Woodland Watch Week 21 – 7/08/2013

Another week has gone by and we’re getting closer and closer to the end of summer. Keeping everything crossed for a late summer/early autumn heatwave as i’m just not ready for autumn yet!!!

So, what’s been going on in the woods this week? One of the creatures we haven’t touched upon yet is the butterflies, but the meadows around the wood and the wood itself have been swarming with all sorts of butterflies this year. The main reason I’ve not mentioned them is because try as I might to get a photograph of any of them, i’ve not been particularly successful! The iPhone is wonderfully portable and easy to take photos with but it’s not really set up for fleeting glimpses of fluttering butterflies taken from several metres away!

So, this photo was the best I managed to get and i’m sure you’ll agree it’s not a lot of help! It does lend itself to a good game of “spot the butterfly” though!

Butterfly in the meadow approaching the field which I can only describe as "little brown butterfly"!!!

Butterfly in the meadow approaching the field which I can only describe as “little brown butterfly”!!!

According to Butterfly Conservation, “three-quarters of British butterflies are in decline and many moths are also facing an uncertain future.The 56 species in Britain and Ireland are under threat today from unprecedented environmental change”.

It has been lovely to see so many butterflies around this year, but it is still worrying that they are decreasing so rapidly. So why are butterflies important besides the fact that the y look pretty fluttering around during the summer months? The butterfly conservation website has a great section on “Why Butterflies and Moths Matter” and i’ve pasted a short exert below:

Ecosystem value

  • Butterflies and moths are indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystems.
  • They indicate a wide range of other invertebrates, which comprise over two-thirds of all species.
  • Areas rich in butterflies and moths are rich in other invertebrates. These collectively provide a wide range of environmental benefits, including pollination and natural pest control.
  • Moths and butterflies are an important element of the food chain and are prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals (for example, in Britain and Ireland, Blue Tits eat an estimated 50 billion moth caterpillars each year).
  • Butterflies and moths support a range of other predators and parasites, many of which are specific to individual species, or groups of species.
  • Butterflies have been widely used by ecologists as model organisms to study the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation, and climate change.

There’s also a great butterfly and moth identification tool on their website

http://butterfly-conservation.org/50/identify-a-butterfly.html

Last week we saw the conkers forming on the horse chestnut trees, this week we’re looking at the hazel for signs of autumn approaching. These hazel nuts are appearing fast on the coppiced hazel throughout the woodland and will ripen over the coming months.

Unripe hazel nuts

Unripe hazel nuts

Once ripe, these hazelnuts will fall out of the husk, which generally happens around 7-8 months after pollination. These nuts still have a way to go yet before they are ready to be harvested, but unfortunately not all species are as patient as we are as we’ll look at next week!

As you’ve probably noticed by now i’m a forager by nature! No walk in the countryside is complete without picking something to eat along the way! So, I couldn’t resist a few hazlenut recipes to get you thinking while the nuts ripen!

How about this amazing looking chocolate and hazelnut cake:

chocolate_and_hazelnut_38207_16x9

check out the recipe at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/chocolate_and_hazelnut_38207

Or this gorgeous Italian hazelnut and chocolate torte:

torte

Recipe at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/9727/italian-hazelnut-and-chocolate-torte

So, moving back to the woodlands and away from chocolate recipes that are making my tummy rumble! We’ll keep an eye on the hazelnuts over the autumn and watch them as they ripen ready to eat.

This week I had a bit of a closer look around the stems of some of the mature oak trees. Last week we looked at one of the trees with a lot of burrs, this week we’re going to take a look at another growth habit known as epicormic growth.

In many woody species, epicormic buds lie dormant underneath the bark , their growth  suppressed by hormones produced by active shoots higher up the tree. Under certain conditions, these dormant buds are activated resulting in epicormic growth as you can see here on the oak trees around the wood:

Epicormic shoots on the stem of one of the mature oak trees

Epicormic shoots on the stem of one of the mature oak trees

Epicormic shoots are the means by which trees regrow after operations such as pruning, or in the case of some species, pollarding/coppicing. This is why it is possible to cut some species back to just a trunk or even to ground level and the tree will re-shoot and continue to grow healthily. While a lot of species have epicormic buds, many others don’t such as many conifer species. This is why it is possible to pollard a willow and it will re-grow but if you carry out the same operation on a conifer it will not. Only species with strong epicormic growth abilities can be pruned in this way.

