Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Big Garden Bird Watch 2016 -Birds of Highbury

Woodland Wednesday at Highbury today involved bird watching and recording in preparation for the BGBW 2016 over the coming weekend.

2015 results -

A blustery and rain threatened occasion, nevertheless provided plenty of activity with the following species on show -
LBB Gull
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Ring-Necked Parakeet
GS Woodpecker
LT Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Carrion Crow

19 species out of 58 recorded in the park

Monday, 18 January 2016

A Tree Charter

A tree charter

'Along the lines of hedgerows' or 'Beating the bounds'

Following 2015's 'Heritage Week' event, 'Between The Oaks II', I feel compelled to at least equal the satisfaction levels for the 2016 National Heritage Week event. Possibly something 'along the lines of hedgerows', a route somewhere in the Rea Valley;....Perhaps 'Beating the Bounds' of Kings Heath.
Beating the bounds - "Cursed is he who transgresseth the bounds or doles of his neighbour"
'Hedgerows' are symbolic from a 'conservation' view point, stirring emotions and generating a protective desire when we hear of a stretch under threat from land owners; between the 1950's and 1990's thousands of miles of hedgerow were grubbed out, and many more left unmanaged as farming practices declared them unnecessary.

Paradoxically land owners have proved both anti-hero and downright villain in the history of hedgerows, many supporting and benefitting from the 'acts of parliament', creating hedged or enclosed land, proclaimed during the 18th and 19th century and leading to mass protest, as people were forcibly removed, and hence fought for their rights of access to 'common land'- 150 years or so later people would protest about their removal.

The history of hedgerows is one of contention, confrontation and power brokerage, whether planted of 'grubbed out', as we found out at Highbury Park quite recently. Objections and vandalism occurring as we attempted to reinstate old hedge lines with new plants. Hedgerows and land ownership in Britain have been a physical, political and moral battleground for over a thousand years.

Marion Shoard has much to say on the theme in her book 'This Land is Our Land'

Simon Fairlie's article from the Land Magazine is also wonderfully thought provoking -

A Short History of Enclosure in Britain

Simon Fairlie describes how the progressive enclosure of commons over several centuries has deprived most of the British people of access to agricultural land. The historical process bears little relationship to the “Tragedy of the Commons”, the theory which ideologues in the neoliberal era adopted as part of a smear campaign against common property institutions. 

"The first recorded written complaint against enclosure was made by a Warwickshire priest, John Rous, in his History of the Kings of England, published around 1459-86. The first complaint by a celebrity (and 500 years later it remains the most celebrated denounciation of enclosure) was by Thomas More in Utopia:
"Your shepe that were wont to be so meke and tame, and so smal eaters, now, as I heare saye, be become so great devowerers and so wylde, that they eate up and swallow down the very men them selfes. They consume, destroye, and devoure whole fields, howses and cities . . . Noble man andgentleman, yea and certeyn Abbottes leave no ground for tillage, thei inclose all into pastures; they throw down houses; they pluck down townes, and leave nothing standynge but only the churche to be made a shepehowse.""

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Woodland walks in Birmingham and the Black Country

Taken from the Birmingham Mail

Includes adverts

Number 1; Cannon Hill and Holders Woods

"The concept of ancient woodland was a radical one in the 1970s. The popular wisdom was that woods were human artefacts, and could only begin their lives by being deliberately planted." 
The Cabaret of Plants, Richard Mabey.

This is rather surprising and I'm most intrigued at RM's claim, not that I'm disputing it in any way, but I've imagined Britain in ancient times as a more or less wooded land for most parts, broken only by marshland and mountain top, and even here, I imagined Alder and Willow carr and dwarf or wind blown trees up to the tree line. And whilst this, to some extent, may still be debated, RM's point is that the 'concept of ancient woodland' as a means of distinguishing wooded areas in ecological terms hadn't been addressed until the 1970's. 

Wikipedia suggests somewhat later -
"The concept of ancient woodland, rich in plant diversity and managed through traditional practices, was developed by the ecologist Oliver Rackham in his 1980 book Ancient Woodland, its History, Vegetation and Uses in England, which he wrote following his earlier research on Hayley Wood in Cambridgeshire" (Wiki)

Herbert Edlin's Trees, Woods and Man (1956) makes no mention of 'ancient woodland'

My first edition contains an inscription from Herbert Edlin (1956)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Dead wood

Fallen Poplar at Highbury Park
Dead wood, in a variety of conditions and circumstances, is an essential feature of a thriving woodland.

A fallen tree is not always a bad situation, providing there's no injury to people or damage to property, a fallen tree in a wooded setting can be viewed as a positive occurrence as long as the timber can be left in situ.

