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 14 – 19/06/2013

It seems as fast as I get used to warm spring/summer weather everything turns around and its back to miserable grey again! This week wasn’t great weather for a walk in the woods, but me and the dog made it out anyway and here’s what we saw this week!

Despite the dreary looking sky and cold, blustery wind that felt more like early spring than early summer, the meadow approaching the woodland was still beautiful, covered in buttercups and a wide range of flora.

Stormier skies than in previous weeks as we approached the woodland

Stormier skies than in previous weeks as we approached the woodland

The buttercup family is comprised of about 2,252 species, including wildflowers and ornamentals, such as larkspur, marsh marigold and clematis. It used to be thought that the rich yellow of the buttercup made better butter from cows feeding in buttercup-rich meadows. This is a myth however, as we now know that the stem and leaf are actually toxic, especially to cattle, and the animals avoid eating it.

The meadow is full of a wide variety of flowers, herbs, grasses etc and I am the first to admit that my meadow species identification needs a lot of work, so please feel free to correct any mistakes!!! Species such as the common plantain and clover are widespread among the buttercups.

Ground level vegetation in the meadow approaching the woodland

Ground level vegetation in the meadow approaching the woodland

Inside the wood, the woodland floor has changed again. The green bluebell leaves from previous weeks have turned yellow and collapsed as they come to the end of their life for this year. The stems and seed pods are still upright, bare looking without their foliage.

Bluebell stems left after the leaves have wilted

Bluebell stems left after the leaves have wilted

While these areas of the woodland look bare now that the bluebells have died back, other areas are overrun with weeds. On entering the woodland area there are large patches of young brambles which will continue to dominate the vegetation where they can through the summer months.

Young brambles taking over the area close to the entrance to the woods

Young brambles taking over the area close to the entrance to the woods

Although generally considered a woody week and certainly difficult to eradicate once they become established, brambles are a very useful plant to a wide range of wildlife. Hundreds of creatures use brambles at different times of the year: Insects visit the flowers for pollen and nectar, including bumblebees, honey bees, hoverflies, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and lacewings.Spiders spin webs to catch the bounty of visiting insects. Moths such as buff arches, peach blossom and fox moths lay their eggs on bramble as it is their larval foodplant. Blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, starlings, robins, pheasants, foxes, mice and other small mammals eat the fruits. Robins, wrens, thrushes, blackbirds, warblers and finches will nest in bramble and small mammals use it for protection from predators.

A weed the bramble may be, but it is certainly a very valuable woodland plant as long as it is not allowed to out compete other valuable vegetation. The key to any habitat is variety.

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 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.

photo (11)

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!