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UK wildlife, gaining ground but losing numbers ?

UK wildlife, gaining ground but losing numbers ?

by Chris ~ 22 May, 2020 ~ comments welcome

Nearly every report that one comes across says that many plant and animal species are under threat.   The causes are many but may be broadly summarised as 

  • Fragmentation, loss or destruction of natural habitats (as a result of intensive and extending agriculture, roadways, railways etc)
  • Pesticides and pollution (e.g. neonicotinoids, eutrophication as a result of fertiliser use)
  • Impacts of climate change

Some of the changes are more obvious in every day terms than others, for example, the drop in insect numbers is revealed by the car windscreen ‘test’ : the splatometer.   A survey of insects hitting car windscreens in rural parts of Denmark [using data collected between 1997 to 2017] found a decline of some  80%. There was a similar decline in the number of swallows and martins, (they depend on insects for their food). Read more...

The lasting effect of Rhododendron ponticum in woodlands.

The lasting effect of Rhododendron ponticum in woodlands.

by Chris ~ 20 March, 2020 ~ comments welcome

Atlantic oak woodland is often referred to as the Celtic Rainforest.  It is characterised by lichen covered trees, together with a rich moss and liverwort flora.  The environment is damp and humid, with streams and waterfalls contributing to this. These woodlands have evolved under the influence of the Gulf Stream,  which helps keeps the area warm (and wet).

The difficult access and rugged terrain (in some areas) has helped to preserve these woodlands, plus they have not proved suitable for agriculture or ‘industrial forestry’.  Consequently, in many areas,  they have remained in their 'ancient state', going back to the last ice age.  Their sessile oaks are very important for wildlife but as they are not always productive of good timber, they have often been left to grow to maturity.  By the same token, Birch trees have relatively low timber value - which has been their salvation.  Woodlands like this were more extensive in the past covering the Atlantic fringe of Western Europe from North West Scotland down to the South of Portugal.  This type of woodland is rich in terms of biodiversity (primroses, violets, wild garlic, ferns and grasses) and some species are only to be found here and nowhere else in the world. Read more...

from wiki When a fire rages through a woodland or forest, lots of ash and other ‘material’ is left on the ground. From this debris, fungi are amongst the first forms of life to appear. Often these are the fruiting bodies of what are termed pyrophilous fungi. That is to say, they are fungi that cannot complete their life cycle without a fire and shortly after a fire, their fruiting bodies - the mushrooms appear. Quite how and where these fungi survive in between fires has long been debated. Now some answers have been provided by mycologists at the University of Illinois. It would seem that in between fires, these fungi ‘hide’ in mosses and lichens. The Illinois mycologists proposed that the fungi were present in the structures of various mosses and lichens and the burning of their ‘home’ initiated a reproductive phase of development. To test their working hypothesis, they collected soil samples, mosses and lichens from burned and unburned areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The samples were surface disinfected to remove any spores etc that might have been present on the outside, but then the lichens and mosses were examined in detail to see if the fungi were indeed present within their structures. One ‘fire-loving fungus’ - Pholiota highlandensis, was cultured from various moss samples and DNA studies confirmed the presence of other pyrophilous fungi in various moss and lichen species. The mosses and lichens may be acting as ‘protective shields’ that burn away during fire, but allow the fungus to survive. The soil temperatures during a fire would see a reduction in the number of other micro-organisms in the soil, so the lack of immediate competition would favour the pyrophilous fungi - as would the increase in soil alkalinity. It is known that pyrophilous fungi ‘prefer’ more alkaline condition for spore germination and growth of the mycelium (compared to other soil fungi). Pyrophilous fungal DNA was also found in the burned and unburned soil, so it is quite possible that their spores persist in the soil for long period of time but the fungi will only form fruiting bodies (sporocarps) after a fire. Quite what the exact trigger for this behaviour remains to be determined. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pholiota_highlandensis,_Carbofil1.jpg Аимаина хикари

Fungi that ‘need’ a fire

by Lewis ~ 28 November, 2019 ~ comments welcome

When a fire rages through a woodland or forest, lots of ash and other ‘material’ is left on the ground.   From this debris, fungi are amongst the first forms of life to appear.  Often these are the fruiting bodies of what are termed pyrophilous fungi.  That is to say, they are fungi that cannot complete their life cycle without a fire and shortly after a fire,  their fruiting bodies - the mushrooms appear.   Quite how and where these fungi survive in between fires has long been debated.   Read more...

Introducing woodlandsTV videos on LICHENS

Introducing woodlandsTV videos on LICHENS

by Chris ~ 24 September, 2019 ~ comments welcome

In winter, woods can seem a bit ‘naked’ and empty. Trees and shrubs have entered into a dormant state in order to survive the rigours of the winter months. Their buds await the signals that herald Spring. Many birds will have migrated to warmer climes, some animals will be hibernating. Many insects will be spending the winter as eggs or pupae, whilst herbaceous plants will over-winter as seeds, corms or bulbs. 

But on the bark of many trees and on the surfaces of fences and walls, there will be lichens they are there in summer, winter, spring and autumn.  Lichens are rather unusual in that they are an amalgam of two (or occasionally three) organisms : a fungus and algae. They are symbiotic systems, where two partners work together for mutual benefit (occasionally there are more than two partners). The fungus makes up the bulk of the lichen’s structure (known as the thallus), but the algae (green algae or cyanobacteria) are essential as they can photosynthesise and provide the organism with carbohydrates.  The nature of the biochemistry and physiology of the lichen symbiosis is largely due to the pioneering work of Dr David Smith at the University of Oxford in the 1960's and 70's. 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...

Woodland types : Oak woodlands

Woodland types : Oak woodlands

by Chris and Stuart ~ 26 June, 2015 ~ 3 comments

Woodlands contribute substantially to the character of the countryside, clothing the sides of valleys and hillsides, forming copses and wider swathes of wood.  The amount of woodland varies from county to county, in some areas broadleaved woodland dominates whereas others have a preponderance of coniferous plantation.  The national average for woodland cover is about 8.3%, with Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire being some of the most ‘wooded’ counties.  The oak is perhaps one of our largest native, broad-leaved trees.  There are two native species of oak; the sessile oak (Quercus petraea) and the pedunculate oak (Quercus robur). Oaks are (generally) long-lived trees that grow quite slowly, compared to other broadleaved species. Both the pedunculate and sessile oak (and their hybrids) can grow to be very large trees.   Old trees can have a circumference of 10+ metres. 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...

Mosses - indicators of nitrogen pollution.

Mosses – indicators of nitrogen pollution.

by Chris ~ 29 September, 2012 ~ 2 comments

Nitrogen pollution, in the form of nitrates, ammonia and various oxides of nitrogen, is a threat to ecosystems, ecosystem services and biodiversity.   Monitoring and measuring such pollutants in rain and air borne particles is expensive and, ideally, needs frequent samples.

It has been estimated that some 400,000 tonnes of airborne pollution are deposited over Britain each year.  Research by Dr H Harmens et al at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Bangor) has indicated that there may be a simpler and cheaper way of gauging nitrogen pollution  - through the assessment of the state of local moss populations. Read more...

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