Much has been said about the need to plant more trees to help to lock up carbon to help address climate change. So, it is particularly upsetting to see recently planted trees that have died during our dry summer and others weakened by the drought shedding their leaves early. This stress is in addition to the natural diseases with which they must contend as a matter of course.
Unfortunately, there are also diseases which, in our global economy, were imported from abroad accidentally. One such is the fungus that causes Ash Dieback. This was first identified in the UK in 2012 although there is evidence that it has been present in Europe for 30 years. It originates in Asia where it does little damage to the local ash species, but our ash - Fraxinus excelsior - has no natural defences to it.
Ash is a common species and makes up around 12% of Britain’s broadleaved woodland so its loss will have a significant impact on the landscape. It is estimated that up to 80% of the trees will be killed, although as we are still the early stages of the epidemic, it is hard to judge. Whatever the losses, there will be an impact on those species of wildlife which rely upon ash.
The disease can affect trees of all ages although young ones, and those growing in woodlands with high proportions of ash, seem to succumb most quickly. Trees growing in open locations such as streets or in hedgerows seem less susceptible and there appears to be a level of resistance in some trees which, although infected, survive.
Local woodland managers have already been clearing ash trees and doubtless we will continue to see this in the years ahead. Those of us old enough to recall the dramatic change to the landscape caused by Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970’s will fear the long-term effect of Ash Dieback but will draw some comfort from the way that other species started to fill the gaps left when the elms were gone. But we must hope that further diseases do not erupt to thwart plans to increase our woodland cover as part of the essential work to lock up more carbon.
by Andrew Graham
On Thursday 15th September at the Victoria Hall in Tisbury High Street, starting at 19:30, we shall hear from Dr Ed Treasure of Wessex Archaeology who will talk to us on "Rewilding Archaeology".
A moment’s silence will be held at the start of the meeting as a mark of respect for the late Queen Elizabeth ll.
If you haven't already signed up to the talk and want to come, please let us know via the Contact form. We can also send out Zoom links for those who prefer to stay at home. Guests are welcome for £2 per ticket.
If you are interested to learn a practical skill and to help conserve the landscape around you, you may be interested to hear of courses in hedgelaying being offered at Church Farm in Semley over the next few months.
Day-long courses, aimed at beginners and free to participants, though limited to half a dozen people at a time, will be led by Anthony Brown, a man of considerable experience and skill, on five days between now and next February:
Saturday 12th November, Friday 25th November, Saturday 10th December, Friday 20th January and Friday 3rd February.
If you think you may be interested then please use our contact form and we will forward the email address to you.
Late summer is the time to gather blackberries. In doing so, we do something humans have done for thousands of years; archaeologists have found their remains in the stomach of a neolithic man. Given the right conditions, bushes can fruit prolifically and as long as you can get close enough without getting caught in the thorns, it is possible to collect enough for immediate consumption as well as bottling or freezing for future use. Blackberries have numerous health benefits being high in fibre and full of vitamins like C and K as well as manganese and antioxidants. Vitamin K helps your blood to clot which is useful given the number of scratches you might suffer while picking them.
We generally use the term bramble to refer to a tangled, prickly shrub, usually the plant Rubus fruticosus. Brambles grow abundantly throughout the British Isles coping with almost any environment and are particularly hardy plants. Bushes have long, thorny, arching shoots which root easily, and this helps them to spread forming dense clumps in neglected areas. In this respect they can be an important pioneer species. Dense clumps can supply shelter for young trees, allowing them to establish free from browsing by animals. Eventually, as shade from the tree’s spreading canopy increases, the bramble will die back as it cannot flourish in deep shade.
The young foliage is eaten by deer and there is concern that increased deer numbers are reducing the amount of bramble in some woodlands to the detriment of those species of birds that rely on such understorey scrub for nesting.
In mid-summer the bushes are clothed in abundant pink or white flowers, and these are particularly attractive to butterflies, bees and hoverflies. As well as humans, wildlife enjoys the berries including foxes, badgers and small birds all of which will distribute the seeds in their droppings. In late summer one can often see Red Admiral butterflies feeding on the sugars of overripe berries on a sunlit bush. All in all, although it can be a pest if it gets into our gardens, the lowly bramble is a very important for conservation and wildlife. Enjoy the fruits while you can; after Old Michaelmas Day – 29 September – the devil is reputed to have spat on blackberries so should be avoided. You have been warned…
by Andrew Graham
Elizabeth drew our attention to the Defra advice, which she checked after finding a dead sparrow under her bird feeder. It's always hard to know how a bird has died and it's sensible, with avian influenza still around, that you know what to do.
Remember that you shouldn't touch a dead wild bird from your garden with bare hands. Please follow the advice here about how to dispose of one in your black bin.
Please also see an excerpt from the gov.uk website below:
Avian influenza (bird flu) is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of avian influenza in poultry or captive birds you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.
