Starry Eyed

Walking through Leomansley Wood (or was it Sloppy Wood? I’m never sure where one stops and the other starts), I came across hundreds of wood anemones growing alongside Leomansley Brook. Up until now, I can only ever remember seeing two small patches of these pretty star like flowers – one near to the path that skirts the edge of the woods and the other near to the old mill culvert on Pipe Green.  As they are growing in one of the muddier areas of the woods (actually it was probably Sloppy Wood!), it may be that I’ve always missed them, having turned off to find a drier route. At the risk of sounding like one of the motivational sayings people share on Facebook, it just shows that sometimes it’s worth persevering with the trickier path!

Anemones in Leomansley

As well as their obvious beauty, the thing I love about wildflowers is their associated folklore and their alternative names. Nicholas Culpeper tells me that the anemome, “is called the windflower because they say the flowers never open unless the wind bloweth”. Wet weather has the opposite effect, and the flower also closes as night falls, giving rise to the story that fairies use anemones both as somewhere to shelter from the rain, and somewhere to sleep, tucked beneath the petals.

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For superstitious folk, I imagine that disturbing sleeping fairies was probably best avoided and may be why it’s generally considered unlucky to pick the plant, especially here in Staffordshire. According to Roy Vickery,  the wood anemone was known as ‘thunderbolt’ in the county, because, as as the name suggests, picking it would result in a storm. Mr Vickery also relays the experience of the Rev E Deacon, a member of the North Staffordshire Field Club in 1930.  One day, Deacon arrived at a farm where a wedding party was taking place. Apparently, the expression of the smiling person who opened the door changed to one of alarm when he or she realised that Mr Deacon had brought bad luck to the wedding in the form of a wood anemone in his lapel.

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Along with several other species, including bluebells which are just starting to appear, anemones are indicator species of ancient woodland i.e. one which has been around since 1600AD. The way I understand it, their presence in Leomansley Wood isn’t proof that it is an ancient woodland (or more accurately, a replanted ancient woodland, where the area has been continuously wooded but trees have been felled and replanted), but a suggestion that it might be. Ancient or not, it’s always a beautiful place for a walk but especially at this time of year.

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Edit: you know how in Finding Nemo, he can’t say anemone? Well ‘m having trouble spelling it – anemone, that’s right isn’t it?

Sources:

Roy Vickery, Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore

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Blue Sunday

My second ‘starting off at pub, and exploring the surrounding area’ type walk of the week, but this time with real life swans with just the one neck.

The sunny beer garden at the Red Lion was busy and I couldn’t help but feel that those who chose to remain inside the pub were missing out.  They were, and it wasn’t just the just the sun but also the wonderful sight of a pair of swans gliding down the canal with their eight cygnets. At one point the young ones were startled by a barking dog on one of the moored boats and darted back to huddle around one of their parents.

We began our walk by crossing the Lichfield Road Bridge (aka the Tummy Bridge in my house) to get to the towpath on the opposite side of the canal to the Red Lion. The next bridge along is the Hopwas School Bridge. As the name suggests it is near to the village school, named after founder Thomas Barnes. A lovely example of the local lad made good story, Thomas is said to have been abandoned as a baby, and discovered in a barn by villagers who gave him a surname to represent his humble beginnings. Educated and cared for by the villagers, Thomas became a successful London merchant. Had I walked a little to the right of the school, I would have seen the original schoolmaster’s house with a plaque reading ‘This house was built at the charge of Mr Thomas Barnes native of this place and a citizen of London in the year of our Lord 1717 for the dwelling of a person to teach the children of this village to read English’.

Instead, we kept on walking under the bridge and along the tow path. Something I did wonder about but couldn’t think of any explanation for at the time was the small door in the bridge itself. After doing a bit of post-walk googling it seems it might be a storage place for stop planks, used to block off part of the canal when maintenance work needs to be carried out. I think.

There was also some machinery on the other side of the tow path that looked interesting but again, I’m not quite sure of its purpose.

This, however, I did recognise to be one of the well documented pillboxes that stand in this area, defences against an invasion that thankfully never came.

Growing alongside the pillbox was a hint of what was to come in those infamous and ancient woods about which I’ve heard so much but seen so little, only ever passing by in the car. I’m pleased to say that Hopwas Woods lived up to my expectations, with a display of bluebells that put even my beloved Leomansley Wood in the shade. I attempted to capture it in photos, although they could never do it justice.

From then on I saw blue everywhere – the boats, the sky over the distant towers of Tamworth, a piece of pottery by the side of the canal and, after a big lunch and this short walk, a hammock at the water’s edge that looked very inviting indeed….

 

Into the woods….

I was lured into the woods by the promise of wood anemones…..then along the path past the old Leomansley mill pools….and finally onto the edge of Pipe Green common.

 

 

 

Tree following: …..bring May flowers

Leomansley Woods are lovely all year round but within the next few weeks they will be at the peak of their beauty. Well, I think so. You’ll have to visit and see if you agree.

