Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts by Daniel James Greenwood

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Macro Monday 13th July 2020

The cooler weather continues, interspersed with rain and cloudier days. These are good macro conditions. I spent a couple of lunchtimes outside this week with my heavier macro equipment – I have been very lazy recently only using my smaller mirrorless camera with in-built flash – and what I saw was pretty harrowing but also quite amazing.

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I have mentioned before that part of my lawn is dying, likely due to the lack of spring rain. I don’t mind this because it annoys people who like tidy gardens and it provides a habitat niche for wildlife. In this case, it was for the benefit of yellow-legged mining bees (I still haven’t confirmed that ID but will go with it). The ground will recover anyway in the autumn and winter. I was sitting on the grass to see if some of the mining bees would be coming out. I noticed a dead bee and took a photo. Then I noticed another one. There was another insect hovering over the area of mining bee nests which at first thought was something like a ruby-tailed wasp, as I could see its red ‘tail’ or lower body. I was desperate for it to land so I could get a photo. When it did, I was amazed at what happened next.

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It flew down straight to the nesting holes and pulled a roosting mining bee out.

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A wrestling match then ensued among the dead grasses surrounding the nesting hole.

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I recognised that the insect was a blood bee, having seen them for the first time last month on the South Downs. The blood bee was the stronger of the two.

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This was the best image I got from what I realised was the blood bee stinging (perhaps) the mining bee and either paralysing or killing it. By this point the adrenaline was pumping for me also. The mining bee began to thrash around when it was released by the blood bee and it lay next to another mining bee which was still alive but fading away. I believe the blood bee had pulled the mining bees out of the nests (perhaps they were a male and female together in one nest) and killed them to use the nest for itself. It was at this point that I began to notice more dead mining bees and it dawned on me – I was watching the raid of a blood bee on an entire colony of mining bees in my own small garden.

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I had gone back to work after that somewhat shocked by the smash and grab episode. I did feel sadness for the mining bees and the killing field which had appeared in my garden. But that’s a human response to an issue that doesn’t exist. We should feel much greater sadness or anger for a wider loss of habitat than we should say a magpie or jay raiding a nest. You have to remember the bigger picture.

The next day I went out again at lunchtime to see how the mining bees were doing. I found a detached ‘doorway’ of soil which had a dead mining bee in it but there were several sitting in their doorways.

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I don’t think there can be any sense of change for this community of bees (bearing in mind they’re not social but solitary, beyond their pairs). They will be aware of the threats they face, not least the house sparrows that often pluck bees and butterflies from the air. Some were still visiting flowers and there was no sign of the blood bee.

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There was need for a lockdown here, the mining bees had no choice but to go on. Of course, that is not comparable to the situation our species finds itself in.

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Nearby, this common yellow-face mining bee was recharging its battery in the hedge. It was really nice to finally get a decent image of this very small badger-like insect.

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It’s been a tough week for the mining bees in general. I was looking around a patch of cranesbills in a shadier corner and saw a dead bee floating in midair. Then I noticed the crab spider which had caught it. The spider was so well camouflaged, reflecting the fact that this species is able to change colour to match the flower it is hunting from. This is probably Misumena vatia, a common crab spider found in gardens, woods, meadows and urban habitats. This spider was turning the bee around and dropped it from its perch. I wonder if it climbed down to get it.

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Only a couple of inches away, another crab spider had caught a mining bee. Not a good day at the office!

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Wasps have had a lot of coverage in this blog and I was delighted to find a species of big-headed digger wasp (Ectemnius) on the fence one lunchtime. I was involved in a conversation with a neighbour at the time and had to say, sorry, I need to try and photograph this wasp! It would have been great to see it head on, but it didn’t hang around.

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We’ve let the grass grow long in parts of our small garden. At times I’ve heard the sibilant sound of a cricket or grasshopper, showing the importance of allowing the grass to grow. In the hedge one lunchtime I found this speckled bush cricket. It really did not like me noticing it and would shuffle into the leaves to try and hide.

