Woodlands.co.uk https://www.woodlands.co.uk Woodland for Sale in the UK Thu, 12 Dec 2019 17:52:50 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Christmas quiz with prize for the first 40 valid entries https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/reviews-puzzles/christmas-quiz-with-prize-for-the-first-40-valid-entries/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/reviews-puzzles/christmas-quiz-with-prize-for-the-first-40-valid-entries/#respond Mon, 09 Dec 2019 09:54:12 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32311

Christmas is a good time to go for a woodland walk .... and for presents.

For children, there's nothing better as a motivator than a quiz.

So we are offering to send entrants a prize of a woodlands notebook and tree poster which we will post to you as soon as we get your entry if it's valid - maximum 40 prizes.

The quiz: Take a photo of any 6 (any six) of these:

  • A gastropod
  • A leaf with a tooth edge
  • A leaf with parallel veins
  • A fern frond
  • A beetle
  • A named conifer
  • A bracket fungus
  • An amphibian
  • An earthworm
  • A samara (winged fruit)
  • A lichen
  • A leaf with spines
  • A named yellow flower
  • A fruit or seed dispersed by an animal
  • A fungal fruiting body
  • A cone from a conifer
  • A one-seeded fruit
  • A nettle or  a dead nettle
  • An oak tree
  • An arachnid
  • A woodlouse
  • A compound leaf
  • A plant gall

     

Please post or email your photos to us at:

melanie@woodlands.co.uk Woodlands.co.uk,

19 Half Moon Lane, London SE24 9JU

Don't forget to give us your postal address!

Happy Christmas!



 

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German forest dieback : waldsterben 2 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/german-forest-dieback-waldsterben-2/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/german-forest-dieback-waldsterben-2/#respond Fri, 06 Dec 2019 00:35:36 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=31932

In recent times, new or different threats have emerged to upset the balance of woodland and forest ecosystems.   In the 1960’s and early 70’s concern focussed on the effects of air pollution, particularly the effects of acid rain.  This type of pollution was characterised by the deposition / assimilation of sulphur dioxide and its derivatives (sulphuric & sulphurous acid), plus various nitrogen oxides.  This air pollution was largely due to industry and traffic.

Some of the most striking effects of ‘acid rain’ pollution were seen in the coniferous forests of Germany - where it was termed : Waldsterben [Wald=forest plus sterben=to die].  The various sulphur and nitrogen compounds in the air not only caused dieback of the trees, but also damaged the lichen flora of the bark, trunk and branches.  The loss of lichens from industrial regions had been noted back in the 19th century but was examined in detail by Gilbert (Lichen deserts) in the 1960's & 70’s around Newcastle in the U.K.

German forests are again suffering from dieback [or Waldsterben 2] but this time the damage has been associated with climate change (drought, intense heat,  fires and storms) plus bark beetle infestations.  A walk through some areas will reveal dead spruces and beech trees.  The German Ministry of Food and Agriculture has said that the forests need quick help’ and has proposed a large scale clear up and re-afforestation program. 

This is a strategy which has been employed before but it has its critics.  The removal of dead wood has significant affect on the insect and fungal populations that are dependent on deadwood.  Decomposing wood allows saproxylic beetles to flourish, plus woodlice and springtails - and many different species of fungi. A more open  woodland would also allow birds of prey (owls etc.) to hunt for small mammals.   The creation of extensive stands of dense forest with similarly aged trees is an ‘invitation’ to disease, pests and greater susceptibility to weather events. 

There is a further argument for leaving gaps in the canopy of the woodlands and forests to enable the regrowth of native tree species - as these would help increase the resistance to extreme weather events (resilience).

]]> https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/german-forest-dieback-waldsterben-2/feed/ 0 December’s Fungi Focus: Holly Speckle (Trochila ilicina) https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/decembers-fungi-focus-holly-speckle-trochila-ilicina/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/decembers-fungi-focus-holly-speckle-trochila-ilicina/#comments Mon, 02 Dec 2019 10:31:29 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32340

I’ve written about the ascomycetes, or sac fungi, in several previous blog posts, but as well as giving a special festive twist to this December’s Fungi Focus, the Holly Speckle (Trochila ilicina) provides as good an opportunity as any other for a recap on the subject.