Reporting dead wild birds
You should call the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) if you find:
Andrew Graham and Peter Shallcross will lead our final excursion of the summer, an outing to the Bulford Ranges Training Area on Salisbury Plain.
Members of the public are permitted to use Rights of Way that cross the training area when firing is not in progress and the plan is to walk along these established footpaths through this gently undulating landscape of downland and mixed woodlands. As the area lacks the field boundaries and enclosures that exist across most of the rest of the countryside, it looks and feels quite different from what we are used to, and remote.
It is hard to forecast what effect the recent drought will have had on what there will be to see, but we are hoping for late summer downland butterflies and birds. With migration starting, one never knows what birds might turn up.
Though we will be following well established paths and tracks, the parched, unforgiving ground means stout shoes or boots will be advisable. We will probably walk 3 to 4 miles; please bring refreshments and any snacks you may need, though the plan is to return to Tisbury by late lunchtime.
As there is only limited parking at the start point, we ask everyone wanting to join the outing to meet Andrew and Peter at the Nadder Centre car park on Weaveland Road, Tisbury at 09:30. If you are setting off from a different location, please car share. The meeting place is at What3words: starfish.bleat.idea off the road between Bulford and Tidworth. At this location for 10:30 am. https://what3words.com/starfish.bleat.idea
Members - please reply to the Treasurer's email sent on 28th August so that we know how many people to expect.
Non-members (Guests) can join us for £2 per adult. Any Guests wishing to join this field trip must please contact us in advance.
Can anyone help with the identification of this splendid fungus photographed by Jenny Farrer near Withyslade Farm ?
We have an update to our Talks listing with Dr. Ed Treasure of Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury sharing his specialist work in the analysis of environmental evidence.
Rewilding is a form of ecosystem management that has arisen out of our need to conserve biodiversity and work towards a more sustainable future. It refers to the repair or restoration of ecosystem services through the introduction, or rather re-introduction, of selected species and allowing nature to take its course.
Rewilding is not without controversy – how do we define appropriate restoration baselines? What species should we conserve, which should we remove and which should we reintroduce? What timescale are we working with and how big should our projects be? How do we establish appropriate management strategies? How effective can rewilding be in human dominated landscapes that have been shaped by millennia of farming?
This talk will show how archaeological and palaeoecological datasets can be used to inform rewilding processes and conservation management. Archaeologists, and researchers in related areas, can provide unique long-term perspectives on changes to the environment, and crucially provide information on factors which have shaped present-day biodiversity patterns – we can place conservation management practices within a wider historical and ecological framework, by understanding the relationship between past vegetation changes and human impacts on past environments.
If you haven't already signed up to the talk at the Victoria Hall, Tisbury and want to come, please either reply to the Treasurer's email sent out on 28th August or let us know via the Contact form. We can also send out Zoom links for those who prefer to stay at home. Guests welcome for £2 per ticket.
Thanks to everyone who popped by our stall last Saturday including our lovely volunteers, Lizzy and Janet, who helped man the stall. And well done to those who tried their hand with the Wildlife Quiz. The best score was 18 out of 20. No prizes but you know who you are!
Young Nature Watch provided some bug hotels from their recent group activity which we gave away for small donations. We hope to see some new members at the next Young Nature Watch activity which is a bug hunt on Saturday 13th August. Please sign up to their mailing list to keep in touch.
We have one more field trip for the season, on Saturday 3rd September, to Salisbury Plain where we will be taken round by a local farmer and shown the wildlife which is thriving in this unique conservation area.
If you've not yet done so, we encourage you to sign up to the mailing list for website news from this blog (see the small panel to the right of this post). You will receive prompts about what the Society is up to, plus members' photos and anecdotes, so do get involved and send us your items of interest.
16 members gathered on a predictably hot day at The Learning Centre at Durlston Country Park near Swanage. Dorset Council ranger Paul Jones gave us an introductory talk about the different habitats and the wildlife that we were likely to see. Had we visited earlier (say early June), we could have seen, heard and smelt the colony of guillemots nesting on the cliffs and seen the numerous different species of orchids flowering in the meadows that Durlston is well known for.
However, there was still plenty to see. Paul led us to an old quarry where, on hands and knees, he showed us the rare bastard toadflax (stars-in-grass is his more preferable name for it). He led us to meadows where we quickly saw brown argus, common and holly blues, meadow browns and a single grayling butterfly and, later on, a clouded yellow.
From the cliffs we spied a flight of cormorants and a few lucky members saw peregrine falcons and a white-tailed eagle (They have been re-introduced on the Isle of Wight).
After a fascinating 1.5 hour guided walk we bade farewell to Paul and most of us made our way to the cafe in the castle where, to top things off, we were treated to fly-by from a Lancaster bomber off Old Harry’s rocks as part of the Swanage Festival.
by Peter Shallcross
Photo: Barn owl
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.