gorse

A Jurassic experience

Only a couple of miles from the Jurassic Coast, but here were giant ferns, a tree canopy that excluded the light and a stony track leading deeper and deeper into woodland. The silence was profound, yet any slight noise seemed magnified in that enclosed environment. The dogs ran on ahead, plunging into the deep green undergrowth. We followed more slowly, stones pressing uncomfortably through the soles of our shoes.

Then a strange noise stopped us. It sounded like a huge bullfrog croaking nearby. After a minute or two we realised, after my friend checked on her mobile phone, it must be a deer rutting. We couldn’t see it, but its rhythmic grunting sounded quite close. Another answered from the opposite direction. We turned to walk on but a loud piercing cry came from overhead. It was beginning to feel even more like Jurassic Park … We looked up almost expecting to see a pterodactyl fly out of the canopy. A large buzzard wheeled above, primary feathers silhouetted against a small patch of sky, its cry echoing among the trees.

Warm damp air made it feel clammy and claustrophobic. I looked up to see a gap in the canopy where a tree had been struck by lightning. The bare trunk pointed a jagged finger at the sky. Spikes of gorse with luminous yellow flowers bordered the path. In the hollows were dark peaty pools. As we emerged into a lighter area, soft mauve grasses with feathery seed heads signalled a change in the habitat and we left the primeval forest for open heath-land.

Hedges and Edges

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In the sheltered valleys the matt greys and browns of winter hedges have been replaced by greens and silvers. Willows on the edge of the water meadows glow like candles. Even before leaves have appeared it is as if the sap is gleaming through the bark, as trees and hedges come back to life. Blackthorn, wild damson and cherry are flowering in a snowstorm of blossom – and now a traditional Blackthorn winter seems to be following with cold northerly winds.

In the last few days leaves have started to unfurl, as if plants have a built-in mechanism telling them when it is the equinox. Deep inside there must be light sensors weighing the daylight and triggering growth when day and night are equal. Even Horse Chestnuts are starting to come into leaf.

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However, nearer the coast, hedges have a different story to tell. Where sea spray had been driven inland during the winter storms, the hedges have been salt-burnt on their seaward sides. Gorse is brown and stunted. Conifers and other evergreens have shrivelled where the salty winds scorched their leaves. The only colour on the seaside hedges is bright green lichen, indicating the purity of the air.  Thorn trees are bent and arthritic, twisted from the strength of the gales off the sea. Spring is taking longer to arrive here on the exposed hills and coasts.

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