|Lesser celandine by the stream
Image: P. A. Ashton
Paul researches into aspects of plant ecology, with recent work including studies on grassland restoration and meadow connectivity and earlier work including research into sedge taxonomy and describing a sedge species new to the British Isles. Research notwithstanding, Paul views his primary role in life as being to inspire the next generation of botanists. Recent blooms from the Edge Hill hothouse include Dr. Elizabeth Sullivan, Jennifer Clayton-Brown and Josh Styles. This TV programme shows some of the devious methods used in the education work.
|Dog's mercury flowersImage: P. A. Ashton
Over to Paul:
"Spring is a season to look forward to. The warmer temperatures and longer days mean that plant life starts to emerge. With this comes the emergence of the botanists, renewing acquaintances with favourite locations and exploring new ones. Or rather, it does in a typical year. However, 2020 is far from typical and if we aren’t going to feel that this spring is taken from us then we are going to have to explore our local patches more deeply than previously and to appreciate the common more fully than before. This is my attempt to do that.
|Path, stream, Lesser celandine & Wood Anemone
Image: P. A. Ashton
"It has the rough shape of a triangle barely 2km long north to south and with the base at the south about 500m wide. It occupies a steep sided valley with a stream at the base. On the west it is bordered by houses and fields, to the east and north by farmland and to the south by rough grassland. It is typical of the ancient woodlands in this part of Britain. The valleys, or cloughs as they are known locally, probably escaped the plough due to the sheer steepness of their sides.
"However, it hasn’t escaped other human influence. The
north end once held a dam to power a mill, the eastern side merged into a park
that surrounded the now long-gone stately pile and the south end contained a
pit until 1961. While the current use is not so commercially exploited as in
the past it does function as a site for recreation; whether that be as a
child’s playground, for coming of age activities, dog-walking, or in 2020, as a
local botanist’s paradise.
Image: P. A. Ashton
"The trees largely retain their winter skeletal form, but the ground flora has emerged. A significant sign that winter is finally receding and that collective hunching of the shoulders that typifies that season is being gently relaxed. The white and yellow stars provided by Anemone nemorosa (Wood Anemone) and Ficaria verna (Lesser Celandine) respectively occupy large swathes of the valley. I’m not the first to be struck by these plants, John Clare praised the former in his ‘Wood-Anemonie‘ poem,
The woods look, filled with wild anemonie’
while Wordsworth was so enamoured of his Lesser Celandine that it was the focus of three of his poems, in the last the plant features as a reflection of the vicissitudes of human life.
‘There is a Flower, the lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold an rain;
And the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, 't is out again!’
"Much more understated in its display and consequently less celebrated in poetry is Chrysosplenium oppositifolium (Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage) is abundant in the damper parts of the valley. The edge of an old mine sough that emerges in the wood hosts a few flowers of Viola riviniana (Common Dog-violet) while elsewhere there are localised patches of flowering Mercurialis perennis (Dog’s Mercury) and Luzula sylvatica (Great Wood-rush). The presence of these two, albeit in different locations, reveal the variety in soil characteristics within the wood.
"Almost imperceptibly the wood is shifting as the days progress. The trees are beginning to come into leaf and the ground flora is changing. This is my field location this year. I hope my time here will engender a deeper understanding of its flora. This account will hopefully help share some of this understanding".
Many thanks to Paul for telling us how he's coping with life under lockdown as spring unfolds. If you are also managing to find solace in nature during your one hour per day permitted exercise, we'd like to hear from you, but please do ensure that you follow the guidelines on social distancing and minimal time spent away from home. Alternatively, you can explore the wild plants in your garden and record them for BSBI's Garden Wildflower Hunt or check out the other activities on this list.