Friday, 26 February 2016

Woodland themes and activities for public consumption March - June 2016

Veteran Tree features
Old knobbly Oak at Highbury

Dead wood and what lurks?
Measuring and ageing trees
  • Woodland flowers
  • Flowers of meadow and wayside
  • Bugs
Breeding woodland birds
  • Dawdling Woodland Walks
  • The Dawn Chorus

Lesser Stag Beetle likes well rotted beech trunks
Wood anemone
Lesser stag Beetle larvae

Beech log pile

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

To introduce or not? Woodland Wednesday number 7 at Highbury Park

Today's theme - To introduce or not
Wood sedge and other plants from Eco Park
Many thanks to Anne Brookes from B&BCWT for a great contribution of potted plants from EcoPark. The selection included-
  • Wood Sedge
  • Wood Sorrel
  • Primrose
  • Ground Ivy
  • Yellow Archangel
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Wood Speedwell
  • Wood Millet
  • Violet
  • Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage
The sets are propagated at Eco Park with seeds or cuttings collected from known provenance, and given a seal of approval by Professor Ian Trueman.

We began the session with a discussion about the crafting of a plantation, which theoretically aims to enhance or 'speed up' habitat development by a variety of means including-
  • the creation of dead wood through coppicing
  • managing access
  • recording and monitoring wildlife
  • introducing relevant species (mostly ground flora or trees) to improve biodiversity
In most discussions of this nature there are varied ideas about what should or should not be introduced; some purists might suggest 'add nothing and allow nature to take its course', others will suggest adding flowering plants, such as Daffodils, Lilly of the Valley or Snowdrops for aesthetics, whilst others would suggest add nothing unless it's of proven local provenance and grows relatively locally elsewhere. Bluebells for example, should be Hyacinthoides non-scripta and not the spanish variety  H. hispanica or known hybrid.

Likewise, Primrose, Primula vulgaris, another contentious species is widely introduced in plantations, the following information from wikipedia is worthy of note

In appropriate conditions, the Primrose can cover the ground in open woods and shaded hedgerows. In more populated areas it has sometimes suffered from over-collection and theft so that few natural displays of primroses in abundance can now be found. However it is common on motorway verges and railway embankments where human intervention is restricted. To prevent excessive damage to the species, picking of primroses or the removal of primrose plants from the wild is illegal in many countries, e.g. the UK (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 13, part 1b).

A pink form is widely seen, growing amongst the much more common yellow forms; this may be a genetic variant rather than a garden escape. Occasional red forms are more likely to be naturalised from garden varieties. (Wiki).

Following discussion, we agreed to plant the Primrose sets brought along by one of volunteers, even though we were informed the plants were taken from a nearby garden but were "wild". We agreed that should any produce flowers other than creamy yellow coloration, they will be taken out.

We applied a firm NO thank you for an offer of Bluebells - broad leaved, large bulbs - and probably hybrids.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Richard Mabey says "Hybrids between native rarities and more vigorous intruders are despised and sometimes destroyed because, from a niggardly view of biodiversity, they are diluting the genetic purity of the original. It is as if individual trees with character and rich biographies can continue to have an existence only through the pickling (by cloning, for example) of their unique genetic identity; and that by being carried forward by the eddying, unpredictable streams of reproduction, as all other organic life is, would obliterate their authentic essence."

Friday, 12 February 2016

Natural Capital

'Natural Capital' - the capitalisation of nature
However one approaches the issues of environmental impact and globalisation, there is no escaping the economic fear factor when considering climate change and environmental degradation, and hence a new term has been presented to CEO's, economists and other finance leaders throughout the business networks; 'Natural Capital', a shrewd and perhaps necessary term, to get the attention of those involved in world wide business institutions and financial entities, where bottom line and increased profits is perhaps the only concern for many.
To most of us 'on the ground', we welcome any discussion that raises and highlights our concerns regarding environmental plight, and whilst our concerns are perhaps more 'down to earth' = counting birds, identifying wild flowers, bug hunting etc. we look elsewhere, often via media coverage, to assess the health of our environment. And, perhaps somewhat cynically, we know things are bad when corporate capitalists are in debate about the state of the planet - spending time away from the boardroom and their preferred occupation of accumulating wealth and maximising financial profit; but let us not be fooled into thinking they have suddenly become environmentally 'aware' and have developed a new found love for nature, wildlife and planetary/biological science, they are concerned and talking because they wish to continue accumulating wealth and maximising profits.

