Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Following The Badger Path

My Father in Law, a farmer, can reliably be heard at this time of year issuing gleeful warnings of the Blackthorn Winter. He's not wrong as it turns out, for the Blackthorn is out on the bough and this week the weather has changed. The temperature has dropped a few degrees and it's cold and raining.

Being a Hardy Outdoors type, this doesn't interfere overly with my day, whether it be dog walking or running, so this morning the dogs and I headed off to the woods through the rain for a walk. 

This is an ancient place, managed by the National Trust who've been bringing it back into coppice rotation. I haven't been for a while and right now it looks dreadful with huge tracts of trees cuts down and muddy ruts of tractor wheels digging up the earth. They have replanted new hazels and if you look beyond the mess you'll find that wood anemones are blooming in the open spaces....

and Early Dog Violets too....

You can tell these are Early Dog Violets rather than Common Violets by the pointed nature of the spur sticking out at the back of the bloom. In the Common Violet this is blunted and shorter.

Violets are the food plant for the caterpillars of many Fritillary butterfly species which lay their eggs in the trees above the violets and the pillars then pop down to munch on the plants. The Silver Washed Fritillary is a creature of ancient woodlands who needs Common Violets which grow on our lane (once an ancient woodland, many moons ago). Last summer you may remember a small success I had with our local council who agreed to delay cutting the verges until after the butterflies had pupated, sometime in July. It's really worth having a look for these violets in your local area (they'll be in flower from March to May) and seeing if you can get your council to do the same. Silver Washed Frits are primarily a South UK Species and their numbers are falling so they need all the help they can get. They are big orange butterflies with black streaks and have a beautiful gliding flight. The adults are on the wing in July and August and they do venture out of woodlands on occasion (we get them in our garden).

Both the Early Dog Violet and the Wood Anemone are ancient woodland indicators. Their presence on the woodland floor, along with primroses and dog's mercury, mean that this woodland has been here since at least 1600, and in all likelihood much, much longer. The wood forms part of the Mottisfont Abbey Estate, which is itself on the site of some ancient Springs that were once sacred to the Celts (as indeed in Romsey Abbey, a few miles away). These springs rise in what is now the Abbey grounds. The water has an other-wordliness to it: the colour is something else and whenever I stand next to the Spring I get the urge to jump in it.

I started off following the human path through the woods on our walk this morning, but as so often happens found after a time that I was pulled to the Badger Paths that criss-cross the understory. Badgers find much more interesting places to walk than humans. They meander and amble and trundle through their woods. I am never bored when following a badger track. And I am always surprised at where they lead me. In the past I've found Orchids in these woods because the Badger Track ran past them. Thanks to the badgers, when it came to coppicing that area of the wood I was able to tell the ranger that the orchids were there, and this morning I see that they've coppiced that area and left the section where the orchids are alone. Coppicing is a winter occupation so any and all trace of the orchids would have vanished long before it began, so had the badgers not shown me the plants were there the habitat for the plant would have been lost and there would have been no more Orchids.

Here is Pop helpfully pointing out where the Badger Path runs between the conifers. Incidentally, although I am generally not a fan of conifers, it is worth noting that Sparrowhawks will choose them over broad-leafed trees to nest in, so perhaps they are more worthwhile than we sometimes give them credit for. This is especially true of young (under 50 years old), conifer plantations with open paths between them. I've seen Sparrowhawks in this wood before. Last summer a male nearly flew in to me, so intent was he on exploding out of the undergrowth with his prey clutched in his talons. Those yellow eyes. They are something else up-close. I got out of his way fast :o).

This morning, I followed the Badger Paths for a while then thought to turn off them and head back to the main path, but I got a very strong sense that I was meant to continue on it, so I did, and I found sulphur tuft mushrooms growing out of a tree stump....

As well as the Early Dig Violets and a patch of Wood Anemones. I wouldn't have found them had I been on the People Path. When you see a woodland from the eyes of the Wild Ones who inhabit it you get a very different view. All the people-related stuff falls away and what's left is the Land, pure and simple, as it has always been.

Hope you're all well? I'm going to embarrass B from Coastal Ripples now by saying a HUGE WELL DONE on running her first twenty-minutes-non-stop section of the Couch to 5K programme. It's a great achievement and she's a fab example to us all.

