30 December 2008

Some year end views in Brede High Wood

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Austford Strait looking north towards the Woodyard.  Recent clearance of the invasive alien rhododendron has created a spacious and attractive entrance to the site.

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Austford Strait looking north from close to the valley bottom.  The frost lies thickly here.

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The ride heading south through Sedlescombe Heath.  Mud and runnels of water thawed by the winter sun.

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The ride running east along the north side of Sedlescombe Heath

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Icy puddles along the path through Holman Pine.

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Bracken and frosted timber on the south western corner of Moor Wood.

29 December 2008

The first hazel catkin

Today was gloriously sunny after a hard  night's frost.  Just on the left hand side of the Woodyard Gate to Brede High Woods is a large coppiced hazel.  When I started my walk I am sure all the catkins were tight closed, yellowish grey lamb's tails.

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By the time I cam back just one had expanded in the warm sunshine above the rime.  Maybe I did not notice it on the way out but I like to think it crept open to its full yellow, pollen-filled length during my two hour ramble.

Hazel catkins often start as early as the first week in January, but I have rarely seen them in this area in late December.

28 December 2008

Coppice stool lichens

Where coppice stools receive a large amount of sunshine (on the north side of a wide ride, for example), they tend to grow a coat of lichen rather than moss.

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The chestnut stool here is thickly clothed with one of the 'pixie cup' lichens (Cladonia coniocraea), sometimes known as the 'powderhorn lichen' because of the shape of the slender, tapering, spore-bearing podetia that rise from the leafy bases of the plants.

23 December 2008


The word 'saproxylic' is from the Greek sapros meaning 'rotten' and xylon meaning 'wood' and the saproxylic fauna and flora is a major element in woodland ecology.

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A large log of wood, half a tree trunk, in an advanced state of decay like the one shown above will contain hundreds, maybe thousands of different species.  These include various moulds and fungi, woodlice and centipedes, snails and pseudoscorpions, the larvae of flies beetles and other invertebrates feeding directly on the decaying wood or plant life associated with it.  Many of the invertebrates have parasites and predators and the wood itself will attract different suites of species as it goes through the processes of decay.

It is salutary to think that before the arrival of Homo sapiens trees and branches just lay where they fell unless there was a forest fire.  Today wood is harvested and removed, the brash is often burnt and material that has fallen naturally is cleared away.  This has caused an enormous reduction in the dead wood habitat with profound consequences higher up the food chain to birds and bats and the things that prey on them as there simply is only a fraction of the invertebrate food that would naturally have been available.

The Woodland Trust (and other conservation-minded organisations) are, of course, fully aware of this and will try to ensure the balance, insofar as it is possible, is redressed.  While some of our rarer saproxylic species may have been lost for good, an increase of this resource should quite rapidly produce results as the quantity and quality of dead wood biodiversity increases.

21 December 2008

Winter brown beech leaves

At this time of year some of the beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) in Brede High Woods retain their dead, brown leaves.

20081215 BHW Cpt 6c & 7a dead beech leaves

When I was young my mother and aunts always used to preserve beech leaves with glycerin for indoor flower arrangements, though they used fresh younger leaves for doing this.

I was pleased to note that there are many sites on the Internet that explain how this is done, so the tradition has not been lost.

Although most beech trees lose most of their leaves at the same time as other trees, when they are pruned into hedges the leaves are retained much longer - a valuable feature of a garden beech hedge in winter.

17 December 2008

A mystery ditch

About 250 metres south east of the main car park in Brede High Woods I discovered a substantial dry ditch running through the broadleaf plantation to the north of the footpath.

20081215 BHW Cpt 6c ditch 06

In this picture it runs from the right hand lower corner to the top centre, but is rather obscured by brambles and leaves.

It might be a drainage ditch put in when this part of the area was afforested in the middle of the last century, or it might have been made much earlier.

Some interesting ferns grow on the banks including the soft shield-fern (Polystichum setiferum) below.  This is similar to the male fern I wrote about yesterday, but the leaves are softer and matt.  There are also clear differences in the shape of the leaflets and the spore cases.

