Woodlands.co.uk https://www.woodlands.co.uk Woodland for Sale in the UK Wed, 08 Apr 2020 06:49:48 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 152210020 Hugelkultur -another use for wood / wood trimmings. https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/woodland-activities/hugelkultur-another-use-for-wood-wood-trimmings/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/woodland-activities/hugelkultur-another-use-for-wood-wood-trimmings/#respond Mon, 06 Apr 2020 08:46:45 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=33006

In a woodland or indeed one’s garden, there are often bits of wood and trimmings lying around.  Sometimes these can be useful in a woodburning stove or used to support peas & beans / vegetables but another use is in hugelkultur.

Hugelkultur or hugel beds are basically raised beds with a difference - they are filled with rotting wood and other biomass.  They are simply packed with organic material, nutrients and air pockets. They can be an effective way of creating a productive area for growing fruits and vegetables in your garden / woodland.  Instead of putting your wood offcuts, branches, leaves and grass clippings into bags for the ‘green collection’ or the compost heap, consider building a hugel bed. 

Simply stack the logs, branches, leaves, lawn clippings, cardboard, and other ‘biomass’ that you have on top of the soil (or you can dig out a trench for a base). Then top the mound with some soil, and then if you have some spare turf - use that to help shape it  but plant the turf upside down, and finally water.  Ideally, the mound should be At least two feet feet high, preferably considerably more.  

Over time, it will ‘shrink down’ as microbial activity begins, creating gaps / air pockets that help improve soil aeration.  The composting process will also help warm the soil, possibly giving a longer growing season.  The decaying wood material will enrich the soil by encouraging animal life (earthworms etc) and also help retain water - drought often checks the growth of plants.   A hugel bed in a dry part of the garden or wood can help make your garden/ woodland more productive as all the organic material helps store water. It can be planted up with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables - and should provide produce through the growing season.

Most woods can be used in constructing a hugel bed, for example, alders, apple, aspen, birch, maple, oak, poplar, willow (but make sure it is dry / dead or you may end up with a sapling).  

Some woods contain tannins and other substances that slow the decay process, for example, yew, pines, juniper, black walnut.

Using wood to increase the organic content of the soil is good in terms of carbon sequestration, improving soil fertility, water conservation and productivity.

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More on birds from Woodcock Wood – Better Than A Hole In One https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/more-on-birds-from-woodcock-wood-better-than-a-hole-in-one/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/more-on-birds-from-woodcock-wood-better-than-a-hole-in-one/#respond Thu, 02 Apr 2020 23:24:20 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=33049

The Greater Spotted Woodpecker makes its presence felt in many ways in Woodcock Wood. The evocative spells of drumming when the male is establishing its territory; the swift undulating flight between high trees; the sustained attacks on our tit nest boxes unless metal plates are fitted around the entrance holes; and occasionally, just occasionally, the sight of its unmistakable profile on the side of a tree, or under a bough, while it is foraging for grubs and larvae in the bark. They are stunning birds seen close to, dressed in their black, white and scarlet. 

The Greater Spotted is a success story. Its numbers have been increasing in UK since the 1970s and it is now relatively common in urban parks and wooded gardens. But not so the diminutive and secretive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which is neither common, nor easy to find. In UK its distribution is contracting and breeding success has been declining.

We have Greater Spotted in Woodcock Wood, but I have only twice seen Lesser Spotted, and this was in our walnut tree at home. What they both have in common is their plumage and their inveterate excavation of holes, so much so indeed, that other birds either depend on them, or take advantage of the holes they create. The Nuthatch for instance shows a strong preference for old woodpecker holes. The female Nuthatch will  reduce the size of the entrance with a thick wall of mud (see previous blog on The Nuthatch) to discourage later raids upon the nest – the Greater Spotted has its dark side! While the Common Starling will often wait on a new hole’s completion and then take it over. 

You might think that a powerful bird like the Greater Spotted could defend its home with ease, but in fact the Common Starling will often displace the Greater Spotted from its new hole, and the woodpecker starts afresh. (It is a sad fact that one of the main reasons accounting for the increase in Greater Spotted numbers is the dramatic decline in the numbers of the Common Starling.) Also, there are plenty of records of tits displacing the Lesser Spotted from a new hole. It seems that they, and their larger relative, are more likely to abandon the nest after disturbance, than defend it.

Normally the Greater Spotted will excavate a new nest hole each year. They often choose the same tree as the previous year, constructing their hole lower down the tree, as trees tend to die back from the top down, and year on year the softer wood descends. We found a fine example of this industry in a dead oak in the woodland adjoining Woodcock Wood

The Greater Spotted will use live and dead trees for their excavations, but they have a strong preference for dead trees. Lesser Spotted are more selective, and prefer dead wood, or the dead limbs of a growing tree. 

