Sunday, 21 October 2018

Before and After photos

In late August/early September 2015  I took some photos  to monitor a few areas of the wood prior to the Scots Pine thin in late 2015, and again directly after the thin. These are paired with photos taken this year from roughly the same viewpoint to record the slow but sure recovery of the wood during the subsequent 3 years.

Ground flora

September 2015  The only green on the woodland floor is bracken

 October 2018  with bracken removed and pines  thinned, a more diverse flora is starting to flourish.

Look closely and it can be seen that the 'after' photos show more growth . The  ground doesn't look nearly so brown now, whereas in 2015 it was thick with pine needles, with bracken just about the only visible green growth on the woodland floor. The Scots Pine thin has meant fewer needles covering the ground with a thick brown blanket, and this, combined with bracken removal,  has allowed much more ground flora to come through, in particular,  ferns, heather,  grasses, and also a vigorous under story composed chiefly of  alder buckthorn, hazel, and  willow; Progress is quite slow but there is noticeable improvement.

When the 33% thin was done in late 2015, the forester said we should do the next one in about 5 years time, that is, in late 2020,  but this now seems too soon. We are aiming for  'continuous cover '  at Old Copse. This is the management of forest and woodland without clear felling (removing all the trees either in one section, or overall),  but instead, to use a programme of thinning the trees to encourage regeneration  and allow for under planting.   The trees we planted in gaps between the remaining pines after the thin, need to grow taller and make more shade before we remove further pines.  We intend  to gradually re-plant more broadleaf trees each year. and must monitor the light levels in order to create and maintain a balanced light situation. Too much light and the wood gets swamped with bramble and bracken, both of which inhibit the growth of ground flora; too little light  and  most plants  fail to grow. Bringing Old Copse into better balance isn't going to happen quickly; it's a long, careful process to return the wood to  full health and bio-diversity.

In the pine plantation - looking east

September  2015

September 2018

In the pine plantation - looking south

                                                                    September 2015

September  2018

                                                                   September 2015

                                                                    September 2018

View up the timber extraction track (looking east)

December 2015  

June  2018  

Extraction track

December 2015

October 2018

August 2018  View  from top of Extraction track

OC2 Main ride looking south

December 2015

July  2018

OC1 Main ride looking south

February  2015  

September 2018

There are more 'before' photos in previous blogposts. See  'Another year at Old Copse: A Summary  29/12/2015,' and  'In praise of the humble mattock: 30/01/16'

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Illegal immigrant spotted at Old Copse

Leptoglossus occidentalis
This large handsome bug landed on the table as we were having lunch. It turned out to be a Nearctic leaf- footed pine bug: Leptoglossus occidentalis aka the Western Conifer Seed Bug.

Originally restricted to western parts of the United States and Canada, it managed to get to Italy in 1999 - presumably as a stowaway in a cargo of timber. Since then it has been following the migrant trail across northern Europe and made it to the UK in 2007. The majority of records have been of adults observed at light traps along the south coast of England, clearly indicating a large migration across the English Channel.

Adults and nymphs like to eat the flowers, developing cones and seeds of over 40 species of conifer trees, and they particularly like pine - including Scots pine. So no surprise to find it in Old Copse.

The Forestry Commission reckon it's not harmful, unless you are running a conifer seed nursery, in which case it can become a serious pest. So no need to alert the authorities. But I have logged a sighting with the Terrestrial heteroptera recording scheme, who keep records of invasive species.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Record breaking fungi

On September 16th the West Weald Fungus Identification Group made a return visit to Old Copse. Led by Dick Alder, this expert group found more than 50 species when they visited last year. This time they were particularly interested in seeing if they could find the purple web cap (Cortinarius violaceus) which was the star of the show on Dick's previous visit.

In the previous couple of weeks I'd hunted in vain in all the places where I'd seen Cortinarius last year. But no joy. Luckily the group are well attuned to spotting the most reclusive specimens and found ten individual examples down by the banks of the pond.

Purple webcap Cortinarius violaceus
OK, this one's a bit battered but it's definitely Cortinarius!

In all the group identified 70 different  types of fungi - the most ever found in one visit to Old Copse. We really appreciate having such expert visitors who help us understand more about the ecology of Old Copse. Full list below.