20081215 BHW Cpt 6c ditch & soft shield-fern

16 December 2008

Male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

Some of the evergreen or semi-evergreen ferns are much more obvious at this time of year.  This is a male fern, a species common throughout Brede High Woods.

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An extract from the rhizomes of male fern was regarded as "one of the most potent remedies for tapeworm ever recorded in the annals of medicine."  The active ingredient was thought to be piperazine, but properly conducted experiments with this showed that, while it did expel tapeworms it did not expel all of them and was therefore nowhere near as good as other antihelminthics.

Another use for male fern was in Father Künzle's Oil.  This was used as a rubbing oil for muscular pain.  Five fronds were dried, the leaflets stripped off and macerated for a month in 200ml of olive oil.

Father Johann Künzle (1857-1945), a Swiss, was one of the pioneering modern herbalists famed for his book Herbs and Weeds (Chrut und Uchrut).  Some consider his work to be of great value, others that he was a charlatan - so often the way with alternative medicine.


15 December 2008

Midwinter mud

My first walk in Brede High Woods after a bad cold which has kept me indoors.

The woods were cold, wet and muddy, but there was much to see.  Pools full of bright green water starwort and floating sweet-grass, wonderful displays of fern; mosses, lichens and even some unusual toadstools.  And on the bank by the main car park a nearly opened flower bud on a barren strawberry plant.

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It is a commonplace to long for spring at this time of the year, but there is much to enjoy in the woods that could easily be overlooked in the warmer months.  The cold and the quiet is also a good antidote to the Christmas queues and other seasonal pressures.

Over the next few days I will talk about some of the things I discovered on this walk.

12 December 2008

Surveying for dormice

A concerted effort is being made to get a better understanding of any dormouse populations that may occur in Brede High Woods.  As a start nest boxes have been put up in what seems to be a favourable area, but these will not, of course, be used until the animals come out of hibernation next year.

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The picture shows the dormouse group about to set off to put up the boxes.

The Sussex Mammal Group is also undertaking a major survey into dormouse populations across East and West Sussex with the Sussex Dormouse Nut Survey.  In addition to putting up nest boxes or tubes, the presence of dormice can be established by searching for hazel nuts that have been opened in a characteristic way.  For anyone who would like to get involved, details of how to do this and much more on dormice in Sussex can be found here.

9 December 2008

Beech woodwart (Hypoxylon fragiforme)

These hard, round fungi occur quite frequently on dead branches of beech.  These were in Greenden Wood on the western side of Brede High Woods.  They are almost certainly H. fragiforme, but there are one or two rarer lookalikes that can only be told apart by microscopic examination.

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A chemical compound has been isolated from H. fragiforme that is said to be effective in inhibiting the development of HIV and AIDS.  The fungus also contains compounds with antibacterial and antifungal properties.

4 December 2008

Candle-snuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon)

These very common saproxylic fungi that grow on dead and often buried wood are having, like many other fungi, a good year.

20081121 BHW Xylaria hypoxylon

The name 'candle-snuff' has been explained by likening the (unforked) fruiting bodies with their white tops and black bases to extinguished candle wicks.  But some authors say it is because a smoke-like cloud of spores sometimes arises if the fungi are tapped.

Despite its attractive and distinctive appearance, this fungus seems to have found little use in folk medicine.  Recently however a chemical (19,20-epoxycytochalasin D) has been isolated from the fungus.  This compound is, apparently, a strong cytotoxin and may have some value in dealing with tumours.  It underscores the point that many compounds with useful properties must only be found in particular species, compounds that will be lost in nature if these species become extinct.

Winter midges

During these cold spells, as soon as the sun has gathered strength and started to melt the frost, small clouds of tiny midges can often be seen dancing in the cold woodland air.  They are often a non-biting midge, or chironomid, called Gymnometriocnemus brumalis.

