Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Walkidons Way green lane and Rockham Wood

Walkidons Way at the corner of Rockham Wood

Walkidons Way is a rare example in our locality of a green lane - most of the rest having been tarmacked.  It is a public access route and runs between Hogsbrook Farm at its north-western end and Woodbury Common at Woodbury Park to the south-east.  Along the way it passes beside Rockham Wood - a (private) ancient wood that is a designated County Wildlife Site. 

A green lane can be defined as an un-metalled track with field boundaries on either side.  These boundaries may be banks, hedges or woodland edges, often with features such as ditches - all of which can be seen along the length of Walkidons Way.  The hedges and woodland edges here are particularly rich in examples of hedge-laying and coppicing of great age, and possibly also an ancient boundary tree.  

In terms of bio-diversity, green lanes are mini-landscapes with their own micro-climate and ecology, due to the combination of the track and its boundary features.  They may be more botanically species-rich than a single hedge, may act as wildlife corridors, and their sheltered conditions are of great importance, for example, to butterfly populations.  

Historically, Walkidons Way linked Greendale Barton - formerly an important farm on the site of the present Greendale Business Park - to the Common.  Greendale Barton belonged at one time to Torre Abbey (for more information about this, see the June 2014 post about Honey Lane).  In Abbey Charters of 1240-50 the lane is known as Warkedunesweye, suggesting that it was a route adopted from at least Saxon times.  It was possibly a drove road, for moving stock between Greendale and the Common.

In one such Charter, the track is described as passing from 'Gryndell land' to Geoffery Hoggesbroc's house (confusingly, this is not the present Hogsbrook Farm, but the site of the house known as Lyndhayne).  Part of this section of the way is now private.  From here it climbed to Woodbury Common and made straight for the old fire-beacon, named in the Charter as 'Virbecna' - we love these old spellings!  

The former agricultural land here has been much altered for leisure use, and the lane now passes between golf courses at the higher end, and fishing lakes lower down, which were created during the 1990s.   The Woodbury Park complex, which opened in 1995, was a highly controversial development at the time, but has become a generally accepted element of the modern landscape.

The track and its verges are unfortunately suffering degradation from modern vehicular traffic.  But the lane is in a better condition than two other nearby green lanes: Moor Lane, at Pilehayes Farm, and Watery Lane leading off Bonds Lane.  The latter is still often shown on maps as a lane, but is so 'watery' that it is in fact a watercourse and has been paralleled instead by the field path to Woodbury.  By contrast, Walkidons Way offers a walk of very different character to that of most of our local lanes, or of the open spaces of the Common.

Huge hawthorn stool at corner of Rockham Wood - boundary or way marker?


Rockham Wood is designated as an ancient, semi-natural broadleaf woodland.  This is defined as a wood that has been in existence since AD 1600, but where some parts have been managed and introductions made, mostly in the form of broadleaf fringes.

Rockham Wood has been absorbed into the Woodbury Park golf-course complex, and has undergone changes to accommodate the course layout: in places fairways have cut swathes through it, while elsewhere it has been supplemented by new plantings of oak, birch, rowan, and ash.  The original wood follows a typical pattern of tall oak and ash, with an under-storey of holly, hazel, birch, and hawthorn.  At the western end, where the wood meets Walkidons Way, a larch plantation lies adjacent to a more mixed section of larch with ash, birch and willow, with an under-storey of hazel, hornbeam and holly.  On its border along the track, there is a fine line of old oaks, and the boundary is marked by a high wood-bank of some 6ft.  To the north of the course, the fishing lakes offer much scenic value.  Pathways, wood and field edges are flanked by a rich mixture of species: hawthorn, hazel (many in a variety of coppice sizes), dogwood, field maple, holly, birch  and willow.  An alder grove adds seclusion to a little pond.

Without the relevant club memberships, these areas have no public access.  Nevertheless, the views into and across them from Walkidons Way are varied and interesting.

Information in this post has been taken from
Deryck Seymour, Torre Abbey chap. 23 and footnote 100.
Sally Elliott's contribution on Rockam Wood to the forthcoming report of the Woodbury Historic Environment Action Plan (an AONB project funded by English Heritage).

The photographs were taken in early October 2014, and the article written soon after, but for some reason remained as a draft and was not published at the time.... better late than never ...

After the step-back-in-time that much of Walkidons Way offers,
the view from the corner by Lyndhayne of new developments
behind Hogsbrook Farm is a jolt back into the present day.

Traditional hedge-laying, or steeping.

