Oak forests… you’d think that the wild flowers here are quite limited. In some ways they are. It’s such a niche habitat – oak trees, brambles, bracken. Birch, rowan, yew. Some foxgloves and some red campion, perhaps, here and there.
Sometimes, especially now in the ‘fruiting’ time of year, there are clues about earlier flowers. So seeing bird cherry, rowan, elderberries, a hedgerow damson, crab apples, remind of an earlier flowering. Not forgetting the wild raspberries that fruited earlier, that seem to happen all over the forest.
If you walk more, and explore more of the forest, then there are places where paths open out to light airy places, and here there are different flowers. By a wide, open path in the oak part of the forest there’s a large patch of tansy and St John’s wort, thriving, and always a joy to see.
There’s also the Forestry England side of the forest. Many people just go to the Major Oak from the car park and don’t get that far, but it’s well worth a visit. The tree species are varied, so there are beech, sweet chestnut, pine and yes, birch, as well as oak. But in this side of the forest there are more wide open paths, and, I think, a far wider variety of habitat and opportunities for wild flowers.
There are still St. John’s wort and tansy, but also knapweed, hawkweed, burdock, eyebright, and a whole list more. The other day I saw a figwort, which was quite a surprise. I often stop a while and watch to see which insects visit these flowers. It says a lot about the forest and its resources, that such a range of small creatures have access to this range of nectar sources. The knapweed seems a really important flower, growing in many places and visited by more or less every insect type.
It’s not just the obvious, who visit these nectar sources like bumblebees, hoverflies, buterflies and other bees. Saproxylic beetles, specialists of ancient woodlands, also need nectar giving flowers for some stages of their life cycle.
For those insects who are able to fly a certain distance, it’s at this time of year that Sherwood has an abundance of flowing nectar, in the heather that covers Budby Heath to the north of the main forest. Wow, it’s heather, purple, as far as the eye can see! It’s great – like a moorland, but not on a high windswept place, and with trees dotted through it.
I had been booked to lead a wild flower walk a few weeks ago. Although that was cancelled for understandable reasons, I think this blog post visits a wider area than we could have done on foot. Like we’ve become nectar scouts, visiting all the flowers in a concentrated way.
Budby is still looking great, so if you can get there and have a walk in the heather that would be a good thing to do!