Quite distinct from basidiomyces, which produce their spores on specialised spore-bearing structures known as basidia found on the gills of our more familiar cap-and-stem types (or in the pores of the boletes ), the ascomycetes are characterised by the way in which they produce their spores inside tube-like sacs contained within specialised fruiting bodies known as ascocarps, which are then shot out dramatically like balls from a ping-pong ball gun into the atmosphere.

Ascomycetes present a huge, diverse and extremely challenging division within the kingdom of the fungi even for the most fervent mycologists. For a start, these ascocarps tend to be very small and non-descript.

The larger and more readily identifiable types include Cramp Balls, Deadman’s Fingers and Candlesnuff, although the morels and related types like the White Saddle (Helvella crispa) stand out as more obviously mushroom-shaped species. 

THE WHITE SADDLE (HELVELLA CRISPA), ONE OF THE MORE STRIKING AMONG THE ASCOMYCETES

The vast majority of ascomycetes are more likely to manifest themselves as tiny black blemishes, pepperings of gelatinous dots or miniscule discs of various hues on dead organic matter, with many less than a millimetre in diameter on rotting logs. Not only are they easily overlooked, even if you are actively looking, but most are impossible to identify with any certainty without recourse to a microscope.

The substrate on which they are found, however, can play a considerable role in this process. The unsightly Tar Spots you see on sycamore leaves in late Summer, for example, are caused by Rhytisma acerinum , although it should be pointed out that this discolouration is a manifestation only of the fungi growing within the leaf, the so-called stroma (according to the dictionary definition, the “cushion-like mass of fungal tissue”) in which the spore-producing ascocarps develop. The ascocarps are really only fully formed during the winter months, appearing as a mosaic-like arrangement of black bumps on the surface of the dead leaves lying on the ground, which release their spores in time for the fresh leaf growth of Spring.

a "mature" Tar Spot (Rhytisma acerinum)

In a similar way, where there is Holly (Ilex), you are likely to find Holly Speckle (Trochila ilicina). It occurs pretty much all the year round, growing on dead holly leaves, although somewhat perversely given the seasonal nature of this blog post, it is more common in the warmer summer months. The “speckle” covering the leaf is comprised of a multitude of these ascocarp fruiting bodies: not dots or blotches but small brown or dark green pustules, each around a millimetre in diameter that rise from the upper surface of the leaf (not its underside). They are not particularly exciting to the naked eye, it is true, but a more close-up inspection gives a better insight as to how these function.

DETAIL SHOWING THE 'LIDS' OF THE APOTHECIUM HAVING FLIPPED TO REVEAL THE HYMENIUM

Among the tens of thousands of ascomycetes fungi, there are a number of differently shaped types of ascoscarp reproductive bodies that hold the asci structures from which spores are released. To keep things as uncomplicated as possible, I’m going to focus on just the one most common type known as the apothecium, which is basically a cup, cushion or saucer-shaped structure growing out of the substrate, either on a stalk or directly attached by its base, as is the case with Trochila ilicina. 

MANY ASCOMYCETES ARE NOT READILY IDENTIFIABLE FROM THE ASCOCARPS, OR FRUITING BODIES, UNLESS UNDER A MICROSCOPE

The cups and discs of Peziza, Mollisia and Melastiza and the tiny tin-tack forms of Hymenoscyphus species were described in July’s Ash Dieback Fungi Focus .  They typically have a flat or concave upper surface called the hymenium in which, if you look at a cross-section under a microscope, you can see the asci are densely packed and that these sacs open out onto the surface to fire out the spores.   (A dramatic counterpoint to the apothecium type of ascocarp can be seen in truffles, which instead have self-contained spherical fruit-bodies known as cleistothecium: as these grow underground, there is no way of them releasing their spores into the atmosphere from an exposed upper hymenium surface, so instead the asci are contained inside them, and the spores only released once the fruits burst while passing through the body of a pig or some other hungry mammal).