As far as I know, there are only two other British species that excavate holes in trees, the Greater Spotted’s big brother the Green Woodpecker, and perhaps surprisingly, the Willow Tit. Surprisingly because the Willow Tit isn’t equipped with the mighty chisel beak of the woodpecker, but is still able to carve out a small but complete hole. Also, unlike the woodpecker, it favours living rather than dead wood - the solid texture of which is an additional defence against intruders.

In my previous blog on the Marsh Tit I discussed the challenge of distinguishing between Marsh and Willow Tits, and said their calls were the only absolutely reliable distinction. In fact this is incorrect. Hole building behaviour also distinguishes between the two species. Willow Tits will excavate an entire hole from scratch, whereas the Marsh Tit will only chip away at the entrance of an existing hole to enlarge or re-shape it.

Well, hats off to our hole-building friends. Their skill and their dedication to creating holes provides considerable benefit to less capable cavity and hole nesters in our woods.

If you do observe Lesser Spotted nesting in your wood, the research forum www.woodpecker-network.org.uk would value the information you can provide.


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April’s Fungi Focus: Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa) and Birch Mazegill (Trametes betulina) https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/aprils-fungi-focus-lumpy-bracket-trametes-gibbosa-and-birch-mazegill-trametes-betulina/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/aprils-fungi-focus-lumpy-bracket-trametes-gibbosa-and-birch-mazegill-trametes-betulina/#respond Tue, 31 Mar 2020 23:51:25 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32970

Mushrooms may be thin on the forest floor at the moment, but if you raise your eyes you can find more permanent fixtures higher up on tree trunks and stumps in the form of a surprisingly diverse array of tough and hard-wearing bracket fungi. It is a class I have tended to avoid, largely because many of them look so similar, but also because they can be quite difficult to manipulate into aesthetically pleasing photographic compositions. However, this is only if you look at them from a certain angle.

Anyone who has ever expressed an interest in the mycological world may well be familiar with the frustrating habit some friends have of sending them “What is it?” messages alongside blurry smartphone snaps of the top of the nondescript muddy brown shelves of certain finds. The crucial thing one has to remember about bracket fungi is always to look underneath. 

Take, for example, the two most familiar Ganoderma species in the United Kingdom, the Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) and the Southern Bracket (known both as G. adspersum and G. australe), which I touched upon a couple of years back in a post about Dryad’s Saddles . Both types can endure for years, expanding over the seasons to form massive shelves up to 50cm wide and 10cm thick, with woody brown upper surfaces that can look almost indistinguishable from the trees they are growing from and smooth white undersides dotted with tiny white spore-producing pores. They are nigh on impossible to tell apart with any certainty without looking at their microscopic details, except that the Artists Conk sometimes falls victim to the Yellow flat-footed fly (Agathomyia wankowiczii), which forms distinctive galls on these hymenial undersides, while the Southern Bracket is seemingly immune to this infestation.

A Southern Bracket (Ganoderma adspersum), in this case identified by looking at its spores.

A Southern Bracket (Ganoderma adspersum), in this case identified by looking at its spores.

Of course, assuming you really need to tell the two types apart in the first place, this only really helps in the cases where the conk in question is actually playing host to the Yellow flat-footed fly. I was ultimately able to identify the un-infested one in the photo here as the Southern Bracket by looking at its spores under the microscope, which at approximately 10 x 7 microns (μ) were larger than those described for the Artist’s Conk (and spores tend to be fairly easy to acquire for the Ganoderma types in that they usually settle as a thick layer of brick-orange dust on the woody cap surface). 

There are other brackets where a good look at the pores on the underside is by far the quickest way to zero in on a positive ID.  The Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa), like the Ganoderma species, is a white rot fungus, which means it breaks down the lignin in wood, reducing it to a soft and spongy light yellow or white pulpy mass. You will find its fruit bodies as brackets of about 5 -30 cm in width and 1 - 5cm in thickness appearing on the rotting branches, trunks and stumps of deciduous trees, and it has a particular taste for beech. 

A Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa), showing the elongated pores on its underside

A Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa), showing the elongated pores on its underside

As the name suggests, these have a crudely rounded and lumpy demeanour to them, although this is not enough in itself to distinguish it from other Trametes species – incidentally, Pat O’ Reilly points out that the name Trametes means ‘thin’, and it is the relative thinness of the fruit body that characterises the members of this genius, although it is plain to see that the Lumpy Bracket is considerably thicker than perhaps the best-known example of the genus, the Turkey Tail (T. versicolor).

Colour goes only part of the way in distinguishing these various specimens. The Turkey Tail is the most characteristic, with its upper surface comprised of multicoloured concentric zones - and no doubt we’ll be revisiting this surprisingly gaudy species in a future post. 

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

The Lumpy Bracket, in contrast, is a fairly uniform white colour when young, developing a slightly rosy tint around its margins. However, though they fruit annually, the leathery toughness of the brackets, which indeed characterises most of the genus, also means that they can last many months, and so another identifying feature of these is that they develop a green tinge in their centres with age due to the algae blooming upon their upper surfaces. 