View across the golf course up towards the top
of Walkidons Way (above) and across the Exe valley
towards the Raddon Hills (below)

Spindle berries

Black bryony berries

Looking east along the line of Walkidons Way to Rockham Wood
on the skyline, from near Hogsbrook Farm.

Red Admiral butterfly (above) and bumble bee (below)
enjoying the warmth and the nectar feast on ivy
at a sunny corner near Hogsbrook Farm.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Welcome to the new Parish Tree Wardens

After 25 years of amazing service to the Parish, Sally Elliott is retiring as Tree Warden for Woodbury Salterton - to be replaced by local resident Dave Rose.  Here Sally reflects on a few current concerns about trees.  Despite her modesty, she is a fount of knowledge and passion, and will continue to campaign on local issues relating to the natural environment, especially to trees and soil - some of which will be covered in future blog posts.

Dog Lane, August 2015

We need trees!
It is sometimes overlooked that the legacy of arboreal beauty inherited by the present, owes much to the vision of informed and purposeful planting in the past.  Will the present leave a similar legacy to the future?

Trees are not merely beautiful.  It is no exaggeration to say that the future well-being of the planet depends on them.  Trees stabilise soils and climate, absorb carbon while releasing oxygen, are central to the ecosystem and biodiversity, offer shade and shelter, and mitigate flooding.  We need trees as never before, and we need more of them!

Field trees and woodland
Castle Lane, July 2016

Loss of tree cover over the past few decades has motivated the formation of national and local organisations with the aim of redressing the deficit.  The Woodland Trust has worked tirelessly to raise awareness, protect Ancient Woodland, and establish new woods.  Increasingly, small community-based groups have involved schools in promoting and planting trees in their areas.  

The Tree Warden scheme
One of the most significant developments in this context was initiated and co-ordinated by the Tree Council.  Their Tree Warden Scheme was launched in 1990, largely in response to the Great Storms of 1987 and 1990, when millions of trees were lost.  The volunteer scheme forms a national network linked to Parish Councils and other local authorities, and has been a tremendous force for good.  In the first 20 years, many thousands of volunteers have devoted nearly two million hours a year to trees, with time worth about £15 million.  How impressive is that !

Working with and through the Parish Council, a warden's duties include :
  • Organising and taking part in planting and identifying new  planting sites.
  • Monitoring local trees, reporting on damage and disease.
  • Ensuring adequate protection and aftercare for new plantings
  • Engaging with the local community, especially schools.
  • Leading on local environmental projects.
  • Generally promoting trees and their importance.

In 1991, Woodbury Parish Council appointed a warden for each of the three villages within its boundaries.  Sally Elliott in Woodbury Salterton was one of those original volunteers, and is only now retiring - very reluctantly.  However, she will still be on hand to advise if needed.  John Treasaden in Woodbury is also retiring after years of contributing much to the local tree-scape.  The present Exton warden, Peter King, is continuing in his post. 
Tree Wardens John Treasaden and Peter King
planting a flowering pear on Woodbury Village Green
October 2014

Two new Tree Wardens
The Parish is very fortunate that two young volunteers have stepped forward to fill the posts left by Sally and John.  

Dave Rose is the new warden for Woodbury Salterton, having earned his stripes initiating and co-ordinating the wildlife area on Parkhayes Plantation.  

Parkhayes Plantation April 2015

Tony Bennett is taking over as Tree Warden in Woodbury.  He and his wife Claire set up Wild Woodbury earlier this year, a 30-year project to maintain and enhance habitats for wildlife in the parish.  

Bird-feeding station installed by Tony Bennett of
Wild Woodbury and pupils at Woodbury Salterton School
January 2016

Both Dave and Tony are full of energy, enthusiasm, new ideas, and an ability for fast learning!  They have already had a good start: through the kind invitation of a resident, they were recently able to walk a local smallholding and view the wide range of habitats the owner has created over several years, through his own labour, skill, and knowledge.  

New tree-planting on a local smallholding

New woodland has been created and existing woods extended, in which the planting of saplings regenerating from healthy trees has been particularly important.  Newly-planted and extended hedges act as connecting corridors.  Ponds and drainage ditches have been dug, and wild flower areas encouraged.  The peaceful, secluded beauty of these few acres of land throbs with life, and bears testimony to immense dedication.  During the walk, many questions were asked, much was learnt, and much was admired.

Tree disease
Amid the good news it is hard to introduce the bad, but reality must be faced.  A plethora of tree pests and diseases are affecting some of the most common and beloved species that grace the countryside and our everyday lives.  Some are spreading fast and are a cause of mounting concern.  

