Sunday, December 18, 2011

Galls in the grass

Strolling yesterday on the fringes of St. Leonard's-on-Sea I noticed some of the fading grasses dangling through a wire mesh fence were swollen and distorted at the tips where the flowering spike might have been.

20111218 Tetramesa hyalipennis 007

Further investigation showed that the grass was common couch grass (Elytrigia repens) and that the galls were caused by the small Eurytomid wasp Tetramesa hyalipennis.  The books and papers on galls indicate that this is a widespread and common species but there are no records on the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre database and the National Biodiversity Network has records only from Merseyside and Northern Scotland.  It has also been recorded from Cornwall and I am sure it has simply been overlooked elsewhere.

Now is the time to get out and see if you can find any.

I have brought those in the picture home to see what hatches out.  It will not necessarily be T. hyalipennis as various parasites and squatters have been recorded from these galls and the child or children of the original gall causer may have been consumed in its prime.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moth from alder buckthorn

A few weeks ago I found some leaves spun together on the alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) in our garden and managed to raise the moth from the caterpillar it contained.

I had hope it might be an alder buckthorn specialist, but it turned out to be the common light brown apple moth (Epiphyas postvittana). 20110820 SV Epiphyas postvittana

It is an introduced species from Australia that was first found in the UK in Cornwall in the 1930s Apparently the larvae will eat almost anything, though they are an apple orchard pest in their home country.  There they also feed on a wide range of native species as well as introduced fruit trees.

I wonder if this might be the first record of the moth using alder buckthorn.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wool-carder bee

A welcome resident in our garden is the wool-carder bee (Anthidium manicatum).  There is a male that defends a territory around some of my houseleek (Sempervivum) collection.  Both males and females seem particularly fond of the flowers and there is a nest in the corner of one of the pots.

20110731 South View Sempervivum 018 The picture above is of a male sitting on a plastic watering can.  Quite often he will take to the wing, fly round the area and hover in front of the houseleek flowers, occasionally settling on them.

The male is, unusually for insects, larger and more aggressive than the female depicted below.

20110731 South View Sempervivum 012

The name 'wool-carder-bee' derives from the fact that the female strips hair from wooly plants, rolls them into a ball and flies off with this tucked between her chin and her forelegs.  She uses this wool to line her nest hole and then constructs cells which she fills with a mixture of pollen and honey for her brood.

Gilbert White of Selborne wrote about this species in his journals: "There is a sort of wild bee frequenting the garden-campion for the sake of its tomentum, which probably it turns to some purpose in the business of nidification.  It is very pleasant to see with what address it strips off the pubes, running from the top to the bottom of the branch, & shaving it bare with all the dexterity of a hoop-shaver."

I imagine the 'garden-campion' was the  rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).  Hoop-shaving was the woodland craft of cutting hoops (for binding barrels and so on) from hazel poles.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

White oak midget

A week ago I found a mine in the folded edge of an oak leaf on a tree growing near the end of Billingham Lane, Udimore (first field trip of the new Udimore Wildlife Society).

20110723 Phyllonorycter mine & pupal skin 020

I identified it tentatively as being caused by the white oak midget moth (Phyllonorycter harrisella) and kept it in a box to see if anything emerged.  I was rewarded today by this tiny but beautiful insect hardly bigger than a grass seed.  Its pupal case can be seen in the top photo.

20110723 Phyllonorycter 018

Like many insects, the eye spots at the end of the wings create a false head which is more likely to be attacked by a predator allowing the moth to escape relatively unharmed.  The wing stripes also seem to make it point in the wrong direction.

Leaf miners like this usually appear only in very small numbers on their host plants, an I wonder why this should be when there is so much food available.  The infamous horse-chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella) which is a species of about the same size and in the same family - Gracillariidae - was first recorded in Britain in 2002 having spread rapidly from the Balkans.  Although it was described as a new species only in 1986, specimens in herbarium collections of horse-chestnut date back to 1879 but it was well-behaved until very recently.  Cameraria now seems unstoppable and every single leaf on every horse-chestnut is often infected with several mines.  Why do our long-standing native species like the white oak midget show such commendable restraint?  Is it due to parasites, predators or pathogens that Cameraria does not yet have?  Some believe it is and that the current massive infestations of horse-chestnut will decline as the years go by.

