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Mini-meadows of wild flowers

Mini-meadows of wild flowers

by blogs at woodlands, 12 August, 2022, 0 comments

The decline in insects numbers, especially pollinators is a cause for concern.  Insect numbers have fallen as natural ecosystems have been lost or disrupted by the expansion of farming and urbanisation, plus the increased use of pesticides and herbicides. The loss of insects not only affects the pollination of many commercially important plants, but also affects the animals and birds that feed upon insects.  So, there are knock on effects throughout food chains and ecosystems. Plantlife has launched a number of initiatives, such as  No Mow May,  Transforming Road Verges Saving Meadows to help offset the decline in insect numbers.  Now work done in Professor Goulson’s laboratory at Sussex Univeristy by Janine Griffiths-Lee (a PhD student) suggests another approach to increasing insect / pollinator levels in urban settings.  Her research has demonstrated that creating a small patch of wild flowers in gardens can go some way to address this fall in insects numbers.    She and colleagues managed to enlist the help of some 150 volunteers distributed across the UK (many were members of the Buzz Club*). Each volunteer set aside a wild flower area  - a mini-meadow (two metres by 2 metres).  Some  of the volunteers then sowed the mini-meadow area with a commercial seed mix of wild flowers, others sowed a seed mix designed / thought to be ‘beneficial to pollinators’. A third group did not receive wild flowers seeds but were asked to set insect traps and record insects in their gardens in the same way as the two ‘wild flower seed groups’. The results were interesting and revealing. The mini-meadows proved to be resource-rich habitats, with an increased numbers of wild bees, more bumblebees, solitary bees and also wasps (when compared to the control group with no wild flower seed sowing).  There were differences in the insect populations for the two groups of seed.  The commercial mix attracted more solitary bees and bumblebees, whereas the ‘designer mix’ of seeds attracted more solitary wasps.  There was no difference in the number of hoverflies that visited the two types of wild flower rich mini-meadows.  Solitary wasps, whilst not pollinators, are important in that they prey on a number of insect pests of fruit and vegetables. Clearly, the planting of small areas in gardens with wild flowers could do much to encourage the numbers and variety of insects / pollinators visiting (or possibly help control the damage done by insects pests).   * The Buzz club is a citizen science initiative.  The UK has a tradition of using the enthusiasm of volunteers to collect data for ecology research.  The Buzz Club projects are focused on gardens - see here.  Membership of the Club is free and the research projects are generally involve no cost.  You might be asked to supply simple equipment or to cover the cost of sending samples back to the club based at Sussex University. Should you sign up then you will receive : A ‘thank you’ email from the team! Information direct to your inbox of new projects being planned. A newsletter about what your data is telling us.  Professor Goulson has previously written a blog about bumblebees for woodlands.co.uk
Veteran trees and an ancient swedish oak

Veteran trees and an ancient swedish oak

by blogs at woodlands, 8 August, 2022, 0 comments

Veteran trees may be defined by a number of features: age size; condition; history; position. Neither age nor size in themselves define veteran status. These features have to be viewed in relation to typical values for each tree species.  Thus, a one hundred year old birch or willow might be ‘deemed’ a veteran but a one hundred year old oak or yew would be a youngster.  To be termed a veteran, a tree should show some of the following features the trunk should be large (for the species) decay holes in parts of the trunk the trunk may show signs of damage and/or bark loss dead wood in the canopy fungal fruiting bodies often present (from heart rot fungi) epiphytes, such as mosses and lichens are present the tree supports a rich variety of different species the shape or position of the tree is of interest the tree may have cultural or historical interest, some  were used as gallows! Some veterans achieve their status through the management of the tree, such as pollarding or coppicing.  There are thousands of ancient trees in the UK and the Ancient Tree Inventory not only offers a way of finding ancient trees across the country but also you can add details of trees). Veteran trees can be found in many countries, though the may go under different names. In Australia, veteran or ancient trees are often connected with the social, cultural, and legal practices of the aboriginal peoples.  In Italy, an Albero Monumentale (‘a monumental tree’) is defined under National Law [number 10, 14th January 2013]. In Sweden, the oldest oak (Quercus robur) is the Rumskulla Oak , also known as the Kvill Oak. It is found in Kalmar County, Småland.  The name Rumskulla derives from its older form Romfarakulla ( = Rome + travel + hill); the area was a resting place for pilgrims that  to made the journey to Rome. It is one of the largest trees in Scandinavia, being some 14 metres (46 feet) high and with a trunk circumference of 13 metres (43 feet). Its girth is still increasing.  In the severe winter of 1708-09, the crown was was damaged and much lost. The tree is over a thousand years old and was first described in 1772.  The tree is now supported by iron bands and wire.  Like many veterans, its centre is hollowed out and it is covered with mosses.   There are many holes, cracks and crevices.   The Rumskulla Oak is registered as a national natural object of interest, with the Swedish Heritage Board. Thanks to Fredrika for the photos.
Too hot, too dry.

