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Making walking sticks - from stems picked out of the woodlands

Making walking sticks – from stems picked out of the woodlands

by Angus ~ 3 October, 2014 ~ 11 comments

Peter Jones and his sons make walking sticks on a serious scale using sticks they come across in the woods, where they do their forestry work.  They use chestnut, silver birch, oak and hazel.  But they avoid using willow, as it goes brittle once it's aged.  Apart from finding the right stick to work on they need a steamer for bending the tops of the walking sticks and a good supply of sealant and varnish for protecting the finished sticks.

"Honeysuckle makes the best twist sticks" advises out Peter Jones, who comes across a lot of twisted stems in Kent and East Sussex.  As a result, he is able to trade these with fellow stick makers in more northern English areas - they give him carved tops for walking sticks in exchange for good twisted shanks.  But even among twisted sticks there is variety: the slower growing trees such as holly and oak twist more slowly whilst the fast-growing chestnut twists quickly.  Though he also corrected me pointing out that the maker of walking sticks should really be called a "stick dresser" Read more...

Atlantic Oak Woodlands - our "temperate rainforest"

Atlantic Oak Woodlands – our “temperate rainforest”

by Angus ~ 11 April, 2014 ~ 5 comments

There are some rare but beautiful woodlands around the coast of Britain nick-named the "temperate rainforest".  Yesterday, I visited one of these woodlands in North Wales and was mesmerised by it - ancient oaks and birch which had little timber value but immense ecological value - trees covered in different mosses, a carpet of soft and varied bilberries and ferns.  The wood had a damp and humid feel that encouraged liverworts, lichen and fungus and there was no obvious trace of human intervention - it felt just right for dinosaurs!  Apparently these woods have evolved as a result of the Gulf Stream that keeps the area warm but also wet: this creates woodlands quite unlike any others in Britain. Read more...

The Natural History Museum - a summer walk

The Natural History Museum – a summer walk

by Chris ~ 21 August, 2012 ~ comments welcome

We recently had an email from Hannah Wise at the Natural History Museum.  She felt that as our blog deals with many aspects of the British countryside that we might like their short films / videos featuring Natural History Museum botanist Dr. Fred Rumsey. Each film is only a few minutes long and Dr.Rumsey talks about some seasonal flowers and plants that you can discover out and about in the UK.

The latest films are Summer Walk and The bee orchid.  In the summer walk, Dr. Rumsey discusses coastal plants and their adaptations as found at West Wittering Beach in West Sussex. Read more...

The holly leaf miner : Phytomyza ilicis

The holly leaf miner : Phytomyza ilicis

by Chris ~ 18 January, 2012 ~ Comments Off on The holly leaf miner : Phytomyza ilicis

Phytomyza ilicis is a (dipteran) fly that lays its eggs in holly leaves.  It is one of the few insects that is able to make use of holly leaves as a food source and somewhere to live (when a larva).  The female fly lays eggs in the holly leaf (near the main veins or midrib – on the underside) using a thin tube or ovipositor.  The eggs are usually laid in early Spring when there are young and ‘soft’ leaves.  Older leaves have a thick and tough cuticle that is far more difficult to penetrate.  The larvae or maggots emerge from the eggs and tunnel their way along the midrib / veins emerging some time later into the lamina or blade of the leaf.  Here they feed on the photosynthetic tissues of the leaf – the palisade and mesophyll layers, creating a leaf mine (see featured image above).  The number of leaf mines per leaf is a maximum of three and often just 1 or two. Read more...

Unseasonal weather

Unseasonal weather

by Lewis ~ 13 December, 2011 ~ 4 comments

We have experienced an extended and warm autumn, and now true to Pliny's words -

"A fair and dry autumn brings in always a windy winter" - winter weather has now firmly settled upon us.  The temperature is down to "more representative" seasonal values for December, and cold, high winds have recently lashed Scotland and other parts of the U.K.

The warmest Autumn (for some 300 + years) was in 2006, when the temperature was some 2.4 / 3 oC above the seasonal average ; places like Kinlochewe recording a daytime temperature of 22.5 oC.   The recent mild weather * was due to an unusual pattern of high altitude winds over the Continent.  The course of the jet stream meant that there were southerly winds and relatively settled conditions over the United Kingdom.


Holly - a really useful tree

Holly – a really useful tree

by Chris ~ 8 December, 2011 ~ one comment

In various older texts on botany and gardening, it is said that ' … in Germany, Holly abounds in many forests… In France, it is abundant, more particularly in Brittany.  The tree appears to attain a larger size in England than in other parts of Europe"  Certainly, in the past there were large areas where Holly was abundant. For example, Needwood Forest in Staffordshire. This was a significant and ancient Midlands forest. However, the Enclosure Act of 1803 allowed for the felling of large numbers of trees; this took some time to complete.  In his ‘Plant Book’, Professor David Mabberley notes that some 150,000 holly trees were taken from Needwood about this time, to provide bobbins for the cotton mills of Lancashire.  (Bagot’s Wood is said to be the largest existing piece of this ancient wood). Read more...

The National Forest

The National Forest

by Chris ~ 21 April, 2011 ~ 2 comments

The Countryside Commission had the idea of creating a new ‘National Forest’ in 1987 – to give a tangible expression of the benefits of trees and woodlands.  It also has a practical role in terms of demonstrating the importance of carbon fixation (through photosynthesis) and the importance of this in the amelioration of climate change.

The National Forest was and is a bold project, focusing on some 200 square miles of central England (parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire).  The area includes farmland and the relics of coalfields & mineral workings, with some pockets of ancient woodland – for example, Charnwood Forest to the east and Needwood Forest to the west. A map of the area of the National Forest can be seen here . Read more...

Leaf variation - Holly (and Ivy).

Leaf variation – Holly (and Ivy).

by Lewis ~ 17 March, 2011 ~ 5 comments

Holly leaves are prickly.   But the leaves of the lower twigs and branches are said to have more prickles than the those higher up the tree.   Ivy (Hedera) has lobed leaves but entire leaves can be found on the projecting branches (which bear flowers and fruits) – again often high up and in the light.

The range in variation in any species can be considerable – thinking about holly, their leaves may vary in :

  • The number of spines on a leaf
  • The number of spines on each side of the leaf
  • The length of the leaf (do longer leaves have more spines?) Read more...

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