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stinging nettle

A sting in the tale?

by Chris ~ 25 September, 2020 ~ comments welcome

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are widespread across the UK.   They are found nearly everywhere; in woodlands, hedgerows, gardens and on disturbed ground. Nettles have been found in and around human settlements since the earliest of times; they probably formed part of the diet in Stone Age times.  Nettles also provided fibre for clothing.  A piece of nettle cloth has been found in Denmark's richest known Bronze Age burial mound (Lusehøj). It is associated with the burial of a rich and powerful man - after the burning of his body, his bones were wrapped in a cloth made from stinging nettles and then placed in a bronze container.

Stinging nettle pollen is often to be found in soil sample cores, suggesting it is one of our native plants though human activity and movement may helped it to extend its range.  Nettles can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions, though they seem to like moisture, and soils rich in nitrate and phosphate. In favourable conditions, they can grow to a metre or more in height. There are patches of stinging nettles that mark phosphate-rich debris from abandoned villages and sites of human occupation from more than 1500 years ago. Nettles have the potential to grow and expand in woodlands, perhaps aided and abetted by the increasing levels of eutrophication (nitrate / phosphate enrichment from air borne pollution).  Indeed, they can become 'botanical thugs' overwhelming other members of the ground flora  / herb layer.

Pollution and pollinators.

Pollution and pollinators.

by Chris ~ 18 September, 2020 ~ 2 comments

Plants and animals provide us with many important ecosystem services.   One critical ecosystem service is pollination; this is mainly done by insects - such as bees, bumblebees, moths and hoverflies. Insects are often attracted to flowers by scent, when volatile oils are released that act as chemical signals to ‘tell’ insects about their presence in the environment. This signalling is the result of a relationship between flowers and insects that has evolved over millions of years.  However, in relatively recent times, we (as a species) have been responsible for many changes to the Earth and its atmosphere.  Many gases and materials have been released into the air which have ‘mixed’ with the wide variety of natural scents and smells that are used for plant and animal communication.

One such pollutant at low levels is ozone. Higher up in the atmosphere, the ozone layer prevents too much damaging UV light from reaching the Earth's surface.  However, at ground level, the oxidizing potential of ozone can cause damage to respiratory tissues in animals. Read more...

September’s Fungi Focus: Green and Turquise Elfcups

September’s Fungi Focus: Green and Turquise Elfcups

by Jasper Sharp ~ 11 September, 2020 ~ one comment

I love this time of year. At the height of summer, wooded environments can feel gloomy, humid, oppressive and swarming with mosquitoes and other biting stinging things. September marks the seasonal tipping point when these habitats take on a new lease of life, as the things begin to cool down a bit and the more colourful and easily recognisable mushrooms, toadstools and other fungal forms start popping up in earnest. Of course, the fungi themselves have been there throughout the year. These fruiting bodies are only their temporary manifestations, like ghosts - transient hints as to the complex invisible processes and interactions constantly at work beneath the surface of the forest floor or whatever woody substrates that play host to the larger organisms. It is only in the coming months that we might truly appreciate the huge diversity of the plethora of species harboured within the fallen log that we might habitually take rest on, or the rotting fence post or tree stumps or whatever else that we use to orient ourselves around our favourite woodland haunts. Read more...

mowed roadside verge

‘Verging on the ridiculous?’

by Chris ~ 5 September, 2020 ~ one comment

It is clear that wildlife is in decline, not just in the U.K, but across Europe, America - in fact wherever you look. Over the last century, over 90% of meadows have been lost in the U.K.   This decline in natural habitats / ecosystems is largely due to urban growth and the expansion & intensification of agriculture.  Concomitant with the loss of natural habitats is the loss of wildlife.  One particular cause for concern is the ‘disappearance’ or decline in numbers of some many insect species, especially pollinators.  The woodlands blog has reported many times on honeybee and bumblebee numbers.`   Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies or hoverflies,  need to find food (nectar & pollen), plants on which their larvae can feed, sites for nesting, reproduction and over-wintering.

