Flitwick Moor is an SSSI managed by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust. It is a former mire in the valley of the River Flit which rises in the Chiltern foothills (and a tributary of the River Ivel which in turn flows into the Great Ouse). It is an uncommon habitat for southern England with areas of peat fed by iron rich acid springs (chalybeate) from the Greensands. This was extracted up to 1960 (the peat was used in the purification of natural gas and the chalybeate was sold in the 19thcentury as a cure-all tonic!). Alders predominate in the lowest areas of peat extraction: birch and oak (Quercus rober) in the higher. Woodland clearings offer habitats of sphagnum mosses, bracken, sedges, reeds and cotton grass. The slightly higher ground consists of a rough meadow dotted with ant hills.
It rained heavily on the day of the visit and although the rain had stopped by 19.00 it was still damp and murky: not ideal conditions for a wildlife amble. Nevertheless 18 members turned up for the evening which produced a good showing of plants and several invertebrates of interest.
The routetook us first through the wet woodland area of peat extraction. The plant life off the path and in the managed clearings included Rough Chervil, Small Balsam, Foxglove, Honeysuckle, Bracken, Common Polypody (a fern), Broad Buckler-fern, Soft Rush, Remote Sedge, Pendulous Sedge, and Cotton Grass (the latter much less in evidence compared with the Society’s last visit in 2016) all acid tolerant or acid loving. A total of 17 bird species were noted, by far the highlight being an Oyster Catcher which was heard calling as it passed over shortly after the walk started. Most of the other birds were common woodland species including Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Songthrush, given away by their songs and calls from the dense canopy.
The meadow area is rough grazed with scattered bushes and the mounds of the Yellow Meadow Ant. Here the plant life included Pendulous Sedge, Wavy Bitter-cress, Yellow Iris, and Horsetail at the soggy edges, and Lesser Stitchwort, Tufted Vetch, Meadow Vetchling, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Lady’s Bedstraw, Scented Mayweed, Common Mouse-ear and Yarrow in the drier areas. Invertebrates included Marbled White and Six-spot Burnet.
A short diversion along the side of one of the ditches off the meadow yielded dense Russian Comfrey, Marsh Thistle and Hemlock (one specimen at over 3 metres!). The Scarlet Tiger (photo at top of page) was the invertebrate highlight here.
Thanks to Roy Maycock and Harry Appleyard, who were kind enough to accompany me on exploratory visits and for putting together checklists of plants and birds/invertebrates for participants, and to Paul Lund for the photographs.
Joe Clinch, Leader for the evening