16 members and friends joined the 10th April Sunday morning walk through Linford Wood. A map was handed out to show the paths and compartments of this 39ha (97 acre) wood. As soon as we had left the TV-mast car-park a few newly-emerged Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea came into view beside the path. This plant is an Ancient Woodland Indicator, an AWI.
There were three handouts during the walk. One about Woodland History & Management, another about Current Woodland Management, and the third was a Species List, giving a brief summary of flora and fauna worth looking for at various times of the year.
The ‘search’ for Wood Anemones Anemone nemorosa (AWI) could not have been easier. There were few sections of the wood where there were not carpets and swathes of hundreds and thousands of these in full view along the edges of many woodland compartments. A sunny morning made the whole Wood bright with their whiteness – though a few small clumps had a pinkish-violet hue.
Among them were Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria which had emerged many weeks before. Scattered among the trees, deep into the wood were bright clumps of Primrose Primula vulgaris (AWI) that had flowered in February and still looked fresh. Scattered among and beyond these, often deeper into the Wood were the earliest Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta (AWI) coming into flower, with plenty more emerging around them. Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis (AWI) was in an almost continuous spread along the edge of most ditches and paths and in flower, but few people notice it or its slight spikes of male flowers that look rather like catkins, or the female flowers on separate plants that have wider leaves.
We were asked to look for two kinds of small, low-growing purple flowers. One is very common, not only in woodland: this is Ground-ivy Glechoma hederacea. The other is the family of Violets Viola. The ones we were looking for are tiny and easy to miss. These are the Early Dog-violet Viola reichenbachiana (AWI) and the Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana (AWI). Probably, the ones we saw were V.reichenbachiana which flowers earlier than V.riviniana, but checking the features on such small plants requires very close attention and, even then, there are hybrids of these two. Several we saw were exquisitely delicate and beautiful. It was too soon for Sanicle Sanicula europaea (AWI) to be in flower but Chris Coppock found its lower leaves, which are similar to those of Wood Anemone but with a few distinctively different characteristics.
We walked in a broad circuit along a path around the north of the Wood and back to its centre before heading down the broad central ride to the southern end. But before heading further south we took a brief look at Herb Paris Paris quadrifiolia (AWI) that were only just emerging in the shade of other plants. When we reached the southern end of Linford Wood it was too late to fit in a visit to Stanton Wood, so we passed the peaceful pond beneath trees close to H4 Dansteed Way and returned up the western side of Linford Wood. Here we noted leaves that were probably of Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galiobdolon (AWI) which should flower around May with bright yellow flowers like those of dead-nettle. Further on we passed some shrubs of Spindle Euonymus europaeus, noting their dark green and rectangular stems. This is an undistinguished plant until autumn when its bright pink and orange fruit makes it highly visible.
All the time there were the sounds of birds. Greater-spotted Woodpecker were drumming, and Green Woodpecker were yaffling but perhaps the noisiest sounds were the squawks from five boisterous Jays flying back and forth together. Little was heard from Nuthatch, but there was a Buzzard flying over and calling to another at the top of a tree.
Throughout our walk there were occasional bumblebees busily in search of pollen and nectar and a few queens still searching for nesting sites. Those we saw were mostly White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum or Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris, but there were also some Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus pratorum. One Brimstone Butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni sped away from us along the ditches.
There has been plenty of woodland management work during the winter, with Ash Fraxinus excelsior trees at risk of falling being removed near paths, and their timber and logs either waiting to be removed or laid to rot down as useful deadwood for use by invertebrates. At a few points we could see standing ‘deadwood’ well away from the paths: trees in decline left to provide nest holes for bats and birds and soft rot for saproxylic beetles to use. Already there had been new plantings of trees and shrubs to take the place of felled and fallen trees. Some Pedunculate Oaks Quercus robur had been planted by volunteers, from acorns grown-on from this Wood. Oaks tend not to regenerate naturally within the closed spaces of established woodlands.
It was flowers that had taken most of our attention, because April to June is probably the best time to see these in ancient woodlands. But they were set against the character of all of Linford Wood, which varies from compartment to compartment, and has the grandeur of a woodland that is over 700 years old.