Blog - Woodland Activities
Walking sticks and hazel nuts : Crith Wood
I purchased a small woodland in West Lothian in July 2020. It is ex-forestry commission woodland of about 4.75 acres. It had some open areas, gaps in its planting as a result of two gas-pipe easements through it. On one edge of the wood, there is a small river, the opposite boundary is a road. The parcel of woodland is one of several side-by-side blocks with common planting, mainly of larch, but with a fair number of hazel, oak, cherry, sycamore and a few stragglers of other species. I was attracted to this woodland because it had a mixture of well established trees, but also a good opportunity to plant out the unwooded areas (that might be a third of the area). Researching gas wayleaves, I found that the distance allowable for plantings from the actual pipeline varies with the species and size intended for the trees. There are simple restrictions on heavy plant digging along the route of the buried pipeline for obvious reasons. My main objectives in buying a woodland were twofold to have a nearby source of firewood (I live locally), and to add to a legacy for my adult children - an inheritance of something a little different. As an old saying goes – buy land, they’re not making any more of it! Initially I just visited the spot many times and got used to finding out what lives there, who goes there and what happens. Dog walkers use the area a lot, and trampled grass attest to their frequency. I’ve maintained their routes by trimming and mowing. but I also came across families of deer, and many different bird species. Despite there being over a hundred hazel trees, there seemed no evidence of squirrels; as yet I’ve never seen one. But what of these wayleaves? Wild meadowland is all very well, but these were more wild rushes land. Rushes abounded and the unplanted areas were almost 100% rushes. I researched a lot about these, and was keen to find a method of eradication that didn’t involve chemicals. I found it in an old fashioned scythe. Purchasing one and learning how to sharpen it, and use it to best effect, I found that after an initial foray with a sickle bar mower, the scythe was the best tool for keeping the rushes under control. Now after some eighteen months, I’ve probably got about a quarter of the rushes left and I am working to rid the wood of the rest. I don’t let them seed, nor get enough growth to keep going, consequently they’re dying. Planting Christmas trees would allow planting closer to the pipes / wayleaves. Off to a nursery in East Lothian I went and loaded up with a thousand Norway and Serbian Spruce seedlings. I’ve since bought another two hundred, so in total planted about 1200. Over 1100 survived the drought of summer 2021. And still I’ve found more space, so intend planting several hundred more, but will vary the varieties. I have also planted some willows from cuttings along the river bank. The hazels were an attraction. With more than hundred, perhaps even two hundred, it was obvious that they’d never been pruned, so I learned about that and set to work thinning them. This has led to making hazel walking sticks as a side hobby! I was looking forward to last autumn’s harvest, seeing the signs of the promised fruit early on and the developing nuts during the summer. Judging the right day to go and harvest them and expecting to fill a 200 litre drum, off I went. Imagine my surprise to find the ground all trampled and not a nut to be seen! This was the first sign of “squirrels”, ones that wear wellingtons!. I imagine someone has been harvesting them for years and how would they know that these now belonged to someone taking an interest in their land? My grandchildren have loved going “to the forest”. And their grandfather likes the quiet, the flora, the fauna and the peace, even without nuts! The above account with thanks to Geoff Crowley
November’s Fungi Focus – The Earpick Fungus (Auriscalpium vulgare)
Not all mushrooms have gills. Some, like the boletes, have pores on the underside of their cap. Others have arrays of downward-facing spikes that look like teeth. This third category are described as hydnoid, and include such aptly named species as the Wood Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum) and this month’s fungi focus, the Earpick Fungus (Auriscalpium vulgare), also known as the Pinecone Mushroom or Conetooth. These teeth, like gills and pores, constitute the ‘hymenium’, the fertile surface in basidiomycetes fungi on which spores develop and from which they are released. Look under a microscope at a mushroom gill or the inside of a pore or the edge of one of these teeth, and you will see it coated with thousands upon thousands of tiny spore-bearing structures known as basidia (as opposed to the other group of fungi, the ascomycetes, where the spores develop and are fired out from tubelike structures known as asci). These gills, pores and teeth are nature’s ingenious way of maximising the spore releasing area that contain the basidia. Two toothed fungi species - The Ochre Spreading Tooth and the Fused Tooth It should be pointed out that not all of the toothed fungi are of the mushroom-shaped cap-and-stem variety. There are also bracket and resupinate hydnoid types, like the Ochre Spreading Tooth (Steccherinum ochraceum) or the leaf litter-dwelling Fused Tooth (Phellodon confluens). However, all these examples point to the important rule I always emphasise when trying to identify fungi or taking a photo for someone else to do the job for you – always look underneath! To be honest, you’d find it pretty hard to mix up the Earpick Fungus with anything else at first glance anyway. Not only does its felty brown kidney-shaped