The joy of walking the downs. Picture by Tim Slade.
NATURE NOTES"THE Island’s varied geology gives rise to a range of landscapes that is unique — a microcosm of southern England."
Thus states the fly-leaf of Isle of Wight Flora (Pope, Snow and Allen, 2003).
A constituent part of the varied landscapes is, of course, the flora to be found in them; but the Island landscapes are worthy of enjoyment in themselves, as is regularly demonstrated by the numerous paintings, sketches, prints and photographs that have been produced over the years, by professionals and amateurs alike.
We are most fortunate on the IW in being able to experience this range of landscapes and habitats without having to step onto the ferry. Instead, we have at our disposal about 500 miles of public footpaths, which provide free access to many of these beautiful places.
All we have to do is put on some suitable clothing and footwear — and go. And at this time of the year, I expect there are many of you who, like me, have made a new year’s resolution to do just that, with the added benefit of shaving off a few pounds put on over the festive season.
So where to start? That may depend on whether the day is dry or wet, or the direction of the wind. But there is certain to be somewhere that is interesting to see, even in poor weather. The climate has, after all, had a significant part to play in defining the landscape and so it is an inescapable part of the picture.
Much of our coastline is protected under international designations and, thanks to an excellent coastal footpath, much of it is readily accessible.
But it is not just beaches and cliffs; there are lagoons and saltmarshes (for example, Yarmouth and Newtown); coastal heathland (for example, Headon Warren); and coastal grazing marshes (such as Brading); although there is more limited access to the RSPB reserve at Brading.
Elsewhere one can wander in woodlands of varying ages (ancient woodlands are those believed to have had a continuous woodland cover since at least 1600).
There are pockets of such woods dotted around the Island, even reaching down to coastal areas (such as at Wootton) and also inland (for example, Borthwood Copse and America Wood).
Not all the woods are on the same type of soil, given the varied underlying geology, and therefore they will contain different types of trees and ground flora. Even Parkhurst Forest occupies an ancient site and it has a variety of habitats within it. Firestone Copse and Combley Great Wood are both easily accessible and very rewarding for plant lovers.
My own favourite habitats are the heathlands — whether coastal, lowland or within forested areas. They may not be as species-rich as some other habitats, but they remind me of the northern moors I love so well, with their heathers, gorse and even bilberries (on Ventnor Down).
Chalk grassland forms part of some of the best-known landscapes on the Island, with Tennyson Down being a great favourite of many people. The Tennyson Trail provides a link with more of these landscapes across the back-bone of the Island.
But this is just to scratch the surface. Even the farmland and the hedges provide important habitats, and form pleasing and ever-changing landscapes to boot.
They are criss-crossed by footpaths and bridleways providing a myriad of different aspects from all directions.
It is impossible to do justice to the landscapes of the Island in one short article but my mission is to encourage you to get out there and enjoy them for yourselves.
And there is something for everyone: young, old, active and not-so-active. See you out and about in 2012.