Climate change is affecting all parts of the world, from the melting of the ice caps in Antarctica, to droughts in Australia and California. On a more local level, we may see changes in our rainfall pattern. Certainly for many parts of the UK, it has been a very dry start to the Spring, coupled with some very cold nights.
Cold and dry weather affects plant growth in significant ways. Warmth is needed for a plant’s enzymes (catalysts) to work, speeding up reactions and allowing growth. Similarly, if water is in short supply, growth is stunted. Plants do not realise their full ‘potential’, they are smaller overall as is the number and size of flowers that they produce. Flowers attract visitors by colour, size and scent; or combinations thereof. Smaller and fewer flowers, in turn, have ‘knock-on effects’ for their pollinators - bees, bumble bees, hoverflies etc. Read more...
It is that slime mould time of year again, and so a fitting excuse for me to return to a subject so dear to my heart that I’ve already written about it here and here in previous blog posts, as well as authoring a full-length book on the subject entitled The Creeping Garden to tie in with the documentary film of the same name.
In fact it’s always that slime mould time of year, although different species seem to be more prevalent at different points in the calendar. In March and April, for instance, the False Puffball (Reticularia lycoperdon) is commonly reported. At some point very recently it appears to have inherited the common name of ‘Moon Poo’, derived from the Spanish sobriquet ‘Caca de luna’ under which it is known in certain Mexican communities. Its silvery grey blobs, up to 10cm in diameter and with a slightly pinkish sheen, appear around eye level on standing tree trunks, making it particularly conspicuous at a time when other larger fungi have all but disappeared. The vivid sulphurous yellow Flowers of Tan slime mould (Fuligo septica) is more a Summer species. It too seems to have captured the imagination of a certain sector of British nature lovers, who have come to refer to it as the Dogs Vomit slime, although historically this rather unpleasant label has referred in Britain to a wholly different white species usually found on grass, Mucilago crustacea, with its new application making its way over from the North American vernacular. Read more...
The Duke of Burgundy (Duke) is a beautiful rare butterfly which has a colony in Denge Wood. Its two main populations there are at Bonsai Bank (Forestry England) and the Warren (Woodland Trust), with individuals found in other parts of the wood linking them. They fly in May, with a few emerging in late April if the weather is warm, and by June they are gone until next year.
Dukes are small butterflies, being not much bigger than a thumbnail when they close their wings. The males and females look the same unless studied closely, but behave slightly differently. The males tend to bask in the sun and perch on vegetation up to 1.5m high. They are quite territorial, so can often be seen flying to battle with interlopers. The females are more secretive, and can sometimes be seen laying eggs on Primroses or Cowslips. Dukes sometimes take nectar from flowers and particularly seem to like Wood Spurge. Read more...
Scottish moorlands often stretch uninterrupted towards the horizon, a mosaic of greens and browns. The tallest plants growing only ankle high. but even so, walking may require careful attention. There are hummocks covered in heather (Calluna vulgaris) and / or cotton grass (Eriophorum spp.) but inbetween, there may be somewhat soggy patches of sphagnum moss. Lying beneath the moss, heather and sedge is peat – this is a nutrient-poor, but carbon rich mass of partly decayed organic matter.
Plants growing in the bogs are rooted in the peat, but are also contributing to ‘new peat’ as they grow. As their leaves wither and die, they drop into the acidic and watery surroundings – a process that has been going on for possibly for millennia . Read more...
Much of England experienced a series of ‘tropical nights’ last summer, when night time temperatures were 20oC or above. These tropical nights were associated with the heat wave that affected most of south east England. Central London experienced its longest stretch of extreme daytime temperatures since the 1960’s - temperatures of 30+oC were recorded on six consecutive days. A number of experts have said that such heatwaves and associated tropical nights are likely to become more common as a consequence of climate change.