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Ending on a gentler note than this post began with, I have been trying to grow courgettes this year after experiencing the same panic that many people felt about supermarkets back in March. I didn’t stockpile toilet roll-shaped pasta though. Many of the courgettes are now flowering and I was interested to see if they had any value for insects. Sure enough, this flower was rammed with pollen beetles.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 10th July 2020

I went on a bike ride to the edge of a large woodland complex on Fungi Friday Eve (AKA Thursday). I went in hope of finding that mushrooms, after a fair amount of rain, were bursting forth from the soil, fresh and bright, ready for their close up. As usual I was wrong. There was pretty much nothing, not that I managed to make it into the best areas, it’s quite a trek. I did find some fungi though, a cluster of giant brackets that are there all year round:

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This is probably artist’s bracket or something similar. They live on decaying wood in living or dead trees. They are an important controllers of tree species and contribute therefore greatly to tree diversity in woodlands. Unlike what you might think, their presence does not always mean the tree is dying or that they are harming the tree.

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Birch polypore is a nice example of a tree-controller, a species which is commonly seen on birch. It has a fantastic scientific name – Piptoporus betulinus! It’s also known as razor strop, probably because people once used it to sharpen their knives (which were a day-to-day essential) in the way that you might use a piece of leather. That connection between people and fungi is one I think it’s sad we’ve lost. I wonder, is this still a living connection anywhere else in the world today?

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Bracket fungi, Bavarian Forest

Bracket fungi are something we’re losing from the wooded landscapes of Europe largely from the explosion of forestry in the past 100 years and an intensification of woodland management. The oldest woodlands I’ve ever been to (I know that doesn’t mean much) were covered in dead or decaying trees with large brackets. The Bavarian Forest, as seen above, was a fine example.

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Red belted polypore in the mountains of the Romanian Carpathian

One reason why we have less brackets is because large trees have not been left to live their lives to the full and beyond. Most trees in forests have a target age and size, bracket fungi are a pest in those places, not that most trees would ever get to the age where substantial brackets could develop.

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Red belted bracket in the White Carpathians, Czech/Slovak border

In the intensively managed woods of places like Czechia, it’s only a fallen tree stump that will give a home for a bracket.

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Białowieża Forest in north-eastern Poland

Possibly the most bracket-rich landscape I’ve visited is Białowieża Forest in Poland, famed for its ancient stretches of woodland and rich diversity of tree species, said never to have been logged. Not even by the Nazis invading in the Second World War.

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A small-leaved lime (I think) in Bialowieza Forest, north-eastern Poland

From experiences of visiting these rich woodland landscapes, a sign of brackets is often a symbol of a healthy ecosystem. The brackets are softening wood inside of trees which make a greater range of habitat niches for other life.

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Saproxylic invertebrates (those which live in or depend on dead or decaying wood) are the most threatened species group in Europe. Many of these insects have important, dove-tailing ecological relationships with fungi. The stag beetle is a nice example, a species which is born with its own fungus used to decay wood in its wood-boring larval stage (we’ve all been there). Woodpeckers are also dependent on this wood-softening created by bracket fungi.

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Old-fashioned forestry practices in the Romanian Carpathians

I read this week that furniture behemoth IKEA have been linked to illegally felled beech woodlands in the Ukrainian Carpathians. They are selling products in the UK made from timber felled with a licence approved by the FSC but which is in fact thought to be illegal. IKEA has been here before, not least for accusations of using timber from ancient woodlands in Karelia, a region in northern Russia. For the recent Ukraine story, please watch the excellent (and witty) Channel 4 report here:

The Carpathians are a mountain range that cut through Europe, fizzling out in Czechia, reaching their most epic heights in Romania. They are one of the most incredible landscapes Europe has to offer. They also cross through the Ukraine, where the high beech woodlands are some of the oldest in Europe. Recently some of these woodlands were designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. As so often is the case, outlying areas can be prone to exploitation through illegal forestry operations.

