Wild Flower Count 2014

I’ve been a member of Plant Life for a few years now but despite my best intentions have not submitted records to their National Plant Monitoring Scheme in the past. I was determined to do better this year…

Over the past few months I’ve moved my transects for the BTO WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey), BCT National Bat Monitoring Programme and Plant Life Wild Flower Count to the same patch, a kilometre of footpath along the banks of the river Mersey in Didsbury, a short journey from my home in Rusholme.

So far this has worked a treat. When I’ve been out on my WeBS surveys I’ve also recorded any non wetland birds, flowering plants and butterflies I’ve seen and am beginning to build up a satisfying spreadsheet of my own records which I will use to inform my various wildlife organisation transect surveys and submit to my local records centre (GMRC). And there’s just something nice about having your own records, data you collected. I was enthused and inspired by the recent Biological Recording Conference I attended in Manchester and have been building my data stash ever since.

Today I took advantage of the beautiful June weather and headed out to my patch, accompanied by my glamorous assistant/wife Stacey who despite claiming to have no botanical knowledge (she’s more at home with a sewing machine than a hand lens, here’s her blog: http://staceystitch.com/) is slowing absorbing ID skills and exclaims triumphantly whenever she gets something right. Though she does have a habit of guessing Green Alkanet at everything first. One day it will be!

By the end of our walk we had a list of 30+ plants and several birds and inverts. Not bad…

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Sawfly gall (Pontania proxima). Thanks to @savrevert on Twitter for the ID help

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A tasty looking Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) on Wood Avens

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Not great on my ladybirds. ID welcome?

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Kidney-spot ladybird?

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Dame’s Violet (Hesperis matronalis). New to me, it has popped up all along the riverbank. Some white, some violet. Most with much bigger racemes than the above photos.

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Yet to be ID’d. Need to pop back and have a look at the leaves.

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Wood Avens (Geum urbanum) seeds

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Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

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Bearded Nerd

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Dame’s Violet (both colour variations) and Hogweed flowers visible in foreground

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Common Bistort (Polygonum persicaria)

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A very fresh, glistening ladybird with faint spots. Presumably not long emerged?

I took my new Opticron 8×32 T3 Trailfinder Binoculars out for the first time having treated myself to them recently. Unsurprisingly useful for the birds with great views of swifts and some nesting grey herons, but also great for botany with confirmed IDs of some species on the opposite riverbank using them which were not possible by eye alone.

Then home to blog about it and update my records spreadsheet. A really pleasant morning recording. I’m a little wiser and browner, the mark of an excellent Sunday.

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Farsical robots & rabies (Placement day 22)

I arrived at Piccadilly Station on time for the 08:52 to Buxton and found it sat on Platform 12 as advertised on the information board. Unfortunately due to some virtual confusion caused by the early arrival of the train that would be the following service to Buxton an hour later, the artificial intelligence that it turns out is running Piccadilly station became discombobulated and blurted out an incorrect platform change announcement which resulted in me leaving the train unnecessarily which then promptly pootled off to Buxton without me.

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Once in, it made sense to stick around rather than pop home for tea before the evening’s bat survey in Bolton as planned so I busied myself working a species list for last Friday’s Phase 1 and making notes on the various bat training literature that has been piling up on my desk…

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A while after five I packed up my stuff and prepared to go find some dinner. On leaving my office I discovered I was the only person left in the building. I was fairly sure I remembered the alarm code but couldn’t shake the image in my mind of me stood outside the building while the alarm went off, cringing myself inside out with embarrassment. After wandering about aimlessly for a minute or two I heard a car outside and was spared by the arrival back of Kath and Ann.

I bumped into Kath in the kitchen the other day. It was the first time I’d seen her since my interview in September and was able to fill her in on what I’d been up to so far and end with a cheerful: “Thank’s for giving me the job by the way I really appreciate it!”. Such a nice feeling to be this side of the placement-getting experience.

A creature of habit, I wandered down Buxton High Street back to site of my other successful meal, the Railway Pub. If an ecologist were studying me they’d observe the run I’ve been making up and down the high street to feed at the end.

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I had a cheese, tomato and red onion baguette and a coke, then headed back to the office, stinking of onions, in time to be picked up by Sarah to go to Bolton for a bat survey.

The site only had a few trees on it suitable for bats and they had bat boxes in so the survey consisted largely of me climbing up a ladder and looking in the boxes. I like climbing ladders so it was fine by me. Come to think of it I’ve always enjoyed climbing ladders. Growing up in Weston-super-Mare there was a ladder attached to the high sea wall where the beach turned to pebbles and rocks at the north end. It was several meters high and in the holidays or on weekends my friends and I would play on the rocks until the tide forced up the ladder and back onto the prom.

