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The Chase and Great Pen Wood – 17 July 2019

Rob Stallard led a walk at the National Trust’s The Chase and the Forestry Commission’s Great Pen Wood on Wednesday 17 July, starting from the Rampant Cat pub at Woolton Hill, south-west of Newbury. On a hot, sunny morning and after more than 3 weeks without rain, the woods provided welcome shade. The walk started out through woodland at The Chase. Yellow Pimpernel, Slender St John’s-wort and Wood Sage were seen beside the first stretch of path, which led to an open meadow area. Here Meadow Brown butterflies were abundant, and Small Skippers darted around, particularly on the flowers of Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil. The next section of the route was across an open area of heathland with Heather not yet in flower, Dwarf Gorse, Sheep’s Sorrel and Trailing St John’s-wort. A Lizard was glimpsed here. The walk continued to the main stream which runs through the reserve, a tributary of the River Enborne. Three Green-veined White butterflies were down on the mud by the water’s edge and a Holly Blue flew nearby. There was an interesting collection of plants in a damp area by the stream, including Skullcap, Ragged Robin, Creeping Forget-me-not, Square-stalked St John’s-wort and Creeping Jenny. The walk continued down the stream valley through Alder Carr woodland to a big pond where the stream had been dammed. The pond was fenced to protect the waterside vegetation, which included Cyperus Sedge, Orange Balsam, Wild Angelica and Gypsywort. White Water-lilies covered part of the pond surface and a Kingfisher darted past. The route led back through woodland on the other side of the stream. The smell of a Stinkhorn alerted the group to its presence near the path. Big clumps of pink Bog Pimpernel were in flower in a damp area on the way to the road.

After crossing the busy A343 road, the walk continued through Great Pen Wood. The track led through Beech and conifer woodland to a stream valley, where Yellow Loosestrife, Common Hemp-nettle, Common Valerian and a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly were seen. It then climbed up the valley side. An Alder beside the path had extensively chewed leaves, the work of a team of shiny black larvae. These were later identified as the larvae of the Alder Leaf Beetle. On the other side of the track was a big Alder Buckthorn bush with ripening berries. The next track was wide with flowery margins. Butterflies seen here included Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Ringlet and Gatekeeper, while flowers included the yellow spikes of Tall Melilot, Common Fleabane and Hemp Agrimony. The track crossed an open sunny stream valley with big flowering bramble bushes, where Red Admiral, Peacock and at least 4 Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies were seen. Further up the other side of the valley, the track was bordered on one side by abundant Crown Vetch. The final part of the walk led back across the A343, through the western section of The Chase and back to the Rampant Cat for lunch.

Pictures by Rob Stallard and Laurie Haseler