Monday, 7 April 2014

All Things Tree-y: Orange Tips, Tree Creepers, Tree Following & Ancient Woodland Indicators

We are really lucky to have the ancient, peaceful and beautiful Mottisfont Estate on our doorstep. It's managed by the National Trust (for whom I am a shepherdess at the weekends) and I have got to know Catherine (one of the rangers) quite well and am going to be helping her out with butterfly transects as the weather warms.

We do a lot of walking round the estate and knowing Catherine means that I now have a much better understanding of how the woods are managed and why, which means when we go walking there (as we do often) I appreciate all the work that goes into running them.


An area of new Hazel coppice with Goat Willow left standing in the centre. By creating an area where tree and shrub heights are different, you allow cycles of light and shade to develope in the wood which benefits the flora and all the small things that rely on them. I was reading recently that primroses rely on coppiced woodlands in order to thrive and will suffer without them.

Add this to the background knowledge I am building up of woodland ecology from college lectures and practicals, and going for a walk in the woods is a different experience from what it was a few months ago. My dear friend Mrs M and my long-suffering husband bear the brunt of this more than anyone (apart from you all here). I really hope I am not boring the pants off them waffling on while we're out walking the dogs!

Last week I went out on my own so had no one to bore rigid (except for the dogs, and they are always excited about everything already because they are dogs) when I saw my first Orange Tip Butterfly of the year (in fact, of two years as I didn't see any last year at all). He was in one of the woodland glades feeding from a bluebell, which demonstrates two things: firstly, the importance of woodland glades/ corridors to wildlife in general and butterflies in particular, and secondly, how important these early nectar sources are to inverts. I was so excited I ran about like a mad thing with the dogs chasing me and leaping about thinking it was a huge game (but only once the flutter had gone).

It's not a great pic as I didn't want to risk getting too close and scaring him off, but it will do....


Orange Tips are a real sign of Spring as they hatch out when the weather improves. They are early this year- the first sighting here in Hampshire was on March 16th. They are a widespread species and the good news is that they are extending their range northwards, although numbers are thought to be dropping in the south (due to intensification of agriculture and the swap from hay to silage making). They also behave differently in the north to the south. Down here they wander over large ranges but in the north they tend to colonise, probably because of scarcity of food plants.

The woods at Mottisfont are an excellent place to see ancient woodland plants. The presence of these species suggests that the wood is at least 400 years old (dating from 1600), although I rather suspect it is older. In this part of Great Britain, ancient woodland indicator plants are species such as bluebells, wood anemone, violets and ramsons. If you have them in a wood, then that wood is likely to be ancient (unless you live in the west- bluebells like damp environments and the further west you go the damper the environment gets, so bluebells will happily grow on verges and in gardens in the west, which they don't tend to do so much here). They are also indicator species for primary woodland, which is the term used to describe woods that have never been used for any other purpose (eg farming). It is thought that some primary woods contain elements of the Wildwood that devloped after the last Ice Age. This would make them over 8000 years old. A fantastic thought, don't you think?
I love to think about that as I am walking the dogs through the woods- just how long have these woods been here and what changes have they seen?

Wood Anemones at Mottisfont- an ancient woodland indicator plant
Carrying on my theme of all things tree-y, I have finally got around to selecting my tree to follow for the year in combination with Lucy at the excellent loose and leafy

It is an English Oak, Quercus robur, and it can be found along one of the hedge boundaries on the Mottisfont Estate. I took some pictures of it over the weekend and will be updating them each month to track the changes. If you have a look at Lucy's blog by clicking the link above you'll be able to see all the other trees round the world that are also being followed this year. 

Still in Winter Drawers, but it won't be long before the Spring Petticoats are on....

Trees are such wonderful things. This one (pic below) grows in the wood that borders the vineyard behind our house. I don't know what has made it grow this way- it looks like it has split in the middle at some stage and then grown back together again, or I suppose it could be two trunks that have grown so close together that they've sealed up. Anyway, it's an oak too and it seems none the worse for the gap in the middle. In ancient times this tree would have been seen as something magical and sick people would have been passed through the hole (or as much as them as would fit!) and the Tree Spirit would be asked to bless and heal them...


