F Is for Fir: But What Is That?

Both fir and pine trees are conifers, bearing cones, and members of the same plant family, Pinaceae. This family is also joined by cedars and larch.

It can be difficult to tell apart the different groups of fir trees, but the needles and cones can help with identification.

If a twig bears a single needle that is flat to touch, then it’s most likely to be a fir. If the single needle has sides and does not roll between your fingers, it could be a spruce. Pine needles generally bunch out from the twig – two, three or even five at any one point.

Fir trees are also distinguished by cones that stand upright on the branches like candles. Fir tree cones are softer than other cones of coniferous trees, and they come apart at the end of the season to spread their seeds.

The fir is most common at Christmas time and several different species are used, for example, Balsam fir, Fraser fir, Noble fir and Nordmann fir. The latter is the most popular choice, one of the reasons being that it has a lovely symmetrical shape with strong branches. The needles are shiny, mid green and soft to touch.

As we know, fir has many other very important uses-timber being just one of them. The common timber fir is Douglas Fir. It is one of the most popular softwoods used both in factories and at home, and it is quite an interesting species. Despite being a softwood, it possesses features that enable it to be used in tasks mostly meant for hardwoods. During its growth, it is said to be very shade-intolerant. As a result, it prunes its limbs, hence leading to the development of longer and straighter fibres. This makes it very strong and resistant to physical impacts.

 In aromatherapy uses, as an essential oil, Fir is beneficial for coughs, colds, flu, arthritis, muscle aches and rheumatism. Its properties include being an analgesic, antiseptic, antitussive, deodorant, disinfectant and expectorant. It has uplifting qualities and is considered a stimulant, bringing alertness to the mind or fighting general fatigue. It blends well with other evergreen oils, such as Pine, Spruce and Cedarwood, but also with Blue Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon or Rosemary. It is considered non-irritating, non-sensitizing and non-toxic, but always consult with a physician before use, especially when pregnant.

Another useful product from a fir tree is resin. If you make a cut on the bark of a Norway spruce, resin will slowly ooze out, gradually solidifying.

The purpose of this sticky excretion is to prevent the entry of infectious fungi, bacteria and insects, and to deter herbivores from consuming the foliage and bark.

There is however, one conifer tree species that excels in its production of resin – balsam fir.

A native of eastern and central Canada as well as north-eastern America, the balsam fir can also be found as a relatively common tree in the conifer tree plantations of Western Europe. Much of balsam fir resin is concentrated within prominent blisters on the bark. It’s the resin contained within these many blisters that provides such an easily acquired bushcraft resource.

The sheer stickiness of balsam fir resin can, when applied to a small cut, staunch bleeding.

Because of its antiseptic properties, resin also forms an effective seal against infection and some types of burns.

Let’s not forget the relationship with wildlife and Fir. Squirrels, siskins and crossbills are among the many species that eat seeds from the cones of many firs. A squirrel feeds on the seeds of a Douglas fir cone by peeling off each scale, discarding the scale and removing the seed. It is not just the wild areas of fir planting that encourage birds. On Dartmoor, conifer plantations support birds, including goshawks, that are not found in open woodland.

Fir tree in Selsey by Alex Ainge
 
So when you see the odd fir tree around the Manhood Peninsula, celebrate it as much as you do any other tree. So as we put “all hands to the pump to deal with climate change”, planting a fir tree will reward us. After all, it’s a tree for a lifetime, not just for Christmas.
 

Post by Alex Ainge
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March’s Results: Find Wildlife From Home Survey

The warm and sunny spells at the end of March were the perfect prompt to get insects more active in search of pollen and nectar. You will notice bumblebees, in particular (not just due to their size!), buzzing around your garden more as we progress through spring.

You can encourage bumblebees, and other nectar loving insects, into your garden with spring flowering plants, such as Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ (Lungwort) and Primula vulgaris (Primroses).

Please note we are now also on Instagram, so do follow us to see photo submissions for this survey, as they come in!

Here are the species you spotted in March.

Species  

 

Black bird, Turdus merula3  

 

Black Garden Ant, Lasius niger30  

 

Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris4  

 

Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs 

 

Dunnock, Prunella modularis2  

 

Honey bee, Apis mellifera2  

 

Long-tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus3  

 

Missing sector orb spider, Zygiella x-notata1  

 

Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus 

 

Wood Pigeon, Columba palumbus1 

 

We also received some great photos:

Keep sending in your submissions, and if you haven’t taken part already, please share your sightings with us – every record received helps us build a more accurate picture of the Manhood Peninsula*.