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In 2015 I visited the Romanian Carpathians. My friend and I hiked out of the Transylvanian town of Sinaia and into the mountains. There we witnessed the logging of beech trees using horses. It was amazing to see, and something far more ecologically kind to a woodland, rather than using heavy machinary that destroys the soil (and all the fungi in it). We can only presume this was a legal operation. However, illegal loggingin in some of Romania’s most important woodlands has become so serious that rangers and woodland protectors have been murdered for attempting to stop it. The EU has to do more, as it did in protecting Bialowieza Forest from ecologically-illiterate forestry.

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Ancient beech and spruce woodlands in the Carpathians

We are dependent on fungi and woodlands to make our world inhabitable. There need to be core areas of woodland which are allowed to follow cycles which are not interrupted or undermined by economic activity like intensive forestry. We can play our part in conserving things from afar by knowing who we are buying products from and where they originate from. That said, it’s not made any easier for the woodland or the consumer if ancient beech woodlands are being converted to fold-out chairs under a Forestry Stewardship Council certificate.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 6th July 2020

Cooler temperatures greeted us this week after the recent heatwave. The gusting winds didn’t go away, though, and that makes it tricky for macro. The constant blowing sways the plants where the insects are, meaning that the number of photos you’ll get in focus will be far fewer than if it was still. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.

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Though our small garden isn’t up on a hill, it’s beginning to feel rather exposed where it sits in the Arun valley in urban West Sussex. I’m open to letting more of the shrubs grow to create wind buffers, not that it will make a huge different. One of the buffers is this ornamental hedge (which, after 6 months I still haven’t checked the name of in a garden centre). I found this ladybird in a state of metamorphosis, shifting from larva to adult ladybird. You can see its shell appearing from the skin of the larva, like superman minus the phonebox and slower.

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In the raspberry patch I found a solitary wasp. My insect guide gives nothing close to a resemblence to any species.

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The most popular plant in the garden now is this mallow. Lots of different species are foraging from it, to the point where I know an insect has been there because of those massive pollen grains. This is a red-tailed bumblebee, as you can probably imagine.

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I’ve noticed this ichneumon wasp (one of over 2500 species in the UK) spending a lot of time flitting over the flower buds. I presume it is using that needle-like ovipositer to lay its eggs. It has a beautiful chrome-blue eye. Again it has a pollen grain on its shoulder.

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This is another yellow-faced bee that I haven’t managed to identify. I love how papery the petals of the mallow appear here.

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The wool carder bees are still busy in good numbers on the lamb’s ears. This plant has been a revelation this year. At most I’ve counted 5 wool carder bees and this week I saw 3. They seem to be more at ease with me now (if that’s a thing, probably not) and don’t fly a mile when I sit next to the plant to get photos. They also allow me to get much closer than I could back in May.

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They are really attractive bees. What interests me is that they aren’t at all interested in the mallow but only the lamb’s ears and a foxglove which has popped up nearby.

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The lamb’s ears continue to be a perch for lots of different insects. I would say this is a common froghopper.

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The hot weather really has killed part of the lawn but I don’t care. I haven’t even cut it since April! One thing I have noticed is that our yellow-legged mining bee friends have begun to proliferate further into the other living areas of the grass.

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This was one of those cooler days, so perhaps this bee didn’t quite have the energy to get going just yet. Or perhaps it was just wondering what a giant was doing pointing a camera into their doorway.

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On my way back into the house one lunchtime I found a moth fluttering around at the door. I didn’t think much of it with my normal human eyesight but the photograph shows up something far more beautiful. The (undiffused) flash exposes the carpet-like patterns of the scales, with a hint of tiger stripes to the wing tips. It reminds me of curtains closed in a living room.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungy Friday 3rd July 2020

At last the rain has arrived. But did it bring a deluge of the mushroom kind? On a lovely clear evening after work I went to the woods to find out.

