually find the time to work through my collected samples, there will no longer be any need for me to collect any more. along way off I'm afraid.
How do I start and what do I need?
If you are just observing Bryophytes the you don't need any additional equipment at all.
A loupe or magnifying glass is very useful to see more detail, a notebook and pen to record what you have found is also handy.
If you have a mobile phone with a camera or a small digital compact, images of the specimen in situ are always useful.
To take your interest further by collecting samples to examine later doesn't require much more in the way of equipment, but you need to be a little bit more organised.
There are many makes of Loupe and Magnifying Glass available, from very cheap to very expensive.
As with anything, price is not always an indicator of a better product. Be wary of products (both cheap and expensive) that are advertised as being Triplet lens loupes.
These are not always what they seem to be unless they come from a well known reputable manufacturer/retailer.
What should be a Triplet lens assembly can often be a single plastic lens with very poor clarity.
Don't always buy higher magnification loupes. I have both x10 and x 20, but find the x10 much more useful.
With anything you are looking through to magnify something, your own eyesight is also a factor.
If you can try before you buy that is very helpful, look through a friend's loupe or magnifying glass to see what suits you. If there are several to look at in a shop, try them all.
If you are taking a photograph of your specimen in the field, try to ensure your camera is either resting on a firm base, a rock or log or gatepost, or on a tripod or held somehow without movement.
Identifying specimens from photographs is not easy.
Blurred close-ups or distant images provide little or no information and will not help you with identification.
Microscope attachments for mobile phones and compact cameras are very useful, but unless the camera is steady and not moving, the clarity is lost.
A small pocket tripod can be very useful and if you don't have one, try to rest the camera on a firm base. This isn't always easy as habitats can be wet and boggy. A pocket monopod is probably more use than a tripod as you can become the other legs of a tripod with the monopod doing the hard work!
The other big issue when taking pictures is the weather.
Mobile phones and most cameras do not like getting wet and need to be kept in a small dry bag.
What do you need to Collect Bryophytes?
Not a great deal, but you do need to be organised with what you actually collect and how you store it.
The accuracy of the information you obtain when you are in the field can be essential when you take a sample.
If you collected it whilst on holiday or on a distant field trip with a Group, it may be weeks or months before you get the chance to re-hydrate and examine the sample.
Environment - substrate - Date and Time - Grid Reference - General notes of the size of the colony - Habitat.
A brief description of the specimen - does it look like an acrocarpous or pleurocarpous moss.
Is it wet or dry, does it have sporangia, are there other species near it and most importantly what is its immediate habitat.
The substrate isn't always obvious without closer observation and sometimes lifting or spreading the specimen a bit to see what it is growing on can be a big help. Soil, stone, grass, wood, sand, metal and so on. If on a tree, what type of tree is it and where on the tree is the specimen growing?
Make a note of anything you feel is relevant to your records.
To work on your samples later, a pair of fine pointed forceps are needed.
Collecting your sample
The first task is to remove it from its substrate.
To some extent, this varies according to the size of the specimen, how robust it is and whether or not it is part of a dense colony and whether it is wet or dry.
Many species like Sphagnums and Polytrichaceae can be very long indeed. Sphagnums can also be fairly delicate, whilst Polytrichaceae are quite robust.
A sample is a shoot with branches, leaves and stem (complete with Rhizoids ) This obviously varies slightly between Mosses and Liverworts.
To remove the sample, try to carefully isolate it from any other mosses then move your fingers down along the stem until you are happy there is no more of the plant body lower down.
Try to grip the plant as near to the bottom of its growth as possible and gently ease it out of the substrate without breaking any of the branches or stem, or indeed, adjacent plants.
This sounds difficult but is surprisingly easy once you get the hang of it.
If you have dislodged other plants in the process, gently firm them back into the substrate.
In the warmer months, it is helpful to take a small spray bottle of water with you when looking for Bryophytes.
We have seen how different Mosses and Liverworts become dessicated and crispy. The only way around this is to spray them with water until they re-hydrate sufficiently for you to see what they are.
Some can be collected without rehydration but need to be collected and transported with care to avoid damage.
Sample transportation and Storage.
In the field, storage can be dependant on the prevailing weather.
Heavy rain means your samples will probably be soaked and muddy.
Unless there is some nearby water to rinse the mud off, that is the condition they will have to be moved in.
I use two types of storage, envelopes for 'Dry' samples - that is those samples not collected in the rain and only damp from ambient moisture.
Many Bryologists use folded paper envelopes (vouchers) to keep collected samples in.
If you send a sample to the BBS or your County Recorder you will need to put it in a Voucher Envelope.
I prefer small brown envelopes as I have the sample number and sample details label already in place to enter the data on before putting the sample inside.
As a temporary measure, wet and muddy samples go into self-seal plastic bags (which can be re-used) and the samples can then be removed, cleaned and dried later.
Remember that your samples may have to travel long distances before you can sort them out. As they are fragile, a sturdy box, preferably waterproof is handy to put them in until this time.
As long as your system works for you that's fine.
When you get your samples home, they need to be dried before being stored.
Damp samples can attract mildew and fungal growths and most samples will also have microscopic invertebrates living in their leaves.
I freeze my samples for 24 hours to euthanise any small invertebrates, fully thaw and then dry the sample again before storing it in the original collection envelope.
My preferred storage is a Really Useful box with lid.
They are robust and exactly fit the envelopes I use. Easy to label and stack as well.
Shoe boxes work just as well!
That is about it really.
All you need now is the time to take a sample out of storage, re-hydrate it and find out what species it is.
Even if you only take a few samples every year, recording the data of what you have collected is well worth the time spent.
Recording your finds is good practice even if you decide not to collect samples. You may recall you have seen a specific species somewhere but have forgotten the location or when you saw it.
You may return to a collected sample weeks, months or even years after collecting it.
Accurate details from when you find a sample are vital to be able to recall the circumstances in which you found it.
The one data field that is essential is a unique number for your sample.
I use a simple consecutive numbering system for every sample whether it is a Moss or Liverwort
(No Hornworts as I haven't seen one yet and they are too scarce to sample).
My collection envelopes all have a unique identification number label so I don't have to worry about which number comes next.
To download a Collection Record Excel Sheet A4 size template,
I make notes when I work on a sample, allocating a full page or more to each one.
This too is useful if you need to return to your examination of a sample for any reason.
Working on a Collection Sample
How often you work on a sample, the amount of time you spend, where and when you do it are you decisions for you to make.
The one thing I would advise is to only work on ONE sample at a time.
Before you go onto the next one, clear the first away, dry it and return it to the collection envelope.
This ensures that there is no confusion as to which sample you are examining and eliminates the likelihood of getting two or more samples mixed up and allows you to focus on one task in hand.
It is helpful to devise a simple work flow for examining samples, taking measurement, photographs and so on.
You will find a system that suits you and is tailored to the amount of time you have
and where you do it.
Although it may seem a lot of work to keep good records, it is well worth the effort.
Once you devise your own system, it will just become part of your routine.
There are other areas such as microscopy and photography which I may include in separate sections at a later date.
Not everybody will have access to a microscope and photography is a topic on its own.