About this Blog

This blog reflects our twin interests in walking and natural history, especially botany.

"Ich wandle unter Blumen

Und blühe selber mit ..."

Heinrich Heine

Walking is important to us as a way of being in direct touch with the environment, experiencing species and habitats in their ecological and historical context. By walking between different flower sites we experience the character of the general countryside, getting to know as much where flowers are not as where they are. Walking allows for the serendipitous - chance encounters with animals, meetings with local people, unexpected species - which enrich the experience.

We set up this blog to share a variety of mainly day-long walks centred on "iconic" flower sites and locations of rare plants, where these are publicly accessible. The accounts include descriptions of the routes taken, key plants seen, other wildlife encountered, and anything of general environmental or historical interest. All the walks allow time for looking around (some flowers need searching for), photography etc, and usually include a half-way stop for refreshment at some suitable establishment. The walks are seasonal, depending on the flowering/fruiting times of different species, although one cannot hit the peak time for all species seen on one walk, and the best timings will vary from year to year. Lengths vary but the walks may be anything up to 12 miles or more, so an early start is recommended.

A certain knowledge of our flora is assumed, but those less familiar should be able to identify most of the plants mentioned with the help of one of the good field guides - Blamey, Fitter and Fitter Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland (A&C Black) or Francis Rose The Wild Flower Key (Warne) - although occasionally recourse may be needed to more technical tomes such as Clive Stace New Flora of the British Isles (Cambridge) or the specialist volumes published by BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) on grasses, sedges, umbellifers etc.

While examining plants it is interesting to note the galls, leaf-mines and fungi (rusts etc) that are often specific to particular taxa. For galls we use Redfern and Shirley British Plant Galls, for leaf-mines http://www.ukflymines.co.uk/ (which also includes lepidopteran and other mines), and for fungi Ellis and Ellis Microfungi on Land Plants, although this is a technical tome rather than a field guide.

Our completed walk around the coast and borders of England is described on http://www.coastwalking.blogspot.co.uk/ and our current walk around the coast of Wales is on http://www.coastwalkwales.blogspot.co.uk/

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Wiltshire: the Shalbourne Stream

27 July 2017 (Half day)

This walk follows the Shalbourne stream half way from its source to Hungerford  (one can walk all the way, but in the latter half the path is mostly some way from the river).  Although there is no great botanical diversity, the walk does visit two rare native plants.
          We started at the roadside at the south end of Shalbourne village (SU310628).  The path goes north beside what at this time was no more than a narrow sunken damp river bed.  In the shade of the trees were Hart's-tongue Fern Asplenium scolopendrium and Gooseberry Ribes uva-crispa.  Level with the centre of the village to the east the stream widened and there was some water, at the site of old watercress-beds, although the only Watercress here now was Fool's Apium nodiflorum.

The watercress beds are now just fool's watercress

Shortly after this we were separated from the river itself by a field hedgerow.  The arable land had no plants of interest (mostly Fool's Parsley Aethusa cynapium) but there was a single clump of Wild Basil Clinopodium vulgare by the hedge.  The stream from this point to the north end of the village has been widened into small lakes in parts, part of the extensive garden of Mill House.  One of our target plants grows in and beside the river in these grounds - Green Figwort Scrophularia umbrosa, although it can also be seen later in the walk.  The owner allowed us access to the garden and we counted four clumps of the plant.  It is closely related to water figwort Scrophularia auriculata (which we did not see at all by this stream).  It is best told by the bright green colour of the leaves and stems and the sharply toothed leaves which narrow to the winged stalk (water figwort tends to purplish and has blunt teeth on the leaves, which are somewhat rounded at the base).  We also thought the inflorescences were more crowded and the flowers smaller, while the whole plant tended to be floppy, the stems, although stout, often procumbent, whereas water figwort is usually a very upright plant.  The stems are widely winged, but water figwort sometimes also has wings virtually as wide.  The books detail differences in the flowers too, but these can be difficult to use.  The flowers were said to be darker purple, but the ones we saw were all reddish purple and very much like water figwort.  The staminode is cleft, but this is only occasionally clear, as it is often distorted and soon begins to shrivel.  The calyx-lobes are said to have a wider white edge which is more serrate, but the margins soon turn brown and they did not appear to be noticeably wider than those of water figwort, while they were better described as "ragged" than serrate.  Despite these issues the overall appearance, even from a distance, had a clear jizz that immediately separated it from its congener.

