Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Towards Newnham

You visit a library or a bookstore such as Waterstones and search the shelving in the section marked 'TRAVEL, UNITED KINGDOM' and find a book called something like Great Walks in Britain. You pull out a likely-looking tome and turn to the index, looking for 'Northamptonshire'. Nothing. You pull out another book and repeat the exercise. Again, nothing. The fact is that I am unfortunate enough to have been born and to live in a county with an exceptionally featureless landscape. Sure enough, some of the villages are pretty with old buildings and walls constructed from a warm, mellow sandstone, sometime pale, sometimes dark but always attractive. But if you seek mountains or high, rolling hills, if you are in search of glittering lakes, waterfalls, or even the tiniest glimpse of a coast, look elsewhere. All we have hereabouts are low, sheep-grazed hills or heavily farmed arable land. For the record, 91% of the land around Daventry is farmed compared 57% in the U.K. as a whole; 1% of the land around Daventry is 'natural' compared with 35% over the a whole [see footnote]. Furthermore much of the land is covered with clay so sticky that if you are foolish enough to walk on it after rain, for even a few steps, you soon find you are taller by two inches.
Am I being harsh? Perhaps a little.
My childhood friend, the late Trevor Hold, travelled widely but he wrote:
                              is to that unassuming shire
                                       where I was born that my own spirit flies,
                                       homing to her parks and ancient trees,
                                       the sandstone manor and the weathered spire,
                                       the steady river ambling to the sea.
                                             Wherever I may live, my exiled eyes
                                             Will seek that landscape and those gentle skies.

I, lacking Trevor's poetic vision and sheer humanity, mutter to myself something about silk purses and sows' ears.
Having got that bellyache off my chest (!) there are some local walks that, given good weather, can be very pleasant, and I set out on such a stroll earlier today. My target was Newnham Windmill, a Grade II listed building set at the edge of steep escarpment with lovely views to the west across into Warwickshire. It is farmed by Matthew Moser using environmentally friendly methods in an endeavour to allow wildlife to flourish on this mildly acid land. To some extent he is successful but going by some other farmland in the area he is a voice in the wilderness.
Blackberries were still available for birds, mice and the foxes who will delicately pluck the fruit. Even though Chris and I were gathering them eight or ten weeks ago some of them have yet to ripen.
Some blackberries have yet to ripen. Hedgerow between Daventry and
Newnham. 8 Novermber, 2017
It is this variability that makes the Blackberry, Rubus fruticosus, so interesting that some botanists - batologists - have spent years studying this plant and splitting it into hundreds of microspecies.
Equally variable are crab apples. There is only one true Crab Apple, Malus sylvestris, but cast-aside apple cores from a host of varieties have given rise to many faux crab apples and hybridisation is commonplace. As they soften they will provide food for a range of creatures.
These apples will soon fall and become available to many creatures.
Between Daventry and Newnham. 8 November, 2017
Hawthorns are still heavy with fruit so there is no immediate likelihood of birds going hungry and it is this hedgerow bounty which attracts fieldfares, redwings and, if you are lucky, waxwings, to join in the feast.
The quantity of fruit left on the hawthorns will eventually attract many
birds including migrants. 8 November, 2017
Another quite different type of fruit is also nibbled by mice, slugs and snails and the larvae of flies. I refer to toadstools. Perhaps not fruit in the generally accepted sense but they are nevertheless the fruiting heads of fungi, whose thread-like hyphae insinuate themselves through the soil playing an absolutely vital role in the whole cycle of life, death and decay. Many are puffballs, like this Stump Puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme, occupying - where else? - a decaying stump at a field margin.
A mossy stump bore the fruiting heads of Lycoperdon pyriforme.
There are several rather similar species found in Britain but a close look at the general shape (pyriforme means 'pear-shaped) and the surface detail make this one easily recognised.
The surface is only slightly papillose. 8 November, 2017
The sun was now very bright but I had not allowed for a very heavy dew and my feet were getting soaked. No way was I going to make it to the windmill, not because of fatigue but I had paused so often that I was way behind schedule. Fence posts, and at one point the sun-warmed brick wall of a old barn, had yielded lots of flies. I took a gentle stroll round a small pond, complete with reed-mace and then decided it was lunch-time.
A small pond was a habitat for Lesser Reedmace.  8 November, 2017

     Footnote.  Figures supplied by the Corine Land Cover inventory      

Tony White   E-mail:                     

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