Of course, the relative scarcity of the white oak midget with, say, only a few mines per oak tree may be an advantage inasmuch as it makes it quite difficult for predators and parasites to find it and hardly worth the energy-wasting search for such a small morsel.  That makes me wonder about the dynamics and practicality of remaining at a low-level without being wiped out altogether.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Beetle bug (Issus coleoptratus)

I have again been running one of my log pile traps at the  end of the garden.  There was quite a good haul of invertebrates today and I took a photo of this little beetle bug sitting on top of the pile.

20110607 SV houseleeks Issus 006

This species is common everywhere and often found on ivy.  I always see it around rotten logs and am still trying to work out what it eats.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Woodpecker & tortoiseshell

We see all sorts of things in the garden from our sitting room window: rabbits, foxes, weasels, badgers and all manner of birds and insects.

Today we were given two special treats.  First a green woodpecker spent some time on our small lawn, pecking with evident relish at something in the grass.

20110527 Green woodpecker 004

It was not possible to see what the bird found so tasty, but there were some light showers overnight, and this may have brought a few insects to the surface in these drought-stricken days.

The other treat was a small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) enjoying the nectar in a large flowered clematis.

20110527 A urticae on clematis 014

Such highly engineered blossoms don not, generally, seem to be much visited by insects, but the butterfly returned repeatedly and, as far as I could see, visited no other flowers.

The small tortoiseshell has suffered a massive decline in recent years and it is thought this is due to a parasitic tachinid fly called Sturmia bella, first recorded in  Britain in the late 1990s.  However, the butterfly seems to be making a comeback and several were seen in this area last year after a period of total absence.  I wonder how it has managed to outwit the parasite, if that is what was causing the problem.  perhaps like the holly blue and its parasitic wasp, the large number of caterpillars affected means that eventually the parasite almost runs out of hosts and becomes scarce, only to return in force as the abundance of the butterfly increases.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blue tits away

The blue tits in the nest box just outside our bedroom window are now fully fledged.  One of the young ones poked his head through the hole to explore the possibilities of the outside world.

Bluetits Sempervivum 001

He seemed to like the look of what he saw, pulled his wings out and flew off into the bushes by the hedge.  No practice, no licence, just instinct.

Bluetits Sempervivum 003

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Edward T. Connold - an appreciation


Recently, while compiling some notes on the mites of Sussex, I was made aware of the detailed observations made by Edward Connold on the gall mites of the area around Hastings where he lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these still stand as the only recorded observation of a particular species in Sussex, though most are probably widely distributed. Connold seemed an interesting man, so I thought I would find a little more out about him.

Edward Thomas Connold was born in Castle Street, Hastings in June 1862 and died in St Leonards-on-Sea in January 1910 aged 47. Although he moved about to various schools and in various jobs as a child and a young man, he returned permanently to St. Leonards in 1885. His son, Edward Thomas Connold, was a professional photographer who did much work in Sussex.

Connold, an amateur (he earned his living as a grocer), had a very wide interest in natural history as is borne out by his various observations in The Hastings and East Sussex Naturalist. He was especially interested in shells, wasps, caterpillars, wildflowers and marine life but his major contribution nationally and internationally was in the study of plant galls and Margaret Redfern in her New Naturalist book Plant Galls (2011) suggest he was the discoverer of galls on the roots of plants.

Detailed notes on the galls Connold found are published in his books British Vegetable Galls (1901), British Oak Galls (1908) and Plant Galls of Great Britain (1909). He also made a valuable contribution to the study of marine life by editing his friend Philip Rufford’s book Notes of British Hydroid Zoophytes (1902). (Hydroid Zoophytes are now included in the phylum Bryozoa, or moss animals. They are small, mainly marine animals often similar to corals with creatures like small sea anemones inside a colonial, skeletal covering of their own construction. Many colonies look more like plants than animals. Rufford and Connold often obtained their specimens of these and other marine life from the Hastings trawlers.)

