Author Archives: Chris Bates

Early Spring Flower Survey – Thursday 13th April 2023

On a sunny afternoon in mid-April, we were delighted to have the presence of local resident Jane Lawson join several committee members and others to undertake our regular early-Spring flower survey.  The threat of heavy rain in the week failed to materialise and the sun warmed up the woodlands.  Below is a list of the plants that were recorded.

1 Lesser celandine ranunculus ficaria
It’s a perennial of hedgerows and open woodland sometimes forming patches. Its folk name is pilewort following the doctrine of signatures which refers to its large number of cylindrical tubers.

2 Ramsons or Wild garlic Allium ursinum
The smell of garlic is unmistakable when it’s in full flower. It likes damp woodland and calcareous soil. The flower stem is three-sided and supports an umbel of about twelve pure white starry blossoms.

3 Fringe cups Tellima grandiflora.
It’s a perennial plant native to Western North America and is now popular in gardens where it frequently escapes. It seems to be spreading widely.

4 Bluebell (probably hybrid) Hyacinthoides non scripta x H hispanica
A bulbous perennial that grows in woodland. Much ink has been spilled and tempers lost over the manifestations of this plant. The native bluebell is smaller with one-sided drooping-tipped spikes.
The Spanish bluebell is only found in Spain and Portugal and is found only in the serra. It seems however that the native bluebell is much more fertile than any hybrids and will back fertilise. Thus each new plant will revert to being closer to the natives. Only a DNA analysis will show the proportions of native to non-native plants.

5 Red dead nettle. Lamium purpureum
Not related to the stinging nettle, but a member of the mint family. It grows on disturbed ground and cultivated soils. It’s doing very well this year perhaps because of the deluges in March.

6 Primrose Primula vulgaris.
Always pale yellow but very rarely a pink form will pop up. At its most abundant in April and May in woodland, hedgerows and shady meadows, its Latin name is derived from primus = first.

7 Dandelion Taraxacum officinale.
There are 250 species of dandelion and even a dandelion appreciation society. For those who are interested BSBI has published a Field Guide to British and Irish dandelions. Its name come from the leaf shape dents-de-lion (lions teeth) and in France Pisenlit because of its diuretic effects.

8 Wood avens Geum urbanum
A member of the rose family, it’s found in shady hedge banks and woodland. It flowers from May to August and was formerly known as Herb Benet or the blessed herb as the trefoiled leaf represented the Trinity and the five petals, the five wounds. Geum derives from the Greek geno meaning an agreeable fragrance which is reminiscent of cloves.

9 Cut leaved cranesbill Geranium dissectum
Found on disturbed ground and cultivated soils. Pink flowers are 8 – 10 mm across.

10 Meadowsweet Spiraea ulmaria
Aptly named for its powerful fragrance, it grows in damp places by ponds or shallow streams. The flowers are in sprays and creamy white. It’s an ancient British plant which has been here since the ice age. Used as a strewing herb on floors in the past it also contains salicylic acid and was used like aspirin today for headaches and such. It also flavours alcoholic drinks and is used in Norfolk punch.

11 Dock Rumex obtusifolius
Extremely common and used as a remedy for nettle stings. There were, I think Water docks by the margins of the pond

12 Ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata
Grows on disturbed ground and tracks. The leaves are characterised by having strongly developed parallel ribs on the undersurface.

13 Salad burnet Poterium sanguisorba
It likes chalky ground and smells of cucumber when crushed. It can be added to salads and flowers from June to August.

14 Garlic Mustard (Jack by the Hedge) Sisymbrium officinale
It’s flowers are small and white and this plant can be found by hedges and pathways in great abundance. It’s very widespread and the garlic scent is strong. Again, it can be added to salads.

15 Creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens
Very common and widespread it sends out long runners which aid its spread. It flowers from May to August.

16 Herb Robert Geranium robertianum
A straggling hairy annual the smell of which some find unpleasant giving rise to its country name Stinking Bill. The flowers are pink to red.

17 Lemon balm Melissa officinalis
Another one from the mint family with an intense lemon scent. It makes an excellent tea and flavouring. Bees love it. It has small white flowers in the summer.

18 Soapwort. Saponaria officinalis
A straggling hairless perennial found in damp woodland it has attractive pink flowers and is often an escape. The leaves can be soaked to produce a liquid soap which is still used to clean antique carpets.