Many people will remember how Dutch elm disease ravaged this Parish and virtually wiped out the country's stock of elms during the 1960s and 1970s.  Now the oak and ash are also under severe threat from 'acute oak decline' (AOD), and 'ash die back' (Chalara).  The Forestry Commission has a distribution map of the spread of ash die back, which is updated regularly, and shows that ash die back has reached our part of Devon in the last two to three years.  The Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission both have good pictures of the symptoms of both these diseases, and relevant information.  

One particular fear is that non-woodland trees - growing in small copses and in hedges bordering lanes and fields, and featuring prominently as landscape stalwarts - may succumb to these diseases before replacements are established.  Without prompt action, the consequences in terms of landscape and wildlife are unthinkable.

Hedge tree competition
In response, working with the Woodland Trust and the Tree Council, the Devon Hedge Group has launched a Hedge Tree Competition to persuade farmers and landowners to establish and manage hedge trees to benefit wildlife and the landscape.  The competition encourages farmers and landowners in regenerating their hedges by allowing promising hedge saplings to grow up, and by planting new hedge stock, while caring for existing mature trees.  Sally has already approached a few local farmers but would welcome help with spreading the competition's message as widely as possible.

An example from Woodbury of good hedge-tree husbandry:
a well-trimmed hedge and trees allowed to grow to full height.
Approved by the Devon Hedge Group as excellent.
January 2016

Positive news
We end on a positive note, however, courtesy of a tree named 'Betty'...  A recent article in the national press, reported that plant scientists have discovered a handful of ash trees in a Norfolk forest which have remained in good health despite being surrounded by wilting victims of die back.  Clippings were taken from the finest - estimated to be 200 years old - for laboratory analysis.  And so it was that Betty came into public focus - since it became clear that she had all the signs of stubborn resistance and could be bred to repopulate the land.

It is to be hoped that the scientists succeed with their invaluable work, and development of resistant strains are found for oak and other vulnerable species, thereby securing a rich legacy with which to adorn the future.

In the meantime, we wish our new Tree Wardens very well!

Monday, 4 April 2016

The demise of the Turkey Oak on the Plantation

The great and distinctive Turkey Oak on the Plantation in the middle of Woodbury Salterton was recently found to have progressive internal fungal rot.  Unfortunately in this condition it presented a danger to the public, especially as it was growing on the edge of Village Road - so, with sadness and regret, the Parish Council decided it needed to be felled.  The work was done in sections over two days, 9th and 10th of February, by skilled tree surgeons from local company Ace Arboriculture - with Parish Tree Warden Sally Elliott standing by to make this visual record.  

Further below we present more information about Turkey Oaks in general, and this one in particular - including an interesting assessment of its age, and its possible relation to the development of the Plantation as a village open space.

Turkey Oaks (Quercus cerrisare vigorous, fast-growing, strong, and tall - potentially reaching 40m high.  They are not native, but were introduced from the Balkans and Turkey in the 18th century.  At that time they were well-regarded as ornamental parkland trees (of which this one was a fine example).  They were also expected to be valuable for construction, but were later discovered to split and warp when seasoned, and so were relegated to use for fencing and firewood.

Turkey Oaks were widely planted in this country and began to naturalise: the first one recorded in the wild was in 1905.  Since then there has been a large increase in numbers, and they have aggressively colonised more sandy soils, to the detriment of native plants.  In Europe they are extensively naturalised, and appreciated for their fast growth.  

Most cultures in Europe also regarded these trees highly because (like oaks in general) they were considered sacred to many gods, including Zeus (Ancient Greek), Jupiter (Roman), and Dagda (Celtic) - each of whom ruled over thunder and lightning.  

The trunks of Turkey Oaks are long, straight and grey, with various plates and fissures forming as they mature.  Orange-coloured fissures near the base of the trunk are a distinctive feature.  The wind-pollinated catkins are a source of pollen for bees and other insects.  The acorns are large and round, orange towards the base with a green-brown cup.  They are densely covered in soft, long, mossy bristles, which are especially conspicuous in winter.  The acorns are very bitter, but are eaten by jays and pigeons.  Squirrels usually only eat them when other food sources have run out.

Image sourced from Wikipedia

The leaves are distinguishable from native oaks by being narrow, with variable pointed lobes and deep cuts close to the midrib.  

Images sourced from Wikipedia

The tree hosts the knopper gall wasp, and acorns may often be found with a single exit hole in them.  The larvae provide early food for birds, but unfortunately they damage the acorns of native English Oaks (Quercus robur). 

