The latest update from Michael Walter:

Keeping databases seems to be a largely male fetish, and I have to admit to my fair share of them (databases and fetishes!), but they aren’t necessarily a sign of an obsessive compulsive disorder, and these rows and columns of figures can have their uses. So, for example, when the press says that this has been the wettest winter on record, I can turn to my weather statistics and say “Not here it wasn’t”.  According to my records, the recent October-February period locally was only the third wettest in my 38 years at Rough Common, the wettest being 2000-01, when total rainfall was 38% higher than this winter!  My highest one-day March rainfall was 48.1mm on 30th March 1988, compared to which the persistent deluge on 5th March this year was little more than a light shower!  None of this is intended to detract from the reality of this having indeed been a very soggy few months, but quite what it all means to the survival of wildlife is another matter.  There is concern that some species of birds are dying out in Kent because their habitats are getting drier:  the willow tit has been lost to the reserve and the county for 15 or so years, and the marsh tit at Blean Woods is now heading the same way.  Unfortunately, there is only so much water that soil can retain in winter, and if our longer, hotter and drier summers can cause it all to evaporate, these birds will be no better off.  Nightingales aren’t even here to benefit from winter saturation, but one trend has been for them to vacate the Downs, which are so much better drained than the lowland areas.

Blean Woods aren’t particularly rich floristically, and rather a lot of the plants on my reserve list are of dubious provenance:  indeed, over 20% of the more than 380 species that I have recorded are deliberate introductions (such as exotic conifers) or garden escapes that have been bird-sown or perhaps germinated in garden rubbish dumped at the wood edge.  It isn’t always easy to make the distinction between genuine natives and deliberate or accidental introductions:  lily-of-the-valley is reckoned to be native in parts of the country, and in Blean Woods it grows in extensive sheets in certain areas, and in small pockets elsewhere, looking for all the world as though it has always been there, and the fact that its localities are well away from houses and tracks adds to my belief that it is indigenous here.  Daffodils are a different matter altogether;  there are indeed wild populations of this familiar species, and Wordsworth knew a thing or two about those that grow in the Lake District, but the ones that pop up at Blean come in a range of non-native varieties, invariably alongside tracks, enabling me to confidently dismiss them as exotics.  But another group of plants can cause problems;  these are species that do grow wild in Kent and occur, rather unexpectedly, at Blean.  One such is the stinking hellebore, which is flowering now.  Closely related to the Christmas rose, and classified as belonging to the Ranunculaceae, its leaves are reminiscent of buttercups, monkshood and delphinium, which share the same family, but the stinking hellebore is a rare plant of alkaline chalk and limestone.  Blean Woods, by contrast, is on acidic clay and gravel, and therefore the last place one would expect to see this plant, and the fact that it is grown in gardens arouses immediate suspicion, and the location of the only two plants I know of in the wood (now apparently reduced to just one), close to a public track is another nail in the native coffin.  The almost inevitable conclusion to be drawn is therefore that someone planted them or possibly that seeds were accidentally brought in on the wheels of a vehicle, or in material used to create a hard base when the track was built.  So, unfortunately, just being native to the UK, or even Kent, is no guarantee that a plant belongs in Blean Woods.

Michael Walter

Stinking Hellebore in Blean Woods

  • I agree about the rain. The SE has not been much wetter than usual (by my rain records too). Mostly the north. What we've had is good to re-charge the aquifers though, as you say. Let's start a campaign against all this negativity about lovely rain!