Too hot, too dry.

by blogs at woodlands, 4 August, 2022, 1 comments

The UK has experienced some of the highest temperatures ever recorded in recent weeks, and in some parts of the country this has coincided with very low levels of rainfall.  It was the driest July on record for East Anglia, southeast and southern England, according to provisional statistics from the Met Office.  July was also the first time the UK exceeded temperatures of 40°C: on 19 July during an intense heatwave.   These conditions are not without their effects on wildlife.  Whilst warmth can accelerate plant growth and development, and also speed up insect life cycles, but the recent very high temperatures have significant effects, for example:  Drying of the soil As the soil dries, so earthworms burrow down deeper.  Insects, woodlice, spiders, etc avoid the surface of soil, hiding in litter so birds like song thrushes, robins and blackbirds struggle to find something to eat. Consequently, they are less likely to produce a second brood of chicks. This scarcity of invertebrates also affects ground feeding mammals, like hedgehogs (and badgers in more rural locations). Wetland areas dry out; for example grazing pasture that floods in winter - like the Ouse Washes.  This makes it difficult for birds to find food. Lack of water for plant growth Reduced rainfall and high rates of evaporation from the soil (and plants) mean that there is considerably less water available for plant growth.  The growth of leaves is reduced so that there is less material for caterpillars and other insects to eat.  With fewer leaves , there are also reduced surfaces for butterflies and other insects to lay eggs. High temperatures High temperatures and lack of water can affect many animals (including us). Rivers are running at very low levels and some have more or less disappeared.  DEFRA’s latest assessment of principal salmon rivers, such as the River Test shows that 74% of rivers in England are now ‘at risk’. The Environment Agency has noted the flow rate in the Waveney as 'exceptionally low', while other rivers in East Anglia like the Great Ouse  the  Yare, and the Little Ouse are described  as 'notably low'. The young of birds like swallows and swifts are at risk of fatal overheating (the young and old of various species are often more susceptible to heat stress).  Bumblebees cannot forage at high temperatures. Their bodies are covered with ‘hairy coats’ so they can fly when it is cool; but these become a burden in hot spells.High temperatures also shorten flowering time, and hence the availability of pollen and nectar for pollinators (bees, bumblebees, overflies, butterflies). Wild fires. [caption id="attachment_35352" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Woodland recovering from a fire[/caption] High temperatures increase the risk of wild fires, especially on moorland and heathland.  These fires can spread quickly and over wide areas. Young chicks (e.g. Dartford Warblers), eggs, snakes, lizards, small mammals, dragonflies and butterflies are lost.  Accumulated nutrients and stored carbon are lost from the ecosystems. The site of Springwatch Wild Ken Hill in coastal Norfolk suffered an intense fire during the recent hot spell.  The area is home to turtle doves, the grasshopper warbler and other rare birds.   It is hoped that most escaped but mammals, reptiles and amphibians, late-nesting and juvenile birds may not have fared well.   Grassland and woodland fires have also been reported at various sites across the country.  The UK is not alone in facing these problems, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, France and Germany have all lost many thousands of hectares to wildfires. [caption id="attachment_38699" align="aligncenter" width="700"] what was once was grass .....[/caption]  
Recycling in a wood?

