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 9 – 15/05/2013

Welcome to another week in the woods. I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone that the weather so far this spring is very unpredictable! So far I have been very lucky with my weekly woodland walks and have managed to do all of them in dry weather, but I think that probably has more to do with careful timing than anything else!

The woodland is made up mainly of hazel coppice with a range of standards dotted throughout but mainly around the edges of the woodland area. It was lovely to see the oaks starting to come into leaf. In folklaw the saying goes “If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak.” This year however, the ash and oak have both held on for a long time before bursting into leaf and when they have they have appeared around the same time. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as to what this could herald for the coming summer!

Oak standards on the woodland edge

Oak standards on the woodland edge

After a slow start the oak standards around the woodland are now starting to come into leaf. The oak tree has a wide range of qualities suitable for healing purposes. If ground into fine powder, oak bark can be taken like snuff to stop nosebleeds. It can also be sprinkled onto sheets to alleviate the discomfort of bedsores. Young oak leaf-buds were prepared in distilled water and taken inwardly to assuage inflammations and bruised oak leaves are used outwardly, being applied to wounds and hemorrhoids to ease inflammations.

Another plant with a great range of uses including medicinal is the common nettle (Urtica dioica). Seen emerging and starting to take hold in previous weeks, the banks of the stream bordering the woodland are now overrun with thick, impenetrable stinging nettles which are now out-competing most other flora in the area.

Stinging nettles overrunning the borders of the woodland

Stinging nettles overrunning the borders of the woodland

Around the woodland floor, the male ferns which were seen emerging with curled fronds in previous weeks are now fully unfurled and growing quickly.

Young ferns now unfurled and growing rapidly

Young ferns now unfurled and growing rapidly

Among the many weed species taking hold all over the woodland floor are the dandelions. Much less prevalent than in the surrounding open meadows and field, but nonetheless still present.

Young dandelion leaves nestled among the other ground flora

Young dandelion leaves nestled among the other ground flora

The word Dandelion comes from the French name for the plant dents de lion meaning teeth of the lion and refers to the jagged edges of the leaf of the plant. The other French name for this plant is pis-en-lit, in English this means wet the bed. Dandelions deserve this name because their greens, when eaten, remove water from the body. So eating the greens could cause someone to well… you can guess the rest. Not recommend for a bedtime snack.

The Dandelion provides an important food source to bees. The pollen from this plant helps bees out in the spring because it flowers early and the flowers continue through to the fall providing constant food. In fact no less then 93 different kinds of insects use Dandelion pollen as food. The Dandelion seeds are also important food to many small birds.

Join us next week for a wander through the woods with Woodland Watch Week 10

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.

Woodland Watch – Week 6 – 24/04/2013

Welcome to the hottest day of the year so far and a perfect day for a walk in the woods! The coppice woodland looked absolutely beautiful today bathed in sunlight which streamed through the open canopy where many of the broadleaved trees have yet to come into leaf.

One of the most welcome sights was a glimpse of bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) flowering amid the wood anemones on the woodland floor. While the leaves have been carpeting the ground within the wood since week 1, this is the first sight of the beautiful bell shaped flowers from which the bluebell takes its name.

The first bluebells of spring emerging on the woodland floor

The first bluebells of spring emerging on the woodland floor

Most bluebells are found in ancient woodland where the rich habitat supports a wide range of species. In the past, bluebells have been employed for a whole host of uses. During the bronze age, bluebell glue was used to attach feathers to arrows and the Victorians used the starch from crushed bluebells to stiffen collars and sleeves. Bees can also steal nectar from bluebells by biting a hole in the bottom of the bell and reaching the nectar without pollinating the flower.

Also visible on the woodland floor is common dock (Rumex obtusifolius). Dock flowers from June to October, so at the moment it is only the spring flush of green growth that can be seen. The main flushes of emergence of dock are March-April and July-October.

Young flushes of dock emerging

Young flushes of dock emerging

 The hazel catkins which were golden and open to distribute their pollen only a few weeks ago have now fulfilled their purpose and are coming to the end of their life. In the last few weeks, the pollen grains released by the catkins have been distributed by the wind. When they land on the female flowers a fine tube carries the male nucleus to fertilise the egg and produce the hazel nuts we see in autumn.