Looking at the Holly Speckle under magnification and you can see that each of these individual “speckles” is an apothecium. These grow as cushion-shaped structures that form a hard flat upper surface skin. When the apothecium reaches maturity and the spores are ready for release, “the fungus tears away [the] more or less circular ‘lids’ of epidermis to reveal the hymenium”, as Peter I. Thompson describes in his Ascomycetes in Colour (2013).

CLOSE UP SIDE VIEW OF APOTHECIUM

As the wonderful new two-volume Fungi of Temperate Europe (2019) publication shows, the fertile hymenium revealed once this lid flips aside are initially a much lighter green-tinged yellow. (You can see a photo of this taken by one of the co-authors, Jens Peterson, on this Danish-language website). In my photos, all taken from the same leaf, one can assume that some time must have passed since the hymenium has been exposed, because it has gone a darker colour.

HOLLY SPECKLE APOTHECIUM, SHOWING HYMENIUM

As I’ve pointed out before, a lot of fungi, and particularly ascomycetes, tend to evade our attention because they are so small, obscure and superficially uninteresting. We might also say that it is probably due to its substrate that Trochila ilicina has become the most representative of the Trochila genus, which according to the rather sparse Wikipedia entry  consists of 15 species. Of these, only Ivy Speckle (Trochila craterium) and Laurel Speckle (Trochila laurocerasi) seem to be distinguished enough to have been accorded names by the British Mycological Society , and also to have been check-listed in the otherwise exhaustive aforementioned Ascomycetes in Colour and Fungi of Temperate Europe tomes. At least these common names do provide a strong clue where to look if you are particularly interested in checking them off your list!

Which is not to say these fungi are not useful. Ascomycetes are essential decomposers, and we might imagine that Trochila ilicina is the primary agent involved in initially breaking down of the rather tough and durable holly leaf to the next level where the nutrients contained within it are made available to detritivores like worms and woodlice, or maybe even simpler organisms like bacteria and other fungi.

The Holly Speckle is not the only fungus restricted to holly leaf litter.

Holly Speckle

If you hunt around beneath these prickly evergreens this December, you may also be lucky enough to chance upon the tiny, perfectly-formed and rather rarely found Holly Parachute (Marasmius hudsonii). I never have myself, so we may have to wait at least another year before this forms the subject of a future fungi focus, but if I ever do, I wouldn't be exaggerating to say it would probably make my Christmas!

In the meantime, however, I will refer you to Pat O’Reilly’s page on his fabulous First Nature website featuring this distinctive and rather beautiful mushroom. While you are looking, please note in the top photo of his entry that the species with which the Holly Parachute is sharing its leaf is the Holly Speckle. It is a wonderful reminder of complex inter-connectedness of a natural world that still remains very much an uncharted mystery for so many of us.

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Fires, Seeds and Serotiny https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/fires-seeds-and-serotiny/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/fires-seeds-and-serotiny/#respond Fri, 29 Nov 2019 09:08:36 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32297

Seeds are dispersed from a parent plant by a variety of means.  Some plants use wind dispersal (sycamore, dandelion), some use animals (burdock, herb bennet), some even use water (willow, silver birch, coconut and the famous coco de mer).  But in some parts of the world, such as South Africa and Australia, fire is a feature of certain ecosystems and the fire and/or smoke can be the stimulus for seed dispersal and germination.  

Various members of the Proteaceae  (such as Proteus and Banksia), the myrtle family (e.g. certain Eucalypts), and some conifers in the Northern Hemisphere (Pines and Sequoias) exhibit this serotinous behaviour - i.e. seed dispersal dependent in part on fire.  Many of these plants produce woody fruits or cones in which the seeds are held.  The mechanism underlying seed release varies but can be a resin that seals the seeds inside the fruit or cone - which ‘melts’ on exposure to heat / fire, or there may be a structure called a seed separator.  