In 1907 Connold also described and photographed the colony of ‘larger wintergreen’ (now round-leaved wintergreen) that then flourished “in the Hastings District” (Connold, 1908). This was presumably the plant from the Icklesham railway cutting (TQ856174) discovered by a Mrs. Wood in 1901. He was also one of several people who claimed that the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) occurred in the Hastings area along with adders and grass snakes and something he referred to as the ‘small red viper’. Once formally named Vipera rubra, these are now known simply to be young adders that are often of a reddish colour (Beebee & Griffiths, 2000).


Something of Connold’s personality and character emerge from his book of essays Gleanings from the Fields of Nature which he describes thus:

The studies are from copious notes, mental and written, made during very many enjoyable rambles along the shore, and through woods and by-paths of rural districts around Hastings and St. Leonards-on-Sea; and from careful examination of the objects under the microscope.

He had a soft spot for spiders:

While it is admitted that spiders about the house are not welcome, and that they also suggest neglect, by spinning their snares in nooks and crannies, they often rid the occupants of the home of many troublesome flies.

But decidedly old-fashioned attitudes towards the digging up of primroses:

The primrose is a hardy plant, and will not suffer from being properly removed from its native haunt, and placed in a garden or rockery.

Connold, like the rest of us, made the occasional mistake (he described wild service leaves as guelder rose, for example) but he was a first class recorder who in his short life left us an important legacy on species in the Hastings area over 100 years ago. In one of his obituaries The Gardeners’ Chronicle said “his work on Vegetable Galls is a valuable contribution to the advancement of science.”

His writing was clear and usually to the point, though sometimes he would allow himself an engaging Edwardian conceit:

And perhaps some frisky little billow flings itself upon a large boulder nearby, and laughs with glee as it suddenly breaks into countless beads of spray, and showers them upon you like liquid pearls. (Connold, 1908b.)


Anon. (1910a) Mr. Edward T. Connold (obituary). Gardeners’ Chronicle XLVII, January 15 1910: p. 47

Anon. (1910b) Edward Thomas Connold (obituary). Hastings and East Sussex Naturalist 1 (5) 16 May 1910: 197-199.

Beebee, T. & Griffiths, R. (2000) Amphibians and Reptiles. Harper Collins (New Naturalist series), London.

Connold, Edward T. (n.d.) Conchological notes : a description by Edward Connold of some shells collected by Philip James Rufford...with a note on pelecypoda by P.J. Rufford. Hastings Museum publication 4, Hastings Museum, Hastings.

Connold, Edward T. (1894) Wasps and how they live. Burfield & Pennells, Hastings.

Connold, Edward T. (1901) British Vegetable Galls. An introduction to their study. Hutchinson & Co., London.

Connold, Edward T. (1908a) Notes on the Occurrence of the Larger Wintergreen, Pyrola rotundifolia, Linn. Near Hastings. Hastings & East Sussex Naturalist 1(3): 123.

Connold, Edward T. (1908b) Gleanings from the Fields of Nature. The Religious Tract Society, London.

Connold, Edward T. (1908c) British Oak Galls. Adlard and Son, London.

Connold, Edward T. (1909) Plant Galls of Great Britain: A Nature Study Handbook. Hutchinson, London.

Redfern, Margaret (2011) Plant Galls. Collins (New Naturalist series), London.

Rufford, Philip James. Ed. Connold, Edward T. (1902) Notes of British Hydroid Zoophytes. Burfield & Pennells, Hastings.

Friday, April 29, 2011

An explosive plant


Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) is an unassuming shrub or small tree that is not uncommon in woods and on heaths in England and Wales. Its main claim to attention today is that it is one of the principle food plants of the brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) but it has had an important role in the past in the fortunes of this and other European countries through the use of its charcoal in the manufacture of gunpowder. Alder buckthorn charcoal ignites readily and burns evenly and slowly. As well as for cartridges, its steady-burning properties were exploited in manufacturing fuses for explosives (Mauskopf, 2006).

