FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

Ancient Woodland Plants

Tuesday 12th May 2015, Led by Mark Duffell

A secluded spot, hidden in the Welsh borders among the Shropshire hills, this ancient woodland dates back to before Shakespeare penned his first sonnet. It would take a better poet than me to capture the magic and stillness of this place. But we weren’t there to write poetry. I, and around a dozen others had wound our way along country lanes to learn about the botany behind what made this – and other ancient woodland sites – so special. This course on Ancient Woodland Plants, organised by Preston Montford Field Centre, was a great chance to get out in the field to see and try to identify some of the key species found in ancient woodland habitats.

This was the perfect time of year to be in a patch of ancient woodland as the valley was covered with a carpet of wildflowers like bluebells and wild garlic. After discussing some of the background to ancient woodland and how indicators are used to assess the quality of a site, we ambled along the river looking at around 40 different species. Mark Duffell, our expert and entertaining course tutor talked us through how to identify each plant and regaled us with snippets about ancient uses for the different species and how they might have got their names. We came across Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), a parasitic plant with a flower that looks like a sheep’s jawbone, Town Hall Clock (Adoxa maschetelina) with its flowers facing out in three directions, and Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) with its four leaves in opposite pairs and poisonous fruit sticking up, which when this ancient woodland was still in its infancy, might have been used in marriage rituals and to guard against witches.

For me, as an amateur who enjoys knowing what plants to look for on country walks, this course was pitched at just the right level. The course participants were from all walks of life and those less experienced in identification had time to take in the characters of different plants, while pointers were given to the professionals among us about how to conduct site assessments and manage sites for invasive species.

I think I will be hard pushed to find a site as delightful as this, but when I’m out exploring woodlands this year I’ll be keeping an eye out for some of the fascinating species that we spotted last May. Now I know more about what to look for and the vast diversity of plant species in British woodlands, perhaps I’ll draw some creative inspiration from them too!

See the full list of Natural History courses. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2016