Bracken (or Pteridium aquilinum) is the largest (approx. 6ft) and most commonly found fern in the U.K. Its widespread distribution is indicated by its occurrence in dozens of the NVC communities. Bracken is found in a wide range of habitats (though it does not ‘like’ wet and is only found at sites below 600M.)
Bracken ‘prefers’ dry, somewhat acid soils though it can grow in a fairly wide pH range. It spreads by means of its underground rhizomes (modified underground stems), sometimes at a rate of one metre per year. On bare ground (for example, after burning), it can establish itself by spores, produced in sori (reproductive structures) on the underside of the leaves / fronds. Often bracken is a pioneer species. It has been described as 'the perfect weed'.
Bracken spores may be found in the cores taken for pollen analysis; these indicate that bracken has a long history in the U.K. landscape. Peaks of bracken spores are associated with loss of woodland cover in the last 2000 years, though there is some evidence for a decline in bracken in the 14th Century – which featured a number of cold (and wet) decades (the Black Death was rampaging across Europe). Read more...
Most people are aware of midges. Midges are those small, irritating flies that you encounter when camping or walking, particularly near lakes or freshwater systems. The term ‘midge’ does not define a particular type of fly but it is a generic term and may include the following
- Net-winged midges
- Gall midges
- Biting midges (Ceratopogonidae)
- Non-biting midges (Chironomidae)
- Phantom midges and
- Dung midges
The giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) belongs to the same family as the wild parsnip – the Apiaceae. It is sometimes referred to as the giant cow parsnip, or the giant cow parsley or the cartwheel flower. Like the Himalayan Balsam, the giant hogweed is an introduced plant (it comes from the Caucasus and Central Asia). It arrived in the U.K. in Victorian times, being used as an ‘ornamental plant’ – perhaps to add ‘architectural interest’ to gardens.
By the late Nineteenth Century, the Giant Hogweed had spread from the gardens where it had been cultivated, and was to be found ‘wild’. It is now to be found across most parts of England, and is found on verges, hedges and rough ground. Like the Himalayan Balsam, it is associated with rivers and river banks. The Giant Hogweed spreads by seed, and is dispersed by wind and water (swept along in streams and rivers). Read more...
The quagga mussel was discovered in a river near London recently and many are concerned about the havoc that it might wreak not only on native freshwater species, but also the damage that it can cause by blocking pipes, fouling lock gates and boat hulls. A number of species from the Caspian and Black Seas have made their way across Europe and are now poised to invade the U.K. The woodland blog has previously reported on the threat to native ladybird species due to the ‘invasion’ of the UK by the harlequin ladybird.
Now Dr Bethan Purse, an ecological modeller at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Dr Helen Roy, have investigated the spread and distribution of the harlequin ladybird in different U.K. habitats. Dr. Purse was able to make use of the data collected in the UK ladybird survey. Read more...
Wild parsnip is the progenitor of the cultivated parsnip; it is a plant of rough, dry grassland and ‘waste’ ground by roads and railways (favouring chalky / limestone areas); it can occur in public parks. The root is edible but the shoots and leaves should be handled with caution as their sap contains photo-sensitive chemicals (FURANOCOUMARINS) such as Xanthotoxin. These chemicals help protect the plant from its enemy the parsnip webworm. However, these chemicals can cause a skin reaction – phytophotodermatitis (more likely on bright, sunny days). This reaction is not dissimilar to a chemical burn – reddening, blisters and burning – visit the poisongarden website to see images showing the reaction to the sap; affected areas may remain visible for some time. Read more...
Much has been written recent in recent years about the ‘dangers’ posed to our native flora & ecosystems by ‘alien’ invasive species. Introduced species such Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), and Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) have been cited as ‘drivers’ of ecosystem change – alongside habitat loss, pollution and over-exploitation.
However, voices have been raised to express concern over certain native species that can grow rapidly producing large amount of biomass (or indeed necromass – think bracken dying down in late autumn) and how they may be impacting on our flora, particularly plants of the woodland herb or field layer. Read more...
Cats have been been 'domesticated' for many thousands of years, and currently stand as the most popular pet in the world (according to Wikipedia). It has been suggested that the Egyptians were the first to domesticate the wild cat. Though the association with humans probably pre-dates their domestication, recent research suggests that cats were attracted to ancient farming villages - perhaps by the supply of rodents (rats / mice). It is possible that cats are descended from african wildcats that 'self - domesticated' somewhere in the Near East. A kitten has been found buried alongside human remains in Cyprus; this dates from some nine and half thousand years ago.
However, more recently, the BBC’s Wildlife program focused on domestic cats and wildlife.
Dog mess has been a long-term problem in woodlands. As dog owners have been forced to clean up after their dogs in parks and streets over the last 15 years or so they have not always been so good at "picking up" in public woodlands or on footpaths in private woodlands. This could be because dog owners don't feel a need to clear up in "the great outdoors" or it could be that some people feel they are not being watched and can "get away with" leaving the dog's doings. A more charitable view is that in woodlands people leave their dogs to roam more widely and dog mess * left without the owner seeing what has been done or indeed exactly where it was done. Read more...