20081121 Gymnometriocnemus brumalis 1

The male and female shown above illustrate the marked sexual dimorphism of this species.  The male is black with candyfloss antennae, while the female is yellow with brown stripes on the thorax.

Often this species, which always occurs as an adult in the colder months, will settle on pale surfaces such as cut stumps or, in the case above, the lid of a new dormouse box.  I have also seen them hitch a ride on the back of one of our dogs (now long dead).

This tiny insect occurs in millions in England's winter woods and is found across Europe and in North America as well as in Brede High Woods.  It seems to me to be just as common as it used to be, whereas many other members of its family (Chironomidae) have declined alarmingly.  The larvae and pupae of the species have never, so far as I am aware, been described but probably occur among wet dead leaves.  All stages must represent an important food resource for insectivorous birds and animals in the winter.

I suspect the reason for its continuing success is that the fallen leaves in our woods are less affected than other habitats by the polluting chemicals that are now so prevalent.  Many other Chironomidae breed in rivers, streams and ponds and these have, of course, been severely damaged by chemicals over the past fifty years or more.

Although it sounds more like summer than winter, this species must be one of the few Chironomids that has featured in a poem by, in this instance, the anonymous writer of the Reading is Dangerous blog:

At the lake,

when I wasn’t swimming

or playing petanque

or rescuing gymnometriocnemus flies stuck in my body hair

or picking up plastic bottles from the beach or playing chess

or playing mafia at night with 12 kids

or drinking Kilikia beer (great taste because of great Armenian water)

or pondering on the problem of what's Right and what's Wrong

or just sleeping late,

I was meditating by the waters and studying wave patterns.

Gymnometriocnemus brumalis 2003a

1 December 2008

Brede High Woods buildings 3

One of the less impressive structures from the recent past left behind at the Wood Yard are a couple of corrugated iron portable toilets now beginning to rust into oblivion.  Sadly this one isn't an ageing Dalek or a second hand Tardis.

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I include the picture of one here to ensure as complete a record as I can.  Not exactly the Taj Mahal, but not as often photographed I suspect.

30 November 2008

Log transporter

There are still many bits of ironmongery tucked away in Brede High Woods as a reminder of past activity.  It seems worth recording them before they finally disappear.

The item below parked alongside the Old Wood Yard is, presumably, a log carrier.20081121 BHW dormouse day 011

It cannot be all that old though as one of the tyres is still inflated.

Although I imagine it was used for hauling trunks to the wood yard (attached to a tractor) it is in fact a single axle trailer whereas many log carriers have 1 + 2 axles.  These are mainly for road transport though.

29 November 2008

Brede High Woods buildings 2

By the public footpath a short distance from the eastern entrance to the old wood yard visitors will notice a small brick built structure with an iron door set into the bank by the orchard.20081104 017

It is a furnace for melting pitch in which to dip the ends of the hop poles, fencing posts and stakes to prevent them from rotting too quickly.

Before this system was introduced, demand for hop poles in particular must have been much greater as they would have rotted more quickly.  This would have meant more coppicing in the woods to the benefit of woodland butterflies and other flora and fauna that respond to more open conditions.

Who would have thought a strange structure like this could have had a significant effect on wildlife conservation?

28 November 2008

Rush snails

As well as he little Coleophora  moths I wrote20081104 BHW Cpt 3ca snail on Juncus inflexus about yesterday, there are often small snails that, in mild, damp weather, climb up taller stalks in search of food, often eating flowers or seeds from extraordinarily precarious positions.

The mollusc on the right is, I think, a baby garden snail photographed in  the Old Wood Yard as it climbed a soft rush plant.

26 November 2008

Rush case case

Close inspection of the seed heads of many species of rush (Juncus) at this time of year will almost certainly reveal the whitish cylinders made by rush case moths (Coleophora spp.) protruding like fat fairy cigarettes from the seeds of the plant like the one in the centre of the picture below.

