The Orange Tip

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Tag: wood

London Bats (new podcast)

Bat 3

Last autumn I spent a day with Cindy Blaney, a warden at Highgate Wood in North London, as she surveyed the resident bat population. Cindy is employed by the City of London, caring for, documenting and conserving the wood, which amazingly for London, can be traced back to a form of ancient woodland. Each year Cindy conducts a bat census, recording species and numbers, and I was fortunate enough to tag along. It was very cool to get up so close to the bats, typically such illusive creatures, which we found huddled in nest boxes, settling in for the winter.

You can listen to my time in the wood with Cindy over on the Podcast page in the header.

Tree and Cindy 1

Working in the Wood

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Wintering-snail in a fissure of a robina trunk

Back in the woods again. The paths have held quite well, edged with the fallen or cut branches from last year’s tree work. Although the boundaried areas of copse have subsequently been afforded uninhibited (and un-trampled) freedom of growth, it is now necessary to clear back the bramble before it has a chance to take over.

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

South path of the wood, lined with sycamore boughs

Splitting our little wood up into five sections, I’ve been slowly digging up the thorny blanket by the roots and amassing them at the centre of the copse, ready for a bonfire next week.

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Bramble pile for burning

Bramble pile for burning

As with the work last winter, I’ve loved spending a solid block of time devoted to this section of the garden; probably my favourite place to be at this time of year. The birds in the canopy are a hive of constant activity, preparing new nests and scoping out material with which to construct them. On the copse floor, flowers of snowdrop and winter aconite are now in full flower, lighting up the ground as beacons for awakening bumble bees.

Snowdrops in flower (

Snowdrops in flower (Galanthus nivalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymalis)

Arum leaves under large English oak

Arum leaves under large English oak

One plant I’ve always ensured gets a good footing in the wood is burdock. Around four years ago I found a small clump, having presumably made its way over the park wall via wind or wing (or more likely, attached to a squirrel), in full spread beside one of our ash trees. Ever fond of its shrub-like form and broad, rhubarb-esque leaves, I’ve made sure each year to gather and redistribute the seed, collecting directly from the dried heads that remain at the top of dead stems over winter. Taking note of the plant’s edible qualities from the wildflower bible that is Richard Mabey’s, Flora Britannica, I even once dug up some of the burdock’s roots and had a go at stir frying them. Nothing special..I’m not going to lie. Flora Britannica is very much a book worth having to prop up anyone’s interest in the history of our British wild flowers though.

Burdock seed heads (Arctium sp.)

Burdock seed heads (Arctium minus)

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Burdock seeds released

Burdock seeds released from capsule

'Flora Britannica', by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

Flora Britannica by renowned nature-writer, Richard Mabey

New Life in Dead Wood

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This is a picture of the stag beetle I found sitting on my desk two years ago. When I came in from the garden he was upside down, clawing the air with his hooked legs; an enormous insect there on my notebook. It was a bizarre occurrence, not least because of how scarce a sighting of one of these beetles has become; I actually jumped a little at the sight of it, wondering if it might even be a children’s toy.

The truth is that I should have expected to see one, sooner or later. Since I arrived at the garden I’ve been very deliberately leaving piles of stacked wood in tucked away corners in the hope of attracting the various creatures which favour such a habitat. A couple years on I’d already begun to see evidence of field mice, over-wintering hornets, solitary bees, toads, slow worms and even grass snakes. With Richmond park so close by too (with it’s contingent of largely woodland areas), stag beetles were always a possibility.

These impressive, majestic and slightly ridiculous-looking beetles depend fully on the existence of dead and decaying wood. Before the days when woodland floor clearance and tidying was deemed good practice (and more recently thrown out following the development of ecological study and the realisation of the detriment this management strategy had caused), stag beetles were a common sight in the UK. The beetles actually have a surprisingly long life, with only a short amount of it – a few weeks – spent in their completed beetle form. Development rom egg-hatch to winged insect can take between 4-6 years; nearly all of it therefore spent buried inside rotting wood or underground as larvae. This is why it is so crucial that any nesting site must be left completely undisturbed for such a long period. In a natural ecology of time gone by, fallen trees slowly decaying on the wood floor allowed for exactly this environment, and the beetles flourished.