How can I get involved with this survey?

Sending us a record of your wildlife sightings is simple, just make a note of the date and location of the sighting, and use these notes to fill out our ‘Enter a Quick Wildlife Record’ form. You can also submit a photo through this form.

Enter a Quick Wildlife Record

Alternatively, you can upload multiple records at the same time, by filling in one of our recording sheets and submitting this through our ‘Upload Multiple Wildlife Records’ form.

Upload Multiple Wildlife Records
Wildlife Recording Sheet View Printable PDF
Wildlife Recording Sheet Download Fillable Form

*This survey is specifically receiving submissions of wildlife sightings seen on the Manhood Peninsula, below Chichester, which includes: Apuldram, Donnington, Earnley, East Wittering, Bracklesham, Hunston, North Mundham, Selsey, Sidlesham, West Wittering, South Mundham, plus West Itchenor and Birdham.

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April 2021 Volunteering Activities

Our outdoor volunteering activities will be returning this April. Please join us to help us continue our habitat improvement work. We will be completing some simple and low-impact tasks, including wildflower seeding and installing stake-and-binder fences on sites.  

We are encouraging people to bring their own rakes, spades, refreshments and gloves, to these events. Please view our full COVID-19 volunteering policy, before attending.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, our group sizes are limited to 6 individuals for each site, therefore volunteers must RSVP via the contact form at the bottom of this page to book a place at any of the following activities. 


Saturday 10th April

Site 1: Wildflower seeding at Hilton Business Park pond, Church Farm Lane, East Wittering, Chichester.

Site 2: Wildflower seeding at Hedgehog Hall pond, Somerley Lane, Earnley PO20 7JD.

Site 3: Wildflower seeding at Somerley Lane, Earnley PO20 7JB.


Saturday 17th April

Site 1: Wildflower seeding at Triangle pond, Church Lane, Birdham 2O20 7AP.

Site 2: Wildflower seeding at North Mundham relic canal (parking at North Mundham Village Hall, School Lane, North Mundham PO20 1LA).


Wednesday 21st April

Site 1: Wildflower seeding at Hilton Business Park pond, Church Farm Lane, East Wittering, Chichester

Site 2: Wildflower seeding at Triangle Pond, Church Lane, Birdham 2O20 7AP.


Friday 23rd April

Wildflower seeding at Hunston Manor, Church Lane, Hunston PO20 1AJ.


Saturday 24th April

Site 1: Wildflower seeding at Rymans pond, Rymans House, Apuldram Lane South, Apuldram PO20 7EG.

Site 2: Wildflower seeding at Hunston Manor, Church Lane, Hunston PO20 1AJ.

Site 3: Wildflower seeding at Hedgehog Hall pond, Somerley Lane, Earnley PO20 7JD.

Site 4: Wildflower seeding at North Mundham relic canal (parking at North Mundham Village Hall, School Lane, North Mundham PO20 1LA).


Wednesday 28th April

Wildflower seeding and stake-and-binder fence installing at Camic Pond, Punches Lane, South Mundham PO20 1LU.



Please complete the contact form, below, if you would like to get involved. Our team leaders will get back to you as soon as possible to let you know which time slots are available on each day, to ensure that no more than 6 people are onsite at any time. Parking information and any additional details, will also be provided by the team leader.



 

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E is for Elm

Elms are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees comprising the flowering plant genus Ulmus. The English Elm was a very common sight in the UK, especially Wales, before the 70’s. It is instantly recognisable by the leaves, which have bristly hairs on the upper surface. Despite potential confusion in their names, Wych elm is actually a more genuine native to this country than the English elm.

English Elm illustration
English Elm (Ulmus procera). Zelimir Borzan, University of Zagreb, Bugwood.org
Wych Elm illustration
Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra). Zelimir Borzan, University of Zagreb, Bugwood.org

Invaluable to wildlife, with birds feeding on its seeds and moths on its leaves, the elm was also home to caterpillars of the white letter hairstreak butterfly. Unsurprisingly, this species has declined dramatically since Dutch elm disease took hold. Elm is a favourite with warblers and other insect eating birds.