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Even in dry times there is one fungus that will not desert you. Artist’s bracket is a bracket fungus in the family Ganoderma. It gets its common name from the fact you can draw on the sporey underside of the fungus, usually something like noughts and crosses. I’ve seen these fungi get to be huge but in most places they are usually broken off by human hands.

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They have the ability to renew themselves, though, as this one above has begun to do. I read somewhere that this fungus produces 30billion spores an hour. Suppose I’ve taken a few home with me then.

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After rain like we’ve had in the past week in southern England, you don’t dream of bracket fungi. Or do you?

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Walking along a path in an area of open woodland my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw this massive dryad’s saddle sprouting from a dead sycamore tree. This area has been hammered by the combination of no rain and heavy footfall impacting after clearance work of sycamore has taken place, so I wasn’t considering the possibility of fungi being present.

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This is a fungus to find at this time of year. Due to its size, it will often find you. It’s an edible species but probably not at this stage. I’m writing this rather bleary eyed because I’ve spent the past couple of days researching the cultural heritage of oak trees for a talk I gave this week. Little did I know that dryad actually means ‘oak tree nypmh’, rather than simply ‘wood nymph’. The idea is that a nymph, or woodland sprite, or fairy, would sit on this bracket and hurl abuse at passers-by.

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I was looking down at some moss on the woodland floor when I discovered these baffling, miniscule mushrooms. They were about the size of a grain of rough sea salt. On their caps were these spikes, at first thought perhaps another fungus or mould growing on top.

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It just made me realise how much we can miss, these were some of the smallest fruiting bodies I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what they are.

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Next door was something a little larger, probably a bonnet of some kind. I don’t have the knowledge to get any closer than that. Again, this wasn’t much bigger than the weird fruiting dudes alongside it.

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After a good couple of hours searching, it was time to head home. Dramatic clouds built over the heath, perhaps with more rain to feed the fungi. We shall see.

Thanks for reading.

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St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, June 2020

Rain spots my shirt as a storm threatens overhead. The heat in Sussex has been blistering this week, with a breach of the thirty-degree mark yesterday. Today it is much cooler. I waited until the late afternoon to head out while the last embers of the heatwave petered out.

I’m amazed to see that the leaves of a fallen beech limb are still alive, still in their early spring state. It brings me back to those promising early weeks when spring appears.

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There is something sad about these paused beech leaves, perhaps because the tree has died with the fracture that has meant the leaves are so easy to reach and photograph. The tree had become rotten through its heart and base. A spring storm smashed through it and now here it lies. The leaves are beautiful, corrugated, and a fresh green.

Passing through a screen of holly and oak, I enter into an opening where giant beech trees live with great limbs like giant octopi. Everytime I come here someone has had a fire on the roots of the main beech tree. This is frustrating. The tree will be harmed by damage to the roots. The roots of a tree sit closer to the surface of the soil than you might think. This time, there is more than one firepit and signs of small trees like hazel being cut, sawn up and piled, either for another fire or a den. These old trees have clearly taken a beating over the years and I worry that people don’t understand their fragility, especially to fire.

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In the raised buttresses of this veteran beech white sawdust has been left, the trail of saw blades having cut into the tree’s bark. In a sheltered nook of exposed roots a bunch of freshly cut twigs and small sticks has been piled for kindling. Could this have been a place where someone wanted to start a fire, could people really think the tree would not be harmed? I gather the sticks and scatter them among the holly.

The Sussex Weald

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Common flower bug on a raspberry sepal

Macro Monday 29th June 2020

So lockdown is over – why bother sitting in the garden when we’ve all been given the green light to take ourselves and our Sainsbury’s bags for life (not) to the Dorset coast. All 500,000 of us. I’ll tell you why not, because I mostly stayed alert in my living room watching the garden get burnt to a crisp by plus-30 degree heat, and blown hither and thither by gusting winds. In my magnified eyes, this is not the time for macro photography.

