Golant walk 28th April 2013 report

May 2, 2013 by

Golant walk 28th April 2013 report

Golant walk 28th April 2013

Eleven of us met at Golant SX123545 on the edge of the Fowey Estuary, intending to park at the pay and display car park but on the quiet Sunday morning the road along the quay was empty so we all parked there free of charge – high tides cover this road but we were lucky that we had just missed the last one. The weather was cloudy but not too cold but we all remarked how spring hadn’t really started, being about two to three weeks late, but still good to get out. The leaders were Margaret Gardener, who lives in nearby Fowey had arranged a local resident – Stuart Young – to act as local guide, and Ian Bennallick. Participants were Mary and Tony Atkinson, Joan Farmer, Phil Hunt, Sheila Smith, Doreen Wilson, Liz Crow and Lisa Thyer.  The target of the walk was to update four 1km x 1km squares (monads) for any spring flowers as most of the earlier records from the squares are from later in the year. In particular we wanted to see if Bastard Balm (Melittis mellisophyllum) which was last recorded near the ‘Sawmills’, Fowey in 1894, was still present.

Starting in SX1254, we looked around the built up environs of the southern part of Golant village. In its riverside setting, with small cottages, smart restored houses and bungalows, most with flower-filled gardens, it looked a very desirable area to live.

Golant, on the Fowey River. Photo I J Bennallick.

Golant, on the Fowey River. Photo I J Bennallick.

Balm-leaved Figwort (Scrophularia scorodonia) was found around the edges of the car park, and a small clump of Garden Grape-hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) naturalised on the ballast of the railway which runs along the riverside (it is now used for transporting china clay from the nearby china clay works at St Austell to the port at Fowey). As well as the expected spring species such as Ramsons (Allium ursinum), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), we also recorded species that had become naturalised outside the gardens such as Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum subsp. pulchellum), Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis cambica) and the ubiquitous Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus). We looked for Rue-leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga tridactylites), which had been recorded on walls in the village by Mary in April 1994 but we couldn’t see any this year.

Taking the road past the Fisherman’s Arms pub we walked south along the path (part of the Saint’s Way linking Padstow on the north coast to Fowey on the south coast) through Golant Downs. This is an area of rough land on the east facing slope on the west side of the Fowey River, which had been used traditionally as a common for the village, and has been designated a County Wildlife Site. Stuart told us that cattle used to graze the slope in living memory but none do so now. The slope is now much scrubbier than when grazed in the past and some trees had been planted in recent years. As in other parts of Cornwall the practice of tree-planting has not always been on the right areas (in my personal opinion Golant Downs  is better without any extra planted trees). Open slopes with species-rich grassland, rough grazing land or moorland are usually better left and managed as those types of habitat to maintain their own established species that live in and use them. There has been some encouraging management recently here though. In the northern part of Golant Downs, some of the old uncoppiced hazel and woodland had been cleared, partly to allow better views of the River Fowey from the path. The effect on the spring flowers has been fantastic with the increased light encouraging drifts of Primrose (Primula vulgaris), as well as Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) and Pink Campion (Silene dioica).

Primroses in recently cleared wood on Golant Downs, with the participants of the walk. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Primroses in recently cleared wood on Golant Downs, with the participants of the walk. From left to right – Stuart Young, Mary Atkinson, Phil Hunt, Tony Atkinson, Margaret Gardener, Liz Crow, Lisa Thyer, Sheila Smith, Doreen Wilson and Joan Farmer. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

We thought that the effort by the local volunteers had been well worth it and could be repeated in other areas, perhaps even removing some of the alien planted trees such as the Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). On the rest of Golant Downs Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) and Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) have become abundant but just few weeks earlier Stuart said that there had been a fire on the slope, and had hoped it wasn’t going to affect our walk. It was more extensive than we imagined and despite the likelihood of animals and invertebrates being incinerated (at least one Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) was found dead) the Bluebell plants were shooting and other seedlings too.

Golant Downs after the recent fire. Photo by Ian Bennallick..

Golant Downs after the recent fire. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Some of the group expected that now the thick layer of bracken and litter had been burnt that the open or bare ground will warm quickly:  good conditions for invertebrates during the summer. The burning of moors and heaths is a traditional method of management in Cornwall, and as long as it is a quick surface fire in the winter, then wildlife is usually not affected too much, and in fact can encourage a variety of species which require unshaded or open areas. Probably not a disaster as locals had feared and it will be good to revisit later in the year to see what the effect on the flora and fauna will be.