Alder buckthorn grows quite widely in my home area around the village of Sedlescombe in East Sussex, UK, mostly occurring in woodlands. I have come across a few plants, in Brede High Wood for example, that appear to have been coppiced, but I think coppice plantations of this small tree were not established locally in the past. However, as the following paragraphs will indicate, it seems highly likely that the wood was harvested as a valuable item of underwood for converting to gunpowder charcoal, either locally or further afield.

The value of alder buckthorn charcoal for gunpowder dates back many years and it has been described as being of “major military importance in the 15th to 19th centuries.” (Mobile Reference, 2010). In 1785 Major William Congreve (later Sir William) carried out tests on the charcoal from various woods and in 1791 listed alder buckthorn (as black dogwood), alder and white willow as the best types to be used in gunpowder production. Writing in 1831, Elizabeth Kent said that the charcoal made from the wood was “much prized by the manufacturers of gunpowder, who buy up all they can procure of it, and use it only for the very best gunpowder.”

Part of the reason why the economic role of alder buckthorn was obscured is that its vernacular names were confusing. John R. Jackson, curator of the museum at Kew, wrote in 1870 “In most books relating to economic botany, or to the application of woods,Cornus sanguinea, or dogwood, is referred to as yielding the best charcoal for gunpowder. Certain it is that the gunpowder makers all know the wood they use in such large quantities, by the name of dogwood, and it was generally believed that Cornus sanguinea was the plant which furnished them with their supplies.” At that period, samples of ‘dogwood’ used for gunpowder charcoal in many different places were sent to Kew and all turned out to be alder buckthorn. Jackson continued that this was proof that alder buckthorn “is the plant from whence the gunpowder-makers draw their supplies, and that Cornus sanguinea, or true dogwood, is never used, now, nor, indeed is there any proof that it ever has been, for the powder makers maintain that what they now call dogwood is the same wood which has always been used by them.”

This confusion of names has been compounded by the scientific name of alder buckthorn changing from Rhamnus frangula to Frangula alnus in the last century.

Alder buckthorn is uncommon in Scotland but, in about 1870, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh was sent a sample of alder buckthorn (as dogwood) from the Roslin Gunpowder Mills of Hay, Merricks & Co. in Midlothian. It was “of English growth in the county of Sussex” where the price varied from £10 to £14 per ton, according to quality. The sticks, which were usually sent out in May or June, were peeled and packed into bundles of 100 (M’Nab, 1870).

The Merricks family, who established the Roslin Gunpowder Mill in about 1805, originated in East Sussex “near the gunpowder mill sites at Battle and Sedlescombe” though no evidence has been found that any of the Merricks worked at these mills (Crocker, 1996). However, it may be that they took a knowledge of alder buckthorn charcoal with them to Scotland plus a knowledge of how to procure it.

In her book about Sedlescombe, Beryl Lucy (1978) says “the charcoal for ordinary gunpowder was made from alder wood burnt in pits in the way that had been practised locally, in Petley Woods in particular, from time immemorial. For the finer or sporting powder, dogwood was used. Both of these woods are still very plentiful in our countryside. When the underwood in the district was being cut, the dogwood was carefully reserved, peeled and tied into bundles.”  Alder buckthorn is not uncommon today in the Petley Wood area of Sedlescombe, while true dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) does not occur naturally in this part of East Sussex.

Another important gunpowder mill was that of John Hall & Son at Faversham in Kent and they apparently worked in conjunction with Hay, Merricks and Co., of Roslin to produce the only explosives of the gunpowder type which successfully passed the Woolwich tests for the " Permitted List." (International Congress of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 1909).

Hall’s works at Faversham spread over six hundred acres planted with both alder and alder buckthorn “more especially of the former, for though the wood itself is not so valuable as the latter for the actual manufacture of powder, the tree is, owing to its larger size, more effectual in obstructing fragments of burning timber as well as diminishing the force of the shock in case of an explosion.” (Jackson, 1870).