Another key aspect of the Lumpy Bracket becomes evident when you look at it from below. The pores are long and thin, at about 5mm in length and 1-2mm across according to Læssøe and Petersen’s Fungi of Temperate Europe book. This is a one of the main features that distinguishes it from the other pale coloured lookalikes, such as the slightly smaller and more delicate Downy Bracket (T. pubescens), which also has small fuzzy hairs on its upper side, and the more markedly bristly Hairy Bracket (T. hirsuta), both of which have angular equilaterally shaped pore pits. The Turkey Tail has much rounder, smaller and more densely packed pores (4-5 per mm, according to Læssøe and Petersen).

The upper surface of the Birch Mazegill (Trametes betulina) can look very similar to the Lumpy Bracket

The upper surface of the Birch Mazegill (Trametes betulina) can look very similar to the Lumpy Bracket

The algal bloom, the felty upper surface and the evident concentric zones radiating from the centre to the margins of a large group of specimens I found growing on birch logs the other day certainly caused a brief pause for thought. At first glance, these could have been any one of the Trametes species described above. But then I flipped over one of the logs and was surprised to discover what looked like a gilled underside, pinpointing the species to a Birch Mazegill (T. betulina) – although the fact that these were sprouting on birch should also have been a giveaway. 

It transpires that these ‘gills’, which were more like grooves running all the way from the centre to the margin when looked at closely, were not gills at all, but “gill-like pale cream ‘pores’” according to Læssøe and Petersen – a bit like chanterelle mushrooms where the apparent gills are furrows in the fruit body, and cannot be detached from the actual flesh. The Birch Mazegill is essentially a polypore, as its alternate names of Gilled Polypore and Multicolor Gill Polypore emphasise.

The gill-like grooves of the Birch Mazegill

The gill-like grooves of the Birch Mazegill

One further observation from my Birch Mazegill bounty is that quite a few of them were not really growing as brackets. If one tilted their birch log substrates through 90 degrees, you would see them taking on a more resupinate form, the “gilled” pore surface facing outwards or upwards, with no real trace of a pronounced shelf from which you make out the colour or texture of an upper surface.

And this was the point I made in the last post with reference to the example of the Common Mazegill: There is really no genuine division between brackets and crusts in any biological sense, only in the descriptive sense. Many bracket fungi can grow in resupinate form depending on the orientation of the substrate they are growing on, and many so-called resupinates will form shelves if growing from a vertical surface, such as a standing tree trunk, or their edges or margins might raise or curl up from their substrate to form distinct shelves or cap.

A Birch Mazegill bracket assuming a resupinate form

A Birch Mazegill bracket assuming a resupinate form

As I’ve just mentioned the Common Mazegill in the context of a post about Birch Mazegills, I should also end by stating that this shared common name does not imply any sort of biological kinship, nor that with other similarly-named species such as the Oak Mazegill – only a vague resemblance. Fungi identification can indeed be a labyrinthine process, but perhaps these more durable and quite different brackets could be the logical next step for May’s fungi focus    …....

The Birch Mazegill (Trametes betulina)

The Birch Mazegill (Trametes betulina)

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The importance of small woodlands https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/the-importance-of-small-woodlands/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/the-importance-of-small-woodlands/#respond Fri, 27 Mar 2020 00:31:03 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32940

Recently, researchers have looked at the significance of small patches of woodland / forest in agricultural landscapes. Woodland and forest fragmentation has occurred as agriculture has expanded, as had the loss of hedgerows, Alicia Valdes and colleagues at the University of Stockholm have examined over two hundred patches of woodland / forest in farming areas in France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden.
They examined the diversity of :

  • understory herbs, 
  • mushroom, 
  • ground beetles, 
  • spiders, 
  • woodlice and millipedes. 

They also looked at the potential of each woodland area to provide certain ecosystem services : 

  • woodliceusable plants, 
  • stemwood volume, 
  • pest control potential, 
  • carbon storage in the top soil and 
  • game production potential 

They also looked at one problem that is on the increase - tick-borne disease.

The study concluded that these small woodlands have considerable value.    They can store more carbon per unit area of topsoil than older, larger woodlands as they have significant biological activity allowing the soil to absorb organic matter at a fast rate - acting as carbon sinks,   They also offer food (such as blueberries, young tree seedlings etc) for roe deer as the woodlands have significant edges allowing light and nutrients to enter from the surrounding areas.  The deer represent a source of game. These woodlands also offer a lower risk of tick-borne disease - as tick larvae are less likely to survive in the drier and warmer woodland edges.

Woodland edge

The research team believe that small woodlands are of greater value than has been previously thought, and have a significant role in the agricultural landscape - apart from being aesthetically pleasing.  Their future conservation is important.

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The lasting effect of Rhododendron ponticum in woodlands. https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/the-lasting-effect-of-rhododendron-ponticum-in-woodlands/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/the-lasting-effect-of-rhododendron-ponticum-in-woodlands/#respond Fri, 20 Mar 2020 00:37:09 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32943

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.

