January 1. Most of December had been mild and the New Year started the same way, with bright conditions. A group of seven met at the Cherry Hinton Hall car park for the New Year Plant Hunt. Our first few flowering plants were much as expected – Poa annua (Annual Meadow-grass), Dactylis glomerata (Cocksfoot) and Senecio vulgaris (Groundsel). Several people passed a tree that appeared to have shrivelled berries, but a closer look showed that these were flowers. Turning to John Poland’s key to winter twigs, we confirmed Alan Leslie’s identification of Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood). We continued round the margin of the Hall grounds, and by the stream Roger Horton pointed out Ruscus aculeatus (Butchers Broom) – the red berries were obvious, but again a closer look showed the tiny flowers on what appeared to be leaves (they aren’t). We ate our lunch by the playground, then headed for the Hall buildings. The weedy margin produced several species in flower, including Polypogon monspeliensis (Annual Beard-grass). Leaving the Hall grounds we headed for Giant’s Grave, the spring that is the source of Cherry Hinton Brook, where we found Garden Honeysuckle in bloom and the fruits of Gingko (which stink), as well as the rust that forms on its leaves once they have fallen. Next stop was the Recreation Ground, where we added several more species. We then headed down Love Lane (rather disappointing) and to the Daws Lane allotments. There we found Urtica urens (Annual Nettle) and a third flowering Lamium (Cut-leaved Dead-nettle). The remaining members of the party returned to the car park, though were distracted by a fern growing in the ditch – fortunately Roger’s camera was better than a pair of binoculars in the fading light and showed that it was simply a young Male Fern. At the end of the day we had recorded 149 species, of which 58 were in flower.
March 3. February ended in blazing heat more akin to May, but March started more unsettled and storm Freya was knocking on the doorstep. The forecast was for rain for most of the day, but apart from a few spots for about 20 minutes it was dry enough for our studies. I’d expected the warm end to February to produce more in the way of flowers, but clearly the cold nights had convinced them that spring was not yet underway. A group of 7 met at the entrance to Lime Kiln Close and later we picked up another participant. In LKC we admired the height of Dipsacus strigosus (Yellow Teasel) and compared the dead flower heads to those of Dipsacus fullonum (Teasel). We then headed across to Giant’s Grave where we saw the liverwort Lophocolea bidentata by the side of a mossy path, and a pair of Mallard on the pond. Rather than going straight to Cherry Hinton Hall we detoured round some urban streets, finding Erophila verna (Common Whitlowgrass) in a gutter, and both Erodium cicutarium and E. moschatum (Common and Musk Stork’s-bill). In CHH some planted trees required the use of the new key to Winter Twigs, before deciding on Tilia cordata (Small-leaved Lime). We will find out if we were right when they come into leaf. Leaving the grounds we came across a stray Vicia faba (Broad Bean) on a road verge and just had time for a turn round the Hall car-park before gathering clouds presaged sunset.
April 7. March saw less than half the normal rainfall, but April began to make up the difference. Our walk started in rain [as it turned out some of the little that fell all month], which fortunately remained light and patchy, but it was decidedly cool. We started at Cherry Hinton Hall car-park, where a Viola reichenbachiana (Early Dog-violet) was in flower. Several Grey Squirrels were climbing around the Beech trees, and there were St Mark’s Flies on Cow Parsley. Further round was a patch of Allium paradoxum (Few-flowered Leek), one of several invasive alien species that we saw during the afternoon. One disappointing feature of the Hall grounds was the bare ground around many trees, and the yellowing vegetation that had clearly been sprayed. Clearly the Council don’t understand their responsibility to promote biodiversity as required by the NERC act. One unusual thing spotted were galls on Ash keys caused by Aceria fraxinivora. Crossing to the wilder area by the pond, we found the Ranunculus auricomus (Goldilocks Buttercup), which we had seen ten years ago. Leaving the Hall, we headed for Giant’s Grave, and were again disappointed to discover that the Council had mown the entire bank down to the spring. We did see the evidence of Holly Leaf Miner at work on a tree by the pond. Given the dreek conditions, we decided that was enough and headed back to the car-park to close the walk. On the way we looked at a few trees, which were labelled as an aide to identification. One such was labelled as Picea omorika (Serbian Spruce), which looked very like Picea sitchensis (Sitka Spruce). A piece taken home did however show weak hairs on the young twig, a key feature in the identification.
May 8. The day saw more rain than had fallen in all of April and the BBC forecast suggested it would continue during the evening. Jonathan’s assessment was that with a bit of luck the rain would stop by 6pm and it would be dry for the field studies. It was, but only he and Roger turned out. We started with East Pit, but it was still rather barren and only the pair of Peregrines provided much interest. Lime Kiln Close was becoming verdant, perhaps too verdant. The Lonicera caprifolium (Perfoliate Honeysuckle) showed its perfoliate nature in the flowering stems, but not in the non-flowering ones, perhaps showing the origin of some reports of other Honeysuckles in the reserve. Disturbed ground along Fulbourn Road provided space for arable weeds, including Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale Cress). Wildlife rather went downhill after that, with the Council policy of eradicating biodiversity near all trees and fences particularly noticeable. Cherry Hinton recreation ground gained a verdict of “nul points”. At first sight Giant’s Grave looked little better, however the Council had managed to avoid mowing one area, where there was Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower) and Ajuga reptans (Bugle).
