Spring wildflowers
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May 11, 2020

While we’ve been restricted to one outdoor trip a day, I’ve been taking my usual daily dog walk that takes me over the river Yox, through the meadow, up the valley side through crops (currently spring wheat) then through new woodland and alongside old woodland, then on the open green lane through the fields at the top of the hill (when I say ‘hill’, ‘valley’ and ‘river’ this is all in Suffolk context of course) back down the little holloway, through wheat again, though here it was drilled before the winter and is further advanced (this crop is bisected by a pair of veteran oaks that mark the line of the hedge that once separated the crop on the valley side from the river meadow at the bottom) then back along our diminutive river, past the community woodland, past the allotments and back into the meadow before crossing the river and home. If I don't dawdle, which, to be honest, I usually do, I can walk it in about 45 minutes.

 

The sprayer on winter wheat. Behind it is the holloway, the outside of which has been flayed up to halfway.

To my mind, Yoxford is much like Thomas Hardy’s fictional Casterbridge in which ‘bees and butterflies can travel unimpeded down the high street while flying from the cornfield at the top of the town to the meads at the bottom’. In it’s heyday Yoxford, like Casterbridge, was also a hub of commercial activity, but now all the shop windows illuminate bright front rooms and the smith’s workshops have become lofty home studios. What else has changed in the last 100 years? Did bread really taste better? Were rural communities closer knit? And, of course, were there really more birds and wildflowers? 

 

Shepherds Purse growing amongst the spring wheat. Unremarkable tiny flowers but exquisite leaves, each one just a few millimetres long.

Right now the footpath that I follow every day seems, at least to me, to be inundated with flowers of various size, shape and hue. Is it possible there was once more? How much more diverse could they have been? I suspect the answer to both questions is ‘a lot’. But I’m not aware of any historic records of the wildflowers on my footpath and can only speculate. I have also started to wonder which moment of the year hosts the most diverse display? The arrival of the Cow Parsley and Mayflower give this month an impression of peak abundance; but is there also the greatest abundance of diversity in May? These are all questions that can’t be answered without records. So the only thing to do is initiate my own recording program so anyone in the future, asking the same questions, has something to refer to.

 

Cow parsely and Oilseed Rape 'volunteers', co-existing along the river banks, where the crop is cultivated to within 2 meters.

Last week I made my first, very rudimentary, flower count. I’m neither a botanist nor, infact, any kind of scientist, but armed with my ‘flora incognita’ phone app, I diligently identified and recorded every flower I encountered on my usual route. I haven’t included the tree flowers in the final list and I’ve not attempted the complex business of trying to identify grasses and sedges, of which there are many, particularly in the meadow. The list only includes plants that were in flower. Sometimes the app will only tell me the family group, and I would be surprised if there wasn’t at least one mistake. As I’m not pretending this is any sort of rigorous scientific study (and because of their charm) I’m only listing the most common English names. I've included agricultural escapees as I don't want to get into the thorny business of what is native and what is not. There are some uncertainties; including a patch of Cowslips that my app believes to be Oxlips but which I suspect are a Primrose-Cowslip hybrid (they don’t all face the same direction as Oxlips apparently should) And then there’s some Dock species that I can’t make any sense of yet. I’ve also left these things off the list until I can name them with some confidence.

 

Red Campion was a welcome addition to a colour palette that was dominated by yellow and white last week.

Considering that my daily walk takes me through conventionally-farmed lands, with modern cropping strategies, full deployment of machinery and chemical inputs for maximum yields and efficiency, I think there is something to celebrate in the following list; and even if we know too much to actually celebrate, at least we can admire, as always, the durability and ingenuity of nature. Fortunately, this part of Suffolk is not subject to the most intensive agriculture. As you can see from the description of my walk, there are a number of natural and semi-natural habitats and features. Many plants are pioneers and colonists; they thrive amongst the disruption that agriculture brings to the landscape. The biodiversity our grandparents considered normal emerged in conjunction with our agricultural practices over the last 5000 years.

 

The Cowslips in the holloway which my botanical app thinks are Oxlips. Markedly different from other Cowslips nearby; perhaps a primrose hybrid?

Anyway, I digress. The 30-strong list for 5th May 2020:

Cow Parsley, Dandelion, Garlic Mustard, Bluebell, Yellow dead nettle (Archangel) White dead nettle, Red dead nettle, Stinging nettle, Meadow Buttercup, Creeping Buttercup, Shepherd’s Purse, Herb Robert, Red Campion, Cuckoo Flower, Oilseed Rape, Borage, White Clover, Germander Speedwell, Lords and Ladies, Daisy, Alexanders, Greater Stitchwort, Cowslip, Ribwort Plantain, Bur Chervil, Groundsel, Winter Cress, Field Pepperwort, Charlock, Ground Ivy.

**** In the week following this count I have also found Wild Radish, Field Pansy, Hedge Mustard, Common Comfrey, Smith's Pepperwort and White Campion ****

 

Remember to check in here next year to find out how 2021 compares.

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