Sadly, like many woodlands, some of these woodlands have been invaded by Rhododendron ponticum.    When this shrub ‘invades’, it 'takes over' and the woodland floor becomes a dark and barren place.  The network of stems of the plant limit progress in any direction. In the image below, you can see the tangled mass of the Rhododendron.

Volunteers clearing Rhododendron at Tortworth Arboretum

Volunteers clearing Rhododendron at Tortworth Arboretum *

The Atlantic woodlands of Argyll, Kintyre and Lochaber (on the west coast of Scotland) have been investigated to see the long term effects of invasion by Rhododendron ponticum.  The researcher workers looked at plots of woodland that were

  • Rhododendron free
  • Currently invaded with Rhododendron thickets
  • Cleared of Rhododendron (at different times)

They found that, even after 30 years after the removal of Rhododendron,  the rich ground cover of the (uncolonised) woodlands had not returned.  Only mosses and liverworts had returned to the woodland floor.  Soil analysis revealed that Rhododendron colonisation had not changed soil acidity, nor nutrient levels and the carbon / nitrogen ratio too was unchanged.  The researchers suggest that the deep shade produced by the thickets of Rhododendron was responsible for the initial loss of much of the ground flora and that only certain mosses and liverworts remain, those tolerant of the reduced light intensity.  This mossy mat then becomes a barrier to the germination of flowering plants and grasses, so even years after the removal of the Rhododendron thickets the original rich flora has not re-established itself.  For this to happen, it may be necessary to remove the mossy carpet and re-seed the area with woodland grasses and plants (of local provenance).

Sadly, Rhododendron is a problem in many areas throughout the U.K. (some 800,000 hectares are affected) but it is particularly a problem in Western Scotland and Snowdonia.

  • For further detail of Tortworth Arboretum - visit https://tortwortharboretum.org  and thanks to Rebecca Cork for the photo of clearing Rhododendron at the arboretum.
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Flowers and urban bumblebees https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/flowers-and-urban-bumblebees/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/flowers-and-urban-bumblebees/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2020 00:31:19 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32923

The decline of bumblebees and other pollinators has been noted in the woodlands blog on several occasions; they play a key role in the pollination of many crops that we rely upon.

Urban areas are now important habitats for bees, bumblebees and other pollinators as the world becomes increasingly urbanised, and patterns of land management have changed over the last century - with vast swathes of monocultures.  Urban areas can offer a much greater selection of plant species.  Cities can offer diversity to both long tongued and short tongued bumblebees (specialists and generalists respectively) by offering a rich choice of flowering plants.   Specialist bumblebees have long tongues to probe deep into certain flowers, whereas short-tongued, generalist bumblebees can collect nectar / pollen from a variety of flowers.

A study (undertaken in Poland) has examined the flower preferences of a number of bumblebees species.  The selection of flower species found in towns and cities is often dictated by aesthetic or ‘functional’ reasons  (e.g.colour,  flowering period, resistance to pollution / aridity), which is not related to their attractiveness to bumblebees and other pollinators.  Indeed, many plants sold by garden centres and commercial outlets are ‘sterile’ - they do not produce pollen and / or nectar.  Consequently, they offer no benefits to pollinators and are not attractive to the bees.

Bumblebee on lavender

The study found that the ‘preferred plants’ for some 17 bumblebee species were violet / purple /pink, native, perennial plants - often members of the Pea / Bean family (the Fabaceae) or the mint  / deadnettle family (the Lamiaceae). The Fabaceae includes species such as clover, laburnum , gorse, lupin etc whereas the Lamiaceae includes plants such lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme.  The study suggests that planting of appropriately coloured (and nectar rich) species would help ‘struggling’ bees.  For the long tongued bees, flowers with a long corolla (a tube-like arrangement of the petals) would help their survival; plants like comfrey, borage, lungwort.  The research work examined the species and abundance of bumblebees in the green areas of the city of Wroclaw, in south-western Poland.  The findings have been published in the Urban Forestry & Urban Greening journal.



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Hazel; Hazelnuts, Filberts, & Cobnuts. https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/hazel-hazelnuts-filberts-cobnuts/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/hazel-hazelnuts-filberts-cobnuts/#respond Fri, 06 Mar 2020 08:00:19 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32746

Hazels belong to the genus - Corylus, which in turn belongs to the Betulaceae [the birch family].  There are a number of different species within the genus Corylus and a variety of cultivars. The common or European Hazel is named C.avellana; after the Italian town of Avella.  In the past, the hazel was much grown for coppice, indeed in 1905 it is thought that there were some half a million acres of hazel coppice (Mabberley's Plant Book, 3rd Edition 2008).  Its wood / poles was used in the making of hurdles, legume poles, wattle and daub.  Hazel was also much favoured as a rod for water divining.

