Woodland Watch – Week 19 – 24/07/2013

After a couple of weeks away from walking through the woodland on my own with plenty of opportunity to look at the changing flora, I am amazed to see how everything has changed in such a short space of time.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the meadow approaching the woodland was covered in lush green grasses and bright yellow buttercups. Dry hay meadows such as these are characterized by mixures of grasses such as Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), Timothy (Phleum pratense), Common Bent (Agrostis capillaris), Sweet Vernal-grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) and Crested Dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus). I am certainly no expert on grasses and struggle to identify anything beyond the basic species, however even my untrained eye can clearly see the difference between these diverse hay meadows and monoculture manicured lawns.

Meadow grasses on the approach to the woodland

Meadow grasses on the approach to the woodland

This is a very different picture to just a few weeks ago when the meadow was awash with bright yellow buttercups. One of the main features of meadows is the sheer diversity of plants which they contain. Mixed in among the variety of native grasses are a great many other flowering plants. These include plantains, docks, buttercups, vetches and clovers, dandelions, nettles, selfheal, Lesser knapweed, scabious, thistles, hawkbits, Ox-eye Daisies, Yellow-rattle and on rare occasions, Cowslips.

Within a few months of sprouting, the mature grass plant reproduces sexually. The plant grows a tall stem with an inflorescence at the end, which contains small flowers. Each flower contains a male organ, called the anther and a female organ called the pistil. When the pollen from the anther contacts the pistil, it releases sperms cells that enter the pistil to fertilise the ovules inside. These eventually become seeds. The grass seeds, once mature, will fall to the ground to germinate and continue the grass plant’s life cycle.The grass in the meadow approaching the woodland has moved on from the mature green leafy growth of previous weeks to flowering and reproducing to produce seed to continue their life cycle.

Meadow flora going to flower and seed

Meadow flora going to flower and seed

And its not only the meadow plants thinking about reproduction. As we enter the woodland, the bluebells which we have followed since early spring when their first lush, green, leafy growth now have brittle seed pods full of black seeds.

Bluebell seeds now maturing all over the coppice woodland floor

Bluebell seeds now maturing all over the coppice woodland floor

Bluebell seeds take around 3 years to produce flowers from seed. In 3-4 years time, these tiny seeds will hopefully be contributing to the beautiful spread of bluebells covering the woodland floor.

Our native bluebells are coming under threat from competition and hybridization, habitat loss, unsustainable collection and climate change. The native bluebell’s Spanish relative is more vigourous than our native species and can readily cross-breed with it to create a fertile hybrid Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta. To find out more about the future of and the threats facing our native bluebell, take a look at this link from plantlife:

http://www.plantlife.org.uk/uploads/documents/Blubells-for-Britain-report.pdf

Also moving from its flowering stage to producing seed is the cow parsley which we have looked at several times over previous weeks as it developed. Now, the flower heads are covered in tiny black seeds.

Cow parsley plants going to seed among the nettles on the ditch bank

Cow parsley plants going to seed among the nettles on the ditch bank

Cow Parsley is a biennial plant; it takes two years to flower from seed. It puts on leaves, stems and roots during the first year and then flowers the following summer. Once they have flowered they die. These plants will self seed freely unless you remove the spent flower heads. These seeds should grow into flowering cow parsley plants over the coming 2 years as they drop to the ground once mature and begin their life cycle.

Seeds are not the only way that plants in the woodland are reproducing. If you look at the underside of the fern leaves on the woodland floor, the spores are clear to see easily with the naked eye.

Fern spores

Fern spores

Sporogenesis is not a reproductive method I am familiar with, so next week we’ll have a look at this in more detail.

Until then, enjoy your own walks in the woods. We will see you next week and see whats happening in the woods and what you should be looking out for on your own travels.

From the Treecreeper Arborists Team

http://www.tree-creeper.com

Woodland Watch – Week 18 – 17/07/2013

Well, this week was a little different again. Having a bit of a break from my usual job which takes me on my walks through the woodland the Treecreeper Team found themselves looking around the woodland and coming up with a management plan for the area.