cap, perched atop a slender but bristly stem, with row upon row of downward-pointing teeth on its underside, make it look like some weird alien monster you’d expect to see in a film like Little Shop of Horrors or in a Pokémon game. Its identity is also defined by its specific substrate of pinecones or other conifer-related litter. Earpick Fungus That is if you notice them in the first place. Earpick Fungi don’t tend to get much larger than 5cm in height and their caps reach around 3cm across at their widest point – as mentioned, the caps are kidney-shaped rather than circular, with the stem on one side of it rather than the centre. Their dun colouration makes them blend in with their conifer cone hosts, so you’ll probably only find them if you’re actively looking. But get down to ground level and look closely and you’ll see nothing else like these stunning little things. Just how unusual are they then? There seem to be a number of other species in the Auriscalpium genus (the Latin name literally translates as ‘ear pick’), according to its Wikipedia entry, but Auriscalpium vulgare is the only one found in the UK thus far. Indeed, it is considered the type species for Auriscalpium - the first of its kind discovered (in 1821 by the British mycologist Samuel Frederick Gray) to which all others in the genus are compared. Earpick Fungus The First Nature entry describes them as “infrequent and apparently localised”, which could mean that they are under-recorded because they are so inconspicuous and that the few people who do know where to look and what to look for are the same ones recording their discoveries on general websites like iRecord or more fungi specific ones like The Fungus Conservation Trust database. Fungi recording being the piecemeal process that it is, they may be a lot more widespread than we might assume, and indeed, photos turn up on various specialist fungi social media groups fairly regularly. This is not to say I would personally pick them, even to take home for closer analysis or to look at spore samples. I know there are plenty of foragers out there who are beholden to the mantra that a mushroom is only the fruiting body of the larger fungi organism and therefore picking them does no harm. As they argue, the rest of the mushroom is in the form of an expansive network of mycelium that is hidden underground, so it is essentially the same as picking an apple from a tree. Clearly the logic is flawed for both the Earpick Fungi and many other species, even if it did make a for a particularly choice edible (which by all accounts it doesn’t). Clearly the mycelium of this particular specimen is limited by the edges of its pinecone substrate, and therefore the ratio of its fruitbody size to the entire organism can only be very low. Earpick Fungus In other words, the effort that the Auriscalpium mycelium in the pinecone channels into putting up a single fruitbody must be considerably more than that of, say, an ectomycorrhizal species like a Russula or Agariuc, where the mycelium forms an expansive network stretching around and beyond the roots of its host tree. Therefore picking it removes a substantial part of the organism, if we assume the fruitbody to be an inseparable part of the organism. If you do come across one, it is probably best to leave it there intact to continue releasing its spores rather than picking it from the cone and risking killing it off entirely.
August Fungi Focus: Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)
Quite remarkably, this is the 50th of my monthly Woodlands fungi blog posts since I began some four years ago with a short piece on Chicken of the Woods. They originally went out unto the heading of ‘Monthly Mushroom’, but this changed to ‘Fungi Focus’ a couple of years back, with my piece on Ash Dieback reflecting how my own interest in the mycological world had moved past the point where the first question I asked when finding a new species was whether it was edible or not. Instead, the posts were intended to reflect the wider questions I began to ask myself around such ideas as where certain species fit within the wider woodland ecology and what wider purpose they might serve – questions that the more I continue to dig deeper into the subject, the more I realise how much more we still need to learn about this cryptic world. I’ve also hoped to show that there’s a lot more to fungi than the familiar agaric cap, gill and stem types – a world of crusts, rusts, discs and jellies that also leads into other related areas such as slime moulds. In fact, as I look back over my posts so far from 2021, I realise that only one of the subjects, the Fairy Inkcap, is a conventionally umbrella-shaped one. [caption id="attachment_35959" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa).[/caption] We are now moving into the peak season for the more eye-catching and recognisable fungi species, and I shall be returning to some more standard mushroom and toadstool examples over the coming months. Before this, however, I just wanted to dwell on a group of jellies belonging to the Calocera genus of ‘Stagshorns’ that have already started coming into their own, although they can be seen pretty much around the year. Geoffrey Kibby’s wonderful Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain and Europe vol 1 (3rd edition published last year in 2020) lists five biological orders within the broad group of jelly fungi. The Auriculariales include Wood Ears and Tripe Fungus, as well as the two black species encompassed by the name Witches’ Butter, Exidia nigricans and Exidia glandulosa; while similar in form, the two yellow species known as Witches’ Butter belong to an entirely different order, Tremellales – the