With the growth of cities and agriculture there has been an expansion of transport networks, particularly roads. There are more than 30,000 miles of major roads in UK in 2019, with some 2,300+ miles of that being motorways.   Roads clearly have a number of ecological impacts (dividing up the landscape being one) but they also offer ‘habitats’ alongside the road. Read more...

veteran tree

Forests and woodlands – absorbing carbon dioxide?

by Lewis ~ 4 September, 2020 ~ one comment

Forests and woodlands are important in the global ecosystem; they have taken up some 20 to 30% of the carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels in recent times. It had been assumed that the dense and biodiverse tropical forest ecosystems (close to the equator) were particularly effective in soaking up this carbon dioxide’.   However, there is doubt that this will continue to be the case as forests shrink in size.  Plus, recent work at the University of Birmingham (Dr Tom Pugh) has shown that where forests were re-growing,  they took up large amounts of carbon partly because more carbon dioxide was available,  but also as a result of the younger age of the trees. This youthful carbon uptake was not associated with tropical areas, but with regenerating forests of more temperate regions. Read more...

dry, cracked soil

Trees and water stress.

by Chris ~ 29 August, 2020 ~ comments welcome

Whilst it is not possible to attribute a particular weather event to climate change alone, what is clear is that climate change / global warming intensifies certain meteorological events. High temperatures and reduced rainfall have lead to the extreme fires seen recently in Australia and on the pacific coast of America.  Floods and periods of drought are now more common and the last two decades have seen some of the warmest years on record - in the U.K. .  Whilst too much water can result in the death of trees and plants as the soil becomes water-logged - so oxygen cannot reach the root -  drought also stresses trees and other plants.

Drought-induced death of trees is associated with the failure of the water transporting system (xylem), but the process is poorly understood. Tree, indeed plant survival, is dependent on a continuous supply of water to the leaves. Read more...

How does noise affect birds?

How does noise affect birds?

by Nicholas Gardner ~ 24 August, 2020 ~ one comment

Here’s a challenge for you: next time you’re outside any time between dawn and dusk, see how long you can last without hearing a single bird. Not long, I bet. Antarctica residents: you’re cheating. Needless to say, birdsong is everywhere, whether or not we happen to be listening. As you might expect, there is a long history of scientific research into the phenomenon. The beauty, complexity and sheer variety of sounds made by birds has captured the imaginations of countless minds from Keats to Darwin. Recently though, the focus of some biologists has shifted away from the whys and hows of birdsong, towards answering the question: is our increasingly noisy world having any effects on the way birds communicate? The short, emphatic answer: “yes”, but it’s a little more complicated than that…

Anthropogenic noise, or “noise pollution” is a big challenge faced by nearly all wildlife, and it’s only getting worse. As urban sprawls expand into natural landscapes, and human populations continue to grow at an alarming rate, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to escape the sounds of the modern world. Read more...

solar oven

Solar ovens and woodland cooking

by Angus ~ 21 August, 2020 ~ one comment

I couldn't get the gears on my bike to work so instead of going out I decided to make a cup of tea.  It may seem cumbersome but to make the tea I wheeled out my new solar oven, which is a large parabolic dish and once it's angled it towards the sun, its rays get concentrated onto the saucepan of water.  Actually as I write this, I'm drinking the tea made from water boiled by the said solar oven.  Like campfire tea it tastes especially nice - one enjoys it even more from knowing that it's made with renewable energy.

Our solar cooker only arrived last week and my son and I constructed it in about an hour.  The instructions were only in Chinese so some guesswork was involved and as with constructing IKEA furniture there were bits that had to be undone and turned around in the process.  We put together the six sections of the parabolic dish and then constructed the metal frame which goes on three wheels for moving it around easily. Read more...

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