Fire can ‘clear out’ the undergrowth in an area, reducing competition and create a bed of mineral-rich ash, which raises the nutrient status of the soil. This can increase the chances of successful germination and the subsequent establishment of seedlings.   Sometimes the release of seeds is dependent on fire, followed by rain; again the presence of soil water would favour germination and growth.

In parts of Australia, bushfires have been part of the ecosystem for thousands of years and certain native species are ‘fire adapted’, they have come to rely on fires as a means of reproduction and dispersal.  

Australia has just experienced an early bushfire season.  Fire has raged across several states,  burning through tens of thousands of hectares - destroying hundreds of homes with the loss of six lives.  The most severely hit area has been New South Wales.  A code red, the most extreme warning, has been issued and temperatures have soared into the forties.   There are fears of much worse to come over their summer.

Australia has always had significant bushfires, but the fires this year are very different.  They have been fuelled by drought; the rainfall for 2019 has been particularly low and was coupled with high temperatures and increased wind.  All of which  have meant that the amount of dry fuel has increased, and this is significant in terms of the risk of fire. 

Whereas in the past, fires were often associated with grassland  areas, burning non-woody herbaceous plants - the fires this time have affected areas in which fire has rarely burned in the past, including rainforests, wet eucalypt forests, and dried-out swamps (where the water table has dropped).  An area rich in Eucalypts is more likely to catch fire because of the volatile and highly combustible oils produced by the leaves of Eucalypts; the litter underneath such trees is high in organic compounds such as phenols.   These slow down the microbial decomposition of the litter / dead leaves so a layer of dry, combustible material accumulates.

The drought and bushfires have affected koala populations, their numbers have fallen and their habitat has reduced.  Some have argued that this has left koalas  functionally extinct.  Functional extinction occurs when a species numbers are so reduced that they can no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem.   The fires have killed many eucalyptus trees which are the main source of food / nutrients for koalas.  A koala may eat two pounds of eucalyptus leaves each day; and whilst eucalypts can grow back that will take time - and many koalas face the prospect of starvation.

Such has been the extent and intensity of the fires that the air quality has affected people across the country, the smoke has resulted in an increase in hospital admissions for respiratory problems.  No one fire can be attributed to climate change alone, but the rising temperatures, extreme dryness, lengthening ‘fire season’, bursts of extreme ‘fire’ weather combine together to suggest climate change is responsible.  Greenhouse gas emissions have impacted on temperature and that has lead to increased aridity in eastern Australia. 


A fire break


Images of fire damaged Australian trees (2019) - thanks to Alexandra Hardy.

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Fungi that ‘need’ a fire https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/fungi-that-need-a-fire/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/fungi-that-need-a-fire/#respond Thu, 28 Nov 2019 08:53:00 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32161

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.


[Featured image is Philota highlandensis from wikipedia : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pholiota_highlandensis,_Carbofil1.jpg by Аимаина хикари].

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Biodiversity and farming https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/biodiversity-and-farming/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/biodiversity-and-farming/#respond Fri, 22 Nov 2019 08:53:44 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32119

We are dependent on ecosystem services . At the most basic of levels, early humans benefitted from the ‘products of nature”; that is fruits and seeds to eat, animals to hunt.   Ecosystems, like woodlands, provided shelter from some of the harsher aspects of climate and weather.  Now we can add in ‘services’ such as the provision of medicines, waste removal, nutrient recycling and recreational experiences.

However, the large scale farming (of monocultures) has affected many of these services and the biodiversity of many areas.   Ecologists and biologists have looked at a range of diverse major agricultural systems including

  • Oilseed rape fields in Sweden
  • Coffee plantations in India
  • Mango plantations in South Africa
  • Cereal Crops in Europe

They focused on two aspects of ecosystem services in these systems, namely

  • Pollination services provided by insects in the area.   And 
  • Control of crop pests etc provided by predatory insects / spiders within the area.

