Thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund which funded a year long celebration of Queensdown Woods being part of the South Downs National Park, Dave Bangs has been taking groups of schoolchildren from Moulsecoomb Primary into the woods and surrounding fields. Here’s a list of what Year 5 found.
In the Wood
When we first stopped in the Wood we could hear Blackcap’s melodious warbling (it is a ‘warbler’ !!) in the background…and the monotonous chiff-chaff of the Chiffchaff (also a warbler). We also heard Wood Pigeons cooing “take two cows Taffy”… and the loud trilling of Wrens.
It all would have been much louder and more musical in the Wood if we’d walked there at dawn, or even at dusk. Birds take a mid-morning rest and a mid afternoon nap, too, like many of us humans.
The trees we walked under were a mixture of Sycamore (with a rather shady ‘canopy’) and Ash, which has delicate ‘foliage’ (leaf cover) which lets in much more sunlight. Some of the Wood was extra-gloomy because all the trunks of the trees were covered in ‘funereal’ Ivy. (‘Funereal’ means to do with funerals).
We also looked at all the upturned ‘root plates’ of the trees which had been blown over in the 1987 and 1992 gales. Those gales were humungous, and blew over much of our woodland and other trees.
Under the trees there was quite a lot of Hawthorn, and when we looked at the ground it was often covered in fallen white petals, a bit like confetti. Hawthorn is often called ‘May’, because that is when it comes into bloom, and May Day was the day folk dressed their houses in May blossom and danced round May Poles - and still make processions to celebrate ‘International Workers Day’, too.
There were not many flowers because you don’t get many flowers in young woods, or very shady woods. However, the ground was covered in Ivy…probably Irish Ivy, which loves spreading across the ground. We did look at pink Herb Robert and yellow Wood Avens, though. We saw two ferns. One was called Male Fern and looks like a bunch of (green) ostrich plumes, and the other was Hart’s Tongue Fern, which looks, so they say, like the tongue of a ‘Hart’, which is the name for a male deer. Obviously they have long tongues !!
We looked at a rather plain green flower called Dog’s Mercury, also called Boggart Posy, or Goblin Flower, which is poisonous but also very common in woods on chalk. It is called DOG’S Mercury, because the poison is thought to be second rate. ‘Dog’ in the names of plants means feeble or of little use, as in DOG Violet and DOG Rose, neither of which have the lovely fragrance we usually associate with those flowers.
Dog’s Mercury is not the only plant that is confined to chalk country, and Mr Powell pointed out the long ‘lianas’ or ropes of Clematis that hung from the canopy of the Wood. Clematis is only found growing on chalk soils.
We found several lovely red beetles called Cardinal Beetles. Their babies live in dead wood. ‘Cardinals’ are top leaders of the Catholic Church…sort of ‘Prince-Bishops’.
We saw a couple of Large White butterflies and a Speckled Wood butterfly.
We stopped to look at a couple of fungi…King Alfred’s Cakes…you all must know the story by now…and Stag’s Horn Fungus, which is a close relative of another fungus we find in the wood called Dead Man’s Fingers.
Someone also found a nice Red Velvet Mite…really bright red.
Eventually we came to two Badger ‘setts’. Their tunnel homes are called ‘setts’, and these two, deep in the Wood, must have been there for many, many years, because they are so big and spread out so far…almost like a Badger town. One or two boys tried looking for Badger ‘latrines’ (toilets) and we may have found one. Badgers are always very clean animals and their latrines are always dug fresh and at a distance from the setts.
There were many fossil sponges which you all picked up. They are likely about 90 million years old. Someone found a nice twinkling ‘geode’ of calcite crystal. ‘Calcite’ is the name of the ‘mineral’ that chalk is also made of…
The snails we found were mostly big Garden Snails (brought over by the Romans), but we also found many pretty ‘Black-lipped Banded Snails’.
In the Field
When we came out into the field it was dazzlingly sunny and bright…like coming out of a mine into the open air. We heard Skylarks, but I don’t think - really - that anyone saw one. They were too far, far up in the sky...though you can hear their song for up to NINE MILES…if there is no background noise of cars and planes and general ‘noise pollution’.
There were also some big Carrion Crows around. If you see lots of big black birds they will be Rooks, but if you see only ones and twos of big black birds they will be Crows…that is the rule to remember.
Straightaway we found lots of little fawn butterflies with beedy black ‘eyes’ on their wings. They were Small Heaths, and are supposed to be the commonest British butterfly, but I don’t think that is true anymore.
Soon someone found the first Burnet Companion moth, and afterwards lots of you got good at catching them. Also you found lots of Cinnabar moths – all handsome black and red. (Why are moths black and red ???)
Someone else found a lovely grassland moth called a Yellow Belle.
For me, the best thing we found was a gorgeous iridescent butterfly called a Green Hairstreak. It is our only green butterfly, and is really quite scare. I only see it once or twice a year.
You all got very good at finding black and red Soldier Beetles, so called because they are often dressed in bright colours, like old fashioned soldiers uniforms. There were also little iridescent green ‘Noble Oedemera’ beetles. And I ‘swept’ a few baby Bush-crickets in my white ‘sweep net’.
We didn’t really look at flowers very much, but one or two of you got to notice some nice ones. Someone very cleverly found a scarce parasitic plant called a Broomrape, that feeds off other green plants and therefore doesn’t need to be green itself. (You’ll have to ask your teachers what the green colour in plants means…the clue is the word “photosynthesis”).
Several of you noticed the pretty Orange Hawkweed - as pretty as garden marigolds. There was also lots of White Campion, and a lovely-but-easily missed little flower called Blue Fleabane, as well as a gorgeous carmine red flower called Grass Vetchling (which pretends to be a bit of grass except when the flower comes out)…
You know, there was LOTS more as well…but I don’t want to clog up your ‘thinks’ with too many new things…
Thank you for being fun, and also so good at finding things,