Flitwick Moor in heavy rain is not the place to be for a site visit; alas, the Society’s first since 2019 was on such a day and this was reflected in the very low turnout for the occasion. It is an unusual and special location. Its SSSI status is based on the very uncommon habitat for southern England of an alkaline peat mire of the flood plain of the River Flit (a tributary of the Ivel which in turn flows into the Great Ouse) being acidified by Greensand springs. It is managed by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust. The peat was extracted commercially until 1960 resulting in large areas below the level of the water table and some just above the former being dominated by Alder and the latter by Silver Birch and Pedunculate Oak with open areas of sphagnum moss, reeds, sedges, and ferns. The Reserve also includes a rough grass meadow area on slightly higher ground. This report describes the various habitats visited and some of the species observed and the annex provides a cumulative checklist of the Society’s sightings at this location, including additions from the recce and visit this year.
The recently replaced board walk takes the visitor along the dividing line of the two woodland habitats. We accessed one of the boggy clearings which had been recently cleared of the dominant Common Reed (a grass) and experienced the squashy feel of sphagnum moss under our feet. We had hoped to find Cotton Grass (a sedge) an important indicator species of acid peat here but to no avail; the Marsh Thistles stood high and erect here being excluded from the clearing work.
The next stop was to look at the ferns. Bracken grows mainly on the slightly higher ground whereas the elegant Broad Buckler Ferns were mainly at the edge of the lower ground. Wood Dock was a new sighting for this area. A rusty coloured stream is crossed, one of several that are fed by the iron rich acid springs (called Chalybeate which was bottled and sold as cure-all in the 19th century). Honeysuckle fights for light where the canopy is thinner and Raspberry has established itself in this unlikely habitat.
Rough Grass Meadow
Trees line this large area on all sides. It is a mix of coarse and soft grasses, and flowering plants with a few scattered bushes. Some parts are well-drained; others not. Meadow Vetchling, Tufted Vetch, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Hedge Bedstraw, and Lesser Stitchwort were identified here along with patches of Yarrow, Common Knapweed, a Hawks-beard (probably Smooth Hawks-beard), Lady’s Bedstraw, and Hogweed. Nest mounds of the Common Yellow Ant – a metre or more in diameter with an underground chamber of at least the same size – are scattered across the area.
The wetter areas along the boundary of the wet woodland included Meadowsweet, Water Pepper, Scented Mayweed, Yellow Iris (no longer in flower), Purple Loosestrife, and Field Horsetail. Insects which normally thrive here were not to be seen but we did disturb a Common Frog in two different locations. A small detour at the far end of the meadow took us to the banks of the alkaline River Flit. Hemlock so dominant in 2019 has been cleared and a species new to our list, the Himalayan ( Indian) Balsam, may be next for removal. Russian Comfrey continues to thrive here.
Flitwick Moor has a special ‘primaeval’ charm of its own and to walk through the wet woodland is to observe a different natural world so I hope that members will be encouraged to visit over the coming years. Its habitats are reflected in the diversity of wildlife that can be seen. But do try to pick a dry day for it!
My thanks to Phil Sarre for accompanying me on the recce, and to him and to Charles Kessler for taking part in the species identification. My first Society visit to the site was on a recce in 2016 with Roy Maycock as my mentor and he did the same for me again in 2019. Most of the plant species identified on the checklist date back to these visits so a special thanks to him also.
Joe Clinch, Visit Leader