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.

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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 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.

Looking Ahead to Autumn!

Although it often feels as though we never really had a summer this year, it is starting to draw to a close over the next couple of months. Possibly the only difference we will notice is slightly colder rain!

Our deciduous trees at the latter end of the summer start to prepare themselves for winter, drawing down their energy reserves into the root system. The chlorophyll which enables the leaves to turn sunlight into food is reabsorbed by the tree, and as the green fades from the leaves, the trees display a riot of colours, as other pigments within the leaves reflect the light. The leaves start to drop, a process known as abscission. This is part of the tree’s preparation for winter, shedding parts which are no longer efficient. Losing its leaves also reduces a tree’s resistance to wind, and lessens the effect of snow and ice. Should a branch be snapped off in a winter storm, the tree should recover to a large extent and continue growing in the spring. While trees are dormant, there is a far lesser risk of shock to them. This is why trees should be transplanted over the winter months, and why hedgelaying is a winter job.

We all look forward to the crisp, frosty autumn mornings with trees in full splendour, kicking our way through piles of dry leaves, and munching autumn fruits (and maybe a spot of cider making thrown in). We have all pricked our fingers trying to get at conkers, then burnt them trying to roast chestnuts. Most of us have trodden on pieces of nutshell at Christmas, and I’m sure I’m not the only impatient person to have spat out an unripe apple in disgust!

But while we do battle in our own little ways with these things, they represent far more than a minor discomfort or a part of Christmas. A part of the tree’s annual cycle is the production of future generations. More meaningful to most of us as nuts, berries and so on, it is the culmination of the summer’s work for the tree. It produces offspring (or fruit) just before the winter to ensure the survival of the species in the event of the tree dying over the winter months.

So what can we do to help our trees over the next few months? There is no simple answer to this. While trees can manage very well left to their own devices, with various defences should they become damaged, they are invariably in the wrong place for this to be a safe option.  Where tree failure could present a hazard to people or property, a quick visual inspection may highlight potential problems. Following a well established framework for a Visual Tree Assessment, various issues can be addressed with remedial action undertaken if necessary. It is far easier to remove a hazardous branch from above a conservatory roof than from the conservatory roof after it has failed! Ivy can hide a multitude of weak points within a tree, and can itself cause a problem due to its sail effect against the wind.

Any major works to trees, such as pollards, or reductions which due to other circumstances are more severe than might be recommended, should be considered at this time of year, giving plenty of time to allow works to be agreed and then completed while the tree is at its least vulnerable.

Or, what about adding some autumn colour to your garden ready for next year? Here are a few ideas of trees to plant this winter for really good Autumn colour next year:

Liquid Ambar, Red Oak, Most varieties of Maple (Acers), Tulip Tree