Wednesday 14 November 2018

Field meetings past!

We're having fun mapping where past field meetings have taken place, there seem to be a few 'holes':
Map of SBS field meetings

It helps to have a visual record of where we've been and to ensure no parts of the VC 40 remain unrecorded for too long.  Not only that we want all members to get a chance to attend field meetings and not to have to travel too far.  If you have any suggestions or requests for 2019 do let us know.

Sunday 15 April 2018

Shropshire Botanical Society - Out and about with beginners at Oswestry Hill Fort

In the giddy heights of an English summer with the surrounding countryside humming with life, Sue Townsend, the Botanical Society Treasurer looks back on two beginners plant hunts where great records were made, learners engaged and conservation objectives were discussed.  What more can you want from a beginners day?

The first of the two beginners field meetings last year was at Old Oswestry Hill Fort on 1st July 2017.  Most of the records were taken at SJ2931.  This fabulous ancient monument is owned by English Heritage and managed mostly through volunteer efforts.  It was even reported in the Oswestry Advertiser as we were part of a Bioblitz event.  The headline was “This was a special day as It’s official – Oswestry Hillfort is a haven for wildlife galore”.  This event was organised by a Botanical Society member Clare Knight who works for the Shrewsbury based consultantsTurnstone Ecology.

Entrance to Old Oswestry Hill Fort
So we were not alone.  Specialists in moths, bats, birds, bees, beetles, spiders and small mammals came from all over Shropshire to take part in the BioBlitz.

The aim was to take a snapshot of the hillfort’s flora and fauna over 24 hours, most likely the first major ecological study in its 3,000-year history.

Data was collected to guide on-going landscape maintenance to ensure it safeguards the hillfort’s archaeological structures and thriving ecology.  More than 400 species of flora or fauna were logged on the day, including an encouraging number of invertebrates not previously recorded.

The Botanical Society assembled from midday and Clare joined us along with members Dan Wrench, Tina Tearu, Ed Lomax and Gill Wilson.  Members of the public joined in along the way and eagle eyes spotted plants which we were hunting from pre-existing records. 

Old Oswestry was built and occupied during the Iron Age (800 BC to AD 43) and is one of the best-preserved hillforts in Britain. It remained in use for almost 1,000 years.  It is composed of banks and ditches which would have been formidable obstacles to any attacker – but more importantly for the naturalist gives a mixture of sands, clays and gravels lifted up and away from the influence of agriculture and roads to give us a selection of grassland habitats. The ramparts are among the most impressive of any British hillfort, enclosing a central area of 8.4 hectares. 

The steep grassy ramparts with scrub and trees
For centuries the slopes were densely covered by trees, and an 18th-century writer describes threading his way ‘through the thorny intricacies of this sylvan labyrinth’. 

This tells us that there was scrub and perhaps wooded areas – but there are also deep clay lined pools which were a joy to descend into and discover some aquatics.  

Our full list is a little long to include here – so I thought I would concentrate on the 21 axiophytes which you will all remember as those special plants, often but not always rare – but indicative of Shropshire’s special flora.  The full list of the plants recorded at the site can be accessed from the Records Database at Shropshire Ecological Data Network.  All these records have been checked by Sarah Whild, our County Recorder, who received our 166 plant records for this site to add to this data.  

We did not record some species found in previous years, particularly the ferns Scaly Male-fern Dryopteris affinis, Broad Buckler-fern D. dilatata and Male Fern D. felix-mas; they were possibly  there – but too small to confirm with no spores.  We were also unsure of the presence of Nodding Bur Marigold Bidens cernua (there were some young shoots but in amongst the Trifid bur-marigold Bidens tripartita) and the Water Starworts or Water Crowfoot Ranunculus peltatus were not found in the drying, shallow ponds. We saw no violets as they would have withered to nothing being spring flowers but other spring flowers were seen hidden amongst the lovely Great Wood-rush Luzula sylvatica.  These included both Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta  and Wood Anemone Anenome nemorosa which were thriving relics of past woodland cover on the slopes.  We were determined to work at the hawkweeds that we discovered on the steep sandy slopes and valiantly keyed them out using the well-known tome of Stace.  We did send samples as pressed specimens to Tim Rich – national referee, as these are cryptic species that are very difficult for the non-specialist to determine.  Tim was really helpful and got back to us within 2 weeks so we could add these to our species list with confidence. The hawkweeds Hieracium argillaceum and H.vulgatum were confirmed and to our delight we actually got one right ourselves! We found some really lovely plants and one of the highlights was Greater Broomrape Orobanche rapum-genistae Thuill. We found this in it’s usual place, just off the footpath in the patch of broom to the left of the path.  It has been there for years and as a parasitic plant, has no chlorophyll but inserts its roots into the roots of the host plant and extracts nutrients direct from the Broom Cytisus scoparius.  It was very withered so our photos did not do it justice – the photo below is taken from the BSBI website.   Another lovely plant was Wild Basil Clinopodium vulgare which we found at the foot of one of the ramparts, photo from the NBN Atlas