Recycling in a wood?

by blogs at woodlands, 3 August, 2022, 1 comments

It may be that a dead hedge is just that, your once carefully manicured box hedge which has now been ravished by the box moth.  However, in terms of managing your woodland, a dead hedge may have a different meaning. Here, a dead hedge may be a barrier to an area of new planting, it may be a way to ‘persuade’ people to keep to a footpath, or keep away from a pond / stream.   The dead hedge will be made from the bits and pieces that have be culled in clearing and thinning operations within the wood, material that foresters sometimes refer to as ‘lop and top’ and tree surgeons call ‘arisings. It can also include material cut from brambles and climbers such as ivy, honeysuckle and Old Man’s Beard (Clematis). Using natural materials to create barriers (and indeed) a habitat in a woodland is a way of using ‘waste’ in an ecologically sound way.  It saves having to remove trimmings from the site and offers opportunities to ‘top up’ the hedge if desired.  Obviously diseased materials should not be used.   Creating a dead hedge from clippings and trimmings is a way of using natural materials, rather than plastic & other materials that do not readily decompose.  A dead hedge will be an effective barrier for a period of time but it will break down sooner or later as bacteria and fungi break down the woody remains (lignin and cellulose).  The disappearance of the hedge will take time as the branches twigs etc are largely off the ground, so relatively dry and decomposition is facilitated by warmth and wetness. After its initial ‘construction’, the hedge will become part of the woodland, it will be colonised by some plants and it will offer shelter, nesting sites for birds and small mammals, and a ‘home’ to many different invertebrates, such as woodlice, beetles, even certain species of bumblebees.  As the hedge deteriorates, that is, decomposes, so the soil will gain in humus and fertility as the nutrients from the decaying wood etc are released through the detrital food chains.   Another way of using / recycling bits from pruning, clearing etc is by Hugelkultur.   Hugel beds are basically raised beds with a difference - they are filled with rotting wood and other biomass.  They are packed with organic material, nutrients and air pockets. Such beds can be an effective way of creating a productive area for growing fruits and vegetables in your woodland.  There is a woodlands blog about hugelkultur here. Large chunks of wood e.g. sawn up tree trunks can be stacked up in small piles and will over time make an excellent home for many invertebrates but especially xylophagous (wood eating) insects, for example,  saproxylic beetles.  These are beetles that live / eat in dead wood.  In the UK, some 600+ beetle species (from 53 different) families are associated with deadwood. Some feed on the deadwood itself (often with the aid of symbiotic bacteria in their gut), others feed on the fungi that are gradually ‘dissolving’ the wood.  Ants and wasps sometimes make their nests in dead wood.   Using wood to increase the organic content of the soil is good in terms of  carbon sequestration,  improving soil fertility,  water conservation and  productivity.  
Woodland web updates : 19

