25 February 2009

New bluebell survey

Today a group of trainee teachers led by Zahra Amlani (fifth from right below) from the University of Brighton visited Brede High Woods to agree a conservation/ecology project that they can undertake this spring.

20090225 BHW car park group Cpt 5j 008

After a walk round with Dave Bonsall, the Woodland Trust's manager (above left), and myself, they agreed that they would look at the distribution of bluebells in some of the ancient woodland areas.

The plant is an ancient woodland indicator but shows a very varied pattern of distribution both in older woods and more recent ones. 

20080516 Brede High Woods 5b distribution of bluebells 038

Why, for example, do bluebells grow on the left side of this woodland stream and hardly at all on the other?  (It isn't the geology)

It may be to do with past patterns of management, but the more data we have the better we will be able to make sure the species continues to deliver its gorgeous sheets of shimmering, scented blueness every spring.

The plant leaves are already well up and will, as usual, be in full flower in May.

15 February 2009

A successful walk

Our first Brede High Wood guided walk of 2009 took place on Saturday, 14 February (St. Valentine's Day).  For a change the weather was perfect: warm late winter sunshine from a pale blue sky.

When we started there was ice underfoot from the overnight frost, but the warmth brought a quick thaw and plenty of mud.  Hazel catkins were at their best and we saw the first primrose and the inconspicuous flowers of dog's mercury (see below).Mercurialis perennis 012

We walked for 2 hours covering mostly the eastern part of the woods.  In many places the yellowish green tips of the bluebell plants were poking through the fallen leaves and it was good to realise, after this unusually cold winter, that spring is not far away.

20090214 BHW walk 003

There will be many more walks and other events during the course of the year, and I will try to flag then up on this blog as they occur.

5 February 2009

Hazel catkins at their best

For the next couple of weeks catkins on the hazel trees (Corylus avellana) will be at their best.  These catkins, or lamb's tails as I knew them as a child, are the male, flowers that shed their pollen on the wind.

20090204 BHW 7a hazel 009

The autumn nuts will develop from the small, bud-like female flowers with a sticky red tuft of stigmas to catch the flying pollen.

Corylus avellana 20030217b

The male catkins are eaten by caterpillars of the nut bud moth (Epinota tenerana) and, when the catkins are over, they bore their way into the leaf buds to finish feeding.  These tortrix moths are said to be quite common and one day I hope to find the caterpillars.  There is more here: http://ukmoths.org.uk/show.php?bf=1139

4 February 2009

Drinker in the snow

There have been a few days of quite deep snow but, as the picture below shows, there is only a relatively light cover remaining in Brede High Woods.

20090204 BHW 7a snow 011

There have also been hard overnight frosts and I was surprised to find a drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria) caterpillar stretched along a blackthorn thorn at about chest height when I was looking, unsuccessfully, for brown hairstreak eggs.

20090204 BHW 8e drinker larva 015

The drinker is a grass-feeding species and the caterpillars normally hibernate in grass tussocks or leaf litter.  I wondered if this example had climbed up the blackthorn in order to raise its body temperature in the morning sunshine before starting to feed