It would be refreshing to hear the term 'wealth' related to the natural world more often, and perhaps some economists and financiers will make the connection between accumulation and nature; for me the term 'Natural Capital' is therefore a welcome one, but there again so was the concept of 'sustainability', or sustainable practices, a few years back - global capitalisation seems to be a runaway train gathering speed- and it will inevitabley crash.......

The link below leads to details of a recent World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh and the following quote is at the forefront - “…there are both serious risks to business, as well as significant opportunities, associated with biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. There is also a need for business to quantify and value its impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, in order to manage these risks and opportunities and enable a better future for all”
Pavan Sukhdev
Chair, TEEB Advisory Board
UN Goodwill Ambassador
Veteran Tree characteristics
"Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things.
It is from this Natural Capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.
The most obvious ecosystem services include the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines. There are also many less visible ecosystem services such as the climate regulation and natural flood defences provided by forests, the billions of tonnes of carbon stored by peatlands, or the pollination of crops by insects. Even less visible are cultural ecosystem services such as the inspiration we take from wildlife and the natural environment"

Woodland Wednesdays at Highbury 2016

Alf Dimmock
BCC Parks and Nature Conservation 
Hall Green and Selly Oak Senior Ranger
12 February 2016
Woodland Wednesdays
Highbury Park, January-March 2016
9 meetings between January and March 2016-
Invitations - Members of the public, Highbury Park Friends, HOCCIC, Simon Needle (Conservation and Planning), Robert Osborne (Former BCC tree officer), Terry Quinn (Biological recorder), Anne Brookes (B&BCWT).
Aims; Consultation, information sharing 
Themes; woodland comparisons, plantations, woodland features, species identification, species recording, practical coppice management, dead wood habitats, standing dead wood, woodland flowers and other vegetation, when does a plantation become a woodland?, veteran trees, matutre oaks, scrub, measuring and ageing mature oaks, heritage, tools, health and well being, interacting with woodlands, poetry and literature.
Meeting 1. Introductions and walk around Highbury Park, South-east and west. Themes;- 
  • looking at buds for deciduous tree identification
  • discusion about benefits of ivy and ivy management practice
  • management of individual trees
Meeting 2. Walk around Highbury, West and North 
  • Hedgerow along Shutlock Lane
  • Pinetum
  • Use of keys (paper keys of limited value as not all trees present) 
  • Beech plantation (comparison of wooded stands within the park)
Meeting 3. Walk around Henburys
  • Big Garden Birdwatch
  • Identifying birds
  • Recording 
Meeting 4. Walk from Highbury to Holders Woods and Centenary Wood
  • Comparison of local woodland
  • Habitats and species (High forest, scrub, plantations, indicator species)
  • NIA work at Queen Mothers and Centenary Woodland
Meeting 5. In and outs of the coppiced woodland
  • Dead wood
  • Northish/southish orientation
  • Growing and natural generation
Meeting 6. Woodland products/produce 
  • Kipsy baskets (hesian, hammers, pins, saw, lopper, workmate/bench)
  • Wattled fencing
  • Walking sticks
  • Whistles
Meeting 7. Coppicing and tree planting
  • Principles of coppicing
  • Tree planting strategy
  • Species
  • Tools - (axes, billhooks, bowsaws, loppers)
Meeting 8. Measuring, ageing and mapping Oaks

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Highbury Park Management Plan (Perspective and Vision)