Woodland web updates : 19

by blogs at woodlands, 29 July, 2022, 1 comments

Shade and stress. Shade (low light intensity) causes plants to elongate, reach up to the light to ‘outgrow’ the competition.  Such ‘elongated plants’ are said to exhibit etiolation.  However, there is a point when this strategy is counterproductive.  The plant simply cannot outgrow its taller neighbours, it is wasting resources and becoming weaker.  So plants in deep shade do not generally use this strategy.  Deep shade is detected by the phytochrome pigment system and ‘relayed' onto the plant’s circadian clock, the internal ‘daily time piece’.  This internal clock has various components and particular genes, some of which have an additional role in suppressing stem elongation (that would normally occur when shaded). Welsh woodlands and insect pollinators. A recent study across many different sites in Wales has revealed the habitats favoured by pollinators such as bees, overflies and butterflies.  The research found twice as many insects in broad leaved woodlands as compared to grassland areas.  They also found that farmlands without hedgerows had significantly fewer insects.  Both hedgerows and woodlands include trees such as oak and maple, which offer varied niches for pollinators.  They provide food (leaves) for larval stages, pollen and nectar for adults, plus egg laying sites and shelter. In Wales, there are plentiful grassland areas (mainly due to farming) with woodland only contributing 15% of land cover.  However, the Welsh Government aims to plant 180,000 hectares of new woodland by 2050.  New woodland will not only contribute to tackling climate change (through carbon sequestration) but will also do much to promote insect biodiversity. Sludge as fertiliser Sewage sludge is commonly spread across farmland as a form of fertiliser (throughout Europe).  Sewage sludge is the residual, semi-solid material that is the ‘by-product’ of sewage treatment of industrial and / or domestic wastewater. Sometimes, referred to as biosolids. It is a sustainable / renewable source of nutrients and reduces material going to landfill or incineration. The use of sludge has attracted attention as it can contain: Breakdown products of various medical / pharmaceutical that have been excreted / eliminated from us and / or animals, such as hormones, antibiotics, various drugs Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic  Industrial chemicals / breakdown products PCB’s, dioxin Now, research at Cardiff University has shown that micro plastics in sludge are a problem; these are plastic particles less than 5 mm in size. It estimates that between 31,000 and 42,000 tonnes of micro-plastics are applied to European soils each year.  They are a threat to wildlife as they are easily ingested and can carry / contain toxic chemicals and may pass along the food chain.  The UK was shown to potentially have the highest level of microplastics in its soils, followed by Spain, Portugal and Germany.  
Rethinking the British countryside - more trees, fewer sheep?

Rethinking the British countryside – more trees, fewer sheep?

by Angus, 25 July, 2022, 0 comments

Perhaps it all started with a "No-shave November" (or "Movember") when men realised that they could go for a month without shaving and no one would mind.  It may also have been good for them as they thought more about men's health and they let nature take its course.  A few years later people started wondering about other habitual cutting, such as mowing their lawns religiously.  "No Mow May" was invented in 2019 by Plantlife with the idea that less cutting of grass would allow wildflowers to flourish.  The official reason for this concession to conservation was to allow the wild flowers and pollinators to thrive, but it may also have become popular because it allows maintenance teams to work a bit less hard during May.  In any event it's now so popular that about 36% of lawn owners now join in every year.  But it's spilled over well beyond just the month of May - many owners of lawns have questioned whether they really want so much short grass when alternatives are more interesting - and better for wildlife.  