History Group Talk November 2014

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                                           "Dartmoor's Threatened Plants"
                              was the title of a talk given by Rev Geoffrey Fenton.

Geoffrey began by saying that several ministers have over the years been keen botanists and in a way he is continuing that trend. He has always had an interest in the flora of the area in which he lived, and now he is here on Dartmoor, he has been able to continue that hobby. His presentation was well illustrated by numerous coloured slides, backed up by distribution maps showing where we as individuals can explore ourselves.  The main message that came out of the talk was the fact that so many of us when out in the countryside enjoy the views, the overall vista, but we do not get down on our hands and knees and really take a close look at what is beneath our feet.   He mention the late Rev Keble Martin who produced the definitive book of British Wild Flowers. Painting each and every individual flower he found some 1486 in total.   His book “The Concise British Flora“, first published in May 1965, and still regarded as a brilliant source of information and reference, to all who have an interest in British flowers.   It is quite amazing how many flowers there are to see even during the winter months. However the spring and summer is the most popular time to be out and about seeing what you can find. Sometimes it needs a lot of patience as several are quite scarce.   Among the many plant images he showed us was a small white flower, Climbing Corydalis which favours heathy woods and shady places - may well be found in places like Wistman’s Wood. A flower with a greenish flower head, Alexanders often seen on roadside verges - brought to Britain possibly by the Romans. The blue, Ivy-leaved Bell Flower, as it’s name suggests an ivy shaped leaf and a delicate little bell like bloom. Sneezewort another small white plant worth the effort to find. Dodder that reddish parasitic plant seen often growing on gorse was another interesting plant, seen in this parish.  The plants of the wet areas like Stags Horn Club Moss, Sundew and other mosses are all worth looking out for, and trying to identify. The two Gorses, Western Gorse that grows to about 3ft high and the Common Gorse that can reach 6ft high. Between the two there is always one or other in flower, this led Geoffrey to quote that old country saying - “when gorse is in flower ‘kissing is in fashion”.  He then turned his attention to the plants that are now invading our shores like the Himalayan Balsam a very pretty plant but one that is causing problems by smothering out our native plants, Japanese Knotweed is another, brought into the country by Victorian plant collectors and now running wild!  The importance of plants to other wildlife, butterflies, moths, bees and other pollinators was emphasised by some lovely pictures of plants and our insects feeding on them. Red Admirals on Hemp Agrimony, Skippers on Fleabane and the importance of plants like Scabious, often referred to as Sheep’s Bit Scabious all play their part in nurturing other wildlife.  Geoffrey said how important a part flowers play in maintaining a healthy and wide variety of wildlife, that sometimes we take for granted. He finished with pictures of beautiful orchids of the wild, Early Purple and Spotted Orchids, Butterwort, Sundew, Ragged Robin, and a photograph of a swathe of Bog Cotton.
He concluded his talk with an offer to take members on a couple of walks next year when he would be able to show us some of these plants in their natural habitat.


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