A Vision for Highbury Park (Community) Woodland and community engagement
Woodland Wednesday Volunteers and Rangers - Jan(Ranger), Jim, Connor, Deby, Alf (Ranger), Stefanie, Terry, Roy, Jeremy, Barry, Mark
There are a few good examples of ‘Community Woodlands’ around the country, usually in situations in which typically there is strong community interest involving keen amateur woodland managers, enthusiastic stalwarts and experts in collaboration to conserve their local woods in the ‘olde waye', following practices from the past four thousand years.
A crucial element to a successfully managed community woodland is a dedicated band of men, women and children, keen physically, spiritually and mindfully to engage with the ecology, fibre, structure  and ‘crafting’ involved in ‘traditional’ woodland management. 
Traditional in the sense of managing for products, many which are little required during the latter part of the 20th Century, but which might just come back into their own, either as novelty, must-have 21st Century 'earth connectors' or by design, in competition with other trend materials, or even as essentials as the concepts of 'dwindling earth resources' and sustainability is considered in our every move.
‘Biodiversity’ is a 21st Century driving factor, along with our woodland stalwarts, as the natural world is systematically ‘capitalised’ and degraded, but let us not forget that woodlands in the UK were industrialised over a thousand year period until the 1950’s resulting in the ecological make up we have to day.
The single aim of this vision is to see ‘working woodlands’ once again, in which every aspect of the woodland is considered and managed for productive purpose. The identification of products is therefore paramount, and as in all products 'marketing' is required to compete in a local economy. 
The woodland product, and resource may include aspects other than the physical timber produce - thus the 21st century concept of 'natural capital' gains a heading. 

Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things.
It is from this Natural Capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.
The most obvious ecosystem services include the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines. There are also many less visible ecosystem services such as the climate regulation and natural flood defences provided by forests, the billions of tonnes of carbon stored by peatlands, or the pollination of crops by insects. Even less visible are cultural ecosystem services such as the inspiration we take from wildlife and the natural environment
Wildlife, for example with managed habitats, including the identification of non-intervention areas together with  opportunities for succession with the aim of improving biodiversity.
The outdoor classroom, linked to local schools, colleges and social support agencies. There is much talk of the benefits of learning outdoors but schools are somewhat lacking the imagination to take advantage, marketing here is crucial. 

Check out Down To Earth on Facebook -
Coppice products (small timber)
Coppice crafts (saleable at farmers markets)
Larger structural timbers (identified, valued and marketed)
Adventure play space with fallen logs, rope swings, dens etc.
Recreational setting, picnic space
Biomass for fuel (firewood or charcoal)
Each product is a result of carefully planned and managed space, taking into account the needs of other space users, fauna and flora, the land owners’ duty, the accountability of the local authority (land owner) and the demands of those using and claiming that space.

The woodland and Tree resource at Highbury

The tree resource at Highbury consists of estate trees including remnant woodland/hedgerow trees from 150-200 years ago, along with recent park additions over the past 50 years with new plantations dating from the 1990’s and woodland enhancement since 2010.
These can be categorised or described as follows - veterans, collections, plantations, boundary (hedgerows), arboretum, exotic, native/indigenous, ecologically valuable ornamental, invasive species, productive, coppice, other..........
Each tree, plantation or collection will have value ascribed to modern thinking, needs and values. The job of Rangers, Friends and other park users, is to strive towards balance, a somewhat impossible state, but nevertheless  a philisophical concept that retains some understanding for the purpose of management planning.
Biodiversity ‘NI 197’ is modern in term and concept, and whilst the age old practice of ‘coppicing’ is ancient it serves to compliment the principles behind the ‘biodiversity’ cause.
What is National Indicator 197?
It measures the performance of Local Authorities at protecting and improving their local biodiversity. It is a calculation of the “proportion of Local Sites where positive conservation management has been or is being implemented”.
Biodiversity forms a part of many other National Indicators but NI 197 is the
only indicator which directly measures the results of Local Authority actions on wildlife. NI 197 acts as a proxy for the state of local biodiversity as it is speci c and measurable. 
Management planning is what we are currently undertaking through on-site consultation, park walks, HOCCIC meetings, HP Friends meetings, social networking, themed events, children’s activities, promotions, notice board posters, news items, press releases and emails etc. - stakeholders include the following-

  • Constituency Parks Manager - overview of tree management and safety as well as all other park operations
  • Tree Officer - overview of tree management and safety
  • Rangers - consideration of park biodiversity and community engagement
  • HP Friends - interest in all park operations
  • Highbury Orchard Community - co-ordination of projects, community engagement, activities, events, liaison with Council and all interest groups, compiling business planning model.
  • Chamberlain Highbury Trust

Initial management ideas for Highbury trees, woodlands and hedgerows

  • increase hazel cover in current plantations aiming to maximise hazel coppice yield
  • plant hazel in strategic areas of the park for future coppicing
  • diversify oak plantation with mix of broadleaf species
  • identify locations within the park for ‘standard’ tree replacement
  • identify areas for new woodland or expand current plantations
  • consult with tree officers and other experts to address Beech woodland management
  • manage hedgerows through laying where appropriate
  • plant new trees and shrubs along old hedgerow lines
  • manage veteran trees through surgery and other means to maximise longevity
  • complete woodland management plan

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Wildlife Trust For Birmingham and The Black Country

Nature Improvement Areas.

