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Beavers - reducing pollution?

Beavers – reducing pollution?

by Chris ~ 10 August, 2017 ~ comments welcome

Once upon a time, beavers (Castor fiber) were widespread in the U.K, however, there are few records after the 11th century and by the sixteenth century they were extinct .     They are still to be found in Europe; several thousand live on or near the Elbe and the Rhône, and in parts of Scandinavia.

They were hunted to extinction as the animal provided meat, fur and ‘medicine’.  The yellow secretion of their anal glands (castoreum) was used, at one time, as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic.   The Romans thought that the fumes from burning castoreum could induce an abortion.  Medical uses are no longer ‘in vogue’ but castoreum is used in the making of certain perfumes. Read more...

Tar spots

Tar spots

by Jasper Sharp ~ 27 July, 2017 ~ comments welcome

It is that time of year, when many of our plants are looking a bit past their prime. The flowers on many have turned to seed heads, much of the new growth of Spring is now yellowed or dried, and the assorted flora of meadow, woodland and garden alike are succumbing to fungal pathogens such as powdery mildew.

Another dramatic manifestation of the changing seasons around this time is the appearance of Tar Spots; peppering the leaves of sycamores and maples. Caused by the fungus Rhytisma acerinum, these brown-black blotches with yellow borders will be equally familiar to urban-dwellers, as they are commonly to be seen on that most ubiquitous of city trees, the London plane (Platanus acerifolia). Read more...

Woodland Goats 

Woodland Goats 

by Rebecca Cork ~ 24 July, 2017 ~ one comment

At Tortworth Arboretum we are restoring a 20-acre woodland for community use – clearing an abandoned woodland of ten years of neglect while making it accessible for people to come and learn about nature, as well as improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing. We manage the woodland mostly with hand tools and an ever-evolving team of volunteers who give their time freely to the project.   The woodland is host to hundreds of exotic trees from around the world, planted from the 1850s onwards by the local Earl, as well as some stunning veteran oaks and sweet chestnut trees.

And we have goatsRead more...

Foliar feeding - the Venus Flytrap

Foliar feeding – the Venus Flytrap

by Lewis ~ 13 July, 2017 ~ comments welcome

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula ) is a carnivorous plant found in  the wetlands of North and South Carolina in the United States.  The Venus flytrap is also popular as a cultivated plant and an 'object of interest' and can be found in many a garden centre.

In the wild, the fly trap is found in areas with nutrient-deficient soils (often low in nitrate and phosphate).  The plant makes up for the ‘edaphic* limitations’ by trapping and digesting insects (and spiders) in their specialised leaf traps. By doing so, they are able to extract nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen which are in limited supply in the soil - from the bodies of their prey.   The ‘Dionaea diet’ is, in fact, 33% ants, 30% spiders (which are arachnids - not insects), 10% beetles and 10% grasshoppers - only a small percentage are actually flying insects. Read more...

Rivers, rainfall, abstraction, and pollution.

Rivers, rainfall, abstraction, and pollution.

by Chris ~ 9 July, 2017 ~ comments welcome

Many parts of the UK have recently experienced the driest October to March period for a long time.  This was followed by two relatively dry Spring months - April & May.  The Met Office Map of the UK found here - shows the rainfall pattern across the country as a percentage of the average rainfall for a 30 years period.

This has not only affected gardeners and farmers but river systems across the United Kingdom.  This is bad news as many rivers have already had too much water taken from them (abstracted) - for farming & industry.  The problem of over-extraction of river water is not helped by the fact that one fifth of all piped water is lost through leaks.  Thames water was recently fined millions for failing to reach its leak reduction targets. Read more...

Bird and bumblebee decline

Bird and bumblebee decline

by Chris ~ 3 July, 2017 ~ 3 comments

Recent research work at the University of Exeter (by Dr A Higginson) has suggested yet another reason for the decline in some bird and bumblebee populations - namely the loss of suitable nesting sites.  Clearly birds build nests but bumblebees establish colonies or nests too.

Bumblebee nest sites vary from species to species. The more common species prefer dry, dark cavities / holes but nests can turn up in a surprising variety of places.; for example - in abandoned rodent holes, or under sheds, or in compost heaps.  Some nest above ground making nests in long, thick grass, while others make nests in trees, bird boxes, and even lofts   Bumblebee nests vary considerably in size depending on the time of year and the species; a well-established nest can contain up to 400 bees. Read more...

The mysterious world of the Slime Mould

The mysterious world of the Slime Mould

by Jasper Sharp ~ 27 June, 2017 ~ comments welcome

You may not be aware of it, but you are never far from a slime mould in the woods. You’ve probably seen one and dismissed it as some sort of noxious fungus. It is a common error, stemming from the misidentification by early naturalists that resulted in the misleading reference to mould within the name. Not plant, animal, nor fungi, these completely harmless life-forms actually belong to the single-celled group of organisms known as protists.

Although more commonly seen in Summer than Autumn, slime moulds can be spotted where you’d expect to find fungi; on leaf litter, fallen logs or dead vegetation - at least in the latter stages of their four-phase life cycle. Read more...

Plant surfaces :  Cuticles and hairs

Plant surfaces : Cuticles and hairs

by Chris ~ 2 June, 2017 ~ comments welcome

Plants need to protect themselves from the vagaries of the environment - they need to prevent or resist the entry of disease pathogens (bacteria, fungi and viruses) and also restrict the loss of water from their tissues.   The flow of water through a plant (the transpiration stream) is important in the supply of minerals to the growing regions and the ’control' of leaf temperature (as water evaporates it uses heat energy -  exerting a cooling effect).

However, uncontrolled water loss would soon result in wilting and death, so the outer layer of plants - the epidermis, has a special layer, the cuticle.  The cuticle is made from waxes, which often form complex and intricate patterns (when viewed with an electron microscope).   Read more...

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