The new Devon Flora

On Wednesday evening I attended the launch of A New Flora for Devon. This new 842 page book is the culmination of 12 years work and contains over 1 million records.

The lead author Roger Smith at the launch with the Leader of Devon County Council and the President of the Devonshire Association (who published the book).

The cover

A sample page – showing the Warren Crocus entry on the right.

This new Flora sets a new standard for county plant books – it is amazing, highly detailed and will be an essential reference for years to come.

It can now reside on my bookshelf next two earlier works on the county’s plants – Keeble Martin’s Flora of Devon and Ivimey-Cook’s Atlas of the Devon Flora – both also supported by the Devonshire Association.

Huge congratulations to all involved.


A New Flora of Devon is coming

I’ve just received a flyer which announces a pre-publication offer for a A New Flora of Devon. Publication is expected in December this year. I have reproduced the flier in full below which gives you the full details of what to expect and how to order it. A pre-publication price of £40 for an 848 page full colour book seems very good value. I will be ordering my copy very soon – the pre-pub offer ends on the 5th November. This book will be essential for all those interested in and charged with conserving Devon’s plants.

Flora 1

Flora 3

Flora 2
Congratulations to the authors Roger Smith, Bob Hodgson and Jeremy Ison on completing this mammoth task – Devon is a huge county and contains 2000 species of plant. Since the publication of the 1984 Atlas around 1 million plant records have been collected at both 10km and 2km level.

Flora 4
This is the 1984 Atlas by R Ivimey-Cook who was one of my lecturers when I was an undergraduate at Exeter.

Flora 6
I remember consulting this book the Keble Martin and Gordon Fraser ‘Flora of Devon’ when I worked for Devon Wildlife Trust in 1983

Flora 7
Prior to the Flora of Devon an updated list produced by W.P. Hiern and the Rev Moyle Rogers was published in the 1906 Victorian County History of Devon

Flora 5
The first published Flora of Devon was published in 1829 J.P. Jones and J.F. Kingston

It is also good to see that the excellent Devonshire Association is continuing to support the publication of Devon floras.

As the flyer says “only a limited number will be printed and a second print run is unlikely” so if you want a copy make sure you order one in advance.

The elder

The elder is a common shrub in our hedgerows and woodlands. In May and June its multiple flower heads brighten the countryside. These flower heads have traditionally been collected to then fermented to make elder flower ‘champagne’ or elder flower cordial.

Elder 2
The flowerhead of elder (Sambucus nigra)

Elder is also a valuable plant for many species of insect. The larvae of the swallowtail moth and the buff ermine for example feed on it.

Buff ermine
The buff ermine

Elder 1The leaves of elder look superficially like ash – opposite paired of leaves running up the stem ending with a terminal leaf – this is known botanically as ‘pinnate’. If you rub the leaves of elder and then smell your hands you will find a rather unpleasant aroma – a key ID characteristic.

In the late summer the multiple flowerheads are  replaced by multiple black berries – these are regularly harvested to make elderberry wine.

The name ‘elder’ is said to derive from the Anglo-Saxon Aeld which means fire. The stems of elder are hollow and used to be used as part of the bellow’s mechanism to blow air into a fire. Superstition has it that if you burn elder you will see the devil whereas if you plant elder by your house it will protect you from the devil.

Oak trees slowly coming into leaf – we’re in for a splash

Ash before oak – we are in for a soak

Oak before ash we are in for a splash

In reality oak pretty much always  comes into leaf before ash. In the last fifty years oak has always leafed before ash. It has not always been this way – in the 18th century when it was less mild ash did often flower before oak – thus the quote.

Climate change has changed all of this – usually oak leafs in late March-May which is about two weeks earlier than 30 years ago. Ash usually leafs during April and May, about 7-10 days earlier than 30 years ago.

In my garden I have 5 large oak trees and a couple of ash trees. 3 of the 5 five oaks are now in leaf  but none of the ashes are.

Oak trees
Green splashes on the oak trees.

Oak leavesPedunculate (or English oak) in leaf and in flower

Oak flowersNot often seen – the flowers of the Pedunculate oak

The two oaks in my garden which haven’t come into leaf yet are clearly a different genetic stain from those which have.


Here are the Sessile Oaks of the Teign Valley at Fingle Bridge – a few hundred metres higher in altitude and not yet anywhere near leafing – spring is a long drawn out process …..


Fingle from the wildwood

Last night I gave a talk entitled ‘Fingle from the wildwood – a story of a changing climate, prehistoric people, their descendants and their impacts‘ at the Fingle Bridge Inn in Drewsteignton.

AC- Paul Moody

I tried to weave together the story of the end of the last Ice Age to the present time by looking at the pollen record, the climate, the actions of prehistoric people from the New Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age and the impact of the extinctions of our mammal fauna over the period. I won’t try and reproduce it all here but you can download my Powerpoint presentation here (I have removed the photographs to make the file a more manageable size) – it may not make much sense if you didn’t hear the words that went with it!