In this instance at Highbury, the tree is safely on the ground and can fall no further. The trunk from hereon will be investigated by a host of creatures including young humans, and will gradually break down through the processes of decay, wear and weathering.

This extract is from the 'Trees For Life' webpage

"The value of dead wood"

"Dead wood (coarse woody debris or CWD) is extremely important to the health of the forest, and this is being increasingly recognised by conservationists. Not only is it an aspect of the process of nutrient cycling, providing a steady, slow-release source of nitrogen, but it is also thought to play a significant role in carbon storage. Fallen logs can also increase soil stability within a woodland."

Check out the website for further information on dead wood

Candle snuff fungus on hazel logs and dead oak trunk at Highbury.

                                                         Fallen tree with fungus

Thankfully felled trees are retained in parks more often these days and seem to be appreciated for their ecological value. A well decayed horizontal trunk at Highbury is occupied by Lesser Stag Beetles, although the decay is well advanced and will soon be unsuitable for such creatures.

Guidance from Forestry Commission publication 'Life in the Deadwood'
Standing dead trunks at Highbury, crucial for many species. This tree housed a swarm of wild bees a couple of years ago, quite a 'rarity', we were told by the local bee keepers

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Birds of Highbury by Ron

Many thanks to Ron for the following photos.

Long tailed birds
Ringed neck parakeets
Ringed neck parakeets have become a feature of Highbury Park over the past few years.

Nesting in holes, of which there are plenty in standing dead trunks.

Long Tailed Tits

Highbury Park is well known for its variety of bird life, attracted by its diverse habitats.

Over the past ten years or so the park has been addressed with the unmistakable squawks and chattering of parakeets. Hole nesting birds, successfully breeding in standing dead trees  and during Winter 2015 a flock of six birds were seen cavorting the park.

Winter flocks of Tits and Finches flit from tree to tree, picking at the lichens in search of morsals, such as mites, spiders and grubs

The park contains a rich mix of trees and tree cover providing opportunities for many species to feed, shelter and nest.

Hole nesters
Three woodpeckers have been recorded at Highbury, the Great Spotted, most often seen or heard, as well as the 'Yaffle' or Green Woodpecker.

Lesser Spotted are less frequently reported but often seen amongst the mixed flocks of small birds that gather and feed in Winter.

Juvenile Green Woodpecker at Highbury

Tree Creeper

We were blessed with a good sighting of a Tree Creeper during our first Woodland Wednesday of 2016 (13th January)

Highbury leaflets, excellent interpretation from Friends of Highbury Park

Friday, 8 January 2016

Oaks planted and self set

"Naturalness is whatever occurs between human interventions." Richard Mabey (The Ash and the Beech)
Young oak with marble gall - interaction between plant and animal occurs at an early stage
Naturally regenerating woodland at Holders; from acorns probably planted by Jays. These trees are likely to contribute to prime Oak woodlands but alas way beyond our life time 
These self set oaks range between 1 year and 40-50 years
In Contrast the 'Millennium Oak' Plantation at Highbury (circa 2000)
The debate here concerns the planting and /or natural development of new woodland. I believe it was Richard Mabey (source to be verified) who said that most planted trees are 'planted in the wrong place', and I take this to mean that a planted tree is unlikely to do as well over a long term as a naturally occurring tree, grown as it stands from seed. Who knows? difficult to say for certain how long a tree can be expected to live. There is a life expectancy for all living things and this depends on many variable factors.
This table from the above publication considers the pros and cons of introducing plants to new woodland - decisions have to be made and either way it's not clear cut.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

PLANT MORE TREES - Heavy rain and high winds


The weather has certainly been dramatic over the past four weeks or so, leaving many people around Britain in despair.

The persistent flooding has led to 24 hour media attention, heated debate involving almost everyone, inevitable finger pointing and blaming but very little in the way of hope for those living in flood prone zones. For what hope is there when we are told to expect further deluge and for those living in high risk areas struggling to get insurance for their property.

One of the suggested solutions however is to plant more trees in upland areas, currently overgrazed it seems; a recent Guardian article, receiving much attention, reminds me a little of the story the 'Emperor wears new clothes', but it seems to make sense -

"One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.


Fallen Beech at Holders Woods
Shallow rooted Beech, rotted in the wet soil

Whilst a fallen tree in a woodland is not always a negative, we should ensure that newly planted trees are appropriate to the geography.

Beech trees are shallow rooted and thrive best in southern Britain, the natural stronghold for the species.

