Michael Walter's latest report:

It sometimes seems as though the wood is in a foreign country, so heavily has it been invaded by alien plants, from the larger sycamore, sweet chestnut and rhododendron right down to humbler species such as feverfew, New Zealand water stonecrop, Pyrenean cranesbill and stinking hellebore.  A fairly recent coloniser from gardens in Rough Common is the pheasant berry (Leycesteria formosa).  Formosa, the old name for Taiwan, indicates the Asian provenance of this shrub and, incidentally, the Far East is also the original home of the pheasant, one of a much smaller band of animal immigrants.  Pheasant berry is an appealing shrub, producing large, hanging “flowers” with white centres.  The inverted commas are a reminder that pheasant berry belongs to quite a broad assemblage of plants whose attractive “flowers” are in fact bracts, which in most plants are present as rather inconspicuous green leaflets immediately below the petals of the flower proper.  In pheasant berry the anatomical flower is the white central element, and the blousy purple parts are vastly inflated bracts which have assumed the petals’ role of luring insects in to pick up and deposit pollen.  A classic example of a house plant that has taken this evolutionary trend to extremes is the poinsettia, whose enormous red flowers are, in reality, bract impostors.  Also known as nutmeg shrub and Himalayan honeysuckle, pheasant berry is now growing on the bank sloping down from the Rough Common road, where it will most likely get shaded out by the developing coppice.  Its common name comes from the fact that the shiny purple berries are eaten by pheasants, and gamekeepers had in the past planted the bush in woods where the birds were reared.


I didn’t hear it myself, but apparently someone recently suggested that people should dump their used Halloween pumpkins in the countryside, where slugs and mice could benefit from the flesh, rather than simply throwing away the scary lanterns.  It seems that quite a few local residents took this message to heart, as I have come across a number of these bright orange globes gleaming in the depths of the wood in the past few days.  The first one I encountered was sitting atop one of the two large concrete blocks that stand guard over the stone track running from Rough Common through to Denstroude.  If you’ve ever been that way, you may have wondered what exactly the purpose of those edifices is.  They are in fact what used to be known as tank traps:  during the Second World War there was a military camp in the wood, and this tank trap presumably served to provide a modicum of protection to the troops, though as there was no barrier at the other end of the wood you are left wondering if this generated a false sense of security.  One block has a vertical slot in it, while the other simply has a hole in one side to receive a metal bar, but I have never worked out how the bar would have been held in place, as there was no sign of anything to prevent its being lifted out of its slot.  Other wartime archaeology includes two gun emplacements, and an ammunition store in the south west corner of the wood that was part of the Dunkirk radar station, a collection of buildings clustered around the mast that still stands at the south end of Courtney Road.


Writing this, I should be in festive mood, not because of the looming shopping frenzy that is Christmas, but to celebrate this 200th edition of my articles on Blean Woods.  Produced at monthly intervals, the very first issue announced a “Reopening Day” on 12th May 2001:  this was the year of foot-and-mouth, when for ten weeks the countryside was totally closed off to the public in a bid to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.  In a visitor-free wood the rabbits grew emboldened, and a pair of great tits nested undisturbed in the car park moneybox!


Michael Walter


01227 462491

Fruiting pheasant berry

Pumpkin on top of tank trap