Going back to the garden then – there’s a very small collection of two or three logs that I’ve left alone and surrounded by lawn for about four years. It’s a tiny wooden island in a sea of grass. Accidentally knocking one of the stumps over while mowing last week I was amazed to find that the inside had completely rotted away AND it contained three little stag beetle larvae. They appeared to be at differing stages of development (known as ‘instar’s), with the largest at least a year away from pupation. It’s such a good sign of the changing times therefore, that even a very small collection of wood left alone can potentially provide a home for growing stag beetles – small enough to be included in any garden no matter what the size.

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I few years ago I wrote a post on the provision of habitat in a garden here.

Laburnam Cut

Laburnam

Part of the work I did in the wood this Winter involved felling three mature trunks of a Laburnam tree. The tree had begun to fall under it’s own weight, having rooted in loose soil and so I decided to coppice it before it had a chance to topple. I’ve been away from the garden for a few weeks but my fingers are crossed in the hope of seeing a few new shoots on my return..

Traditionally Laburnam wood has been used for turning and as embellishment on fine furniture. The dark coloration of the heart wood makes it an ideal (and cheaper) alternative to ebony. Despite having little plans for the wood as yet, I saved as much as I could from the fell, storing it in the shed and log-store. Pictured above is a small cross section with a little linseed to bring out the colour. It really is a beautiful wood.

Time In The Wood

LogsNine trees came down during the fierce winds of the last couple of months. All but one of them were robinia; a north American woodland tree of which we have a great number at the garden. The pros of robinia are that it’s a great, grand tree; stunning blossom in early summer, fantastic for wildlife (I’m forever stopping to watch nuthatches and woodpeckers scour their fissures for insects) and they grow very quickly. The problem with them however, as so many now frustrated London borough councils are experiencing, is that they are shallow rooted, weigh a great deal and are prone to snapping.

Having finally finished the never ending autumn and early winter jobs around the garden (mostly involving aggravating but useful machines like pressure washers and hedge trimmers) I’ve been at last able to get stuck into the woodland and begin returning it to form.

In early summer the fairly open canopy means lots of wildflowers; alkanet, cow parsley, greater celandine, campian etc all flourish to form a dense and beautiful lower story of up to 1.5 meters. With this in mind I’m aiming to create new paths that weave among them, clean and chop the trees that have come down, fell any leaning with intent to fall and then process the wood into lengths, habitat and firewood for next year.

Wood summer

Pathway summerAll brash wood I’m leaving in large piles to rot down and provide shelter for wildlife (also a much simpler option than shifting it all.. which there really isn’t any need for anyway). There isn’t yet a purpose in mind for the log lengths, however I didn’t want to convert all the good material into firewood and so they’ll remain in the wood until purpose arrives.

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July

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Fungus Bench

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One of the straighter, sun striving robinias came down in the heavy winds last month. Having had to simply trim it and lay to one side while I finished clearing the woodland area of the garden, I recently got to putting it to use.

I think it was actually more of a dual effort in terms of its demise; the combined forces of strong winds and nature’s craftiest killer, honey fungus. Noticed a clump of the toadstools present on a nearby stump and the unmistakable smell of mushrooms emitting from the tree base itself. I have mixed feelings about honey fungus, but contrary perhaps to many gardeners, most of them are positive. It’s true that once established, the fungus can be a nightmare, particularly in heavy shrub borders or smaller gardens in general. However the ‘disease’ acts out one of the most essential elements in life; death. Or to be more specific, decay. Without it the world would be a very, very different place. It wouldn’t really be here to be more accurate. So, clearly not going any deeper into the biology, trees need to come down in order to support new trees. All green needs to rot, to a certain extent, if new green is to come. Ultimately we ourselves need to rot, but I think the sentiment is best left there.

Honey fungus is certainly one of the most proficient progressors of this natural cycle, though it can be a tragedy in the shrubbery. I really struggle with the concept of attempting to chemically prevent the continuation of such an important natural process however, and in my book, the best thing to do is simply to isolate the problem as best as possible, and burn the remnants. Any uninfected by-product of the felling is for putting to a good use.

I decided to make a bench to go by the pond. It’s very rough cut, and all hacked to shape with the harsh blunt force of a hatchet, mallet and chisel, and below is the process in pictures.