No tide to contend with this time though, just rain. Dark clouds spread like cement over the north-west sky which from Bolton’s elevation went on for miles. The sun was setting over the hills in the distance, blurred and bright orange like a street light through wet eyelashes.

I opened each box in turn. Out of one a spider crawled right onto my nose and down my arm, passing Sarah as she held the ladder at the bottom. While I put the ladder up against another tree two boys stopped on the other side of the fence and asked what I was doing? I said I was looking for bats. “What are they?” they asked. I mimed flapping wings with my arms. “Is that a good job?” they asked, apparently genuinely interested in the answer. I said yes and they shrugged and walked away, apparently satisfied with the information.

The grass around the trees had been sewn with a wild flower mix and we ID’d a few for fun before we left. It was gloomy so the photos aren’t great…

 Corn Marigold

Prickly Sow-thistle

Tare

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This morning I went to the doctors and got my rabies booster. This means I can care for injured bats through the bat group which will be fun, rewarding, and also help me on my way towards getting my licence. I had to cycle through Manchester in the rain wearing jeans. Yuk. Now I’m at work, the only person in my room today as the others are on holiday. It has been raining all day…

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Aquatic Macrophytes course with CAN (Cheshire Active Naturalists)

My second course with CAN since joining (the first being Great Crested Newt training) began with a walk to Fleur’s house. Fleur is my ecology friend who like me is attempting to change career into the field of ecology and so attends courses and volunteers in her spare time. We met volunteering at Summerseat Nature Reserve and have since (along with our little group’s third member, Tom, who is doing the same degree as me but today was off in Preston doing the FSC course ‘Using a Flora’) attended many conservationy type things across the north west.

I arrived at Fleur’s to find her looking terrible. Up all night puking apparently but luckily (for me) still prepared to give the day a try.

The course was held at Rocksavage Power Station in Runcorn. I’d been there before for GCN training with CAN but that was on a cold April day. Today was hot.

Rocksavage Power Station

We signed in at the gate and joined the others in the meeting room. We were late and samples of rushes were already being handed out by Jack and Andy, the course leaders today.

They made a good team. Jack is your classic old school botanist with pockets in his jacket big enough to fit Stace in, he describes purely in Latin names and talks in an engaging absent minded fashion. Andy comes equipped with memorable anecdotes to commit Latin and common names to memory, sometime obscure but they do work!

Cheshire Active Naturalists (CAN)

The day was split between the meeting room and the ponds outside. There were around 20 people on the course including Becky from work and a man who told me that in 1976 someone accidentally threw a petrol bomb at him.

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Reed Canary Grass & Reed Sweet Grass

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Celery leaves speedwell

Brooklime speedwell

Marsh Horsetail. "The skirt is longer than the knickers".

Common starwort

New Zealand pygmy weed

It was really hot. Apparently my head went red where my hair is thinning at the back. I managed not to let on that I hadn’t realised my hair was thinning at the back. I’d better not be getting Dad’s bald patch.

Natins, floats, angle on stem
Polygonus
Marsh spearwort
Marsh bedstraw
Cyprus sedge
Bee Orchid
Floating Club Rush
Purple Loose Strife
Common Centaury
Yellow Wort
Greater duck weed
Minuta
Lemna minor
Marsh cinquefoile
Saint John's Wort

Day 2 – Rose End Meadow

I came bouncing through the door at about half seven last night. A much longer day than I’m used to but I’ve always maintained that good days don’t wear you out, not like bad days do anyway. Stacey had laid on a banquet of bread and butter, fried eggs, chips (healthy ones) and baked beans. Not just any baked beans, the ones in a spicy sauce. I asked if it was my birthday?
 
Up early again today, easier this time and back on the 07:52 from Piccadilly to Buxton. It’s already feeling like a routine. I noticed the same lady who looks like someone from my old work stood on the other side of Hazel Grove station as my train passed through, and I winced for the second time in two days as excited school children screamed at each other on the train between the last few stops. These are the new characters in my new routine. They replace such characters as Purple Girl and Shouty Man.
 
My only task this morning was to familiarise myself the online system. I sat at my desk, a beautiful  teak thing straight out of the 70s which I love, and read various articles and PDFs about wildlife legislation and ID. As I did this I was booked in for three more bat surveys this month via a lady called Helen who I hadn’t met yet, by email.

