Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Sun 10 Jun 2007 Hamstreet, Kent
Down in SE England for a few days visiting my mother at Tunbridge Wells. I went by train and didn't take the bird/butterfly camera as space was at a premium, so the pics are mostly of plants or things that let you get very close.
T Wells is in the area known as the Weald, which has an acid flora contaning little that you would not see in the west of Scotland. The most noticeable difference for me is the paucity of lichens and mosses in Kent.
Hamstreet, which I visited on 10 Jun, is also in the Weald and I found little that was new to me there. The following two days I visited sites on the North Downs, which is a chalk escarpment running along the northern edge of the Weald (the South Downs is similar and runs along the southern edge). On these chalk sites the flora was dramatically different from the Scottish equivalent. Even if you compare it with a limestone area such as Suardal in Skye, there is very little overlap.
At Hamstreet I first explored the woods and then walked along the Royal Military Canal towpath.
The season was more advanced than in Argyll. Hedge Woundwort was in full flower; Bluebells, Broom and Cow Parsley were all well past flowering, and some Hawthorn berries were already turning red.
On the way from the village to the woodland I noticed these two items on the road verge. The white flower is Pale Flax. From its location and the fact the flowers were white rather than pale blue, I take it to be a garden escape, but all the books give the plant as native in SE England and do not mention escapes, nor does the web show much sign of it being a popular garden flower, so I decided to let it sneak in. The gall on Goosegrass is caused by the mite Cecidophyes galii, which turned out to be very common in the area and affects all of the leaves on large swathes of the plant, though here we can see an unaffected plant in the background. Though the gall looks very damaging, it does help the plant in one way as the curled leaves offer a better grip on the vegetation the Goosegrass is trying to climb through.
Also near the village there were a lot of Smooth Sow-thistle with white petal tips, similar to the strange one I found in Mallorca, although they did not have spiral flowerheads. Later I found another white-tipped one in Tunbridge Wells. As I've now found both spiral flowerheads (Skye last year, I think) and, separately, white-tipped petals, in Britain, the Mallorca plant simply combined both these characters, and is no longer a mystery.
A couple of trees that we don't see too much of up north were common in the wood. Field Maple, our only native plant of the Sycamore family, and Hornbeam, our only native, other than Hazel, of the Hazel family. The Maple is native up to about the Scottish border, but the Hornbeam only up to a line somewhere between London and the Midlands.
The spectacular tufts of Pendulous Sedge were frequently met with along the woodland paths. In one place there was a spread of Trailing Tormentil on bare ground beside the path, with flowers similar to the familiar Common Tormentil, but with stalked leaves and trailing runners.
Despite exhaustive efforts I can't get anywhere with either these leaf mines or the leaf roll on Sweet Chestnut. The mine looks the same from below as from above; there is no sign of occupant or frass, and there are small islands of unchewed green leaf dotted about in it. It is bordered everywhere by veins, though not main ones. The occupant of the leaf roll looks like a Sawfly larva; it is quick to spin a thread and after taking the photo I put it back in the roll where it doubtless wove itself in. Both the mine and the roll were plentiful on the tree.
Galls of the gall-midge Harmandiola globuli on a Poplar leaf. The 7-spot Ladybird was present in large numbers on vegetation, especially nettles, beside the Canal. This is Britain's commonest ladybird and we've had it before but I can't resist photographing them as I never see ladybirds back home - one of my few complaints about West of Scotland wildlife. The frontal view shows that it has 6 white spots as well as the 7 black ones.
The Royal Military Canal, which forms the northern boundary of Romney Marsh. The bright yellow flowers on the bank are Hedge Mustard, and those in the water are Fringed Waterlily.
This was as close as I could get to the Fringed Waterlily. Nearer the bank the covering is of Duckweeds. The large ones are Greater Duckweed and the small ones Least Duckweed (an introduced species).
I was amazed to see Sea Clubrush here, several miles from the sea, but the Canal is at sea level (as is the whole of Romney Marsh) and terminates at the sea so it is likely to contain brackish water. I didn't notice any other maritime plants however.
On the south side of the path were fields of crops, something you never see these days in the west of Scotland, and a chance to re-acquaint myself with some arable weeds. This is Field Pennycress, with the large round fruits from which it gets its name.
Despite the bright sunshine, the Scarlet Pimpernels all had their flowers closed, apart from the one in the picture which is half-open. Perhaps this accounts for their name of Poor Man's Weatherglass, as the sun did go in half an hour later, though it came out again in another half-hour so I'm not wholly convinced. The crucifer with all the flowers bunched at the base of sprawling stems and leaves is Swinecress, nestling between the clods of earth in a beanfield.
Two more weeds of the field edge were Scented Mayweed, with a very pleasant Chamomile smell, and Black Grass, which is like Meadow Foxtail but with narrower spikes.
A couple more plants from pathsides in the area. Hedgerow
Cranesbill, which is considered "possibly native" as the earliest known record
is from 1762, and Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, which not only goes to bed at noon but
closes completely after flowering as seen in the tight narrow heads on either
side of the picture, then finally opens for good to display the largest
"dandelion clock" of any British plant.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer