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.

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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!