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Country diary: May the circle be unbroken | Mark Cocker


As I peered through the leaves, it appeared to be a strange, white plastic-like mess on the ground. However, upon closer inspection beneath the bushes, the true enchantment was revealed. There, in an almost flawless circle, were creamy, glistening toadstools that resembled succulent plates. These mushrooms were part of the milkcap family, with over 30 known species.

It struck me as a metaphor for this place, Alpheton Hall Wood. In spring it is strewn with flowers and ringing with birdsong. Most special among the multi-coloured carpet is the soft lemon of oxslips, because Alpheton is one of a suite of Suffolk sites celebrated for being among Britain’s best ancient woodlands and of national wildlife importance.

A ring of fungi, probably milkcaps, that is a single organism.

I would describe it as a nearly flawless circle, and the imperfection is necessary to convey its full symbolic meaning. However, Alpheton is not a complete circle. Rather, it is a location surrounded by a circle. The entire area is only 11 hectares and is enclosed to prevent damage from muntjac deer.

An important realization in recent years is that nature operates as a whole system. It cannot be broken down into individual components such as badgers, swifts, curlews, and oxslips. Instead, one must approach it at the system level, which is the goal of Alpheton’s owners. They aim to collaborate with neighboring regions to connect isolated woodland areas, even if they are of high quality, in order to create an integrated ecosystem. This is one of the government’s proposed solutions for “landscape recovery” and provides hope for England’s struggling countryside, which ranks as the seventh most damaged on the planet according to the global Biodiversity Intactness Index.

The connecting areas would include “scrub” – an often overlooked but ironically, the most diverse habitat that we lack. The main beneficiaries of these corridors would be dormice, who would be able to travel between wooded areas. Another exciting possibility is that the entire system would be strengthened – or, in other words, the natural balance restored – by introducing European lynx to control the damaging impact of the excessive deer population.

Source: theguardian.com