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The opening of the woodland canopy.

The opening of the woodland canopy.

by blogs at woodlands, 6 May, 2022, 0 comments

Certain woodland plants are found in the understory.  Plants like wood anemones, woodruff and lungwort bloom early in the year. These plants make use of a ‘window of opportunity’ when the light levels are good as the tree canopy has not developed, the leaves have not yet expanded. They use this ‘window of light ‘ to flower.   However, climate change is affecting many ecosystems - including woodlands.  With warmer temperatures, leaf buds tend to open earlier and the leaves begin to expand.  If the window for growth is reduced, how can the wood anemones and others cope ? [caption id="attachment_38093" align="aligncenter" width="700"] wood anemone[/caption] To investigate this question, scientists based the Universities of Tübingen and Frankfurt examined thousands of preserved herbarium specimens of early flowering plants, dating back over a hundred years.  The sheets not only hold specimens collected when they were flowering but also have  information on ‘when and where collected’.  Each sheet is a a moment in time from over a century ago.  Collectively, the 6000+ sheets allowed the scientists to establish historic flowering times of woodland plants over large areas of Europe. [caption id="attachment_38094" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Woodruff[/caption] The information extracted from the herbarium records revealed that plants like wild garlic and wood sorrel now bloom some six days early than at the beginning of the twentieth century.  For each 1oc rise in (Spring) temperature, their lowering has advanced by more than 3 days.  This means that they have gained time in the light - in an open canopy.  Whilst they may have gained time,  these early flowering plants are at greater risk of frosts.  It may also be that their pollinating agents may not be around - unless they too have brought forward their development / life cycle. There is some evidence that such changes are taking place.  Recent work at Wytham Wood (outside Oxford) has shown that blue tits have moved forward their egg laying to 'match' the development of the oak canopy, and the appearance of caterpillars (on which the young are fed).  Essentially, the timing of the food chain has changed..  Hopefully, such changes will occur in different ecosystems across the country.
veteran tree

Veteran trees and veteranisation.

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

A thousand years ago, significant areas of the country were devoted to wood pasture, that was grazed by livestock.  As time passed, much of this became royal hunting forest - a mixture of woodland, coppice, open land and farms.  As the woodlands were managed (through traditional techniques such as coppicing and pollarding), many of the trees were able to grow to maturity.  They became veteran trees.  Trees such as beech reach maturity after some 200 years, oaks take 400 years and yew 900+.   Such veteran trees can be seen in areas like the Savernake (south of Marlborough) and Sherwood Forests. Saverrnake has veterans like the Big Belly Oak, and Sherwood has the Major Oak.  Sadly, since the nineteenth century many veteran trees and ancient woodlands have been lost due to the expansion of agriculture, housing development and road & rail creation.  Veterans have also been lost from hedgerows, many of which were grubbed out to enlarge fields to allow for increasing mechanisation. As oaks and beeches age so they change, they expand, trunks hollow, cracks and holes appear, heart rot develops and dead wood appears.  Each tree offers a myriad of micro-habitats.  Bracket fungi feed on the dead heart wood, as do stag beetle larvae.   Mosses and lichens live on the bark, attached to crevices that channel the rain down the trunk, bats, woodpeckers and nuthatches inhabit holes. Other birds (like redstarts) nest in the branches and twigs.  The decaying leaf litter beneath the tree offers sustenance to a variety of beetles, and fungi (e.g. oakbug milkcap).  English oaks are associated with more than two thousand species, and more than two hundred are directly dependent on the trees. The loss of so many veteran trees has resulted in an international project to determine if these trees can be ‘replaced’.  It involves a technique termed veteranisation. Younger trees are damaged in order to start the process of decay and ‘ageing’.  The process may include Creating woodpecker-like holes Creating nest boxes for birds / bats Breaking branches Damaging the bark / trunk - to simulate deer / animal damage Inoculation with fungi It is being trialed at some 20 different sites in Norway, Sweden and England.  The project started in 2012 and will run for some 25 years.  It is hoped that such ‘techniques’ could be used to accelerate the formation of veteran trees status with its associated biodiversity. Thanks to Angus for tree jpgs. For further information : https://naturebftb.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Introduction-to-Ancients-of-the-Future-Jamie-Robins.pdf https://www.gov.uk/countryside-stewardship-grants/creation-of-dead-wood-habitat-on-trees-te13 https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/media/1798/wood-wise-ancient-trees.pdf  (opens PDF)
January’s Fungi Focus – Netted Crust (Byssomerulius corium)

