Friday, 11 December 2015

Great Yews

I've been a bit quiet on here lately - something to do with building a flat pack wardrobe (don't ask, just don't...), Christmas shopping, and various Christmassy events!

Anyway, took the day off today, after a week of meetings, for a nice long walk in the patchy drizzle. I wanted to explore somewhere new, and the Whitsbury area has been one I've had on my 'to do' list for a while. This is the edge of Cranborne Chase, the picturesque area that includes Martin Down.

I started on a track just a little way along from Salisbury Hospital at Odstock. The map showed I had plenty of choice in terms of footpaths/byways, so planning a route was tricky, but in the end, substrate condition forced my hand (i.e. it was very muddy/flooded!). the walk took me passed Clearbury Down - a SSSI chalk downland and hill fort, with the unimproved nature of the grassland contrasting markedly with the intensive grassland and arable surrounding it.

I eventually ended up walking along the county boundary between Hampshire and Wiltshire, with a very distinctive hedge mostly made up of yew, and filled with birds. I heard several farmland bird species that have experienced a rapid population decline in recent decades, including many corn bunting, a flock of fieldfares, yellowhammer, and possibly some linnet. Check out the RSPB website to hear them for yourselves. The corn bunting, in particular, is a speciality of the Chase area, loving the wide open spaces and lack of hedgerows, although is very rare elsewhere.

This took me to the edge of another SSSI (and SAC - of European importance)  - Great Yews. the citation for the site (legal document supporting the SSSI designation) cites it as a nationally-rare habitat, and unusual in being on mostly flat ground and purely yew in some areas. The trees were certainly spectacularly-wide, with estimates of age suggesting most are in excess of 200 years old.

Returning to the path, I carried on up then looped back on myself, affording great views across the undulating landscape, before retracing my steps to the car. There's much more scope for further walks here, with many permutations available - the only trouble is, the byways are so deeply rutted that in wet weather they flood very easily and with the underlying chalk making things very slippery, it can be quite hazardous! I'm certainly glad I braved it though, and will be coming back when perhaps drier!

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