Furzefield Copse: ancient woodland flowers 3 May 2021
Anybody who has walked the public footpath through Furzefield Copse recently will have seen the devastation that clear felling (under a Forestry Commission licence) of large areas of ash, birch, field maple, holly, hazel and some oak trees has caused (image 1). The ash trees were affected by ‘chalara ash dieback’ a disease caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, originally from eastern Asia. Machinery used has heavily compacted the soils, badly affecting the one-time rich woodland ground flora. In May, the woodland would have previously been rich in a wide variety of woodland flowers. The woodland will be replanted with trees and shrubs (according to an approved management plan) and, in time, the flora will hopefully return. The Copse was a good example of the National Vegetation Classification type W8 Ash-Field Maple–Dog’s Mercury semi-natural ancient woodland on clayey soils. This type of ancient woodland would have been continuously wooded for at least 400 years (probably much longer) allowing a rich fauna and flora to develop and because of this, Furzefield Copse has been designated by Hampshire County Council as a ‘Site of Importance for Nature Conservation’.
Today, in winds that roared across the remaining trees and threatening rain, I walked the footpath (image 2) to see just what flowering plants were to be seen and I was particularly pleased to find quite a few.
Patches of Bluebells occurred sporadically beside the path (image 3) along with Solomon’s Seal with its arching leafy stems and small greenish hanging flowers (image 4). Also the little Moschatel (image 5) with its tiny green flowers arranged like the four faces of a town hall clock (plus one on top) and hence its alternative name of Town Hall Clock. Other ancient woodland flowers included the brilliant yellow spikes of Yellow Archangel (image 6) and also a clump of Herb-Paris (image 7). Herb-Paris normally has a rosette of four leaves (and hence its scientific name of Paris quadrifolia) but some of these unusually had five leaves. These plants are known as ‘ancient woodland vascular plants’ and most only occur in ancient woodlands.
Other plants included the dark blue spikes of Bugle (image 8), the pretty little Common Dog-violet (image 9), the bright pinkish-red Red Campion (image 10) along with the green flowering Dog’s Mercury, Greater Stitchwort with its bright white flowers, the bright yellow Lesser Celandine and also Wild Garlic (also known as Ramsons) with its white flowers and strong garlicy smell.
Furzefield Copse seems to be a modern name because the mid-19C Tithe map shows the wood as ‘Holmwood Copse’. ‘Holm’ refers to Holly and the name Holmwood was also found in Holmwood Farm (long demolished) at the east end of the track past Langrish School and persists today in the nearby Holmwood Cottage. The 1871 Ordnance survey map shows the nearby fields tumbled down to rough grassland and scrub and this may be where the new name came from, ‘furze’ meaning gorse or broom.
Hopefully, as the woodland is restored and the heavy clayey soils have had the opportunity to develop their natural structure, the woodland will again become rich in these and many other woodland flowers.