The leaves of the Wych Elm have toothed edges. Hairs cover the strong ribs on the under surface. And are thought to protect the under surface from dust. When grown in city parks, the leaves of these trees often looked grey as the hairs collected soot from the atmosphere.

Wych Elm seeds

Wych Elm seeds. Norbert Frank, University of West Hungary, Bugwood.org

Seeds of the Wych Elm are “winged” so they float through the air. The tree produces seeds after about the 30th year of its life!

The wood is the toughest of European woods and is considered to bear the driving of bolts and nails better than any other. It was used for naves of wheels, shells for tackle-blocks, and common turnery.

It is very durable under water, and was frequently used for keels of ships, for boat building, and for many structures exposed to wet, or when great strength is required. Traditional narrow boats have an elm bottom, made up of 3″ by 7′ planks. Many English towns had elm water mains, including Bristol, Reading, Exeter, Southampton, Hull and Liverpool, before metal was used.

English Elm fruits

English Elm fruits (Ulmus procera). Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org

In Celtic mythology, too, elm trees were associated with the Underworld. They had a special affinity with elves who guarded the burial mounds, their dead and the associated passage into the Underworld. This fiction ties in nicely with fact-Elm wood was used to make coffins.

A fungal disease that has devastated populations of elms arrived in the UK in the 1960s. It is called ‘Dutch’ elm disease. The fungus was first described by Dutch scientists, although it is believed to be of Asian origin. It is a type of disease that causes vascular wilt, meaning it blocks the trees water transport system, causing the branches to wilt and die. The fungus is spread from tree to tree by elm bark beetles. These beetles have distinct feeding preferences for certain species of elm. Their favourite in the UK is English elm, and their least preferred is Wych elm.

It has killed an estimated 60 million elm trees in the United Kingdom. It is thought that as few as 100 mature English elm trees survive across England, although young elms still spring up sporadically and can sometimes be seen lining hedgerows before surrendering to this devastating infection. There is no effective cure available, but early sanitation felling, or removal of infected trees and branches, can slow the spread of the disease. This has been effective in helping to retaining good populations of mature elms in some places in Britain, especially in Brighton.

Fungicides, tree vaccines and chemical and biological controls have been or are being developed. However, these treatments have limitations, such as expense, difficulty of application, and the need for them to be repeated, sometimes every year. Their use is therefore likely to be limited to individual trees, or small groups of trees, of high cultural, heritage, landscape or amenity value. Some work is being done in the UK and in continental Europe to identify and breed elms trees which show resistance to, or tolerance of, the fungus, including tolerant hybrid cultivars.

The Duchy of Cornwall is one producer of disease-resistant elms. They are potted up in 5 litre pots and sold at a cost of £25.00. Wouldn’t it be great if we could raise funds to buy some of these elms and put back what Dutch Elm Disease has taken from us?

Watch this space……!

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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February’s Results: Find Wildlife From Home Survey

February marks the end of the winter season and gives us a hint at the activity to come, in spring. Our followers reported seeing a lot more bird activity last month, with a number of you seeing large flocks of migrating Brent geese.

As we transition into spring, it’s a good time to remember that nesting season can actually start in February for some species, while March to August is the busiest time for nesting birds. The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) has made it illegal for individuals to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. We always recommend pruning hedgerows and trees outside of these months as much as possible, to avoid disrupting nests.

February’s results:

Species 

No. Seen 

Blackbird, Turdus merula 

6 

Black-headed gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus 

4 

Blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus 

5 

Brent goose, Branta bernicla 

1200 

Carrion crow, Corvus corone 

1 

Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis 

7 

Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs 

1 

Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto 

2 

Curlew, Numenius arquata 

25 

Dunnock, Prunella modularis 

2 

Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis 

8 

Great black-backed gull, Larus marinus 

1 

Great spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major 

2 

Great tit, Parus major 

1 

Greenfinch, Chloris chloris 

2 

Herring gull, Larus argentatus 

3 

House Sparrow, Passer domesticus 

8 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus 

1 

Magpie, Pica pica 

1 

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos 

42 

Oyster catcher, Haematopus ostralegus 

10 

Robin, Erithacus rubecula 

4 

Roe Deer, Capreolus capreolus 

1 

Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus 

1 

Starling, Sturnus vulgaris 

4 

Woodpigeon, Columba palumbus 

5 

Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes 

2 

Photos submitted:

 

Keep sending in your submissions, and if you haven’t taken part already, please share your sightings with us – every record received helps us build a more accurate picture of the Manhood Peninsula*.