Green figwort, Shalbourne stream

From Mill House northwards the stream, although it remains shallow and clear with a stony bottom, has thick bank-side vegetation, mainly of Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris, Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, Square-stemmed StJohn's-wort Hypericum tetrapterum, Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus, Gipsywort Lycopus europaeus, Water Mint Mentha aquatica, native Common Comfrey Symphytum officinale and Hop Humulus lupulus.
Shalbourne stream just north of A338

Wild angelica
Square-stemmed StJohn's-wort

The path does not continue by the stream when you reach the road by Mill House and you have to descend the road a short way to the 13thC Church to take a footpath going east into another going north to regain the stream.  While in Shalbourne we noticed that roadsides included introduced species such as Hungarian Mullein Verbascum speciosum, Japanese Anemone Anemone x hybrida, and Sowbread Cyclamen hederifolium

Hungarian mullein
Japanese anemone

Cottage, Shalbourne

Shalbourne Church of St Michael an d All Angels

We had only regained the stream a short while before reaching the A338 road, which has very fast-moving traffic.  The stream passes under the road, but we had to divert left a short way to where the footpath continues beside a farm, soon returning, however, to the stream.  By the road there was a large colony of Horseradish Armoria rusticana and a little Hedgerow Cranesbill Geranium pyrenaicum.  There was also a prominent clump of Common Poppy Papaver rhoeas at the edge of a bean crop.

From here runs the best stretch of the stream, although we seldom got a close view of it because of the wide band of vegetation including much Nettle Urtica dioica.  We saw a small clump of Green Figwort at SU3177964369, and also a small patch of what was probably Blunt-fruited Water-starwort Callitriche obtusangula, although there were no fruits to confirm.  The best and most accessible patch of Green Figwort occurred where the stream went under the paved track to Eastcourt Farm (SU3183164501).  Here there was a great deal of the plant, some of it having had to be cut down because it was so rampant.
          Across the track the path continues away from the river beside woodland, although it would be possible to walk on further by the water.  We did not follow the stream further here, however (so there may be more Green Figwort further north) but walked beside the wood (Westcott Copse), which is notable for its large population (thousands) of Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum pyrenaicum (or Bath Asparagus as it is often known).  The narrow-petalled greenish-white flowers were unfortunately well gone over, but the tall spikes of fruits were very evident, even at the edge of the wood, rising starkly (the leaves having now all withered away) through the brambles and other vegetation.  It is a shame that one cannot time the walk to see both this and the figwort at their best, but the latter would not be very evident in June when the former would be in flower.

Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem in flower (photo taken at Kew)
Fruiting spike, Westcott Copse

From here we retraced our steps to Shalbourne.  (The Plough pub there does lunches and has a good reputation.)

Friday, 28 July 2017

London: Docklands (Rotherhithe-Greenwich-Millwall-Canary Wharf)

14 July 2017

From Surrey Docks tube station, we walked up Redriff Road directly into the area that used to be Surrey Commercial Docks, now converted largely into housing and green space.  Right at the beginning of Redriff Rd a line of old (we estimated 40/50 years) Cherry-plum trees Prunus cerasifera occupied a bank above the pavement, obscuring the large Tesco complex behind.  Ripe fruit, variously purple and yellow, covered the pavement and kerbside, while others, red and orange-yellow, still clung to the twigs above.

Cherry-plums, Redriff Road

The road then passed over a pedestrian underpass that was once the connection between Greenland and Canada Docks.  Here has been transplanted (1959) a bridge (built in 1949) that used to span Deptford Creek (which would be crossed later on the walk), replacing the original wooden bridge here.  This gaudy red construction is a "Scherzer rolling bascule lift-bridge" designed by the American William Scherzer.  It opened and closed using a system of counterweights to hinge it about the rocker shown in the photo.

Scherzer rolling bascule lift-bridge, Redriff Road

Further along, the north side of the road used to be occupied by the Russia and Quebec Docks, part of the former Surrey Commercial Docks.  Lines of trees planted by the road here included Silver Maple Acer saccharinum (with galls of Vasates quadripedes, first recorded in Britain in 2002 but now prevalent in the south-east) and London Plane Platanus x hispanica with mines of Phyllonorycter platani (also new to Britain in 1981).  Lower plants included Black Mustard Brassica nigra and Maple-leaved Goosefoot Chenopodium hybridum.

Maple-leaved goosefoot
Just after Quebec Way a path descended to the left into Russia Dock Woodland, these docks having now been replaced in 1985 by housing estates and green space that was largely left to grow wild.  Materials, including ironwork, from the original docks was used in the construction of the park, where just a narrow stream and a few ponds remain of the waterways, while the main path included the remains of the wharf beside Russia Dock.

