2018 in Trees

It might sound simple, but trees are without doubt one of the things which makes me happiest in this world. Their architectural limbs during winter; that joyous first flush of green in the springtime; the cacophony of life they support in the summer and the glowing hues of autumn – all through the year they can lift the spirit into their boughs. Here are a few of my favourite photographs from 2018.

sxdu9712
This photograph shows the veins in a lime seed wing with the tree in the background – I love the echo beteen the parent tree and the wing which will take its tiny progeny to a new place to germinate.
wlmf9804
We walked the Peddar’s Way in spring this year – from Thetford all the way to the coast at Holme next the Sea. The green tracks with overarched by mature trees were a joy to walk beneath.
xwwg7045
Another photograph taken along the Peddar’s Way – I love the imagery of the broadleaf trees with lances drawn against the arrayed army of conifers in the plantation; however these are more likely a stress response to the intense shading of the industrial plantation.
pxce5269
Scilly is one of the places in the UK where elms have held out against Dutch Elm disease – likely primarily due to their relative isolation from the mainland. This was taken of young growth in the centre of St Mary’s
wgkl1241
This photograph was taken in mid-summer but the fallen lime wings made it look as though autumn had come early. This green arched footpath leads down towards Sedgewick Meadows in Grantham
prdf1062
Limes seem to have figured highly in my photographs this year – this is a lime avenue in a Northamptonshire Estate where we undertook tree climb & inspect surveys one misty morning in autumn
lvrx2722
One of my favourite trees in Richmond Park which brings back memories of my dissertation there many years ago – the Royal Oak is estimated to be 750 years old!
evor9108
The silver birch is a typical pioneer tree species of Sherwood, well suited to the sandy, heathy soils. These were taken as the bracken leaves browned in November.
clko1328
Whilst obviously not a fan of the inert conifer plantations which pass for ‘woods’ in too many places, there is an undeniable beauty to their straight, uniform structures especially when the light is right!

 

 

2017 in Trees

The darkness of the winter is always a good time to reflect on a year passed, not only to appreciate what you’ve seen and experienced but to look forward to the treasures which await the eager explorer in the year ahead.

As always,  I find trees feature strongly when I look back at the photos I’ve taken. There is much to appreciate in the natural world and each element has its own pleasure and essence. Trees feel like communing with the elders (no pun intended!) – even a stand of spindly silver birch will have been alive almost as long as I have and some of the trees you meet allow you to reach back through the generations, to the limits of living memory and far beyond. Here are a just a few such encounters from this year.

Clumber Park

Clumber has much to offer at any time of year – the double lime avenue on the entrance just keeps rolling the trees before you like an unfurling scroll as you drive in, and the old parkland has many veterans to tell you their tales. This photo was taken across the lake, as the sun sunk low on a Sunday afternoon in January, lighting the trunks and stretching the reflections out across the water.

Grantham

This tree sits proudly on top of the hillside overlooking Grantham and I pass it most days on my lunchtime walk. It is a sycamore and sits at the end of an incongruous line of old oaks, beeches and other sycamores which speak of an older time. A friend refereed to it as ‘that amazing oak’, assuming the species from its stature and prowess. I wonder if she’ll read this… Stretching out below is the course grassland and gorse of Harrowby Hill and above it lies the Hills and Hollows where barn owls and short-eared owls hunt through the winter months and marsh orchids nestle in the summertime.

IMG_6880

Hatfield Forest

We went with some friends to listen to Sam Lee’s ‘Singing with Nightingales‘ at Fingringhoe Wick in spring, and took the opportunity for a walk around Hatfield Forest. Hornbeam was growing in the woodlands with a frequency and regularity I never see here in the Midlands, but this particular specimen was exceptional. This is an old hornbeam pollard where the heartwood had rotted away and the tree split into two live, healthy halves which were easily large enough to walk through.

Treswell Wood

Treswell Wood is a very special place – Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s first reserve, it is an ash dominated ancient woodland in the north of the county which now plays host to the successfully reintroduced dormouse populations as well as supporting a whole range of other species. Springtime sees the trees burst into an abundance of fresh green leaves and creamy white blossom and this photograph of the mixed canopy captures this exuberance for me.

IMG_6470

Muston Meadows

Muston Meadows is an ancient haymeadow in Leicestershire – it’s deep ridge and furrow grassland supports an exceptional population of green-winged orchid as well as a burnet, pignut, cowslip, quaking oat grass and meadowsweet. This photograph of the oak and ash within the boundary hedgerow was taken as a starlapse at midnight under moonlight in the springtime. I love to be somewhere that allows you to feel such a strong connection to the past, I imagine scenes from D. H. Lawrence’s works where the haymaking in these meadows was a time of great importance for sustenance and survival, as well as opportunities for intrigue and romance.

