Saturday, 30 September 2017


We're strimmin ' strimmin' 
I wanna strim it with you
We're strimmin' strimmin'
And I hope you like strimmin' too
                                                                                   (thanks to Bob M)

Well, brush-cuttin' rather than strimming actually, with the new multi- tool, which has changeable heads that can do a multitude of woodland work. The problem with most bits of machinery is that they're not really made for lightish weight women under 5ft 4ins. The fuel tank adds to the weight, and the harness that supports it need a lot of adjusting to make it comfortable for the smaller person. But no doubt we'll  get used to it with a bit of practice Thankfully, starting it was easy.

First task was to tackle the timber storing area where the cut Scots Pine was stacked prior to collection during the Big Thin of late 2015.  After the logs, tractor, lorry and assorted machinery left, this space was a deeply churned up, rutted mudbath. It was difficult to imagine anything much growing there, but within 18 months a veritable meadow had appeared complete with grasses and wild flowers. It gets a lot of sun, and this summer found it buzzing with bees and butterflies. Keen to encourage this, and to maintain the grassland flora, we waited until the vegetation had set seed, and then today cut it all back. We'll remove the 'arisings' (woodspeak for the cut vegetation) when we next visit, and wait to see what the result is next Spring/Summer.  Autumn/winter is the time for attending to this as it allows a full life cycle of plants and associated insects to be completed.

Next brushcutting job; the bluebell track through the birch.

George and Herbie off to investigate  what Sarah is doing.

Then, at the Ride edge, Sarah had a go at cutting back some tussocky tall grass,  and bramble that was spreading onto the Ride. Increased light levels have encouraged thuggish bramble, which though valuable for wildlife  can quickly take over and smother more delicate plants. We hope that judicious removal, combined with an ongoing programme of tree and shrub layer planting will in time, control its spread by shading it out.

The verdict after this first attempt, was that the rough vegetation needed the brushcutter head. The strimmer head just wouldn't have made the cut. Though I'm interested in trying out a push along cutter (aka a reciprocating scythe mower) that can tackle rough terrain.

Fly Agaric (Amanita  Muscaria) pushing its way out of the earth 

A fine patch of them in a sunny spot  on the edge of the wood

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tree planting: growth update

We regularly check the progress of the trees that were planted last November/ December, to see that the tubes and stakes are still upright and secure from rampaging deer.  There have been  very few 'failure to thrive' saplings, and of those that have flourished in the 8 - 9 months since they were planted, the Hornbeams are winning in the growth stakes, closely followed by Sweet Chestnut. They've all burst out of their 1.5m tubes and some are now over 2m high. The hornbeam whips were 80cm-1m high and 2 - 3 years old when planted. So they've grown between 50-70cm in 8/9 months. Not at all bad, and perhaps due to a summer with lots of  hot sunshine and regular downpours.  The Wild Cherry are also growing fast, and some have reached the top of their tubes.  Not surprisingly the oaks and beech lag behind but even these have made slow but steady progress, and look healthy when we stand on tiptoe and peer down the tubes. The beech are in mesh tubes and can be seen easily. Other trees doing particularly well are our three Plymouth Pear specimens.

These seem to be very easy to grow.  On average they reach 6m high and 4m across in 10 years and 25m x 20m when fully grown.  Ours appear to be growing at a much faster than average rate, in their first season at any rate.  They grow in full sun or partial shade and can tolerate any aspect or soil. The leaves provide food for many small moth caterpillars and the nut-like seeds are eaten by wood pigeons and the uncommon and elusive hawfinch. There were two Hornbeams in the entire 30 acres until  many more were planted last winter.

Flourishing hornbeam sapling with improvised tube extension 

Wild Cherry 
These can grow 35ftx25ft (11m x 7.6m) in 20 years, with a full grown height of 60ft (18m) Its Spring flowers provide an early source of nectar and pollen for bees, and the berries are eaten by birds including the blackbird and song thrush, as well as mammals such as the badger, wood mouse, yellow necked mouse, and dormouse. The foliage is the main food plant for caterpillars of many species of moth, including the cherry fruit and cherry bark moths, the orchard ermine, brimstone and short cloaked moth. There was one sizeable group of these in OC2, plus a few scattered individuals, and the new plantings will help distribute them better across the wood.