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Last week I didn’t notice the level of social media OUTRAGE around the fact that flying ants were on the wing again. I love these moments in the year, unapologetic expressions of ecological processes starring wildlife. When once we might have seen megafauna heading off on mass migrations (wild horses, etc.) now we just get flying ants in June. This ant, with its shameless expression of wing-ability, was spending the evening on the gate.

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A judge of how much our wildlife has been reduced is that there are no toads to hoover up the offerings from the Hymenopteran (bees, wasps and ants) gods. The photo above was taken on one of those evenings in Peckham in south-east London circa 2015. It’s probably London Wildlife Trust‘s most-used toad pic. Might just retire.

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After watering the plants of an evening I found this vine weevil roosting in a weed (purple loosestrife) for the night. Two things ‘gardeners hate’. Personally, I’m not bothered. My attitude towards invasive species is taking on an apocalyptic framing – if they can deal with, even prosper in, the world we are cultivating, fair play mate.

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Vine weevils are so despised because as larvae they eat the roots of plants. How very dare they! I was actually like so pleased because this was the first weevil for my garden list. Is it still a lockdown list, or is it a ‘great thawing’ list. We may never know.

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This brief flirtation with the evening garden (sounds like Danielle Steele) provided some new species for my garden list. The most excitement(!) came from this solitary wasp, a species of ‘tube wasp’ (nothing to do with Transport for London) which was visiting an ornamental yarrow. I papped a pic in hope and it just about worked out. It could be this species.

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In the category of ‘non-portfolio images’ was this very small black wasp. This is probably a species in the Crossocerus group.

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You can see where they get the common name of ‘square-headed wasps’. Plenty of those to be found on Twitter if you click any trending item. Kidding guys, your opinion on #countryfile really mattered yesterday!

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This is the larva of a lacewing, which are sometimes found collecting ‘trash packets’ as the Americans might say, of bits and bobs they find on their travels across soil and shrub. I know what you’re thinking: Ernest Hemingway. Think again.

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Here’s one from 2019 in the garden I used to manage (the estate agents were not happy). Aren’t we all like this little lacewing larva, collecting our bits and bobs on life’s journey. No plastic or fossil fuels required in this case, though.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 26th June 2020

For some reason I decided to write a weekly Fungi Friday blog in 2020. It might have been the worst possible year to attempt this. It’s true that fungi peaks in the autumn but some of the more gentle, milder and wetter months of the year can give fungi an earlier chance. Not so in 2020, as this blog has complained for the past few weeks, it’s been very dry in southern England.

A recent storm didn’t reach Sussex but did pass through London and seems to have given fungi there a boost.

I could blame a global pandemic for the difficulty in finding fungi this spring and summer, but the dryness has been the main problem.

There are only so many dry (literally) blogs you can write about the lack of the thing you want to write about. This week I thought it would be a chance to cover a species that is one of the best known in the world and actually forms the largest organism on Earth. It’s also ‘feared/hated by gardeners’. I seem to use that phrase a lot in this line of unpaid work. What’s the species? It’s honey fungus.

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The mycelium of honey fungus

Every time I take a photo of these ‘boot laces’, I always intend to file it somewhere easy to find. That never happens so above is a low-res phone pic of a honey fungus mycelium (the fungal network of hyphae, a root-like structure that forms the living, physical structure of the organism). This can often be found underneath the bark of a tree that has fallen down or that has died due to the impact of honey fungus. These ‘boot laces’ are also what represent the largest life form on Earth. That’s a humongous fungus, some 2384 acres in size.

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An Armillaria oystayae specimen is the biggest organism in the world (not this one)

That species is Armillaria oystayae but it’s not the case of a mushroom or toadstool over 2000 acres in size – can you imagine how much that would stink when it began to decay? Because that is only the apple on the tree, whereas the mycelium is the living and breathing fungus itself. The fungi above had moved in on a tree that had been harmed by development, with likely damage to the roots, making the tree vulnerable. No one described the developers as pests in that instance. One suggestion was for the tree to be felled just because the fungus was present. That’s a terrible idea.

