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Yesterday (27/04/2017) I was checking out my bit of woodland and came across this little pant. I guessed that it was some sort of cotton-grass but it was not like the stuff I am familiar with from bogs in Wales or indeed one or two I used to visit in Norfolk.

I had a look around and this was the only one I could see, I am fairly certain there are no others as the white fluffy flowers stand out and are quite easy to spot. Once home reference to books and internet confirmed it is a Cotton-grass but not the standard one which is Common Cotton-grass (Eriphorum angustifolium) This is special, its common name is Harestail Cotton-grass.  The principal difference between them is that fluffy Cotton like flower heads are held upright where as in the common species the stalks are longer and the flowers ‘nod’ or hang down.

There is a good and authoritive web site called The online atlas of the British and Irish flora and from it I have copied this distribution map for Hairstail Cotton-grass

You can see that there is just one square in the Wye valley region. This plant is largely found in Wales, NW England and Scotland. It is a plant of wet acidic heathlands and moorlands.

Now this is also interesting because in his book on the Wye Valley the author George Peterken suggests that the area north of Wentwood Forest was known as Wye wood Common and that in times gone by it was a large and more or less continuous area. Recently it has been planted with coniferous trees or converted into farmland. This is at odds with the Forestry Commissions designation of my area of Ninewells wood as a PAWS site  ( Plantation ancient woodland site)   PAWS means that it was woodland back in 1600 and thus probably for some time before that and subsequently was converted into a commercial pine plantation. Peterken suggests that the Ninewells wood area is relatively new and that in the past it would have been heathland.

The appearance of this little plant which must have come from seeds remaining in the soil from the past backs up the idea that this was not woodland but was infact open acidic damp heathland.

Indeed in recent correspondence I have had with George Peterken he seems to  be very much of the opinion that my bit of woodland was once heathland, and that on 1812/13 survey maps for the O.S. he said Ninewells wood and Broad Meend are shown as treeless and his opinion is that Ninewells wood originated in the  19th century.

So along with the Gorse, Calluna, Bilberry, Trailing  St Johns wort, Climbing Corydalis and Heath Bedstraw, its all backing up George Peterken’s assessment.

It was always my intention to leave a small portion of the area treeless, so as to increase diversity,  but now I may expand this to about a third of the area and thus encourage the reestablishment of the former habitat.

To check out other wildflowers found in the woods of the Wye valley and Ninewells wood click Woodland Wildflowers of the Wye valley and Monmouthshire.