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TRANSACTIONS THE CHANGING FLORA OF SUFFOLK b y FRANCIS W .

SIMPSON

About thirty years ago I began to keep a nature diary and record the lovely wild flowers I used to find during the school holidays on my long rambles into many parts of Suffolk. During the passing of this comparatively short period I have observed many changes in our countryside and in the distribution of a large number of species. There have been gains as well as losses to our flora, and some of the causes I propose to outline in this article. Perhaps not since the Enclosure Acts (1760-1843) have there been such alterations and developments, especially during and since the war. The destruction of very many of our more natural habitats has been going on rapidly, such as the draining and ploughing of old pastures and marshes, filling-up of ponds and ditches, removal of hedges, trees, copses and scrub. We have also seen the very extensive afforestation of the light lands, the heaths of East Suffolk and the Breck of West Suffolk. Some of our more ancient woods have been acquired and clear felled and then replanted with conifers or other trees quite unsuitable for the survival of the aboriginal flora. Mech'anised farming, the use of crop-sprays and artificial dressings have brought about changes which have not yet had their fĂźll effect on our flora. The spread of towns and subtopia and the influx into the countryside at Weekends and holiday periods, although not so great as in some counties, have also brought about a marked decline in several species. Indeed so sweeping have been the changes that some places I have revisited after a brief absence have become entirely unrecognisable and I now find it exceedingly difficult or impossible to locate even a single specimen of a number of species which were not uncommon in several habitats before the war. These processes and others more drastic will doubtless continue to change the face of our countryside to its detriment by a daily shrinking heritage of the aboriginal flora. Botanists must continue to record and investigate fully the rapid changes now occurring. Although the human factors may have brought about the major changes of present times there are often natural factors to consider.


116

THE CHANGING FLORA OF SUFFOLK

The almost complete disappearance of the rabbit has already had a very marked effect. The spring and summerfloraof some of our woods and copses has never been more attractive or so well developed. How long this phase will last I am not quite certain. Already I have noticed that in some woods on light soils brambles and other shrubs are Coming up too freely : these would formerly have been kept down effectively by the rabbits. Violets, primroses and otherfloraare dying out. On heaths, commons and grassy places the growth of coarse grass and other Vegetation is unchecked, completely suffocating small species, chiefly annuals or biennials. There is now a marked decline or absence of the attractive Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor) which was such a feature of Breckland and some East Suffolk heaths and roadside verges. The forester has benefited, and natural regeneration is occurring, especialy in areas of felled woodland and scrub; immense numbers of seedlings, usually ash and sycamore, have appeared in some localities. The oak unfortunately is much slower to regenerate and spread. In some woods and older plantations on light soils the sycamore has been very quick to becomeestablished, especialy in Clearings and is now the dominant tree. Silver birch has colonised heaths and commons but this spread has not been due to the disappearance of the rabbit and has been going on for a long time. Thirty years ago there was open heathland, as at Brookhill, Foxhall, where to-day is a well developed birch wood. At Westleton and Dunwich the birch has spread a great deal only since the war and the disturbance of the area by troops. The Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) has become established and a few can be found in almost every parish. Since the war large numbers of a quick growing Poplar (Populus robusta), which is said to be a hybrid between Populus angulata and Populus have been planted in damp places. This tree is likely to be very extensively planted in the future and become a permament feature of the countryside : it matures in about thirty years. Although the Common Oak (Quercus robur) is still our chief tree, (the Durmast Oak, Quercus petraea, is rare) it has been greatl reduced in recent years. The Elm (including various species, but chiefly English Elm, Ulmus procera, and Wych Elm, U. gla is nothing like such a common hedgerow tree as formerly. The felling of trees during the past three decades has been very serious all over Suffolk and the tall rows of elms which were a major feature of our landscape are rapidly vanishing ; few saplings are allowed to survive the hedger's hook. The Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is still a common tree but to-day one seldom sees many good timber speeimens and it is grown mainly as a coppice tree. (Attention is drawn to a Report of the Committee on Hedgerow and Farm Timber, 1955. Published


THE CHANGING FLORA OF SUFFOLK

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by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, price 3s. 6d. Few, if any, of its excellent recommendations have, so far, been implemented in Suffolk.) Some shrubs have spread considerably. Rhododendron ponticum, originally planted, is becoming locally dominant in the woods at Fritton and Ashby, endangering the survival of the local aboriginal flora. The attractive Chinese shrub, Buddleia davidii, introduced about 1890, became part of our wild flora during the war, when it spread to bombed sites and waste places. It is still frequent around Ipswich but may not persist for long as sites are cleared and developed. Around Aldeburgh and Thorpeness the Tree Lupin (Lupinus arboreus) which is a native of California, is now well established. NATURAL

