Six Sorby members gathered to explore these ancient woodlands near Grenoside. We were lucky to have a member of the Grenoside Conservation Society to fill us in on the history of the site and on recent management implemented by the new owners, Sheffield Wildlife Trust. This large site is quite varied, consisting of conifer plantation, heathland, open Oak-Birch woodland and Beech plantation, allowing us to note the differences in the plant communities found in the different areas.
After observing the differences between the Lodgepole, Corsican and Scotch Pines that make up the majority of the conifer cover, and appreciating the sunken pathways that put the Bilberry at head height and allowed a particularly effortless view of the flowers, we proceeded to the old quarry area, where we were informed of the recent history of Cowberry at the site. Apparently one patch had emerged after the fires of the long, hot summer of 1976, and had spread to some size, before subsequently declining. Our group could only find one remaining Cowberry plant, leaving some doubt over its future at the site. The book Comparative Plant Ecology (Grime et al., 2007) suggests that germination of Cowberry seed requires high temperatures, which, with its apparent reappearance after the 1976 fire, suggests that burning may be a management tool to be experimented with.
We also enjoyed the spectacle of several teeming Wood Ant nests, and recalled that at least two plant species that we had seen in the woods (Common Cow-wheat and Hairy Wood-rush) had ant-dispersed seeds with special oil-bodies (“elaiosomes”) that ants find particularly nutritious.
After lunch we headed to Hall Wood, and investigated the stream running close to the wood boundary: we were amply rewarded for our trouble with an excellent suite of woodland plants in flower (or spore!), including Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel, Dog’s Mercury, Three-nerved Sandwort, Lesser Celandine, Sweet Woodruff and Lady Fern. A flushed area at the bottom of a slope also yielded two Sphagna for the bryophyte enthusiasts, these being fallax and palustre, two bog-mosses typical of moderately nutrient rich woods. Other interesting finds included Blinks (Montia fontana), in a wet depression, and seedlings of Buddleia and a Tree Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster cf. xwatereri), which we hoped were not about to establish a novel role as colonisers of heathland and woodland. Overall, everybody was glad that they had ignored the widespread mis-forecasting of rain, and so been able to enjoy the immense pleasure of the spring-flowering of the woods.