Sunday 24th June 2018
Leader: Louise Hill
This was a joint meeting between the South Yorkshire Botany Group and Doncaster Naturalists’ Society
The purpose of this meeting was to survey the under-recorded woodland of Norwood, near Woodall which lies on the Coal Measures, as this area will be affected by the construction of HS2 in a few years’ time. The Wood is contained for the most part within SK47 81
In the North East corner of the wood the Chesterfield canal emerges from the now closed Norwood Tunnel, thereafter following the Northern woodland boundary, creating a series of ponds along the way. The Western boundary of the wood is also the county boundary between South Yorkshire and Derbyshire.
The South Yorkshire Plant Atlas suggests for this woodland, which can best be described as a mixed broadleaf, bluebell woodland (W10), “In Woodland of this kind, the underlying rocks and sticky soils they give rise to, can sometimes be so impermeable that ground water emerges in flushes or gentle springs”.
Louise added for the woodlands characteristic, with “It was a W10 woodland which has been invaded by quite a lot of sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) but there were also lime influences on the upper slopes where we found the dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) and yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon).
The main canopy species in the flushes was grey willow (Salix cinerea) but with some alder (Alnus glutinosa), silver birch (Betula pendula) and occasional ash (Fraxinus excelsior). These species did not occur in any significant numbers on the upper slopes.
The wooded seepages supported soft rush (Juncus effusus) and colt's foot (Tusssilago farfara) and locally-abundant water horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) and a mint (Mentha sp). This graded into a more open fen type habitat on the valley bottom dominated by reed canary- grass (Phalaris arundincea) with bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara), marsh bedstraw (Galium palustre) and greater bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus)”.
Timing is all; as the first field through which the footpath passes had a grass cutter hard at work when we returned to the parked cars on completion of the days tour. In this field we had earlier found the late flowering Timothy (Phleum pratense) standing high above surrounding vegetation, the common Crested Dogstail (Cynosurus criostatus), Marsh Foxtail (Alopecurus geniculatus), Common Bent (Agrostis capillaris), the small yellow flowered Nipplewort (Lapsana communis), the even smaller white flowered Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta) scrambling amongst the grass, and Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), being a typical component in agricultural grassland. Another typical grassland species, Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) now showing the fruit from whence it acquired its name, the common Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense), and less common Toad Rush (Juncus bufonius .agg) which can appear reddish at times, completed the survey of the first field before passing over the style into the next field.
Here was found Zig Zag Clover (Trifolium medium), Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), the common Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Curled Dock (Rumex crispus), the early flowering and now faded Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and Scentled Mayweed (Matricaria chamomilla) distinguishable by the hollow flower heads. Some disturbed ground revealed not only the Common or Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), but a far less common Small Nettle (Urtica urens), which, unlike its larger cousin, bears male and female flowers on the same plant and has much less of a sting. Also found here was Pale Persicaria (Persicaria lapathifolia) which does like the disturbed ground.
|Small Nettle (Urtica urens)|
The public footpath entered the woodland at the top of a steep bank and continued to follow on this higher contour, while below a small stream runs through the valley bottom. Initially, the more adventurous member (better known as John) descended the bank and found the flora was much more interesting in the wetter ground. As communications became difficult, he persuaded all the party to joined him. In the valley bottom we found a faint animal track, possibly created by deer and/or badgers suggesting that these animals had the quite woodland to themselves for most of the year. As we worked our way down the valley towards the lake, several flushes created by seepage from the land above were encountered, causing the ground to become boggy in places. Occasionally it was necessary to resort to using the botanist’s toolkit of secateurs and branch-saw to clear a way through the tangled branches of fallen trees.
In this valley mire environment, we found Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), Broad Buckler fern (D. dilatata), Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), Harts Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium), the ubiquitous Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), all enjoying the wet and shaded conditions, as did also Wood Dock (Rumex sanguineus) and Wood Millet (Milium effusum). The Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), long ago ceased flowering, now only had seed capsules, while Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium), also a spring flowering plant, had just leaves remaining. Likewise, the Townhall Clock, otherwise known as Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina), had remaining leaves that had a rubbery texture to the touch. The Early Dog Violet (Viola reichenbachiana) had only leaves and fruits but could still be identified by checking that the sepal appendages on the fruits were of equal length. The leaves of Dog Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) were abundant, with Red Campion (Silene dioica), Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris), Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa), Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), and Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre) all showing.
|Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre)|
Amphibious Bistort (Persicaria amphibia), Upright Hedge Parsley (Torilis japonica), Wood False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), were also noted. Then Louise stopped to study an unusual looking figwort, which might possibly be a Green Figwort (Scrophularia umbrosa).