June 5. Although rain was in the offing, only a few spots fell towards the end of the evening as the light faded. The group met at the Cherry Hinton Hall car park, and began by looking at some of the grasses on offer. Most were quite straightforward, with species such as Dactylis glomerata (Cocksfoot) and Lolium perenne (Ryegrass), but a clear Poa (Meadow-grass) with a short ligule was strongly compressed so Poa compressa, which is apparently in decline in the county. We headed round the grounds in an anti-clockwise direction, and then diverted towards the “roll-out” meadows of alien species. These were very pretty but not recordable, though one bush had all three variants of the Harlequin Ladybird and a Seven-spot. We tacked towards the lakes finding Lycopus europaeus (Gypsywort), which was new to the site. Emerging at the north end, a small brown bird in the stream was identified as a Robin and it was suggested that we might have a look round the allotments, so we crossed to them. Here there was a good range of arable weeds, including splendid banks of Anagalis arvensis (Scarlet Pimpernel) and we also found Lamium amplexicaule (Henbit Dead-nettle). It was now time to return, but we didn’t find much else of interest as we crossed back to the car park.
July 10. We had a last minute change of destination to Cherry Hinton Lakes as Duncan had managed to get a key and permission for us to walk around. We started by looking at the lake near the entrance, then began to walk around clockwise. On the lake we saw Coot and Great Crested Grebe. An early interesting botanical find was Hypericum maculatum (Imperforate St John’s Wort), and then hot on the heels of each other Lonicera caprifolium (Perfoliate Honeysuckle) and Lonicera japonica (Garden Honeysuckle). Further along we began to see more chalk loving plants, such as Clinopodium vulgare (Wild Basil), Catapodium rigidum (Fern Grass) and Blackstonia perfoliata (Yellow Wort). Starting the return the star find of the evening was on the link between the two lakes where we found five stems in a clump of Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine). Reaching the south side most of the group headed back, but the remaining trio paid a quick visit to the eastern arm of the path, where Lepidium latifolium (Dittander) was the most interesting find. We also found a fisherman who had just caught a 20 pound carp and were able to admire the large fish.
September 22. After weeks without rain, the weather changed and whilst the first half hour of our visit to Cherry Hinton Hall was dry, some heavy rain pushed through, with some lighter rain later in the afternoon. We were however blessed with the help of regional expert Mark Powell who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of lichens. We started with some trees near the car-park and he showed the group some common crustose and foliose lichens. Xanthoria parietina, usually orange when brightly illuminated is widespread, but is less colourful in shade and when wet. We then proceeded clockwise around the Hall grounds, gaining some shelter from the rain under the trees. In the nature reserve Mark showed us some tiny pin-head fruiting bodies of an otherwise non-descript grey crustose lichen. In the playground area a wooden dragonfly gave some lichens more commonly found on calcareous rocks, perhaps as a consequence of dust dropping onto its surface. A couple of granite boulders gave a few more species, then we headed towards the old Hall buildings. Here we saw some lichen grazers in action on a window-ledge – four different species of snail busy rasping away at the lichens covering them.
October 27. After continuous rain the day before and a generally wet October, the Sunday of the field studies was dry and sunny. A large group assembled outside Lime Kiln Close at the appointed time, however the organiser managed to turn up half an hour late, so the group set off without him. Not many fungi had come up, but an inkcap was fairly easily identified as Coprinus micaceous. There were some nice Blewits, both Lepista nuda and L. sordida. Several Dapperlings were found, with one smelling strongly of rubber, but the Collins guide had most smelling of boiled sweets. A Mycena with an orange cap was perhaps M. acicula. A group of small cup-fungi on a fire site was identified as Anthracobia macrocystis. We then moved to East Pit, which I had not thought of as a good site for fungi, however one target was Parrot Waxcap, which had been seen there earlier – we found it in good numbers. Continuing round, the south end of the pit provided the best area, with more Parrot Waxcaps, some Blackening Waxcaps, Meadow Coral, an Earth Tongue and some Lawyers Wigs. With the clocks having changed, the light was beginning to fade as we left just after 4pm
November 24. Our final visit of the year concentrated on bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). We met at the entrance to Lime Kiln Close by East Pit. Conditions were ideal for bryophytes – damp and overcast but not wet. Although badged as an introduction for beginners we only had one beginner, with four improvers and two experts. A surprise find was Thujidium tamariscinum, normally a moss of ancient woodland, and one of only a handful of records from the City. Another interesting find was some male thalli of the liverwort Metzgeria furcata, with the sex organs showing up as tiny round balls. We managed to spend enough of the morning in the Close that we could have lunch in the “liquorice” grove, although all the plants had been cut back for the winter. We then headed for Cherry Hinton Hall and started searching the grounds for species. Usually the host tree for epiphytic species is recorded, and in a couple of cases the question of what it was could be easily solved by looking at the label on the tree. By and large the spectrum of finds was pretty bland, but towards the end an unexpected find was Orange Peel Fungus, showing up as a bright orange to the eye, but looking rather dull brown on the camera image.