They found that where the landscape associated with a crop is more varied, ie. those that included not just farmland and crops but also hedges, trees, meadows  and ‘wild’ areas, so there was a greater number and variety of pollinators such as bees, bumblebees, hoverflies etc.  As a result , pollination and biological control were greater and more effective and the crop yield was enhanced.

Biodiversity is not just important in helping to maintain / improve the productivity of agricultural systems, but will become increasingly important in terms of providing resilience in the face of climate change and extreme weather events.

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Europe’s threatened trees https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/europes-threatened-trees/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/europes-threatened-trees/#respond Wed, 20 Nov 2019 13:43:42 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=31865

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).

The survey revealed that 168 species were either classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered - this was particularly true of endemic species.  Even certain seeming commonplace species like the horse chestnut [or the many varieties / subspecies of the mountain ash] are under threat.  The horse chestnut has been particularly affected by the moth (Cameraria ohridella).  

The IUCN report identifies a number of threats 

Full details of the European Red List of Trees may be downloaded from the IUCN website as a pdf (click here to download the file).

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Unusual or exotic trees : the monkey puzzle tree https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/unusual-or-exotic-trees-the-monkey-puzzle-tree/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/unusual-or-exotic-trees-the-monkey-puzzle-tree/#comments Fri, 15 Nov 2019 08:36:40 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=31848

The monkey puzzle tree is a popular garden tree.  It is so-called as when first seen in this country (in the mid C19th) by Charles Austin, he is alleged to have said that “it would puzzle a monkey to climb that”.  As the tree had no common or popular name, it became the ‘monkey puzzler’ or ‘monkey puzzle tree’.  Its scientific name is Araucaria araucana, and otherwise known as the Chilean Pine or Pehuén.  It is native to the Andes of Chile and Argentina. 

Not only is it a long lived tree (with a life span of a thousand plus years) but the species has been around for a long time (in excess of 200 million years).  It is sometimes described as a “living fossil”. A tree can grow to a considerable height - towards 150 feet with a trunk diameter of some five feet.

Like most conifers, it has evergreen leaves and forms cones.  The leaves are ‘tough’ and live for many years (20+), and have a distinctive triangular shape (about 3cm wide at the base and up to 4cm long).  The leaf tips are quite prickly / sharp, offering some protection to the tree.  

As the tree is dioecious, male and female cones are found on separate trees.  The male cones shed their pollen and it is carried on the wind to the larger, globose female cones, which, when fertilised and mature, may contain a hundred or more seeds.    However, a tree does not produce seed until is thirty or more years old.  The seeds are known as piñones and are edible; they are collected / harvested by indigenous peoples.  In its native habitat, the tree’s seeds are dispersed by the long haired grass mouse, which buries the seeds.  Like oak and beech, monkey puzzle trees have ‘mast years’. 

The tree was valued for its long, straight trunk.  Both logging and fires have contributed to a dwindling population and its’ status an ‘endangered species’.


Young monkey tree

'Young' monkey puzzle tree

 

 

 

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Winged seeds https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/winged-seeds/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/winged-seeds/#respond Wed, 13 Nov 2019 00:13:14 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32239

What do the seeds of ash, sycamore and maple trees have in common?  They all are enclosed in a wing-like structure that helps them disperse - away from the parent plant and indeed each other.  Wind dispersal is also known as anemochory.  Effective fruit / seed dispersal provides a tree's offspring with the chance to colonise a new area, and reduces competition for resources with their parent and siblings; it also reduces the likelihood of infection with pests and pathogens. 

A single Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) can produce thousands of fruits (also  known as keys) in large clusters attached to the tips of its branches.  Each fruit is known as samara - in which a flattened wing develops from the ovary wall. The flattened wing is made of a fibrous, paper tissue.  The seed can be in the centre of the wing (as seen in the elm), or to one side (e.g. in the ash). Where the seed is on one side, with the wing extending on the other side, then the structure will autorotate as it falls, as is the case in the maples and ash trees. ash keys The sycamore produces a double samara, where two one seeded wings are joined together - to form a helicopter-like structure (sometimes known as spinning jennies).

