Bishop’s Heath

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Bishop’s Heath is parched and crisped by the last few weeks of dry summer heat, the heather is a burnt brown-to-burgundy, the heathland grass yellowed. The bracken looks all right – still a deep pea-green – it takes cold weather to bother bracken. The gorse looks Lincoln green with new growths of forest green getting ready to flower at the first sign of spring. The gorse has regenerated well from the maintenance it received some two years ago. This part of the Estate is acidic clay over chalk hence the bracken. It’s mid morning and the day hasn’t yet been fully cranked up – the broken sky is a messy palette of blues and greys while a loose flock of a dozen gold finches foraging for food, lights up the day.

Where am I ?

Ling Ride off Beacon Road is part of Ivinghoe common, and in 1420 was given to the Bonhommes in the monastery, later reverting to the Crown after the Dissolution in 1538. Queen Mary the 1st gave it to the Bishops of Lincoln in the 1550’s when it was known as Bishop’s Heath, but it reverted back to the Crown on her death. Lord Ellesmere Chancellor to James 1st and the first of the Bridgewater line, purchased it along with the Ashridge estate in 1604. It acquired the name of Ling Ride sometime in the 1800’s.
Ivinghoe common used to stretch south passed Ringshall down to Witchcraft Bottom. Ling Ride is a rare example of lowland heath which the Trust were hoping to restore to its former state. Some four years ago the Thursday volunteers were tasked to remove areas of course grass and prepare a seed bed with the hope that dormant heather would recolonise – this has not gone to plan with hardly any new plants appearing. A more reliable method would be for the NT plant centre in Devon to propagate new plants from cuttings. More work needs to be done including the removal of encroaching bracken and brambles.
Lowland heathland is a hugely important wildlife habitat and cultural landscape. The area that survives today is but a small part of what existed one hundred years ago.
There are still many pleasures to be had on the heath before the autumn chills set in. The shy slow-worm can be found warming itself beneath the corrugated metal sheets while awaiting hibernation – gently lifting the three refugia produced four specimens. A villager in 1829 died from an adder bite, but there is nothing to be concerned about nowadays. A few dead logs on the heath would bring out the common lizard which is much more accommodating when it is sun-bathing.
Still lots of insect activity amongst the heather or ling. Lots of diminutive small copper butterflies helping themselves to the late summer heat – they are so territorial for such a small insect. The speckled wood can be found flitting in and out of the surrounding tree line dancing in the dappled shade.

It will be a good year for fungi. Already there are specimens of fly agaric and the beechwood sickener to be seen – their red caps a sign that they are both poisonous and to be avoided.

Credit to Richard Smyth

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