Unfortunately, I was a little busy discussing management options to take a lot of photos this week or to focus on looking for things for the blog, but I came across this Forestry Commission publication on the management of coppice stools. So, if you’re interested in coppice management techniques, take a look at this link for lots of information:

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/Rin259.pdf/$file/Rin259.pdf

We’ll see you next week when I’m back for another walk in the woods!

Woodland Watch – Week 17 – 10/07/2013

This week, I thought we would have a bit of a change…Its summer, the sun is out, the skies are blue and the woodlands and hedgerows are full of wild foods. It’s so easy in the modern world to walk into any supermarket and pick up fruit and vegetables, but our natural environment is absolutely bursting with a wealth of wild food that the supermarket shelves cannot boast.

Last week, we looked at the elder and the battered fritters that you could make. The summer months are an odd time for foraging. The fresh burst of green salad and herb leaves have turned bitter and mature, but the wealth of autumn fungi and fruits are not yet ready to eat…So what can we eat at this time of year?

Lets go for a walk in the woods and find out.

One of my favourite wild food recipes has to be comfrey fritters. A hairy plant generally found on damp ground beside rivers and ditches and on roadside verges and waste ground, it does not immediately attract the forager. It has become an important plant for organic gardeners, providing a rich fertiliser and used as a composting aid…but what could possibly turn this hairy leaf into an appetizing snack?

Well, when in doubt, in my opinion, most foods can be improved with a bit of batter!!! I know its not exactly healthy, and believe me I’m the first to advocate healthy eating…But comfrey leaf fritters dipped in sweet chilli sauce is a must try wild food!

Battered comfrey leaf fritters

Battered comfrey leaf fritters

Have a look at this website for a recipe:

http://neilcooksgrigson.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/357-comfrey-leaf-fritters.html

Ok, lets try and move towards something a little more healthy! Last week we looked at elderflower fritters, but there’s a huge array of recipes for food and drink that use these wonderful flowers. While they’re still available freely all over the hedgerows, why not try your hand at making some refreshing summer drinks?

Have you been to the supermarket recently and purchased elderflower cordial? It’s such an easy drink to make and can keep the flavour of summer alive in your kitchen all through the winter.

Elderflower cordial

Elderflower cordial

So, take a look at this recipe for elderflower cordial:

http://britishfood.about.com/od/recipeindex/r/efowercordial.htm

And when you’ve mastered this one, why not look into its alcoholic sisters. There’s a wealth of options from elderflower wines and champagnes to elderflower beer. The flowers are coming to the end of their lives this season, but if you’re quick you might still have a chance. If you’re too late, you’ve got plenty of time to plan your recipes ready for next summer.

Another plant still growing strong all over the countryside and still present all over our woodland, providing a wide range of foraging opportunities, is the nettle. Another foragers’ dream plant, nettles provide a huge array of wild food and drink opportunities. So, following on from the elderflower beverages, lets have a look at nettle beer!

Nettle Beer

Nettle Beer

Now making an appearance on supermarket shelves, nettle beer is proving a popular novelty ale, but there’s no need to buy it in the shops. Everyone can identify a nettle, they’re abundant all over our countryside, so why not make use of them?

When you collect the nettles you should only take the tops as there are many insects who benefit from the plant and you will be taking away their habitat if you take the whole nettle.

Have a look at these recipes to start making your own nettle beer:

http://www.selfsufficientish.com/strongernettlebeer.htm

Now, moving on to another less well known plant, lets take a look at sorrel. There are two distinct types of sorrel, they look different, require different growing conditions and are found in different locations. They share a sour, lemony flavour and both were once used much as lemons are today. Sorrel can be found from spring until autumn and the most common varieties are sheep’s sorrel and wood sorrel.

For tips on identifying sorrel, have a look at this link:

http://wildandslow.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/WILD_SORREL_FINAL.pdf

So, what can we do with sorrel? As with the other foraged foods we have looked at, sorrel has many, many uses. It can be used in everything from soups to salads and everything in between. Here we’re going to look at sorrel pesto, but just search around and you’ll come across a wide range of other recipes.

