Bryophytes at the Bus Stop

Whenever I leave my house and turn right at the end of the road one of the first things I pass is a bus stop. The shelter is standard blue and yellow with clear screens to the back and the left, but if you look at the roof it is overflowing with what appears to be some sort of stonecrop. Notorious for their short roots and ability to thrive in the most shallow of soils, I assumed at first that the sedum had been dropped by some hapless pigeon on its way to an oak tree. I also assumed that the shelter roof, which was surely nothing more than an accidental reservoir resulting from poor design, had simply acquired enough organic matter over the years to support some pioneer plants.

Then I re-read the UK Government's Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England's wildlife and ecosystem services, and it got me thinking. Of course we all want 'more and better places for nature'.[i]Nature, (with a Wordsworthian 'N'), is a lovely place to visit, although it often requires a car to get there and sometimes an entry fee, and a trip to the toilet and a drink at the cafe and a purchase from the shop . . . Which makes it rather a privileged, middle-class pursuit, beyond many urban dwellers’ resources. And the concept of 'better' is thorny in itself - yes, I would prefer to spend an afternoon walking on the Longmynd than waiting at the bus stop, but, back to the sedums hanging out on top of the shelter, if every flat roof held a colony of renegade succulents, or some other native plant, our urban worlds would be very, very different. And very, very green.

With more and more people living in cities, and more rural land being developed for housing, we are in a situation now where it is clearly in our interests to be able to identify, record and compare whatever species we find populating our streets. If we are to maintain a level of biodiversity and avoid the decline into monoculture we seem to be headed for, then we need to know who we are living with now, today, or we won't notice when they are gone tomorrow.

UMAPIT is an urban biodiversity recording app developed by Manchester University 'to allow users of any age without prior scientific training, to learn about urban species and record their wildlife sightings in an easy and accessible way'. [i]It is designed to map and monitor wildlife in cities and towns, parks and streets, schools and gardens. If you know what a species is then you are more likely to care about it. If you can identify many of the species in your neighbourhood, you are more likely to care about the area. If you care about the area, you are more likely to look after it.

Back at the bus stop, at a swift glance I could identify: holly, common dandelion and lesser celandine. With the help of iNaturalist I found a bitter lettuce and a maidenhair spleenwort. How many bryophytes did I get? I can confidently say two: an acrocarp (leaves coming off a central stem) and a pleurocarp (frothy and fern-like). I suspect there were several more, but they were hiding.

Then I looked up at the sedum again and noticed something unusual. Barely discernible, peeping out behind the fleshy stems spilling over the edge, was a thin plastic mesh. So the stonecrop was not a casual tourist or an accidental arrival. It was part of a succulent carpet, rows of tiny plants forming a mini garden that can survive two metres off the ground, away from trampling feet. The plugs had been chosen and nurtured. The product had been rolled, sold and transported. Everything had been done with thought and precision.  Someone knew what they were doing.

Because it was deliberate does it still comply with 'more and better' or is it too insignificant to count? A cultivated bus stop probably doesn't conform to some people's idea of Nature and no one is going to pay to see it. But it is nature and, quite literally, on our doorstep. And the more people who take part in urban biodiversity data recording, the more we can track the nature that is around us all the time, where we live and where we work.

Although many of us have not bothered to look until now.


[i]UK Gov, 2020, Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England's wildlife and ecosystem services,

[ii]Manchester University, 2021, UMAPIT – an urban biodiversity recording app