How can I get involved with this survey?

Sending us a record of your wildlife sightings is simple, just make a note of the date and location of the sighting, and use these notes to fill out our ‘Enter a Quick Wildlife Record’ form. You can also submit a photo through this form.

Enter a Quick Wildlife Record

Alternatively, you can upload multiple records at the same time, by filling in one of our recording sheets and submitting this through our ‘Upload Multiple Wildlife Records’ form.

Upload Multiple Wildlife Records
Wildlife Recording Sheet View Printable PDF
Wildlife Recording Sheet Download Fillable Form

*This survey is specifically receiving submissions of wildlife sightings seen on the Manhood Peninsula, below Chichester, which includes: Apuldram, Donnington, Earnley, East Wittering, Bracklesham, Hunston, North Mundham, Selsey, Sidlesham, West Wittering, South Mundham, plus West Itchenor and Birdham.

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D is for DOGWOOD

White dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) flowers

Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org

Dogwood or Cornel comes from a large family called Cornaceae. It ranges from low creeping shrubs to large trees. Some of the 60 species grow well in hedgerows and look similar to Privet. Many of us recognise it as the ornamental shrub with bright red, orange or yellow stems, often seen in parks and gardens. The name for this ornamental shrub is Cornus Sanguinea.

Such a curious name for a widely distributed species. I decided to dig into some of my old tree books to see if I could unravel its past and the reason for its name.

The classification of Dogwood is “Cornus”. This is an ancient latin word meaning “horn”.

Dogwood is a very hard and strong wood, and it was said that the term Dogwood could have easily evolved from the Celtic word dag, dagga, or dagwood over the years. If you look up the word “dagwood’ it shows you an American piled up sandwich with a cocktail stick or skewer holding it in place! What has this got to do with Dogwood? Well, you may be familiar with the word “firedog”. This was originally a piece of stone with indentations to possibly hold skewers on to which pieces of meat were roasted. Firedogs got their name from the four-legged appearance-a pair of bracket supports upon which logs were laid for burning in a open fireplace. It is possible that the skewers on ancient firedogs were made from dogwood. The wood is so hard that the finest weaving shuttles were made from it, and later, golf club heads.

Dogwood bark was also used as a mange treatment for dogs. The bark was boiled, and the dog was washed in the resulting liquid. Any medicinal properties that the bark or the tree actually has is minimal at best, and the practice of using the Dogwood for mange, seems to have resulted in the misconception that the name Dogwood meant that it was good for dogs.

Dogwood has had other uses over the centuries. Its white flowers are produced in June or July and produce nectar which gives off an unattractive smell and attracts flies or beetles. In September, small green berries are produced, which turn black in September. These bitter berries produce a greenish-blue dye and a non-drying oil which is used in soap in France.

You can harvest the Dogwood berries in Autumn. They need a bit of coaxing to germinate (known as stratification). First, soak the berries in water for a couple of days. If the berries float in the water, they are no good and need to be removed. Soaking should make it easier for the pulp to come away, exposing the seeds. You can then place the seeds in the fridge for 3 months to mimic a cold period thus initiating germination. After this time, the seeds can be planted out in to seed trays about ¼ inch deep.

Dogwood is an excellent choice for firewood, once it has been dried thoroughly. The tree can be coppiced, whereby it is cut down to the ground to stimulate growth. This makes it an excellent tree to grow with other species, thus increasing the diversity of trees.

 

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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CATKINS AND COPPICING

Male catkins before fully floweringCatkins are small clusters of flowers and can be seen on some trees. My favourite of all catkins are found on the Goat Willow. Most of us know this tree as the pussy willow because its catkins look like cat’s paws. These are the male catkins before they come into full flower and this “fir coat” helps to keep the developing reproductive parts warm. Pussy willows emerge in early spring when it’s still quite cold, but when the sun shines, the temperature in the centre of the catkin can rise above air temperatures by trapping the heat from the sun with its insulating hairs. This additional warming aids in the development of the pollen.

The caterpillars of that elusive and beautiful butterfly-the Purple Emperor- prefer to feed on Goat willow. In fact, willows producing large amounts of strongly scented nectar which bees and flies are readily drawn to. They are pollinated by insects, whereas other catkin-producing trees rely on the breeze to disperse the pollen grains.

