We shall be starting earlier than usual at 6:45pm at the Victoria Hall, Tisbury High Street for mulled wine, mince pies and nibbles before hearing from the world-renowned botanist Dr John Akeroyd.
John always loved plants, even before he was taught at school by the famous botanist Oleg Polunin. He graduated from the Universities of St. Andrews and Cambridge, and held fellowships at the Universities of Trinity College, Dublin and Reading, researching European flora. Lecturer, tour guide, writer and editor, he co-founded Plant Talk, the first global magazine for plant conservation.
He has written or edited seventeen books, including the best-selling Collins Wildguide:Flowers and The Encyclopedia of Wildflowers and many articles on plants, people and places.
In the late 60s and early 70s, Dutch Elm Disease wiped out millions of trees throughout the country changing the landscape for ever. A promotional campaign at the time encouraged us to “plant a tree in ‘73” and then “plant one more in ‘74” to fill at least some of the gaps.
Today, there is much talk about tree planting to lock up carbon and combat climate change. But currently this seems to assume planting will be on a relatively large scale with the expectation on rural landowners to take the initiative. However, we can all play a part.
Significant trees have a tremendous impact on how our villages look. Imagine the view up and down Tisbury High Street without the cedar at the bottom of the hill or the Christmas tree outside the Benett. Or what the Avenue would look like without the line of limes along it. But even the longest living trees will die eventually and if others have not been planted during their lifetime as replacements, their loss is a shock and leaves us all worse off.
As well as old age, we lose trees, or parts of them for numerous reasons. Ash Die Back Disease means that we are likely to lose huge numbers of ash trees in the years ahead. Will they be replaced? Trees are lost to development, while others just get too big for their location. Felling is not always necessary though as a good tree surgeon can bring the tree back to an acceptable size and shape to flourish for many more years.
Unfortunately, it is easy to have double standards on trees. We like to see them in the view but don’t want them to block our view. We like to see blossom, berries, and autumn leaf colour (ideally on someone else’s land or garden) but might not want seeds, dead flowers and leaves on our cars and gardens or noisy birds disturbing our sleep in spring.
Planting a tree is a vote of confidence in the future. The people who planted the largest trees we see around us never lived to see them in their prime as we do. By the time trees planted today reach maturity our successors may find their shade particularly welcome in a warming world.
So as autumn approaches, is there scope to plant more trees around the village? Plant a tree in ’23? Or can we find room in our gardens? Some species never grow to a great size and can be controlled but still have a contribution to make. If we already have trees around us, let’s look after them for everyone’s benefit now and in the future. Trimming, lopping, and felling without adequate replacement will inevitably leave future generations the poorer for their loss.
Come and join us on Sunday 9th July for a stroll through Vernditch Woods and across Martin Down National Nature Reserve with the knowledgeable butterfly enthusiast Andrew Graham. Please send a message via the Contact form.
If weather permits, the focus will be on butterflies but there will be ample opportunity to look at the flora as well. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 11:00am or at the Martin Down car park, SP5 5RQ beside the A354, at roughly 12:00pm.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear. Approximately 4km/2.5 miles on flat, mainly grassed, paths and tracks. Stout shoes should suffice unless wet. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
There are more than 35 native species of fern growing in the UK, some of which can be found locally, such as maidenhair spleenwort and hart’s-tongue fern. However, the most easily recognisable is bracken, which by July has grown to its full height, up to six feet tall.
Its name originates from the Old Norse and even today the Swedish use the word ‘braken’ meaning fern. Bracken grows where the soil is rich and has a close association with woodland, so often on hillsides and moors, for example, bracken betrays the past existence of woodland. I recently visited the Welsh island of Skomer and observed how bracken is widespread there. There aren’t any trees on the Island and have not been for many hundred of years. Other woodland indicator species there include carpets of bluebells and wood-sage.
Individual bracken plants have been known to cover as much as 3 acres, because the rhizomes (creeping underground shoots) spread over a wide area at a speed of over a metre per year. If uncontrolled, bracken can dominate the ground flora, build up a thick mat of dead material, and restricts grass available for animals. But where grazing animals keep paths open it can be an important butterfly habitat. For example, on lower slopes of Dartmoor, it is the last refuge for several rare species of butterflies including the high brown fritillary, small pearl-bordered and pearl-bordered fritillaries which needs dog violets growing in these sunny warm areas.