Sorrel Pesto

Sorrel Pesto

Look for wild sorrel among meadow grasses and flowers in spring and summer. Pick only fresh young leaves – older ones can taste bitter. Then take a look at this recipe for sorrel pesto along with a range of other sorrel recipes on this page:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/jun/07/recipe.foodanddrink1

You can’t possibly think about summer wild food recipes without touching on the wild strawberry. Summer is a wonderful month for sweet berries and with recipes ranging from tarts and fruit puddings to ice creams and pancakes a summer foragers recipe collection cannot possibly be complete without the wild strawberry.

Much smaller than its cultivated relatives, the wild strawberry packs a phenomenal amount of flavour into its small package.

Wild strawberries

Wild strawberries

Try eating them fresh in a fruit salad, pureeing them to make a sauce to go with other desserts or have a go at this wonderful wild strawberry ice cream recipe:

http://honestcooking.com/wild-strawberry-ice-cream-recipe/

Wild Strawberry Ice Cream

Wild Strawberry Ice Cream

We could go on and on with so many wild food recipes inspired from our own walks in the woods. We hope that this mini taste of wild foods helps you to get into looking around you when you go for your own walks, whether you’re in the woods, on the river banks or in the meadows. Wherever you are, the British countryside is bursting with a wealth of foods which put the supermarket shelves to shame…You just have to know where to look and what to do with the foods you find.

Happy foraging and don’t forget…If you’re not 100% sure what it is, don’t eat it until you are sure! Let us know how you get on and we’ll keep you posted on our own foraging recipes.

Join us again next week for another walk in the woods.

From the Treecreeper Arborists team.

http://www.tree-creeper.com

Woodland Watch – Week 16 – 03/07/2013

Another week in the sunshine! What a wonderful day for a walk in the woods…So lets see whats changing this week.

Crossing the little wooden bridge into the woodland copse, the ditch along the woodland boundary which was running with deep water over the winter and early spring is now completely dry.

The ditch on the boundary of the woodland copse, completely dried up

The ditch on the boundary of the woodland copse, completely dried up

Along the banks of the ditches, there is an abundance of vegetation which has grown up since the spring. One of the most common plants along the ditch edge is Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).

Cow Parsley growing on the banks of the ditch on the woodland boundary

Cow Parsley growing on the banks of the ditch on the woodland boundary

Cow parsley grows in sunny to semi shaded locations, therefore it is well suited to locations such as this on the boundary of the woodland copse. It is sufficiently common and fast growing to be considered a nuisance weed and its ability to grow rapidly through rhizomes and to produce large quantities of seeds which has meant that it can be considered an invasive species. Cow parsley is beneficial for a range of wildlife, including bees as long as it does not take over and become a monoculture. As in most cases, growing as part of a varied ecosystem, cow parsley is a valuable native species.

Sticking with the theme of white summer flowers, we will move on to look at the elder. Earlier on in the year we looked at the Jews Ear fungus growing on some of the elder in the woodland, but now the focus is on the flowers. Like blackberries, Elder is one of the most commonly foraged for wild foods and it is abundant in hedgerows and verges at this time of year.

Elder growing in a light area in the center of the woodland copse

Elder growing in a light area in the center of the woodland copse

Elder is one of those really useful native species which is often undervalued. It provides good foraging for wild game such as deer and is classified as nesting habitat for a range of birds. The flowers provide nectar for pollinating insects and later in the year a wealth of elderberries will provide food for birds and small mammals. It also provides good lower level cover in a woodland habitat.

Aside from its wildlife value, elder has also been used through out history into the present day as a culinary plant, although it is worth noting that all of the green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides. The berries can be eaten raw when fully ripe, but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state. Elderberries are most commonly used in cooking to make jam, jelly, chutney and used to infuse alcoholic drinks.

