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Watlington Hill – 21 October 2018

Michael Keith-Lucas led a well-attended walk at the National Trust’s Watlington Hill on the warm and sunny afternoon of Sunday 21 October. There were a few fungi in the wood next to the car park, including the poisonous Yellow Stainer. The track led out into open chalk grassland, with distant, slightly hazy, views across a large section of Oxfordshire. Many plants were still in flower, including Rough and Autumn Hawkbit, Wild Basil, Carline Thistle, Harebell, Yellow-wort, Blue Fleabane, Dwarf Thistle and Dewberry. A line of small, off-white fungi with an incense-like smell in the short turf were identified later as Cedarwood Waxcaps. Michael pointed out the different plants on the sides of the ant hills, with Common Rock-rose and Wild Thyme on the south side and Wild Strawberry on the north side. There were cushions of Common Rock-rose, with a few plants still in flower. The walk continued into an area of Yew woodland. At the base of some of the trees were branches from long-dead Juniper bushes which had the distinctive smell of freshly-sharpened pencils. Michael explained that the hillside would originally have been tightly grazed by sheep, but the Juniper bushes would have given protection from browsing animals to young Yew seedlings. These eventually grew into spreading trees which deprived the Junipers of light and killed them. Below the Yew wood was another open area of grassland. A Peacock butterfly was seen here, together with the flowers of Wild Candytuft, Small Scabious, Clustered Bellflower and Eyebright. Glossy black berries of Wild Privet were noted beside the path. Also seen here was the last surviving Juniper bush on Watlington Hill. It had a good crop of berries, but there were no signs of rejuvenation. The route led back into dark Yew woodland. In a more open clearing were plants of Deadly and Woody Nightshade. Emerging from the dark woodland, the path led up onto a section of hillside where there were abundant berries on Buckthorn and Dogwood. A small group of Grisettes, greyish fungi growing out of bag-like volvas and with finely grooved cap margins, were found here. A Red Admiral butterfly was disturbed and Pale Toadflax and Lady’s Bedstraw were added to the flower count. Patches of acid sand had the holes of solitary bees, flowering Gorse bushes and Bracken.

Pictures by Rob Stallard

Plants seen:

English name Scientific name
Traveller’s-joy Clematis vitalba
Rough Hawkbit Leontodon hispidus
Perforate St John’s-wort Hypericum perforatum
Salad Burnet Poterium sanguisorba
Wild Marjoram Origanum vulgare
Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria
Selfheal Prunella vulgaris
Gorse Ulex europaeus
Male-fern Dryopteris filix-mas
Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata
Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris
Blue Fleabane Erigeron acer
Common Centaury Centaurium erythraea
Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys
Dogwood Cornus sanguinea
Dewberry Rubus caesius
Harebell Campanula rotundifolia
Wild Mignonette Reseda lutea
Fairy Flax Linum catharticum
Yew Taxus baccata
Dwarf Thistle Cirsium acaule
Wild Privet Ligustrum vulgare
Small Scabious Scabiosa columbaria
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa
Eyebright Euphrasia nemorosa
Wild Candytuft Iberis amara
Clustered Bellflower Campanula glomerata
Juniperus communis Juniper
Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis
Deadly Nightshade Atropa belladonna
Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis
Buckthorn Rhamnus catharticus
Rosebay Willowherb Chamerion angustifolium
Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum
Pale Toadflax Linaria repens

List by Renée Grayer