Thursday, July 24, 2014

Evening walk around Parsonage Moor and Cothill Fen, 16th July 2014

On the evening of Wednesday 16th July, Dr Judy Webb led us on an evening nature walk around Parsonage Moor and Cothill Fen. Only a few Green Gymmers were there and those who didn't make it missed a really fascinating tour. We were also joined by a group of Parsonage Moor volunteers.

This is an area of alkaline fen and needs constant conservation work to preserve the rare habitat. We set off along the boardwalk and Judy showed us the hemp agrimony, a food plant of the scarlet tiger moth, and meadowsweet. Then we plunged into the fen and encountered a fragrant orchid and took turns to sniff its clovelike scent. 

Judy pointed out the starfish-like pale green leaves of butterwort. This is an insectivorous plant which has attractive purple flowers in Spring. Another rarity in this fen is Grass of Parnassus, which will have a white flower in September.

Parsonage Moor is now, as a result of global warming, the southernmost point at which this plant grows. We learnt that sphagnum moss turns red in the sun. This highly absorbent moss, extensively used to line hanging baskets, used to be used for dressing wounds.

Several pools have been dug in the fen to encourage the wildlife and here we saw grey green algae, which eventually calcifies. Judy is an expert on soldier flies and showed us pictures of these metallic coloured insects, which thrive in this area and have exciting names such as "banded general".

We then headed off to Cothill Fen, where Abingdon Green Gym work several times a year. Most orchids have finished flowering but we saw a common spotted one. We also saw marsh helleborines, which are increasing in number in this area. The plants on alkaline fens depend on low nutrient levels to thrive, so it is important to cut back reeds and scrub and clear them away. This will also let light through and enable small plants such as the bog pimpernel to grow on the tussocks.

It was time to return to the car park and we would all like to thank Judy for a really interesting evening.

Judy leads us on to Parsonage Moor

A fragrant orchid

Judy shows us sphagnum moss

On Cothill Fen

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