Tree energy is a powerful thing. I have a friend who is a dowser and he reckons the energy from a tree radiates much further outside it than you might imagine, for several metres in fact. I love to stand beside trees and try and connect with that energy. They are especially powerful at this time of the year when the sap is rising and they are waking from their long winter slumber; if you can tap into that energy you'll find you get a real 'charge' from it.

A simple form of old healing for a headache was to rest your forehead against the trunk or branch of a tree and ask the Tree Spirit to heal it. Worth a try, the next time you have a headache (although perhaps make sure so no one is watching you).

Still on the theme of trees, I've been wanting to see a Tree Creeper for ages. I had a pretty good idea that they were around, having heard them whistling when I was in the garden. They are notoriously difficult to spot though as they have near perfect camo and move very quickly and although I've been asking and asking for one to come along, I really didn't expect it to just appear in our garden on the apple tree and remain there long enough for me to grab the camera and get some pictures. 
These are record shots rather than pieces of art, but hopefully you'll be able to get the gist. His appearance made my day....Gorgeous little bird..... Next stop: a photograph of our Kingfisher (well, I can live in hope, no?).



Showing off the brilliant camo- if you didn't know he was there you probably wouldn't see him.
It's the first day of the Easter Hols here and it's been raining all day. My two nieces Suss and Em (9 and 5) came over for lunch and helped me scoop algae out of the wildlife pond. I've sunk some barley straw in it now which will hopefully help. There are water boatmen in evidence and we saw diving beetles too, so things are waking up. Afterwards, the girls and I got out my ribbon and button box and they chose some ribbons and buttons to take home and make things with. L is not remotely interested in ribbons and buttons (this is no surprise given that he is an almost thirteen year old boy), so I appreciated having the girls there to share it with :-)

The Field Studies Council ID sheets arrived over the weekend. I am thrilled with them- they are already proving themselves useful, so I've ordered a load more. They cover a wide range of subjects and if you don't already have them and are interested in all things wildlife, at three quid a sheet they are well worth getting.

Grassland Plants & Woodland Plants

British Butterflies

British Bees and Shield Bugs of the British Isles

My latest purchases






I'll leave you with a pic of Mr Pige, squashed inside the bird table sheltering from the rain while he snacked on the robin's food. He looks a tad guilty....



And one of Ted and Pop drying off in front of their fire. They were both Rather Disgruntled to find themselves having baths on Saturday PM. This was so that all our chums who were coming for what turned out to be another raucous, drunken (although not, for once, fancy dress themed) dinner party didn't have to endure the dubious scent of Poppy's Fox Poo Perfume.

They did have to endure puppy wee though, as Pops kindly did one on the floor just as everyone was coming in to eat. Sigh. My lovely friend Saz just grabbed some kitchen roll and mopped it up while I served supper as if it were perfectly normal. Good job we've all known each other years really isn't it? Somehow, I rather suspect they have come to expect This Kind Of Thing when they come here.......

Unusually Clean and Fluffy Ted and Pops
Wishing you all a Good Week,

CT x

24 comments:

  1. We visited Mottisfont last year and really enjoyed it. I'll be popping over to Loose and Leafy in a minute for a look, it's always nice to find new blogs.
    And OH, your two little darlings sitting together in the last picture...aren't they the cutest.

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    1. Did you go for the roses, Ann? Well worth a trip to the gardens when the roses are out. It gets packed but it is FANTASTIC.

      I love it when the dogs squash together like that in front of their fire...best buddies :-)

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  2. An interesting post. I love your Oak. I saw my first orange tip butterfly last week. I always leave some Jack by the Hedge: garlic mustard for them although it is a nuisance weed here. They also seem keen on Lunnaria: Honesty.

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    1. Thanks Chloris. There's something special about that oak and I'm looking forward to getting to know it better throughout the year. I've got honesty growing in the garden so will keep an eye out for flutters around it. I tried to find your blog but couldn't find the address- can you leave me another comment with it on when you have a mo? :-)

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  3. Lovely to see the wood anemones and orange tip, we've got the former already up in Scotland, but I've yet to see orange tips this year

    Treecreepers are wonderful birds to watch

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    1. Hopefully the tips'll be on their way. I know there have been a few sightings of them here in Hants in the past fortnight.
      I was soooo pleased to see the Tree Creeper- my first ever one :-)

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  4. Super photos of the Tree Creeper - I've never been able to take a decent one, they move too quick for me! I had a quick glimpse of an Orange Tip the other day so hope to get some real sightings soon. You are lucky to have Mottisfont so close and to get to know it so well. I'd love to visit it.

