Field Event Reports

7th November: Shotover Hill and Brasenose Wood, Oxford

The group were prepared for rain.

Leaders: Ivan and Jacqueline Wright (Shotover Wildlife)

On a chilly and breezy, but bright, morning (with forecast heavy showers) the AbNats group met our hosts and guides Ivan Wright and his wife Jacqueline, both key leaders of Shotover Wildlife. Shotover Wildlife is a voluntary organisation founded in 1999 to research and communicate the importance of Shotover Hill for wildlife.

The main aim of the walk was to descend the western side of the site through the higher woods to Brasenose Wood that faces the eastern edge of Oxford (Cowley and surrounds). Our first stop was under the shelter of a large oak (all native oaks on Shotover are Quercus robur) where Ivan started to describe the history of Shotover, and how the vegetation is affected by both the underlying geology (which changes frequently across the site) and the history of the usage, previously in parts used for grazing. Both these themes reoccurred throughout our walk.

We descended through the higher woods (which contain many mature oaks, but limited under storey) into a small meadow having fleetingly passed a narrow band of Bracken that reflected an underlying soil/geology change. This dry acidic meadow was created only two years before, but sprouts of heather and seedlings of Birdsfoot Trefoil were already appearing from the underlying seed bank. Lowland dry acid grassland is rare in Oxfordshire, which is why some of the associated species are especially scarce in the County, and makes Shotover Hill particularly important for the biodiversity of the region and for the associated invertebrate fauna that has been much studied by Shotover Wildlife.

We then descended down twisting pathways towards Brasenose Wood, where the under storey was denser. Jacqueline explained that the first job they did 10 years ago when starting their work on the site was to map the jigsaw puzzle of the paths, where for example at intersections up to five paths could meet - easy to get lost!. Our next stop was at a patch of hazel coppicing (an important part of the ecology of the woods) where Ivan explained the problem that the Roe Deer were causing. When traditional coppicing was undertaken cutting right back to the stools, the emerging shoots were at the level favoured by the deer and eaten back preventing full regrowth. They had experimented with various other regimes and had discovered that when cutting back 0.7 to 0.8m above the stool the emerging shoots were not eaten back so vigorously and the angiosperm ground flora also benefited. Such a regime might help to keep the traditional regime of hazel coppicing viable. This research was published in 2017.

At our next stop Ivan explained the technique used to assess the beetle population of the site, in particular the small species that occupied the canopy. Some 850 species had been identified in the past 20 years. As we worked back up the Hill we stopped at a dammed stream that created yet another habitat - a damp bog, although due to the dry summer the spring feeding it had not yet sprung into life.

The promised heavy rain began towards theend ofthe event.

We then walked beside a large meadow worked by a local farmer for hay and silage, then entered the higher woods again. At this point one of the promised showers decided to dump a heavy downpour on us, and although umbrellas went up progress was difficult through the undergrowth. We reached the car park somewhat damp, but having enjoyed an excellent and informative walk. All were certainly impressed with the amount of work that Shotover Wildlife and associates were doing to maintain the site and to undertake truly scientific research.

Ivan told us that a book on Shotover was about to be published: (Shotover - The Life of an Oxfordshire Hill, edited by Ivan and Jacqueline Wright**, which to quote 'explores the rich wildlife of Shotover Hill, covering all of the main species groups including flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, bees, beetles and mammals ? also places the past 20 years of species surveying and research by Shotover Wildlife in the context of work by the naturalists of past centuries.'

Thanks were conveyed to Ivan and Jacqueline and a return trip to the eastern and drier part of Shotover was promised for summer 2019.

Report: Graham Bateman

Links and references:
Oxford  City Council -Shotover Information. (www.oxford.gov.uk/downloads/file/1807/shotover_country_park_information)
† Effect of varying coppice height on tree survival and ground flora in Brasenose Wood, Oxfordshire, UK: Ivan R.Wright and T.W. Bartel, Conservation Evidence (2017) 14,1-4.
* The Shotover Book (www.shotover-wildlife.org.uk/swbook.htm)
Attendees:
Graham Bateman, Richard Lewington, David Guyoncourt, Sally Ainslie, Gillian Taylor, John Killick, Elizabeth and Alan Drury.