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After lunch I went out to Rose End Meadows with the work experience guys Scott & Ella, and members of staff Kelly and Helen. Turns out I had met Helen, and Kelly, when I’d been shown around during my interview. The meadows are beautiful, unimproved grassland with many species everywhere you looked. The sun came out and we spent an hour or so there practicing plant ID before departing with the arrival of the rain. I’d happily have stayed it’s so nice there

Rise End Meadows

(Common Spotted Orchid at Rose End Meadows)

 Sweet Vernal Grass

(Sweet Vernal Grass which has the amusing brand specific ID tip of having roots which smell like Savlon)

Scott and Ella amused us with stories of which teachers they did and didn’t like and we got back to the office in time to pack up and head home. I sat on the station and wrote my blog facing a view I suppose I’ll be seeing a lot of for the next year.
 

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Dissertation Blog entry #6. Final survey day 6 & Lab session. 2013.

I can’t stay away from Hale Golf Course it seems. I had planned on my last survey day being at another site but after I was contacted by a man called Andrew who had been given my email address by Richard I now knew the location of some good river bank sites on the course which is pretty much all I needed to get my 10 plots per 3 habitat types.

As I cycled there yesterday I thought that this was the last chance for me to have a really bad day surveying, and wondered if it was inevitable therefore that I would? As I wondered this my litre of Vimto fell out of the bottle holder on my bike. I rode up onto the pavement and looked back in time to see an articulated lorry run over it sending a purple Vimto fountain arcing onto the pavement behind me. I’m happy to say this is as bad as the day got.

Now knowing the route well I was there in no time and this time had the curiosity of surveying a site on the golf course side of the river. I’ve always assumed that I don’t like golf courses on account of them being so heavily landscaped but I’ve discovered I enjoy the polished aesthetic of the course contrasting with the wilderness of its surroundings. Neatly mown grass with foxgloves peering down at it from the tree line.  I made sure I didn’t make any sudden movements as I passed the golfers. I didn’t want to put anyone off their game and get in trouble.

Site 10, plot 1

The patch I was to survey was out of the way of the green. Some work had been undertaken to remove Balsam but there was plenty left and I wasted no time getting started. My plots were steep and difficult to navigate due to over hanging branches and dense vegetation. I noticed that a couple of bees seemed to have taken an interest in one of the foot holes I was using to climb the bank but thought nothing of it. As I began my second quadrat there were several bees in and around the foot hole which I now realised was their home. At this point, looking at the steep bank, dozens of holes came into focus, each with either bees or wasps entering and exiting. It appeared I had chosen a veritable bee/wasp city to survey along. I tucked my jumper into my trousers and my sleeves into my gloves and doubled my speed. Every time I threw a handful of Balsam up onto the bank I’d quickly scramble away in case the bees caught me at it! If they decided I was a threat there was really nowhere to go but the river.

Site 9, plot 6

Thankfully as I moved along the bank I left the bees and wasps behind and remained unstung. I sat on a fallen tree by the river and ate my sandwiches in the sunshine before retracing my steps, off the course, over the bridge and into the woods for two last quadrats…

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The last two were boggy but rich in species. I finally had some Wood Sorrel to include in the surveys and snacked on their leaves as I did so. Ferns too this time which I am yet to identify but have a pinna complete with indusium in my press awaiting my attention. As I left the site I bumped into Richard and handed him the one golf ball I’d found in the whole survey. “Your members must be excellent shots” I told him. He said no it’s just that I was off the beaten track.

Surveys complete all that was left to do for this first half of my fieldwork was head into uni and analyse my soil samples. I spent last night drying half of my samples out in the oven much to the amusement of Stacey. I arrived at the lab this morning at 09:30. The lab was deserted but for the few staff in over the summer and for the pH testing I was left to my own devices.

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Such a contrast between the survey sites and the lab. As different a selection of shapes and colours as you could achieve if you set out of create a contrast on purpose. In term time  the busy lab sessions are not my favorite part of uni. My dyslexia goes crazy in the bright white of the lab brim full of voices and distractions, but on a quiet day like today there was a pleasant calm and quirkiness to the surroundings that I couldn’t help but enjoy…

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A quick break for a bag of crisps and a wander around the empty university then back to the lab to head out back and use the LECO elemental analyser. Using my dry samples I weighed out 0.1000g, rolled them up in foil and fed them into the machine. The results will be emailed to me at a later date…

LECO analysis

LECO analysis

LECO analysis

That’s me done with my project field work for this year. I’ll repeat it all same time next year and the data comparison will make up the bulk of my dissertation. I went and had a chat with Liz as I’ll be disappearing for a year come Monday when I start my placement. As usual she was encouraging and also gave me more work to be getting on with!

