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Nurture the soil

by blogs at woodlands ~ 7 May, 2021 ~ comments welcome

We tend not to think about soil very much, except perhaps when digging over a tough patch of weeds in the garden or if we see it being stripped from dry fields in a strong wind.  We take soil for granted though we rely on it for our food - almost totally.  Soil is a very thin layer covering the outer surface of the Earth.  The earth’s crust varies in thickness from 3 miles in oceanic regions to 30 miles in continental areas - by comparison most soils are shallow and have little depth.

Sadly, the earth’s soils have been neglected and squandered throughout history.  In America and Canada, deep ploughing of the prairies and subsequent drought left the ‘unanchored soil’ exposed to wind erosion. Read more...

Tree planting - then and now

Tree planting – then and now

by blogs at woodlands ~ 30 April, 2021 ~ comments welcome

The Flow Country is a large area of peatland and wetland in the north of Scotland (Caithness and Sutherland). It is one of the largest expanses of blanket bog in Europe. It is characterised by deep layers of peat and bog pools.   Wetlands, like this,  are important  as

  • They offer a significant wildlife habitat and
  • They act as mitigating agents in terms of climate change (locking up large amounts of carbon).

However, some four decades ago, parts of the Flow Country were planted with conifers,  there were financial incentives to  this planting; namely :

  • grants were available towards the costs of planting
  • other costs were tax deductible so investors spent only 20p for every £1 of capital invested
  • prospectively, income from timber was to be virtually untaxed.

This ‘forestation’ of wetlands is now generally regarded as a mistake, not only damaging a unique environment but leading to increased carbon emissions.  Now it seems possible that similar mistakes may be made again.    Read more...

'Knock on' effects of drought.

‘Knock on’ effects of drought.

by blogs at woodlands ~ 23 April, 2021 ~ comments welcome

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...

April’s Fungi Focus: Anatomy of a Slime Mould - Trichia decipiens

April’s Fungi Focus: Anatomy of a Slime Mould – Trichia decipiens

by Jasper Sharp ~ 13 April, 2021 ~ 2 comments

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...

Butterfly management & conservation: the Duke of Burgundy at Denge Wood, Kent 

Butterfly management & conservation: the Duke of Burgundy at Denge Wood, Kent 

by Claire ~ 12 April, 2021 ~ comments welcome

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...

Moorlands, peat and bogs.

Moorlands, peat and bogs.

by blogs at woodlands ~ 9 April, 2021 ~ comments welcome

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...

"tropical nights' and greening our cities

“tropical nights’ and greening our cities

by blogs at woodlands ~ 3 April, 2021 ~ comments welcome

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...

How plants defend themselves in an ‘arms race’.

How plants defend themselves in an ‘arms race’.

by Chris ~ 29 March, 2021 ~ comments welcome

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...

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