This odd-looking figwort was found growing in very damp conditions which resulted in much discussion on the matter of differentiating between the Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), Green Figwort (S. umbrosa) and Water Figwort (S. auriculata) between Louise and Graeme; the leaves of S. umbrosa are pointed, like S. nodosa, but the stems are winged like S. auriculata and, under the two upper flower lips can be found a staminode, the shape of which is a critical feature. In the case of the Green Figwort (S. unbrosa) this is cleft, whilst with the Water Figwort (S. auriculata) it is rounded but to add further confusion the staminode of the Common Figwort (S. nodosa) is occasionally illustrated as also being cleft in some books! A good hand lens is needed to enable the flower head to be examined to spot these small differences. Our specimen definitely had a lobed staminode. Without a copy of Clive Stace's New Flora of the British Isles to hand we only had the winged-ness of the stem as a separating feature, a characteristic which is rather subjective at the best of times. The critical feature is also the width of the scarious border on the sepals. We'll know next time! We concluded that it was S. nodosa growing in a particularly wet location. The stems are not winged enough. The staminode could be definitely be described as notched but did not have diverging lobes and the sepals do not have a wide enough papery margin to be Scrophularia umbrosa.
|Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa)|
|Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa)|
The Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata), with its small red-brown flowers could also be found growing in much drier conditions alongside the woodland paths. (These paths would probably have had their share of water throughout the winter months).
|Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata)|
As we progressed towards the lake, passing into another tetrad, the obstacles to our progress changed from brambles underfoot which constantly attempted to either trip one up or leave one with calf permanently scared, to tall bulrushes which also had a hidden weapon. If one handled them they could also inflict a cut to the hand, as was discovered. Then came the decision, was a plaster to be applied, or did one lick and suck the injured place before applying liberal doses of antiseptic spittle? The latter seemed to be the preferred course of action.
|Bulrush (Typha latifolia)|
This obviously is an area for extreme botany and where only dedicated botanists are likely to be found. On reaching the end of the lake, we were surprised to note that two hours had passed with so little of ground covered, due entirely to the quantity and quality of interesting flora found in the valley bottom. It was whilst taking lunch at this point that we encountered our first and only other visitors to the woodland when a horse and rider passed along the bridleway.
|Equestrian on Bridle Path|
Leaving the wooded valley behind, the route now followed a wide woodland track, which soon diverted away from the OS marked public footpath, but in view of latter waymarked signs, this seems to now be the normal route through the woodland and the public footpath did seem to be unused and overgrown.
A bindweed was located growing amongst the vegetation. A tip towards identification was provided by Louise; under the flower there are two large bracts which partly cover the sepals. Between these two bracts there was to be found an intermediate small pointed bract, which identified the flower as Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium).
On the woodland track was both Annual Meadow Grass (Poa annua) and Rough Meadow Grass (P. trivialis), with Black Medic (Medicago lupulina) sprawling in the grass. Alongside the track was a drainage ditch which supported many grasses and plants; Marsh Foxtail (Alopercurus geniculatus), Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) with winged stems, Squirrel-tailed Fescue (Vulpia bromoides), Three-nerved Sandwort (Moehringia trinervia), Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula), Nipplewort (Lapsana communis), Prickly Sow-thistle (Sonchus asper), Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum), a Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and Greater Plantain (Plantago major).
|Greater Plantain (Plantago major)|
Continuing along the track we also found Narrow Buckler Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), Cut-leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum), Perforate St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), Catsear (Hypochaeris radicata), Giant Fescue (Schedonorus giganteus) formerly (Festuca gigantea), Goat Willow (Salix caprea), White Willow (S. alba), Buddleia (Buddleja sp.), and Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) which is considered to be a noxious invasive species in Australia, New Zealand and some other places, but was a popular plant in Victorian shrubberies.
|Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa)|
On departing from the wood, we emerged at the point where the canal left the now closed Norwood tunnel. Alongside the canal was an Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) resplendent, with keys in abundance.
Using a grappling hook, another essential item of the botanist’s toolkit, we extracted some pondweed from the canal which was identified as Fennel Pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus). The plant was identified by the leaf, when cut in two reveals in cross- section that the sheath contained two tubes, no doubt acting as floatation chambers to keep the plant from sinking.
Next, a burdock plant, not yet in full flower, was examined. By cutting a leaf and noting the leaf-stem was hollow eliminated Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) which has a solid leaf-stalk. It was decided that the species was Lesser Burdock (A. minus) due to the size of the flower heads. Arctium nemorosum has larger flower heads.
Now we started the return journey, following a public footpath across a field leading towards a tunnel under the M1 Motorway. On the way we noted Field Maple (Acer campetre), Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Bristly Oxtongue (Helminthotheca echioides) with its pimply leaves.
|Footpath leading to M1 underpass|
The path now skirted the edges of a field of oilseed rape and ran parallel with the motorway for a short way before turning to join a bridleway running between Wales and Woodall, known as Walseker Lane.
Species associated with this agricultural environment were now being found, such as Swine-cress (Lepidium squamatus) and Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). A large muck-heap attracted our attention as a possible source for botanical treasures. Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass (Puccinella distans) was found in the compacted area where all the nutrient-rich run-off collects. This is normally a coastal species but now increasingly being found inland, no doubt due to the practice of salting our roads.
The field edges and bridle path now produced a number of interesting species; Wild Oat-grass (Avena fatua), Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius), Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium), Black Grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) with its black seed heads, the aromatic Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea), Red Goosefoot (Chenopodium rubrum), Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), and Barren Brome (Anisantha sterilis) were all encountered.
On entering the sleepy hamlet of Woodall there were still a few plants that could be considered as wild; Sun Spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia) growing on waste ground between houses and Common or Bird’s Eye Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) by the roadside on the edge of a retaining wall for a lawn.
An interesting survey, having passed through several different environments, ended at 3.30pm when arriving back at our parked cars.