Continuing through the wood and out the other side into the neighbouring meadow I couldn’t help but stop for a look around the hedgerow. Native hedgerows are a forager’s heaven, often containing fruits, nuts and edible flowers all within easy reach for picking. Its easy to see why small mammals, birds and insects thrive in the hedgerow habitat and why it is so important that we conserve our native hedgerows.

My mind is already planning ahead to autumn recipes and where better to begin than the blackberry? The flowers of the blackberries came out earlier in the year and now in many places the fruits themselves are starting to form as tight little hard green berries.

Blackberry flowers and the beginnings of fruit production

Blackberry flowers and the beginnings of fruit production

Blackberries are perennial plants (living for more than 2 years) with biennial stems which grow from the perennial root system (taking 2 years to complete their life cycle. In the first year, the new stem grows vigorously to its full length of around 3-6m, generally trailing along thr ground or any other support structure it can find, bearing large palmate leaves.

In its second year, the cane does not grow any longer, but instead produces flowering lateral stems from the main stem which have smaller leaves. Both the stem and lateral shoots are covered in sharp prickles.

Canes can be trained when cultivated, however wild blackberries usually form a tangle of dense arching stems, with the branches rooting from the node tip on many species once they reach the ground. The flowers are produced in late spring and early summer with 5 white or pale pink petals. Drupelets then form around ovules that are fertilised by the male gamete from a pollen grain.

I’m looking forward to returning from my walk with a basket of blackberries in the autumn ready for jam and pudding making!

So, that’s it for another week and another walk in the woods. Apologies for the slight delay in getting these blogs written! Its such a busy time of year for tree surgeons and we’re just battling to keep on top of everything!

We hope you’re enjoying your walks in the woods and seeing everything continue to change as we approach the autumn.

See you next week!

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 15 – 26/06/2013

Summer seems to finally be here and although it is neither as warm or as predictable as we would like, at least it is not as cold as it has been! This week my walk in the woods was overcast, but warm and I hope you will join me to have a look at what is going on this week.

The grass in the meadow approaching the wood is getting taller and taller but closer to ground level you can see lots of little purple clover flowers.

Clover growing in the hay meadow

Clover growing in the hay meadow

This red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a native, herbaceous perennial plant which can grow 20-80cm tall. The genus is so named because of the leaf structure consisting of three leaflets, known as trifoliate leaves. Clover is an interesting plant, widely grown as a fodder crop and highly valued for its nitrogen fixing capabilities which increase soil fertility.

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which nitrogen in the atmosphere is converted into ammonia. In the atmosphere nitrogen exists as a diatomic molecule (the atoms go around in pairs, like oxygen). In this inert state it does not easily react with other chemicals to form new compounds. Nitrogen fixing nodules in the clover plant frees up the nitrogen atoms from their chemical diatomic form (N2) to be used in other ways.

Before the establishment of science, when peopled looked to religion and magic for medicinal cures, red clover was already playing a part in people’s lives. To early Christians, it was a sign of the Trinity while during the Middle Ages, it was regarded as a charm against evil. A mutation resulting in the well-known four-leaf clover is considered good luck when found, even to this day.

Heading into the woodland, the first difference that was immediately apparent was how dark the wood was compared to previous weeks. The canopy has now almost completely closed over with a hazel lower canopy and an upper canopy made up of a range of other broad leaf trees including oak and horse chestnut.

The woodland was noticeably darker now the canopy has closed over

The woodland was noticeably darker now the canopy has closed over

One of the lower level tree species that we haven’t yet touched on but which I have noticed on my walks is the holly (Ilex aquifolium). An evergreen shrub which most people can easily recognise it can grow 10-25m tall with sharp spiney leaves which last around 5 years. What many people don’t realise, and to the relief of tree surgeons such as ourselves, is that leaves on the upper branches of mature trees do not have spines as they are well out of the reach of grazing animals and do not require this particular defense mechanism. 

Lower leaves of a mature holly tree

Lower leaves of a mature holly tree

Holly is dioescious which means there are male and female plants, unlike the hazel which we saw developing the male catkins and female flowers on the same trees. The sex of the plants cannot be determined until they begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. Between October and November, the flowers on the female plants will grow into red fruit which is eaten by birds and rodents.

