Waterside Natural History Society visit Garston Wood

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The winter of 2013/2014 proved to be one of the wettest on record and the relatively dry spell in March served only to lower the flood levels.

April showers up until the time of our visit only served to wet the ground and make the pathways muddy.

The wet weather and mild temperatures have given ideal growing conditions for spring flowers and bulbs in particular but we were still unprepared for the glorious display in Garston Wood.

Spots of rain fell as we set out on our 30 mile car journey and our mood changed from optimism every time the sun appeared to disappointment whenever a dark cloud covered the sky.

On arrival at Garston Wood the sky was overcast and we were more or less resigned to a wasted journey.

The rain held off however and we stepped through the gate to a rich display of spring flowers.

One of the first flowers that we saw near the car park was a cultivated specimen of Dusky Cranesbill or Geranium Phaeum Samobor which probably arrived with a visitor from someone’s garden.

This was however the only example of a garden escape that we came across and every subsequent flower was of the wild variety.

When trying to identify a wild flower in a wood it is often a good idea to precede a guess with the word ‘wood’ for instance ‘wood anemone’ or ‘wood spurge’ of which we came across a great many.

Wood Dog Violet with its purple spur and pointed sepals grew alongside ‘Wood Speedwell’ identified by having hairs all round its stem but the occasional ‘Bugle’ had no reference to wood whatever.

Primroses had been in flower for some time and only a few specimens remained amongst the Dogs Mercury.

Fewer still examples of Sanicles were present but they had only just come into flower.

Stitchwort and Yellow Archangel were dotted about along the path sides with a few Crosswort although they are more common on chalk Downland.

The underlying soil must have been chalky since we also came across Twayblade orchids.

‘Early purple’ orchids, identified because they were both early and purple, stood out like beacons at the side of the paths throughout the wood.

Identifying the names of wild flowers with such a variety along the path sides took some time so our walk round the reserve was leisurely to say the least.

Walking slowly in warm sunshine is always a pleasure but when spots of rain start to fall our pace increased almost immediately.

The main purpose of our visit however was to see the Bluebells and in this we were not disappointed.

It so happened that our visit coincided with the flowers in their peak condition in a particularly good year.

Bluebells are not the only bulb to flower at this time of year and Garston Wood has a particularly large display of white Ransoms or Broad Leaved Garlic.

Seeing Bluebells and Ransoms together always reminds one of the colours in the Scottish flag.

The Scottish Bluebell however is known in England as the Harebell but the so called English Bluebell also grows prolifically north of the border.

To make things even more confusing the Spanish Bluebell is grown widely in gardens throughout the country.

English bluebells can be distinguished from Spanish bluebells, particularly when seen together, as the Spanish variety are more vigorous with larger more fleshy leaves.

The English bluebell flower head also droops whereas the Spanish one grows upright. English bluebells always have white pistils but Spanish bluebell pistils take on the colour of the bell.

This means that Spanish bluebells have blue pistils on blue flowers but have a reddish tinge on pink specimens and obviously white on white flowers.

Bluebells can be found throughout the wood but, as can be seen from the car, are particularly abundant alongside the road.

We also found several examples of Solomon’s Seal and a small group of Toothwort.

The latter plant has no green parts and is parasitic on Hazel which has been widely coppiced in the wood.

A patch of the dainty grass Wood Melick could be picked out alongside the path back to the car park.

There were very few butterflies on the wing because of the cloudy conditions but we did see an Orange Tip during one short spell of sunshine.

A Song Thrush serenaded us for part of the walk and a male Cuckoo gave a few calls before moving on to brighter pastures.

The walk round Garston Wood did not take long even at our leisurely pace so in the afternoon we took the opportunity of visiting the wooded area opposite to Martin Down.

Anyone wishing to attend our meetings or even rich benefactors should contact our secretary Ron Mintrum at 023 8089 3803.