A not-to-be-missed opportunity to leave gloomy lockdown behind and to travel with us to sunny Central America to learn about the colourful and magical bird life of Costa Rica. Our speaker will be wildlife photographer, Steve Oakes.
At this time of year many of us have been looking for fungi in the Forest. One that you may have overlooked is Claviceps purpurea, Ergot of Rye.
Easily missed, this is one of the most significant fungi in the history of mankind. It belongs to the fungal group called Ascomycetes and affects the ovaries of many grass species, but it is especially important in the Rye grass species. The ‘Ergot’ (from the old French argot, a cockspur) is the overwintering structure of the fungus. It contains a cocktail of alkaloids that cause harm and death to animals, including us.
During the Middle Ages ergot may have poisoned at least 10% of the population of western Europe, due to the use of rye in bread production. Until 1670 it was not understood that ergot was the cause of severe illness when ingested.
The effects of eating ergot in bread depend on the concentration of the alkaloids, but convulsions, spontaneous abortions and gangrene are the most obvious. It causes the peripheral blood vessels to contract, cutting off the blood supply to the extremities and to the womb, hence the miscarriages. It also contains hallucinogens making sufferers incoherent. It was commonly known as St. Anthony’s Fire as the sufferers were treated in hospitals dedicated to St. Anthony, usually until they died. Some outbreaks in the 1800s are reported to have had mortality rates of up to 40%.Nowadays there are ways of separating the ergots from the rye seed and there are many pharmaceutical uses for the alkaloids, but I wouldn’t recommend eating any that you find!
|Schultze Gunpowder Factory - then and now|
Little is left of the factory that at one time employed over 100 people and was the world’s largest supplier of sporting gunpowder. Some of the remaining buildings can still be seen and are believed to be stabling for 40 horses and accommodation. Additionally, the gravel track from where the walk sets off, is known as Powder Mill Road, providing a route for explosives to be taken by horse and cart up onto the Cadnam road (3).
|Powder Mill Road|
Setting off on a bright calm morning, the pond was mirror calm, disturbed only by numerous pairs of Mallard, a few Moorhen, and a single Little Grebe. Immediately beside the car park, is a favourite spot for photographers who bait the surrounding posts and attract large numbers of woodland birds. Today was no exception and there were frequent visits by Blue Tit, Great Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Robin and Chaffinch. Walking just a few yards north along the track, brings you to the site of the Irons Well or Chalybeate, marked on the OS. Here, a spring rises, rich in iron salts giving the ground a rusty brown appearance. The waters were thought to be a cure for leprosy and later, for curing mange in dogs and at one time there was a hatch where people could drop their unfortunate dogs into the healing waters! Nowadays the spring is simply an enclosed square close by the path.
Walking further along the track a Great Spotted Woodpecker called in the trees lining the path but evaded attention. Crossing over the valley and fording the small brook, that feeds Eyeworth pond, there is a short climb up onto the ridge above the valley where a fairly extensive stand of Holly trees is found. These were attended by Blackbird, Song Thrush and a small contingent of Redwing that proved flighty and difficult to photograph, but eventually patience was rewarded!
|Edge of Eyeworth Wood|
Crossing the bridleway you reach the old earth embankments that define Studley Wood, a mixture of predominantly beech and some oak trees looking lovely in the Autumn sunshine. Little is left of Studley Castle, the old Hunting Lodge, aside from some slightly raised earthen banks, but it is a tranquil part of this forest. Walking back down the firebreak towards Eyeworth I heard a tremendous clattering of antlers in the woods and paused to watch, from a respectful distance, two Fallow Buck battering at each other, whilst the does looked on with little interest! Very few fungi were seen aside from some Candle Snuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon) on a log. A treecreeper explored an Oak tree, buzzard called overhead and Goldcrest flitted through the holly bushes but again, but all evaded photography!
|Candle Snuff Fungus|
Returning to the pond, just above the sluice gate at the southern tip, I watched a Kingfisher hover briefly and dive before speeding off with its catch. Several pairs of Mandarin Duck, for which Eyeworth is known, eventually emerged from the edge of the pond and showed off in the sunshine. Finally, as I returned to the car, I was delighted to see Robert and Glynis, and again reminded of the pleasure of walking with a group of experts - one day, somehow, we will get back to that! Until then I post a route map and GPX file that can be downloaded by those wishing to follow the route.
Map / GPX
Happily for me, Richard Smith had offered to accompany me on the walk. In so doing, he represented the "wisdom of a full Lymnats contingent" (thankyou Geoff for that observation) and acted as photographer. So thankyou Richard.
|Turkey Tail |