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 15 – 26/06/2013

Summer seems to finally be here and although it is neither as warm or as predictable as we would like, at least it is not as cold as it has been! This week my walk in the woods was overcast, but warm and I hope you will join me to have a look at what is going on this week.

The grass in the meadow approaching the wood is getting taller and taller but closer to ground level you can see lots of little purple clover flowers.

Clover growing in the hay meadow

Clover growing in the hay meadow

This red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a native, herbaceous perennial plant which can grow 20-80cm tall. The genus is so named because of the leaf structure consisting of three leaflets, known as trifoliate leaves. Clover is an interesting plant, widely grown as a fodder crop and highly valued for its nitrogen fixing capabilities which increase soil fertility.

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which nitrogen in the atmosphere is converted into ammonia. In the atmosphere nitrogen exists as a diatomic molecule (the atoms go around in pairs, like oxygen). In this inert state it does not easily react with other chemicals to form new compounds. Nitrogen fixing nodules in the clover plant frees up the nitrogen atoms from their chemical diatomic form (N2) to be used in other ways.

Before the establishment of science, when peopled looked to religion and magic for medicinal cures, red clover was already playing a part in people’s lives. To early Christians, it was a sign of the Trinity while during the Middle Ages, it was regarded as a charm against evil. A mutation resulting in the well-known four-leaf clover is considered good luck when found, even to this day.

Heading into the woodland, the first difference that was immediately apparent was how dark the wood was compared to previous weeks. The canopy has now almost completely closed over with a hazel lower canopy and an upper canopy made up of a range of other broad leaf trees including oak and horse chestnut.

The woodland was noticeably darker now the canopy has closed over

The woodland was noticeably darker now the canopy has closed over

One of the lower level tree species that we haven’t yet touched on but which I have noticed on my walks is the holly (Ilex aquifolium). An evergreen shrub which most people can easily recognise it can grow 10-25m tall with sharp spiney leaves which last around 5 years. What many people don’t realise, and to the relief of tree surgeons such as ourselves, is that leaves on the upper branches of mature trees do not have spines as they are well out of the reach of grazing animals and do not require this particular defense mechanism. 

Lower leaves of a mature holly tree

Lower leaves of a mature holly tree

Holly is dioescious which means there are male and female plants, unlike the hazel which we saw developing the male catkins and female flowers on the same trees. The sex of the plants cannot be determined until they begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. Between October and November, the flowers on the female plants will grow into red fruit which is eaten by birds and rodents.

Interestingly in the Irish/Gaelic ogham alphabet holly is called Tinne, a word believed to have originally meant ‘fire’. From this was derived the word ‘tinder’, referring to dry, inflammable matter used for kindling fire from a spark. This association between holly and fire has been known since ancient times when charcoal made from holly wood was used by armourers to forge swords and axe heads.

The holly will remain fairly constant through the changing of the seasons, but it is a highly valuable woodland species.

Sticking with the theme of trees, another species to note is the English elm. Once a classic English tree like the English Oak, the elm all but disappeared from our countryside after Dutch Elm Disease reached Britain in 1927.

Now, these small elm saplings around the edge of the wood, although relatively common at this stage of their lives, are unlikely to reach maturity.

English Elm saplings

English Elm saplings

The current DED epidemic is caused by the fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi which is dispersed by various elm bark beetles within the Scolytus genus. The fungus blocks water conduction, resulting in wilting and eventual death of the foliage.

The first signs of the disease are often yellowing/browning of foliage tips as the affected branches are gradually starved of water.  When the leaves fall, the remaining twigs often turn down to form ‘shepherds crooks’ which can be valuable for disease detection in winter.

The diagram below shows how the disease progresses.

Dutch Elm Disease

Dutch Elm Disease

Although the English landscape has certainly lost the majority of its mature English elms, the Ulmus procera species has not disappeared completely from the landscape. This is because the elm bark beetles require bark to be of a certain thickness for breeding to be successful.

When an English Elm is killed by the disease, some roots remain alive and new elms regenerate from these. This means that for every mature elm killed by DED, many more are able to replace it. We may not have many large elms, but there are millions of young elms growing all over the English countryside, such as these young saplings in our wood.

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 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 13 – 12/06/2013

Welcome to another week and another walk in the woods. I have been amazed watching this woodland week by week, seeing all the changes and this week was just as exciting. So, here we go!

One of the standard trees in this woodland that we haven’t really looked at yet is the oak. There are several oak trees around the site, both young and mature specimens. This year, with the cold start to spring it took the oak trees a while to come into leaf. As you can see now, the oaks are properly in leaf and their vibrant green leaves provide a beautiful upper canopy to a few areas of the wood.

Looking up through the oak canopy

Looking up through the oak canopy

Of all our native trees, the oak is probably one of the most commonly recognised by people. Widespread in fields, hedgerows and woodlands it is arguably one of the classic English trees. There are over 400 species of oak worldwide including trees, shrubs, deciduous and evergreen varieties and they can live up to 700 years old, outliving all other trees in the UK except the yew.

In this woodland we have the native English Oak. Male catkins appear on the tree with the leaves in April and become long, pollen-filled pendulous by May. Then the female catkins open as upright flowers which await the touch of fertilising pollen from the males. They hold the seed vessels which will become acorns, the fruit of the oak tree.

I will look out for these in the coming weeks. For now, here’s another beautiful picture of the leaves of a young oak tree, bright and vibrant with new life.

Bright young oak leaves

Bright young oak leaves

We already noted last week the dramatic change in the colour of the woodland floor. Only a couple of weeks ago it was covered in the vivid blue of the bluebell flowers. Last week we saw the change to green as the flowers disappeared and the leaves started to wilt.

Bluebells reproduce through propagation by seed using sexual reproduction. They are usually pollinated by insects and after fertilisation occurs, the seeds are produced and dispersed. In the woodland, now that the flowers have disappeared you can clearly see all of the seed pods still standing on the upright stalks. Right now the seeds are still green, but they will turn darker as they mature before they are ready to disperse.

Bluebell seed pods

Bluebell seed pods

Going back a few weeks, before the hazel leaves burst into life we looked at the male catkins and female flowers and how the hazel reproduces. Now that this has happenned and the female flowers have been fertilised, the male catkin has fulfilled its purposes and drops off, leaving the female to produce the nuts that we will see in autumn. Walking around the wood, you can see many of the used, male catkins on the woodland floor.

Male catkins drop off once they have fertilised the female flowers, leaving them to develop into nuts ready for autumn.

Male catkins drop off once they have fertilised the female flowers, leaving them to develop into nuts ready for autumn.

And sticking with the theme of reproduction, the hawthorn has also just come into flower. Later than in most years but making a beautiful sight, especially around the boundaries of the wood where this photo was taken.

Hawthorn flowers coming into bloom on the edge of the wood

Hawthorn flowers coming into bloom on the edge of the wood

These blossoms contain both male and female reproductive parts and are fertilised by passing insects. By summer the seeds will grow into small green berries which will turn dark red by autumn to attract birds who will eat the berries and propagate the seeds. We will watch the hawthorns in the woodland as they move through this cycle.

And that’s it for another weekend of woodland watch. Join us next week for another walk in the woods!

In the meantime don’t forget to check out our website http://www.tree-creeper.com and send us any of your own woodland watch pictures from your own walks to office@tree-creeper.com or send them through our facebook page!

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 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.