Our woodlands are coming alive with wild flowers
It is the end of the first week of April, the weather is warming up and the hedgerows are greening as the hawthorns come into leaf. Our verges are glowing with dandelions, lesser celandines, daisies and in some places, the nodding white heads of the wood anemones and even the occasional bluebell.
However, today there was a hefty wind blowing and it was icy cold, but with spells of sunshine and so I headed out to see which woodland flowers were in bloom along the footpath through Furzefield Copse (image 1). While much of the Copse has been felled and now replanted, the footpath margins still retain a wide range of woodland and woodland edge plants, many of which plants are indicators of ancient woodland, Furzefield being a good example.
The name ‘Furzefield’ is a bit of an enigma being relatively new (the name appearing on Ordnance Survey maps in the late 19th Century). The earlier mid-19th Century Tithe Maps identify the wood as Holmwood Copse (holly copse) and it still retains much holly with only a little gorse. Late 19th Century Ordnance Survey maps show the new name but also that the adjacent fields had reverted to rough grassland, possibly becoming overgrown with ‘furze’ (otherwise known as gorse and broom) and this may have stimulated the new name.
I have selected a few of the more interesting early spring plants that I found.
Firstly, the lovely Wood Anemones (also known as the Wind Flower); there is a good patch on the left (south side) part way down the path. About two thirds of the way down on the right (north side), the first Yellow Archangels are coming into flower and that you need to get down on your hands and knees to fully appreciate their bright golden yellow flowers (image 3). For those with good eye-sight there are swathes of the tiny green-flowered Moschatel, also known as the Townhall Clock because of the four flowers around the flower head plus one on top (image 4).
The first Bluebells are appearing along the path although not yet fully out (image 5) and there are some small plants of the lovely pale yellow Primrose (image 6). Towards the bottom of the path and on the left (north side) there is that wonderful ancient woodland indicator, the Wood Spurge with tall arching greenish flower heads (image 7). Low to the ground are swathes of Dog Violets with their violet-blue flowers and contrasting white spur (image 8).
Along the edge of the path are small patches of young Bugle plants with their tall bluish flower heads just beginning to show (image 9). Bright blue are the Wood Forget-me-nots (image 10) in amongst the violets and moschatels.
Of the insects, I saw a Dotted Bee-fly feeding on the Ground Ivy and also queen Carder Bees on the other plants. Of special note were two Brown Hares amongst the tree shelters.
Much of the south side of Furzefield Copse has been cleared of ash trees that were badly infected with ash-dieback disease. The stand of maturing oaks on the north side having been retained. The cleared area still retains some hazel, ash and holly just starting to regrow and this area has been replanted with rows of native trees and shrubs (image 11). These new trees and shrubs have been established in plastic tree shelters and while these shelters are essential to protect the young trees from browsing deer and promote faster growth, it is a shame that we have to introduce so much plastic into our ancient woodlands. I always wonder why foresters are so keen on planting trees at equal-distances along straight rows, even in ancient woodland where the trees and shrubs are naturally randomly spaced. This spacing was originally to allow herbicide sprays along the rows to prevent competition with grasses and brambles but this should not be done in ancient woodland as herbicide application would destroy the delicate ancient woodland flora and which here has been damaged by the compaction caused by heavy tree clearance machinery. Hopefully, the plastic tree shelters will be removed in due time rather than allowed to degrade and enter the ancient woodland soils and the ancient woodland flora will recover.