CT :o)


  1. I love the sight of those tiny wildflowers, a sure sign that spring is here. But yes, a Blackthorn Winter here too, after our run this morning the dog and are curled up watching sleet fall. Big congratulations to Coastal Ripples, a very well done indeed -that 20 minutes is a great psychological barrier to break! Whoo hoo! Thanks for talking us all on your lovely walk CT. xx

  2. I saw my first lot of violets [not sure what sort] back in January at Pagham Harbour. They were in a really sheltered spot at the base of the sea wall which caught the sun. I can only think it was this which had brought them on so early. It's so good so see everything coming out isn't it..saw my first Cuckoo Flowers in the verge driving home on Monday. Arilx

  3. Oh CT how I love taking these walks with you, along the path less trodden. Lots of violets here, especially along Towednack lane. I shall look closer on my run tomorrow. I have achieved my latest goal; seven miles. I may have had my first runners high on Tuesday! I absolutely belted through the last mile and a half; could have gone forever. B from CR posted her achievements on Instagram. Bloody brilliant!
    Have a great rest of your week.
    Leanne xx

  4. What a lovely post. And well done on saving the orchids (as well as the violets). I had a great day a while back interviewing an apprentice coppicer in the old Silk Wood at Westonbirt Arboretum. There's a lime tree there that they think has been coppiced for 2000 years! They're in the process of restoring the coppice, letting in more light and seeing more wildlife as a result. It was absolutely fascinating. CJ xx

  5. Very interested to read about the violets role as a fritallary food plant, not a common family round here alas.

    I shall also have to check my violet ids!

  6. Thank you for the lovely mention :). Oh I have so enjoyed your post. I'm feeling very tranquil and other worldly. Badger paths eh. Sadly non of those lovely creatures here . Lots of violet tho, more than usual this year. Your encounter with the sparrow hawk must have been so amazing and a little scary. We disturbed a pheasant right by us the other day. It flew right up at us, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Definitely up close and personal. Enjoy the rest of your week; hopefully it will get warmer B x

  7. What a wonderful walk. After her open Polly is now back to full health and we are able to increase her exercise again and I am really look forward to some lovely long walks myself in the not so distant future

  8. I'm glad you didn't jump in the spring! It's rather beautiful at Mottisfont and wonderful to see the anemones and violets, how lucky we are that these places still exist. x

  9. Violets, Violets I miss them so.
    When you were writing about ancient forest I thought oh how wonderful but then I thought I live in an ancient forest but not like yours.
    Mine is filled with saguaros, sagebrush and mesquite.
    As I said before my family adore Badgers and son has been reading more about them lately.

    cheers, parsnip

  10. Another great post, I’m so glad I found your blog! I went last night to a talk given by the Chief Executive of our local Wildlife Trust, about the consequences of climate change for the UK. He talked, amongst other things, about sea level rises and the expected consequences in terms of refugees. He talked about temperature changes in the Med, currently a major food-growing region, and the consequences for food supply. And he spoke about the flora and fauna winners and losers, the problems of hard barriers and the need for wildlife corridors, and the forward planning that is happening among conservation organisations.

    But when I was chatting to people afterwards, the thing that had shocked them most was learning just how quickly a species can be lost – your comments re verge cutting and coppicing reminded me of this. I am chuffed that you achieved good outcomes in both of these – one of the points made in the talk was that the ‘people in charge’ will listen if you make your views known. I have always felt that it was futile to make a noise about such things, but now I know better and I will be making more noise in the future.

    Keep up the good work. And keep running always, obviously ;-)

  11. I always learn such a lot from your posts - you should set up a little business doing nature rambles! Confrontations with sparrow hawks, saving the orchids - it's all going on down Badger way. Huge congrats to Barbara on her 20 minute run; I found that one the most difficult - such a huge mental barrier. I've been to the gym twice this week - I only managed a 10 min run the first time, before my calf started to hurt and I thought it wise to stop. Today's was 17 mins, so I should be pleased that it's improving, even if I'm finding it incredibly frustrating. I love the photo of Pop showing the way! xx

  12. Your words make me want to put on my walking boots and venture forth! The main woodland near here is rather steep and at the moment deadly slippery...but when it dries up a little I'll be exploring before the fresh undergrowth becomes impassable. x

  13. ah, what a lovely stroll, thank you!

    crossing my fingers, but the weather may very well be Turning Around...the daffs are cautiously poking up and the buds on the trees are noticeably larger in the last couple of days!

    we have a lovely carpet of violets in the back garden....they give off the most delightful smell. xoxo


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them. CT.