The great swathe of woodland south of Chilham in East Kent is coming alive in the unseasonal Mediterranean warmth of early April. Birch, hazel and hornbeam are in early leaf, whitebeams too, but the stolid oak, ash and beech remain in bud.
Chiffhcaffs are everywhere, shouting their monotonous zip-zap, zip-zap from the tree-tops. A few blackcaps sing but mainly the resident robins, blackbirds, song thrushes and tits fill the air. Firecrests are calling their punchy trill from the tops of huge firs but are impossible to see. Marsh tits pairs are present in small numbers, their pitchuu calls resonate through the wood. A single calling and drumming lesser spotted woodpecker calls from high in an ash tree.
Orange tip butterflies patrol their patches of lady’s smock and hedge mustard in a low flying circuit. Peacocks sit on the paths as do green tiger beetles and both fly on approach. Commas are common this year, their larval foodplant is principally stinging nettle, but formerly the old English hop; many sit on a bramble leaf and sunbathe.
In the shade of the woodland path, a small patch of moschatel spreads on the damp leaf litter at the base of the wooded slope. Apparently it has a musky fragrance and hence the name; it is more prosaically known as ‘town hall clock’ for its four-square appearance of the flowers. An understated and often overlooked ancient woodland species often hiding in plain sight within a flat sea of wood sorrel or dog’s mercury.
Other ancient woodland species of the damp shade include wood sorrel with its edible, peppery leaves and the wonderfully named, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. The flowers are pallid yellow, like moschatel, and the plant spreads across the waterlogged ground by the side of streams.Some plant species sound as though they should be spectacular but are remarkable only for their unremarkable appearance.
Primroses deck both ‘The Warren’ and ‘Bonsai Bank’ where the first brood of Duke of Burgundy fritillaries will appear soon. At the latter, the sheltered south-facing slopes are hot and dry. Fat, hairy, bee flies are abundant and clumsily probe the primrose flowers with their ridiculously long probosces or sit on the bare ground in the sun. They have an appearance of tiny, old-fashioned toilet brushes.