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Yateley Common – 25 May 2022

Fiona Brown led a walk at Yateley Common on Wednesday 25 May. It was a dull grey and windy morning but the threatened rain held off. The walkers met at the eastern end of Blackbushe Airfield and set out along the perimeter fence, before turning into Yateley Common, which is managed by the Hampshire Countryside Service. The first part of the walk followed the old runways and stony tracks which criss-cross this part of the Common. Flowers at the side of the tracks included White Stonecrop, Common Stork’s-bill, Wild Strawberry, Field Madder, Early Forget-me-not, Weld, Germander Speedwell and Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil. Broom, Bramble, Dog-rose and Honeysuckle were in flower in the bordering scrub. A Dryad’s Saddle fungus was found low down on an unhealthy-looking old multi-stemmed tree. A Jay flew up ahead and Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were heard.

The next part of the walk was through Castle Bottom National Nature Reserve. It consists of open heathland, with steep valleys and valley mires. Exmoor ponies are used to control the vegetation. The first sighting, on entering the reserve, was a circling Buzzard being mobbed by several Magpies. A few flowers of Bell Heather and Cross-leaved Heath were found beside a narrow path which led steeply downhill into a side valley. Heath Speedwell, Sheep’s Sorrel and Tormentil were flowering amongst the acid grassland of the valley bottom. An old bonfire site was home to small bright green patches of Bonfire-moss Funeraria hygrometrica.  Continuing down the valley, the path led past a cluster of flowering Alder Buckthorn bushes. A well-chewed leaf betrayed the presence of a green Brimstone caterpillar, which was clutching the midrib of the leaf with a short section of its back end, while most of its length was sticking straight out from the leaf at an obtuse angle. The path led to a board walk over what would normally be a very wet area but, after prolonged dry weather, was now barely damp. The leaves of Bog Pimpernel were identified, while Lousewort was in flower nearby. Further on, tall closed flower-heads of Goat’s-beard were noted at the side of the path. The route led down to the main valley, where a larger stream continued to flow over its gravel bed, though probably with a significantly reduced volume. Hard Fern was growing by the banks of the stream. The track then climbed up through a section of woodland. The leaf rosette of a Spotted-orchid was found beside the path but the flower stalk had been bitten off by a browsing animal. It was a good day for finding moths, and through the morning, Common Heath, Brown Silver-line, Peacock, Common White Wave and the micro-moth Teleoides luculella were all seen and identified. The track climbed up to the top of the hill, with good views across the reserve, and, in the opposite direction, over a large area of former gravel workings. The walk continued down through woodland and then circled back to the airfield. The main runway had a wide grassy margin and flowers of Mouse-ear-hawkweed and Fairy Flax were amongst the sightings here. After returning to the car park, most of the group then went on to the Cricketers pub at Yateley for lunch.

Pictures by Fiona Brown and Tom Walker