20081104 BHW Cpt 3c Coleophora case on Juncus inflexus

Inside the case there is a larva or pupa which, next year, will turn into small, narrow-winged moth of similar colour to the larval case.

Distinguishing one species from another is only reliably done by breeding out the adults and then dissecting.

This photo was taken in the Wood Yard in Brede High Woods, but these Coleophora cases are common wherever rushes occur.

23 November 2008

Toadpipe (Equisetum arvense)

A few weeks ago I wrote about greater horsetail and I have recently found a second member of this primitive plant group, the field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) growing in a small patch by the public footpath through the Brede High Woods old wood yard (TQ 79002074).

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As with most plants, horsetails have been said to have all sorts of medicinal properties effective for a large number of afflictions, but most of these remedies seem to me to be quite suspect if not dangerous.

The plant does, however, contain various toxic chemicals, including nicotine, which might occasionally be beneficial in very small quantities and has sometimes been eaten (definitely not recommended).  This consumption would be more of the fertile shoots that appear in spring rather than the vegetative growths later in the year as shown in the picture above.  These latter are full of silica and calcium and probably work better as dental floss than food.

'Toadpipe' is one of a variety of country names for this widespread and often common plant, again probably referring to the fertile shoots.  If it gets into gardens it can be an almost indestructible menace.

18 November 2008

The most wholesome shade

There are still a large number of aspen trees (Populus tremula) in Brede High Woods, perhaps because their charcoal made good gunpowder and the tree was therefore important for the old gunpowder works near the reservoir dam.

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The leaves (above) are said to very palatable to deer and domestic stock, but the sucker shoots do not seem to be much damaged in Brede High Wood. 

The wood once had all sorts of uses such as making herring casks and wooden pails, perhaps because it wasn't much good for more important work such as building, fencing or ship making.

In some areas aspens were coppiced on a two year rotation to provide fodder fresh and dried for cattle, sheep and goats that were said to be "passionately fond of them."

Loudon in his Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum said "the shade of all poplars is considered more wholesome than that of any other tree; and that of this species [the aspen] is thought better than any of the others."  What a splendid piece of research - wandering around the countryside and reclining in  the shade of different trees to work out which was the most wholesome.  It the case of the aspen, I reckon the constant rustling of the leaves had a particularly relaxing effect like the sound of flowing water.

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In one of his reflections on mortality, William Wordsworth penned the following lines (he seems to have been aware that robins have a distinctive sadder song as the end of the year approaches):

Thrice happy quest/If from a golden perch of aspen spray/(October's workmanship to rival May)/The pensive warbler of the ruddy breast/That moral sweeten by a heaven-taught lay,/Lulling the year, with all its cares, to rest.

16 November 2008

Brede High Woods buildings 1

There are not very many built structures in Brede High Woods and most of them will probably soon disappear. I always think even the most humble structure, perhaps especially the most humble structure, is worth recording. They are much more to do with the way we live that the great architectural statements.

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This shed is in the wood yard at TQ7899720741, somewhat detached from the main group of structures. It appears to be some kind of office and the bars on the windows and small opening between the windows indicates it may have been handling money - wages maybe. Inside there is just a small table below the windows.

13 November 2008

In praise of brambles

Despite its leg-clawing thorns and trip-wire bines or canes, our wild brambles have many virtues.  Their white or pink flowers are much loved by summer butterflies and beetles, the gleaming black fruits are one of the few wild berries (actually an 'aggregate fruit' not a 'berry') one can eat directly from the plant and their leaves feed a host of different insects.

In autumn most bramble leaves  go dull green or purplish, but occasionally they develop much richer reds and golds (like those below photographed in the old Brede High Woods wood yard) to add to the general autumn fires.

20081104 BHW Cpt 3c autumn brambles

Like many British plants, much virtue has been ascribed to lotions and potions made from the leaves.  They are said to help heart disease and some cancers while "bramble leaf tea is a well-known remedy for diarrhoea, sore throats and mouth ulcers. Because of its high vitamin and mineral content, it also acts as a good tonic."  I think perhaps the term 'well-known' is a little optimistic.