The Turkey Oak is useful as stock for numerous cultivars to be grafted onto.  Notable among these is the locally developed Lucombe Oak (Lucombeana), raised by William Lucombe in his Exeter nursery from the 1760's, and widely planted throughout Devon.  It also hybridises with Cork Oak, producing a medium to large semi-evergreen tree, with less thick bark than the latter.  

The Woodbury Salterton tree had puzzled Sally for quite a while, since its leaf-shapes were so variable, and for a long time she thought it was a Lucombe oak.  A few weeks before the tree was felled, she picked this sample and saw that the leaves seemed to be of both Turkey and Lucombe oak!

Note the variation in the leaf shapes on a single twig

We are very grateful to the tree surgeon, Sean Ficken, for explaining this phenomenon:

"I would say that looking at the leaves in the picture it's probably Turkey Oak.  However, Turkey Oaks and Lucombe Oaks are very difficult to tell apart.  There are two types of Lucombe, type A and B.  The type A's are normally more common around our area and probably traced back from the original plants in around 1762.  In my experience I've noticed that Lucombe Oaks have a smaller, more squat form and longer boughs, and as long as the winter is not too harsh they remain virtually evergreen.  By contrast the Turkey Oak is tall and gun-barrel straight.

"True Lucombe Oaks (Quercus x hispanica 'Lucombeana') are clones of the original tree, but the term 'Lucombe Oak' is also often used to refer to any hybrid between Turkey Oak and Cork Oak (Quercus suber), and there are many different hybrids.  The more lobed leaf could be seen as similar to a Quercus x hispanica 'Diversefolia.'  

"But it could also very easily be a leaf from a 'Lamass growth flush,' which in itself is a very interesting phenomenon of oak trees.  Oaks have basically evolved over time to produce a secondary show of leaves in the summer - as you will find that a lot of the leaf-chewing insects such as tortrix viridana (leaf roller) lay their eggs on buds and hatch at the same time as the buds emerge into leaf, then strip the tree of its leaves!"

The black markings on the stump are known as pseudosclerotial plates.  They are formed by the tree as a defence mechanism against disease, and are an interaction zone or battle line between sound and diseased wood.  Sean said, "Wood-turners like them, as long as the timber hasn't degraded too much; they regard it as spalting." 

He also explained that, "The top sections of the main stem showed that at one time the tree used to have two co-dominant leaders.  This simply means that the main stem split into two, but from the cross sections of timber the two stems were growing too close together, making them 'included.'  At some time, one of these stems has failed, leaving the other to become the dominant main leader.  Over the years this has been hidden away within the annual rings that the tree puts on whilst it grows." 

The tree was about 70m (55ft) tall and initially thought to be about 120 years old, but Sean continued, "I would say from looking at the stump that the tree was quite a bit older than first thought - maybe 160/170 years old."  He concluded somewhat lyrically, "As an arborist it is very interesting for me to examine the cross-sections of old timber, as it can give a year by year account of what was happening at that time, through the Great Wars etc ....  They are indeed the silent scrap books of time.  Very interesting to know what that tree must have seen over its life span."

His dating of the tree is intriguing as it suggests that it could have been planted at the same time as the well-house/water-conduit on the Plantation was built and given to the village by local benefactor Miss Marianne Pidsley of Greendale House in 1847.  This was also the year of her death, almost 170 years ago, so there is a possibility our Turkey Oak was part of her memorial.  It was certainly a handsome tree - part of local life since the mid-nineteenth century - and its demise leaves a gap in the village scene. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Dog Lane discoveries

So after all, spring and summer ran away with us … but here we are once again - with renewed enthusiasm, and also with a plug for the Local History Society's meeting in November at which Nicky Hewitt, of the RSPB, will  give a presentation about the natural history of the Pebblebed Heaths.  You may remember her impassioned letter to the Woodbury News in October 2014, which she kindly allowed us to re-publish here, too. The meeting will be on Thursday 5 November, 7.30pm at Woodbury Village Hall.

This time we are in Dog Lane, which runs up towards Woodbury Common for over a mile from the crossroads with Stony Lane and White Cross road.  It joins Castle Lane near the ridge of the Pebblebed Heaths, by Woodbury Park hotel and Golf Club.

Dog Lane near the junction of Stony Lane
and White Cross Road, looking towards the Common

The lower stretch starts inauspiciously as a very narrow lane between high banks - which nevertheless have a variety of hedgerow trees and shade-loving plants, such as ferns and Cuckoo Pint (or Lords-and-Ladies).  It is very sad to report once again the damage to the bases of these banks.  On both sides they have been badly eroded - perhaps by hedge-flailing machinery in August, which appears to have entirely filled the width of the lane.  There is a real risk of washing away during the winter, which could compromise the stability of the banks.

