I have been on a (very rare) visit to my GP this morning. Can't remember the last time any of us went which is how we are as a family on the whole, but since Christmas I've had pain in my middle finger which won't go so I thought I'd better check it out.
Arthritis (I thought).
Ganglion (GP says).
Which sounds ugly and unappealing. Anyway, blood tests next week just to be certain and in the mean time I'll get some arnica and witch hazel to rub in to it.
Before the rain began, I went out with the camera and took some photos of trees. Bark, to be precise (that's an explanation not an instruction). I thought I'd test you, because without leaves all you have to go on for an ID is the bark and twigs. I didn't get any twig photos apart from one, but the bark is still pretty diagnostic. Scroll down to the end of the post for the answers and let me know how you got on.....
|twig that goes with bark number 10 as an extra clue|
|tree trunk of number 11 for an extra clue|
|tree trunk that goes with number 12 for an extra clue|
L has been a Tree Boy since he was tiny. He used to sleep in his pram when he was a tiny baby beneath the tree in the photo below, and now, nearly 14 years later, he is still drawn to it. His way up into the tree is a well-worn passage and he knows exactly where to put his feet and hands in order to climb into its branches. Once up, he has been known to sit there for ages, quietly enjoying the peace and tranquility it offers.
Where would we be without trees?
The British Isles are believed to have been covered in trees from sea to sea at one time. This was the ancient Wildwood, the forest that came after the last Ice retreated ten thousand years ago. There may be traces of it left, small pockets of Wildwood that have not been cut or managed or farmed in any way, existing in the closed, secret hearts of a very few of our ancient woodlands. Ancient woods are those that have been recorded as woodland since the 1600s, because tree planting did not begin in earnest until after this date, therefore anything recorded as woodland in 1600 can be taken (broadly) to be much, much older. Ancient woodlands offer up certain key species that act as indicators of their age such as wood anemone, primrose, bluebell, dog's mercury, as well as native tree species.
There may (or not, depending on which ecologist's work you read) have been pockets of clearings within these vast Wildwoods. The existence of certain butterfly species such as some of the Blues, is evidence that points towards this. They are not woodland species but require open land, often downland, to flourish, and the complexity of their relationship with ants (and in one case - that of the Large Blue - with only one specific species of ant) is such that it probably could not have evolved in the 5000 years since the trees started to be systematically felled to make way for farmland.
I don't think there's any doubt that our land before people came was primarily a place of trees, and therefore most of the native wildlife in the British Isles has originated from woodlands.
The earliest native trees in the British Isles were birch, followed by pine, then hazel, wych elm, oak, alder, lime, ash, willow, holly, beech, hornbeam, field maple. A number of other natives followed- think juniper, hawthorn, rowan, wild cherry, yew. Trees like Horse Chestnut and Sycamore which we may think of as classic British Trees are in fact much more recent additions, not arriving until they were introduced in the 16th C.
There was a prehistoric crash of Elm (3100-2900BC), not unlike the 1970s one where Dutch Elm Disease killed off many of our Elms. This ancient crash is recorded in the pollen record but recent work suggests it wasn't due to disease so much as the changes wrought in woodlands by man (farmed animals grazing on young trees who could not reach flowering age).
People starting clearing this land of trees in the Stone Age and since the Bronze Age woodlands as well as open land have been farmed. Now, we understand their value better in a broader than monetary sense and we know that networks of woods need to be allowed to join up to protect their precious biodiversity better. Woodland corridors and woodland rides are being opened up and maintained to allow species to flourish. Coppicing is being brought back as a management tool, although there is a school of thought that says a boom/ bust cycle such as that is not the way to care for our woods.
Woodland coverage in the UK currently stands at something like 11%. Here in Hampshire we are doing better - up to 14% of this county is woodland. I walk in ancient woodland every day with the dogs and there is a peace and a tranquility, a real sense of age to it that I love and can never be unaffected by.
When I was young it was fields I was most drawn to, although I have always had favourite trees. Now I look at green fields and I don't love them anymore. Instead I see the dormancy in them, the uniformity, the lack of diversity and life. My fingers itch to plant wildflowers and allow grasses to grow, to wait for the bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, the mammals, the birds to return.
If I were handed a dollop of money to do what I liked with, I would buy a woodland beside a small bit of land and I would turn the land into a wildflower meadow and I would open up rides in the wood and get a coppice system working in one section and leave the rest as a means of seeing what was best for the wood. I would record all the species I could find there, flora and fauna both and I would cherish the meadow and woodland and feel like a guardian.
Woods are magical places- even science suggests that the trees in our woods have the power to heal broken lungs- they emit a chemical which helps us breath, and of course they produce oxygen too. So get out there when you get a chance and go for a walk in a wood and let its magic into your soul.
I'll leave you with some pics of the dogs. We saw Toffee yesterday and my has she grown! The Black Lab with her is her doggy sister Ember and the Westie with the neat haircut in pic 4 is Dougal, Ted and Poppy's other doggy cousin. We were Very Thoroughly Sniffed when we got home :o)
The answers to the Tree Quiz are after the pics. Good luck!
Tree Quiz Answers
1. Apple (large flakes and often has copious quantities of lichen on older trees)
2. Beech (smooth bark)
3. Cherry (the horizontal fine lines running round the trunk are diagnostic for cherry)
4. Elder (always cracked in appearance)
5. Hazel (smooth bark, leaves are broad and shaped a little like wide hearts))
6. Holly (smooth with nobbles)
7. Oak (deeply fissured and gnarled)
8. Pear (small, vertical square/ rectangular shaped pices)
9. Birch (silver and flaky, with dark diamonds usually near the base, esp in older trees)
10. Ash (black tips to the buds are diagnostic. The bark in older trees becomes fissured).
11. Willow (the diamond-shaped darker pieces are usually a good clue)
12. Willow (this is an older willow with deeper fissures in the bark)
If you want to know more about British Trees and the Wildwood, look up Oliver Rackham, who sadly died last week. His books are fantastic treasure troves of information.
Hope you're all well,