Perhaps, in accordance with the doctrine of signatures, those reddening leaves are thought to resemble the inflamed parts of the body.

I also discovered that split bramble bines are used in making lip work or straw work baskets or chairs.  There is an account of this here: http://pilgrim.ceredigion.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2299

I love the passage that says "the second coil is laced through that of the previous coil with the aid of a pointed bone from a horse's leg."

10 November 2008

Tar jelly lichen

In the old wood yard by the road to Rye there are some concrete hard standings, now mostly covered with moss and grass.

20081104 BHW Cpt 3c Collema lichen 008

On the barer parts there are patches of one of the strange tar jelly lichens, Collema (probably C. auriforme).  Several of these black, rubbery species are quite common in Sussex, but probably most people fail to notice them as they are hardly the most showy of plants.

9 November 2008

Roble beech ( Nothofagus obliqua)

Just south of Brede High Farm on the south east of the track down to the reservoir is a small planting of the South American roble beech (Nothofagus obliqua) with wild cherry (Prunus avium) and field maple (Acer campestre).  There is a photo of the leaves below.

20081027 Brede High Wood Nothofagus obliqua

Roble beech, one of the southern beeches, was possibly introduced to Britain in 1849 but the first confirmed record was in 1902. Commercial plantations were established from the 1930s onwards. It was recorded from the wild by 1956 (Preston et al., 2002).

Its native range is central Chile across to western Argentina and it makes a large forest tree in both countries. It can be a dominant species in old growth forest. The timber is much used there for furniture, building and other purposes. There is a nice picture of roble beech in a Chilean landscape here:


At present the species does not seem to have a high profile in terms of commercial forestry, but Evans (1984) recommended it as a firewood coppice species harvested on a fairly short rotation and highlighted some of its possibilities as a timber tree. He also said that southern beeches were among the fastest growing deciduous broadleaves in Britain and heralded them as one of the most promising for extensive use in plantations here. However, this supposed potential does not seem to have been realised and may have withered with the increasing lack of enthusiasm for non-native plants in commercial forestry.

In order to allay any fears that southern beeches might not support a rich biodiversity, Evans mentions two papers on fauna and flora associated with them in Britain. One is a by Welch (1980) which reports a varied insect fauna on these species and the other is an unpublished report by D. I. Wigston (1980) on plants in Nothofagus plantations with the spectacular title A preliminary investigation of the ecological implications of the introduction of species of Nothofagus Blume into British forestry with particular reference to the ground flora under established canopies of N. obliqua and N. procera.

Not much left to chance there.


Evans, J. (1984) Silviculture of Broadleaved Woodland. Forestry Commission Bulletin 62., HMSO, London.

Preston, C. D., Pearman, D. A. & Dines, T. D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press.

Welch, R. C. (1980) The insect fauna of Nothofagus. In Institute of Terrestrial Ecology Annual Report for 1980: 50-53. Natural Environment Research Council

7 November 2008

Autumn view

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The picture above was taken today from Hurst Lane, Sedlescombe and shows Thorp's Wood on the left and Greenden Wood, both part of Brede High Woods, with the hamlet of Cripps Corner on the ridge behind.

This is one of the few sunny days we have had recently and these autumn leaves will soon be gone to make way for another spring

3 November 2008

Beech leaf carpet

Beech trees have that wonderfully rich, golden brown colour as they fade and fall to create a warm, rustling carpet on the ground.

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When I was a child my mother and her friends used to pick sprays of beech in Epping Forest as indoor decorations and paint them with glycerin to give them shine and stop them falling.  Does anyone still do that?

The flora under beech, because of their heavy shade and thick leaf carpet, is rather limited, but there are sometimes interesting fungi and some of our rarer orchids, though I don't think there are any of these in Brede High Woods.

2 November 2008

Hops in a conifer plantation

On the old lane running south west from the main car park in Brede High Woods there are several hop plants that scramble high in the conifer trees every year.