We were not alone in experiencing high temperatures by day and night, much of western Europe sweltered in the heat this August. The problem was most marked in urban areas and large cities. Some three-quarters of the population of Europe now live in urban areas. Extreme heat affects our health causing general discomfort, malaise, respiratory problems, headaches, heat stroke, heat cramps and heat-related mortality. Read more...
Plants and their ‘predators’ i.e herbivores have been engaged in an “evolutionary arms race” for millions of years. The blog has already explored how thorns, prickles etc act as a defence against larger herbivores. But what about the caterpillars, aphids that feed upon leaves, bark and other tissues ? Thinking of plants as just passive organisms would be wrong; they have a number of strategies that can be deployed. Read more...
Two decades after were first returned to the UK, in Scotland, and 400 years after the species was hunted to extinction in Britain, counties across England and Wales will also become home to new beaver families. Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK some 4000 years ago. A number have been reintroduced in Scotland and the South West, but this year should seen more re-introduction in Wales, the Isle of Wight, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It is hoped the beavers’ activities will help restore/create wetland habitats, boosting biodiversity and reducing flood risks. Further details of these reintroductions can be found here.
As the woodlands blog has reported, peatlands are often under threat, for example, by fire. The Wildlife Trusts has called on the Government to do more to protect and restore our carbon rich habitats. The peatlands of the UK are estimated to store 3.2 billion tonnes of sequestered carbon - more than UK woodlands.
London is to introduce a green space system in the coming months - termed the Urban Greening Factor (UGF). The Green Space Factor is an innovation of the City of Berlin in 1994, The plan calls for the various boroughs to implement urban greening practices. Ideas behind the plan have also come from the Swedish city of Malmö. Here, the Western Harbour (20-minutes from Malmö’s centre), was essentially 175 acres of contaminated soil and deserted docklands, subsequent to decline of the city’s shipbuilding industry. But now, it has been redeveloped with new apartment blocks - each of which is complemented by a green space area. There are parks, social courtyards and meeting spaces which offers beds planted with a native herbs and wildflowers. There are also stormwater drains and ponds that offer opportunities for wildlife.
The impact of the road network.
Our road network is extensive. There are nearly 700,000 km of road across the UK, which cover some 0.8% of the land. Roads permeate nearly every part of the country. Roadless areas are in short supply; they are mainly upland regions (peat bogs, moors, heathland and grasslands). Pollution from roads can take many forms
- Light pollution,
- Noise pollution,
- Heavy metals,
- Nitrogen oxides
- Particulates (PM2.5 & PM10)
Whilst high levels of pollution are localised and associated with the busiest roads, a recent study (by researchers at Exeter University and the CEH) suggest that low levels of pollution from road networks are pervasive, and may extend over 70% of the land area of the UK.
As the woodlands blog has reported, hedges can help block pollution to some degree and this has been substantiated by work done by Dr Tijana Blanusa et al at the Royal Horticultural Society. They investigated the effectiveness of hedges in ‘soaking up’ pollution, comparing different types of shrubs/trees - such as hawthorn and western red cedar. They found that on roads with heavy traffic that a species of Cotoneaster (franchetti) was 20% more effective than other species; though shrubs with ‘hairy’ leaves were generally effective in ‘trapping’ particulates.
Nearly 60 Million Game Birds Released in the UK Each Year. We often see and hear Pheasants in Woodcock Wood during the winter, and occasionally hear the sound of guns that herald their likely demise. But it wasn’t until I saw the recent reports from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) that I recognised the real significance of this annual event. According to recent research it was estimated that in 2016 up to 47million Pheasants and 10 million Red Legged Partridge were released in the autumn. At the time of release the biomass of the game birds was more than twice the biomass of all native British breeding birds, and this number is increasing year on year. Neither the Pheasant nor the Red Legged Partridge are indigenous British birds. Admittedly, the Pheasant has been around a long time in Europe, having been introduced from Asia during Roman times. The Red Legged Partridge is a close neighbour from southern Europe, and a relative of our British Grey Partridge. Read more...