Cassop Vale, Winter 2021

Although Cassop Vale has been something of a disappointment to me this year we made one last trip up there, as the year draws to a close, on a damp December afternoon.  The inclement weather meant we could venture out from a house now home to two Covid-19 sufferers without fear of meeting anyone.  The cloud was down and the usual views from the escarpment absent but the exercise and company were good. Damage from last month’s Storm Arwen was only too apparent as we dropped down through the woodland into Cassop Vale. Although ivy doesn’t kill trees it has made some very top heavy and they have been easily toppled by the strong winds.  Next spring, I can be sure that dormant seeds of the woodland ground flora will be making the most of the additional light available to germinate in profusion so it will be interesting to see whether any of the species such as Herb Paris recorded here in the past reappear alongside the Woodruff and Wood anemones which were so abundant this year.

The low cloud makes for an atmospheric walk though the grassland area to the pond, where Martyn wants a sample of Duckweed, but it also means the view from my usual vantage point on the bridge at the western end of the pond is limited!

There is nothing to be found in flower but we enjoy the gnarled bark of some of the old hawthorn trees covered in bright lichens and cushions of moss as well as the fresh Jelly ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae) growing on many of the elder trees.

Ed reckons the floppy fruiting bodies look very like the Wood ear fungus he eats in hot and sour soup in China and is curious about whether Jelly ear might be worth foraging, so we do a little research.  It turns out Jelly ear and Wood ear are either the same or closely related species (a lot of Auricularia polytricha is grown and eaten in China). Maybe we’ll experiment with it before he heads back though, personally, I’m not a big fan of its rather rubbery texture in Chinese food. I was more curious about the specific name, auricula-judae, which Wikipedia tells me comes from the fact that the fungus grows largely on elder trees, the species on which Judas Iscariot is supposed to have hanged himself after betraying Jesus; ‘Judas’s ear’ became corrupted over time to ‘Jew’s ear’. This story doesn’t make a lot of sense as elder is not native to the Palestine region and seems, sadly, more likely to reflect casual anti-Semitism; the term ‘Jew’s meat’ was used for all fungi in the Middle Ages, after all.

Cassop Vale has not been the botanical treasure trove I’d hoped for this year so I do hope that issues with the landowner can be overcome to ensure there is at least some protection for the SSSI before it is damaged irreparably by the encroachment of scrub and invasive plant species.  Not a good news story for conservation at the moment.

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