20081027 Brede High Wood hops

They are sufficiently common along here, though they do occur at other places in the woods, for it to be possible that this was a hop garden prior to the construction of the reservoir in the 1930s when this area was still part of Brede High Farm.

Although they appear very vigorous, the bines seem only to have leaves and no actual hops.

1 November 2008

Artificial and natural coppice

When an area is coppiced, cut back to a stool close to the ground, the tree often fails to re-grow.  The massive sweet chestnut stool below clearly did not survive a coppicing operation some five of six years ago and an opportunist birch has come up in the centre. 

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This is just the sort of bare, disturbed ground that birches like as a seed bed.  The chestnut is actually not quite dead and a few yellowing autumn leaves can seen on a surviving sprout on the left of the stool.

Not far away is another chestnut that must have blown over some years back but, despite having most of its roots torn out of the ground has successfully sent up new shoots at right angles to some of the old poles. 

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It is interesting to speculate about what might happen to the tree when these pole dancers become too heavy for the branch from which they arise.

30 October 2008

Burdock leaf mining fly

Along the path by the transmission lines at about TQ 8047 2040, there is a plant of greater burdock (Arctium majus) with its leaves heavily mined by larvae of the agromyzid fly Phytomyza lappae.

20081027 BHW Phytomyza lappae 011

The plant is not common in Brede High Woods but the seeds in their sticky burrs no doubt get stuck to the pelts of dogs and human nether garments from time to time and drop off by footpaths.

It is rather wonderful that the tiny black fly that these larvae will turn into is able to locate the greater burdock plants so efficiently, though who knows how many die searching.

29 October 2008

A sycamore leaf spot

The microfungus, a hyphomycete, that causes the spots on the sycamore leaf below is Cristulariella depraedens

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There are plenty of different species of microfungi to be seen in the woods all round the year and, while many are difficult to identify, those on plants can be relatively easy with the help of Microfungi on Land Plants by Ellis & Ellis (Richmond Publishing, 1997).

Many of these rusts, mildews and leaf spots are specific to a particular kind of plant and you can just run through those listed in the book as occurring on leaves (or whatever) and see which fits best.  There are some helpful line drawings in the back of the book for those with microscopes, but these days there are often many photographs on the web.

Very often one has the satisfaction of being able to claim a new species record for the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre - this is the first county record of our friend Cristulariella depraedens, for example, though I have no doubt that it is quite common, but not so common as the tar spot fungus Rhytisma acerinum that disfigures sycamore leaves with black patches almost everywhere outside polluted areas (see below):

Tar spot fungus on sycamore leaves BHW

The tar spot fungus cannot cope with air pollution.

28 October 2008

High-cut sweet chestnut

Just to the north of the public footpath at TQ 8047 2022 there is a coppiced chestnut (Castanea sativa) with a high-cut stool whereas all the others in the area are low-cut almost to ground level. Both are shown in this picture:

20081027 BHW Cpt 7a High-cut chestnut stool

George Peterken (1981) in his Woodland Conservation and Management cites many coppices in Britain where there is a haphazard and inexplicable mixture of low-cut and high-cut stools, though generally low-cut stools are reckoned to produce better poles.

He does say, however, that "some high-cut stools marked compartment boundaries in woods that were otherwise cut low." The example in the picture above is close enough to the footpath, which here follows the old track across the pond bay, for this to be a feasible explanation. It would be quite difficult, with a landmark like this, to lose the corner of the coupe (blocks of coppice are variously known as 'cants' or 'coupes' and by other local terms as well as 'compartments' and 'subcompartments'). The lower part of the high-cut stool (the trunk) is technically known as a 'bolling' (to rhyme with 'rolling').

22 October 2008

Chestnut coppice wildlife

Chestnut coppice is often rather poor in terms of wildlife.  After all, the tree is not a native and has rather few creatures that feed on it and the regimented alternation between open ground and densely shaded cover in the coppiced areas may give a periodic boost to spring flowers on the ground, but is not necessarily of as much value to wildlife as other kinds of woodland management.

