Thursday, 3 April 2014

Early spring flowers at Wayland Wood

I always find Wayland Wood to be ominously quiet, not just in terms of its unusually low bird activity, but for the general subdued feeling of the place. This contrasts markedly with the sense of richness, diversity and burgeoning life that characterises almost any other wild natural area, including the other ancient woodlands I know, such as Cambridgeshire's Hayley Wood. Perhaps the dense, almost monocultural stands of Bird Cherry Prunus avium contribute to this. The only time I really feel that the wood feels vibrant is in late spring, when its Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta are in flower, at which time the wood has a truly joyous feel. Despite its small size (34 ha), the labyrinthine path system leads the unwary walker far from where he or she had expected to be. Not for nothing that this is credited as the site of the Babes in the Wood story.

Ancient twin coppice stool of Ash Fraxinus excelsior and Hornbeam Carpinus betula.
There are records of Wayland Wood (Old Norse = "sacred grove") from the tenth century and, of course, it is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Signs of medieval boundaries are obvious in the obvious banks and ditches within the present day wood, together with ancient coppice stools of Ash Fraxinus excelsior and Hornbeam Carpinus betula.

Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa
Nevertheless, a quick, late afternoon visit to Wayland Wood last Saturday repaid the effort. True enough, there was next to no bird activity. However, this was compensated by a suite of early spring flowers typical of the site. Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria and Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa were the most obvious: swathes of the densely-shaded forest floor beneath the large coppice trees were covered in the white blooms of the latter. The Bluebells that will soon turn this carpet lilac were only just coming into flower.

The sunlit rides between the coppice blocks harboured Barren Strawberry Potentilla sterilis and spikes of Bugle Ajuga reptans not yet in flower. Common Viola riviniana and Early Dog-violet V. reichenbachiana grew at the darker edges of these rides, the latter preferring the darker areas under the canopy where Primroses Primula vulgaris flourished.

Early Dog-violet Viola reichenbachiana

Primroses Primula vulgaris

Thick on the woodland floor
Gay company shall be,
Primrose and Hyacinth
And frail Anemone,
Perennial Strawberry-bloom,
Woodsorrel’s pencilled veil,
Dishevel’d Willow-weed
And Orchis purple and pale.

Robert Bridges—Idle Flowers

Returning after school for an hour today, we were delighted to find an Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula just coming into flower within sight of the car park. In the ancient coppice plots, we were able to locate the oval leaves of Common Twayblade Neottia ovata, patches of Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina and the coveted Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea, for which Wayland Wood is the only site in Norfolk.

Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina
Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea
As if to refute my impressions of the site, three male Blackcaps were singing in the western part of the wood, one of which was kind enough to show itself in the top of an old oak these were not vocalising last Saturday and are the first I have heard this year. 

1 comment:

  1. Talking of quiet woods: Brick Kiln Wood, Brookman's Park, Hatfield has been, without doubt, the deadest, spookiest wood I have ever visited. Utterly silent, impenetrable canopy for light so dark as night and zero understory plants whatever. As morbid an experience as I have ever had in woodland.