Fineshade as SSSI? ... vascular plants
This page draws upon this document from the Joint Nature Conservation Committeee:
Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs
Part 2: Detailed Guidelines for Habitats and Species Groups
Chapter 11 Vascular Plants
This 17-page document is subject to revision with the revised guidelines marked as "possibly completed by late summer 2016". (As at 31 March 2016). They were previously due to be published in Winter 2015-Spring 2016.
Photo of Greater Butterfly Orchid at Fineshade taken by John Isherwood
Botanical Survey. Undertaken by John Handley MSc, May 2014.
This is Appendix V of
Ecological Desktop Survey & Ecological Appraisal, Fineshade Wood, Northamptonshire. December 2013, revised June 2014 Version 3.
The full document may be downloaded from here on the East Northants Council Planning website.
Alternatively, Handley's two survey reports are available here.
Historical records in Fineshade
It seems that recording of vascular plants in Fineshade until 2014 was carried out in an informal way by amateur recorders and by FC Wildlife Rangers. Such recording is inevitably piecemeal and some of the records themselves do not seem to have survived.
This limited data was apparent in the desktop analysis carried out in 2014 by John Handley, working for Collins Environmental Consultancy Ltd on behalf of Forest Holidays. This concentrated on historical botanical records of just three of the eleven monads (1km squares) included in the Fineshade woodland, the three in which the proposed development would take place. Handley writes:
1180 Biological Records were downloaded from the BSBI Database, 616 of these records fell within each of the 3 monads that the site occupies, 319 different species, subspecies or hybrids of vascular plants have been recorded within SP9898, SP9899 and SP9999 and these are listed in Appendix 6.1.4.
These records were analysed to identify their relative importance both locally and nationally. Several species were highlighted as uncommon.
Sadly, those historical biological records available to and listed by Handley appear to be incomplete. For example, the historical records listed for SP9898 did not include two important and locally-known species - Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) and Common Twayblade(Listera ovata). Local amateur botanists and previous FC Wildlife Rangers have long known of the presence of these plants and both were easily located and photographed in 2015 and all subsequent years.
It seems that Handley did not have direct access to any of the Forestry Commission’s own botanical records–-certainly no mention is made of them in his report. The reason for this may be that they no longer exist: it was said that huge quantities of paper records were consigned to a skip when the offices at Top Lodge were relocated from the courtyard to Top Lodge itself in 2003 (Hear-say evidence from several FC staff at the time.)
(It would certainly seem likely that the FC did carry out surveys in the past (the so called ‘Ops. 1’s - Operational Site Plans), particularly before they undertook major forest management and these should have included vascular plant recording. For example, before the extension to the carpark and visitor centre in 2003 a meeting was held attended by representatives of FC, the RSPB and local residents. A question was asked about the route of a proposed hard-track through the known orchid and bluebell area and whether an Ops.1 was available. It appeared that no such survey had been carried out and a member of the FC staff was sent out to complete it immediately!)
The BSBI database itself is acknowledged to be “only partially checked and therefore containing many errors” (http://www.bsbi.org.uk/maps_and_data.html)
For a variety of reasons it therefore appears that the historical botanical records of Fineshade Wood can at best be regarded as partial.
49 worthy plants were found in a relatively small surveyed area in 2014
This indicated that small part of the wood was worthy of status as a
County Wildlife Site at least
The Handley survey 2014
Following the desktop survey, Handley carried out very detailed site surveys for parts of the three monads, SP9898, SP9899 and SP9999. In his report Handley drew attention to 49 axiophytes or ‘worthy plants’ - the 40% or so of species that arouse interest and praise from botanists when they are seen. They are indicators of habitat that is considered important for conservation, such as ancient woodlands, clear water and species-rich meadows. He concluded that:
"this would indicate that the site is almost certainly worthy of being awarded the status of County Wildlife site".
The Handley axiophyte list is copied below. However, It must be remembered that this very detailed survey was conducted over a very small part of the Fineshade Wood complex, a part acknowledged to be recent rather than Ancient Woodland.
More recent surveys
Since 2015 Friends of Fineshade, particularly with the help of leading botanist Brian Laney, have been carrying out surveys of flowering plants throughout the wood. This has brought the vascular plant list to a total of 393 species (correct at February 2018).
The current SSSI selection guidelines
The document begins by making the point that site selection for vascular plants has to give particular attention to the rarer and more threatened species. If any Schedule 8 or Red Data Book species (as listed in the 1989 guidelines) were to be found in Fineshade, it should be selected for SSSI notication, but none have so far been found. (Guidelines sections 3.1 and 3.2). Nor are there enough nationally rare and nationally scarce species to accumulate a total score of 200 (Section 3.3). From the 1989 lists only Fineshade's Yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea lutea) (Located yearly in 2015-17) and Wood Barley (Hordelymus europaeus) fall into that category, scoring 50 each.
The county recorder, Rob Wilson, also draws our attention to the fact that there are other species recorded in Fineshade that are now considered to be nationally rare including Dyer's Greenweed (Genista tinctoria ssp. tinctoria) and Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris). Although the latter occurs as a garden escape, it is not common as a wild plant and in Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough is only considered to be a native wild plant in the suite of woodlands around Fineshade and which were formerly a continuous belt of woodland with Fineshade roughly in the centre.
Section 3.6 of the guidelines also appears to be of importance:
3.6 Declining species and species at the edge of their range.
If an AOS contains species which are known to have declined markedly within Britain but are not yet in the nationally rare or nationally scarce category, particularly large populations may be selected, in consultation with the CSD rare plants specialist. Examples are Eriophorum latifolium, Orchis morio, Platanthera bifolia, P. chlorantha and Pyrola minor.
Platanthera chlorantha, also known as Greater Butterfly Orchid, seems to bloom irregularly in the Fineshade Ancient Woodland areas and, as reported elsewhere on this website, a total of 52 flower spikes were recorded in 2015, all within SP9898. The precise locations and photographs have been sent to the Northamptonshire Biodiversity Records Centre, the Forestry Commission area ecologist, the Northamptonshire Plant Recorder and to our local Natural England Lead Advisor.
Perhaps 52 specimens comprise a "particularly large population" in this declining species.
Fineshade's historical botanical records appear incomplete, though the small area recently surveyed has many axiophytes. Several nationally rare and scarce plants have been recorded as well as declining species at the edge of their range.
This page checked and updated February 2018