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Melwood Between Seasons


The flush of spring flowers is now over and the full range of summer blooms has yet to start. The bluebells took a pretty hard hit from the rabbits but a few late flowerers were still in bloom in the first week of June. Early in the spring, with cold weather holding everything back, the green shoots of bluebells stood out as an attractive meal for passing herbivores but with some warmer weather and plenty of moisture in the soil, the vegetation is now tall and the rabbits are spoilt for choice. In a few locations, the bluebells are now replaced by equally blue columns of bugle flowers, which, like the bluebells, benefit from the dappled light created where the trees have been thinned.


In the area that we coppiced and fenced in winter 2011, the early spring flowers put on a good show. We planted quite a few seedlings grown from Oxlips that were themselves planted a few years earlier. We particularly selected this site, as it was protected and a good distance from the main area of cowslips and primroses in the meadow. Yet to our surprise, about 50% of the plants that bloomed in 2013 were primrose x oxlip hybrids. It seems that despite dire warnings about the state of Britain’s bee populations, they were pretty active in Melwood when the oxlips were in flower. From a purely botanical point of view, it is sad to see the oxlip gene pool diluted in this way, but as a floral spectacle, the hybrid puts on a far better show than either of its parents, so it is not all bad.


At the back of the wood, it is a very different story and little grows on the floor of the wood. It is easy to blame the dense shade created by the cover of ivy and this certainly plays a part, but the heavy compaction of the soil from countless feet is also a major factor. A steady proliferation of new paths across green areas adds to the threat to this tiny nature reserve and I appeal to the many walkers who use the wood, “please stick to the single main path around the outside of the wood and down the middle of the meadow”. When the reserve was set up, the land owners, Cambridge County Council, requested that the dense ivy cover at the back of the wood should be maintained and left largely untouched. This was incorporated into the Management Plan for 2010 to 2015 and is an element of the biodiversity of the wood. Nonetheless, the wildlife value of this area is very low by comparison with the more open areas and we may need to discuss how we can improve species abundance without significantly changing the nature of the wood. Planting lots more trees is certainly not the answer in this area.


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