Interestingly in the Irish/Gaelic ogham alphabet holly is called Tinne, a word believed to have originally meant ‘fire’. From this was derived the word ‘tinder’, referring to dry, inflammable matter used for kindling fire from a spark. This association between holly and fire has been known since ancient times when charcoal made from holly wood was used by armourers to forge swords and axe heads.

The holly will remain fairly constant through the changing of the seasons, but it is a highly valuable woodland species.

Sticking with the theme of trees, another species to note is the English elm. Once a classic English tree like the English Oak, the elm all but disappeared from our countryside after Dutch Elm Disease reached Britain in 1927.

Now, these small elm saplings around the edge of the wood, although relatively common at this stage of their lives, are unlikely to reach maturity.

English Elm saplings

English Elm saplings

The current DED epidemic is caused by the fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi which is dispersed by various elm bark beetles within the Scolytus genus. The fungus blocks water conduction, resulting in wilting and eventual death of the foliage.

The first signs of the disease are often yellowing/browning of foliage tips as the affected branches are gradually starved of water.  When the leaves fall, the remaining twigs often turn down to form ‘shepherds crooks’ which can be valuable for disease detection in winter.

The diagram below shows how the disease progresses.

Dutch Elm Disease

Dutch Elm Disease

Although the English landscape has certainly lost the majority of its mature English elms, the Ulmus procera species has not disappeared completely from the landscape. This is because the elm bark beetles require bark to be of a certain thickness for breeding to be successful.

When an English Elm is killed by the disease, some roots remain alive and new elms regenerate from these. This means that for every mature elm killed by DED, many more are able to replace it. We may not have many large elms, but there are millions of young elms growing all over the English countryside, such as these young saplings in our wood.

That’s it for this week. Join us again next week for another walk in the woods.

http://www.tree-creeper.com

Woodland Watch – Week 13 – 12/06/2013

Welcome to another week and another walk in the woods. I have been amazed watching this woodland week by week, seeing all the changes and this week was just as exciting. So, here we go!

One of the standard trees in this woodland that we haven’t really looked at yet is the oak. There are several oak trees around the site, both young and mature specimens. This year, with the cold start to spring it took the oak trees a while to come into leaf. As you can see now, the oaks are properly in leaf and their vibrant green leaves provide a beautiful upper canopy to a few areas of the wood.

Looking up through the oak canopy

Looking up through the oak canopy

Of all our native trees, the oak is probably one of the most commonly recognised by people. Widespread in fields, hedgerows and woodlands it is arguably one of the classic English trees. There are over 400 species of oak worldwide including trees, shrubs, deciduous and evergreen varieties and they can live up to 700 years old, outliving all other trees in the UK except the yew.

In this woodland we have the native English Oak. Male catkins appear on the tree with the leaves in April and become long, pollen-filled pendulous by May. Then the female catkins open as upright flowers which await the touch of fertilising pollen from the males. They hold the seed vessels which will become acorns, the fruit of the oak tree.

I will look out for these in the coming weeks. For now, here’s another beautiful picture of the leaves of a young oak tree, bright and vibrant with new life.

Bright young oak leaves

Bright young oak leaves

We already noted last week the dramatic change in the colour of the woodland floor. Only a couple of weeks ago it was covered in the vivid blue of the bluebell flowers. Last week we saw the change to green as the flowers disappeared and the leaves started to wilt.

Bluebells reproduce through propagation by seed using sexual reproduction. They are usually pollinated by insects and after fertilisation occurs, the seeds are produced and dispersed. In the woodland, now that the flowers have disappeared you can clearly see all of the seed pods still standing on the upright stalks. Right now the seeds are still green, but they will turn darker as they mature before they are ready to disperse.

Bluebell seed pods

Bluebell seed pods

Going back a few weeks, before the hazel leaves burst into life we looked at the male catkins and female flowers and how the hazel reproduces. Now that this has happenned and the female flowers have been fertilised, the male catkin has fulfilled its purposes and drops off, leaving the female to produce the nuts that we will see in autumn. Walking around the wood, you can see many of the used, male catkins on the woodland floor.

Male catkins drop off once they have fertilised the female flowers, leaving them to develop into nuts ready for autumn.