The hazel was also a source of hazelnuts - the fruit of the tree.  The flowers are produced early in the year in the form of long catkins - the male flowers (see image below).  The female flowers are small, red, ‘bud-like’ structures (image below).  The redness being largely due to the protruding styles (which receive the pollen).  Pollination is anemophilous - i.e. by the wind.  

The resulting fruit is a nut, these appear in small clusters (1 -5).  Each nut is surrounded by a short leafy  husk - an involucre.  This leafy husk encloses most of the nut. The ripe nut falls out of the involucre / husk some 7–8 months after pollination has occurred.  It can be distinguished from the closely related filbert (Corylus maxima) by the size of the involucre (see image below).  In the filbert,  the nut is fully enveloped by the involucre , i.e it is longer than the nut.  The name filbert might derive from Philibert of Jumièges or possibly a corruption of vollbart (= beard, referring to the husk or involucre around the nut).

Cobnuts are hazelnuts that are cultivated specifically for consumption; they are sold fresh rather than in dried form. Cobnuts are usually bigger than wild hazelnuts.  

Hazel nut consumption dates back many thousands of years.  There is evidence of large-scale nut processing in mesolithic times. Hazel shells , some 8,000 years old, have been identified in a midden pit on the island of Colonsay in Scotland.   All hazel nuts are a good source of protein, dietary fibre, vitamin E, iron, thiamin, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium.  Nowadays, they are much used in the making of confectionery items such as truffles and pralines.  Indeed, much of worlds’ total production of the nuts is used by Ferrero SpA, the maker of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher.  Much of the cultivation of hazel nuts takes place in Turkey.

Male catkins

cluster of hazel nuts

Cluster of hazel nuts


Filbert with part of husk / involucre removed

female flower with style / stigma protruding

female flower with style / stigma protruding

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March’s Fungi Focus: Split Porecrust and Cinnamon Porecrust  https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/marchs-fungi-focus-split-porecrust-and-cinnamon-porecrust/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/marchs-fungi-focus-split-porecrust-and-cinnamon-porecrust/#respond Sun, 01 Mar 2020 01:53:02 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32780

There are many reasons why resupinate or crust fungi fail to attract much in the way of love or attention even among fungi fanatics. For starters, there are hundreds of different types, and the vast bulk of them are incredibly difficult to identify, lacking that one significant feature amongst other identifying criteria such as colour and habitat: a three-dimensional form. They instead appear as flat blotches, skins or coatings of various hues and textures, and mainly on dead standing or fallen trunks and branches, sometimes parasitizing living wood.

Furthermore, there are large overlaps between separate species when it comes to their more salient physical attributes, like the varying colorations or the feel and finish of these spore-releasing surface areas, known as hymenium. One can’t deny it, but the vast majority look very, very similar. Flicking through the near 380 or so pages – containing around just as many species – of Paul Hugill and Alan Lucas’ dedicated guide to The Resupinates of Hampshire (mentioned this time last year in my post on one of the most readily identifiable, the Hairy Curtain Curst ), or even the hundred odd pages devoted to them in volume two of Thomas Laessoe and Jens Petersen’s Fungi of Temperate Europe, one can’t help but wonder whether anyone involved in compiling these books would have noticed if the photos had been mislabelled and mismatched with lookalike species...

The vast majority of crusts are nigh on impossible to identify without use of a microscope

One might also note a certain opaqueness in the vocabulary used to describe their macro features. Where might the dividing line lie between such adjectives listed in Hugill and Lucas as ‘merulioid’ (“folded, wrinkled surface”) and ‘colliculose’ (“small undulations”)? Or ‘hydnoid’ (“having toothlike or spiny projections”) and ‘odontoid’ (“having short blunt spines”)? Or ‘arachnoid’ (“cobweblike”), ‘athelioid’ (“cobwebby, as a thin detachable membrane”) and ‘reticulate’ (“having a netlike pattern”)?

To be honest, for a lot of species, without access to a microscope you might as well not even bother trying to identify them, making resupinate fungi perhaps the final frontier for those hardcore few wishing to show off their mycological mettle through their ability to attribute a Latin name to what most might view as an unremarkable smear on a rotting log - a feat rendered all the more challenging in that these ‘official’ Latin names also seem to change on an alarming basis!

An anonymous smear on a rotting log, or is it Schizopora paradoxa?

Many might consider their time far better spent on more fruitful woodland activities. Not I, however. For those bitten by the fungi bug, the world that can be discovered beneath rotting logs or on fallen branches offers up manifold challenges and rewards. There is something smugly satisfying about knowing you are the only freak in your neck of the woods who can differentiate between a Wrinkled Crust (Phlebia radiata) and a Jelly Rot (Phlebia tremellosa) at first glance, or who finds a genuine thrill in uncovering the microscopic details that distinguish a Rosy Crust (Peniophora incarnata) from a patch of Tear Dropper (Cylindrobasidium laeve).

