West Dean Woods SWT Reserve

Field meeting reports
Picture of Lathraea squamaria (Toothwort). By Stefan.lefnaer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39488023
Lathraea squamaria (Toothwort) from Austria. Photo: Stefan.lefnaer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Meeting date: 22 April 2018

(Leader: Elisabeth Sturt)

With what joy the first meeting of the year is always greeted! This one was billed as suitable for beginners and of the eleven members lured by the venue and the sunshine it proved possible to persuade Sue, Jill, Richard and Alison that they definitely fell into the more experienced category: still protesting, they were packed off to record a first and a second year coppice plot where, as they anticipated, their skills in vegetative recognition would be put to the test. The remainder enjoyed two hours in a large first year plot well suited to showing species typical of woodland in spring, with Elisabeth in full teacherly mode. For the past week a burst of unusually warm weather had accelerated plant development amazingly and so there were flowers to help in some cases, for example the three woodrushes Luzula campestris, L. forsteri and L. pilosa, but leaf identification was necessary for the umbellifers Angelica sylvestris (Angelica), Conium maculatum (Hemlock), Conopodium majus (Pignut) and Torilis japonica (Upright Hedge-parsley); pairs of plants made another interesting study, for example the two woodland Speedwells Veronica chamaedrys and V. montana with their distinct shades of green foliage,  and the leaf texture and spotting that separates Orchis mascula from Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Early-purple Orchid and Common Spotted-orchid).

Photo: Nick Sturt

It turned out that the so-called beginners group was rather more experienced than it had cared to admit, and not just because it was boosted by the expertise of Joanna and Julian who had cunningly contrived to arrive too late to be sent off with the experts. But at whatever point he or she feels comfortable on the scale of field botany knowledge, it is a universal fact that no SBRS member ever comes away from a meeting without learning something of value. And so the afternoon session was a consolidation for everyone of the lessons of the morning as the ancient woodland part of the reserve was surveyed. There remained the wander back along the public right of way known to West Deaners as the Conservation Path, where a fine stand of Ranunculus auricomus (Goldilocks Buttercup) and some Lathraea squamaria (Toothwort) were the prizes. It is fair to say that by the time of departure areas of everyone’s brain felt as if they had had a good work-out and, with excuses for changing the metaphor, this first outing of the year proved to be far from a gentle dip in the shallow end of the botanical pool and much more of a cross-Channel swim.

Photo: Nick Sturt