Some trees like Alder, Hazel, Silver Birch and Hornbeam have both female and male flowers(catkins) on the same tree. Others, mainly Ash, Yew and White Poplar have female and male flowers on separate trees. Let’s look, briefly at Alder and Hazel.

Alder is the only deciduous tree that produces cone-like structures found wild in Britain. It is these cones that prove so attractive to Siskins and Redpolls in winter. Both male and female catkins are borne on the same tree having been formed the previous year. The following spring, male catkins swell and open slightly to produce pollen. Wind dispersed pollen finds its way to female catkins, which start to turn green, ripening around October. Alder cones can be collected before they open and placed in a bag at room temperature to dry. The cone will release the winged seeds and these can be sown (covered with a thin layer of sharp sand) and left to over winter. They should germinate the following spring.

Hazel produces male catkins the previous autumn. These catkins shed their pollen in spring, which in turn, pollinates female catkins produced on other Hazel trees. Nuts begin life pale green and turn caramel brown as they ripen in the autumn. Up to four nuts are produced on each stalk. Hazel nuts are a favoured food of dormice but are also eaten by squirrels, mice and jays. The nuts should be picked when they start to turn brown and then sown immediately in a pot or seedbed.

This leads me on to coppicing as some of the tree species mentioned, namely Alder, Willow and Hazel can be coppiced.

Coppicing is the practice of cutting trees to ground level. Cutting an established tree down to its base instigates the fresh growth of many smaller shoots and opens up the woodland for other plant species to grow. In fact, if space is restricted, coppicing native shrubs and trees allows you to grow a greater range of species than there would normally be room for. To start a coppice, you plant bare root whips at 1.5 to 2.5m spacings. These whips can be grown in a tree nursery like the one we will be working on in West Wittering.

There are many uses of wood from a coppice, for example, hazel hurdles, gate hurdles, hedging stakes and oak bark for tanning

The reserve at West Dean Woods is a great example of how woodlands were managed in the past. The hazel, sitting amongst the oak standards, has been coppiced here for hundreds of years and is referred to as coppice or copse in 17th century maps.

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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C is for Cake!

Volunteers seated on fold-up chairs, eating home-made cake during a work break.
FLOW Project volunteers on a well earned tea and cake break © Jane Reeve, 2019

I could not celebrate our volunteers without talking about their love of all things “cake”. As I mentioned, last week, you have to add in the mid-volunteering sweet treat (with a cuppa, of course!) to keep the momentum up.

Let us look at a few facts about this great sweet food, first. The word itself is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse word “kaka”. Cakes are traditionally round, symbolising the cyclical nature of life, the sun and the moon. The Germans would celebrate children’s birthdays with cake, calling the celebration Kinderfest.  In Medieval times, parties would be held to mark the end of Christmas and live birds and frogs would burst out of a giant cake. Thank goodness our job is to look after these creatures now.

What better way to celebrate and thank our volunteers than to offer them cake. It is part of the 3 vital “c’s”(cake, cuppa and chat). I think if we took a poll, the favourite type would be a fruit cake of some sort. So with full permission from our FLOW Project Leader, Jane Reeve, I can share with you her much loved banana bread (that acts like a cake!).

Jane’s Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 1lb banana (without skin)
  • 4oz butter chopped into small pieces
  • 8oz self-raising flour
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 1⁄4 tsp mixed spice
  • 6oz sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6oz of any combination of the following: chopped peel, nuts, cherries, chocolate chips, chopped crystallised ginger, fresh mango, pineapple, desiccated coconut – I sometimes put 3 or 4 of these ingredients in, depending what is in the cupboard, as long as the weight is correct.

Preparation

Heat the oven to Gas mark 4, 350°F, 180°C. Line a 2lb loaf tin with grease-proof paper or grease well with oil or butter.

Put the peeled banana in a blender or mash them up completely (you might need to add a tiny amount of fruit juice or smoothie to make this work).

In a large bowl combine the flour and sugar, the mixed spice and salt and the rub in the chopped pieces of butter. Add the eggs to the dry mixture and then pour in the blended banana and stir it all together. Add the other ingredients and ensure that it is all well mixed. Pour into the loaf tin or into a well-greased muffin tray to make individual portions.

Put in the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes – for the 2lb loaf tin or 20 minutes if in individual muffin cases or tray – keep an eye on it to ensure that the top of the loaf / muffins do not become too dark.

