Thursday, 15 June 2017

Out Wood SSSI

A botanical meeting was held on Sunday at Out Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), near Kiddington (SP42A). This was a return to square bashing for Atlas 2020 after a previous jolly to Otmoor. The square had a small number of recent records and the plan was to boost this by taking in a mix of habitats including the SSSI and surrounding farmland. The SSSI citation sounded quite tantalising, so I was hoping for some goodies, perhaps even Ornithogalum pyrenaicum (spiked star-of-Bethlehem). The site is in unfavourable status so I wasn't feeling too optimistic

The participants (seven botanists plus a dog) met at Grimsdyke Farm, named after an ancient fortification that runs through part of Out Wood. Along the walk to the wood was a narrow spit of woodland emanating from Out Wood but not part of the SSSI. Here we recorded most of the woodland plants that we would also find in the SSSI, including Allium ursinum (ramsons), Conopodium majus (pignut) and Elymus caninus (bearded couch), and at least one that we didn't, Ranunculus auricomus (goldilocks buttercup). Arriving at the SSSI it was evident that the grassy rides advertised in the SSSI citation were gone: most of the flora was of shade-tolerant clonal species such as Mercurialis perennis (dog's mercury). I'm sure the place had looked lovely earlier in the year given the abundance of fruiting Hyacinthoides non-scripta (bluebell).

We spent a while working the wood, turning up a suite of common ancient woodland plants, including quite a lot of Epipactis helleborine (broad-leaved helleborine) and a few over-done spikes of Orchis mascula (early purple orchid). For the most part the wood was monotonous, and some areas had been planted with Fagus sylvatica (beech) and other forestry trees. However, parts had been deer-fenced to allow coppicing and tree planting and we hoped the increased light, disturbance and exclusion of deer might turn up some plants of interest. We managed to get into the coppice coop containing Grims Ditch but it was a thicket of Rubus fruticosus (bramble). Here we recorded Lithospermum officinale (common gromwell) and the hybrid between Juncus effusus (soft rush) and J. inflexus (hard rush) known as J. x diffusus. We seem to have been the first people to record the latter from Oxon since Druce in the 1890s.

At lunchtime half of the party left and the remainder abandoned Out Wood for a better mix of habitats. Some grassy areas in woods to the east were quite productive with e.g. Hypericum maculatum (imperforate St John's Wort) and Mentha arvensis (corn mint) and what I think might have been Euphrasia arctica (arctic eyebright). The latter is more of a northern/western species with no recent Oxon records. On the route back to the cars was a rather sad hedgerow with a few limestone grassland species hanging on against the assault from intensive cereal farming: here we recorded such delights as Helianthemum nummularium (common rock-rose) and Knautia arvensis (field scabious) and a large quantity of Carex leersii (leers' sedge, syn. C. divulsa subsp. leersii). A bank near the car had a better-preserved limestone grassland flora, and we added Linum catharticum (fair flax) and Ononis repens (restharrow). We also managed to find some good arable weeds with both Kickxia elatine and K. supuria (sharp- and round-leaved fluellens) and Chaenorhinum minus (lesser snapdragon).

Thus while Out Wood SSSI was somewhat undistinguished we gathered a good number of records, 220 taxa in all making the tetrad total up to 231. To be sure there will be more to be found but that's a good start and improves the county's Atlas coverage. Thanks to all who took part!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Otmoor


The hybrid Viola x ritschliana between the nationally rare and critically endangered fen violet and the locally rare heath dog violet.
Otmoor Site of Special Scientific Interest was the venue for my latest recording meeting, held on bank holiday Monday. The area has been thoroughly botanised over the last few years so the purpose of the meeting was largely to have fun and see one of the finest wet grassland sites in the country, but I had hoped to add a few records. We were joined by members of the Reading and District Natural History Society. I didn't count but with Oxfordshire Flora Group regulars we made up an exceptionally large group (whom I kept waiting for twenty minutes when I mis-remembered the start time!).

I know the Moor well but this was only the second occasion I'd had to access the area around the MoD firing range. There are many wonderful things in there and for these we made a bee-line. As much as I enjoy recording meetings it was refreshing just to be able to walk somewhere with botanists without getting mired in recording all the plants one sees on the way!

Within the range the first species of interest was a weed, which I over-enthusiastically misidentified as the umbellifer Torilis arvensis (spreading hedge-parsley) on account of its hooked fruits. This is an endangered plant, severely declined in Oxon, and everyone got rather excited. Subsequent to the meeting I re-examined the plant and realised that it was instead Anthriscus caucalis (bur chervil), which also has hooked fruits. We all get things wrong sometimes, but this is still an interesting record! While not threatened A. caucalis has very few Oxon records, most of them old.

The author holding Anthriscus caucalis and looking pleased with himself despite being wrong