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,
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.
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.