In my last post I visited Danbury Common in Essex. After getting over the disappointment of not seeeing snakes we headed to Blakes Wood which is another National Trust site situated on the opposite side of Danbury to the Common. It’s an area of ancient woodland, predominantly hornbeam and sweet chestnut under which the ground was covered in withered chestnut husks emptied of their contents long ago by squirrels or mice, and in the springtime wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) and bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) carpet the forest floor.
Bluebells have been voted Britains favourite flower and they normally reach their flowering peak in mid May.
Bluebells are delightful flowers when there is only one plant, but when they stretch across a forest floor as far as the eye can see they’re absolutely magical. I didn’t expect to see any at the weekend, it still being March, but they are starting to flower already.
The Natural History Museum is conducting a survey of bluebell flowering times as a means of monitoring climate change. A quick glance at the data is starting to get alarming, the earliest flowering time seems to be getting earlier, from first flowerings in Essex in May in 2010, moving to the middle of March in 2012, in just three years since the study commenced. I don’t know what the long term ramifications of climate change will be for our native flora and fauna, we’ll have to wait and see but I hope the bluebell woods survive.
A single wood anemone protruding through the bluebell leaves
The wood anemones are as beautiful as the bluebells even if they don’t have the same level of ‘Wow‘ factor. The forest at Blakes Wood was liberally bespattered with carpets of wood anemones and I got down in the undergrowth to try to fill the frame with flowers:
I was keen to capture a shot with both anemones and bluebells in the same frame and that turned out to be tricky because of the sparsity of the bluebells, but I eventually found this one:
Spanish bluebell bulbs have been sold in garden centres but they are a different species, Hyacinthoides hispanica, to our UK bluebells. Flytipping of garden waste has resulted in the Spanish variety getting into our woods and cross breeding with the native species. This is a real problem because it is anticipated the hybrids may eventually take over from the natives, but I console myself that the invaders and hybrids are lovely to look at too. I can’t wait to visit the woods again in May when the bluebells are in full bloom, and when I do I’ll share the results with you.
Posted in Blakes Wood, Countryside walks, Flora and fungi, UK wildlife, Wild flowers
Tagged ancient woodland, Anemone nemorosa, Blakes Wood, bluebell hybrid, Chelmsford, climate change, Danbury, Essex, hornbeam, Hyacinthoides hispanica, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, National trust, Natural History Museum, Spanish bluebell, sweet chestnut, wood anemone
Last weekend my wanderings took me to Norsey Wood on the eastern edge of Billericay in Essex. The weather was sunny and warm so a stroll through this chunk of ancient woodland was compulsory. The wood is a lovely place and has a history dating back 4000 years. It is now a mixed coppice bluebell wood and in a month or so the floor will be completely blue. At the moment, the bluebell leaves are sprouting but no flowers are out but there are wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa):
Wood anemone flowers pointing at the sun
And lesser celandines (Ranunculus ficaria):
Wood anemones are interesting plants. They’re toxic and contain chemicals which have been used medicinally but which can cause some pretty unpleasant effects if ingested such as vomiting, diarrhoea and gastric bleeding. Best avoided. Despite that, a wood floor covered in them is a wonderful sight to behold. Lesser celandine are rather lovely too, with similarly interesting properties. According to its Wikipedia entry it has warty nodules which resemble haemarrhoids, so ancient law dictated it must therefore possess anti-haemorrhoidal properties. Bizarre logic, but you never know, maybe there was a grain of truth in it. It doesn’t mention how the active ingredient was applied though!
I saw a group of four jays squabbling in a tree but the woods were generally fairly quiet for birds on that day. The animal which was present in enormous abundance was the woodant, Formica rufa,
Wood ant worker – these are around 1cm long
The workers are all female and if attacked they have a ferocious bite and can spray formic acid from the rear of the abdomen. A loner wouldn’t trouble a human but disturbing a nest which may contain several hundred thousand would be ill advised.
Thousands of woodants all busy around the entrance to the nest
They’re amazing creatures and build nests from plant material such as leaves and pine needles which can be a metre deep. As they act as an incubator and creche the temperature has to be very carefully controlled which is achieved by opening and closing vents to regulate airflow through the nest. So they’re fearsome warriors, highly competent parents and civil engineers too.
The organisation and division of labour amongst woodants is also remarkable. They have territories covering large areas and I’ve tracked them from a nest to a foraging site and the distance is many tens if not hundreds of meters which they negotiate in straight lines where possible and will clear away any debris which blocks the way. Amazing creatures.
I’m hoping to make a trip to Norsey Wood in May when the bluebells are in bloom so I’ll hopefully post from there again later in the year.
Posted in Countryside walks, Insects, Wild flowers
Tagged Anemone nemorosa, Billericay, bluebell, Essex, Formica rufa, lesser celandine, Norsey Wood, Ranunculus ficaria, wild flowers, wood anemone, wood ant, woodland walks