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.

20081104 BHW woodyard office 010

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

20081107 BHW from Hurst Lane 005

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.