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 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 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

Woodland Watch – Week 11 – 29/05/2013

Approaching the woodland through the beautiful meadows I couldn’t help but take some photos for woodland watch! Although the surrounding meadows are very different to the woodland area, they have a large impact on the woodland environment, especially given the small size of the wooded area.

Here you can see the meadow approaching the coppice area.

Meadow approaching the coppice

Meadow approaching the coppice

Eight small meadows surround the coppice and are an excellent example of how meadows used to be before intensification made them the rarity they are today. The site has been protected as a SSSI as a high quality hay meadow.

But what does this have to do with the woodland? The answer is simple. No environment can be taken as independent of its surroundings. Habitats do not simply observe the boundaries between themselves with woodland species staying in the woodland and meadow species staying in the meadow. The ecological boundary or transition zone between the two habitats is known as the ecotone.

EcotonesGrassland species will extend as far as they can until they are out competed by the woodland species. Woodland species will extend as far as they can until they are out competed by the woodland species. Between the two habitats is an area of intense competition where species of both habitats compete for space and nutrients.

As you enter the woodland, a hedgerow and grassy stream bank comprise the ecotone between the hay meadow and the coppice woodland. Back during the winter months, these banks were sparsely vegetated at a low level. Now, the vegetation is well over a metre high.

Ecotone between the coppice woodland and the surrounding hay meadow

Ecotone between the coppice woodland and the surrounding hay meadow

The boundary comprises a mix of both woodland and meadow vegetation and at this time of year Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestrisis one of the most abundant plants. Cow Parsley is a hollow-stemmed, tall plant that grows rapidly in the summer before dying back. It likes shady habitats in particular, and can be found decorating woodland edges, roadside verges and hedgerows with masses of frothy, white flowers.

A native wildflower which is often considered a weed, cow parsley is nevertheless a valuable species, providing important links in the food chain for many other animals, as well as areas for shelter and material for nesting.

On entering the woodland, the first thing I noticed was the dramatic colour change. Last week, the floor was a carpet of bluebells, in just the space of a week, the woodland floor has changed dramatically from blue to green.

The green woodland floor is a dramatic change from last week's carpet of bluebells

The green woodland floor is a dramatic change from last week’s carpet of bluebells

While some of these beautiful spring flowers still remain, we will have to wait for next year to see their flush of spring colour again. Some estimates suggest the UK has up to half of the world’s total bluebell population and 71% of native bluebells are found in broadleaved woodland or scrub.

Emerging out the other side of the woodland back into the hay meadow SSSI, it was lovely to look back and finally see the oak trees in full leaf. With the poor weather this spring, the oaks were one of the last species to come into leaf and I’m sure you agree they look beautiful here in the sunshine.

Oak trees now in leaf on the boundary of the coppice woodland

Oak trees now in leaf on the boundary of the coppice woodland

Well, that’s all we have have time for this week’s walk in the woods. Hope you can join us next week and see what changes are happenning!

http://www.tree-creeper.com