A brief note to say that the Big Butterfly count is underway as from today (19th July), continuing through until the 11th August. This annual count is important as it allows ecologists to assess the impact of environmental / climate change on wildlife - identifying 'winners and losers' in times of change.
Phenology is about the observation of natural events, recording when things happen, for example, when horse chestnut and ash trees come into leaf, or when the first swifts or bumblebees are seen. These timings vary from year to year. Through the recording of natural events over many years, one can look for trends and see if they are correlated with changes in the weather or other phenomena.
Recent studies by researchers at Rothampstead, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the British Trust for Ornithology suggest that a number of different phenologies are changing. They looked at various insect and bird populations in a variety of different habitats (urban gardens, agricultural systems, sand dunes, grassland, woodlands etc). The broad conclusion was there was a “trend towards earlier phenologies for UK bird, moth and butterfly species across habitat types” . For example, aphids (which breed rapidly and can adapt to changing temperature quite quickly) now take flight some 30 days earlier in the year than fifty years ago. Such phenological changes have ‘knock on’ effects. For example, the earlier arrival of aphids can affect potato crops. Aphids spread plant viruses and young potato plants are more susceptible to viral disease than older, more mature plants. Read more...
Members of the kingdom of the fungi can essentially be divided into the two basic categories of basidiomycetes and ascomycetes. The basidiomycetes form and release their spores on specialised cells called basidia, which can be found on the underside gills of our more familiar mushroom and toadstool-shaped types, or within the pores of boletes and brackets and suchlike.
Ascomycetes, however, produce their spores in the elongated cells known as asci that cover their spore releasing surface. Each individual ascus can contain usually around 8 spores, like snooker balls in a sock, which then get released out of the end when ready: the word is derived from the Greek for wineskin or sac. Typically we might think of cup fungi, such as the various members of the Peziza genus, like the Blistered Cup (Peziza vesiculosa) depicted here, whose favoured substrates of well-rotted manure or compost heaps lends has led to its alternate common name of the Common Dung Cup. Read more...
The hedgehog was once a common visitor to urban gardens, but now its numbers are in steep decline. Our hedgehogs face a number of threats in the modern, urban environment. For example :
- Being hurt by a pet dog
- Being hit by a car
- Ingesting slug pellets (metaldehyde - a poison)
- Becoming entangled in netting for growing peas / beans
- Getting stuck in a discarded tin can
- Entanglement in discarded rubber bands
- Being burnt in a bonfire whilst hibernating / sheltering
- Being wounded by garden implements eg. strimmers
Woodlands and forests can help to slow global warming and associated climate change (which results in extreme heat, drought, floods and famine /poverty). Trees release water through transpiration into the atmosphere and ‘encourage’ rainfall. Trees also help to reduce air pollution, they provide habitats for wildlife and economic benefits in terms of employment for local people.
Governments across the globe are finally realising the potential of “natural solutions” to climate change, namely reforestation and ecological restoration of habitats – both of which allow for carbon sequestration - ‘locking up carbon into organic form’. It has been estimated that such natural solutions could go a long way towards stabilising global heating below the critical 2oC threshold Read more...
What is Xylella? Xylella is a bacterial disease (Xylella fastidiosa) that threatens many different and unrelated species of plant. It has come to prominence in recent years as it has devastated many olive groves [Olive quick decline syndrome (OQDS)] in Southern Italy. The bacterium has spread to other countries in the EU, including parts of France and Spain.
The bacterium can affect many different species of plants, causing a variety of diseases - for example, bacterial leaf scorch, coffee leaf scorch (CLS), oleander leaf scorch, phony peach disease, Pierce's disease of grapes (PD) and citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC) (which is of significant economic importance). Some plants can act as ‘carriers’, being infected with the bacterium but showing no obvious symptoms. This can contribute to the spread of the pathogen. Read more...
The woodlands’ blog has reported on outbreaks of bark beetles in the States and Canada but as of 16th January this year, measures were put in place to protect the UK from the larger eight toothed spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus). This beetle has been a problem on continental Europe for many years; it has been estimated that Germany lost some 30 million cubic metres of timber (between 1945 and 1949) to bark beetles. Spruce is a commercially important species, with perhaps some 800,000 hectares in the UK. On the continent, the beetle has also been found living in pine, larch and douglas fir. The beetle was found in Kent last December. The special measures restrict the movement of spruce in a 50 km area around the outbreak. Details of this area can be found here. Read more...
Following the First World War, the UK’s woodland coverage was at an all time low – just 5 per cent of total land area. The Acland Committee reported to then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, that state organisation would be the most effective way to bring about re-afforestation of the UK and plan for the future of British woodland.
As a result, the Forestry Commission was set up and, throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, it voraciously bought up land. The aim of the Forestry Commission was to ensure that there would be a strategic reserve of timber, so, as it acquired land, it began to plant - mainly with conifers .
‘Low grade’ lands (those that were less in demand for agriculture) were pressed into service such as areas around Thetford Chase and Kielder, as were some sandy coastal sites (e.g. Holkham in Norfolk Read more...