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Flower colours and insect visitors

Flower colours and insect visitors

by Chris ~ 17 May, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Flowers are the means by which plants attract pollinators.   Pollinations leads to fertilisation and fertilisation leads on to seed formation and the propagation of the species.   For plants, like sunflowers, the pollinators are insects - so the plant displays something bold and eye catching for them.   However, the brilliant yellow and orange colours that we see are not what an insect sees or is attracted by.   Insect eyes (compound eyes) see the world very differently - one key difference is that unlike us, insects can see ultra-violet light.   Sunflowers (and many other plants) take advantage of this fact by incorporating UV absorbing pigments in their structure; so what we see as a ring of colour with a darker centre is for insects a more complex set of of rings. Read more...

In praise of Pines.

In praise of Pines.

by Chris ~ 11 May, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Pine trees are found across the world, there are over one hundred different species.  Many are native to the coniferous forests  (Taiga) of the Northern Hemisphere.  Their evergreen needles (leaves) offer shade in summer, and the trees may offer a degree of shelter from the winds of autumn and winter.  Gardeners and foresters 'like' Pines as they generally tolerate nutrient poor and somewhat dry soils.   In the period after WW2,  considerable areas of ‘low grade’ land were pressed into service (in the U.K.).   Areas around Thetford and Kielder were used, as were some sandy coastal sites (for example,  Holkham in Norfolk) and many large tracts of land in Scotland.  Pines are central to the business of agroforestry in places like the U.K,  New Zealand and Brazil, providing a source of lumber.    Read more...

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (and arboretum)

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (and arboretum)

by Chris ~ 25 April, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Whilst in Edinburgh recently, I was able to visit the Royal Botanic Garden.  This garden dates back to 1670 when it was established as a physic garden; now it consists of some 70 acres of landscaped grounds close to the city centre (and easily accessible on one of the tourist buses).  During the last 100 years, three Regional Gardens have also been acquired –  Benmore in Argyll; Dawyck in the Scottish Borders and Logan on the  southern peninsula of Dumfries & Galloway.  Together they constitute one of the world’s largest collections of living plants (the Edinburgh garden also houses the Herbarium - which is 'home' to some three million specimens). Read more...

Lignum Vitae - A wood so unique it was used in the first nuclear-powered submarines

Lignum Vitae – A wood so unique it was used in the first nuclear-powered submarines

by Oliver ~ 20 April, 2018 ~ one comment

Lignum Vitae, Latin for the ‘tree of life’, has a set of properties that cause a newfound awe in natural materials. Also known as Ironwood, it is the hardest and heaviest traded wood, being 3 to 4 times the hardness of English Oak. It was the alleged medicinal properties of Lignum Vitae which have earned it the title ‘tree of life’.  Sometimes brewed into a tea or as a herbal medicine; historically - it was used to treat symptoms of gout, arthritis and syphilis. Its properties / uses are still being explored. Read more...

Trees as indicators of erosion

Trees as indicators of erosion

by Chris Colley ~ 19 April, 2018 ~ comments welcome

We are all familiar with the idea of coastal erosion,  houses near the cliff edge or situated on sandy dunes fall away as the shore is battered by high tides and fierce  winds - this has been seen most recently at Hemsby in Norfolk; sometimes whole communities disappear into the sea (think Dunwich). Many areas of the East Anglian coast have been and are subject to the ravages of the sea. Read more...

UK government's 25 year plan - what does it mean for our trees and seas?

UK government’s 25 year plan – what does it mean for our trees and seas?

by Angus ~ 15 April, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Early in 2018 the government launched its 25 year environment plan which covers everything green that they could think of from water to waste, and from chemicals to climate change.  It's full of the usual good intentions mostly for far off dates when current politicians will either be drawing comfy pensions or themselves will have become integrated into the environment.  But it does have some specific plans for our woodlands and our oceans.

For forestry in England there is a specific tree-planting target which the Woodland Trust have been actively lobbying over many years - the plan aims to increase tree cover by 180,000 hectares before the end of 2042.  Read more...

The Monthly Mushroom: Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

The Monthly Mushroom: Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

by Jasper ~ 11 April, 2018 ~ comments welcome

Looking for fungi in the wild is one thing, but if you really want to get to know your mushrooms, what better way than to grow your own? With growing kits for a good number of different varieties available from various shops or online sources, it is not quite the dauntingly complex process you might think (see final image below).

By far the easiest to cultivate at home are Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus sp.), which thrive on a variety of substrates. Paul Stamets’ seminal Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (2005) contains photos of them thriving on straw, corncobs, human hair, wood chips, old clothing and even a straw-stuffed armchair.  The most common of the “exotic” types to start making their way into our supermarkets over the past couple of decades, the Oyster mushroom owes its name more to its shape than its delicate taste and texture. Read more...

Plants and pollutants

Plants and pollutants

by Lewis ~ 6 April, 2018 ~ comments welcome

There are plants that we like, and some that we don’t.  In the latter category, there are weeds - the plants that grow in the ‘wrong places’.  The plants that we like include those that we eat (crops), those that we grow for timber, for pharmaceuticals or for aesthetics / pleasure.  However, we now can add other uses for certain plants - namely phytoremediation and phytomining.

Phytoremediation involves the use of plants to ‘extract’ heavy metals from contaminated land.  Land can become contaminated with potentially harmful metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, copper) due to mining activities.  Read more...

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