Langley Vale Farm was recently purchased by the Woodland Trust, where they plan to plant a wood in commemoration of the centenary of the Great War. This Surrey farmland is a rare thing - one that has maintained healthy hedgerows, species-rich copses and wide field strips that has enabled arable plants to thrive. The list of 'rare' plants recorded here is enviable, with Narrow-fruited Cornsalad, Night-flowering Catchfly, Red Hemp-nettle and Venus's Looking-glass amongst the lengthy roll-call. Part of the reason why such gems are still present is that the land is (was) partially managed for hunting - mainly Pheasants. It is here where shooting and botanical preservation became unlikely bedfellows. With the farming set to cease the hunters have already quit the scene. And with them the wide and open field strips seem to be following them, giving way to coarse grasses and unregulated crops. The areas where I once saw such species as both Fluellens, Rough Poppy and Night-flowering Catchfly are in serious trouble. Without a helping hand they will not survive and the planting of a wood will see them disappear forever...
This morning I met up with Peter Wakeham, a local botanist who knows this area very well. It is a little early in the year for us to expect (or hope for) some of the sought-after arable gems, but we did see a good selection of 'local' plants - Bastard Toadflax (on nearby downland), Green Hellebore (in one of the farmland woods), Dwarf Mallow, Dwarf Spurge, Catmint (considered to be truly wild) and a profusion of Narrow-fruited Cornsalad. The image above gives a flavour of what the farm is (or was) about - copses, plenty of hedgerow, bare strips between the crop and field edge, plus open areas that abound with wild flowers - the yellow flower you can see in the photograph is not a crop, it's both Perforate and Hairy St.John's Wort! Let us hope that the Woodland Trust can see their way clear to managing some of their purchased land as a sanctuary for some rapidly disappearing farmland plants.