“If you go down to the woods today”: Finding out about John’s wood.

Learning about and knowing our own back yard is about loving our patch. Many of us walk on Melling Moor, it is a lovely stroll along the lane with views over to Bowland Fells and the Yorkshire hills. If you’re lucky, you may see deer or a family of long-tailed tits, going about their business, dashing between the hedgerows. But have you walked off the track onto the Lancashire Way, and ventured through the field and the fenced wood, which joins broadleaf woodland leading you towards Wrayton? This small wooded area, which sits aside the public path is part of Cringleber Farm, and has been managed by John E. Clark’s family since the late 1960s. This is “John’s wood”; so called because John bought it in the late 1990s and planted it in 2000 to create a wildlife space and a new section of wildlife corridor.

At the end of September, entomologists from the North Lancashire Wildlife Group (1) joined us (2) for a woodland walk. We were curious to find out about the area and identify what creatures might have made it their home in the last 20 years.

As we walked, the first thing we learnt about was the fencing. Fenced to allow hares, but attempting to prevent deer, it’s a common form of boundary, it is tall, with large square holes, without being buried. But cleverly, as John pointed out it has a perimeter ramp in places enabling deer to escape when they find their way in (and they do!)

Walking through the young trees, we walked down the hill arriving at the two ponds. Over time one had self-drained into a marsh area, the other is ringed with bulrushes. Hugely impressive, these 2m plants flower between June and August. But did you know they have a botanically incorrect name. Interestingly it should be great reedmace, the confusion being blamed on the Victorian artist, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Behind the bulrushes (or great reedmace), sitting quietly, looking quite unassuming was a mat of the rare floating water-soldier. Called ‘floating’ as during the summer the olive-green leaves sit just above the surface, displaying its white flower and (assumedly) enjoying the sunshine. In winter it retreats to the pond bed, completely submerged and dormant, showing itself again in spring. Water-soldier supports an abundance of life, including dragonflies, who use it to lay eggs, and for adults it provides perfect shelter and hunting ground. Indeed in a timely manner, as we stood, a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly decided to show itself, demonstrating its aerial acrobatics ability. At about 6cm long it is bright blue it needs damp reedy places. Our guests told us that dragonflies belong to the Odonata category, which means ‘toothed jaws’ and are fierce predators. Fierce and beautiful, and while we don’t quite have the Mediterranean habitat, from which it originates, it was quite at home in John’s Wood, hawking as we watched.

Steve pointed out that it takes decades for flora to find its way into a young wood, but as we stood Linda, Rob and Steve pointed out a huge variety of insects and invertebrate living around the pond and wood (such as this splendid fly called a geomyza tripunctata, taken by Rob).

We need our invertebrates to establish strong habitats if we want our birds, mammals, and flora to follow even if it does take many years. Melling ornithologist and ecologist, Stuart Piner took a walk out to the wood. October is a busy migrant season for birds, and he spotted 24 species. Perhaps this number of birds, along with the abundance of invertebrates, indicates the wood is off to a good start and well on its way to being an important home for our local wildlife.

So, thanks John for creating the wood, it is a great space and it will be fascinating to watch it develop in the decades to come. The path, which runs through the wood is part of the Lancashire Way. Why not walk along it and go into the wood, you don’t need to go disguise, pause a while, see if you can spot the teddy beneath the trees!

Kathryn James

Teddy Bears’ Picnic, words by Jimmy Kennedy, 1932

1) We are grateful to Steve Garland, Linda Renshaw and Rob Zloch from the North Lancashire Wildlife Group. 2) David Nott, Edwin Howson (Parish Council), John Clarke and Kathryn James.

Find the story of great reedmace becoming bulrush on the Plantlife website: https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/discover-wild-plants-nature/plant-fungi-species/reedmace

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