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!

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