19 Annual mercury Mercurialis perennis
The god Mercury is supposed to have discovered some medicinal virtues in this plant. It doesn’t have the hairiness of the Dog’s mercury, it has yellowish-green flowers.

20 Iris (yellow flag) Iris pceudocorus
Found at the edge of ponds, streams and ditches it is bright yellow with faint purplish veins.

21 Hogweed (cow parsnip) Heracleum sphondylium
An unmistakable tall plant of waste spaces and hedgerows. It can grow to six feet and has great umbels of white flowers. It flowers from June to September.
In the winter its large hollow stems provide safe overwintering for many small insects.

Volunteer Day – Saturday 1st April 2023

Local volunteers and committee members gathered at the woodland site last Saturday for a day of habitat creation, weeding and planting of seeds. As can be seen in the accompanying photos, in a newly created habitat area where dense holly trees have been cleared, new habitats in the form of terraces next to the path that goes from the entrance to the upper levels were created, using the felled tree trunks to act as support structures.

Many of the volunteers were excited to see the primroses in flower, including an unusual purple-coloured primrose, the lords and ladies that were beginning to appear, as well as the bluebells which were growing strongly.

The volunteers took extra care to protect these delicate flowers by clearing any invasive plants such as brambles that could threaten their growth.

We hope that by creating new habitats and caring for the existing ones, we can promote a healthy ecosystem that benefits both the wildlife and the local community.
Of course, no volunteer morning would be complete without the coffee and biscuits!

Volunteer Day – Sunday 5th March 2023

Last Sunday was our 3rd volunteer morning of the year, it felt no warmer than in January! But it didn’t stop several local volunteers from the Good Gym Group from joining us by helping us move heavy logs to other parts of the woodland and also in removing some of the overgrown area’s ivy at the main entrance, ready for more wildflowers to be grown.

Good Gym volunteers

Not much in the way of wildlife was visible, but primroses were in flower and the bluebells look like they’re growing very strongly. Also, there are several clumps of Lords-and-Ladies with their wonderful, shiny leaves coming in to display.

One of the early flowering primroses

In the last few weeks, our tree surgeon was working in the main area. His trained eyes saw a diseased sycamore tree which was very close to the entrance, the photo shows the inside of the tree being hollow, with wood next to the area very soft and spongy, a victim of a fungal disease.

A diseased sycamore with a hollow centre

By removing it now, this shows the pro-active approach we take in maintaining the safety of all who use the woodlands. The tree surgeon also removed other non-native and highly invasive robinias. The tree trucks have been stacked for a mixture of uses, as part of decaying wood for insects and also to potentially use for making steps.

A mixture of sycamore and robinia trees

Volunteer Day – Saturday 4th February 2023

The Westcombe Woodlands’ 2nd volunteer morning of the year saw lots of activity! Work took place in both the Lasseter Place part and the main area. In the Lasseter Place area, we coppiced our own hazel that was planted over a decade ago. In the photo can be seen volunteers and committee member Andrew Slade.

In the main area of the woodlands, it was a good time to start some of the repairs that are needed. We can see committee member Jeremy Avis with a new wooden pole to replace a rotten one next to some steps.

Other maintenance includes pruning trees in the orchard and clearing the area around a beech tree which is to be moved to a brighter place in the next few days.

Once again we had volunteers from Greenwich Goodjym come and help out in weeding and bramble clearance.

There’s not much to be seen with new plants at the moment, we have hazel catkins but bluebells are emerging, the photo shows several clumps to be a few centimetres tall.

Volunteer Day – Sunday 8th January 2023

The start of the year is always a quiet time in the woodland, but there’s typically general maintenance to do somewhere! At the start of January 2023, we welcomed 2 volunteers from the local “Good Gym” branch. We welcomed Julian and Marta to our volunteer morning. It has been quite a while since we ventured in to the woodland’s “other half” over on Lasseter Place.

Two Goodgym volunteers with regular Westcombe woodlands volunteer Jeremy Rose in the centre

Bramble, snowberry, fallen trees were all in the wrong place. Snowberry, while providing winter food for birds, can be very invasive so much so that it can swamp all other flora.

Genersl view from lasseter Place looking towards Seren Park Gardens

With hacksaws and secateurs, we started to remove the plant, as well as brambles and ivy. An unexpected find – or rather lots of them – were several footballs and tennis balls which must have come flying in from the gardens of adjacent Ulundi Road. Goal!!!

One of the few plants in the woodlands with leaves at this time of the year.