fundamental difference is that these types are not feeding on the dead wood itself (i.e. are saprotrophic) like the Auriculariales, but are parasitic on the mycelium of other fungi feeding within the dead wood. [caption id="attachment_35960" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Small Stagshorn (Calocera Cornea)[/caption] The Calocera species belong to a third order, the Dacrymycetales, which also includes the Common Jellyspot (Dacrymyces stillatus) that you might see proliferating all over fences, garden sheds and outdoor furniture in damp weather. (We’ll gloss over the other two orders Kibby lists that contain gelatinous fungi, Agaricomycotina and Sebacinales). Pat ‘O Reilly writes in First Nature that the name stems from the prefix ‘calo’’ meaning beautiful and that the ‘-cera’ part comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘like wax’, as indeed, these beautiful horn-like fungi do have a distinctive waxy texture to them. Within the Calocera genus itself there are 15 species, although just a few seem to be commonly found in the UK, and only two of these make it into most field guides. But they are all instantly recognisable, not to mention incredibly photogenic, despite their sizes making them surprisingly tricky to get a decent photograph of. [caption id="attachment_35961" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)[/caption] Calocera viscosa, commonly known as the Yellow Stagshorn or Jelly Antler, is the type species for this genus – the species that typifies a particular group and which is considered the prime reference point for other species within it. Like the others, it is a bright yellow, with pale orange to red tints appearing in drier weather, although occasionally pale white versions can be found. The reason for the Stagshorn part of the name is fairly obvious. These grow in clumps of branching antler-shaped growths, like vivid yellow corals. They are not, however, related to other coral fungi, like the Ramaria species, which are a lot tougher in texture due to their flesh being the same solid mass of hyphal cells as the fruitbodies of normal mushrooms. The various Ramaria species seem to be a lot less common than the Yellow Stagshorn and in any matter, are not jelly fungi. The differences are easy to discern if you see them side by side than, though rather less easy to describe. If we ignore the superficial similarities, an obvious one is that if you try and take a sample of Yellow Stagshorn, it tends to squash between your fingers and it’s difficult to get home a piece home intact without it squishing or drying out. If you do manage to get to the stage of getting spores samples on a microscope slide, you’ll also notice that Calocera spores are white and more allantoid or sausage-shaped than the brownish more symmetrical ellipsoids of the spores of Ramaria species. [caption id="attachment_35962" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)[/caption] Another feature that will points towards positive identifications of the Yellow Stagshorn is that they grow exclusively on conifer stumps and dead roots, I found one right at the base of the rare Antrodia carbonica crust fungi I found last summer on a Douglas Fir stump. They are typically not very large, seldom reaching 10cm in height, with several of my guidebooks listing a range between 2-8cm tall. This makes them relatively easy to spot but actually pretty tricky to photograph in terms of getting everything in focus. That said, they are considerably easier to snap than their relative, the Small Stagshorn (Calocera cornea), which appears in single pointed, non-branching protuberances, usually less than a centimetre in length and about a millimetre in width. You’ll see these spikes spreading almost like hairs across their hosts, the decaying wood of broadleaved trees, particularly beech. Again, quite striking and difficult to miss, but individually difficult to photograph without a macro-lens and, en masse, it is difficult to get everything in focus. [caption id="attachment_35963" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Small Stagshorn (Calocera Cornea)[/caption] Kibby and the authors of Fungi of Temperate Europe list a couple of other Calocera species. The Forked Stagshorn (Calocera furcata) is about the same size as the Small Stagshorn but has bifurcating tips like the larger Yellow Stagshorn, although appears dotted across its substrate rather than bunched at the base. Calocera glossoides grows in small single clubs, and while it doesn’t have a common name listed in the British Mycological Society’s list of English names, Kibby writes that ‘glossoides’ means shaped like a tongue. That leaves one more Stagshorn for our focus, the pallid looking and spatula-shaped Calocera pallidospathulata, or Pale Stagshorn. It is not dissimilar in form to C. glossoides, but it’s gelatinous flesh is pale and semi-translucent at the stem, yellowing at the top. This is a bit of an interesting one, this one, because while it appears to be a lot more commonly found than the previous two I’ve just mentioned, this was not always the case. [caption id="attachment_35964" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pale Stagshorn (Calocera pallidospathulata)[/caption] In fact, according to this brief article ‘An alien tale: the history of Calocera pallidospathulata’, the species was only discovered in Yorkshire and subsequently named as recently as 1969. This wasn’t just the first UK record; it was the first record of the species anywhere in the world. How and where it came from remains a mystery, although the article claims that the renowned mycologist and slime mould expert Professor Bruce Ing has conjectured its origins might lie as far