On a previous visit to Golant Downs in 1997 Ian had recorded species indicative of rough pasture and heathy places, and along the path now opened up by the fire the small plants of Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Betony (Stachys officinalis) , Umbellate Hawkweed (Hieracium umbellatum agg.) and Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) were all seen. The first inflorescences of the creeping Spring Sedge (Carex caryophyllea) were just pushing through as well as the similar tufted Pill Sedge (Carex pilulifera). Primrose lined the unburnt areas of the path.

The path through Golant Downs looking south. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

The path through Golant Downs looking south. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Joan Farmer on the path through Golant Downs, looking north. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Joan Farmer on the path through Golant Downs, looking north. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

One Common Dog-violet plant had been affected by the gall-causer Violet Leaf Midge (Dasineura affinis), which causes the leaf to thicken and curl over.

Gall on Viola riviniana caused by Violet Midge. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Gall on Viola riviniana caused by Violet Leaf Midge (Dasineura affinis). Photo by Ian Bennallick.

It was along the path that Mary and Tony, when leaving the walk early, saw an Oil Beetle (Meloe violaceus). The presence of Oil Beetle usually indicates that the rough and scrubby habitats of Golant Downs are rather good for other invertebrates.

Further south into SX1253 the path enters woodland down into the south-facing slope of Bodmin Pill, a small inlet of the River Fowey. Here the woodland is of Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) with a rather open understorey. The first shoots of Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) were seen and a few Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) plants were flowering.

Bilberry at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Bilberry at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Also on a wooded bank were a few plants of what appear to be Southern Wood-rush (Luzula forsteri). Mary had recorded this here in 1994 and the tufted plants have upright inflorescences, some swept to one side and rather narrower leaves than the similar Hairy Wood-rush (Luzula pilosa). The plants were rather robust so a return visit is necessary to see if the mature fruits are indeed indicative of Luzula forsteri, or perhaps the hybrid between the two – L. x borreri, which has been rarely recorded with both parents elsewhere in Cornwall. L. pilosa was found along the lane further on and looked quite different to the Luzula (forsteri? or x borreri?) plants seen earlier. A later visit will be required.

Luzula sp. at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Luzula sp. at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Luzula sp. at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Luzula sp. at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Towards the small tidal creek of Bodmin Pill, in front of the picturesquely situated house known as the ‘Old Sawmills’, a small area of saltmarsh vegetation was present at the junction of the creek and the stream running down through woodland from Lanheriott Farm. Common Scurvy-grass (Cochlearia officinalis) was flowering well but Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima), Common Saltmarsh-grass (Puccinellia maritima) and Saltmarsh Rush (Juncus gerardii) were all yet to flower. The area to the south of the creek looked well worth exploring but permission will be sought in the near future to do so. Whilst exploring the streambank, Ian found a small patch of the ‘Nationally Scarce’ Cornish Moneywort (Sibthorpia europaea), which had last been recorded for ‘Golant’ before 1909 by F. H. Davey.

Path down into Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Path down into Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Path down to Bodmin Pill. From left to right – Liz Crow, Sheila Smith, Joan Farmer, Lisa Thyer. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Cornish Moneywort (Sibthorpia europaea) beside stream at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Cornish Moneywort (Sibthorpia europaea) beside stream at Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Also on the wooded lane bank were some fine bushes of Butcher’s-broom (Ruscus aculeatus), surprisingly not recorded here since Medlin saw it ‘near Golant’ before 1922. It is undoubtedly an introduction here, being close to the garden of the old sawmills. In the woods up the hill into SX1153 and along the path towards Penventinue Lane, Greater Woodrush (Luzula sylvatica)is abundant, with Ramsons covering the damper ground. It was here where we stopped for our lunch, and whilst sitting on a log by the stream a Stoat (Mustela erminea) darted along the stream.

Sheila Smith, Doreen Wilson and Margaret Gardener having lunch, in woods up from Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Sheila Smith, Doreen Wilson and Margaret Gardener having lunch, in woods up from Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Stuart heard Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and Ian alerted the others of singing Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) with its high tinkling notes (those with hearing loss can miss the song!). Phil found a few Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) and Ian some Hay-scented Buckler-fern (Dryopteris aemula) along the stream.

Hay-scented Buckler-fern (Dryopteris aemula) beside stream in woods up from Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Hay-scented Buckler-fern (Dryopteris aemula) beside stream in woods up from Bodmin Pill. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Walking up along the path we emerged into pasture fields and above the woods we could look over the farmed landscape. At least three Skylark (Alauda arvensis) were singing over the pasture and neighbouring arable field as the sun appeared briefly, enough for it to warm up and for us to divest our overcoats! Reaching the main Penventinue (known locally as ‘Pennytinny Lane’) we searched around a redundant farm building area and yard. Phil found some flowering American Winter-cress (Barbarea verna), and a couple of Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) were swooping in and over an old building, probably searching for a possible nest site. With the long cool Spring so far it was a welcome sight and hearing them cheered us on our way.  We walked south past Penventinue (admiring two smart Sedum covered wire sculptures of a horse and a dog in the garden) to the edge of SX1153. Nothing of great note along the lane and in the Cornish hedges but there was some Common Calamint (Clinopodium ascendens) and near the sewage works a few Long-stalked Crane’s-bill (Geranium columbinum) – two species often seen together in less acid soils of Cornwall.

