Monday, 19 February 2018

An eye-opener

My last visit to Matt Moser's farm ('Below the Windmill') concluded with a comment regarding the potential of the land. This was emphasised today when I ventured into the most interesting piece of woodland yet.
My arrival involved the now-familiar sight of a flock of sheep hurrying towards me. I called out 'cheese' and they all responded with sheepish grins. I felt embarrassed at having nothing to offer them but they didn't seem too disappointed.
A crowd gathered. Newnham Hill, nr Daventry.
19 February, 2018
I zig-zagged my way down the steep scarp slope, pausing only to note the pile of recently-dug earth excavated from a badger sett. There seems to be quite a number of 'brocks' in the area but, being rather crepuscular creatures, they have not exposed themselves to me yet. (Ed: Perhaps you need to re-word that sentence.)
Only February, but badgers have been at work. Near Newnham
windmill. 19 February, 2018
My target was a piece of woodland I'd seen on my previous visit. It was accessible only by a rather wobbly stile but I scaled it without swearing once. It turned out to be worth the effort, a real eye-opener. This steep slope has probably never been cultivated and the woodland is therefore likely to be largely natural with oak and some fine cherries being the dominant species. However there was some pine, sycamore, beech and birch present. These are (with the possible exception of the birch) not indigenous to Northamptonshire and have clearly been planted. Not all the trees had survived and some lay on the ground, decomposing nicely, some as soft as balsa under the onslaught of fungi, bacteria and other agents.

A young birch tree lies prone, now a food source for a host of fungi and
invertebrates. Below Newnham windmill. 19 February, 2018
The cherries came as a surprise, not because they are uncommon - I know of some fine specimens a mile or so west of Byfield - but because the large specimens I found today had been so well hidden. Once they are covered in blossom their presence will be more obvious.
This species, Prunus avium, is often known as the Gean and is the parent of our familiar orchard cherries. Its bark is very distinctive, being glossy with horizontal rows of lenticels (breathing pores), peeling in strips of a rather papery texture. This remains obvious even on a fallen specimen.
My suspicion that this woodland was of some age was further strengthened when I found the leaves of bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, pushing through the carpet of dead leaves.
Gean trunks have very characteristic bark, Woodland below Newnham
windmill. 19 February, 2018
When the cherry blossom and bluebells are in flower this woodland should be quite a sight. I recorded a few species including two new millipedes, raising the site total to fifty, but this is one for the warmer months. Bring it on!
Bluebells are pushing through. Woods below Newnham windmill.
19 February, 2017

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