Bryology for beginners: Jamie Warren

What's the secret to eternal happiness? Easy. To nature-loving Cotswold bin man Jamie Warren, it's helleborine in ancient Cotswold woodland, the musky smell of moss, ravens barrel-rolling overhead, or the briefest glimpse of the elusive ghost orchid

Lively, loony and happy bin man for UBICO/Stroud District Council, interested in horticulture, botany, mycology, bryology and general nature lover! 
Description of Jamie Warren from his Twitter account, @Jamiewa50042387

Botanist and bin man Jamie Warren, looking for Helleborus Foetidus in Buckholt Woods

Jamie Warren with an example of helleborus foetidus in Buckholt Woods - Credit: (C) Thousand Word Media

Look. I'm trying my best to come up with a description of Jamie Warren for you (other than his own). (Please see above.) Because you probably haven't met anyone like him.

So here's my best shot in metaphors. If he were an animal? I reckon an otter: playful, water-loving; relishing the sheer, flamboyant unadulterated joy of life.

Plant? Easy! A liverwort.

Not any old liverwort. Scapania, maybe. A vibrant red Scapania standing out from the crowd. (Please tell me you had to look up 'bryology'. I did.)

Bird?  Umm... I'm going for red kite; collector extraordinaire of detritus.

Eighteen years a bin man for Stroud District, Jamie Warren; four days a week collecting rubbish. Out the yard at Gossington, 6.15 of a morning. What's it like, being a bin man?

'Absolutely fantastic job. Great lads; good bosses. Wouldn't want to do anything else.'
Meet loads of people?

'Yeah, you get to see a lot. You just be polite; chatty. Not everyone will be chatty back but the majority will.  You go past someone's house and say, 'I love your magnolia stellata - that's one of my favourites.' The old lady will be like, 'Oh!

So you know what that is?' And you'll look over the wall and go, 'You've got this; you've got that. Your anemones are lovely. And your daphnes.''

Are people surprised? 'They can be. Yeah.

They don't expect someone like me - a bin man - to be into that.' Does that annoy you? 'No, not at all.

No.'

Botanist and bin man Jamie Warren, with his dogs Tilly and Lenny in Buckholt Woods

Botanist and bin man Jamie Warren, with his dogs Tilly and Lenny, in Buckholt Woods - Credit: (C) Thousand Word Media SUBSCRIBE to Cotswold Life magazine. If you haven't clocked Jamie Warren's Twitter account, don't waste another millisecond.

I can't promise what you'll get. It could be a photo of Jamie with Tilly the Jack Russell and 'King' Lenny the Cairn Terrier* hanging out in Wimberry Quarries, Forest of Dean. Or a close-up of a hairy jumping spider, eight-eying up the world.

Or even a video-short of Jamie Warren dancing to Joy Division in the rain, waiting for a truck to turn up. 'Well, you know, I used to go partying back in the day, and music is a big thing in most people's lives.  I love music; love to feel what it does. Have a jig about.

Be happy.' What you will find on this Twitter feed - what you'll definitely find - is a self-taught expert on plants, fungi and moss.

Botanist and bin man Jamie Warren, looking for tiny moss examples in Buckholt Woods

Jamie Warren looks for tiny moss examples in Buckholt Woods - Credit: (C) Thousand Word Media 'I'd say I prefer the moss, which is bryology,' he says, as if settling the Blur/Oasis question once and for all. 'Then I prefer... it's a hard one because I like the fungi... but, yeah, then fungi; then plants...

'Then again,' he corrects himself, 'plants are good as well.' Think EH Wilson, born Chipping Campden, who left England for China to scour Asia for exotic plants to bring back to the West. Think David Douglas and Robert Stayner Holford, creators of Westonbirt Arboretum.

Think Marianne North, who travelled a hostile world alone, aged 40, to document more than 900 plant species. But, whereas these Victorian plant-hunters journeyed tens of thousands of miles to indulge their passion for botany, Jamie has been abroad once. 'I went cycling out in Majorca, a training camp. 'I've never been to Scotland; I've never been to the Lake District - but I'm going to go.

I don't need to go abroad because there's so much to see here. I mean, Scotland! There's grasses and liverworts and hawkweeds up there that you just don't get down here.'
So if I said Scotland or the Caribbean...?

'Scotland.'

Botanist and bin man Jamie Warren, looking for Helleborus Foetidus in Buckholt Woods

Jamie Warren takes a photo of helleborus foetidus in Buckholt Woods - Credit: (C) Thousand Word Media So this is a story about one man's passion. It's also a story about ghost-hunting.

Like those Victorians, Jamie spends his time searching for specific, elusive plants. Currently, for example, if you can't find Jamie at home in Stonehouse, the chances are you need to head out to an ancient wood in Herefordshire, its name taking it deep into Saxon times. Jamie takes two weeks' holiday a year and numerous weekends - 'I do 150 hours between July and October' - scouring through leaves, searching beneath the shade of heavy boughs, looking for the rarest plant in the country.

A ghost orchid. A plant so rare, it was last seen in the UK in 2009 by amateur botanist Mark Jannick. True to its name, its lack of leaves and chlorophyll makes it ephemeral; as pale as ectoplasm; its haunts are dim, dark areas.

It spends most of its time underground. Perhaps once every decade, the subterranean rhizomes will form a bud. And then - if the weather is right (cold winters; wet springs) - it may deign to put out its spiky flower.

'I'll go up on a Saturday morning and stay for nine days. I'll park on the edge of the woods; I'll put a roll-mat on the beech leaves and then a sleeping bag. And I've got a camp stove in the car.'

He's searched for hours, days, weeks for this elusive bloom; and - let's face it - probability isn't in his favour. But don't think this is all about the destination. It's the journey that counts.

