Today walking the dog I decided to go to Brockham woods, to monitor the progress of any wildflowers that might be coming up. There are many woods round this part of the downs, they cling to the steep side of the valleys and are a last refuge.
What makes me so angry is the indiscriminate use of herbicide that the farmers, and today the golf course use on the verges. Several weeks ago, whilst walking down a green lane towards Swainswick, the verges had been gouged out by the wheels of some enormous farm machinery. This is a very old track, in spring you would find bluebells, yellow archangel, primroses, stitchwort, a whole host of vulnerable verge plants. Some will survive, but it is this insidious small scale destruction that makes sure our native herbage is so rare.
Today walking along the track through the golf course, nettles had been sprayed, and yes nettles are a nuisance, but these plants are only growing after the damaging herbicides that have been sprayed over the years. This is all we are left with when nitrogen is used to 'encourage' grass, the 'bullies' of the wild plants take hold, and the delicate plants are killed.
Spooky Brockham wood, with its 19th planting of beeches and douglas fir, is bare of any vegetation at ground level, just a thick layer of dead leaves, though I did find one small group of native bluebells. I also found the cultivated form of the yellow flowered deadnettle at the entrance, I'm not sure why people plant cultivated varieties in the wild, there are two good native deadnettles that are normally abundant at this time of the year the white flowered one and the red flowered one.
We also passed Pipley wood, this small hanging wood is quite dangerous, the trees that have fallen lie rotting on the ground, and the pathway is often very boggy with all the little streams that 'leak' out of the hill.
Looking through my photos and I came across the 'burning' of weeds on the three remaining barrows in the bronze age barrow cemetery. The singleton barrow by the entrance to the Little Down Hillfort is also always in danger of farm machinery being ridden over it.
The burnt barrows
Sunday, the above was written yesterday, I again walked in a very cold easterly wind up on the downs, this time to the fields where the Lansdown Battle took place. Luckily this large area of downs is so steep and rough, that only cattle graze on it. So it was lovely to see patches of cowslips everywhere and a group of ladies smock growing in a hollow, probably where a stream seeps through. There is also the dainty ground ivy lacing and dancing its way through the wild grasses. A soft blue, very much like a violet, coming home I took down the Englishman's Flora by Geoffrey Grigson and looked this little plant up, and it has a history all to itself.
Grigson describes it as a 'bitter, aromatic', it was a doctor's medicine and a home medicine, strengthening and cleansing, but also interestingly the chief bitter used in ales before hops. 'It was the Alehoof, the Tunhoof, the plant called hofe in OE, used in tunning the ale', and Gerard mentions it in 1597, though by that time it was getting old fashioned.
Grigson mentions that the Anglo-Saxons called it eorthifig - translating the chamaikissos of the ancients - that I do not understand but presume it must have come from the Greek. Apparently in Ludlow there was a tradition of eating pork stuffed with the leaves, and people used to drink it as Gill-tea.
Enough of ground ivy, I was moaning earlier on about the planting of the cultivated forms of deadnettles. Well Grigson full of fascinating facts tells us that the white deadnettle has the name Adam-and-Eve-in-the-Bower, why so, well if you turn the plant upside down, the black and gold stamens lay side by side just like two human figures. The deadnettles have in their familar names the word archangel, and Grigson puts this down to the fact that it was their benign nature of not stinging as compared to the real nettle which stings horribly making these flowers angelic.