Sunday, 21 May 2017

Peppard Common - a guest post by Jack Dorkings

Enchanter's nightshade
On the very sunny Tuesday after Mayday, the Chilterns Atlas Recording group met at a quiet crossroads close to Peppard Common (SU7081). This was my first outing to a recording meeting so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I also forgot to bring my own notepad so I only logged a few of the species we found! The aim of the day was to record for the Atlas 2020 project.

Led by Sally Rankin, we covered a small patch of woodlands bordering the common. We found our first interesting plants here. Circaea lutetiana (Enchanter’s-nightshade, right) and Sanicula europea (wood sanicle). S. europea has been declining locally, so this was an important find, especially to see it in flower.
Moving on to the heathland, it was immediately noticed that there were several well developed patches of Ulex minor (dwarf gorse) present. The heathland area wasn’t especially large but did have characteristic species present, including Erica cinerea (bell-heather) mixed in with the gorse (left). In the clearing between the trees and gorse was dominated by grass, with tufts of Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire fog) surrounded with Festuca species Most likely F. ovina (sheep’s fescue) but difficult to verify in the field.

We moved onto an old disused golf course that makes up part of the common. There was a wide variety of wildflowers present here, including Cardamine pratensis (cuckoo flower) and Veronica chamaedrys (germander speedwell, below). Around this time, we were also lucky enough to see a stoat (Mustela ermina) run out from the forest onto the old golf course and run back again. Unfortunately it was too fast to get a picture! The golf course followed the slope of a rather steep hill, at the bottom were more wildflowers with a different mixture of species, including two more Veronica species found in close proximity, V. arvensis and V. serpyllifolia (wall and thyme-leaved speedwell).

Anti-clockwise from top: sanicle; dwarf gorse and bell heather; wall speedwell; germander speedwell; thyme-leaved speedwell
Unusual red cleavers
Our route for the day then took us through forest again to a wide mown area, bordering the forest with a large patch of Lamium album (white deadnettle). Rannunculus was abundant here, with all three common species (R. acris, R. bulbosus and R. repens). This mown area was bordered by a road and associated ditch, where Stellaria holostea (greater stitchwort) was found, alongside some interesting red Galium aparine (cleavers). This was said to be a stress response from the plant which can arise from mowing; given the broken stems this is probably the case. Interestingly this was the only small patch showing this, as there were other examples of G. aparine growing in close proximity that retained the usual green colour.

The last plant I took a note of was Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff). I initially confused this for more cleavers at a distance, but the flowers and smell (not to mention lack of barbs on the leaves!) gave it away pretty quickly.

I’m hoping to go on more recording trips in the local area in the near future — next time I’ll remember to take a proper notepad to take note of everything seen!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Somerton and the Oxford Canal

Botanists botanising by the Oxford Canal. Remark the use of modern technology. Image by Fay Banks
Recording for Atlas 2020 in Oxfordshire continues. The target of this Sunday's meeting was the county's most under-recorded 10km square, SP42. Earlier in the spring I wrote about a recording outing of mine in SP42 at Tackley, and this week the venue was the parish of Somerton in SP42Z, further north along the River Cherwell/Oxford Canal. There will be another meeting in SP42Z on 8th July at Bestmoor SSSI, when we will survey the huge population of the nationally scarce Oenanthe silaifolia (narrow-leaved water-dropwort).

Sporangia of P. interjectum x100, with few thick-walled (indurated) cells forming the annulus and two basal cells between this and the stalk
The five of us who met at Somerton were blessed with wonderful weather and some fabulous plants. We started at the churchyard of St James’ which was a tidy disappointment, however. An exhibitor at the church exhorted us to come in afterwards for coffee and artwork, but we conveniently forgot and instead went to the Bell Inn in Lower Heyford! The only interesting native species in the village was a large amount of the fern Polypodium interjectum (intermediate polypody) on a shaded wall. Contrary to previous records I am finding that this is a common fern of limestone walls in Oxfordshire. I’d be grateful if other recorders would check any Polypodium they find microscopically, or record it as P. vulgare sens. lat. rather than attempt an identification based on frond morphology as this is not reliable.

We left Somerton southwards across bright green agricultural grassland and wheat fields infested with Alopecurus myosuroides (black grass). At this point I began to worry about our species list. A short detour out of SP42Z into SP42Y gave us Senecio viscosus (sticky groundsel) by the railway, from where we looped back into our tetrad and picked up the Oxford Canal. From here our fortune turned.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Joys of Becoming a Recorder

Fay Banks wanted me to communicate her discovery of the joys of becoming a botanical recorder — many thanks to Fay for sharing some of the things she has seen. If you'd like to become involved in recording plants in your local area or elsewhere in Oxfordshire then do please get in touch with me by email (

I have only just started recording and am very inexperienced. If I am unsure or completely stumped David is ever helpful. I am enjoying every minute of it, and learned a great deal by accompanying David et al on the recording training at Waterend. The area I am covering is not wildly exiting being mainly arable farmland but it also includes several villages and stretches of the River Thame. I have also discovered lots of good walks and two local nature reserves about which I was unaware. To date I have found no rarities but I have a few favourites among the more common flora.

Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis) found in Marsh Baldon Churchyard. I like this because you have to be out in the morning to see it. By noon the flowers close and walking past it just looks like grass.
Shining cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) forms a large clump on the verge of Windmill Lane in Wheatley
Common fumitory (Fumaria officinalis), growing on the Howe allotments in Wheatley.