I cycled home in the rain. The last 2 miles of what has amounted to around 200 over the past fortnight. I feel fit, satisfied and totally knackered. Time for a beer I think!

Dissertation Blog entry #4. Survey day 3. 2013.

No rest for the wicked. Up at 7am for scrambled eggs with Stacey before packing up and hitting the pedals. Saturday, my first of two days at Hale Golf Course. Or rather the woods behind Hale Golf Course to be more specific. I like the ride out to Hale for a couple of reasons. Firstly it takes me through Wythenshawe Park which is lovely. Wythenshawe doesn’t have a great reputation these days and is known more as the largest council estate in Europe than as somewhere with pleasant green spaces, but the park is huge and well looked after with many old trees, vast expanses of grass and an old Tudor style building which I’m always too busy to stop and find out what it is, but it all looks very nice. It reminds you that a deprived area might not once have been and that it might not always be. Secondly the ride takes me through a posh part of Hale where every house looks like a Grand Design and has a name like The Poplars. As you turn into Hale Golf Club you see the sign ‘since 1903’ and you realise that Hale has always been posh!

I arrived there at 10am and locked my bike up outside the shop as I had when I visited the site before. I feel slightly self conscious as I do this wondering if I’m breaching a club rule. I read the rule book to a Bowls Club once while I was working at the bank and it had all sorts of rules like that you had to wear a tie, and no women. Everyone at Hale Golf Club seems very nice though. I didn’t see anyone wearing a tie and there were lots of women. You enter the woods by walking across the first hole. Again you wonder if someone is going to tell you off but they don’t, of course, it’s a clearly marked public right of way. Into the woods I went and relaxed in surroundings I feel better equipped to deal with.

Site 5

I headed to my grassland sites first. As is becoming increasing apparent, things grow faster than I expect and fields that were knee high a couple of weeks ago are now chest high jungles. I made my way to the bit with the most Balsam at the back and in the absence of any floor space set about hanging my stuff on the Willow tree there for convenience…

Research Tree

The Balsam was denser here than the other plots I’d surveyed at the other sites. This will be quicker and easier I thought. I was wrong. Here’s something new I’ve learned about Himalayan Balsam; for ever one large plant there can be a dozen small ones hanging around underneath it. The second line of defense waiting for something to happen to their general so they can spring into action. So the pulling here became a lengthy and precise process like mowing your lawn with a pair of eyebrow tweezers.

Site 5, plot 1

But pluck it I did! I got two plots done in that meadow meaning I now have my target of 10 for grassland Balsam plots. Ten down, loads more woodland and riverbank to go… As I left the meadow I came to a spot where inundated met the as yet not inundated. There amongst the grass, towered over by the mighty wall of the advancing Balsam was the familiar, delicate form of Lesser Stitchwort. It looked both vulnerable and defiant in the face of such floral adversity.

Lesser Stitchwort standing his ground on the Balsam frontier.

My next few plots were on the banks of the Bollin accessible through the woods. This involved some minor acrobatics on my part, surveying at an oblique angle like a goat with a clipboard. I congratulated myself on my excellent balancing skills and noted that I hardly ever fall over. I came across these two plants which I am yet to identify:

Answers on a postcard
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And my surveys included some other new species to the project in Ground Ivy and Red Campion which had been conspicuously absent up to then. I pulled a lot of Balsam on these plots, creating the Olympus Mons of Balsam piles in the woods

Site 6

Then I went looking for some good woodland plots. I tripped on a tree root and went flailing into a large boggy area sending my kit in all directions and covering me in mud. So much for never falling over. The event was witnessed only by a robin who promptly flew away, presumably to tell everyone else.

I completed one more woodland plot. As I did I met a bull dog called Dave who apparently never barks according to his owners, and a couple going for a walk with their little boy who was sat on his dad’s shoulders. They stopped and asked my what I was up to. They were familiar with the different invasive species in the area and interested in the conservation efforts happening which made for an encouraging end to the survey day.  At 5pm I packed up and headed back up the footpath towards the golf course. Daylight unfiltered by the canopy appeared dazzling as I left the woods, munching down a hand full of Skittles to give me the energy to get home.

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Species identified on this survey:

  • Cleavers
  • Enchanter’s Nightshade
  • Bramble
  • Nettles
  • Cow Parsley
  • Ivy
  • Ground Ivy
  • Wood Avens
  • Rough Meadow Grass
  • Willowherb spp.
  • Hogweed
  • Ash
  • Red Campion
  • Blue Bells
  • 2 as yet unidentified higher plants
  • 2 as yet unidentified grasses

Dissertation Blog entry #3. Survey day 2. 2013.