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In Brede High Woods there is a suite of fungi that occurs sparingly in the sweet chestnut areas.  The oak mazegill bracket fungus (Daedalea quercina) below is growing on chestnut, but prefers oak.

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The fungus causes heart rot in timber, is very tough and totally inedible.  Among its few redeeming feature is that it was once used in North America as tinder.  The ForestHarvest web site also claims it can be used for making paper (so, maybe, can any fibrous vegetable substance) and, more cryptically "used to provide craft materials for personal use."

21 October 2008

Plant of the moment - broad buckler-fern

The broad buckler-fern (Dryopteris dilatata) is one of the commonest fern species in Brede High Woods. The stand below is particularly vigorous and grows on top of an old, mossy pile of logs just inside the Lone Barn Gate at OS map reference TQ 8069 1947.

20081019 BHW Dryopteris dilatata 1

The roots of this plant contain filicin, apparently a substance that helps to get rid of tapeworms, and both roots and fronds have been used in the treatment of dandruff.

However, the plant is mildly toxic so the remedy might be worse than the affliction - definitely not one to try at home.

This toxicity is, perhaps, reflected in the fact that deer seem to leave it alone as they do many ferns.

Talking of which the local deer are rutting at the moment and the air frequently reverberates with the growl of a lusty stag. One friend suggested they might being trying to compete with the buzz of chain saws where some alien rhododendron is being cleared.

20 October 2008

Porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida)

On a fallen beech tree in Greenden Wood towards the west of the Brede High Woods complex, while out walking with friends, we came across a fine display of the porcelain fungus growing from the dead sections of wood on a windthrown, but still living, beech tree.

20081020 BHW Oudemansiella mucida 016

Although very thin and delicate, the species is edible if the sticky slime that covers the cap is washed off.  A French book on fungi (Le grand livre des champignons) describes is as a very mediocre food item and it is almost certainly not worth the bother both on quality and quantity grounds.  Much better just to enjoy the sight of it.

20081020 BHW Oudemansiella mucida 017a

19 October 2008

Autumn moves on

Despite forecasts of wind and rain, autumn moves on in fairly calm weather.  The hornbeam leaves seem very fine this year and the picture shows them carpeting the ground in an overstood coppice in Coneyburrow Wood.

20081019 BHW autumn leaves 015

Not far away there is an extensive patch of hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) now with fluffy seed heads.  In summer the dusty pink flowers were alive with silver-washed fritillary and, sometimes, white admiral butterflies and they tend to look rather dull and dowdy at this end of the year.  However, they have their own autumnal beauty especially when caught by a slanting sunbeam.

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13 October 2008

Plant of the moment: great horsetail

In the far north eastern corner of Brede High Woods and along Goatham Lane on the clay soil there is an extensive colony of the great horsetail (Equisetum telmateia), one of two horsetail species so far recorded on the estate.

20081011 BHW Equisetum telmateia 001

The closely packed whorls of green branches can grow to 2 metres in height and have been described as looking like miniature coal forests.  Along the hedges they make one feel ones eyes are going somewhat out of focus.  The branches are quite harsh in texture and have been used as pot scourers.

The stems too are impressive with their alternate zones of ivory and dark brown.

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This and other horsetails have, like most British plants, been used medicinally for a variety of afflictions.  The herbalist Culpepper said that "it solders together the tops of green wounds"

12 October 2008

Autumn comes to Brede High Woods

The leaves are now changing rapidly and it promises to be a fine autumn for colour.

The woods have a misty quality and are rich with the earthy smells of decaying vegetation and fungi.

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The picture above shows a hornbeam colouring up behind a coup of sweet chestnut coppice with oak standards in Coneyburrow Wood on the eastern side of Brede High.

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Above are some hornbeam leaves in closer view and below the smoky reds and purples of a wild cherry (Prunus avium) on the edge of Twist Wood near Goatham Green.

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