Male catkins drop off once they have fertilised the female flowers, leaving them to develop into nuts ready for autumn.

And sticking with the theme of reproduction, the hawthorn has also just come into flower. Later than in most years but making a beautiful sight, especially around the boundaries of the wood where this photo was taken.

Hawthorn flowers coming into bloom on the edge of the wood

Hawthorn flowers coming into bloom on the edge of the wood

These blossoms contain both male and female reproductive parts and are fertilised by passing insects. By summer the seeds will grow into small green berries which will turn dark red by autumn to attract birds who will eat the berries and propagate the seeds. We will watch the hawthorns in the woodland as they move through this cycle.

And that’s it for another weekend of woodland watch. Join us next week for another walk in the woods!

In the meantime don’t forget to check out our website http://www.tree-creeper.com and send us any of your own woodland watch pictures from your own walks to office@tree-creeper.com or send them through our facebook page!

Woodland Watch – Week 10 – 22/05/2013

Another week and yet more unpredictable weather! We’re a few weeks away from summer and finally the woods are looking like they have come completely out of hibernation! This week, there was so much going on around the small area of woodland that I decided to focus on one species in particular that has been changing and developing on a week by week basis.

Common in woodland ecotones and hedgerows, this small tree of the rose family grows quickly and sends out many side shoots and branches which make a sturdy, impenetrable barrier to livestock. Unlike Blackthorn which sends out suckers, hawthorn does not have a large root system and is therefore not greedy with the soil’s nutrients. This encourages many forms of plant life to grow in its vicinity.

The hawthorn trees growing in the woodland are generally found around the borders of the wood within the woodland-meadow ecotone. Last week, the leaves were fully out and enjoying the late spring sunshine.

Young hawthorn leaves in woodland understorey

Young hawthorn leaves in woodland under storey

This week, there is a new development on the larger hawthorn trees in the hedgerows surrounding the woodland. Between May and June, the hermaphrodite flowers are produced in groups of 5-25 together. These can be seen developing now on the trees bordering the woodland. Like everything else this year, they are a little late developing!

Developing hawthorn flowers

Developing hawthorn flowers

Hawthorn blossoms along with its newly opened leaves and in a few weeks the flowers will have five snow white petals set around slender stamens with bright pink heads. Hawthorn blossoms contain both male and female reproductive parts and are fertilized by insects moving between them.

In the summer, the seeds will grow into small green berries which will turn red by autumn. We will watch the hawthorn trees in the wood over the coming months and see how they develop and change over time.

Join us next week for a walk in the woods as we approach the summer seasons.

Woodland Watch – Week 8 – 08/05/2013

Welcome to Woodland Watch week 8. The first thing I noticed on this walk through the woods is the bluebells. The first bluebells emerged several weeks ago now, but today the woodland floor is absolutely carpeted in them and I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of this beautiful, blue, floral carpet.

Bluebells carpeting the woodland floor

Bluebells carpeting the woodland floor

Above ground level, other shrub and tree species are also coming into full leaf. This young hawthorn has progressed from initial bud burst a few weeks ago into its full leaf state now.

Young hawthorn tree in full leaf

Young hawthorn tree in full leaf

In a primitive form of biological warfare, Hawthorn spines can infect animals with pathogenic bacteria – the same bacteria as that which causes gas gangrene. Britain’s hedgerows contain hawthorn for many reasons, including sustenance and protection. Hawthorn was also purposefully adapted into a hedging plant when the peasants were thrown off their inherited land by landowners following the general enclosures act of 1845. Thus the ‘peasants’ tree’ was turned into an instrument of division and derision by political and money minded barons, a barrier hedgerow to keep people off the land.

Another weed emerging all over the woodland floor is sticky weed (Galium aparine), otherwise known as cleavers or the velcro plant among other common names.

Sticky weed among dock leaves

Sticky weed among dock leaves

Most people who have been out in their gardens have come across this annual weed whose seeds germinate in the cool, wet weather of late winter and then grow rapidly into swirly, sticky stems of green that stick themselves to skin, clothing, pets and anything else they come into contact with.the plant is sometimes called bed straw because one of its sweeter smelling cousins (G. verum) was used to stuff mattresses in medieval times.

Join us next week for another walk in the woodland.