24 Nov Talk - The Birds of Costa Rica

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.  

The World of the Hare

As a follow up to our last, wonderfully illustrated talk, given by Jane Russ, the Secretary of the Hare Preservation Trust, you might like to follow this link to her publisher, to see her wildlife series of books, including 'The Hare'.   https://graffeg.com/collections/nature

Ergot of Rye

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!


Walk Report - 5th November - Eyeworth Pond

Eyeworth Pond
Given the date, it seemed appropriate for this walk to start from the site where gunpowder and later on, nitrocellulose or guncotton, had been manufactured. The Schultze gunpowder factory, built in the mid 19th century, was sited in this remote spot, presumably to minimise risk from explosions; several were reported. Eyeworth pond was formed by damming the small brook that rises in the valley to the North to create a six million gallon reservoir. (1) This provided the copious amounts of water required during the manufacture of guncotton, to wash wood pulp after its initial treatment with mixtures of nitric and sulphuric acid. The effluent passed into what becomes Latchmoor Brook with predictably dire consequences for wildlife downstream (2)

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

Mandarin Duck

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.


1/ https://newforestguide.uk/history/new-forest-explosives/schultze-gunpowder-factory/

2/ http://newforestcommoner.co.uk/2015/06/01/new-forest-chalybeate-springs-and-aquatic-things/

3/ http://www.newforestexplorersguide.co.uk/heritage/history-in-the-landscape/eyeworth-pond.html

Map / GPX


Field Meeting report : 1st November 2020 - Roydon Woods

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. 

Soon after starting, the path crossed a grassy avenue of lime trees believed to be known as "The Gallops" and used to train race horses in the fifties. Through a gate we joined an undulating and meandering track through relatively open mixed woodland, the watery sun shining magically through the yellowy beech and bracken leaves. Turning onto a side path almost tunnel like in parts Richard pointed out grooved marks on the bark of some trees, possibly from a bit of antler sharpening or teeth marks. Sika deer have been seen in the past but not this time. It seemed we were at the start of a custom made fungi trail starting with amongst others a Hedgehog Fungi Hydnum repandum
False Chanterelle 
Hedgehog Fungus 

and a False Chanterelle Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca. Richard got busy photogaphing many of them for later and much appreciated identification. I have been able to include the results of his efforts in this report. Stopped to gather a few sweet chestnuts. Then through an area of birch and birch stumps to find a Turkeytail Trametes versicolor with some kind of slimy looking but quite solid fungus and a wonderful display on a stump including some Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare to name but two. 
Sulphur Tuft 
Turkey Tail 
Next, a change of trees as we passed into a mainly lodgepole plantation where we crossed a rough woodland roadway. Here we came across a Bay Bolete Imleria badia, a Razor Strop Piptopurus betulinus a Bloody Brittegill Russula sanguinara and coming out overlooking an open valley, a Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria

Bay Bolete

Birch Polypore

Bloody Brittlegill

Fly Agaric
Perhaps the fungi was compensation for the occasional fleeting glimpse of a bird. We descended into the valley which was populated with a few stunted birches, and stopped by an artificial pond which was disappointingly quiet, and then gently climbed up to the far side. We returned along the path along the top of the valley, which at times was almost carpet like to walk on when going through another very quiet plantation and eventually joined an initially shady bridlepath. A ten minute detour took us to the bridge over the Lymington River which was in full flow but not fast enough to stop a pony forcing it's splashy way across. Impressive none the less. Finally, near the end, a pair of Pied Wagtails in a field.

Footnote : Despite John's kind words of introduction,  we both agreed missing the "wisdom of crowds" that we enjoy so much in more normal times. I welcome any corrections to my very amateur identifications using Roger Philips fieldguide, iNaturalist  and first-nature.com. RS

10 Nov - The World of the Hare

Lymnats' last talk, about Pondhead Inclosure, was both enjoyable and informative - taking us on a journey of hazel copppicing, charcoal burning, the opening up of wildlife 'corridors' through woodland and the use of horses and dogs to move cut wood in an environmentally friendly way. Our thanks go to Derek Tippett for the talk and to all the Pondhead volunteers whose work is making such a difference to the inclosure. Our next talk will be on Tuesday 10 November at 7.15pm and is zooming in (sorry!) on one animal, soon to be appearing on Christmas cards everywhere - the beautiful hare. Our speaker will be Jane Russ, the secretary of the Hare Preservation Trust.