IMG_7171

Bedford Purleius

The light filtered through a thousand leaves has subtleties of which vary from species to species, from place to place and from month to month. There can be few however to match the soft light of sunshine through newly unfurled beech leaves, as this stand in Bedford Purleius. Later in the season, the ground beneath these trunks will support helleborines which flower in mid-summer.

IMG_0153

Millstone Edge, Derbyshire

Leaving the twisted, gnarled oak woodland of the valley beside the Burbage Brook, you turn onto an entirely different scene – one of light and green and air. This edge is populated almost entirely by silver birch with sketch a monchrome array between the greens of foliage above and grassland below.

Robin Hood’s Bay

This was an opportunistic photograph of the sunlight playing through woodsmoke from a bonfire in the clearing below. It’s not often that mist and fog will persist long enough through the day to allow such vertical shafts of light in a woodland scene, so I took advantage of serendipity to catch a shot which reminds me more of rainforest than an English woodland.

Quantocks

The Quantocks has become one of my favourite places to visit – the different characters of the trees and woodland set within an ancient landscape are irresistible. You can read more in this blog post from the autumn, but below are a couple of my favourites.

First is the gnarled oak woodland crowding the road which ventures up over the wooded hillside from Nether Stowey towards Crowcombe.

Next is the massed boughs of the coppiced beeches which line the Drove Road – a prehistoric track which runs across the ridge of the hillside above Crowcombe.

This photograph is perhaps my favourite of this year – it shows the woodland closing over the road with Tolkinesque grandeaur. If these were ents which came to life, I wouldn’t be so very surprised…

Cambridge Botanic Garden

This shows the beautiful soft browns of the autumn needles of swamp cypress – an evergreen conifer – against the backdrop of yellow maple leaves. I was in Cambridge for a meeting and had an hour before catching my train which gave a perfect opportunity to explore the botanic gardens which were conveniently close to the station. As well as the stunning floral displays and specimens, they have some beautiful trees and it’s a great spot for autumn colour!

Wappenbury Wood

Small-leaved lime used to be the key component of the woodlands around the midlands, before the clearance of the wildwood and the generation of the stands we see today. They still occur if you know where to look – Steve Falk‘s guides can help if you’re lucky enough to be in Warwickshire – and these old coppice stools within Wappenbury Wood are a fine example of a tree with which we should all be more familiar. Coppicing was the ancient practice of cutting the tree down to a bole, from which new growth would appear and could be substantially harvested without ever killing the tree. On the contrary, some of the oldest trees you can find are coppices and pollards, including small-leaved lime coppices in Westonbirt Arboretum thought to be over 2000 years old. This photo shows the tall, straight trunks of the regrowth many years after their last cut.

IMG_6180

Bottesford Church

This photograph was taken at a local churchyard one frosty morning on Novembe. The night had turned the grass and gravestones to white whilst the sunrise caught the embers of autumn leaves on this beech and ignited them into a celebration of orange, umber and yellow. It was only a few more days before the leaves fell, but this was a moment when autumn had not yet given way to winter and the right morning can provide you with the best of both.

Staverton Park

I was very pleased to find myself within a few miles of this woodland in November, and took the opportunity to explore one of the most impressive assemblages of ancient trees in the country. You can read more in my blog post, but here area couple of my favourites.

The path through The Thicks wound its way between trees and shrubs, but split around this majestic old oak which stood in the centre of the path and demanded all that pass must pass around it.

This photograph was taken at sunrise, of one of the idiosyncratic old oaks on the edge of the parkland. The ground layer beneath is dominated by bracken, and I thought the frond and the tree made a nice contrast against the morning sky.

Whatton-in-the-Vale

Grantham Road is a bypass to the old road, which was subsequently bypassed again by the new A52 which avoids the village altogether. The road now links the two parts of the village and, though less than 100 years old, is bestowed an authority and antiquity by the double-line of planes which enclose it. The houses at the end are where the Griffin’s Head pub once stood. I liked the way the glow of life and civilisation lay at the end of the imposing avenue against a starry sky, like coming out of the woods into the safety of a home.

Millstone Edge

Back once more amongst the silver birches of Millstone Edge – their black and white stems through the snow transports you to another country, to Russia or else eastern Europe.

IMG_9992

Bedford Purleius

With the seedheads of the helleborines still standing, this was the last view I had of these beech trees in 2017. I love the softness of the light which seems to remain as a memory of those leaves from early springtime.

IMG_9612

Winter Buds ID Part 1 – Londonthorpe Woods

Tree identification in the winter isn’t so difficult as you might think! Broadleaf trees lose their leaves in the autumn and develop buds which remain throughout the winter and these make it very easy to work out which species is which. The Woodland Trust have produced a very handy guide to some of the most common species which shows photographs side-by-side for comparison. If you want to identify them in a little more detail, this little booklet is invaluable and provides a few more diagnostic characteristics such as the architecture and bark types. It even has a handy key which takes you step by step towards the correct identification!

