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  • Writer's pictureAlex, Sundew Ecology

Slime moulds in Bowdown Woods

This is the first in a series of blogs written during the Covid-19 outbreak, aimed at

encouraging you to explore new places and discover something about the natural world on your doorstep while 'social distancing' to help prevent the spread of the virus. Public Health England guidanace says that you can go for a walk, as long as you stay more than two metres from anybody you meet.

It is so important to connect with nature as much as possible in these troubling times. These are great places to visit with the family (plenty of den-building opportunities) and are wonderful to go alone to seek out nature and quiet contemplation.

Keep washing those hands!

Bowdown Woods is a magical start to our tour.

In spring carpets of bluebells will swathe the often steeply undulating landscape beneath the ancient trees. But an easy-access track, thanks to the military during WW2, makes the woods accessible for buggies and those who are less able. A map at the car park shows some of the routes though the woods, which will take you past other military artifacts. Look out for the low banks of the bomb stores left over from when the next-door Greenham Common was an active airfield. The biggest tree in the wood has a rope swing at just the right height for an 11 year old!

False puffball slime mould

In spring and summer you may see yellow, pink or white blobs on a dead tree or rotting branch. These may be a slime mould - not, in fact, a mould but definately slimey!

For most of the year these amazing living things are tiny, seperate cells living in the soil or rotting log, moving around like an amoeba, feeding on bacteria, tiny fungi or yeasts. But, if food gets scarce or it's time to reproduce, they start to congregate, forming a jelly-like mass.

This mass can creep around, sensing food and moving towards it. In the laboratory they are able to find their way around a maze! Eventually this lump will dry and turn to a fine powder - spores blown on the wind that will go to create new slime moulds elsewhere.

The ones we found are False Puffballs which look a bit like their namesake but are found on rotting wood. In Mexico they are known as 'caca de luna': I'll leave you to translate.

Bowdown Woods is a Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve (website here).

The best place to park is off Burys Bank Road. From Newbury Tescos, head along Pinchington Lane towards Greenham Common. Continue towards Crookham until you cross the first cattle grid. Take the first track on the left. Follow this past Bowdown House on the left to the car park (here). Dogs on leads. Not suitable for bikes.

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