THE Tendring Wildflower Group has surveyed woodland flowers before the expanding leaf canopy filtered out the light they require.

It is surprising how when looking intently at the ground, large trees overhead can be under-appreciated. In our second year we have now, with permission, visited most of the larger woods.

Essex is lucky to still have a variety of ancient woodland – usually defined as dating from no later than 1600. Continuity right back to the wildwood is hard to prove as much was cleared even before the Romans arrived.

It is a fallacy that Essex was largely forest until just a few centuries ago. Woods have of course been lost up to modern times and their survival has been more by chance.

Usually they are on lower-grade, less productive land, such as gravel ridges. Managed woods mainly have cyclical coppicing, nowadays mostly for fencing posts and firewood.

Sweet chestnut is the best-known coppice tree, whose long green-yellow tassel flowers can be smelled at this time. It is not a native but probably introduced by the Romans.

Some chestnut coppice stools found locally are reckoned medieval and among the oldest in the UK. Hornbeam is a native tree, coppiced before chestnut became pre-eminent, and is found in a few local woods with its distinctive smooth, slightly fluted grey trunks.

Oak is best known but we have been surprised to find the second native sessile species – with stalked leaves and unstalked acorns. More common in the wetter north and west of the country, it grows locally on poorer acid soils.

Native small-leaved lime was a once more widespread tree that has been seen at Little Bentley, Beaumont and Great Holland. The better-known planted hybrid lime creates confusion with its native cousin. Because they are insect-pollinated their present flowering season is later than wind-pollinated trees such as hazel and oak.

Less prominent local woodland trees include the hairy and silver birch. Sycamore – the 'tree weed' – is the introduced cousin of native field maple.

Ash should not be forgotten, growing on moister, heavier ground. Ash dieback disease has yet to show its full deadly potential so far, locally at least – mainly killing planted saplings.

Recently, I stood inside a centuries-old massive ash coppice stool in a wood dominated by hornbeam, near Weeley Heath, with some six trunks towering above me from one rootstock.

For your diary: Sunday, July 2 11am-4pm – open town wildlife garden at 55 Station Street, Walton, by invitation of Liz Bruce, in memory of late husband Bruce and in aid of local wildlife.