Of course, one drawback of relying on the buds to identify the tree is getting to the buds in the first place, which can be a long way off the ground depending upon the tree in question. So Londonthorpe Woods seemed like an ideal place to begin.

Londonthorpe Woods is located just off Londonthorpe Lane as you leave Grantham to the north-east. The wood was created by the Woodland Trust who planted thousands of trees on the 56ha arable site between 1993-1995. The Woodland Trust continue to own and manage the site.

As the site is so large, I concentrated on the first area you arrive at if you step through the gate from the car park. This area has been planted with a number of our native species which will one day develop into a woodland much more natural in character than it may appear at present. Alder (Alnus glutinosa) and willow (Salix spp.) will grow quickly but remain smaller, as will the silver birch (Betula pendula) and cherry (Prunus spp.). The English oak (Quercus robur) on the other hand will grow slowly and steadily to rise to prominance above the canopy one day, with ash (Fraxinus excelsior) close behind. Finally there are hazel (Corylus avellana), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) shrubs which will form an understorey, along with dog rose (Rosa canina).

Map of the plantation behind the main carpark of Londonthorpe Woods (courtesy of Google Maps).

Each of the species is described briefly below, along with a photograph of the buds to show you what to look for! Click on any of the photos for a larger image.


Alder

Alder buds are red and vaguely conical and remain quite close (appressed) to the stem. They are alternate – each bud is present as an individual rather than a pair and they alternate as you look along the twig, one to the left, then one to the right.

Alder is one of the more helpful tree species in that it often provides extra clues in the winter – the cones are generally present right through until spring time.


Willow

Willow’s are a variable bunch and as well as having several species native to the UK, they hybridise so there is even greater variety than you might expect. I think that this example might be goat willow (Salix caprea) – it will be easy to check when the buds break – goat willow produce fantastic flowers so watch this space! The buds are alternate again, lime green with redness towards the tip.

The presence of both the willow and the alder in this plantation suggests that the ground may be damp – both species are most commonly found along river banks or in other damp conditions. Like the hazel (see below for more details), the willows have been coppiced in this site.


Silver birch

Now this is a species which few will need the buds to identify – the distinct silver banded bark is visible behind the buds in this photograph!

The buds themselves are alternate and on small stems which protrude from the main twig.

Silver birch grow quickly but are relatively short lived – they are often one of the first pioneer species in a new woodland but soon become out-competed by larger, taller trees.


Cherry

Cherry is another difficult species as there are so many ornamental and hybrid varieties to choose from. The buds are alternate and dark brown with scales visible. Cherry is another species where the bark is very useful in the winter – the lines which look almost like horizontal cracks in their shiny bark are called lenticels and these are quite characteristic of cherries.

Although it is difficult to be sure of the exact species, it is likely that the Woodland Trust would have planted one of the native varieties – wild or bird cherry. Of the two, this one looks more like wild cherry (Prunus avium). Again, we can return to check this in the spring or summer!


English oak

The oak has tight clusters of buds especially at the tips. The buds are brown and have lots of scales.

One day this tree will probably tower above the others – think of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. For an example closer to home, there is a beautiful mature oak specimen along Belton Lane which you will probably pass on your way to Londonthorpe Woods – more on this magnificent tree in a later post!


Ash

The ash has one of the most distinctive buds – they form jet black pointed cones which really can’t be confused with much else. If you find buds of a similar shape but a different colour, such as grey, think of one of the other ashes which we sometimes encounter such as manna ash.


Hazel

Hazel buds are a greenish red in colour – a little like a red and green apple. They are alternate along the twig which itself is often hairy. Hazel provides a few extra clues in the winter time – the catkins (the male flowers) are often visible and if you look very carefully, you can see the tiny red female flowers on the same branch.

Another clue, depending on the management, is the growth form of hazel. It is often coppiced – that is cut down to the ground – and from here it sends up lots of new shoots which are often allowed to grow for several years before being cut back. The hazels in this plantation have been coppiced.


Hawthorn

The spiky shrubby hawthorn bush is fairly distinctive, even in the winter time. The spikes are generally quite visible and the buds compete with these along the twig. The buds are alternate and a similar dark reddish colour to the twigs.


Blackthorn

Blackthorn buds, by contrast with the hawthorn, are tiny little red dots which appear along the stem. The twigs are often long spikes and the buds appear along these. The colour of the bark of blackthorn is, as you might imagine quite dark, a blackish grey perhaps.


Dog Rose

Another species which you are unlikely to confuse with many others. Native roses grow lower to the ground than the other species in this plantation but can develop quite a shrubby form. The curved rose thorns, like a hawk’s talon, are quite distinctive and the rose hips, still present in January, are another key clue. The buds themselves are a slightly lurid red and grow  alternately up the twig, alongside the thorns.