'I woke up one morning and I thought: What's that? A small herd of about 12 deer came down this bank, crossed the road and up the other bank past me. They didn't even know I was there.

'I tell you what: searching those woods gives me a strange feeling; magical. The sloping banks with the mosses in between. You know that, anytime, there could possibly be a ghost orchid there.

It's the 'maybe'; the mystery.

Helleborus Foetidus in Buckholt Woods

Helleborus foetidus in Buckholt Woods - Credit: (C) Thousand Word Media 'It's very still. There are musky smells; earthy smells.

Yeah - absolutely beautiful. 'You get the woodpeckers; nuthatches tapping on the beech trees; you get the trees creaking in the wind - perfect. And then you get the silence.'

I mean, you probably get this without me spelling it out. But listening to Jamie Warren reminds you of things you should know. That you don't need to travel the world to see beauty.

That you don't have to have bright lights and opulent luxury to feel pleasure. That the whole world can be seen in a helleborine tucked in an ancient Cotswold wood. And that children - after they've enjoyed their screen-time - should be out in the open air, exploring the nature they need to love if that nature is going to be saved.

The sort of childhood Jamie Warren experienced, Stonehouse born and bred. 'We spent most of our days up Doverow Wood, making bows and arrows; making dens. Snakes' Island was the field which is now Court View: we'd go down there catching newts.

Grass snake on the woodland floor during the summer.

'Now if I see a grass snake, I just watch it; but, when you're a kid, you like to hold these things, don't you' - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

'And grass snakes! Me and my mate Gary used to catch some decent grass snakes on the tree stumps down there. They excrete mucus from their skin which smells as a deterrent; but their main way to ward off predators is to act dead.

We just held them for a bit; looked at them and let them go. Now if I see a grass snake, I just watch it; but, when you're a kid, you like to hold these things, don't you.' Before he got into plants, his passion was fishing on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.

The real aim was to catch carp - the bigger, the better - before letting them go (after photographing them and rubbing ointment on the hook site). He gained a reputation as one of the best fishermen on the canal - not the easiest of waters. He caught the same 33lb giant grass carp three times: at Moreton Valence; Purton; and at Sharpness.

It didn't learn. Despite his skill, sometimes he could go 10 nights without a single catch. Fishing is another waiting game; another slow burn with its own rewards.

'You get herons, egrets, mandarin duck. Once I woke up in my fishing tent, looked over to the far bank; and playing on a log were two otters. I 'led' there for 20 minutes, watching them.

'I remember when I was fishing the Severn up at Wainlode's, every morning at half-four, five o'clock, a kingfisher would land on my rods and just sit there, watching.' How does it make him feel, watching sights such as that? 'Privileged; happy; caught in the moment; tranquil.'

I hope Jamie Warren gets to see his ghost orchid. I'm not sure how likely it is. As he tells me, before the 2009 eureka moment, the previous ghost-sighting was 1987 in Buckinghamshire.

Nor is its shyness the only issue.

Epipogium aphyllum, Ghost Orchid, in the nature forest habitat, wide angle, Sumava NP, Czech Republi

The elusive epipogium aphyllum, or ghost orchid - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto 'Your main danger for ghost orchid: When it's there, slugs love 'em. That will be a killer.

And the flowering time is very, very short.' If you follow Jamie on Twitter, I guess you'll find out if he succeeds. You'll also learn a huge amount from a committed expert with personality to spare.

'Ghost orchids get their energy from mycelial fungi under the ground, connected to a tree. Epipogium aphyllum - that's the Latin name for ghost orchid. Do you want to know how to spell it?' (Do I?!?

Yep.) 'It's quite a nice Latin name. My favourite is probably for the ash tree - Fraxinus excelsior.

Sounds pretty grand, doesn't it? 'Right, now, because of lockdown, you can't go far, obviously. But we've got our calcareous grassland up on Rodborough; Haresfield Beacon; Painswick Beacon.

I went up there looking for mosses and I found them. I wouldn't have done that if the lockdown wasn't around.

A cushion of a common moss showing brown sporophytes, in the family Orthotrichaceae

A cushion of a common moss, showing brown sporophytes, in the family Orthotrichaceae (anomalous bristle-moss) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto 'You've got your bristle mosses: your Orthotrichum wood moss.

So much variation. You've got pavement mosses; wall mosses like your Grimmia pulvinata; your wall screw moss. [I look it up; there are 22,000 types worldwide.] They're everywhere but always beautiful to see. 'You can go to Wales and you've got your Atlantic oakwoods; your crags, your mountain streams.

You can find liverworts you've never seen before. 'I've never been to the Lake District so I'm going there if we get the chance: late June, early July, to look for hawkweed... 'Now, hawkweed.

You'll get a lot of it to only grow on one mountain in the UK. Or you'll get common ones that are near enough everywhere. 'Even if you're not into your plants, go to the Brecon Beacons and walk up Sugar Loaf.

You can take in the red kites floating about; the buzzards; the ravens barrel-rolling past your head.' And, yes - you can be happy. 'A lot of people do say: Why are you always so happy, Jamie?

I think life is too short. Get on with it and make it good.' Follow Jamie on Twitter: @Jamiewa50042387

*King Lenny crossed the Rainbow Bridge on Monday, January 31, 2022. He and Tilly always travelled across the country with Jamie, and often featured in his adventures, at times even 'singing' along with him on live videos. Tilly remains by Jamie's side. 

Below are just a few of the tributes to him from his many friends and fans on Twitter:

Oh Jamie i am so sorry to hear this...what a legend Lennie was...so so sad

-- glen dipple (@dip1951) January 31, 2022 Just a few of the many Twitter tributes to King Lenny, January 31, 2022

Just a few of the many Twitter tributes to King Lenny, January 31, 2022 - Credit: twitter.com