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Fresh fruiting bodies of honey fungus on an ash stump

Honey fungus is renowned for its parasitic potential. Armillaria oystayae is a ‘pest’ for foresters. I would argue that honey fungus, and other species like it, is simply living in a nature-depleted world where ‘naturally-occuring’ species diversity has been destroyed by industrial monocultures in farming and forestry, and development that does not take account of the landscape it is replacing. They are also just trying to survive and taking advantage of niches which are presented to them.

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A plantation cleared on a hillside in Czechia – soil will be lost to erosion as the roots of the trees die and tension is lost

If fungi have been on Earth for 1billion years, they have evolved in a much more species-rich biosphere, rather than one we dominate now, which, in the case of Western Europe, is suffering from a loss of ancient semi-natural woodland and the associated habitat mosaics and species. In this case I mean there are fewer trees and less dead and decaying wood, the latter of which is a vital ingredient in a functioning and biodiverse ecosystem. Honey fungus, just like us humans, needs food and somewhere to live. It just so happens that honey fungi eat where they live and what they live on. Sometimes they also kill it. Sound familiar? Just ask Planet Earth.

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Honey fungus on the raised rootplate of a fallen tree

The most common species of honey fungus that occurs in Britain is Armillaria mellea. In actual fact it’s an indicator of ancient woodland, which means that people can’t use xenophobic language around ‘alien invasion’ to explain why it could be a problem. An ancient woodland indicator is used to show us that it is over 400 years old in Britain and Europe. In my view, this is just another species which highlights our own ignorance – we think we can control nature and that anything which doesn’t stick to the script must be destroyed or is a pest. Covid-19 is teaching us in a tragic fashion that we were wrong about that.

It’s true that honey fungus has parasitic tendencies and therefore can kill trees through a process of starving it of nutrients, rather than the supportive biological process of providing the tree with things it can’t get (a mycorrhizal relationship). But as a tree inspection professional once said, trees are not a safety issue until we show up.

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Young fruiting bodies of honey fungus in the ancient woodland landscape of the New Forest

One thing that appears to work in honey fungus’s favour is its edibility. However, from what I know it’s only something that can be eaten in moderation and it does cause stomach upsets in some people. It’s definitely not a way of ‘getting rid of it’ from your garden, because the mycelium is there as well. And no one defeated an apple tree by eating all its fruit.

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What can you do if you find it at the bottom of a tree? The only advice I have is not to panic and do something that causes more damage. The next step is to learn to love fungi and appreciate that trees die too, and fungi is there to help create space for more life. Beyond the loss of a much-loved tree, the main problem is our own rigid views of how the landscape lives and dies.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 22nd June 2020

There has been a dry patch on my lawn that has really suffered this year. I’m not into lawns and am not of the generation that gets angry about an unmown garden. I let it rock and roll. This patch has been dying back to expose the soil underneath, a dry grey substrate. The lack of rain this spring has meant that it’s suffering. But recently I’ve begun to look at it in a different way.

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I noticed that there were some small burrows appearing in the exposed areas of soil. On closer inspection there were about 10-20 very small insects flying around the area. Some were going in and out of the nesting holes. They were mining bees!

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I waited around for a while. The weather was moving between hot sun and cloud, meaning the bees were busy but then would slow down and disappear into the burrows. Some were waiting to appear. I think they are yellow-legged mining bees due to their appearance and their nesting behaviour, but I’m not sure. The bee above was doing some DIY, cutting through a dead grass stem that was blocking its front door.

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The bees seem to gather pollen from trees or flowers which make their legs even more yellow. According to the book there is a second brood in mid-June, which would explain why I’ve only noticed them appearing now – in mid-June.

