January 1. With Cambridge having been put into covid tier 4 regulations, the normal CNHS start to the year of a group botanical walk couldn’t take place. This meant that Jonathan Shanklin had to make a solitary walk around the CNHS field studies area for 2021 – Trumpington Meadows Country Park. November and most of December had been relatively mild, however the previous week had been much colder, with some night frosts. How would this impact on the number of species in flower?
The day dawned rather bleak and frosty, however the frost had more or less gone by 9:30 and whilst the Met Office suggested some showers, none were forecast to come near Cambridge, although grey skies were expected. The meadows near Byron’s Pool gave a slow start to flowering plants – just White Dead-nettle and Dandelion, but numbers slowly accumulated. The old railway line added a few more, including an unexpected Field Scabious, but then the first unexpected shower fell, dampening the paper recording card. Was it time to head for the shelter of the M11 bridge? By the time I got there the rain had stopped, so I continued round along the M11 to the footbridge, where Greater Periwinkle was in flower. The south-facing motorway bank proved disappointing and the path along the river was muddy thanks to earlier flooding.
Lunch was taken on a convenient fish (above) and with more rain in the offing the decision was made to cut short the circuit a little and not visit every monad. The concrete spine road didn’t add much, but the adjacent beet field had quite a few arable weeds in flower. Crossing back over the M11 bridge another beet field by the A1309 had another surprise – Corn Marigold in flower. By now there was almost continuous slight drizzle, so a return was definitely a good idea. Passing by the allotments added Annual Meadow Grass, and the final find was a Meadow Buttercup. By now it was raining, which made for a rather damp cycle ride home. Once all the records were entered the total was 166 plant species recorded, with 50 in flower. This was much higher than expected, and the second highest of all the CNHS walks so far. The mean November and December temperature of 7.1 deg C would initially have suggested a total of around 38 and I had expected fewer given the open nature of Trumpington Meadows. Taking this year into consideration it appears as if the total of 39 in 2016 (Grantchester Meadows) was an outlier as that year had a very warm preceding two months and should have seen well over twice that number. In addition to the plants a few other records were made, including a liverwort, a lichen, a few mosses, 7-spot ladybirds, a brown-lipped banded snail, long-tailed tits and several large mole hills.
May 20. Our first evening meeting took place in conditions more akin to the autumn – cold temperatures and a strong wind. This didn’t deter the dozen members who met up at the appointed place. We started with a walk round a small balancing pond, where we saw some members of the legume family – Common Vetch, Spotted Medick and Black Medick. There were also members of the daisy family – Ox-eye Daisy and Beaked Hawk’s-beard. The half hour that we spent here was not enough for one late arriving member who failed to spot us!
We then walked down the cycleway path, stopping when we found some Creeping Thistle. Jo Garrad, one of the Park Rangers, explained that they were looking for Thistle Rust in order to start a trial on reducing the invasive plant. What they hoped to do was collect spores from infected plants, make this into a solution and spray it onto thistle stems in patches. Trials elsewhere had shown this reduced thistle populations by 80% over a few years.
Continuing on to the large balancing pond we admired the Tufted Duck and other waterfowl that were present. We crossed over to the relict waterside meadow, where we saw the small fronds of Adder’s-tongue and the scrub that had grown up in the last decade. Back on the old railway we saw a few plants of Winter-cress in full flower, but didn’t try tasting any of the leaves. Dusk was now approaching and it was cold, so we walked briskly back to our starting point.