As an illustration of the quality and importance of alder buckthorn charcoal, Mauskopf (2006) writes “Fine Grain powder was replaced by Enfield Rifle (E.R.) powder in 1859; the grain size of the new powder was increased from 16-36 mesh to 16-24 mesh. But the chief modification was the change of wood for the charcoal: ‘dogwood’ was substituted for alder or willow. In a footnote to this passage Mauskopf, referring to a Major Morgan of the Royal Artillery, writes “The substitute was, in fact, alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula), known in France as bourdaine, the traditional source of charcoal for French military powder. Since the comparative on gunpowder of the chemist J.-L. Proust, published early in the century, bourdaine was known to yield a strong powder.”

In the earlier part of the 19th century alder buckthorn was obtained chiefly from Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Kent (Jackson, 1870) “but after the introduction of the Enfield rifle into the military service of this country, the superior kinds of powder came much more into demand, and it was found difficult to obtain a sufficient quantity.” Because of this, supplies of the wood were imported from mainland Europe, particularly Holland, Germany and Belgium. The charcoal was prepared in enclosed iron cylinders (Saturday Magazine, 1886).

During World War I the difficulty of obtaining alder buckthorn charcoal from mainland Europe meant that supplies had to be sought within Britain. The War Office appealed for wood in Gardeners’ Chronicle in 1915 saying they “would be glad to know of any supplies of Rhamnus Frangula in this country. Estate owners who have plantations of Rhamnus and are willing to sell should communicate with the Secretary, War Office, Whitehall.” (Anon., 1915) This was followed in the same magazine a few months later by a longer article from E. M. Holmes, a pharmacist and botanist from Sevenoaks, Kent. He said, among other things (Holmes, 1915):

· The wood of this small tree is at present much wanted for the manufacture of fine gunpowder. Formerly it was imported from Germany, where apparently the tree was coppiced in order to get straight stems.

· Wood about one inch in diameter is required.

· Those who know where the tree grows in fair abundance should make known the fact.

· The wood is recognised by the manufacturer by having a reddish stain around the small pith which the wood of Cornus does not possess.

· The bark, when scratched with the finger nail or a knife blade, shows a crimson colour underneath. .

· In view of the present difficulty experience should teach the necessity of cultivating Rhamnus Frangula in woods in this country.

Charcoal from alder buckthorn remained important for munitions until the close of World War II. According to Meiggs (1949):

"The Home Timber Production Department undertook responsibility for the supply of alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) needed for the manufacture of a highly specialised form of charcoal used in the making of certain types of explosive. Before the war supplies had come from France and Czechoslovakia, but in 1938 small scale orders had been placed with the Forestry Commission and had been met from the New Forest. .... It was ... plentiful enough in the New Forest for economic production and it was in the New Forest that the first war demands were met and the basis of the standard organisation laid.

The sticks were cut in 2½-foot lengths, bundled in the woods and brought to a picking up point from which they were transported to a central depot. The sticks had to be peeled, which could only be done easily while the sap was up in the spring. As the demand increased, however, production had to be maintained over the whole year; outside the natural peeling season, the sticks were first boiled in a copper for up to an hour to make peeling easier and then laid out for two or three days to dry, before being again bundled, weighed and despatched. The same organisation was repeated when new depots were opened and women made this small but important sphere their own. The operations at the depot were organised by a specially selected measurer and the peeling and other work of the depot was carried out entirely by women. Women also eventually became exclusively responsible for locating supplies in the woods and for supervising the cutting to ensure that the cutters made no mistakes in identifying the somewhat rare shrub.

The demand grew rapidly as the munition programme got into its stride. Only 50 tons had been ordered in 1939. The requirement for 1940 was 200 tons, increased in 1941 to 400 tons, and fresh areas had to be opened up. Wicken Fen was the first outside the New Forest to be exploited, and following a survey of East Anglia, operations were extended to the neighbouring counties. In 1941, since these two main sources were becoming exhausted, a complete survey was made of the country by the Cambridge School of Botany for the Biology War Committee. Much useful information was gathered in the course of this survey on the ecological habits of the plant and the areas of main concentration were tabulated. ....

With the extension of operations a new peeling depot was established in the north west, drawing supplies from the neighbouring Divisions, but by the middle of 1943 sufficient stocks had been built up to call a halt."