There’s just a smattering at the moment, but soon the bluebells will fill the gaps between the trees and paint the woodland floor with their colour.

Getting bluer by the day

I could put a photo on here from last year but why spoil the anticipation? It’s not long to wait now! In the meantime there’s plenty more going on of interest, although I confess I’m not always sure what exactly. I’m still fumbling my way through with a variety of Woodland Trust swatch books and a junior nature guide but I am learning slowly. I’ve realised that trying to identify the plants from photographs is not the way to do it. Clearly, it’s a bit tricky to see if the leaves smell of anything (for example, according to my book, hemlock has ‘the strong smell of mice’!) and it’s hard to see other subtle details from a photograph too.

I know these are tulips.....

Fungus

This is some kind of fungus......

No idea???

 

No idea part 2????

The dandelions had closed up due to the rain (or maybe they’ were hiding, having heard of my plans to turn them into marmalade……).

Not so dandy

Elsewhere along the lane, other plants were still showing evidence of the last downpour.

Raindrops on leaves

The tree itself now has buds and I’m pretty sure that it is an oak. The path running past the tree goes past Leomansley House/Manor and leads to Pipe Green. Pipe Green is a wonderful area of meadowland managed by a trust and they have an equally wonderful website with details of all the birds, plants and animals you might spot whilst you are there. Have a look at the website here and then go and visit! I’m going to go and see if I can spot the wood anemones.

Oak Aged

Galls & Buds come out to play

Following the sale of the Maple Hayes Estate, to which it belongs, Leomansley Wood now has a new owner. Let’s hope that it will now be cared for and managed as well as it should be.

 

 

Wood Work

This week started with a brand new orchard and ended with an ancient woodland.

Last weekend, I helped to plant cider trees at Woodhouse Community Farm in Fisherwick. It wasn’t just the potential liquid reward that got me out of bed on a cold and frosty Sunday morning, there were a couple of other reasons!

It's got a lot of potential....

 

Orchards are becoming a rare habitat – according to Natural England, it’s estimated that the overall orchard area in England has declined by 63% since 1950. A traditional orchard can support around 1,800 species of wildlife. Although it will clearly take a while for the new cider orchard to reach this stage, I’m hoping that it will help to redress the balance a little bit! The People’s Trust for Endangered Species recently created an inventory of the traditional orchards in England, and you can read the summary of their findings for Staffordshire here.

Being involved with the orchard will also give me an opportunity to learn something about some disappearing traditional skills and knowhow. Growing fruit trees is a fascinating business, although I clearly have much to learn as I was the only person whose tree had to be dug up and replanted. Hopefully I’ll be better at the cider making bit, but if not, there’s always the cider drinking part which I’m fairly confident about.

In contrast to this budding orchard, on Friday I found myself amongst much older trees. Merrion’s Wood is a lovely nature reserve, just outside Walsall town centre and looked after by Walsall Countryside Services. Bluebells are already starting to shoot up all over there and countryside ranger Morgan told me that these plants were an indicator of ancient woodland, along with several other species.

Ancient Woodland in Leomansley

Leomansley Wood is full of bluebells in springtime. An interactive map of habitats from DEFRA confirms it as ‘ancient replanted woodland’. This means that although the site has been continuously wooded since 1600 (at least), the trees are more recent. It’s interesting that the place name is thought to include the celtic element ‘lemo’, meaning an elm (1) or possibly ‘leme’, lime tree.  The ‘-ley’ suffix is thought to come from the Anglo Saxon ‘leah’ meaning ‘clearing’ (2).

I think that to find a nearby semi natural ancient woodland, you need to visit Hopwas Woods near Whittington Barracks.  I should probably do this myself at some point! It’s worth pointing out that only 1.2% of the UK is made up of this kind of habitat and that it is irreplaceable. (3)

The DEFRA map also shows a traditional orchard between Maple Hayes and Jubilee Wood (where the conduits are!) with several others around Burntwood and Chorley. Perhaps even more interestingly, it seems there are two patches of traditional orchard in a built up residential area of Lichfield. I don’t know if I should say where, it might encourage scrumping!

I’ve also noticed several apple trees growing alongside the A51. How did these get here – discarded apple cores from car windows or remnants of something else? Perhaps more importantly, can I use these to make cider? 😉

Footnotes:

Don’t just take my work for how brilliant Woodhouse Community Farm is! There is a snowdrop walk on Sunday 5th February at 10.30am, where you can also see some of the things they have planned for the future.

The Woodland Trust point out that although many ancient woodlands have been recorded on inventories, there may also be unidentified fragments out there. Although bluebells don’t always indicate ancient woodland, if you do spot any growing this spring it might be worth having a closer look to see what else is around! The Woodland Trust have a really interesting guide to ancient woodland that you can read by clicking here.

Sources:

1) ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42.
 2) http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/mattiasjacobsson

(3)http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1437