Greater Broomrape Orobanche rapum-genistae

Wild Basil Clinopodium vulgare

The day was a great success in terms of enjoyment and interaction with many other naturalists.  We had fun, learnt some botany and rediscovered some lovely plants.  The full list of axiophytes is shown in the table below:

Scientific name
Common name
Aira praecox
Early Hair-grass
Alchemilla filicaulis
Common Lady's-mantle
Allium ursinum
Anemone nemorosa
Wood Anemone
Bidens cernua
Nodding Bur-marigold
Blechnum spicant
Hard Fern
Calluna vulgaris
Carex vesicaria
Bladder Sedge
Clinopodium vulgare
Wild Basil
Deschampsia flexuosa
Wavy Hair-grass
Galium odoratum
Sweet Woodruff
Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Hypericum pulchrum
Slender St John's-wort
Luzula sylvatica
Great Wood-rush
Lythrum portula
Water Purslane
Orobanche rapum-genistae
Greater Broomrape
Oxalis acetosella
Polygala serpyllifolia
Heath Milkwort
Trisetum flavescens
Yellow Oat-grass
Vaccinium myrtillus
Veronica officinalis
Heath Speedwell

I would like to thank Claire Knight and Turnstone Ecology for making the Botanical Society so welcome and English Heritage for their permission to use the site on the day.

Saturday 17 March 2018

Newsletter Spring 2018 - the first blog!!

With great excitement we announce a new chapter in the life of the Shropshire Botanical Society as the newsletter enters the digital world in blog form.  For subscribers who still enjoy a paper copy, the Spring 2018 edition will have landed on your doormat this morning.  But for digital readers we kick off with an account of one of last season's field visits:

Benign neglect - Shropshire Botanical Society visit to Maddock's Hill Quarry, by Penny Wysome

On one of the hottest days of 2017, June 17th, seven intrepid members of the society headed into unknown territory. Maddock’s Hill Quarry, part of the Ercall, between Wellington and Little Wenlock, had been excavated for aggregates in the past. Our geological member enlightened us as to the constituents of this, one being camptonite. However all workings had ceased some decades ago and as the land was privately owned the quarry was left to recover in secret. Access is by scrambling over banks or penetrating forest and had been deterred by rumours of the owner’s habit of using the quarry for rough shooting.

Being unable to get permission to visit I took comfort from an advertisement from an agent selling the quarry which invited visitors. I optimistically did not put risk of being shot on the risk assessment so we forayed in. The sides of the quarry are largely wooded with much birch and hawthorn though some outcrops provide habitat for flowers more typical of limestone areas. The floor is mainly grassland which is a short cropped sward clearly grazed by deer and there is a small stream running from the quarry into the Ercall woods providing a wetland habitat and some quite muddy areas. I had done a brief recce and thought there would be enough botanical interest to make a reasonable visit but our main purpose was to record the plants as no recent records had been made.

The particular group of members happened to have excellent id skills and the combined haul of species was far more extensive than I had anticipated. 113 plants were recorded. This is a higher count than for the other Ercall quarries which have been monitored for some years. The first nice surprise was encountered on the walk up to the quarry.  Large Bitter-cress Cardamine amara covers some of the wet ditch sides, unfortunately we were too late to see the purple stamens characteristic of this pretty plant, but it was good to see such a good number of specimens established here. Once over the earth bank we encountered positive grassland indicators such as Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil  Lotus corniculatus, Oxeye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare, Cowslip Primula veris and Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra. Moving on through a clump of Alnus and Salix we emerged into a wider grassy area which extended up the sides of the quarry. Wild Strawberry  Fragaria vesca, Mouse-ear-hawkweed  Pilosella officinarum, Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata, Yellow-wort  Blackstonia perfoliata and the occasional Common Spotted-orchid  Dactylorhiza fuchsii.  Grasses included  Crested dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus, Red fescue Festuca rubra and interestingly Wood Meadow-grass Poa nemoralis identified after some discussion.

What is perhaps more interesting is what we did not find. Despite the lack of any management there were very few of the negative condition indicators such as brambles, nettles, thistles, coarse grasses  or large umbellifers. The wet areas yielded a selection of sedges with  eight  species of Carex, notably C. panicea, C. remota, C. spicata and C. otrubae as well as C. flacca, C. hirsuta, C. sylvatica and C.leporina. The common rushes Soft-rush Juncus effusus and  Hard Rush J. inflexus were present as well as Jointed Rush Juncus articulatus. Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica was found near the stream edges; again there was no domination by larger species.

Having endured high temperatures and the threat of being dehydrated the group completed the recording soon after lunch. Those unfamiliar with this area of Telford accepted an invitation to explore the shady Ercall woodlands and look at the other quarries before going home.
The contrasts between the hidden and the exposed quarries were stark,  it seems that the deer are doing an excellent job of managing Maddock’s Hill Quarry. At the time of the visit the quarry was on the market at a guide price of £100,000, but has now been sold.