January’s Fungi Focus – Netted Crust (Byssomerulius corium)

by Jasper Sharp, 24 January, 2022, 0 comments

Crust fungi is a generic term referring to those species that grow flatly in patches that spread out against their substrate, typically on dead wood such as logs (on the side and underneath), or on stumps and fallen branches, although a merciful few may appear as unwanted guests in domestic settings, like the notorious Coniophora puteana (“Wet Rot”). Examples of crust fungi can be found throughout the whole year, but a few species are particularly noticeable around the winter months, when there’s little else of apparent interest around. The term ‘resupinate’ is often used to describe these types, which means that the fertile surface, or hymenium, from which they release their spores faces outwards, unlike conventional cap-and-stem types, where the hymenium is spread out over the gill area and faces downwards from beneath the cap.  With many of these species also forming shelves, with their uppermost margins projecting horizontally depending on the orientation of their substrate, some often find themselves described also as bracket fungi: indeed, a Facebook group dedicated to their identification, recording and photography is called Crust Fungi and Polypores. The most salient example is the Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum Hirsutum), which is a common sight in broadleaf woodlands in January and February. (Note however that the terms ‘resupinate’ and ‘bracket’ are just descriptive categories which don’t have any meaning when ordering the various species in strict biological terms.) Crusts don’t have gills, but the hymenium can either be totally flat, in species described as corticioid, or it can be covered in pores, as for example species like the Cinnamon Porecrust (Fuscoporia ferrea). They also might be covered in warts, wrinkles, teeth or fine hairs that you might need a hand lens to discern properly. Different species can be a variety of colours (including salmon pinks, vibrant yellows and fiery oranges to the more nondescript white and not-quite white types), while other distinctive features might be their toughness, thickness, and how easy they are lifted from their substrate. I’ve covered a number of these different forms in more detail in previous posts on Elder Whitewash (Hyphodontia sambuci) and my rare find of Antrodia carbonia, as well as those linked already in this post. Identifying crust fungi can be a daunting business, with literally hundreds of species in the British Isles alone. Most might be happy to pass them by unnoticed. After all, they have no culinary value. This makes them a much understudied groups of fungi among amateur naturalists. For those that care to take a closer look however, the can do show up some very attractive aspects. The Netted Crust is one such example. It is very prevalent during the early part of the year and relatively easy to recognise. From my experience, it tends to grow on, and indeed along, fallen branches and twigs that are quite thin, with the hymenium facing down but the margins of the fruitbody projecting outwards in long extended wings, a bit like a flatworm.  On thicker branches, it might also form brackets.  The flesh is white and soft: it is easily torn and removed from the branch, although with age becomes tougher, with the underside hymenium also tinging yellow-brownish. The upper side, if looked at closely is covered in fine downy hairs, which you might need a hand lens to see properly. It is, however, the underside where this species really shows off its most magnificent aspect. It is covered in a much more discernible intricate pattern of low, irregularly shaped grooves and ridges, a surface that mycologists refer to as ‘meruloid’ – hence the ‘merulius’ part of its Latin name, Byssomerulius corium, and the ‘netted’ part of its common name. The Netted Crust is one of the most commonplace and readily identifiable of the crusts, and as such provides a wonderful gateway into looking more closely at this surprisingly fetching domain of fungi. As ever in the woodlands, it’s a case of look closely and you’ll find a whole new world of interest, and undoubtedly one of the best points about resupinate fungi is that you can find them across the entire year.  
Promoting wildlife in gardens

Promoting wildlife in gardens

by blogs at woodlands, 7 January, 2022, 0 comments

Reports in the papers and electronic media have made us aware that many forms of wildlife are under threat.  This threat is wide ranging - from the destruction of tropical rain forests, coral reefs, the loss of species-rich meadows, the insect apocalypse - indeed where does this loss of plant and animal species end? One small positive observation amidst the doom and gloom is the findings of The Biodiversity in Urban Gardens project [BUGS] at the University of Sheffield.  The original study focused solely on Sheffield and finished in 2002, but  it was then extended to five cities across the U.K.    Professor K Gaston who led the study is now working at the University of Exeter.  The original study was important in that it revealed within Sheffield city, there was 33 km2 of wildlife habit was available within the city 360000 trees in the city limits 45000 nest boxes 25000 ponds and  50000 compost heaps Furthermore, there were in excess of a thousand plant species (flowering plants, ferns and conifers) and a diverse collection of invertebrates (bumblebees, hoverflies, beetles and spiders).  Whilst the diversity was in no way comparable to that of an ancient woodland (with veteran oak trees etc) or indeed of wetlands, it is significantly better than that found on farmland - particularly in those areas where the farming is intensive and characterised by monocultures (e.g. oil seed rape extending to the horizon).  Farmland now occupies some 70% of the landscape. Gardens, parks and urban areas are therefore an important resource for wildlife.  It is important as house building proceeds, on both brown and green field sites, that the associated gardens continue to provide ‘sanctuaries’ for wildlife, for example, by avoiding large areas of hard standing for cars (which also encourage  rain / water run off - which can overwhelm the drainage systems).  Professor Gaston has emphasised the importance of ‘dimensional complexity’ in gardens; that is a variety of trees, shrubs and plants of different shapes and sizes.  This provides a range of different niches / habitats for wildlife.  Of course,  in gardening to promote wildlife, there are the additional benefits (for householders) of physical and mental well-being.   Remember later this month, there is the Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB. For further information, click on the image below:- [caption id="attachment_36525" align="aligncenter" width="670"] Ladybird 'stalking' aphids[/caption]

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