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Barking up the wrong tree?

Barking up the wrong tree?

by Lewis ~ 31 July, 2020 ~ comments welcome

In their natural environment, giant sequoias are to be found only in a high and narrow area on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.  Like, bristlecones, giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are a long lived species - their life span can be 3000 years.   However, their most spectacular feature is their sheer size - they can reach heights of 300 feet with a trunk that may be 20 feet  or more in diameter.  Indeed, the world’s largest tree (by volume) is General Sherman - a sequoia estimated to have a volume in excess of 52000 cubic feet.

The trees are not only long lived but ‘tough’.  They have protection against fire and rock fall, both of which are hazards in their home habitat.  Protection is afforded by their bark, which is very fibrous and can be up to 3 feet thick. Read more...

Leaf fall and litter.

Leaf fall and litter.

by Chris ~ 17 April, 2020 ~ comments welcome

The autumnal fall of leaves in deciduous trees is a well recognised event; their changing colours prior to being shed often make for spectacular displays - the New England Fall. Evergreens (with certain exceptions) do not undergo a similar loss of leaves but that is not to say that their leaves are forever green or permanent.  Indeed, each year, evergreens have a seasonal drop of their needle-shaped leaves, it is normal part of the tree’s cycle.  The leaves / needles of conifers have varying life spans; they are not a ‘permanent fixture’. 

Many conifer needles will turn yellow then as they age, falling off the tree after one to several years. This change can be gradual or in some species quite rapid.  White Pines (Pinus strobus) typically retain their leaves for 2 to 3 years, whereas Scots Pines (Pinus sylvestris) usually retain their needles for three years. Larches, which are conifers (Larix sp) are somewhat unusual in that they shed their leaves every autumn.  The stress that a tree experiences through drought may result in more rapid browning and greater loss of leaves. Read more...

Earth, wind and fire - now rain and hail.

Earth, wind and fire – now rain and hail.

by Chris ~ 7 February, 2020 ~ 2 comments

Australia has experienced some of the most dramatic effects of climate change - with the unprecedented burning of vast areas of its countryside (see previous blogs).  Recently, the weather turned to another extreme - thunderstorms, hailstorms and rain.  Large hailstones (the size of golf balls or bigger) have bombarded cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, damaging roofs, cars, trees, and infrastructure.  Flash flooding has occurred in some places due to heavy rain, plus there have been high winds and dust storms.

Whilst rain has been welcomed in that it has helped to ‘damp down’ some of the fires that have been raging, the intensity of the rain is not without problems in places. Heavy rainfall can result in further damage to ecosystems. Read more...

HC-leaf

Europe’s threatened trees

by Lewis ~ 20 November, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Recently, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) carried out a survey of the state of trees through Europe, specifically related to their risk of extinction.  There are some four hundred native tree species spread across Europe.  

Trees are not just essential for life on Earth (generating oxygen through photosynthesis) but they also provide food and habitats for hundreds of species - birds, mammals, insects, spiders etc. The loss of tree species has considerable ‘knock on’ effects in terms of the biodiversity of an area. Trees also provide us with timber and other materials (cork, cellulose, oils). Read more...

Bushcraft and survival skills at the Ultimate Activity Company, near Hereford

Bushcraft and survival skills at the Ultimate Activity Company, near Hereford

by Angus ~ 28 March, 2019 ~ one comment

I’ve never opened a tampon before, so my newfound friend Tamsin showed me how. Then I started unpeeling it to find it’s really just compacted cotton wool. Tampons turn out to be ideal for lighting a fire if you don’t have matches because they are really compressed cotton wool and can be lit with a small spark. I did have a fire steel in my survival kit box and just like our friendships, we were soon creating sparks and warming up.  We were at the Ultimate Activity Company’s short course on what to do in the wild when things go awry.

Andy, our trainer, with his background as a marine, explained the imaginary position we were in: on a sailing trip eight of us had moored our boat in a sheltered sea loch on the west coast of Scotland and during the night the wind riled up causing the boat to hit a rock. It sank, leaving us just enough time to get off with little more than what we stood up in (along with my survival kit in a watertight tin).   Two of the crew had gone off to get help - leaving six of us to survive outdoors, perhaps for several days. Read more...

Wood, wood burning and wood burning stoves.

Wood, wood burning and wood burning stoves.

by Lewis ~ 4 March, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Wood is made up of three main chemicals - cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin.  Cellulose is a long chain-like molecule made up of glucose residues; it is the main component of both hard and soft woods.  Hemi-cellulose is chemically more diverse than cellulose - with a variety of sugars present such as xylose, mannose, galactose & arabinose.  Lignin is a very complex chemical, again a polymer with much cross linking.  The lignin binds to and holds all the components of wood together.

When wood is burnt completely about half the mass of the wood is converted to carbon dioxide, and about half to water.  This process releases large amounts of energy - approximately 20MJ per kg.  This represents light energy that the tree trapped through photosynthesis.   What is termed the primary combustion of wood is the burning of the solid material - the embers, the charcoal, whereas secondary combustion is the burning of the gases /fuels producing the flames of a fire. Read more...

Shellfish, fires and forest productivity

Shellfish, fires and forest productivity

by Chris ~ 30 December, 2018 ~ comments welcome


The loss of woodlands and forest across the world is but another example of human interference with natural ecosystems.    Tropical forests are raided for their exotic hardwoods or subject to wholesale clearing for ‘cash crops’ e.g. oil palms.  However, it would seem that this destruction is nothing new.    

Professors Kaplan and Kolen have analysed soils for ash and suggested that the early (hunter-gatherer) settlers in Europe lit fires to clear the ‘wildwood’ so that grassland or more open woodland / steppe-like areas would develop.    Read more...

Fires and climate change

Fires and climate change

by Chris ~ 17 July, 2018 ~ one comment

The recent hot spell has seen a number of fires, not only in the UK but across the world (Arizona , Victoria Australia, Indonesia).  Spells of extreme heat (and drought) have been known throughout history but it would seem that with climate change / global warming extreme events have become more common.   Data show that the years of the 21st century are among the warmest on record - global air temperatures have risen by 1oC since the industrial revolution.

Extreme temperatures have been recorded in many places across the globe.   Ouargla in Algeria soared to 124.3o F (51.3oC), Denver recorded at temperature of 105o F, Montreal recorded 97.9o F, Glasgow hit 89.4o F, Shannon in Ireland reached 89.6o F, Tbilisi (Georgia) soared to 104.9o F and parts of Pakistan are reported to have reached 50oC.   No record by itself can be ascribed to global warming but these and many other records across the globe are consistent with the extremes that can now be expected (more often) in a world that is warming - as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels increase due to human activity (we have entered the anthropocene).

Hot and dry conditions mean that plant material can dry out quickly, so that a thicker layer of pant material / litter is formed - which provides significant fuel for fires.   Studies of some areas suggest that the increased Winter and Spring rainfall (again associated with climate change) encourages plant growth, creating more material for fires (when dry conditions obtain later in the year). Read more...

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