Society Walk at Howe Park Wood SSSI – 26th April 2022

 Our first Tuesday night outdoor meeting of the season took place at Howe Park Wood last week. Leaders Colin Docketty and Martin Kincaid were joined by around 30 members who were clearly keen to get out and reconnect with old friends. Although the traditional rain stayed away, it was a grey, chilly evening and by 8.30pm we were all learning the new skill of torchlit botanical ID.

Martin mentioned that most visitors head straight into Howe Park Wood and don’t pay much attention to the species rich meadow between the wood and Tattenhoe Street (V2). So the walk began with a look at this and the three ponds nearby, where a devoted moorhen sat calmly on her nest bemused by all the attention.

Cowslips are prolific this year and the carpet of cowslips in this small meadow was a delight to see. Martin also pointed out the spreading population of Sainfoin, which will flower in June. This species is relatively new to Milton Keynes but has been present at Howe Park for 4-5 years now. A few Common Spotted Orchids were found in rosette but no Bee Orchids could be located as yet.

Entering the wood from the main northern entrance, we soon saw the expected spring species, dominated by Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort. Wood Anemone, Bugle and Lesser Celandine were all easy to find too, Common Dog Violet less so.

One of the objectives of this walk was to identify likely nest sites of Red Kite, which certainly nested in the wood in 2021 and has been seen carrying sticks. Kites teased us in the evening with their whistling calls, but one was seen towards the end of the night flying off of a probable nest.

We made a lengthy stop at the clearing in the wood which holds a small pond. Carla Boswell explained that the Parks Trust has tried repeatedly to fence this pond off from dogs, but that the rustic fencing has again been vandalised and nothing of it remains. The water is therefore very turbid and little marginal vegetation remains on the side nearest the path. However, patient watching showed us that the pond still holds a healthy population of newts. Both Smooth Newts and the larger Great Crested Newts were observed swimming to the surface, taking a breath and quickly diving again. The night was too cold for most invertebrates, but a Great Diving Beetle at the pond was a nice sighting.

Moving into the western side of the wood, we turned our attention to bats. Our route took us past two trees which Harry Appleyard has found to contain roosting Noctule bats. We could not hear bats at these trees, but a single Noctule bat and both Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were seen later by various members. Colin and Martin had found Goldilocks Buttercup on their recce visit and were pleased to show people this diminutive woodland flower. This was where our torches came in useful as the light faded! One species searched for without success was Early Purple Orchid, which has become very scarce in the wood in recent times. (Happily, Janice Robertson found several flowers later in the week and her photo is shown below.)

Early Purple Orchid, Howe Park Wood April 22 (Photo © Janice Robertson)

The last stop was to look at the veteran Crab Apple tree on the north-west edge of the wood. This venerable tree, affectionately known as ‘Edna’ (any Simpsons fans out there?) is currently in flower and looked even more impressive in the dwindling light.

Since it was our first Tuesday night walk for some time, Martin opened up the Visitor Centre so that people could enjoy some refreshment and chat. It also gave us a chance to see again the impressive MKNHS banner created for our 50th Anniversary in 2018, featuring photos taken by many of our members down the years.