Woodland Watch Week 22 – 14/08/2013

This week, we’re focusing on just one of the creatures that have made the woodland their home not just here in the Woodland Watch wood but all over the UK. I have seen many of these little mammals racing about in the coppice canopy and even more evidence of them all around the wood through the last few months. Have you worked out what we’re talking about yet?…Yep, you got it…The grey squirrel!

The Grey Squirrel

The Grey Squirrel

The grey squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is a familiar sight all over Britain, despite being a non-native, and most would argue, an invasive species. Grey squirrels were introduced from North America in 1876 by the Victorians who considered them an exotic species. Since then they have spread throughout most of the UK, almost completely displacing the native red squirrel .

Grey squirrels are not fussy eaters, which to a certain extent explains their displacement of their red counterparts. They are mainly herbivorous, eating predominantly acorns, hazelnuts, berries, fungi, bark, buds and shoots. However, on rare occasions when food is scarce they will also eat insects, smaller rodents, bird eggs and nestlings. Red squirrels have a similar diet, but they are unable to digest seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns, which limits the food sources. They are also able to make much better use of unripe acorns and hazelnuts and this is clearly visible in the woodland.

Unripe hazelnuts broken open by squirrels for food

Unripe hazelnuts broken open by squirrels for food

Although my iPhone camera has let me down again here, you can get the idea! The woodland floor is littered with unripe hazelnut shells which have been split open by squirrels enabling them to get to the nuts for food before other species are able to consume this resource.

The introduced grey squirrel has been so successful in displacing its native cousin partly because it is bigger and stronger, able to find more food and store more fat in its body for winter. This allows it to out-compete the red squirrel, which has lower survival and breeding rates. A second reason is the Parapoxvirus, which causes a fatal infection in red squirrels. Grey squirrels are not affected, but act as carriers, spreading the virus to red squirrels in the vicinity.

As well as the feeding signs around the woodland, there are also a lot of signs of squirrel damage to the trees. Grey squirrels strip bark around stems and branches of trees. Bark stripping damage usually starts at the end of April and continues until the end of July (early September in high-risk years). Grey squirrels do not strip bark at any other time of year. Trees may be stripped anywhere on the main stem and branches, with vigorously growing and dominant trees generally being most affected.

An example of squirrel damage in the wood

An example of squirrel damage in the wood

The Forestry Commission have produced a great publication all about grey squirrel damage in woodlands which can be viewed at:

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/fcpn004.pdf/$file/fcpn004.pdf

Now, it wouldn’t be one of my blogs if there wasn’t some mention of eating something, so if you’re a vegetarian, you might want to stop reading at this point! Squirrel arguably provides one of the most ethical meats you can eat in the UK. Completely free range, low in fat and as the countryside is overrun with squirrels and population control is often deemed necessary, why not eat them?

There’s a great recipe here for spanish braised squirrel:

http://www.wildmeat.co.uk/orderform.htm?ac=EZKF4-6

Spanish Braised Squirrel

Spanish Braised Squirrel

While the woods have a lot of signs of squirrels, they’re not causing any huge problems here and are likely to be left alone at least for the near future. However, across the wider countryside, there are many areas where squirrels are causing major problems to woodlands and population control is an ongoing options.

As an arboricultural company we see many examples of squirrel damaged trees and I can certainly appreciate the need for population control. However I also hate to see any creature being wasted, so if we’re going to control squirrel populations, why not eat them?

That’s it for this week. Join us next week for another walk in the woods as we’re heading closer and closer to autumn.

Until then, enjoy your own walks in the woods!

Treecreeper Arborists – http://www.tree-creeper.com

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 12 – 05/06/2013

This week, I decided to focus on the coppice. There’s such a lot going on in the woodland at the moment now that the weather has finally warmed up, but over the last 11 weeks we have takes a lot about the “coppice woodland” and never really elaborated on what this means.

So, here we go. Lets go for a walk in the woods and take a look at one of the earliest forms of woodland management.

Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees produce new growth from the stump or roots if they are cut down. Coppice stools have multiple stems growing out of previously cut stools which arise from dormant buds on the stool. The resulting structure looks like this.

Regrowth from a coppice stool

Regrowth from a coppice stool

Most frequently coppiced species are oak, hazel, ash, willow, field maple and sweet chestnut. In this woodland, most of the coppice is hazel but management has lapsed and many of the stools are in need of management to bring them back into the coppice cycle.

Stools such as this one have been allowed to regrow for too long.

Old coppice stool in need of recoppicing

Old coppice stool in need of recoppicing

Coppicing allows for the production of a large quantity of fast growing, sustainable timber products without the need for replanting. Although trees can be grown from seed, coppicing allows the tree to regrow from a fully established root system.

Different species respond differently to coppicing. Some species such as alder and beech coppice poorly, while species such as hazel and willow respond very well, quickly sending up vigorous, straight growth which can be utilised in a range of ways.

Most notable in this woodland is the way that the coppice affects the general feel of the woodland area. In traditional broad leaf woodland, the canopy is usually quite high and the understorey more sparse than in a coppice woodland. Here, especially now that the leaves are out, there is much more vegetation at eye level than you would usually find in non-coppiced woodlands.

Looking up through the coppice canopy

Looking up through the coppice canopy

We have said before that the structure of this woodland is “coppice with standards”. This means that there is a coppice understorey with scattered larger standard trees. These standards need to be sufficiently spaced apart to avoid shading the coppice.

The standards in this woodland are primarily oak and horse chestnut, however in some areas these trees have been allowed to grow too large and too close together and the coppice understorey has disappeared, out competed and overshadowed by the larger standards.

Hopefully, some of these lapsed coppice stools can be brought back into a coppice cycle in the near future.

If you would like to learn more about the fascinating history of coppicing which dates back to neolithic times, take a look at these links:

http://smallwoods.org.uk/our-work/woodland-products/a-brief-history-of-coppicing/

http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/pubs93_Coppicedwoodlands.pdf

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

http://www.tree-creeper.com

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