Monday, 08 August 2022

There is so much to enjoy on this beautiful little piece of common

There is so much to enjoy on this beautiful little piece of common

ON a notably clear and fresh June morning, we visit part of Peppard Common.

We’ve not explored the northernmost open area since March. I’m glad that we do so as there is much on display.

It is a very pleasant drive through Sonning Common. We rise up a hill, then down through Stony Bottom and up another winding, twisty hill.

Reaching the crest, Rosemary turns left to park in a convenient open area with a sublime vista. It is no wonder that this gem has been used in films and television programmes including Howards End and Inspector Morse.

We restrict ourselves to the elevated section today, either side of the primary school and the Red Lion pub.

One of the most striking things about this delightful common is the large range of grass species. I must admit to being a late student in this field of botanical study but I’m learning quickly and becoming familiar with all that we are presented with today.

Rosemary kindly bought me an excellent reference book, A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes by Dominic Price, published by the Species Recovery Trust in 2021, a wonderful publication and easy to navigate.

Some of the standout grasses are cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata), sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), red fescue (Festuca rubra), upright brome (Bromopsis erecta), tufted hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and soft brome (Bromus hordeaceus), a colourful marvel.

They swing to and fro in a light wind as if waving a hello to us and even seem to smile as we walk through the sunlit meadow.

There is a range of plants here that you would normally encounter in a marshy, riverside meadow. This is very strange so high up in the Chiltern Hills.

I might have an explanation. There used to be a pond in front of the old Dog pub. It was filled in and the road realigned.

But where did the water go? It must emerge somewhere. I believe that there is a natural aquifer which must have once been an important watering hole for horses.

This could explain the seasonal flooding of Dog Lane and what we see today on the common.

A long, deepish, damp ditch runs in a southerly direction away from the the B481. It is full of pale green ferns that I would normally expect to find under the cover of trees.

There is a large amount of purple-flowered common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and meadow buttercups (Ranunculus acris) share space with water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides).

To the west some expected plants are growing on this relatively small but glorious expanse.

There are vast mats of heath bedstraw (Galium saxitale), a very attractive but sickly-smelling plant that sports four small white petals.

Spear thistles (Cirsium vulgare) with their compact, purple florets and pinnately lobed leaves are a major draw for insects.

There is also white campion (Silene latifolia), green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens), masses of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) from deep purple to white and meadow crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense).

The white dead-nettle (Lamium album), with its square stems and pleasant aroma, is an underestimated and valuable plant.

Yellow cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris radicata) with hairless stems is prominent and handsome.

Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), with its blue- and white-centred flowers, lights up the grassland, as does sparkling lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea).

Sprays of oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), an iconic meadow flower, seem popular with meadow brown butterflies (Maniola jurtina), a lovely, striking insect that tells me that summer has arrived.

The yellow flowers of common bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) shine like tiny suns. White clover (Trifolium repens) and red clover (Trifolium pratense), both bee magnets, spread all around.

Common fumitory (Fumaria officinalis) with long pink, crimson-tipped flowers is most elegant, as are the white stamens and brown corollas of ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata).

Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), common sorrel (Rumex acetosa,) scented mayweed (Matricaria recutita), common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) complete the show.

Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus) is growing rapidly and the clustered yellow flowers will coincide with the nodding blue of harebell (Camanula rodundifolia), the white umbels of hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) and the pink blooms of common restharrow (Ononis repens) come July.

We’ll be back to marvel at them all when the common will resonate to the sound of grasshoppers.

A mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus), once a common sight but not anymore, sits on a simple wooden post.

Also known as the storm cock, the bird is famous for singing in the face of strong gales. I love the way that they strut, quite erect — unlike their cousins, the blackbird and song thrush.

In the background a healthy-looking woodbine is in full bloom, smothering the trunk of a young oak tree. I’ve never seen one looking so exuberant.

Another oak is home to a bracket fungus called chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

We have only explored a small portion of this important relic of former times and land use that stretches all the way up and past Nettlebed.

There is so much to see and take in. I hope that it remains this way forever.

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