Rarely do we encounter Oaks in this state, as their roots work effectively with the clay soils.

'Other' Evergreens

Other evergreens alongside our collections and plantations of conifers include some interesting broadleaved species such as Ivy, Holly and Holm Oak.

Ivy in particular causes strong debate amongst tree managers as their considerations involve public health and safety alongside the welfare of individual trees. Richard Mabey tells us that "Attitudes towards ivy have been ambivalent since classical times" (Flora Britannica). Once believed to counteract the effects of alcohol, observed in the plant's ability to "smother grapevines" and thought to indicate some sort of cure for, or prevention of hangover.

Ivy clad undergrowth, shown here on the Rea riverside, is a valuable plant throughout the year, providing food and shelter to birds and invertebrates, especially Holly Blue butterflies-
"The larvae feed predominantly on the flower buds, berries and terminal leaves of Holly (Ilex aquifolium) in the spring generation, and Ivy (Hedera helix) in the summer generation." (Butterfly Conservation - )

as the plant clambers higher into the crowns of oaks, cover is provided for Tawny Owls.

Ivy causes great consternation to tree managers

Holm Oak
Quercus ilex at Kings Heath Park.
Holly like leaves - Holm Oak
A meditteranean origin

A gorgeous night scene of the largest tree in the world -- General Sherman Tree in California’s Sequoia National Park. Christian Loya captured this stunning shot last month. Of the experience, Christian says, “I had been trying various compositions for hours before everything came together. The skies finally cleared revealing a blanket of stars against these old and majestic trees.” Photo courtesy of Christian Loya. — at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Christmas Trees of the Rea Valley

Evergreen, conifer or gymnosperm?
Scots Pine at Highbury Park
OK the Christmas theme is almost over but there remains a pang of interest in 'evergreens' and conifers at this time of year - and it is only the 10th day of Christmas - and perhaps the only time throughout the year that attention is given, by some, to identification.

Over the past couple of years, during broadleaf dormancy, I have developed an interest in 'gymnosperms' (naked seeds), evergreens or conifers, what we call them somewhat depends on our  preferences and how pedantic one might be, perhaps 'evergreen conifers including Larch' is most accurate in this case; and they can provide a welcome distraction from the commercial clubbing we get between October and 25th December.

Whilst all conifers in the Rea Valley are in plantations and not strictly 'woodland' in an ecological sense, they provide an opportunity to get into the field with newly acquired guides and keys to aid identification; often a challenge, especially if the weather is inclement but there is a seasonal and cultural touch alongside to wet the appetite and keep one engaged.

The Pinetum at Highbury Park and the Tree Trail at Cannon Hill Park give us plenty of challenges in terms of ID, although I think we've now cracked them all, however some of the loftier specimens at Cannon Hill provides some uncertainty still.

Western Red Cedar - (Thuja plicata) at Highbury

Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) at Highbury
The cones are a great way to identification

Leaves, scales and needles can be problematic, especially when distinguishing spruces, firs or hemlocks, each having short needles.

Japanese Red Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) cones and male flower buds
Japanese Red Cedar at Cannon Hill Park

An avenue of Giant Redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) form part of the Pinetum at Highbury

The Highbury Pinetum
Cone of the Giant Redwood (left) 

An odd arrangement of 'couplet' planting can be seen at the Pinetum. Whilst some have perished over the past 20 years, some survive together as in the Korean Fir and Golden Larch, above top, and Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana) and American Arborvitae,  (Thuja occidentalis) (above lower)

As with many things biological, classification can be problematic and downright confusing, especially when using a catchall term such as conifer or evergreen or broadleaf; some species are both broadleaf and evergreen such as the evergreen Oak found at Kings Heath Park
Holm Oak (Quercus Ilex)

Ancient Tree Forum

A worthy website

Winter birdwatching - Big Garden Bird Watch 2016

The BGBW doesn't have to be in your garden, after all not everyone has a garden, so why not use the local park or woodland?

Our garden birds are also woodland birds adapting to urban conditions and dependent on food from the bird table or feeding station.

Further details can be found by visiting the RSPB website.

I aim to spend one hour at Holders Woods on Saturday and one hour at Centenary Woods on Sunday.

Friday, 1 January 2016

wooded diversity

The wooded character of the Rea Valley is noticeable from the gateway to
Moor Green Allotments, view towards Edgbaston.
 The recent addition of the dental hospital has blotted the landscape somewhat.

Check out the Guardian Woodland-Literature quiz

Beech plantation at Highbury

inscriptions from the 1980's
Jack and the Beanstalk

Sweet chestnut on Westbourne Road, westside of Rea, Edgbaston East.