Amanita citrina False Deathcap Soil Betula
Amanita citrina var. alba False Deathcap Soil Betula/Pinus
Amanita excelsa var. spissa Grey Spotted Amanita Soil Betula/Pinus
Amanita fulva Tawny Grisette Soil Betula
Amanita muscaria Fly Agaric Soil Betula
Amanita rubescens Blusher Soil Pinus
Annulohypoxylon multiforme Birch Woodwart Fallen wood Betula
Asterophora parasitica Silky Piggyback Old fruitbody Russula nigricans
Baeospora myosura Conifercone Cap Cone Pinus
Boletus badius Bay Bolete Soil Pinus/Quercus
Boletus edulis Cep Soil Quercus
Boletus erythropus Scarletina Bolete Soil Pinus
Clitopilus prunulus The Miller Soil
Colletotrichum liliacearum Dead stem Hyacinthoides
Coprinopsis atramentaria Common Inkcap Soil
Cortinarius violaceus Violet Webcap Soil Betula
Daedaleopsis confragosa Blushing Bracket Fallen wood Betula
Fistulina hepatica Beefsteak Fungus Trunk Quercus
Ganoderma australe Southern Bracket Log Betula
Gomphidius roseus Rosy Spike Soil Suillus bovinus
Gymnopilus penetrans Common Rustgill Fallen wood Betula
Gymnopus erythropus Redleg Toughshank Litter Betula
Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca False Chantarelle Litter Pinus
Hypholoma fasciculare Sulphur Tuft Fallen wood
Hypomyces chrysospermus Bolete Mould Fruitbody Xerocomellus sp.
Laccaria amethystina Amethyst Deceiver Soil
Lactarius blennius Beech Milkcap Soil Fagus
Lactarius chrysorrheus Yellowdrop Milkcap Soil Quercus
Lactarius hepaticus Liver Milkcap Soil Pinus
Lactarius quietus Oakbug Milkcap Soil Quercus
Lactarius sp. Soil Fagus, Quercus
Lactarius tabidus Birch Milkcap Soil Betula
Lactarius vietus Grey Milkcap Soil Betula
Laetiporus sulphureus Chicken of the Woods Mossy log
Leccinum scabrum Brown Birch Bolete Soil Betula
Lepiota cristata Stinking Dapperling Soil
Mensularia radiata Alder Bracket Dead standing trunk Alnus
Mycena inclinata Clustered Bonnet Fallen trunk
Paxillus involutus Brown Rollrim Soil Betula
Phacidiostroma multivalve Fallen leaf Ilex aquifolium
Piptoporus betulinus Birch Polypore Fallen trunk Betula
Pleurotus pulmonarius Pale Oyster Log
Pluteus cervinus Deer Shield Log Betula
Pluteus salicinus Willow Shield Buried wood
Polyporus ciliatus Log Betula
Polyporus leptocephalus Blackfoot Polypore Log Salix
Postia stiptica Bitter Bracket Log Pinus
Psathyrella piluliformis Common Stump Brittlestem mossy log
Rhodocollybia maculata Spotted Toughshank Soil Betula
Rhopographus filicinus Dead stem Pteridium
Russula aeruginea Green Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula atropurpurea Purple Brittlegill soil Betula
Russula betularum Birch Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula claroflava Yellow Swamp Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula cyanoxantha Charcoal Burner Soil Quercus
Russula densifolia Crowded Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula laurocerasi Soil Quercus/Betula
Russula nigricans Blackening Brittlegill Soil Betula
Russula nobilis Beechwood Sickener Soil Fagus
Russula risigallina Golden Brittlegill Soil Quercus
Russula sardonia Primrose Brittlegill Soil Pinus
Russula subfoetens Soil Quercus
Russula velenovskyi Coral Brittlegill Soil Quercus
Sparassis crispa Cauliflower Fungus Stump Pinus
Suillus bovinus Bovine Bolete Soil Pinus
Trochila ilicina Holly Speckle Fallen leaf Ilex aquifolium
Trametes versicolor Turkeytail Stump
Trichaptum abietinum Purplepore Bracket Fallen trunk Pinus
Tyromyces chioneus Log Deciduous
Xerocomellus cisalpinus Soil Quercus/Betula
Xylaria carpophila Beechmast Candlesnuff Mast Fagus

Monday, 10 September 2018

End of Summer report

The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest on record. For six weeks from the end of June to the second week of August  daytime temperatures consistently topped 30C. Photos from the trail cam show 32 degrees on the 25th June, and similar temperatures through until mid August. 
In the main the wood stood up well against the heat, probably because as we explained here, there had been a wet Spring and the water table was high before the hot weather and drought started. As the hot summer weather progressed, it was noticeable that the saplings which had made such growth in the Spring, just stopped growing and everything - young and mature - slowed right down. 

The other day I learned that there is a word for this: 'aestivation', the condition of summer sleep in which species pass periods of heat or drought. This year was the first time I had noticed it so strongly in the wood.  In previous years there have been odd hot afternoons when it seemed that the wood was asleep, but this year was a whole summer of torpor.  

