Another walk in the woods

Way back on 3 Apr, I posted A walk in the woods, in which I used the pretext of telling you about a series of walks to view the anemones in my local South Cubbington Wood to bring to your attention the destruction that HS2 will bring to this ancient woodland. At the end of that blog I mentioned that we had bluebells in the wood and the wild pear tree in blossom still to look forward to.

Well in the wonderful way that Mother Nature remembers each year what to do and when to do it, the wild pear tree duly did its stuff in the first half of April and the show of bluebells reached its peak towards the end of the month, both events being a little early this year. The Cubbington Action Group against HS2 celebrated by organising a series of bluebell walks, which repeated the success of the earlier anemone walks.

So I thought it was time to take a rest from all this depressing stuff about noise and insert a blog about the bluebells and pear blossom before plunging into a more detailed series of blogs looking at how noise nuisance is assessed and how HS2 Ltd is understating the problem. This inserted blog will give me the opportunity to show you some more pictures and tell you about the National Champion wild pear tree.

Firstly, let’s talk about the bluebells. It was a magnificent show this year. We organised four bluebell walks and the highlight was on Bank Holiday Monday 2nd May when the Chief Executive of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Stephen Trotter, was our guide; I am sure that all who were fortunate to take part in this particular walk were impressed by Stephen’s depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject. It was also clear that he regards South Cubbington Wood as a very special place. We were also delighted to be joined again by pupils from Our Lady and St Teresa’s Primary School on the last of our walks, on 9th May.

South Cubbington Wood

Bluebell flower

During his walk Stephen Trotter told us that bluebell seedlings take five to ten years to flower. He also told us about the unfortunate tendency for the introduced Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, to hybridise with our own native version, Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Although our Cubbington plants look superficially like pure English stock, Stephen detected a potential sign that a few Spanish genes had crept in, since the flowers of some examples appeared to be borne all around the stem rather than in a single line up the stem as is the case with a pure English bluebell.

Stephen talking to the group

With Stephen’s trained eye at work, we were able to note many other wild flowers in amongst the mass of bluebells; I was particularly taken with yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon). He also pointed out a number of small-leaved lime trees (Tilia cordata), which he said were an indicator species for ancient woodland. As we were standing admiring one of the limes, a member of the group noticed that through the trees we could spot the flowers of one of the rare wild service trees (Sorbus torminalis) that grow in the wood. On an earlier walk a group of us had discovered a spectacular bracket fungus, which was later identified as a Dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus).

Yellow archangel


Dryad's saddle fungus

It is interesting to note that if you or I were to dig up a single bluebell bulb, we would be committing a criminal offence. When HS2 Ltd constructs the cutting that will pass through South Cubbington Wood it will probably dig up millions – all perfectly legally. What a strange country we live in!

Now I must say something about the wild pear tree (Pyrus pyraster). The tree has been around for a long time and was well-known to our residents, but it was only recently that one of them realised that it may be something special. The person who had this insight was Rosemary, a member of the Cubbington Action Group against HS2. She referred the tree to Stephen Falk, Senior Keeper of Natural History at Warwickshire Museum.

Mr Falk came to Cubbington and declared the tree to be “very interesting indeed”. He measured the girth of the tree, which he determined was 3.78 metres (over 12 feet) at a height of half a metre above ground level. He sent measurements and photographs to the Tree Register, an organisation that records exceptional tree specimens. As a result, the tree has been declared a ‘National Champion’, i.e. the largest of its species in Britain and possibly the oldest, certainly among the oldest, of our wild pear trees.

Wild pear tree in blossom

As if it realises its exalted status, the tree gave a magnificent display of blossom this year. I can’t but wonder how many times the tree has put on this annual display; possibly it has blossomed at least a couple of hundred times, perhaps more. What we do know is that it may not repeat this miracle many times more, because the vandals from HS2 Ltd have it in their sights; unless the plans change, the tree will be grubbed out to make way for the HS2 cutting.

Wild pear tree blossom

I will leave the last words to someone who knows far more about the natural environment than I do, Stephen Trotter, who said summing up the whole area in which we had walked:

This is classic English landscape, a beautiful and important place for wildlife and great for local people. It seems unbelievable that it should be threatened in this way.

Acknowledgement: All photographs were taken by Frances Wilmot, except for the Dryad’s saddle fungus which is mine.


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