Winter Lockdown nature notes: still here!

24 February 2021 | 1 comment

Ah yes, you may have noticed I missed a week, but who‘s counting? Here are my notes for the last fortnight. I think at the moment, to fast forward over the odd day isn‘t a bad idea.

Walking from Dinton, near Salisbury, we saw a number of chalk streams, and these are pretty unique to the area: chalk streams are almost (not quite) only found in England, mainly in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset. They are famous for the clarity of their water and special wildlife habitat, but why?  Rain falling on the chalk downlands filters down through the strata until it hits less permeable rock at which point it flows horizontally until it emerges as springs. The long filtering journey makes it clear, pure and rich in minerals. The streams tend to be wide and shallow with a flint and gravel bed.  Weeds grow aplenty, as you see in my photo, they love these conditions. Briefly, more weeds = more insect life = more fish (brown trout and grayling) more otters. There‘s lots of work going on, but we should be doing more to protect this unique environment.

From something everyone loves, to a more controversial plant I see often on these rambles through  Wiltshire and Somerset:  Rhodedendrons. They are staring to develop their buds now, and I guiltily confess, I think they look spectacular in full bloom, a riot of colour. Rhodedendrons were introduced to Britain, probably from Spain or Portugal, around 1763 for botanical gardens and used on big estates as cover for game birds. They don’t poison the soil, as some suppose, but they do smother native plants because they produce toxins to suppress the establishment of rival species close by. The leaves are poisonous, so herbivores won’t eat them – not even goats. Bumble bees are its main pollinators and they’re so besotted by its flowers that other plants may miss out on the chance to set seed. Ecologists are unanimous in their condemnation, so I must concur. Ho humm. These plants are indeed real thugs!

More fungus, and I don’t claim to know much on fungi, but I think this one is called turkey tail ( a fun name this time….I  promised you)  Indigenous to all continents except Antarctica, turkeytails have been gathered and used medicinally for hundreds of years.~They  can be used in teas or tinctures for their medicinal qualities –  for general immunity-boosting, and are are also cultivated commercially.

In one of the many Bath public parks this week, we found this harbinger of spring, a riot of flowers, hellebore, snowdrops and some cute little bright  purple berries.

The snowdrops have been out a while now, but walking down deep shady lane, they were all blooming high above my eye level, which prompted me to take some macro shots (my header picture this week) and look really closely at the wonderful green striations and the form of the petals. Snowdrops were not introduced here until about C16th, a relatively newbie. It’s thought unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house, some even say they would bring death to a household, an odd contrast to their symbolism for hope and purity!

Finally, the cheery daffodils have started their springtime show. Around here in Bath, I will probably be looking at planted or escaped garden daffodils. The true wild daffodils are often in ancient woodland or damp meadows. Once plentiful, they are now much rarer, found in Devon, the Black Mountains in Wales, the Lake District, and along the Gloucestershire-Herefordshire border. The wild daffodil has narrow, grey-green leaves and a familiar daffodil flower, but with pale yellow petals surrounding a darker yellow trumpet; this two-tone look is one way to tell them apart from their garden relatives. The wild daffodil is also relatively short and forms clumps, carpeting the ground.

So on with the walking, always something new to see and think about, but maybe I will wait another couple of weeks before my next post.



1 Comment

  1. Alison McKay

    Love the notes! Next time you go walking near Dinton, check out the fabulous sunken path from the lane at SU 119932143 to the village. We had a memorable evening walk staggering back up it from the pub to our B and B last summer!


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