Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Exmoor visit

Just back from a few days on Exmoor, somewhere I have regularly visited for over fifty years and always feel content. 

Exmoor habitats could not be more different from those on the North Downs, with few plant species in common, they range from open upland heather moorland with associated bog to steep-sided wooded valleys.

The moors have a rather limited flora partly because of grazing but the carpets of Tormentil and Heath Bedstraw were spectacular but just starting to flower was that harbinger of high summer, Sheepsbit Jasione montana that has always been a favourite of mine if only because you do not find it on the North Downs!. Bell Heather was just starting to flower but it will be another month or so before that and Ling turn the moors purple. 

 One of our objectives was to try and refind Lesser Twayblade, Neottia cordata at one of its most southerly sites in the British Isles. Sadly the area was not only more overgrown than it used to be but also very dry and heavily trampled by sheep and ponies. No success there but we did manage to find a few Heath Spotted Orchids that hadn't been eaten (right)!  the level of grazing varies enormously from year to year, this year, perhaps because it has been dry for a while it was very noticeable. 

The river valleys are a different proposition, protected, always damp and shaded with a profusion of ferns and mosses as well as flowering plants especially Cow-wheat. A few walks along the Easy Lyn valley produced some of its specialities. Irish Spurge Euphorbia hyberna (left) is common and had almost finished flowering, this valley is one of the few places in England that it grows. Another fine plant Welsh Poppy Meconopsis cambrica (right) also grows here deep in the woods, a common escape just about everywhere, here it is considered native. I must admit it looks right if nothing else.

The biggest surprise for me this visit was however finding a plant I have never seen there or anywhere else in Britain, Bastard Balm
Melittis melissophyllum (left)growing in the same woods, where again it is considered native.

It wasn't just plants, the Horner Valley a few miles east rewarded us birdwise with Pied Flycatcher and Redstarts.  No pictures but did manage to get one of a very hungry Greater Spotted Woodpecker screaming for food!

The only thing we missed on from previous years were butterflies, we were just too early for the Fritillaries of various species including Silver-washed, High Brown and Heath that cruise some of the valleys like small birds in late June and July.  

Exmoor has changed very little in the time I have known it long may it go on.