The effectiveness of these winged seeds was investigated by researchers from Caltech and the University of Wageningen. They created plastic models of the seeds and measured their ‘spin’ and descent in tanks of oil.  Suspended in the oil were minute glass beads that enabled the scientists to ‘see’ and measure the movement of the oil (air) around the spinning ‘fruits’. They were able to show that the wings of the falling fruits generate more lift than would be expected by regarding the wings as aerofoil sections.  In fact, the leading edge of the rotating wings has a high angle of attack, so a stable vortex forms.  This vortex joins with the one at the tip creating a cone of low pressure above the wing. It is this region of low pressure that slows the descent of the winged fruit; allowing for the potential of greater dispersal.  

Samara - winged, papery and fibrous

Samara - winged, papery and fibrous

The effectiveness of the sycamore double samara is testified by the establishment of the sycamore across much of the U.K.  The tree was probably introduced into the UK circa 1500 AD and has readily invaded disturbed habitats such as plantations, abandoned farmland, brownfield land, railway lines, roadsides verges and hedgerows.


winged fruits - samaras

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Making a stool from green ash at the Sylva Wood Centre https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/practical-guides/making-a-stool-from-green-ash-at-the-sylva-wood-centre/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/practical-guides/making-a-stool-from-green-ash-at-the-sylva-wood-centre/#respond Fri, 08 Nov 2019 00:07:01 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32172

I learnt 10 lessons in making my greenwood stool:

1. It's hard work using an axe to reduce a triangular piece of wood into a cylinder but less hard work than using a draw knife to reduce the timber down to size. With both tools, axes and draw knives, you soon learn to work with the grain and how to make the tools work for you.

2. Using a drawknife is extremely satisfying but it's "the wrist action" that matters - to avoid the blade digging into the wood.  Because you have a hand on each end of the drawknife you can't easily injure yourself, but this didn't stop one of my course-mates from digging the corner into her leg.  This created a small nick that justified getting out the first aid kit.

3. There is a new tool that I'd never come across before called a "travisher" that's a small, tough plane for stopping the end grain feeling rough - so it's very necessary for smoothing the top of the seat.  I took a while to learn how to cut efficiently with smooth strokes.

4. Peter Wood, our tutor, is an very clear teacher and runs courses in Oxfordshire and in Leicestershire.  He organises one- and two-day courses on coracle making, basketry, paddle-making and week-long courses to create a Windsor chair.

5. Whilst some projects are male- or female-dominated, stool making appeals to all genders and ages - our stool-making group was fairly evenly balanced, whilst women dominate basket work and men dominate paddle-making.

6. It's critical to be careful with timber selection and the first splitting of the ash logs into pieces for making the legs - avoiding knots and going with knowing how the wood will "want" to split are tricks worth knowing.

7. With three legs no stool will rock (basic geometry - you can always make a flat plane from three points) , BUT it can be slopey.  We used a spirit level and some wedges to mark the legs so that, once cut, the seats of our stools were level.

8. No two stools are identical - our group of seven created seven different, but functional, 'works of art'.  Some made tall stools, some did squat ones, and some stripped off the bark while others left it on, but everyone left with a useable three-legged seat.

9. Green ash wood is lovely to work with - smells good, splits well, very workable and forgiving.  It is also very readily available in all parts of the UK.

10. As with all such projects it gives a chance to escape from screens and daily pressure - it's just you the wood, the wood and fellow trainees, helped by the tutor.  At the end of our day, Gabriel Hemery, director of the Sylva Foundation, came along to offer encouragement - he and his team have built something very special in Oxfordshire.  My more tranquil state of mind and owning something I created with my own hands are both advocates for The Sylva Wood Centre.

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