Remove from the oven and tip from the tin while still warm to ensure that it does not stick (and to test a big chunk just to make sure it’s done!).

~

What could be better than the outdoors, exercise and the 3 “c’s” to make volunteering a perfect way to spend any day!

 

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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B is for Brambles – Like it or Not!

European blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) flowers close-up.
Flowering European blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) © Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org

Oh! Am I reminding you, my volunteer buddies, about the beast from when time began?

Like it or not, the bramble has been one of the biggest challenges on our sites. You have to have a check list in your head before approaching this unruly plant:

  • Gloves that can withstand being shredded…tick
  • Shears sharper than a guillotine…tick
  • A range of expletives at the ready…tick
  • Tea and cake within grabbing distance…tick
  • Other volunteers to mop your furrowed brow…double tick
Brambles encroaching on a house and jasmine plant © Alex Ainge, 2021

Sadly, we are losing the ability to celebrate what this plant has to offer. After all, who doesn’t love a blackberry pie made from the freshly picked fruits? The negative folklore has not helped the bramble. In medieval times, people planted brambles on graves to stop the dead from coming out and prevent the devil from getting in!

So aside from its dark past, we must marvel at what the bramble contributes to planet earth. Robins, Wrens, Thrushes, Blackbirds, Warblers and Finches will nest in bramble and small mammals, like the Hedgehog and Dormouse, use it for protection from predators. Moths, such as Buff Arches, Peach Blossom and Fox moths, lay their eggs on bramble as it is their larval foodplant. Brambles also provide an important source of nectar for Brimstone and Speckled Wood butterflies and fruits for Song Thrushes and Yellowhammers.

Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) butterfly © Nicola Timney, 2018

We must remember that brambles have been here for a very long time, even as long as 8000 years ago, when bramble seeds were found in the stomach of a Neolithic man in Essex.

So I salute you, dear volunteer, for all the shearing, lopping and tugging of this amazing plant and I hope some of you will join me as we tackle the next bramble maze at our Tree Nursery at West Wittering allotments. I will bring LOTS of tea and cake…I promise!!!!!

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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Acorns to Brambles

You might be wondering, why the jump from “acorns” to “brambles”? Well, let’s first look at how the mighty oak gets off the ground, literally.

There are many schools of thought about how to germinate an acorn. Some say you need to collect the acorns before they drop. This can be a problem if the lowest branch of the tree is metres off the ground! However, the Tree Council’s guide states that you can pick the acorns as soon as possible after they have fallen. I will refer to their guide throughout my weekly blogs and show some of their pictures (I thank the Tree Council for their kind permission to do so). Their “Good Seed Guide” explains identifying, collecting and planting tree seeds in an easy-to-follow approach.

So back to the humble acorn. It is worth mentioning that if your oak tree has long stalks attached to the acorn, then it is from an English oak. If the acorns are unstalked, then the tree is likely to be another British native called the Sessile oak.

Acorns illustrated in the Good Seed Guide, by the Tree Council

Once collected, you can test the acorns to see if they have the potential to germinate by placing them in a bucket of water. If they float, they probably are no good. The trick is to keep the acorns moist. The best time to plant out is after the heavy rains have subsided (which is debatable nowadays), so if you harvested the acorns in Autumn, you can store them in a sealed container with some vermiculite or moist potting compost and place in the fridge until the following Spring. The acorns need to be kept moist. If they show signs of mould, you can wash them in water and replace into fresh potting compost.

When you are ready to plant the acorn, prepare the soil so that it is free draining (add grit if the soil is clay based). Place the acorn on its side and bury at least half an inch under the soil. Place the middle of a cardboard carton over the planting area (you can fit 2 acorns in the space). This carton acts as a guard to protect the seedling when it emerges. The acorn produces a long tap root at first, so it will be a couple of months before a shoot appears. The key to success is water, water and water. The acorn is a thirsty nut!

So what part do brambles play? Well, you see, they act as natural tree guards as the seedlings become established. However, they have to be monitored as they can dominate an area and physically smother the seedlings as they compete for light. The best natural method of bramble control is through grazing, but as you may not have access to a pig or goat, you may need to dig it out. Let’s not forget that whilst the mighty oak feeds the larvae of the Purple Hairstreak butterfly, the bramble provides nectar for the Brimstone and Speckled wood butterflies, as well as hiding places for hedgehogs.

 

Read Alex’s previous A-Z post, here.


Post by Alex Ainge

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