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Sonning Common – 8 May 2024

Fiona Cummins led a walk to Flowercroft Wood and back, starting from the Herb Farm at Sonning Common on Wednesday 8 May. It was a warm, sunny morning, particularly welcome after a long cold and wet spring.  The walk started out by turning left along busy Peppard Road, then turned right along the much quieter Blackmore Lane. The lane was bordered on each side by steep banks which were blue with Bluebells, with Greater Stitchwort and Goldilocks Buttercup growing amongst them. The scratchy song of a Whitethroat was heard and male Orange-tip butterflies patrolled along the lane. Turning left, the next footpath crossed Blounts Court Road, with Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill in the field margin near the road.  It then crossed a field with a well-fertilised grass crop. In the background was silence – no bird calls, no sign of wildlife. The path continued along the edge of Crosscroft Wood. Down in the field margin, sightings included Field Pansy and one of the Cornsalads. Birdsong was heard again, from Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wren, Song Thrush and a distant Green Woodpecker. Crossing into the edge of Crosscroft Wood, the grasses Wood Melick and Wood Millet were identified, together with flowers of Wood Anemone and Bugle, and a small click beetle was spotted on a leaf.

There followed a steep climb up through woodland, with the harsh call of a Raven in the background. The path led to Kent’s Hill, a large open clearing of fine Chalk Grassland within the wood. Salad Burnet was abundant, and both its red female flowers and yellow male flowers were observed. Wayfaring-trees were in flower and Dwarf and Carline Thistle were present. Other plants included Glaucous Sedge, Field Scabious, Hairy Violet, Wild Strawberry, Hedge Bedstraw, Marjoram and Wood Spurge. A single Grizzled Skipper butterfly was seen, together with several Dingy Skippers, a Common Blue and two Green Hairstreaks. A narrow path at the bottom of the clearing led down to another small open area within the woodland. The leaves of several Twayblades were found here. The flower spike on the largest plant had been damaged. Most of the plants were protected with wire mesh covers. Pushing back the vegetation revealed more plants, and in the end 15 were found. Nearby, a Red-headed Cardinal Beetle was seen on Dog’s Mercury. Continuing down the hill, the path led past a large Spurge-laurel bush and shiny leaves of Black Bryony were seen scrambling through the vegetation.

The walk continued along the track which runs along the valley bottom of Flowercroft Wood. The recent cold spell had prolonged the flowering period of the Bluebells and the woodland floor was a sea of blue. Dotted amongst the Bluebells were a few flower spikes of Yellow Archangel and flowers of Three-nerved Sandwort were also found here. Pale green seed discs on the path alerted the group to the presence of a few Wych Elm trees. A Peacock butterfly basked on a bramble leaf. Purple-pore Bracket and Wolf’s Milk slime mould were found on a fallen conifer log. The track emerged from Flowercroft Wood and ran along the edge of several arable fields.  Stone Parsley, Common Vetch, Wall Speedwell and Bladder Campion were amongst the sightings in the field margin. Butterflies seen included Red Admiral and Green-veined White and a Skylark was heard. One of the group had not wanted to scramble up the rough and steep paths of Kent’s Hill. She was rewarded by the sighting of a Stoat running along the field margin.  The track led to Blounts Farm, where a Ruby Tiger moth was spotted on the side of a deep ditch. After a short stretch along a footpath next to Blounts Court Road, the walk rejoined the route from earlier in the morning. Several Giant Hogweed plants were spotted on the edge of Sonning Common.  Some of the group then had lunch in the café at the Herb Farm.

Pictures by Rob Stallard