Wednesday, April 04, 2018

a box wood on the Cotswolds

On Easter Sunday Laura had a lunch date in Bath and we agreed to meet up afterwards. Having no other plans for the morning I said I might go and take a look at the ancient box woods of Box (a large village between Bath and Corsham).

But when I did some research on Saturday night I realized I'd made a false assumption.  There was no ancient box wood at Box. And the village name, originally Boekes, is not thought to derive from box (Buxus sempervirens) but from an Anglo-Saxon word for beeches.

Box (the plant usually seen as clipped hedges, but it can be a small tree) is widely naturalized in lowland England: for example, there's plenty of box in the wood in Swindon that I've posted about many times. But box as a native plant is rare. In fact there is only one genuine self-sustaining ancient box wood in the UK, and that is the famous one at Box Hill in Surrey. There, on a steep chalk slope, the land is unsuitable for any taller trees. It must be the rarest vegetation type in Britain.

There are three other sites where box forms a major though not exclusive constituent of scrub woodland and where it has been supposed to be native, even though the sites depend on some management to maintain the box population. They are Boxley in East Kent, Ellesborough Warren on the Chilterns, and Boxwell on the Cotswolds. The last of these (Boxwell SSSI) was about 20 miles north of Bath so, ignoring the counterclaims of a lazy Sunday morning at home, I set off to take a look.

Online information about Boxwell SSSI is minimal, but I did find a map. The site is a steep SW-facing slope on the Lower Jurassic, very overgrown. If there is an official way of gaining access then I don't know it. Suffice to say, I was there -- though by the time I found it, I could only spare a few minutes to look around.

I made a cautious foray down the steep slope and crept beneath the canopy. I was instantly impressed by the epicormic shoots of leaves emerging from the bare trunks. This would have been a marvellous place for a thermos, I thought.  I had such a thermos with me, but alas, had to leave instantly if I was to make it to Bath by 15:00. The place has left an undeveloped negative in my imagination.

Buxus sempervirens  leaves and flower-buds, Boxwell SSSI, 1st April 2018

On 1st April the box wasn't flowering yet. I've added some photos I took a couple of weeks later, in the wood in Swindon, to show the stages of flowering.

Buxus sempervirens  leaves and flower-buds, Boxwell SSSI, 1st April 2018

Buxus sempervirens, emerging stamens, Swindon, 13th April 2018

Photo of a flower where the male stamens have just emerged from the buds, but have not yet split open to reveal the anthers.

Buxus sempervirens, flowers, Swindon, 13th April 2018

Here the anthers have fully opened, showing the golden pollen.

Buxus sempervirens, fading flowers, Swindon, 13th April 2018

When the pollen has been released, the stamens shrivel and the three female pistils emerge.

Back to Boxwell. As I was returning to the van,  I passed this striking monolith of water-worn limestone.



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