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Ancient Trees in Duncombe Park
23rd April 2017

led by Brian Walker

Ancient oak


On a sunny but cool afternoon 15 of us gathered at the entrance to Waterloo Plantation, an area of woodland belonging to the Duncombe Park estate but managed by the forestry commission. Lead by retired Forestry Commision Wildlife Ranger, Brian Walker, we drove along forest tracks to the lower parts of the wood.

In the lower reaches of this plantation woodland are to be found numerous ancient Oak trees (Quercus robur, Quercus pedunculata and hybrids).

After parking the cars we ambled from tree to tree admiring their stature which varied considerably due to varying degrees of decay. Some still had fairly healthy crowns while others were reduced to just a rotting trunk. All had holes or splits, one to the point were the heart wood had decayed completely and a 6ft tall person could stand inside. On some parts of the decaying trunks and at varying heights seedlings had established themselves and so bilberry and young conifers could be seen sprouting. These trees had survived being felled over the centuries as being in estate parkland the lands primary purpose was for hunting. Believed to be 400 to 500 years old they had started to become smothered by planted conifers such as Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) but in more recent years the value of these ancient trees had become recognised and so the encroaching plantation trees had been felled and the area designated as SSSI. Brian explained trees of this age often harbour specialised and rare insects and fungi that need the decaying wood in which to thrive.

Ancient oak


Returning to the cars and then driving on a mile further we next visited Castle Hill. Here again stood ancient Oaks but also Small-leaved Limes (Tilia cordata), the latter potentially much older than the Oaks due their habit of readily layering, branches becoming new trunks and creating some interesting shapes.

Ancient lime


Having regrouped back at our starting point we shared some delicious cake before thanking our leader and heading home.

Bird list

Buzzard
Willow Warbler
Goldcrest
Chaffinch
Chiffchaff
Blue Tit
Swallow
Wren
Blackcap
Blackbird
Bullfinch
Robin
Goldfinch
Coal Tit
Jackdaw
Nuthatch
Curlew
Carrion Crow
Wood Pigeon
Great Tit

Butterflies

Peacock
Orange Tip
Small White

Appendix - Molluscs

Notes by Terry Crawford

The woodlands are fairly acidic, but probably contain several species of terrestrial molluscs, especially in damp flushes. More problematic were the extremely dry conditions. The following slugs and snails were recorded.

Arion subfuscus
Cepaea hortensis
Deroceras reticulatum
Lehmannia marginata
Trochulus striolatus
  Dusky Slug
White-lipped Snail
Netted Field Slug
Tree S;ug
Strawberry Snail


Most enthusiasts of terrestrial molluscs use scientific names. Vernacular names are difficult as there is no standard list, and confusion can occur. For slugs I have used the preferred vernacular in Rowson, B. et al. (2014) Slugs of Britain and Ireland. AIDGAP Key, FSC Publications/National Museum of Wales. For snails I have taken vernaculars from Kerney, M.J. (1999) Atlas of the Land and Freshwater Molluscs of Britain and Ireland. Harley Books. Here are some comments.

Arion subfuscus was the most common species. This moderately sized slug occurs in a wide range of habitats, is usually some shade of brown, and if the mantle (just behind the head) is gently stroked with a piece of tissue it will turn bright orange-brown. Cepaea hortensis is one of the familiar humbug-like species (the other being Cepaea nemoralis with a brown lip). The shell colour can range from yellow, through pink, to brown, and may show none or up to five dark bands which may be fused to varying degrees. I saw three of these, all yellow, one with no bands, one with five separate bands, and one with fused bands. Deroceras reticulatum is ubiquitous, the small mottled brownish/creamy pest slug of gardens, characterized by production of milky mucous when disturbed. Lehmannia marginata is less common. It is a woodland species that will climb trees in wet conditions. When handled it usually produces copious quantities of very watery mucous. I saw only one, which did not react with mucous production and remained sticky; this is indicative of the extremely dry conditions. Trochulus striolatus is a very common snail occurring in a wide variety of habitats. It is rather flattened, about 10 to 15 mm diameter when adult, with quite coarse striations on the shell and a slight keel around the “shoulder” of the shell. It can be a pest in gardens. It is strangely absent from a large area of the English Midlands.



© Ryedale Natural History Society 2017, Photos © Keith Gittens, Pauline Popely 2017 Back to the Home page