I started with this quote from Oliver Rackham “Conservationists do no service to woodland if they try to remake it on the image of what they imagine wildwood was like” – just in case anyone had a brainwave!

I include here a few tables which people might find useful as they catalogue some of the key timescales and events.

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The vegetation history of the British Isles

Pollen1A pollen diagram of tree cover from Dartmoor

From Harry Godwin’s book – the History of the Brtish Flora summarising vegetation, cultures, woodland cover and geology

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Key dates and events in our archaeological history

I then discussed what all this means, highlighted the huge gaps in our knowledge and talked about Frans Vera’s counter-theory that the ‘wildwood’ was in fact a savannah with ‘parkland trees’. A controversial theory but one which does help explain how the wildwood was cleared by a small number of people using stone axes.

I talked about some challenges for the future: tree diseases, the growing number of deer, climate change and people.

I finished the talk with a quote from Fingle Woods’ Spirit of Place statement – which Fingle Woods’ managers can use as a benchmark to determine whether their actions are appropriate.

Over the centuries, people have changed the appearance of the landscape from heathland and wild woods to oak coppice and then to conifer, driven by local and then national need, influenced by fashion and economics. As a result, the gorge has been dressed in different ways. In the coming decades, we want to help the gorge to clothe itself again, reverting to its more natural state. Fingle Wood’s inheritance will help shape its future, making it a place of conservation in a changing environment, and inspiration and enjoyment for everyone – today and for the generations to come.

Thanks to everyone who came and seemed to like what I had to say.

Autumn ladies tresses

The 1st September marks the meteorological start of autumn and what better piece of nature to share with you than this rather special orchid – the autumn  ladies tress.

Autumn ladies tress 1
The tiny white flowers are twisted in spirals around the stem – alluding to a lady’s long hair curled into tresses ie long locks

Autumn ladies tress 2
It is a species of short cropped grassland often on chalk, limestone and sand dunes – it does occur on Dartmoor but is not common and can be hard to find but once you get your eye you tend to see dozens and dozens of them.

These individuals were photographed at Dawlish Warren over the bank holiday weekend.



Buckland Beacon

One of Dartmoor’s famous features are the 10 commandment stones on Buckland Beacon near to Buckland in the Moor. I had never been there before so we headed out yesterday to find them. They are pretty easy to find – you park at the car park at Cold East Cross (SX740743) and then head south around the moorland wall to Buckland Beacon which is a prominent feature  – the walk is on around a mile.

Buckland BeaconBuckland Beacon looking south over Ausewell Wood

10 commandments

The two 10 commandment stones – see here for the full story of how they were carved (and why) by WA Clement in 1928.

10 commandments - detailAs you can see the carving deteriorates with time and becomes filled with lichens – the stone masonry was tidied up in 2009 by the DNPA to make it more visible – see here – but it may need doing again quite soon!

Jubillee stoneNearby on the Beacon is the Jubilee Stone from 1935 – that is now practically unreadable.

TeignmouthAmazing view down toward Teignmouth and Shaldon – you can see why this has been a beacon for millennia!

Welstor RockTo the east of the Beacon is Welstor Rock

Small heathNice to see a small heath butterfly on the way over to the Beacon – a classic Dartmoor species – the caterpillars feeds on moorland grasses

Bloddy nosed beetleWe found a bloody nosed beetle on the Beacon

English stonecropAlong with English stonecrop

DodderBy Welstor Rock there is a strong colony of greater dodder – a parasitic plant – you can the red / pink flowers along with its red stems growing on the gorse

Oak before ash – what’s the summer going to be like?

There are a number of ways of predicting what the summer is going to be like. Take your pick!

1. Oak before ash.
“If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak”

SSCN0847This year on Dartmoor – the oak definitely has it – leaves fully out and in full flower

SSCN0846 The ash on the other hand is in bud

SSCN0845And on some branches the leaves and flowers are unfurling

So we’re in for a splash

2. Read The Daily Express
The scorcher of all scorchers – read here

3. Believe The Met Office via the BBC
Since the BBQ summer of a couple of years ago the Met Office hedge their bets a bit now – more of a curate’s egg perhaps – see here.

4. Look out of the window
Accurate but not long term

5. Acquire Seaweed
Not a good one for Dartmoor to be honest

So I guess it all depends whether you are ‘a glass half full or half empty’ person, an optimist or a pessimist, a realist or a dreamer – either way we can only hope…….

What I do know though is that I am out Saturday and Sunday on our final 10 tors training session with the National Trust Wild Tribe – looks like rain and lots of it so I’ll prepare for that – waterproof coat and over trousers – never let the weather beat you!