Russia Dock Woodland, path along old wharf

Beside the path rough grassland included a good range of flowers - Hedge Bedstraw Galium mollugo, Field scabious Knautia arvensis, Marjoram Origanum vulgare, Lucerne Medicago sativa sativa, White Campion Silene alba, Bladder Campion S. vulgaris, Common & Greater Knapweed Centaurea nigra & scabiosa, Montbretia Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora, Curled Dock Rumex crispus, Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, Indian Balsam Impatiens glandulifera, Bristly oxtongue Picris echioides, Wall Barley Hordeum murinum, Dwarf Mallow Malva neglecta, and Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum.  How many of these had at some time been sown here and how many had arrived of their own accord, it is difficult to tell.  One surprise, however, was more than one tree of Lord Derby apples (Malus pumila cv.) with their distinctive conical shape, which could not have come true from seed and must be presumed to have been planted.  Holly blues and hedge browns fluttered around the scrub.

Lord Derby apples
Hedge brown on hedge bedstraw

Dwarf mallow

The path led directly into Staves Ecological Park.  A small pond was covered with Least duckweed Lemna minuta, and at its edge were Celery-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus sceleratus and Lesser Water-parsnip Berula erecta.  Nearby a large clump of Lavender Lavandula angustifolia was flourishing among the bramble scrub.  A weathered notice referred to the celebration of the Park's 30th anniversary, which would have been two years ago.

Celery-leaved buttercup


An artificial mound, Stave Hill, had been created where Stave Dock once was, giving good views over London and the docklands.

View from Stave Hill towards Tower Bridge

Below the mound we added more plants to our list - Harebell Campanula rotundifolia, Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervivum, Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca, Chicory Cichorium intybus, Wild Carrot Daucus carota, Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus, Hedgerow Cranesbill Geranium pyrenaicum, Hop trefoil Trifolium campestre, Black Horehound Ballota nigra, Musk Mallow Malva moschata, Round-leaved Cranesbill Geranium rotundifolium, Shaggy soldier Galinsoga quadriradiata, and Thale Cress Arabidopsis thaliana.

Holly blue on knapweed

Round-leaved cranesbill

Shaggy soldier

A larger pond to the north played host to the birds one would expect: Heron, Mallard, Tufted Duck, and Moorhen.

Heron and mallard

Female tufted duck leads her brood away

Juvenile moorhen

From this pond we took a path east out of the park, past a school and through a built-up area to the Thames Path.  We turned south along this with a vista of Deptford and Greenwich ahead.  It was low tide and people were searching the exposed mud for "treasure". 

We walked past Surrey Docks Farm, with its animal statues and busy with school parties.

At the inlet beyond here to Greenland Dock at Helsinki Square was a metal sculpture 'Curlicue' by William Pye, erected in 1989.  It is symbolic of heavy dock machinery.

Near this statue the pavement cracks were filled with an interesting range of adventive plants - including Common Cudweed Filago vulgaris, Four-leaved Allseed Polycarpon tetraphyllum, Toad Rush Juncus bufonius. Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis, Buckshorn Plantain Plantago coronopus, Pellitory-by-the-wall Parietaria judaica and Mexican fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus.  Having just returned from Madeira we were struck by the similarity between this plant community and that of the streets of Funchal (where all the above also occur), showing how near the warm micro-climate of inner London approaches that of sub-tropical areas.

Common cudweed
Four-leaved allseed

Beyond here on the Thames embankment we also saw Wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius, Perennial Rocket Sisymbrium strictissimum, Hemlock Water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata, Canadian and Guernsey Fleabanes Erigeron canadensis and sumatrensis, Least Pepperwort Lepidium virginicum and Garden Parsley Petroselinum crispum.


Detail of perennial rocket with seeds

Least pepperwort

At the edge of Deptford the Thames path is forced inland through streets and through Sayes Court Park, a small park with a few trees, including a Turkish Hazel Corylus colurna at the east entrance and a Black Mulberry Morus nigra near the southern exit.  Many of the fruits on the latter were being collected by a local resident, whose hands were stained red, as it is impossible to collect them without spilling the juice.

Black mulberry

Coming into Wharf Street in Deptford we added Annual Mercury Mercurialis annua to our tally and came across another modern sculpture celebrating Dockland, 'Cochlea' by Ekkehard Altenburger 2015 - composed of three types of granite from different parts of the world and symbolising noise pollution.

We were now approaching Greenwich, passing (from right in the picture) new office blocks to let, built on the site of a retired power station, and seeing ahead the Cutty Sark docked at Greenwich, the dome over the entrance to the footway tunnel beneath the Thames, the Royal Naval College and Greenwich Power Station, still functional for standby power generation.

By the time we got to the Cutty Sark we had joined throngs of tourists.  The clipper was currently getting a lick of paint.

We walked up Greenwich Church Street to the main road, where we could take a break for coffee and a snack at Waterstone's.  It was a short distance to William Walk, leading to the NW entrance of Greenwich Park.  This was also busy with tourists, who were mostly visiting the Observatory and taking selfies with each foot on different sides of the meridian, but having done this some years before we bypassed it for the more botanical interests of the park.  At the top of Blackheath Avenue, which was lined by Horse-chestnuts Aesculus hippocastanum and Sweet Chestnuts Castanea sativa, stood a couple of veteran specimens of the latter, planted in the 1660s.  We measured one to be over 7.2 metres in girth.