Often it was too darned hot to do anything at all  except relax in a hammock

The newest introductions - Kris's four beehives - are settling in nicely. Kris comes to check them regularly and tells us they have started to produce honey.

Kris and the bees pose for a photo
The bees have been taking advantage of the heather which has been flourishing in the spaces where bracken and bramble have been cleared. This is the first year we have had so much heather in bloom.

Heather growth has gone mad this year, popping up everywhere.
The honey bees found it very quickly.

On many summer afternoons we could see buzzards slowly circling upwards at the north end of the pond, taking advantage of a thermal that forms over the vineyard. We think the change from golf course to vineyard should have greatly improved the hunting for the owls, There is now lots of tussocky grass and shelter for small mammals, whereas before there was just close cut fairways. Maybe we'll even see a barn owl gliding up the rows of vines.

Quite a change from the golf course

So summer is over, We're emerging from aestivation into a more active autumn. September fungi are already here. We're already planning some autumn planting: more additions to the hedge and some spot planting elsewhere. We've got to plan for global warming and think about hedging our bets (pun intended) and planting for global warming. Deer stalking has started. The wood cycle moves round once more.

Monday, 23 July 2018


Up by the car park at the entrance several ragwort plants are in bloom. They are covered in these bright yellow and black striped caterpillars which are munching away in an alarming fashion.

The charity Buglife says that many insects - bees, moths, butterflies, wasps and other invertebrates are totally dependent on ragwort for food.

Looking them up I found out that they are the caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. We know that ragwort is poisonous to horses and cattle, though they would have to eat 25% of their body weight in ragwort to make them seriously ill, but as we're not keeping animals we didn't see any reason to remove them. I was very interested to find out how the cinnabar moth makes use of the ragwort poison to protect itself,

The cinnabar moth lays its eggs in large batches on the lower leaves of ragwort and when the caterpillars emerge (June to August) they eat their way up the plant. In their early stages the caterpillars are prone to attack from many insects but as they progress they store poison from their host plant in their bodies making them unpalatable to birds and they advertise this fact with bold orange and black stripes.

In August, the mature caterpillars leave the host plant and spin a cocoon in which to hibernate in the soil, at this stage they are sometimes eaten by moles.

They emerge the following summer (May to July) as adult moths when their red and black wings still advertise the poisons they contain making them safe from attack by birds.

Cinnabar moth  - photo by David Chapman

No rain

Not a great deal to report except the exceedingly hot dry weather. In the last blog post I was bemoaning the lack of rain. Several weeks later and nothing has changed. Sun every day, and no rain in sight. Of course it's wonderful to be enjoying such  a great summer, the only downside being our poor thirsty informal hedge , planted last Autumn. The rest of the wood is holding up well, even the trees we planted 18 months ago are still thriving, seemingly unaffected by the drought, though their growth might have slowed a little.  Thank goodness we had a wet spring. We expected to lose about 10%  of the hedging plants, which is normal, but fear there will be heavier losses due to the prolonged drought. Watering once a week or so helps but may not be enough. We'll have to wait and see what emerges next Spring. We might do some extra hedge planting to make up for some of the losses, and hope we have more rain next summer. The tree saplings appear to be doing well in our new  nursery 'enclosure',  only a few of the oaks have been affected by mildew but they'll probably recover. The beech, and alder buckthorn are growing apace.

The lack of water in the wood is striking. The wet wood is no longer thus, the willow grove is almost as dry,  the Pond is nearly empty of water at its Northern point, and the ghyll has all but disappeared, leaving a few puddles. 

In most places growth has stopped, but where a little water remains it is quite lush and jungly.

We went to look at three natural springs which feed into the stream and down into the Pond;   the ground was still damp but only one of them had a trickle of moving water in it, the others were dry as a bone.  

Here is a bit of refreshing video of one of the Springs in April when we had a lot of rain.

And here is what the same spot looks like now:

The other springs have disappeared underground, marked only by lines of ferns.

The bees seem to love the heat. There is an abundance of grasses and flowers for them and there are now four hives. Here is Kris in his beekeepers outfit .  We tend to keep a respectable distance from the hives , as does Herbie the dog. Maybe we should get some beekeepers gear for the three of us.   

Friday, 29 June 2018

Emergency watering

We could really do with some rain. It's been a very prolonged  hot, dry spell, which wouldn't matter too much if we didn't have a newly planted hedge to look after. David Abbott from Sparrowhatch Forestry has been to water the roadside plants twice now. Most of the plants aren't struggling too much because they are in a shady position, but the Wayfaring trees (Viburnam Lantana)  were looking a bit parched and limp before David came along with water and hose. And they were doing so well too. Fingers crossed we get a good downpour soon.