Despite the value and importance of its charcoal, alder buckthorn seldom seems to have been grown as a crop in Britain, most supplies being gathered from self-sown plants scattered through the underwood. Sir Joseph Hooker, director of Kew Gardens in the late 19th century, did recommend that it was grown on a coppice system and this seems to have happened in the Faversham area, but this was almost certainly the exception rather than the rule. In some places today the plant is particularly abundant, Broadwater Forest near Tunbridge Wells, for example. This area was much used by the military in the past and it may be that the tree was deliberately encouraged.

In addition to its importance for gunpowder charcoal, alder buckthorn had a role in medecine and in the production of the artist's pigment known as sap green. Kent (1831) wrote “The juice expressed from the berries being boiled down with some gum arabic and a little alum, and then poured into bladders to grow hard, is the colour called sap green.”

Alder buckthorn bark and berries have long been used as a powerful laxative. Though this largely seemed to have stopped during the 19thcentury as gentler aperients became available, the bark was used for its purgative properties during World War II. Meiggs (1949) wrote “The bark was dried on corrugated iron sheets over improvised burners and ultimately found its way into purgatives. This was no secret to the gypsies who for centuries have eaten the berries or chewed the bark of alder buckthorn in preference to the more expensive and synthetic purgatives provided by the chemist; the use of the bark for this purpose, however, only became a respectable war demand when other sources of supply were reduced.”


Anon. (1915) Wood for gunpowder. Gardeners’ Chronicle, Vol 57., April 17th 1915, page 211.

Holmes, E. M. (1915) Rhamnus Frangula. Gardeners’ Chronicle, Vol 57., June 12 1915, page 332.

International Congress of Pure and Applied Chemistry (1909).The rise and progress of the British explosives industry. Whittaker & Co., London.

Jackson, John R. (1870) The “dogwoods” used in the manufacture of gunpowder. In The Student and intellectual observer of science, literature and art. Volume 4.

Kent, Elizabeth (1831) Sylvan Sketches or a Companion to the Park and the Shrubbery with Illustrations from the Works of the Poets. Thomas Davison, London.

Lucey, B. (1978) Twenty Centuries in Sedlescombe. Regency Press, London.

Mauskopf, S. H. (2005) Chemistry in the Arsenal: State regulation and scientific methodology gunpowder in eighteenth-century England and France. In Steele, Brett D. & Dorland, Tamara. Eds.(2005) The heirs of Archimedes: science and the art of war through the Age of Enlightenment. MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mauskopf, Seymour H. (2006) Pellets, Pebbles and Prisms: British Munitions for Larger Guns, 1860-1885. Chapter 16 in Brenda J. Buchanan (2006) Gunpowder, explosives and the state: a technological history. Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, Surrey.

Meiggs, Russell (1949) Home Timber Production. Crosby Lockwood & Son Ltd, London

M’Nab, Mr. (1870) Notes on the “dogwood” of gunpowder manufacturers. Scientific Opinion Feb 3rd 1870

Mobile Reference (2010) The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Trees And Shrubs: An Essential Guide To Trees And Shrubs Of The World. Mobi Reference.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lizards in the parlour

Quite unexpectedly, two full grown common lizards (Zootoca vivipara) have appeared just outside our French windows.

20110325 SV lizards Udimore map 013

We have all been watching them sunning themselves on the steps and disappearing into various cracks in the wall and behind the masonry.

They seem very tame and one of them ventured briefly over the door sill and into the sitting room.

I do wonder where they have come from.  The last lizard I saw in our garden was five or six years ago when one used to visit the Square Metre.  The new pair must have come some way to their new home and it is good to see them.  If male and female, let's hope them have a family.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hazel catkin galls

Now, with the weather improving, is the time to walk out and look for galls on hazel buds and catkins.

In my garden and round about, practically every hazel bush has big bud galls made by the mite Phytoptus avellanae.

20110309 SV Phytoptus avellanae 1

A more detailed search quickly revealed some galled catkins.

20110309 Contarinia coryli on hazel 016

The unopened brown catkin on the right has been attacked by either the mite Phyllocoptes coryli or the Cecidomyid midge Contarinia coryli.  The only way one can tell which species is responsible is by picking them apart and looking for the mites, which are minute, or the small white grubs of the midge.  I quite quickly found midge larvae - little white maggots - but have not found any of the mites yet.  They are very small though and will need a microscope.