Retracing our steps back up the hill north past Penventinue, we met up with Stuart again who reported he had seen a Magpie (Pica pica) and a Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)! On the verge were some flowering Cowslip (Primula veris), an introduction here. Cowslip is almost always found on the coast in Cornwall, where there is some calcium-rich shell sand influence in the soil. There is uncertainty if it ever was a grassland plant in the mostly acidic soils of inland Cornwall, and if it was we will probably never know as unfortunately much of the unimproved grassland is now agriculturally improved. The fashion for using Cowslip in wildflower garden plantings has also skewed the picture of natural distribution in Cornwall too, with escapes often appearing native on road verges away from known native coastal sites.

With the sun disappearing behind cloud, the northerly wind made us wrap up again, but walking north past Lanheriott Farm, which had been restored very nicely into a desirable residence, we were sheltered between high wooded banks and along a narrow lane (into SX1154), which Stuart said was known as the ‘Coach Road’. The lane was lined by abundant Primrose and Common Dog-violet. Ian found some Sanicle (Sanicula europaea), and Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) and Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) were also pointed out. The wooded path runs down hill towards a small stream, which it crosses, and here Ian also found more Hay-scented Buckler-fern (Dryopteris aemula) along the streambank. Walking up the hill along the narrow lane towards Torfrey, Stuart told us how his friend many years ago drove a Mini down it – the lane was so narrow it was not surprising that he told us he got it stuck and it had to be pulled out by a tractor!

We reached the main lane to Golant (opposite the entrance to Penquite Youth Hostel) and walked east towards Golant. We stopped to admire a lawn of a house which was stuffed full of Daisy (Bellis perennis), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.), Primrose and Common Dog-violet, showing how common everyday plants can have a terrific and simple naturalistic flowery effect.

Primrose, Common Dog-violet and Daisy in a garden lawn, near Torfrey, Golant. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Primrose, Common Dog-violet and Daisy in a garden lawn, near Torfrey, Golant. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

In the deep lane just before Golant we found a few Greater Chickweed (Stellaria neglecta) as well as abundant Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium). A few red spots on the leaves of Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) proved to be caused by the fungus Puccinia umbilici.

Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) affected with the fungus Puccinia umbilici. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) affected with the fungus Puccinia umbilici. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) affected with the fungus Puccinia umbilici. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) affected with the fungus Puccinia umbilici. Photo by Ian Bennallick.

Heading down into Golant Village we entered back into SX1254. All was still quiet on the Sunday afternoon, and the abundance of Primrose in people’s gardens was noteworthy – drifts of them in some lawns. It is very much an idyllic Cornish riverside village. We added more species to our earlier list, particularly some other ‘garden escapes’, which we could count as they had strayed or had seeded into the pavement cracks or on the outer side of the garden hedge or fence. Along the estuary sides, including a narrow gully which locals called ‘Stinky Hollow’ and had wanted to fill before the Cornwall Wildlife Trust had recommended against infilling, we found Sea Aster (Aster tripolium), Sea Arrowgrass (Triglochin maritima) and Common Scurvy-grass Cochlearia officinalis. Further along the muddy estuary edge we also found some very small Common Glasswort (Salicornia europaea) plants, and Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus).

Returning to the cars at about 3.30pm we had completed the circular walk taking in four 1km x 1km squares (monads). Though we hadn’t found Bastard Balm (possible still too early?) we had managed to update many records for the squares and had recorded spring flowers missing from previous lists. In the Golant square SX1254 we added 32 species (236 species since 2000, total for square is 312). In the Bodmin Pill square SX1253, of which we only walked a small part, we added 29 species (125 species since 2000, total for square is 173). In the Penventinue square SX1153 we added 55 species (174 species since 2000, total for square is 184). In the Torfrey square SX1154 we added 29 species (216 species since 2000, total for square is 217). Despite the late spring holding back some species it was a worthwhile walk and one which whetted the appetite for more botanical exploration in the summer. Many thanks to Margaret Gardener for asking Stuart Young for advice about the pathways and to Stuart for the directions during the walk and the local knowledge which made the walk more enjoyable.

Ian Bennallick

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