Lockdown Botany

Somerset field of Dandelion clocks during COVID-19 lockdown at sunset
A festival of Dandelion Clocks seen in a local field during a lockdown walk at sunset © Karen Andrews

The COVID-19 shutdown meant that I couldn’t visit some of my favourite Somerset botanising sites. Some were tantalisingly out-of-reach. I could gaze at the Mendip Hills over the moors, but they were just that bit too far to reach during my daily walks. My favourite coastal walks were also out.

I resigned myself to making the best of sites within walking distance of home. I tried to gain some variation by setting out in a different direction every day. Intensive agriculture does not make for prime botanising. Botany was nonetheless a great distraction to alleviate lockdown boredom.

Gradually, I worked out a walking routine. I was certainly glad to no longer be cooped up in a London flat. I am lucky to live in such a beautiful area. I had to do some minor zigzagging for social distancing through the village. It was generally easy for me to find myself alone in a wide, open space in no time at all. I know many were not so lucky during lockdown.

My walks included quiet country lanes, two woods, hills, fields, an empty golf course, ponds, rhynes, ditches and moorland. Exciting, rare plants were not likely in my immediate area. Habitats, normally dismissed as unappealing, proved more interesting than previously considered. As the weeks passed, the range of wild flowers increased. Even the unmown council land opposite the house was suddenly filled with Dandelions and Daisies. Air and water quality were better than previous years. Having moaned about the relative absence of Primroses and Cowslips, I saw many more this year because they were simply left alone to flower.

Dandelion Fest during COVID-19 lockdown during sunset walk
Dandelion Fest at sunset © Karen Andrews

The air buzzed with bees. The hedgerows filled with more butterflies than I could recall in recent memory. I found myself watching which pollinators were drawn to which flowers – including all the garden species in the village. I watched their behaviour between each flower. Fascinating. It really pays to slow down your pace and observe Nature quietly.

Simon Leach, one of South Somerset’s botanical recorders, kept all the Somerset Rare Plant Group members busy with a weekly species list of First Flowering Dates. This is a phenology project that he has been working on for a number of years. With all botanical group events cancelled, it gave us all a connection to botanising elsewhere in the county and a sense of purpose. I rarely saw a plant before anyone else, but it gave me a chance to feel more confident in my identifications, especially in the numerous local Speedwells. I worked on grasses and sedges. I built up my botanical photo library, exposing the main characteristics of common species. I captured the plentiful members of the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) at different stages in their life cycle.

Celery-leaved Buttercup, Ranunculus sceleratus
Celery-leaved Buttercup, Ranunculus sceleratus, in a ditch in this spring’s bright sunshine © Karen Andrews

Once, we were allowed to travel a bit further again, I drove to Cheddar Gorge. I was disappointed that the Long Wood Bluebells were going over. I had missed the best display. The next day, I found some Bluebells in full, late flower on the colder side. I was relieved to find a few Orchids and a few rare species.

It simply isn’t possible to keep me away from wild flowers for long. The Coronavirus Lockdown has shown that there is often much more to appreciate close-at-hand, if only you use your eyes to see.

Bluebells at Cheddar Gorge
Relief at Cheddar Gorge that I didn’t miss seeing a carpet of Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, altogether this spring. © Karen Andrews

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and BotanyKaren.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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