Bracken is normally avoided by animals, but if short of other food and forced to consume it, it can cause cancer. The spores are also poisonous, so bracken is best avoided in the late summer, when they are released. Also, bracken stands are the ideal habitat for sheep ticks, so beware!
by Andrew Graham
One of my schoolteachers used to say that if you could cover 20 daisy flowers in the lawn with one foot, it must be summer. We used to think that her summer always came a good couple of weeks earlier than ours.
There are thousands of plants in the daisy family – the Asteraceae – the name derived from the Latin for star, aster. The flowers have an easily recognisable star shape. Actually, the flower head isn’t a single flower but lots of tiny ones making up the central disc (‘disc florets’) and the surrounding ‘ray florets’ which we think of as petals. This multiplicity of flowers means that daisies are good nectar sources and are consequently attractive to pollinating insects.
The word daisy comes from the Old English of daeges eage, which means day’s eye, referring to the way the flower opens in the morning and closes at night. The symmetrical daisy flower is easy to draw so the daisy wheel is a common apotropaic sign that used to be inscribed onto the walls or beams of buildings to ward off evil (Messums barn, for example) and is now the new logo for the local Stone Daisy Brewery.
The daisy with which we are probably most familiar is the common, lawn or English daisy that we’ve all used for making daisy chains. Some gardeners see the plant as a weed, but others love to see the flowers dotting the lawn. It can grow in wide range of soils, even compacted, and spreads by both seed and underground runners.
Another common species is the much taller ox-eye daisy, often seen in meadows and hedge banks. This is our largest native daisy, a resilient perennial that sheds masses of seeds, it spreads easily and forms impressive stands quite quickly. In contrast to the common daisy, the flowers do not close at night and may glow in the dusk leading some to name it the moon daisy. The flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, and beetles. Both daisy species are used for the petal-picking romance prediction game of ‘loves me; loves me not’.
As well as several other wild daisy species, there are numerous daisy varieties which have been bred for our gardens such as Shasta Daisies, Michaelmas Daisies, and Marguerites. Most are attractive to insects so should not be overlooked because they are ‘just a daisy.’
by Andrew Graham
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park on Sat 3rd June at 10.30am or approximately 1 hour 15 minutes later at the Westhay Moor Reserve BA6 9TX. The car park is at OS ST 456 437, just north of the junction between Westhay Moor Drove and Dagg’s Lane Drove, between the villages of Westhay and Godney.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: Approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
This Field Trip has limited numbers. There may still be places if you've not yet signed up and want to come. Equally please let us know if you're on the list, but can no longer make the date. We are now using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org for organising lists for events, so please contact us there.
After so much rain in March, as soon as the ground warmed up plant growth was rapid. So now the lanes are bursting with vegetation and flowers. Many roadsides are white with massed clouds of Cow Parsley, also known more flatteringly as Queen Anne’s Lace. In common with other umbellifers, this tall plant has large flat circular flowers made up of many smaller florets. It is extremely common and is found in all sorts of places, particularly along roadside verges. It appears to be particularly suited to this habitat where it starts to dominate other flowers. If, after mowing, the cuttings are left, the ground is enriched, and this combined with fertiliser from adjacent farmland allows strongly growing plants like the Cow Parsley to dominate. Although only a biennial, it produces lots of seed, so can spread easily. On the positive side, the plant’s mass of flowers is attractive to numerous insects including beetles, hoverflies, and butterflies.
Umbellifers are a large group and there are numerous species - good, bad and ugly - to be found in the countryside and garden. Most have white flowers but some are yellow or green while some cultivated varieties for the garden may be purple. Some, such Wild Carrot and Wild Parsley have been domesticated to give us food crops. The former, often found on chalky soils, is a lower growing plant with a collar of wonderful feathery bracts below the flower head. Its root does indeed smell like carrot but while it is far smaller than those we grow for the table, the badgers still like them enough to dig them out of our garden.
Many of our culinary herbs, for example parsley, coriander and fennel are umbellifers as anyone who has had their plants bolt will have noticed. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate Angelica, the stems of which are crystallised for cake and trifle decoration and also provides the flavour for Chartreuse liqueur.
However, the hated Ground Elder is the bane of many a gardener’s life. Although not a large plant, once established its rhizomes spread easily making it hard to eradicate. But there are worse species. The Giant Hogweed, which was introduced from the Caucasus by Victorian plant hunters is particularly nasty. Its sap is phototoxic which means that on contact with it, your skin loses the ability to protect itself from sunlight, resulting in nasty blisters. And then there is Hemlock, most famously associated with the death of Socrates. All parts of this plant are highly toxic but fortunately it has an off-putting odour which keeps animals away and reduces the likelihood of humans thinking it might be edible.