Common Polypody

The bright red berries of Cuckoo Pint, or Lords-and-Ladies,
are toxic to humans but loved by birds

Further along, the lane becomes a more rewarding walk, with occasional far-reaching views beyond Exeter.

Looking back towards Stoke Hill beyond Exeter

View to the Raddon Hills, from field-entrance
at the turning to Cannonwalls Farm

Continuing upwards, the habitats become increasingly varied.  The two dips in the road near Coombe Park Farm are particularly lovely - pictured here in early-June.

Field-gate looking towards the rear of Little Coombe Kennels,
early June

Two deep goyles (dialect word for a steep, narrow valley) have been incised by the stream which rises in Castle Brake, and a small tributary - which continue together to form the lake at Merehaven Manor, before joining the Grindle Brook near Winkleigh Farm, and hence to the River Clyst.  It is easy to imagine that the depth of the lane at this point may have been emphasised by the regular movement of animals from local farmsteads up to the Common.

View uphill from the goyle near Coombe Park Farm, below,
in early June

The small wood on the left here is the remnant of a larger piece of land which was known as Worth Forest.  It was an area of just over ten acres stretching uphill alongside the lane, over what is now part of the golf course.  It was shown as woodland on the Tithe Map of 1839, and on OS Maps until the middle of the twentieth century.

Although 'forest' in modern usage usually refers to a large tract of densely wooded land, it is in fact a mysterious word, originating in Europe, which meant land on which deer were protected by special bylaws.  The word and these laws were introduced to England by William the Conqueror, and for many centuries 'Forest' (with a capital F) meant a place of deer.  It was an unenclosed area - often a large common - where either the king or another magnate kept deer for hunting.

Might Worth Forest therefore once have been a deer park?  We have begun to research this intriguing possibility.  Further up the lane, the road and the verges become much wider, the hedgerows are ancient, and the flora, particularly on the left side of the lane, becomes much more varied.  Perhaps this could support our speculation ….

This small woodland does still have a deer population, and a local resident has had regular recent sightings of young twins or triplets on the lane here.

Worth Forest

It is wonderful to be able to report that, in this upper stretch of Dog Lane, Sally recently spotted the highest diversity of plant species here that she has ever seen.  This might be particularly because the verges have been uncut this summer, making a salutary comparison with those further down the lane.  This matters because wild flowers are disappearing at an alarming rate, and small steps such as delaying cutting can make all the difference to their survival and to maintaining biodiversity - not just the plants but all the insects, birds and animals that they support.

Upper Dog Lane looking towards the Common (above),
and back towards Woodbury (below)

One very exciting discovery was a clump of Sneezewort, a plant which (according to Sarah Raven) declined significantly during the twentieth century, with losses increasing more recently due to land drainage and habitat destruction.  It can still occur in old, unimproved meadows and areas of grassland that have not been sprayed, but is a rare find.  It is aptly named for its widespread use in the past to fight coughs and colds - a tincture of its leaves apparently cleared heads by inducing sneezing.

Sneezewort [sourced at seasonalwildflowers.com]

Four other less usual finds were Nipplewort, Pale Persicaria,  Tormentil, and Hemp Agrimony [images all sourced from http://www.seasonalwildflowers.com]

Pale Persicaria
Hemp agrimony

One fairly unusual sighting was of the Jersey Tiger Moth, a day-flying moth.  In Britain until recently it was confined to the Channel Islands and parts of the coast - on the mainland being most common in South Devon.  But in recent years it has appeared in Dorset and the Isle of Wight, and seems to be extending its range quite rapidly, with a thriving population now in parts of London.

Jersey Tiger Moth

Lastly, here's a curiosity often found on Field and Dog Roses - the Bedeguar Gall, or Robin's Pincushion.  This structure is created by a chemical reaction within the plant to a gall wasp laying her eggs in an unopened leaf bud.  The name 'Bedeguar' derives from a Persian word meaning 'wind-brought', and 'Robin' refers not to the bird, but to the sprite of English folklore, Robin Goodfellow.  Hard though it may be to believe, in the past these galls were dried and powdered and used to cure whooping cough, toothache, rheumatism and colic.  Mixing their ashes with honey and applying them to the scalp was thought to cure baldness, and they were also used as a charm against flogging!

Robin's pincushion gall