afield as Mexico. Certainly I focussed on a similar case of a fungi taking to British woodlands like a duck to water earlier this year with a blog piece on Crimped Gills. The Pale Stagshorn also seems to have spread rapidly across the UK. In the first decade since its initial 1969 sighting, it had been recorded in a number of locations across the north of England, but made the leap to the south with its first record in the New Forest occurring in 1989. Fungi of Temperate Europe describes its range as “Common in the UK, where probably introduced from North America, but likely to be spreading to other parts of temperate Europe, e.g. the Netherlands; all year.” [caption id="attachment_35965" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pale Stagshorn (Calocera pallidospathulata)[/caption] I have to say, that while I have yet to come across Calocera furcata or Calocera glossoides, I did find a patch of Pale Stagshorn in a woods near Canterbury a few years back, so I can vouch for the fact that this particular species has spread to East Kent. Not that we should have anything to fear by this seemingly rapid spread. The Stagshorn species all appear on dead wood, and are not harmful in any way to living trees. Still, it makes one wonder what the processes and mechanisms might be by which more harmful species such as the Ash Dieback fungus might spread across the country. Supplementary images. [caption id="attachment_35967" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pale Stagshorn (Calocera pallidospathulata[/caption] [caption id="attachment_35968" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)[/caption]
Birds from Woodcock Wood : Part 2 Our Nest and Nest Box Record
Checking nest boxes is deeply satisfying, and a fitting reward for all the time spent during “lockdown” making and installing a dozen or more new boxes. We now have 27 in the wood - some are specialised such as those designed for Treecreepers, some for large birds like our two Tawny Owl boxes, but most are standard boxes designed for the tit family. Checking the Boxes: There’s a strong feeling of anticipation when you lift the lid of the Blue and Great Tit boxes. Sometimes the adult is there and stays steadfastly put, or sometimes off she goes, revealing what? - a beautiful clutch of eggs, a huddle of chicks (featured image). Read more...
Woodlands Awards 2021: now in their fifth year
Get your competitive juices flowing and you could win a prize! Or nominate a worthy winner and they could be surprised with a prize – and recognition! The Woodlands Awards (sponsored by Woodlands.co.uk) are back for the fifth consecutive year, and are open for entries now. Certainly don’t delay too long: the deadline for all entries is 31 July 2021. There are 14 categories of Awards for 2021 – with a few changes from previous years (see the full list below). Read more...
May’s Fungi Focus: Dock Leaf Rust (Puccinia phragmitis)
Spring is in the air and it feels as if the whole of the outside world has been painted over with a fresh coat of green. A new cycle of living plant matter means a new cycle of fungi that grow on and reproduce from this living plant matter. The few members of the kingdom that are conspicuous around this time of year can feel like an intrusion into this pristine world. I am talking about the rusts, the subject of previous postings on Blackberry Leaf Rust (Phragmidium violaceum) and Bluebell Rust (Uromyces muscari). The rusts aren’t a particularly loved group, even among mycologists. Gardeners curse at the appearance of Puccinia allii on leeks, onions or garlic, or Puccinia menthae on mint, and as mentioned in my earlier pieces, Puccinia graminis, or Wheat Stem Rust or simply Stem Rust, has caused havoc with cereal crop yields. Read more...
More on birds from Woodcock Wood: Pheasants and Red Legged Partridge.
Nearly 60 Million Game Birds Released in the UK Each Year. We often see and hear Pheasants in Woodcock Wood during the winter, and occasionally hear the sound of guns that herald their likely demise. But it wasn’t until I saw the recent reports from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) that I recognised the real significance of this annual event. According to recent research it was estimated that in 2016 up to 47million Pheasants and 10 million Red Legged Partridge were released in the autumn. At the time of release the biomass of the game birds was more than twice the biomass of all native British breeding birds, and this number is increasing year on year. Neither the Pheasant nor the Red Legged Partridge are indigenous British birds. Admittedly, the Pheasant has been around a long time in Europe, having been introduced from Asia during Roman times. The Red Legged Partridge is a close neighbour from southern Europe, and a relative of our British Grey Partridge. Read more...
Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup
Many of us taking our daily walks are noticing the very strong signs of Spring with new growth everywhere. Two classic woodland and hedgerow ingredients are at their best for picking in early Spring, nettles and wild garlic, both are packed with goodness and combined, they make a very tasty and healthy lunch. It can be incredibly satisfying to forage and make something delicious, with no need for a shopping trip. Add a few extra vegetables, whatever you have available at home. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has been a staple in herbal medicine since ancient times. Most concentrated in the growing tips, the plant contains a high content of nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C (ten times more than an apple), and vitamin K along with easily absorbed calcium and iron. Read more...