Cylindrobasidium laeve, or the Tear Dropper, is a typically featureless example of a corticioid resupinate fungi

This is an area where, I’ll have to admit, I will forever feel like I am only just dipping my toes in the water, deferring to the expertise of a handful of others such as those who frequent the British Mycological Society Facebook page or the even more select members of the Crust fungi and polypores group.

Resupinates offer one significant point of attraction, however, in that they can be found throughout most of the year, when our more familiar mushroom types are still lingering in their mycelial form hidden within their substrates. Even if these crust-like fruiting bodies have ceased releasing their spores, most are remarkably durable and tend to hang on for a couple of months, sometimes longer. Take for example, the ubiquitous Elder Whitewash featured in this post from last year.   The recent dramatic storms, floods and howling gales have brought many down to ground level on windfall branches, making them an apt area to revisit for a March fungi focus, in which I offer a brief introduction to a couple of the more common and least challenging types.

The poroid surface and cinnamon colours of the Cinnamon Porecrust

One simple dividing line can be drawn with these types, and that is between resupinates with a relatively smooth and featureless hymenium, the corticioids, and those with pores rather like the underside of bracket fungi, the poroids (let us ignore the Hugill and Lucas distinction between ‘poroid’, or “having a porous surface as the fertile layer”, and ‘porulose’, or “finely poroid in appearance”).

Turning our attention to these poroid types, one might notice under the lens how remarkably similar they are to bracket types like Birch Polypore  or Dryad’s Saddles. There is really no genuine division between brackets and crusts (as emphasised by the example of Hairy Curtain Crust): many bracket fungi can grow in resupinate form depending on the orientation of the substrate they are growing on – I present the Common Mazegill (Datronia mollis), as an illustrative example here, but this is a subject I shall return to in a future post. 

This Common Mazegill forms brackets or, in this case, a more resupinate form growing on the underside of a fallen branch, where it appears alongside a more obviously crust-like Stereum species. Thanks to Emma Williams of the BMS for the identification).

Conversely many so-called resupinates will form shelves if growing from a vertical surface, such as a standing tree trunk, or their edges or margins might raise or curl up from their substrate to form distinct shelves or caps. Brackets and poroid resupinates should never be considered distinct in any true scientific or taxonomic sense.

Cinnamon Porecrust growing from a vertical dead tree trunk, forming shelf-like overhangs with the pore tubes facing downwards

There is, however, a sizeable section on ‘Annual, resupinate polypores’ in the Fungi of Temperate Europe, that feature about 20 pages of “polypores with annual, flat fruiting bodies that completely lack caps… all species are wood-degrading and produce a white rot”. As the text points out, this is a really difficult group to negotiate your way around, and “correct identification requires microscopy”.

Most people will not possess a microscope of sufficient oomph for the tricky task of seeking out these otherwise invisible identification features (up to 1000x magnification with an oil immersion lens), but don’t despair quite yet. There are other features that can point towards positive identification. What colour and how thick is this crumpet-like surface? Is it soft and rubbery or more tough and woody? Does it peel easily from the wood it is growing on, or is it more firmly embedded in its substrate? What does it smell like? What type of wood is it growing on? Does the poroid surface stretch right to the edges, or is there a conspicuous margin, and if so, is this margin a different colour, is it cottony and white, or it cobwebby with obvious hyphal chords? And the pores themselves - are they small or large? Are they uniformly round or angular? Are they irregularly sized and shaped? 

Detailed picture of the poroid surface of a Split Porecrust

Obviously, some species are considered a lot rarer than others. This might be because they are less frequently recorded by those undertaking such scientific surveys, or perhaps they are frequently mis-recorded as something else. I, however, am going to turn my attention briefly now to two types that I have found quite a lot of over the past year or so, and which I have honed my own eye enough to be fairly confident I have identified correctly.

The first of these is the Split Porecrust, or Schizopora paradoxa, which can be found mainly on fairly well-decayed deciduous wood lying at ground level, appearing initially as small and rather thin patches of white to a cream or light buff colour that fuse to cover much larger areas. The pores are rather small, with The Resupinates of Hampshire describing 1-3 appearing per millimetre. If you look under a hand lens or through a photographic closeup, you can see they are quite angular, or “lacerated” as the book puts it, although the species is “very variable in appearance”. Essentially the reason for this seems to be that the pores grow downwards, so if viewed straight on from the side, they can appear more irregular and sharply delineated, dangling “almost as flattened teeth”, or “dentate”, as its entry in The Fungi of Temperate Europe puts it, presumably accounting for the common name of this fungi.

The irregularly-shaped pores of the Split Porecrust growing downwards like teeth

The irregularly-shaped pores of the Split Porecrust growing downwards like teeth

The Fungi of Temperate Europe lists the species under its Latin synonym Xylodon paradoxus, and both books show photos of a number of species that look remarkably similar. Schizopora radula (or Xylodon raduloides) seems to be a lot thicker, with its surface up to 5mm thick, and with slightly larger pores (with the emphasis on the word “slightly”), while those of Schizopora flavipora (or Xylodon flaviporus) are apparently slightly smaller and more regular. I’ll just mention in passing, too, that there are members of at least one other genus, Antrodia, that share superficial similarities with Schizopora. 