Umbellifers are such a large group, and quite difficult to distinguish without practice and good guidebook, it is better to avoid consuming any of them, just admire the mass of flowers and leave them for the insects to enjoy.
by Andrew Graham
Debbie Carter has given us some valuable assistance in listing out the wildflowers you may be able to spot locally across four habitat types (chalk downland, hay meadows, woodland and wetland). With Ordnance Survey grid references, this is an impressive guide, all beautifully illustrated with the wildflower photographs taken by Andrew Carter.
Please refer to the Resources part of the website to locate the growing number of Local Wildlife pages we're adding to the Wildlife identification and recording section.
Juniper scrub prospers well on rocky screes, exposed to the light, away from heavy grazing activity. Matt Pitts, Meadows Adviser at the Salisbury-based environmental charity Plantlife, showed us striking photographs of sites in Cumbria and the Caledonian forest where juniper growth has persisted since the last Ice Age. Closer to home we heard about Plantlife’s project in the Wylye Valley and the Chilterns where they are regenerating juniper on chalkland downs. Not only will this conserve the habitats for the 50 species of insects and 40 of fungi which solely rely on juniper, but it will also contribute to the biodiversity of species on these sites.
Historical records of land usage show that juniper started to disappear when the downlands were fenced and the shift in grazing patterns caused an impact, with some land also being lost to arable, particularly after the Napoleonic War and World War II. Despite this, Juniper went through a mini regeneration during the myxomatosis period 1960-80 as it no longer had the threat of thousands of rabbits nibbling its young shoots.
We learned a striking fact that the berries have a low fertility with only 1-5% viability, so gathering viable seed is difficult. The Juniper project team is aided by the Millenium Seedbank which stores seed and checks on viability. Plantlife mainly use two methods of cultivation: they grow from seed and store young plants in a nursery for several years until they are strong enough for planting out and they also scatter seed on prepared scrapes of chalkland. Locally they have extensive scrapes on the Fonthill Estate in the Wylye Valley where they are trialling juniper regeneration.
Patience is definitely required because juniper takes a long time to establish. We saw photographs of a scraped chalk fenced area over a ten year period and only by year 3 were tiny shoots in evidence. By year 10 there were 688 clumps of juniper growing well, with a multitude of chalkland orchids, kidney vetch and other flowers naturally seeded.
Matt advised against buying juniper from nurseries because firstly, it might not be a native plant and secondly it could be infected with phytophthora austrocedi, a pathogen which kills our native juniper trees. This fungus-like pathogen is difficult to detect without proper laboratory investigation and it is likely to be carried in the compost, so to preserve the strength and integrity of our native juniper we better leave the juniper regeneration to the specialists.
More information about Plantlife’s juniper project is available on their website.
Matt Pitts, Meadows Adviser at the Salisbury-based environmental charity Plantlife, is coming to give us a talk on his project to reinvigorate juniper’s growth after its significant decline and protect the wildlife that depend on its presence.
Over the past 60-70 years there has been an 80% loss in the area of chalk grassland in Southern Britain. Fragmentation of the habitat and a reduction in extensive grazing has resulted in a loss of plant species and of biodiversity more widely.
Juniper is a specific example that faces extinction in southern Britain. Across our downlands, this iconic shrub has failed to regenerate for the past sixty years. As bushes reach the end of their lives, whole colonies are dying out; it has been lost from nearly 50% of its historic range. If this trend continues, over 100 specialist invertebrates and fungi that depend on the juniper to survive will disappear too.
But although juniper is the focus for Matt’s project, the work is benefiting chalk grassland conservation overall.
Since 2009, Plantlife has been trialling in-situ techniques to regenerate juniper from seed. 10 out of 14 trial sites now boast healthy populations both of young juniper bushes and populations of other wildflowers and plants. Focusing on the themes of nature conservation and connecting people with nature, Plantlife are now working to reinstate lost juniper landscapes on a larger scale, initially in the Wylye Valley and on the Berkshire Downs.
The Victoria Hall, High Street, Tisbury and its bar, will be open as usual from 7:00 p.m (cash & card payments). Members and those under 21 have free entry and we welcome any visitors to join us and pay a guest fee of £2. Please bring cash for guest tickets!
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.