FACTORS

Changes in climate, especially extremes such as Very cold spells or long periods of drought have caused some plants to die out suddenly. Two colonies of the Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum) which I had under Observation for several years disappeared during exceptionally cold winters. Sometimes certain very critical local requirements of a plant such as the correct humidity or amount of light have been altered by adjacent drainage, or the cutting down of a belt of trees or hedge, or less understood factors, have caused long established colonies to disappear. The processes of evolution are always at work producing and separating new forms and hybrids, but these changes usually take place slowly and at long intervals. There has been one good example in recent years, the Rice Grass (Spartina townsendii). This is a vigorous and fertile hybrid which evolved in Southampton Water in the late 19th Century between an introduced American species, Spartina alterniflora and our native, Spartina maritima. It was planted in the Stour estuary at Brantham about thirty years ago and during this period has rapidly increased and spread into all our estuaries causing many changes. What further changes will take place in the next few decades remain to be seen and recorded. There is a number of native or long introduced species which have more recently found our changing conditions very suitable and they have increased enormously. The Rose-bay Willow Herb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) is a plant we all know Very well and as a very common member of our flora, but thirty years ago I remember it as being comparatively scarce. The Clearing of much woodland during the war, a large number of heath fires and bombed sites and open waste spaces led to its phenomenal spread and confirmed its name of Fireweed. War conditions also led to the rapid advance in our towns and waste places of the Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus), Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga parviflora)


THE CHANGING FLORA OF SUFFOLK 118 and several other species. White Melilot (Melilotus alba) and Tal Rocket (Sisymbrium altissimum) spread into all parts of Breckla following the construction of military camps and movement of troops. However, some plants, like the tall and attractive Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) which is now so abundant be rivers and canals in many parts of Britain and Ireland, have apparently not yet found conditions very favourable in our County. I have so far located only two colonies, one near Beccles and the other at Oulton and they are not spreading very rapidly. It is a frequent garden plant and has every chance to run wild. The Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) is also slow to increase its few sites it has been observed in some cases for close on thirty years. The colonies are still about the same as whenfirstfound. Some of the plants we have grown in our gardens have run wild and are now almost completely naturalised. Yellow Fumitory (Corydalis lutea) is now established on walls in many place Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) is found growing free on almost every church and old building in the County, yet even twenty years ago it was almost scarce. Winter Heliotrope or Fragrant Butterbur (Petasites fragrans) can frequently be seen extending its colonies well beyond the shrubberies along the wayside banks and sides of ditches. Oriental Comfrey (Symphytum Orientale) has become almost a common feature of our vilag It is definitely a social species and prefers banks, waysides and other sites near human habitation. Two species of Oxalis, Oxalis corniculata and Oxalisfloribunda,have become too well kn in gardens. The latter species has tuberous roots which rapidly divide and is continually forming other small bulbils : a most aggressive garden weed. A species of Garlic (Allium paradoxu which grows so freely in the shrubbery parts of the Abbey Gardens at Bury may spread to other gardens. It produces numerous bulbils in thefloweringheads. I made the mistake of introducing it into my garden where it has now become a nuisance and canno easily be eradicated. We must keep a look out for new arrivals and introductions and notice if they tend to increase. Creeping Speedwell, (Veronica filiformis) from Eastern Europe is likely to spread if thrown o of gardens. It increases vegetatively although a few fertile seeds are produced. Now frequent in many parts of Britain, it has been observed at Belstead, nr. Ipswich, spreading over a grassy area outside a garden. A North American Wilow-herb, Epilobium adenocaulon soon spread all over Suffolk and will change the whole aspect of places as it has already done in many counties. This Wilow herb is very variable in size (height from 4 inches to 6 feet) and w


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grow in a great variety of habitats such as damp woods, streamsides, waste places and as a weed in gardens and arable fields. Another Willow herb, a New Zealand species, Epilobium pedunculare, has not yet been found in Suffolk although very frequent in many areas. Perhaps it may be introduced first into gardens with the soil attached to plants obtained from nursery gardens in those areas where it is common. An American Rush, Juncus tenuis, will almost certainly become common on roadsides and waste places as it is already in many areas. Its seeds are dispersed with the mud on the wheels of vehicles and foot-wear. The Rayless Mayweed (Matricaria matricaroides) now an abundant weed was spread in this way. In Suffolk it has partly replaced the Scentless Mayweed (Matricaria inodora) which is considerably less common. Even some of our indigenous plants, hitherto unrecorded in Suffolk, may find conditions suitable in the changing habitats. The Northern Creeping Lady's Tresses (Goodyera repens) may spread into our coniferous plantations. I have found it in plantations at Holkham, Norfolk. Chickweed Wintergreen (Trientalis europaea), another northern plant, was discovered in a boggy birch-alder wood near Lowestoft in 1955 by Dr. F. Rose. In a changing flora there are many exciting plants to be found and we never know what may turn up even in a well-worked area, perhaps another colony of the Military Orchis (Orchis militaris) in West Suffolk.

FLORA

OF

THREE-AND-A-HALF OF By N .

A45

S. P.

MILES

m ^ h f ^ J ^ -

MITCHELL

Travelling daily from Stowmarket to Needham Market by A 45, I have made a fairly complete list of the flora of the roadside from hedge root to hedge root, or fence base. The road runs roughly parallel to the River Gipping, at an average distance of four hundred yards from it, and averages about 100 feet above sea level, crossing Boulder Clay and occasional banks of loamy gravel. It is bordered by arable farmland and at either end has a fringe of houses. Acer campestre Acer pseudoplatanus. Infreq. Achillea millefolium. Freq. on drier banks and verges.

Aegopodiumpodagraria. Nr. farmyard and cottages. Aesculus hippocastanum. Two planted trees.

Changing Flora of Suffolk  
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