Friday, 26 February 2016

Daventry Calling

Today I visited Borough Hill, to the east of Daventry. This hill, at about 660 feet, is not the highest in the county (that honour goes to the nearby Arbury Hill at 735 feet) but its position, over the millennia, has given it considerable significance. 
A tall transmitter still tops Borough Hill,
Daventry.  26 February, 2016 

It was the site of an important radio transmitting station, 5XX, operating from 1925 to 1992, and the words 'Daventry calling...' were familiar to radio enthusiasts worldwide. It is still topped by an impressively tall transmitter (which I never succeed in photographing in the true vertical).

My visit today was unconnected with radio, the target being the belt of woodland which clothes the lower western slopes. Geologically Borough Hill consists of sands and ironstone yielding moderately acid soils and is of some interest botanically. A road takes vehicles to a car park just short of the summit but I took the gentle footpath up.

Silver Birch and gorse are distinctive. Borough Hill,
Daventry. 26 February, 2016

Gorse, Ulex europaeus, and Silver Birch, Betula pendula are native here, forming distinctive features of the landscape. The latter is common enough as a planted tree in Northants but, as a native tree, is rather rare. Other trees present were oak, sycamore and beech.

Gorse, as ever, was in bloom. Borough Hill, Daventry.
26 February, 2016

The gorse must surely be a location for the Birch Shieldbug; the plant is there is masses and, almost inevitably, was a blaze of colour.

Sycamore with, leaning to the right, beech.
Borough Hill, Daventry. 26 February, 2016

The beech (shown on the right of the photograph with sycamore on the left) I almost overlooked. Its normally elephant-grey trunk was in this case rendered green by a coating of pleurococcus. This alga is perhaps the most abundant land organism on the planet, with a population estimated at ten trillion. I was walking over to examine the large Crown Gall on the trunk before the penny dropped, with an examination of the buds confirming it as a beech. Crown Gall, caused by a bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, causes the huge bosses common on the trunks of many trees.

My bunch of keys helps to show the girth of this
cherry tree. Borough Hill, Daventry. 26 February, 2016
Beech trees in the wild (and here it is probably planted) have a taste for lime in the soil although good drainage seems to be more of a requirement. Was there a little lime in the soil at this point? I asked myself this question because, a few yards away, was a quite magnificent Wild Cherry, Prunus avium. Its girth was enormous and, as this species is definitely a native of Northamptonshire, probably occurs naturally here where it is quite a good indicator of limestone.

This Wild Cherry, Prunus avium, is moribund.
Borough Hill, Daventry. 26 February, 2016

                                                        Sadly the tree seemed to be on its last legs and, although there may be seedlings around, I failed to spot any. This cherry species is popular for planting and in decades to come its natural distribution could become rather obscure.

I left the area vowing to return, if only to look for cherry saplings, but before departing,took a long look at the panoramic - and slightly misty - view of Daventry which Borough Hill afforded. The temperature had not risen above 5-6 degrees all day and I was happy to be heading home.

Daventry, looking west from Borough Hill. 26 February, 2016

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