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I won’t be trying to water that area of the lawn anymore. It’s a reminder to me that it provides an element of a garden’s habitat mosaic. In the small space we have, I don’t think there would be anywhere else suitable for these lovely insects.

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While I was sat waiting for the chance to get photos of the yellow-legged mining bees, I was right next to the lamb’s ears. This plant has delivered the goods this year and I would encourage anyone who wants to support wild bees, especially solitary species, to plant it out.

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I counted five wool carder bees, which is a record so far in my garden. Two of them were mating at one point, as seen above.

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Nearby there were a couple of yellow-faced bees. You can attempt an identification from the markings on the bees, but I haven’t got round to that yet.

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The breaks from the sun and cool breeze did slow the bees down at times, which is very helpful.

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Earlier in the week, during a rather wet and unsettled day, I took a potential ‘portfolio image’. I’d noticed a leafhopper roosting in a grasshead outside my front door. Later I noticed it was still there. I pulled the grass down towards me and sat on the ground. The bug was so relaxed it posed for this photo. I am really pleased with it and shows how garden macro really is the best. It took a matter of a couple of minutes before I was back inside again!

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 19th June 2020

I headed to the woods again this week to see how the Amanita from last week’s post was faring. There had been almost no rain again until that point. The woodland floor was crunchy and dry. It never feels good seeing a woodland like that.

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I was surprised to see that the mushroom hadn’t advanced. It was still encased in its bone-dry veil. I had a closer look to see if it even was a mushroom and found that it was actually attached to the soil through fungal roots. It was a learning point – I thought that even without water a mushroom can advance. Evidently it’s very difficult and sometimes they can’t.

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It’s worth saying that fungal fruiting bodies (usually ‘mushrooms’) are 90% water. The photo above shows a woodland stream (‘gill’ in the Weald). It has been an exceptionally dry spring.

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A good indicator of how much potential there is to find fungi can be seen in bracket or polypores on trees. This is probably hairy curtain crust which is looking as sorry as you’ll find it.

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Despite the super-dry conditions I did find more fungi. It was one of the most common species in the UK – sulphur tuft.

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These are places where fungi can fruit in these conditions. The inside of a decaying oak tree stays cool and damp, especially with holly surrounding to create shade and thus cool.

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You can see how hungry the local slugs are. To humans this is a poisonous species, so don’t be a slug. Even though these had been heavily munched, it’s nice to see a shroom. Rain has come in the past 24 hours, so it will be interesting to see how things might change in the next few days.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

 

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St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, May 2020

It’s the blue hour and already birdsong rises from the woods: an unbreakable wall of blackbird and song thrush. The thrush pierces through with repetition as the blackbirds pause. Chiffchaff, robin, wren, the cascading song of a willow warbler.

Straight away, the hoot of a tawny owl in the echoing micro-valleys of gills flowing through the woods. Over time new owl sound-posts arise in distant corners of the landscape.

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5am comes. In the birchy patches roe deer crash away through old bracken. Their sheer weight can be heard. A roe barks a warning – we have been seen.

The owls’ calls grow with the onset of dawn. The darkness still sits in the beech, oak and birch woodland. Pine, forever green, holds it that bit longer.

A sound from far away, slipping over the owl and deeper into the Weald. The cuckoo, master messenger of spring. We heard him here last year and wonder if he is the same bird back from the Congolese rainforest where he spent the winter. Whoever he is his life has been richer than any human’s could ever be. And the female cuckoo, she too will be hidden away somewhere in silence, listening.

We meet the crescendo of the dawn chorus now. Owls hooting on the crest of song thrush and blackbird. Cuckoo rising over everything. Crows begin the first administrative duties of the day, checking outposts of their web and marking party lines. The owls will not be lost on them.

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Down a sunken track enclosed by holly, we notice the shapes of bats hawking. It’s the path we need to take. On approach they disappear, as if they were never there. The mosquitoes landing on our foreheads are glad we’ve moved them on. I’d love to tell them, the bats will be back.

The Sussex Weald

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