Galls like this (the only two found on hazel catkins in Britain) are probably common throughout Britain, but rarely recorded, so if you come across any, don't forget to send records in.

The nut bud moth (Epinotia tenerana) also lives, in its earlier instars, in hazel catkins before boring its way into hazel buds to complete its development.  It is also widespread in Britain, so that' another one to look out for.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

England's forests for sale

The much broadcast government consultation on the proposed sale of large parts of the estate owned by the public via the Forestry Commission was launched today:

Apart from saying, in the style of Sellar & Yeatman "This is a bad thing" (which I believe profoundly that it is), I thought I might use this space to set out some considerations that I have not seen covered in the media, but are important.

This is just a start. I will update this entry as time goes by.

30 January 2010

There is a very well considered commentary on the proposed forest sell-off from the Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Tony Whitbread, here:

27 January 2010

Access. The Government says that access will be conserved. Does this mean that new owners will be under an obligation to maintain car parks and footpaths and, in particular, any open glades or heathy areas that are so important for biodiversity? Will rides have to be maintained at an appropriate width for optimum ecological benefit? Will there be 'close seasons' when shooting takes place, or the birds to be shot are breeding? Will 'access' mean the freedom to go anywhere in the wood or forest, or will it be confined to set paths and routes?

Identification. How will we know if a wood or forest has public access or not? Currently Forestry Commission Woods are clearly marked on the popular Ordnance Survey Explorer and Pathfinder maps. If these woods are sold and the Forestry Commission marking removed, how will people know which woods are accessible? Perhaps the Government could consider continuing to mark them on maps some how or other. "Former public wood sold to a private owner by the Coalition Government in 2011."

If all the Ordnance Survey and other Government maps have to be changed, I wonder if the cost has been taken into account.

Many Forestry Commission properties have a sign at the entrance(s) so that people know there is access. Will the new owners have to erect signs saying that the wood/forest is one of the free access ones?

Is there the quite interesting danger that, in the absence of any positive information, people will assume that most or all woods have access? If challenged when walking, could the appropriate response be "Oh, I thought this was one of the public woods you had bought from the Government."

Is this a good moment to press for the 'Right to Roam' to be extended to woods and forests?

Shooting. I mentioned shooting above and, unless shooting is absolutely forbidden in any sold off woods/forests, it seems likely to escalate. Apart from the dislike of this pursuit by so many who use the countryside, it is likely to represent both a danger and a reason to deny access to woods. Many who have been in France know the tyranny in the French countryside of 'La Chasse' and its powerful lobby.

There is also the question of noise. The countryside where I live has been relatively peaceful for the last several years, but this could change with the dismal sound of organised shot gun fire reverberating around during the shooting season. This unpleasant effect extends, of course, far beyond the woods and forests where it is taking place.

Management. There has been much talk of management. It may be possible for an experienced woodland/forest manager to be employed on the larger properties. Most of the smaller ones are too small to justify such an expense. Organisations like county wildlife trusts, the RSPB or the Woodland Trust have managers that cover a number, often a large number, of woodland properties spread over a wide area. The input of experienced people from the Forestry Commission who cover large areas will, presumably, no longer be available and the management of small woods will suffer as the new owners are unlikely to have the time or money to invest in the long learning curve and multiple skills needed to know how best to deal with a wood.

Countryside stewardship. If the scheme continues, many of the sold off woods could be eligible for Entry Level or Higher Level Stewardship. Among other things this means they will receive payment from the Government provided they stick to the agreed management plan. I wonder if the cost of this has been taken into account in considering the 'profit' from woodland/forest sales.

Deer control. In many places deer, and also wild boar, are increasing. Their control via fencing and culling are complicated operations requiring cooperation over large areas if they are to be effective. Many of the animals are using smaller woods and increasingly coming into gardens as different, and often only partially successful, strategies are used to control them. If they are not controlled (and some new woodland owners might not want to) some woods may, in the long run, turn into wood pasture and, ultimately overgrazed grassland with starving animals and not much else.