We went on further SE from here to the Flower Gardens, where there were some Victorian cedars (including Deodar Cedrus deodara), a tall Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba, another Sweet Chestnut said to be nearly 400 years old, and a Whitebeam with large, almost circular, leaves which may have been Round-leaved Whitebeam Sorbus eminens, although it is difficult to separate for sure from extreme examples of Sorbus aria.

Sorbus eminens?

A couple of oaks had been fenced off because of infections by Oak Processionary Moth Thaumetopoea processionea, but we saw no evidence of caterpillars; perhaps they had been successfully treated.  The flower-beds were invaded not just by the usual yellow-sorrels but also by the larger-leaved Pale Pink Sorrel Oxalis latifolia (which, unlike other pink-sorrels, has no orange warts underneath the leaves).

From the hillside in the park we had a good view north to Royal Naval College and, across the river, Canary Wharf, our final destination.

The only wildlife we saw in the park were the Grey Squirrels bothering tourists for hand-outs

but when we left the park down William Walk we found ourselves tailing a female Mallard and her brood of eight healthy-looking ducklings.  To get to the Thames, their presumed destination, would involve crossing the extremely busy main road (perilous enough even for human pedestrians).  We had not time to follow their progress and we only could only hope they made it safely.

We returned to the dome by the Cutty Sark that marked the unique tunnel beneath the Thames to the Isle of Dogs, reached by a long winding staircase.  Only when we inspected the photo afterwards did we see the shrub growing on the roof of the dome.  Its pinnate leaves, the leaflets with distinct stalks, marked it out as most probably False Acacia Robinia pseudoacacia.

Cutty Sark seen from entrance to tunnel

This tunnel, opened in 1902, is a boon for walkers and also cyclists, although we wished the latter had obeyed the instruction to dismount, as they came past us at dangerously high speeds.  The dome over the exit on the other side, at Island Gardens, Millwall, appears to be identical to that at Greenwich.

We crossed Manchester Road and entered Millwall Park.  This is mostly recreation ground and bare grass, but at the far NW corner is a mound where vegetation is allowed to grow with a fascinating profusion of Maple-leaved Goosefoot, Fennel Foeniculum vulgare, Horse-radish Armoracia rusticana, Crow Garlic Allium vineale, Twiggy Spurge Euphorbia x pseudovirgata, and Sand Lucerne Medicago sativa ssp varia, the latter distinguished by its seed-pods coiling for no more than half a circle and flowers ranging from cream to yellow to green to pale blue to deep blue to purple to almost black, sometimes mixed in the same flower-head.

Twiggy spurge with horse-radish

Colour forms of sand lucerne

There was also a profusion of docks, although these were all in seed with brown spikes and withered leaves.  We saw the common Rumex crispus, Rumex pulcher, Rumex obtusifolius but also good numbers of Greek Dock Rumex cristatus, its broad fruits with one prominent tubercle and their dentate wings net-veined.

Greek dock in fruit

North of here was Mudchute Park, which, like Surrey Docks, hosted an educational farm, but also had large areas of scrubby vegetation.  There was more Twiggy Spurge and Greek Dock, plus Perennial Nipplewort Lapsana communis ssp intermedia, Viper's Bugloss Echium vulgare, Black Mustard, Perennial Wall-rocket Diplotaxis tenuifolia, Hoary Cress Lepidium draba, and Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum.

Perennial nipplewort

From the SE corner of Mudchute Park we took the side-street to Manchester Road and walked north, between the Thames and what was previously docks.

Manchester Road

There were views of Canary Wharf (replacing India and Millwall Docks) to the west and the O2 arena across the river to the east.

Canary Wharf from Manchester Road

O2 Arena from Manchester Road

Along the road we added more plants to our list - Water Bent Polypogon viridis, California Poppy Eschscholzia californica, and Common Poppy Papaver rhoeas.  We went as far as the Blue Bridge, opened 1969, crossing the east entrance to West India South Dock.  It was based on the traditional Dutch drawbridge and, at the time, was the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Britain, using hydraulics to raise it.

From here we found our way west through the confusing array of water basins and buildings comprising Canary Wharf, which by now was crowded with people who had left work, packing the squares and outside cafés and bars.  The only street-side plant we recorded here, in this well-manicured environment was Garden Lobelia Lobelia erinus.  We managed to get a table inside in the Roka restaurant before catching the tube from Canary Wharf station to travel home.

Looking east from Canary Wharf towards the Blue Bridge