Guided walk in Penstave Copse, Sunday 3rd June 2018
This was the first walk of this kind, which the ‘Wood Group’ has organised, and it went splendidly. We did everything which was advertised on our poster, and a bit more. Thanks to Mike Ingram, Jeremy Sable, Harry Jennings, Desley White, and John Severn, for putting the various components together.
Jeremy Sable is a professional ecologist, and at our first stop, under a large oak tree, talked about what qualifies as ‘ancient woodland’ and the number and type of indicator species which point to a woodland being long established.
Mike Ingram pointed out some bryophytes [ ? ] and other species living on an oak tree, at our next stop.
Leaving the river behind, we climbed the steps leading up to some of the pasture where the Woodland Trust erected stock-proof fencing last year. Harry Jennings spoke about the use of cattle to graze the grass, and gradually deplete the nutrient levels in the soil. Over time, what should weaken the grasses, and give flowering plants an opportunity to thrive. Mike talked about the tendency for open spaces to fill with trees, over time, if not kept open by grazing or cutting. Jeremy talked about the change from cutting hay, to silage, on farmland, and the loss of plant species, and bird species, over large areas of grassland, which has resulted.
We carried on up the hill, to look at the area at the top, planted in the late 1990s. In the last two winters, the Wood Group have coppiced a corridor running straight up the hill, and we discussed the difference that has made, to the vegetation in that area. We talked about new variant ash dieback, and it’s future consequences, when more than a quarter of Britains’ deciduous trees die.
Returning along the walkway known as Fat Mans Trouble, we were invited to stop for a mug of tea with Desley White, and partner John Severn. They own two fields, and some Dexter cattle which they take to different fields in the locality, to help restore wildflower meadows. The coordination with other landowners is done by the Devon Wildlife Trust. Desley explained how currently, the cattle are short of grass, as most of the meadows are growing a wildflower and grass mix. These fields won’t be cut for hay, or used for grazing, until after mid-July at the earliest, when flower seeds have been set.
Desley showed us a field which was harrowed and hand-sown with wildflower seed-mix, last year. Yellow-rattle, a plant parasitic on grass was evident, and additional seeding will take place later, to increase the diversity within the field. As 97% of British wildflower meadows have disappeared since WWII, these efforts will help support the base of the pyramid, of insect life, and the others in the food chain.
After looking at the cattle, and some stroking of the calves, we departed a little later than planned, after a pleasant and informative afternoon.
Our thanks to all involved.