If you find yourself glazing over at this point or feel like throwing up your hands in frustrated despair, please don’t. These second two are both described in Resupinates of Hampshire as “rare”, while Schizopora paradoxa is described as “very common”. If you do find anything that looks like the photos here, I doubt anyone one is going to think any less of you if you refer to it simply as Split Porecrust. 

If you are, however, the type of person to lose sleep over such things, you’ll need to resort to the microscope. I am and I did. After cutting a thin sliver from the surface and laying it down on a slide with a wet tissue on top of it, I was able to locate some spores, whose size and shape pointed towards this most common species (“Ellipsoid, smooth, thin walled, containing one or more oil drops, hyaline. 6-6.5 x 3.5-4 microns”, and therefore a tad larger than its relatives, according to Hugill and Lucas). There are other microscopic details that would further confirm this hypothesis, but this was enough to satisfy me at least.

The spores of Schizopora paradoxa, with visible oil drops inside them

The spores of Schizopora paradoxa, with visible oil drops inside them

There is another common poroid crust that lends itself to fairly easy identification. This is the Cinnamon Porecrust (Fuscoporia ferrea), which as the name suggests, is russet brown in colour. It goes by the alternate common names of Iron Porecrust, presumably in reference to its rusty hue, and Suede Polypore, due to the way it forms a tough dry leathery crust that is not easily removed from its substrate on fallen tree branches (on a wide variety of trees), coming across as more like an outgrowth of it. The pores on this are much rounder and much smaller than Split Porecrust, but it is still a very distinctive species.

Of course, things are never quite as simple as they first seem.  Aside from having an alternate Latin name of Phellinus ferreus, a fact which needn’t trouble one too much, it also has a lookalike in the form of Fuscoporia ferruginosa (or Phellinus ferruginosus), also known as the Rusty Porecrust.

Like a suede pommel on the end of a fallen branch, a Cinnamon Porecrust

Like a suede pommel on the end of a fallen branch, a Cinnamon Porecrust

This distinction at the level of common names is rather strange, especially considering that the vast majority of crust fungi only have Latin ones. I doubt there is anyone outside of the real mycological diehards who could distinguish between the two with the naked eye (nor who would see any need to). Again, to all and intents and purposes, us mere mortals might be happy treating the Cinnamon Porecrust and the Rusty Porecrust, both of which are described as “very common”, as essentially the same thing. 

However, I couldn’t let it lie, so again I went down to spore level, and with my microscopic shot revealing spores that matched the “cylindrical, smooth, hyaline. 5-7.5 x 2.5microns” of the Cinnamon Porecrust (cross-referenced here, as opposed to the slightly fatter ones of the Rusty Porecrust, I am fairly confident of my identification, for what it is worth.

The cylindrical smooth spores of Cinnamon Porecrust

The cylindrical smooth spores of Cinnamon Porecrust

Being able to identify these various types of mysterious but overlooked fungi is one thing. Knowing their role in the larger ecological scheme is another. How common are they? What kind of environments to they favour? Are there particular insects or other organisms that feed specifically on them or their spores? 

Do they form fungal associations with other species? Typically, wherever you find a crust, you are almost certain to find other fungi, and often slime moulds too [***]. Some species associate exclusively with other specific species, as in the case of the Yellow Brain jelly fungus that feeds on the mycelium of the Stereum species mentioned in my January post. It seems that in any large fallen tree trunk there exists the hyphae of a large number of fungi growing at any one time, and not all advertise their existence by regularly producing fruiting bodies. Might their presence inhibit or outcompete the growth of other fungi? Yes, this certainly seems to be the case too, and there is already a large degree of research as to how trees inoculated with certain species can serve as protection against more pathogenic rivals.

The interesting looking ochre blobs growing on the surface of this Split Porecrust might be an associate fungi with some sort of symbiotic or parasitic relationship to it, but I have been unable to identify it.

The interesting looking ochre blobs growing on the surface of this Split Porecrust might be an associate fungi with some sort of symbiotic or parasitic relationship to it, but I have been unable to identify it.

There is certainly much to discover, but the information does not seem to be readily available and there are only a relatively small and select group of people even capable of collating and communicating it.