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

And lets not forget the bramble. Although the thorny stems from last year are still scattered across the woodland, only now are the new fresh leaves coming out. There are over 1000 known species of bramble worldwide and they provide a wealth of food for birds and animals in autumn…Including humans who will enjoy blackberry picking here later in the year.

Young bramble leaves

Young bramble leaves

And that’s it for another week! Join us next week to see what changes are happening in the woods this spring! Send us your own pictures to office@tree-creeper.com or upload them to our Treecreeper Arborists Ltd facebook page. 

See you next week!

Woodland Watch – Week 5 – 17/04/2013

It’s all starting to happen in the woods now. With the warmer weather drifting in, albeit in fits and starts, everything seems to finally be trusting that it is safe to come out of hibernation. This week, everything seemed to be bursting into life, wherever I looked there were signs of spring and listening to the birds singing in the trees and hedgerows passed a beautiful half hour wandering around the woods.

One of the first new plants I noticed on entering the woods was self heal (Prunella vulgaris) starting to flower around the edges of the woodland in the grassy ecotone. Self-heals are low-growing plants, and thrive in moist wasteland and grass, spreading rapidly to cover the ground. They are members of the mint family and have the square stem common to mints. They flower from late spring through to autumn and add another touch of colour to the ground as you enter the woodland.

Self heal growing on the grassy boundaries of the woodland edge

Self heal growing on the grassy boundaries of the woodland edge

Up until today the majority of the trees and lower level canopy remained stubbornly in bud with only the young elder leaves brave enough to emerge. It was good to see the hazel buds bursting into life, showering the woodland at eye level with bright green emerging leaves.

Most of this woodland is comprised of coppiced hazel (Corylus avellana) and in the past hazel has been crucially important as a source of wood which grows into straight poles when cut at ground level (coppiced). Uses include thatching spars, net stakes, water divining sticks, hurdles, furniture,  firewood and many many more. Hazel nuts were prized as a food source in the past, however grey squirrels often strip the trees before the nuts can ripen and be harvested.

Bud burst on coppiced hazel

Bud burst on coppiced hazel

Also starting to come into leaf is the common English wild honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymentum). I was glad to see honeysuckle in the woodland as it is an important plant for dormouse habitat. Dormice shred honeysuckle bark and weave it into a ball to form their nests and although I have yet to spot signs of dormice in this coppice woodland, it is good that it has potential as dormouse habitat.

English wild honeysuckle

English wild honeysuckle

The elder (Sambucus nigra) is certainly the most advanced tree/shrub in the woodland in terms of leaf development now. Also part of the honeysuckle family, elder provides a wealth of flowers and fruit throughout the year feeding a wide range of birds, animals and insects.

Elder leaves are one of the most developed in the woodland so far

Elder leaves are some of the most developed in the woodland so far

And its not just the hazel and elder bursting into leaf, there are a lot of young hawthorn plants making up the shrub layer of the woodland and their bright young leaves are also starting to emerge.

Young hawthorn leaves emerging

Young hawthorn leaves emerging

That’s it for this week. Join us again for a walk in the woods and see what you see on your own walks. Let us know at http://www.tree-creeper.com or send us your photos on our Treecreeper Arborists facebook page.

Woodland Watch – Week 4 – 10/04/2013

Another week, another walk in the woods and thankfully there’s no denying that spring is finally here! The weather is warmer, the buds are starting to burst, the spring flowers are starting to agree that it is time to come out. After a long, cold and particularly dreary winter, it is wonderful to watch the woodland coming alive again with the signs of spring.

This week, I spent a lot of time looking at the many pieces of deadwood scattered around the woodland. All too often, woodlands and gardens are ‘tidied up’. Deadwood is looked upon as something to be removed. In some cases, removal is necessary to ensure safety however, when it is safe to do so, deadwood should be maintained as vital habitat.

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Deadwood such as this cracked stem provides valuable woodland habitat

Removing or burning rotting timber can destroy valuable invertebrate habitat. Wherever possible, fallen, rotting wood should be left undisturbed where it falls. Fallen branches and other lying deadwood should be maintained in situ unless they pose a danger to the public. 

This woodland is full of both lying and standing deadwood and while it may look untidy, it is important to remember that nature is rarely “tidy”. Often the best habitats are found in areas that humans, with our inclination to impose order on our environment, leave unmanaged.