Sweet Chestnut
These are also fast growing,  long lived, and stately trees, usually growing to around 8 metres  after 10 years, and 35 metres  when fully grown, They can live for up to 700 years. We only have one mature specimen in the wood.  The flowers provide an important source of nectar and pollen to bees and other insects, and red squirrels eat the nuts - sadly we have only grey squirrels but I think they would enjoy chestnuts too. A large number of micro-moths feed on the leaves and nuts as well.

Plymouth Pear
This is a rare wild species of pear which was discovered in Devon in 1863. It's not a native to our wood, but is one of a small number of non local trees which we have planted for interest - and also because it's one of the rarest trees in the UK. There are only c 15 trees left in the original spot where they were found in hedge banks around the city of Plymouth.

Alder Buckthorn 
Mature trees can grow to a height of 6 metres. The outer bark is dark brown but the inner bark is bright yellow when exposed. It is the food plant of the brimstone butterfly whose caterpillars eat the leaves. Its flowers provide a source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects and its berries are eaten by birds. It is 'widespread but rare'  says The Woodland Trust.

Alder buckthorn growing at the edge of the ride

 Quite a few of these were planted and protected last winter, since nearly all of the naturally regenerating ones were being enjoyed by snacking fallow deer. But to our surprise  numerous alder buckthorn have survived deer depredation this year.  Some of this success must be down to regular and well organised deer management, but also we think due to the large amount of brash left as a result of our Big Pine Thin of late 2015. Deer like an easy meal, and are reluctant to negotiate large amounts of woodland 'rubbish'  in order to reach a tasty morsel.  This has helped protect new growth, and now it's coming up all over the Northern end of the wood, where the majority of  felling took place. It's very welcome as it provides excellent shrub layer/understorey which we're very short of at Old Copse.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Cortinarius watch

Cortinarius violaceus   - on the west side of the pond

Yesterday (31st August) I decided to check on the progress of the original colony of Cortinarius v. on the west side of the pond, just up from the fishermen's bridge. The original specimens were now old and faded, but I counted six new fruiting bodies in the same area.
The original group - now faded 
New small purple fruiting bodies emerging
 As this seems to be a good year for this rare mushroom,  I went on a hunt to see if I could find anymore and checked all the places where it had previously been seen.

In 2013, I had previously found a single individual on the fishermen's path. Checking in the same area, I found four - terrific.
One of the four found on the fishermen's path at the edge of the pond

However, there was no sign of them up in the birch near the car park where we found them last year, albeit nearly two months later. I have noticed that they seem to prefer growing right at the edge of the trees where the light levels are comparatively high. It may be that with all the rain this year there has just been too much growth leaf growth in the area and not enough light is reaching the ground. It certainly felt cooler and damper in that spot than in the others where I found them

Finally, and completely unexpectedly, I found a single broken specimen growing on the ride in OC1 - a good 300m from the others.

Cortinarius violaceus found in OC1
Its position - right on the ride and under a birch tree -  helps strengthen my theory that they have an association with birch and require reasonably high light levels. The ones up from the fishermen's bridge are growing in a patch of birch only c 4m from the edge of the wood which gets a lot of light from the open field behind (now a vineyard).  The ones down by the fishermen's path are right at the edge of the pond and get a lot of light across the water. The ride itself is one of the sunniest places.

While it's probably just a good year for fungi, it would be nice to think that our work thinning the wood and increasing light levels is helping this rare mushroom to increase.

New Cortinarius site - on the ride under a birch tree in OC1
Update: 23rd September there were seven specimens of varying ages in the colony by the fishermen's bridge. I also found five growing in the birch near the car park where they were found last year. Plus while there were none on the ride under the birch tree (see above) I found two specimens in the adjoining birch wood 15ft away down the slope, which are presumably part of the same group. And for good measure one sole Cortinarius growing on the side of the ride in OC3. So an excellent year for them!

Update: 29th September - Cortinarius tally:
Fishermen's bridge colony - 4 specimens
Car park colony - 2 x groups, 2 + 4 specimens
Fishermen's path colony - 8 specimens (including two new)
OC1 rideside birch - 2 old specimens
Plus I came across three individuals in the OC1 birch to the east of the quarry - at least 50m from the ones previously spotted