Even at the 2022 Chelsea Flower show there were several gardens demonstrating rewilding. So rethinking the scorched earth policy has now spread from men's chins to gardens and parks - but will it spread further?  What about our hillsides? For eighty years we have been intensively grazing these with sheep and cattle as if our lives depended on it - which maybe they did in 1942, when war-time convoys of food from the US were being torpedoed.  Even after grazing ceased to be a necessity sheep continued to dominate our hillsides with grants to sheep farmers making it profitable to use their four-legged lawnmowers at scale.  Farmers even grubbed out hedges in the 1970s, described by Oliver Rackham as the locust years, which made the countryside look even neater and tidier.  According to DEFRA there are currently about 32 million sheep in the UK, a third of them in Wales.  Land used for rough grazing and grassland makes up about 50% of the UK's total land area.  So for several generations now the UK has used half of its land to raise animals for eating, but times are changing rapidly.  Whereas those with meat-free diets used to be a tiny minority their numbers are growing rapidly - already at least 14% of the population is meat-free and for those of university age (18-23) the number is up to 25%, and rising. The combination of reduced demand for meat and increasing awareness that we can happily stop cutting the grass is prompting a rethink of how we use the British countryside.  Much of the grazing land is not suitable for growing agricultural crops so that leaves owners wondering what to do with their land.  Some are choosing rewilding in various ways but usually with far fewer grazing animals, longer grass and more wildflowers. [caption id="attachment_38426" align="aligncenter" width="600"] 'rewilding' of roadsides and verges[/caption] Others are planting trees and creating new woodlands.  Where the land is sold it's often to people who want to plant trees or simply to fence out sheep and allow "natural regeneration" allowing trees to self-select and grow on their own.  It's an appealing project for many families to take on 5 acres of grazing land, plant trees and convert it into a wood of their own. This re-evaluation of how grazing land is used is happening right across the world as plant based diets become more popular and there is potential to re-establish wilder habitats.  It's good for carbon emissions - not only because woodland fixes carbon but also because rewilding cuts the number of grazing animals releasing methane: belching by sheep and cattle creates a third of the total emissions of UK agriculture. Despite this, there may be resistance from the powerful National Union of Farmers which mostly represents bigger farmers and which promotes farming as an industry.  Farmers already complain about reductions in headcounts of livestock - since the peak in 1992, sheep headcount is down by about a third.  But it's also about the way the grant system is structured - millions of sheep only exist because of the farm payments, financed by taxpayers, and the condition of receiving these annual grants is that "unwanted" vegetation and wild plants have to be removed.  So even if the sheep don't chomp up biodiversity the farmers have to do it to get their grants. [caption id="attachment_21282" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Sheep grazing around solar array[/caption] Even beyond this suppression of diversity, sheep and cattle are damaging in many other ways such as compacting the soil which contributes to flooding and droughts. Meanwhile the number of men keeping their beards after no-shave November has increased and there are more gardens and parks with wild meadows so maybe the much bigger revolution in rural land use might follow. Governments have had it within their power for decades to reform the grant system but real change may be driven by people's behaviour - eating less meat and planting up their own woodlands.
How does rewilding help climate change?

