On Wednesday 15 February, Julia Cooper and Ian Duddle led a circular walk on the Berkshire Downs, starting from Starveall above Aldworth. Spurge-laurel plants were in flower beside the first stretch of track, as was Common Field Speedwell in a nearby field. Rosehips were the only berries in the hedges – the Hawthorn berries had already been stripped. A flock of about 25 Corn Buntings was calling from bushes at the side of the track. There were also good numbers of Yellowhammers and Chaffinches and Skylarks were singing overhead. The adjoining field was lying fallow, with abundant seeds from clover and other plants. Sections of bank beside the track had leaves of Salad Burnet, Common Rock-rose and Wild Thyme. A little further on, Julia explained that the sheep in another field were eating stubble turnips. These are drilled into the stubble, without ploughing, after the grain has been harvested. The resulting turnips are quite small. The sheep were eating them down to ground level and their dung was also helping to fertilise the field. The route back looped round Lowbury Hill, passing a string of 11 young race horses which were being walked gently along the track. A Buzzard flopped down from a fence post to the ground, then flew to a more distant fence. In the grassy field above Juniper Valley were 2 Roe Deer and big flocks of Starlings and Fieldfares. The next stretch of track climbed steeply between high banks. A magnificent old Beech beside the track had 18 different stems leading up from its base. The walk had started in mist. As it progressed, the cloud lifted somewhat and views extended, then in the last stretch, the forecast rain band arrived – time to retire to the Bell at Aldworth for lunch.
Pictures by Laurie Haseler