Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Conservation In Action: Looking After Juniper

I'm Very Fond Of Trees. I've had favourite trees all my life. Sometimes these are King Trees (large, graceful, ancient), and sometimes they are smaller and softer, like the Goat Willow who lives on our drive. Trees are one of the first things I look for when I go to a new place, and if there are no trees near then I feel a little bit bereft, as if something really important were missing.


The story of Britain's trees can only be told with any real certainty from the end of the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. This is thanks to the fact that pollen is remarkably well preserved in peat and lake sediments and so the grains can be extracted and identified and dated through radiocarbon techniques.
These pollen records show that the earliest colonisers of our Island were mostly fast-growing species like birch, aspen, willow, pine and hazel. They were followed by oak, ash, lime, holly and alder.
Some of the trees we are most familiar with and would name as iconic British species are in fact much more recent additions. Beech for example didn't turn up until 5000 years ago. The same goes for Hornbeam, and Sycamore came later still, with Oliver Rackham (God Of The Forests as far as many Ecologists are concerned) arguing that it didn't turn up until the 16th century (there are no old Celtic or Saxon names for the tree).

Juniper has been here since the Ice left. It is one of only three native evergreens (the other two being Scots Pine and Yew) and it can be found in the South on chalk and in the North on limestone and moorland. Across Europe it is a common and widespread tree, but here in the UK (particularly in the South) it is not faring so well. The Native Juniper is in general decline and is therefore a BAP listed priority species whose incidence is being mapped and recorded to enable ecologists to work together to save it.


Juniper

I spent this morning on Stockbridge Down where there is a reasonable population of Junipers, helping to manage the habitat around them to prevent them being swamped by faster growing scrub species like Blackthorn, Dogwood and Brambles. 
A neat ID trick with Dogwood is to break a leaf in half and look for the small strings that hold it together. If they are present, it's dogwood, if not it's probably one of the buckthorns that look very similar.

Dogwood

We had the obligatory Bonfire (welcome now because the weather has turned cold)....


And got some of the background on the conservation efforts that are going on to help keep these trees alive and well. Cat, the NT ranger for the Down, has been working on a Juniper Project with some of her volunteers for the past 2-3 years and she is already seeing the results of this. One of her innovations has been to put cages under the female trees (Junipers are either male or female) so that the berries can fall into a protected space when they drop in September, and remain protected during the two years it can take them to germinate, and then the several years it takes them to grow and reach a height where they aren't in danger of herbivory (great word) ie being eaten by rabbits and deer.

Juniper berries

Seed Cage

Juniper seedling

Juniper berries have traditionally been used to flavour gin (which is frankly a good enough reason to look after them, without all the ecology-related stuff :o)) but the tree also plays host to 64 invert species, 30 of which are specific to Juniper, with most of the others only additionally occurring on Pine or Yew, so they provide crucial habitat too. For example, Juniper is mother to 16 moth species, among them the tiny Juniper Carpet Moth (which is no threat whatsoever to carpets). This moth is rarely seen, but the good news is that the upsurge in cultivated Junipers in gardens since the 1960s means it has massively increased its distribution  range. Other species that specialise on Native Juniper have not been so lucky and face extinction if the native trees are not saved, so this is important work.

We are all used to mucking in when it comes to practical conservation work, but this morning I forgot my gloves so had to borrow Fi's while she had a break. Other than that I took photos of everyone else working :o)






I also found what I think are Mullein plants. Over a hundred of them were growing in the Juniper clearings. You may or may not recall my involvement this summer in a Butterfly Conservation project to record mullein, because it is the sole food plant for the nationally scarce Striped Lychnis Moth (you can read about it here). If this is Mullein growing on the Down, it is going to be important to record it and then look for caterpillars next year and record those too.....

Dark Mullein
It's interesting how conservation projects spill out into one another. It could well be that by cutting back the invasive scrub on the Down, the resulting light and space engineered in the clearings to help the survival of the Juniper has also given the Mullein the conditions it needs to best grow and thrive. Let's hope so.

I'll leave you with a small but typical snapshot of the other end of my day in the form of L last night suddenly announcing he had a Science Test paper he was meant to have done over half term due to be handed in the next morning. This was despite me asking several times through half term whether he had any homework to do and being assured he hadn't.

It was ten pm by then and I was thinking about turning in for the night. Instead, I breathed deeply, squared my shoulders and sat calmly down to help. Fortunately, this homework was perfect for me because it was about the Carbon and Nitrogen Cycles, and I wrote a paper on those last year. We got it done (passing through tears, furies, colourful and imaginative curses against all setters of homework (these should probably have been graded 'A' for their inventiveness), scribbly, unreadable-because-grumpy writing, which had to be crossed out and done again (cue further fury swiftly followed by despair), teeth gnashing and threats of imminent computer removal along the way) and L was finally able to go to bed about 10.30.

Only to reappear 5 minutes later saying he couldn't find his bus pass. Which resulted in repeated searches of the entire house, the garden (pitch black and by now freezing cold), the car and the garage, under all the beds and behind the sofas, inside blankets, trouser and shirt pockets, the dog's beds, the log pile, the fruit bowl, the washing machine, L's school bag, M's work bag, my college bag, Poppy's favourite hiding places, inside shoes and wellies, winter coats, and for some inexplicable reason, the fridge and the freezer.

All to no avail.