How does rewilding help climate change?

by Honey Wyatt, 22 July, 2022, 0 comments

We are in the midst of a climate emergency: temperatures are rising, and in February 2022 the UN warned that more than 3 billion people are living in areas that are highly vulnerable to global warming, putting their lives at risk. Scientists suggest that rewilding could be one of the best climate solutions available to offset greenhouse gas emissions and to protect our lives and ecosystems. Rewilding involves restoring ecosystems and natural processes, and though at first it will require strict ecosystem management in order for it to be successful, the aim is that rewilding nature will allow it to then be able to ‘take care of itself’ and repair the damage made by humans. It’s estimated that restoring natural ecosystems could provide 37% of the greenhouse gas mitigation that’s needed for us to prevent the warming of the planet above 2 degrees celsius by 2030, so it should not be underestimated by national governments as a strategy to offset their emissions and restore the ecosystems of their countries. Ecosystem restoration Rewilding can restore ecosystems, allowing them to reach their full potential for fixing carbon, helping to offset greenhouse gas emissions through their own natural processes. Due to the fact that trees absorb carbon through the process of photosynthesis, it’s estimated that regenerating fully establishing forests will sequester 10 tonnes of CO2 per hectare from the atmosphere.  Meanwhile, restoring peatlands (which store more carbon than the world’s rainforests, but of which 80% have been damaged by draining, extracting, burning and overgrazing) will allow them to once again reach their full potential of sequestering carbon. Damaged peatlands in the UK release 23 million tonnes of carbon CO2 (or equivalent) per year, which is more than all of the UK’s oil refineries combined; restoring them will reduce this significant strain on the environment.   Restoring these ecosystems will also provide habitats for a large range of wildlife, which also play a crucial role in preventing climate change. The flora and fauna of an ecosystem are essential for its maintenance and conservation— they prevent catastrophic events like species’ extinction, flooding and wildfires. In fact, herbivores can have a massive effect on atmospheric carbon levels, so restoring their populations and allowing them to roam freely will mean they’re able to trample and compact soils and sediments, and increase the amount of carbon that’s absorbed and stored in plants, as well as impacting the natural growth of flora by redistributing seeds and their grazing. In the coming decades, as the effects of climate change worsen, reintroducing native plant and wildlife species will improve both the resiliency and carbon sequestering abilities of an area. It has also been shown that biodiverse environments are able to absorb more carbon, with each additional species introduced adding up to 6% in its total carbon stocks. Rewilding will benefit humans too of course, and not just in major ways (ie. protecting our livelihoods from the effects of climate change) but also by blurring the boundaries between the human and natural worlds, which will benefit our mental and physical health. There are also economic opportunities that can arise from rewilding, such as nature-based tourism.  Where is rewilding happening? There are many rewilding organisations across the world and in the UK, several of which have undertaken successful rewilding projects, restoring the carbon sequestering capabilities and increasing the numbers of species in different areas. Rewilding Europe have identified that after a decline in populations of several wildlife species, such as beavers, elks, whooper swans, and white-tailed eagles, they are finally increasing again. The Serengeti went from being a major source of carbon emissions to a sink after the wildebeest population were restored, and now sequesters between 1-8 million tons of carbon every year.  Rewilding has endless potential across the world, too: restoring forest elephants to their historic levels in the Congo basin could lead to it sequestering 85 million tons of carbon each year (the equivalent to France’s annual emissions) while rewilding and conserving the functional role of vertebrate and invertebrate species could supposedly magnify carbon uptake 1.5-12.5 times or more across terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.  The finance and politics of rewilding In the UK, Rewilding Britain has been calling upon the government to make a bolder ‘financial and political commitment to nature’s recovery,’ including developing policy for an ‘economy-wide carbon pricing mechanism linked to carbon emissions’ in order to raise money to fund rewilding projects. Though the Prime Minister has pledged to protect 30% of the UK’s land and sea by 2030 to allow it to recover and rewild, Rewilding Britain has suggested that there is not enough of an incentive for industries that contribute most to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, such as the agricultural industry, and that the UK government have only attracted 2.5% of the funding that would be needed for the mitigation of greenhouse gases in this country. Instead, they propose a ‘polluter-pays’ approach whereby there is a mandatory price attributed to carbon emissions that the polluter must pay (they suggest £40 per tonne which would yield a maximum of £17.4 billion per year), which could then be reinvested into rewilding and conserving the natural environment. There would also be annual payments made to those who make efforts to offset carbon by restoring landscapes according to how much carbon (or equivalent) each landscape has the ability to sequester; woodlands would be £413 per hectare; salt marshes £322/ha; peat bogs and heathlands £292/ha; ponds and lakes £404/ha; offshore ecosystems £161/ha; and species-rich grasslands at £204/ha, with the payments being capped at 1,000 hectares per individual.  How to get involved in rewilding: Rewilding has the potential to make a significant contribution towards preventing the effects of climate change, but its full potential being reached relies on our international governments stepping up to the task of making sufficiently bold policy that incentivises farmers to restore landscapes, as well as businesses to pay the costs of their greenhouse gas emissions. The question is, how can the general public get involved in rewilding? There are lots of options available, whether that’s starting small by rewilding your garden by planting native wildflowers, to buying land with the intention of rewilding and conserving it, to volunteering for organisations such as Rewilding Europe, or writing to your local council to encourage them to leave roadside verges uncut. You might even consider providing funding for rewilding projects. Education about the rewilding benefits is also severely lacking, so raising awareness about how rewilding helps climate change is another way to get involved. No matter how we get involved, it will all contribute to the fight against climate change, so let’s get to it!
July Fungi Focus – Beefsteak Fungus

