2022 Survey highlights from the Berkshire LWS Project

written by Rob Curtis, Berkshire Biodiversity Officer

This is my first season surveying and assessing the local wildlife sites of the county.

First, I’d like to thank my predecessors for their survey efforts and to all the local districts and their ecologists who’s funding and participation has kept this long-established project going for many years. Finally, the landowners (public bodies, environmental organisations and private individuals) for granting me access to undertake the surveys.

For the 2022 season I surveyed 29 sites in all. For the first 2 sites I was accompanied by my colleague Julie Kerans whose long-term experience surveying Oxfordshire LWS is invaluable. On the last 2 sites I was accompanied by my colleague Katherine Howell. So extra thanks are given to them for their assistance.

These sites were a mixture of habitats. The majority surveyed were woodlands (16/29). 3 were solely grassland sites; 2 were lowland meadows and 1 held some areas of fen. Remaining 10 were a mixture of woodland, heathland, grassland, scrub and waterbodies.

The first site I visited was St Leger’s Copse, Colin’s Copse. It’s a privately owned lowland mixed woodland with Oak standards, Hazel coppice and plantations (Beech, Larch and Scots Pine). Quite a mixture with some clear differentiation between them.

There were 18 ancient woodland indicator species include Bluebell, Wood Anemone, Yellow Archangel, Three-nerved Sandwort, Wood-sorrel, Red Currant, Wood Melick and Wood Sedge. This was one of the best woodlands in the season.

Other woodlands were variable, another private one by far the largest and undisturbed. It did have the constant background drone of the M4 to contend with. But I experienced an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity that I’ve felt in few places. By contrast one of the wet woodlands I visited contained 8ft Himalayan Balsam. I had no idea that they could tower above me! Plus, there were a lot of mozzies in this area. That day I had a blood stain on my arm under the clipboard where I’d invertedly squashed a ‘full’ mosquito!

A highlight of the open areas was Elton Farm Meadows. It’s predominantly tall herb fen with some wet grassland and a willow dominated island.

These continued Lesser Pond-sedge, Marsh Ragwort, Grey Sedge, Hairy Sedge, Meadowsweet. The wetter areas were more diverse with Ragged-Robin, Water Forget-me-not, Square-stalked St John’s-wort and Southern Marsh-orchid. This was one of the few orchid species I saw this time.

Sole Common, a BBOWT reserve in West Berkshire provided one of the most diverse mix of habitats with the pond, lowland raised bog, heathland, woodland.

It was great to see Round-leaved Sundew and Common Cotton-grass there! Other plants concentrated round the pond included Many-stemmed Spike-rush, Marsh St. John's-wort and Marsh Pennywort. There were a few species of Bog Moss (Sphagnum) but this is one area that proved too much for my identification skills.

One of the last sites was Hurley Chalk Pit. Another BBOWT reserve. It’s a mixture of Lowland beech and yew woodland with an area of lowland calcareous grassland. The only example of this habitat I’d surveyed this time. The disused chalk pit is also a Local Geological Site. The woodland contained Wood Melick, Bluebell and Wood Spurge. The grassland had occasional Clustered Bellflower and Autumn Gentian with rare Kidney Vetch, Squinancywort and Ploughman’s-spikenard.

Notable faunal sightings for me included a Rose-ringed Parakeet squawking in an Oak canopy. There not as common where I’m from in Gloucestershire. Plus, a Kingfisher waiting for fish in a small pool near some wet woodland.

So now, I just need to finish writing up all the reports. Then next season I’ll be out discovering more parts of the county. Although we’ll be getting in touch with groups and individuals with expertise of other taxa; feel free to contact us if you want to help.

Posted: November 25, 2022