The flower heads are commonly used to make elderflower cordial which is diluted with water before drinking. Additionally, the flowers can be used to make alcoholic drinks including elderflower wine and champagne.

One of the nicest culinary uses for elderflower that I have come across was a batterred elderflower fritter served with homemade strawberry ice cream. The flower heads were left attached to the stalk and the whole head was dipped into a batter mixture, then into hot oil to make it crisp. The finished result looks like this:

Elderflower fritter

Elderflower fritter

For the full recipe, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/allotment/2010/jun/16/gardens-food-and-drink

And sticking with the theme of blossoms and berries, the last time we took a look at the hawthorn it was in full blossom. Now only a few weeks later, the blossom has gone, replaced with young haws which will develop over the coming months to a deep red fruit.

Young haws developing in the hedgerow surrounding the woodland

Young haws developing in the hedgerow surrounding the woodland

So, that’s it for this week. Join us next week for another walk in the woods.

http://www.tree-creeper.com

The Treecreeper Arborists Guide to Looking After Your New Tree

Thank you for coming to talk to us at North Nibley Music Festival and here’s your guide to planting your new tree!

Following the expert advice you have been given in selecting your sapling, you should have a suitable species for your chosen site. Remember, trees are like children – you have to nurture them to help them grow up big and healthy.

Ok, you have your little sapling clutched firmly, and you want it to become a successful tree, so after all the work you will put into it over the next few years it will result in a nice patch of shade to relax in.

Relaxing under a tree

Relaxing under a tree

Firstly, make sure that the roots don’t dry out. We have gone to great lengths to ensure there is minimal disruption to the root system, but there is inevitably some damage to the very fine roots which do all the hard work like taking in water and dissolved nutrients in the soil. These are really important, and each time the tree is moved, more damage occurs to these roots.

At this time of year, the trees are using a fair amount of water, with moisture evaporating from the stomatal pores in the leaves which pull water up from the roots via capillary action. This means the water demand is really important. Ideally, trees should be moved over the winter, when the water demand is much lower, and the tree can cope with the shock more easily.

So in order to ensure the roots have their best chance of survival (and therefore the tree), we must give it the optimal growing conditions. This means digging a hole. It doesn’t have to be too big, as a rule of thumb you can work on around about four times the size of the root ball. You won’t have to dig deep either, as burying the roots too deep will kill or severely weaken the tree. Make sure when you settle the tree in the hole that the point where the roots start to spread out from the stem is at ground level.  Your hole should have gently sloping sides, which if your soil is clay based may become glazed by the back of the spade.This creates a barrier to the roots spreading out, so just loosen the soil all around the edge of the planting pit a little with the edge of the spade.

Digging the hole for your tree

Digging the hole for your tree

Put a bit of nice soft soil or compost in the bottom of the hole, enough to raise the tree to the correct height. While you can still see the roots, and want to use a stake (or a cane) now is the time. Push it down, making sure the roots are missed.  Now fill the rest of the hole with your nice soft soil, and give your tree a bit of a jiggle up and down, which will make sure all the little nooks and crannies are filled with soil. Firm the soil lightly as you go, until you reach the correct height. Stand up, admire your work.

Now, you can give your tree in its new home a good watering, until there is a bit of standing water on the surface of the soil. Depending on whether or not you feel like it, put a bit of mulch around the base. This both keeps the weeds down around the tree so it has less competition for nutrients, and also helps to retain moisture in the soil, so when we have our next hosepipe ban (you know, just before the flooding starts) there is a bit less watering to do. For mulch, just about anything will do. A bit of woodchip, grass cuttings, straw, bits of cardboard or even offcuts of carpet.

DSC00575_000

Now you have successfully planted your tree we hope it gives you many years of pleasure.  Remember, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now . . .

For more information on looking after your trees at any stage of life, or if you get stuck planting your new tree, contact the Treecreeper team on 01453 844038 or email us at office@tree-creeper.com.

For more information about Treecreeper Arborists Ltd, head to our website at

http://www.tree-creeper.com