July Fungi Focus – Beefsteak Fungus

by Jasper Sharp, 18 July, 2022, 1 comments

Beefsteak Fungus. The very name seems to suggest a choice edible, something meaty, tasty and substantial. The Latin name, Fistulina hepatica, sounds more like a medical condition. The hepatica part means ‘liver’, for this is what the fruiting bodies look like: dark reddish-brown, wedge- or tongue-shaped and weeping large droplets of a crimson exudate that looks much like blood. Slice the relatively soft flesh of this large bracket and it has the marbled appearance of a steak. I think all but the most ardent forager would probably concur that the Beefsteak Fungus doesn’t taste remotely as good as it looks. Firm and juicy turns to wet and floppy in the pan, but if that isn’t enough of a deterrent, then the overpowering sour acetic taste will be. Like many woodland fungi, this species is best left where found to fulfil its primary function of distributing spores and providing food for more appreciative woodland denizens. The Beefsteak Fungus should be appearing in woodlands from any time now until mid-Autumn and is pretty easy to spot. Compared with other brackets, it is soft and pliable. It reaches about 30cm in diameter and 5cm in thickness and a thick stem can often be seen attaching it to its host. Its upper side ranges from flesh-pink when young to deep chestnut red-brown when mature. However, it is the yellowish underside, which also bleeds when cut, that provides the real clincher for identification. Rather than a surface pitted with pores, the Beefsteak Fungus has a thin layer of densely grouped tubes that hang down separately from one another rather than be embedded in the pore layer itself – this is where Fistulina (“little tubes”) part of the name comes from. These characteristics make it a unique fungus in Europe, where it is the only species in the Fistulinaceae family. You certainly won’t need a microscope to look at spores or suchlike to identify it, you’ll be relieved to hear. While it can be found on related trees like chestnut, the Beefsteak grows primarily on oak, usually fairly low down the trunk, and occasionally on stumps. More specifically, this brown-rotter favours older oaks, and with the UK boasting some 120 million oaks, with our 49,000 veteran or ancient oaks totalling more than all other European countries combined, we should feel particularly blessed. While the Beefsteak Fungus is a fairly common site in Britain, in several other countries it is considered rare. It is on the red list of legally protected species in Poland, to name one but one such example. There’s a potential problem even here in the UK, however. According to the Woodland Trust, Oaks can be considered “veteran” or “notable” when they reach the age of 150 years. After reaching 400 years, they are classed as ancient, and some can go on to live up to 1000 years. It is not just tree-huggers who should be up in arms by such incidents as the recent felling by Peterborough Council of a 600-year-old oak to avoid a potential insurance claim involving two houses on an estate built around the tree just 30 years before.  Ancient oaks support an astonishing biodiversity; not just lichens, mosses and a rich array of insects and other invertebrates, but birds, mammals and of course, fungi. According to the Standing Oak Tree Fungus Survey, of which more later, oaks support over 2,300 species (this is not including all the fungi and other microbes), of which 320 are endemic to oak and a further 229 only rarely found on any other trees. More can be read on oak biodiversity on the sites of the Woodland Trust, The Ancient Oaks of England and ActionOak. Ancient oaks support species that younger oaks can’t, and so Peterborough council’s announcement it would plant 100 new trees to mitigate the environmental impact caused by its destruction should be seen as the greenwash that it is. One of our big problems in the United Kingdom is that over the past century or so, we have been rather remiss in our protection of oaks, and come the inevitable loss of our oldest species, we are missing the new generations to replace them and therefore hosts for the numerous animal, plant and fungi species that depend upon them. In relation to fungi, the Beefsteak Fungus is safe for the moment, but there’s one other species in the UK that is considerably more at risk. The Oak Polypore (Buglossoporus quercinus), a large bracket found on ancient oaks in openly grown settings, is one of only four species on the Red List of legally protected species in UK.  It is believed to be present in “350 localities in Europe (incl. suspected unrecorded localities).” It is more prevalent here than the rest of Europe however, due to such relatively safe enclaves as the Windsor Crown Estate. But host and habitat lost are the main threats to the very rare fungus which, for such sad but inevitable reasons, I have been unable to find and photograph. This brings me back to the Standing Oak Tree Fungus Survey, spearheaded by Richard Wright as part of a PhD research project under the Action Oak initiative aimed at mapping the fungal diversity of Britain’s oaks of and assessing “their interactions, and their effects on the life of tree”, depending on such factors as their age and location. The project started in 2020 and is intended to run until 2023. There’s obviously a huge amount of data that needs collecting and crunching through for this, and this is where you, the Citizen Scientist, can play a role. The project openly encourages the involvement of “anyone who can tell a chicken-of-the-woods from a beefsteak” (easy – one is yellow; the other is red!), by reporting their finds on an app that can be downloaded from the project’s website here. There’s also the dedicated Standing Oak Tree Fungus Survey Facebook group that can be joined for more details and discussion. [caption id="attachment_38542" align="aligncenter" width="675"] Caption: Chicken or beef? The sulphur yellow layered brackets of the Chicken-of-the-Woods.[/caption] I emphasised the importance of more people taking an active interest in fungi in my post earlier this year.  : ‘Mycophilia and Recording the Fungal Diversity of the United Kingdom’.  Mycology can be a daunting and difficult subject, but this project provides a great starting point for those who wish to dig deeper. Englands oaks need you!

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