L, doubtless able to tell from my face that this was not my idea of a soothing pre-going-to-bed routine, was telling me he could probably get a replacement card, I was frantically going through wallets and purses trying to scrape together sufficient change to pay for the bus because I had to be in college by nine the next morning and wouldn't have time to get any change for him in the morning, all the time thinking why does this always have to happen at 11 at night?????

At last we gave up the search and I admitted defeat. L brushed his teeth, got into his PJs, climbed into bed. I kissed him goodnight and he got out a book to read. I was on my way downstairs to let the dogs out for a wee and tidy up the kitchen before going to bed myself when the pile of discarded damp school uniform in the bathroom started shouting that it needed picking up.

I went in and as I bent to pick up the trousers and shirt, what did I see lying neatly on top of the carelessly abandoned pile of clothes? The bus pass. Of course.

I went back into L's room.

What's this then? I said, waving it in front of him.
Oh, he said in a mildly interested voice. Where was it?
On the bathroom floor, I said, in what I thought was an unreasonably calm voice, all things considered. On top of the clothes which you'd taken off an hour earlier when you had your bath.
Oh, says L mildly. Yes you're right: I'd forgotten I put it there.

I went to bed, by which point the soothing effects of the wine, the fire and the book I had been reading earlier seemed to belong to a different lifetime :o)

CT x 



22 comments:

  1. Sorry but I had to have a chuckle over the bus pass drama. Three boys and always the same drama here as well. Maybe I'll have some calming wine lol x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wine is what gets me through Julee :o) x

      Delete
  2. I like your post on Juniper. I have also found out that most plants are between 100-200 years old and older female plants are probably infertile. Those that are not, produce berries that inhibit seed germination until the outer skin has been removed by being passed through the gut of a bird or small mammal. The seed can take two years to germinate if conditions are not right and Juniper grows so slowly that it is usually grazed by herbivores or swamped by faster growing plants. All in all, the odds are stacked against its re-generation and it needs all the help it can get!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Go to the top of the class immediately for all that extra info, Mr Pearson! I don't understand why it has evolved that way, but given it's been here so long it must be successful. Strange, and counter-intuitive. Were you out all day in the end?

      Delete
  3. I love trees, the size and shape, the colours, the sounds they make in rain and wind, and for the creatures who shelter in them...and that's just naming some of the things they do!
    Great post on Juniper and well done on your hard work.
    P.S. Glad you got to sleep after all that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trees are such fabulous things, and all so different. Am looking forward to the weekend and a chance to catch up on zzzzzs! :o)

      Delete
  4. Fascinating post on Juniper & your boy and his bus pass & homework, the same happens here all too frequently for my liking! Yes, the wine helps greatly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose it at least provides me with some reflective humour the following day :o)

      Delete
  5. Teenagers!! I used to see parents dashing round our local shop just before closing time because their little "darling" had just remembered they had cookery the next day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That happens here too. Luckily, because I'm a baker, we usually have most things in stock, but L now knows if he leaves it till the last minute he has to get up early the following morning so we can stop at the shop on the way in to school. That has been incentive enough for him to remember earlier (mostly) :o)

      Delete
  6. Can I recommend a book that GOSH suggested for us? It's called 'Late, Lost and Unprepared' and is just brilliant for those with 'executive functioning' issues....

    Do you think juniper wood would smell of gin if you burnt it? xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sadly, I don't think it would make the blindest bit of difference to L, although I love the phrase 'executive functioning' and fully intend using it now, the next time HW is left till the eleventh hour. What didn't help was the teacher's failure to collect the wretched piece the following day- very de-incentivising (is that even a word?) for the kids :o(

      It would be great if Juniper wood did smell of gin, but then again the trees are so rare you probably wouldn't want to be burning them :o) xx

      Delete
  7. I adore trees and luckily our farm has some gorgeous specimens . Oak , apple , cedar, pine ,yes a lovely old juniper and even two young Mimosa ! If you saw last year's snowy splendor post several of these lovely trees were showing off in them. Oh yes a tree hugger ~ I suppose I am.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember your love of trees and the pics from last winter, all bowed down with snow :o)

      Delete
  8. Oh I remember the homework traumas so well

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some things don't change much from generation to generation, which I suppose is reassuring :o)

      Delete
  9. Interesting post CT about the Juniper and can I can totally empathise about lost bus passes and homework left until bedtime the night before :( Wine helps enormously :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps schools need to try a different format for boys? I'm assuming it is mainly lads who end up doing their homework at the eleventh hour? :o)

      Delete
  10. Oh my goodness, that homework situation sounds as though it called for the patience of a saint and several bottles of gin to accompany it! Thank goodness for the junipers to give the gin the flavour and for the other benefits too of course. The cage invention is a great idea and so simple isn't it. Easy to use and move and so on and just great in general! I thought that I was doing well with my "native" hornbeam hedge, but perhaps it isn't as native as I thought! Perhaps the hollies and yews will give me more native interest. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hornbeam is a lovely hedge- we're going to put one in here too. It is more native than some I could mention so don't worry too much :o) Holly and Yew are the old guard, so yes, you are doing very well with those :o) Have a lovely weekend xx

      Delete
  11. That was an interesting read. Love all of the practical stuff that you do. Must be great to be part of a team doing good for the earth. As for the buss pass.....lets just say similar has happened here.
    Leanne xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a real treat to spend a day outdoors working with friends on countryside stuff. I think the bus pass is a universal experience for Mothers Of Boys.... xx

      Delete

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