Friday, 4 April 2014

To Steppington Spinney

I set out earlier today in rather murky conditions, light south to south-easterly winds having brought in polluted air from the industrial regions of Benelux and Germany, augmented by dust from the Sahara!

Having parked my car on a minor road a little to the north-west of Charwelton I donned welly boots and was soon using a little bridge to cross an equally little stream, a tributary of the River Cherwell. Around here the Cherwell is pronounced "Charwell", thus giving its name to the hamlet of Charwelton. Does this tiny stream have a name? The Ordnance Survey map says nothing.

Fifty years ago powerful locomotives would have been thundering past, only a few metres away. Most would be heavy freight locomotives hauling wagons of coal towards London - or returning unladen to the coalfields of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire or south Yorkshire. 

Great Central trackbed looking towards Charwelton
3 April, 2014

The Great Central line  was tragically closed in 1966. It would be a vital communications link today and we could forget HS2. This superbly engineered line would have done the job brilliantly.

It had been my intention to walk north-west along the line towards Catesby, as I have done on several occasions,  but...

This, I suppose, is a consequence of the nation's obsession with health and safety. The old line provides perfectly safe walking but the British Railways Board (Subsidiary) Ltd is clearly taking no chances. This kind of action seems against the spirit of CRoW (Countryside and Rights of way Act) of 2000.

Instead I followed a parallel path through pleasant enough countryside as far as Steppington Spinney, SP533568. To enter the spinney it is necessary to cross the stream via stepping stones, and it is tempting to believe that Steppington is a corruption of "stepping stones" but the name is obviously very old, seemingly straight Anglo-Saxon. I assumed it would come from the words "ton" (farm), "inga" (the people of), and Steppa - or a similar name. But once home I checked and my guess was wrong: I find it comes from the Saxon words "steap" (steep) and "dun" (hill). 

This early in the year the woodland had little obvious to offer in the way of insects and as for its flora, the only ground layer plants I noted were Celandines and Lords and Ladies. Holly was present, as usual showing the tell-tale mines of the fly Phytomyza ilicis.

Holly leaves mined by Phytomyza ilicis.
Steppington Spinney.  3 April, 2014

It is rare to find a Holly bush not attacked by this pest. It is one of the Agromyzidae family, most of whose members attack plants in some way or another.

Gently turning over logs did reveal creatures typical of the micro-habitat.

Leopard Slug (Limax maximus) together with the woodlouse
 Porcellio scaber and a flat-backed millipede, a Polydesmus species.
Steppington Spinney, 3 April, 2014

Several Leopard Slugs were present. This species is famous for its remarkable nocturnal mating routine, which takes place with the pair suspended at the end of a thread of mucus.

In this photograph the slug has withdrawn its head, tortoise-like, under its projecting mantle.

Also present were centipedes, all keying out as the abundant Lithobius forficatus. This glossy, chestnut brown, fast-moving creature soon becomes familiar to anyone inclined to turn over wood or stones. Beetles too were present in large numbers. They are not a group in which I have particular expertise but I did examine some of the glossy black beetles, members of the Carabidae. For the record, the large (19 mm) and fast-moving Pterostichus niger was present, together with the smaller Pterostichus madidus and the even smaller Pterostichus melanarius. All are very common.

Blushing Bracket (?) at Steppington Spinney
3 April, 2014

Some well-developed fungi were also present. This is, I believe, Blushing Bracket, Daedaeopsis confragosa.

...and the underside to show the gills.

The woodland floor was very wet and I suspect it will remain so through much of the summer. If this is the case there could be many interesting insects about. Yet another place to be revisited.

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