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    1. I couldn't believe it when he just turned up like that, right in front of me. Next time I'll hope to get a crisper shot.

      Let's hope for another good butterfly year. I'm more aware of places to go to see them this summer so I'm keeping everything crossed. We get hairstreaks, duke of burgundys and brown argus locally, all of which I am yet to see.

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  5. There is so much work that needs doing on the woodland here and rather too many other things before we can even start on it. But I should be starting to plan. It's basically been neglected and got congested and overgrown. It needs thinning and letting the light back in.

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    1. That's such an exciting project Jess- I am Quite Green with envy as I'd love to have a wood. When you do make a start you could do worse than get Ben Law's book 'The Woodland Way' loads of advice on wood management techniques. At the risk of sounding boring, if you can create some rides (open lines) through the wood you'll instantly improve it for butterflies and create areas for woodland plants to thrive. You may even find you get dormice moving in. You've got a fantastic ecosystem in your care there, lucky you!

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  6. What a gorgeous place! I've never met a shepherdess before, so I'm very happy I stumbled across your blog. Also, love the Tree Creeper - such great camo!

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    1. Hi Allison and thank you for the comment. Glad you liked the Tree Creeper, he is my bird of the week I think! :-)

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  7. I have always been a fanatic for trees. My sister thinks I am bonkers when I go places with her and start gushing over the trees.
    I am quite enchanted with your post talk about the ancient woodlands !

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  8. You and I definitely share that feeling Willow. So glad you enjoyed the post- there will undoubtedly be more in a similar vein! x

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  9. Lovely to see the first Orange Tip of the year - I haven't seen one yet. Well done on the Tree Creeper too - we have only ever had one visit the garden and that was about 20 years ago!

    I do like the tree you have chosen to follow for the year. I think Oaks are probably my favourite tree.

    Great FSC guides but you are encouraging me to buy more :( My husband recently did a search on Amazon of recent purchases and was not impressed (to put it mildly!!) at the number of books I had bought this year so I am going to have to be good for a while and not buy anything :(

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    1. Or, set up a new account under a different name and then he'll never know! Nature books are sooo expensive aren't they? There's an Oliver Rackham on Woodlands I would really like but at 60 odd quid I think it'll have to be a lucky second-hand find :-)

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  10. So impressed with your Tree Creeper - I've never managed to get a picture of one. You're right about Orange Tips......Spring has arrived. I haven't seen one yet but we seem to be later with everything up here!

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    1. I was pretty amazed when he just turned up like that- magical. Hope you see an orange tip soon- can't be long now x

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  11. Your oak tree is a wonderful tree to follow with Lucy. How clever to manage to capture the tree creeper too. Sarah x

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    1. More by luck than judgement Sarah to be honest! I always keep the camera by the kitchen window just in case.... x

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  12. You have done well to catch a tree creeper on camera. They are so quick and well camouflaged.

    Great to hear that you have seen an orange tip. We have the first bluebells out but are still waiting for the butterfly! Last year we had a patch of cuckoo flowers near the pond and we let them seed, so I`m hoping there will be more this year and some happy orange tips too.

    I love your Mottisfont tree and how interesting to know how old those woods are.

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    1. I wanted some cuckoo flowers last year and you've reminded me to look out some seed this year, thank you :-)

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  13. Hello - this is my first visit to your blog, having found you via Lucy's Tree Following project. You're in a gorgeous part of the country and so near Mottisfont. Love the treecreeper and congrats on having your camera close enough to catch it! We used to see them a lot on an oak tree near our home in Wiltshire but 10 years ago, I didn't have a sufficiently powerful camera to get a photo. Great to see yours.
    Best wishes, Carole @ La Fosse, Normandy

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    1. Hi Carole and thank you for the comment :-)

      I couldn't believe the tree creeper turning up like that. The camera is always by the kitchen window just in case and it paid off! Looking forward to having a look at your blog- Normandy is such a lovely place. CT :-)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x