Off to Ross Mill in Hale today to complete 6 grassland plots and 2 woodland plots. Himalayan Balsam the target invasive species again. The weather forecast was for showers so I packed a cag and some water proof paper making my heavy kit bag that little bit heavier and off I went…

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Managed to find the place OK. It’s a quiet, pretty area where you can go a while without seeing anyone. You can hear the motorway but you can’t see it and soon your ears tune it out. I started at the first meadow Sal had shown me. I managed to get 4 quadrats out of it which make up for the loss of 2 at The Carrs yesterday.

Site 2

Straight away I faced a crisis of confidence. There was a plant that looked similar to Himalayan Balsam but was lacking some of its key ID features. Its stem was hairy and its leaves were in opposite pairs not whorls of 3. I know that means it isn’t Himalayan Balsam but that bit of my brain that’s been responsible for deciding what things are for my whole life before I started learning botany kept saying: “But it looks like it”. I tried to call Sal and someone else answered advising that she wasn’t in the office today. I asked them if they knew anything about Himalayan Balsam. They asked what the problem was and I described it badly and they said it sounded like Himalayan Balsam. I called Sal on her mobile, no answer. Poor Sal. I wonder if she regrets putting her contact details on her emails yet? I pulled myself together. It clearly wasn’t Himalayan Balsam so I would ID it later and not pull any of it up. I was made to feel slightly better by the fact that a member of the public who had pulled some Balsam up had also pulled up one of these mystery plants. Just one though. I wonder if they went through the same crisis as me?

Any idea what this is anyone? Hairy, crunchy stems, leaves in oposite pairs.

Sal called me back and I described it. It’s Enchanter’s Nightshade. A few weeks later and it would have a flower stalk sticking out the top with small white flowers on. I learned two valuable lessons here. How to identify Enchanter’s Nightshade in its vegetative form, and for the last time if it doesn’t have the features its supposed to then it isn’t the thing you think it is!

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I headed along the path to the second meadow and set about looking for more Balsam. I saw a few loan plants here and there but not enough to merit a survey plot. And then I saw it, oh boy…

Oh boy #HimalayanBalsam

You go though the same cycle over and over again with Himalayan Balsam. You potter about in patches of it, pulling it up and feeling pleased with yourself, then you turn a corner and get hit by a tsunami of the stuff and realise how bad the problem is. That’s why projects like BEACON are so important. Alien invasives are effectively an army of plants and so require an organised response.

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Just along the path you can see what potential the area has, and also what it has to lose if the army takes more ground…

Site 2.5

This new meadow was more popular with Balsam and with dog walkers and I proved to be a hit with the many dogs that came bounding through. Their reaction was always the same: “Who are you?! There’s not normally a man here! This is our field! …Play with me!”. A Labrador by the name of Fletcher came running back repeatedly causing his owned to come back and get him only for him to reappear doing that excited fake pounce thing dogs do a minute later. The dogs and conversations with their owners provided a welcome occasional break and it felt nice to be able to tell people about what I was doing and why.

Next time I’m taking more food. I’d eaten my one and half sandwiches when I arrived at 11 and I was there til 5. It rained once and I go to try out my water proof paper. It works, more or less. The paper is water proof I’ll give it that but there’s a peculiar interplay between the ink and the paper and the same voice in my head that caused the problem with the Ground Elder wouldn’t stop reacting every time a rain drop rolled off a leaf on the tree over head and splashed onto the paper I was writing on. But the sun came out and stayed out and I got my 8 plots completed.

Site 2, removed from plots 1-4
Site 2.5
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An unexpected bonus of this choice of project is that I get to do a little bit of practical conservation work along the way. There is a lot of Balsam on the sites I saw today but not on my plots and not around them. I couldn’t resist clearing the surrounding Balsam too. They can eject their seeds up to 7 meters so it made sense to remove surrounding plants too and as anyone whose ever pulled Balsam knows, it’s very moreish.

More than 15 species made it onto the survey list today but there were plenty that were just outside the quadrats. Dead nettles and the like. Whilst I was excited to imagine what the plots will contain next year, I was also knackered, hungry and thirsty. I packed up, slung on my kit bag and set off on the long ride home.

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Species identified on this survey:

  • Cleavers
  • Enchanter’s Nightshade
  • Bramble
  • Nettles
  • Creeping Buttercup
  • Meadow Buttercup
  • Grass spp. (to be identified)
  • Ivy
  • Herb Robert
  • Wood Avens
  • Rough Meadow Grass
  • Great Willowherb
  • Hogweed
  • Dock spp.
  • Holly
  • Yellow Pimpernel
  • Ash
  • Grass spp 2 (to be identified)