Standing deadwood, left in situ, providing a wealth of invertebrate habitat

Standing deadwood, left in situ, providing a wealth of invertebrate habitat

For more information on deadwood habitat, take a look at this publication from the Forestry Commission:

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

The same flowers could be seen dotted around the woodland floor as in previous weeks, however there were noticeably more of them this week. Primroses and wood anemones blanket patches of the woodland floor and the brilliant green of the bluebell leaves shone in the bright sunlight.

Primroses are springing up all over the woodland floor

Primroses are springing up all over the woodland floor

For this walk, I decided to take the left hand circular path to make a change from the other routes I have taken and came across these rabbit holes. Out of interest, I loosely crossed some sticks over the entrance to the holes to find out whether they were in use.

Loosely crossed sticks over a rabbit hole to test whether it was in use

Loosely crossed sticks over a rabbit hole to test whether it was in use

Sure enough, the following day when i went back to check, the sticks had been pushed aside and fresh rabbit droppings were observed around the area.

Yesterday's sticks pushed aside by rabbit activity in/out of this hole

Yesterday’s sticks pushed aside by rabbit activity in/out of this hole

Joining the splashes of spring colour on the woodland floor are the lesser celandines  (Ranunculus ficaria) which have now started to make an appearance. A perennial member of the buttercup family, these native British flowers are widespread in woods, hedgerows and on the banks of streams.

Lesser celandines adding to the spring colour on the woodland floor

Lesser celandines adding to the spring colour on the woodland floor

Join us next week for another walk in the woods. Until then, send us your pictures of your spring walks in the woods to office@tree-creeper.com or post them on our facebook page.

Woodland Watch – Week 1 – 18/03/2013

Walking through a small area of coppice woodland near Malmesbury twice a week, I have watched it change dramatically in just the course of the last 8 weeks. From hard frozen ground and thick snow to the first signs of spring as the woodland floor begins to come alive again after a largely dormant winter.

So, without any further ado, lets go for a walk!

The first thing I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks is the colour change on the woodland floor. Where before the ground was frozen hard and covered in a layer of decomposing leaf litter, lush green spring growth is starting to push through. The most obvious are the young bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), carpeting the woodland floor in their green leaves.

Young bluebells start to turn the woodland floor from brown to the lush green of spring

Young bluebells start to turn the woodland floor from brown to the lush green of spring

Look a little closer at the emerging vegetation and you can see a wide variety of early spring flora, pushing through the leaf litter to enjoy the spring sunshine as it penetrates the sparse canopy overhead. Commonly found in ancient woodland, these wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) add an early smattering of colour to the woodland floor.

Wood anemones add early colour to the woodland floor

Wood anemones add early colour to the woodland floor

Also visible is young Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis), a herbaceous perennial often found on alkaline soils and another ancient woodland indicator species.

Young dog's mercury emerging in early spring

Young dog’s mercury emerging in early spring

Although most common in autumn, this fungus known commonly as jews ear or jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) can be found year round. The name jews ear was derived from an earlier name of Judas’ ear, taken from the belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree where the fungus is most commonly found. An edible fungus when thoroughly cooked, the species is widely used in eastern cookery.

Jews ear fungus observed on dead elder all over the woodland

Jews ear fungus observed on dead elder all over the woodland

Lastly for this week, next time you’re out and about in woodlands take a moment to look around the base of trees for signs of feeding animals. These hazel nut shells found at the base of a large oak tree show both signs of wood mice (an irregular hole with clear parallel  tooth marks especially around the inner rim of the hole)  and squirrels (shells split and levered in half). Look out for hazel nut shells dropped under branches rather than around the main trunk with small, neat, round holes with tooth marks on the outside surface as these could be signs of dormouse activity, especially in coppice woodlands.

Hazel nut shells dropped at the base of an oak tree showing signs of wood mouse and squirrel activity

Hazel nut shells dropped at the base of an oak tree showing signs of wood mouse and squirrel activity

Join us next week for a walk in the woods and see what else we can find! In the meantime, send us your pictures from your woodland walks to office@tree-creeper.com or to our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Treecreeper-Arborists-Ltd/251634314879456

See you next week!