It is still worth keeping your eye out for these cryptic crusts types though, because even if they present a challenging and esoteric domain, when looked at or photographed closely, they can reveal intriguing hidden colours and details and a rare beauty that is not immediately apparent to passers-by. With such a vast array of species out there, you can be sure it this a subject to which I will return in a future post…

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Greenwash – are the public being bamboozled? https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/woodland-economics/greenwash-are-the-public-being-bamboozled/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/woodland-economics/greenwash-are-the-public-being-bamboozled/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 00:25:44 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32762

Greenwashing is when a company spends more effort on saying how environmentally friendly they are rather than actually reducing the environmental damage they do.  Examples could include the recent claims made by Easyjet that they are already carbon neutral or the target by BP to become carbon neutral by 2050.  The Easyjet claim smells a bit like like fake news but at least they have pledged to spend £25 million over the next year on offsetting their carbon emissions - it's hard to see how even that can compensate for their 331 planes flying around the world 24/7.  BP's claim is easier to make because it's only a target for the year 2050 - "it's easy to write a cheque if you know it won't be cashed for 30 years" and, in any case, it's rather unlikely that the current board will be in place in 30 years' time.  So, putting aside these particular claims, why do big companies engage in such extravagant claims, and are they really just greenwash?

Use of greenwash may not convince people that these carbon-belchers are really going to become carbon neutral, but it may be more about persuading people that they are genuinely trying - that they are better than other, even worse, carbon emitters.  As the old saying goes, to escape from a bear you don't need to be able to run faster than the bear - you just need to run faster than your companion.  Greenwashing is about persuading the public that you are the good guys and they can carry on buying from you - it's also about salving the conscience of the frequent flyers and drivers of gas-guzzling cars so they can feel less bad about themselves.  It's been said that when you tick the off-setting box as you book a flight you are really buying an indulgence like people did in the middle ages as a way of washing away their sins.

So burnishing green credentials, even unbelievable ones, keeps up demand but it's also intended to draw people towards your brand.  Easyjet don't want people to ask the question of whether they should be flying but instead to ask themselves the question of which airline they should be flying with.  And their proposal to spend £25 million on tree planting is certainly appealing to woodland lovers and those of us who want to see more trees for other reasons.  But if the public discussion moves on will they spend £25 million on planting trees next year or will they go back to a diet of unfunded claims of environmental virtue?

Some of the big oil companies have moved from rhetoric to action, such as BP's purchase of a 50% stake in one of the largest Solar energy companies, Lightsource, now renamed Lightsource BP.  But of course the output of Lightsource's many solar farms is really tiny compared to the oil production of BP and that's not changing very fast.  So this is a sort of greenwash that goes beyond propaganda and into a real industrial purchase but critics say the main purpose is to give the oil major bragging rights.  Time will tell, but is this a bear hug by BP a bit like when the motor companies bought up the railways in Los Angeles in order to close them, or is it a foot in the door so that BP can become a genuinely large and growing producer of green energy?  One suspects that being a profit driven company the answer will lie in where they can best make money - so a hydrocarbon tax linked to a solar subsidy could change this from mostly greenwash to much more green energy.

Shouting about your good green intentions has another important purpose for big corporates - to reduce the chance of being regulated and to persuade policymakers and the public that they don't need to worry.  When the government fully realised that smoking was killing people they banned cigarette advertising on telly in 1965, but it took until 2005 for them to ban cigarette advertising through sponsorship.  Surely advertising for flying should now be banned, but corporate greenwash may help persuade the government - especially a red-blooded aviation-loving one - that the airlines are doing all they can.  For a long time organisations like Heathrow Airport have straddled a policy of encouraging climate skeptics and avoiding talking about the subject.  They mostly left environmental questions over flying as the "elephant in the room" - unspoken, but looming over everything.  As this picture shows they have now decided to talk about it but is this more greenwash? - is it contradictory to claim to care about emissions and at the same time build another runway?

elephant in the room


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Sequoias threatened https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/sequoias-threatened/ https://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/sequoias-threatened/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 08:23:05 +0000 https://www.woodlands.co.uk/?p=32550

There is only one living member of the genus Sequoia,   Sequoia sempervirens : the coast redwood.  It is a coniferous trees and belongs to the family Cupressaceae. The redwoods (Sequoia sp) are amongst the largest and oldest living organisms on the planet – some are possibly more than three millennia old. The trees are found along the coastal regions of California and Oregon. 

Whilst the trees can live to a great age, recent studies have found that the trees are suffering as a result of beetle attack, prolonged drought and and fire damage.  Several of the long lived trees in the Sierra Nevada of California have died in recent years as a result of these ‘problems’.  It had been thought that such trees could survive fire or beetle attack; but the combination of a period of extended drought in the area (2012 - 2016 in California), combined with fire damage and beetle attack has ‘felled’ these giants. The lengthy drought has resulted in Sequoias dying “from the top down” with bark beetle infestation in their crowns.  Many other tree species have died as a result of extended drought(s) and fires. 

To date, only a small number of the redwoods have died, and some 6000 trees are still to be found in the region.  The concern is that more are expected to succumb to beetle attack if climate change brings drought of increasing severity or frequency.  The National Parks Service is now planting Sequoia seedlings outside of the areas where they are usually found - at somewhat higher altitudes.  They are also ensuring that the areas are not accumulating too much litter so that if fires occur , they will not be able to use the litter as fuel and hopefully the fires will not burn with such intensity. 

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