The spread of Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage at Centenary Woods, Cannon Hill, is a result of NIA work. The plant was cell grown from cuttings at ECO Park and transplanted in suitably wet conditions; The past two years growth shows the plant thriving in its new setting.

Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium) at Centenary Woods, Cannon Hill.
Photo by Anne Brookes (WTBBC) 2nd February 2016.
A tiny fraction of the current prostrate matting was introduced, perhaps 5-6 foliates, so the expanding growth shown in the image above is excellent.

"Habitat: Woodland flushes, stream sides, springs, wet rocks, on acid soils;" (Collins Flower Guide)

"Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, is a creeping, mat forming perennial whose bright yellow flowers, cupped in green, leafy brackets, form trickles of gold on shady stream banks and in woodland flushes as early as mid March" (Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey)

Check out the Wildlife Trust's website by clicking the link below for details of NIA work in Birmingham.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Yew

In the chapter 'The Cult Of Celebrity' Richard discusses the Yew in terms of its ancient sacredness and celebrity status amongst Tree lovers, Botanists, Druids and New Age devotees.

It seems to me that most of us with any interest in trees will have a particular story of the Yew. For my part, as a child, one of the trees at Oakley's Park, Colley Gate (Cradley) was known affectionately as 'the easy tree', and most suited to the initiates of tree climbing. Some progressed to the Eagle's Nest and the Owl's Nest in the grounds of The Grange, and here one could hide from the staff employed at, what became known as an 'illegal abortion clinic'. Today it is the respectable West Midlands Hospital.

West Midlands Hospital (the Grange in the 1960's and previously Colman Hill House)
The most experienced tree climbers would risk life and limb to traverse a line of 5 or 6 Sycamore trees above the spiked railings bordering the park; several spiking incidents occurred, causing serious injury. One had to be particularly adept and only a single person to my knowledge (Tinner) gained the title of 'the tree climber', and I believe he was spiked on at least one occasion.

The 'easy tree', the Yew on Colman Hill, nevertheless was a splendind climber, made accessible by the stubby limbs created in the course of maintenace pruning, one could reach the giddy heights of around 20-30 feet with no fear.

Yews of the Rea Valley
It seems that ancient Yews are difficult to age because of the unusual growth character, so we look for other clues to determine an approximate age, although Mabey does relate the formula - [dbh/2]² x π), and this he says seems to work well when tested against trees of known age (documented).

There are at least four roads in Birmingham entitled 'Yew Tree', (Postcode(s): B13 8QG, B36 0BN, 
B15 2LX and B6 6RX together with a well known pub location at B25), providing some evidence therefore that Yews have a particular significance but probably no more here than any other City. Yew Tree Road in Moseley, B13, is near Highbury, and within the grounds of the old estate can be found a remnant quadrangle of yew trees, now somewhat dilapidated together with a nearby single Yew of significant age, possibly the oldest in the Rea Valley.
The Highbury Yew, very difficult to measure because of its contorted growth

Birmingham Yews

COFTON HACKETT St Michael and All Angels Diocese of Birmingham SP0118375352
The church is 14th century. The yew was first noted in 1946 when Rev. H.R.Chaffer gave information to Vaughan Cornish for his book The Yew Tree and Immortality. It was, he said, ‘reputed to be more than 800 years old’.
Highbury Yew detail

Highbury Yew detail, Gargoyles and trolls.
2002: The fallen male yew grows SW of the church. The size of its upright branches suggests it fell many decades ago. It would appear that the yew followed the normal developmental stages of cylindrical growth, hollowing and becoming horse shoe shaped. It was unable to remain upright and gradually leaned until its bole direction became parallel to the ground. In this new unorthodox position, just as with yews at Powick, Lee and Benington, it can continue to develop for many more centuries.
Ç Tim Hills 2015 

The above article is taken from the website of the Ancient Yew Group -