|Herb Paris Paris quadrifolia. Also known as lover's knot or devil-in-a-bush. (Poisonous). Found in Shadwell Wood and West Wood.|
I found the wild oxlips glowing in the sunlit rides and glades. They were a beautiful sight. Perhaps Shakespeare had a wood like West Wood in mind when he wrote 'A Midsummer Night's Dream':
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violets grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
But even if Shakespeare had visited the oxlip woods of this area, a clear identification of Primula elatior wasn't made until the 1800s. This was done by the Essex scientist and horticulturist Henry Doubleday working with Charles Darwin. They recognised that the Bardfield oxlip (as they called it - after the village of Great Bardfield about five miles away from West Wood) wasn't just a primrose/cowslip hybrid but a true species. Primula elatior was known as the Bardfield oxlip for many years afterwards - and this is a local name still in use today.
|I didn't see any honeybees on the oxlips. Some will be visiting, but there were also fields of oilseed rape in flower around West Wood and I suspect most of the honeybees will be heading straight for that.|
Deep in the woods were two ponds in a glade. Swimming just below the surface were several great crested newts (apologies for the quality of the photo but there was a sudden hailstorm in the sunshine at this point creating ripples all across the surface of the water).
I was delighted to see my first orange tip butterflies of the year, and one of their favourite flowers, the cuckoo flower, growing freely in the rides...
I also saw dog's mercury and wood violets. Wood barley Hordelymus europaeus, which is rare in Essex, can be found here, but to be honest I don't know much about this plant. I imagine it can be found later in the summer. Adder's-tongue fern also grows in West Wood later in the year, as do more orchids, including the greater butterfly and the common spotted.
As to birdsong - I heard chiffchaffs, wrens, song thrushes, blackbirds and other familiar song birds. The information board at the entrance to the wood identified redpolls as a bird to look out for, but I didn't see any on my visit. At times I was distracted anyway from the birdsong by the planes going overhead - West Wood is on the flight path to Stansted. It was such a shame. I don't know what sort of damage planes flying low over an ancient woodland can do to it, but it must be some. I hope any proposed airport expansion doesn't happen because that will inevitably worsen the impact. The contrast between the planes flying over and the planes not there was huge - when the planes had gone the wood was truly peaceful once again.
When I left, I promised myself I'll visit one of the oxlip woods again next year. It really is a place to appreciate spring.