Scrubs Wood, Danbury and Woodham Walter Common, 25th July 2015

We met at Scrubs Wood which is part of the Danbury Ridge nature reserve complex, looked after by Essex Wild Life Trust. The reserve covers nearly 250 acres with many SSSI sites within its boundaries. The meeting was attended by 12 BPS members from East Anglia and South East regions. We were also joined by six members from the Essex Field Club one of whom was a past warden and kept us on the right track. Tim Pyner led the meeting and before we entered the reserve gave an introduction to the importance of this site. Past records had included the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), a rarity in Essex which we hoped to re-find and there were some large specimens of Dryopteris waiting to be identified.
Some of the woods were once fields, now overgrown but their boundaries still defined by ditches. Evidence of coppicing and pollarded Oaks were still visible.

The entrance to the woods was marked with a small boggy pond but without any ferny interest. The first fern spotted was male fern (Dryopteris filix–mas), followed by the broad buckler fern (Dryopteris dilatata) and then followed by bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) which remained ever present but never dominating. After leaving the track and approaching a small stream lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) started to appear and where the board walk path crossed the stream there was an impressive stand of the fern at the edge of the boggy ground.

Walking on alongside the stream, narrow buckler fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) was found by Roger Golding, with its more upright habit and scales without the dark stripe.

Ashley spotted some Equisetum, (E. telmateia) which fifty metres further on, in a glade, turned into a large swathe of lush horse-tails.

The sloping ground alternated between stony acid gravel outcrops and boggy tracts created by the underlying clay. On one of these boggy tracts was an impressive stand of ferns with a few large specimens clearly standing out.

Here Dryopteris affinis subsp. affinis was identified along with possible hybrid between D. affinis and D. filix- mas. The contender had hybrid vigour, was not so leathery and had a certain softness unlike D. affinis. Roger took some spores for further analysis and with the results having a high number of abortive spores combined with the intermediate frond morphology he is convinced it is indeed the hybrid, D. x complexa.
Crested tips were found on one the D. affinis

As we made our way up the slope to better drained ground a soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) was found just before we stopped for lunch.

After lunch more individual plants of Dryopteris carthusiana were found growing beside the stream in light shade.
We arrived at the site where we hoped to find the marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), but unfortunately it was not to be and it would seem a small drainage ditch had been dug through its exact spot where it was last located. However we did find a large plant of putative Dryopteris x deweveri that was later confirmed under the microscope by Tim.
An impressive feature of the woods was the number and size of wood ant nests.

Moving on through Pheasanthouse Wood there were several places with Polystichum setiferum growing well. Further along on the bank of a ditch marking an old boundary a rather fine but solitary harts tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) was found. Another contender for D. x complexa was found nearby but not confirmed.

Not far from another group of Polystichum setiferum was a single representative of hard shield fern (P. aculeatum).

As we made our way back out of the woods we passed through an Pheasanthouse Bog, an open clearing with sphagnum moss and a stand of tall Athyrium filix-femina and nearer the edge and magnificent group of hard fern (Blechnum spicant) grew with a high percentage of fertile fronds.

On leaving the woods Tim pointed out a service tree once a more common feature often used as a boundary marker. This was an excellent site and an abundance of the ferns on this visit should dispel the view Essex is not a significant place for ferns, unfortunately this woodland was blessed and not typical of the rest of the county.

Michael Radley

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The website for people who like ferns