Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Woolbeding - 6-11-2019 blog-1

The Rother, Midhurst, November 2019

Autumn is entering its deepest phase but summer’s life still has a breath. Along the Rother path a neon spider pushes across the mud into the wet grass. The young oaks stand like upright bonfires burning from green to gold. College students wile away their lunchbreaks on the urban netherlands of the Rother. One young woman sits on the exposed roots of a tree watching the sluice, while another rests her head on the concrete structure supporting a drainage pipe. Her male friend stands by, nervous, unsure of how to respond.

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Passing through the woods the trunk of an ancient hornbeam has been revealed again from the screen of saplings and bramble. The latter’s leaves bright yellow with flecks of red like nicks of flesh. A small flock of tits, wrens and robins lift up at the arable edges, ticking into the green bowers of a mature oak. They cross the felled and repurposed trunk of an old conifer with electrical wires, warning: RISK OF DEATH KEEP OFF.

At the gate into Woolbeding autumn crashes into view. Reds, yellows, and browns glow in a break of the sun from clouds. The South Downs loom in silhouette beyond austere pine plantations on Midhurst Common, framing the autumn trees that edge the fields I’m entering. In the meadows dandelions and knapweeds flower in isolation. The air has warmed in recent days and these flowers have taken their chance.

Woolbeding - 6-11-2019 blog-3

Explore the Sussex Weald

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Angels bonnets - Oct 2019 blog-1

River Rother, Midhurst, West Sussex, October 2019

The Rother wends its way around the foot of St. Ann’s Hill, the site of a motte-and-bailey-castle probably built by the Normans in the 11th century. The water is high and brown after heavy rain that has fallen for several days. Atop the hill the ground is carpeted by the spiky cases of sweet chestnuts, freshly fallen from the huge trees that dominate the hill. The sun, shining on what feels a rare occasion, lights the open shells, their chestnut fruits glimmering where they lie.

Away from the hilltop I follow a path that whips back across the prow of the hill. Here dead oaks lie on either side of the path. Angel’s bonnet mushrooms grow in a cluster from crevices in the sinewy wood, their white caps used as a post by a dung fly. Under one mushroom cap I notice another fly’s head poking out as it rests on the stem.

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I hear the loud clopping of a dog coming towards me on the path. In my stillness it doesn’t know I’m here. As it comes closer and closer into view, its legs are in fact long and thin. It’s a roe deer, young and carefree. It sees me at a distance of ten feet and splashes through ivy, hazel and brambles down to the safety of the winding Rother.

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Kingley Vale - 27-10-2019 blog-7

Kingley Vale, South Downs, West Sussex, October 2019

We enter the ashy woods of Kingley Vale, one of the most spellbinding place in the South Downs. Mushrooms are everywhere at the feet of yew, ash and oak trees as the season enters its peak.

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The light is weak so we kneel down next to the mushrooms to look more closely. We find blushers, ceps, deceivers and many brown species that are very difficult to identify.

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Archetypal mushrooms grow with black gills and caps that glow purple. Their collars hang loose like pastry over the edges of a tin.

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Kingley Vale is famed for its ancient yew trees, particularly one area that is heavily visited, the roots of the trees beginning to show above ground from the impacts of footfall eroding the ground around them. They feel like one of the most still and unmoving of tree species, owing to their hardness and strength. Their living tissue is some of the strongest in the plant kingdom and their heartwood is not at all needed for them to remain upright. Their roots can go on producing new trees even when those above ground have died, like the Borrowdale yews in the Lake District.

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Out from under the yews chalk grassland spreads to the foot of the ridge where yew and ash woods cover the hills. Many of the ash trees are succumbing to ash dieback disease, in a landscape where they are content. It is a tragedy but then it is our own fault for unchecked trade of wood products, combined with the eventual spread of fungal spores.

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In the chalk grasslands we find a cowpat with mushrooms popping from the poo. One of them is snowy inkcap, a species I have never seen before, with its powdery cap and stem. It looks like something you might find in a snow globe.

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Climbing up onto the ridge the sun slips away in the west, casting a final glow across the chalky bowl of Kingley Vale.

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The grunting of a male deer echoes in the yew woods broken by the white stags of bare bone ash branches. Knowing some of these trees may be dead lends them a ghoulishness. Their brushheads are fading into history. Many will not be here in years to come.

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The sun glimmers in Chichester Harbour and the sea. A plume of smoke spirals into the evening sky.

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In the dense and dark yew woods on the slope we hear the strange, tropical bubbling of a tawny owl. Here yews reach out into the light at the edges like multi-limbed bodies sucked into a vortex. The yews have clarified the soil, no other plant can compete. Combined with the tawny’s song, the experience is otherwordly.

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At dusk rooks flock in a sea of black over a field-edge wood. Their cawing grows louder and closer as they envelop the sky above our heads, drawing in jackdaws, drifting back beyond the tops of the trees. On the darkening hilltops deer graze like slow-footed, four-legged people. We are left with so many questions.

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Warnham - 27-10-2019 blog-13

Warnham, West Sussex, October 2019

It’s so warm in the sun. Dragonflies touch the edge of the boardwalk as they mate in heavy flight. The sun glistens in the water. Flocks of tits have formed as winter approaches. I wait for one group to appear from shadowy alder carr but they keep their distance. Long-tailed tits chirrup and bounce between branches well beyond the boardwalk and space of water that separates us.

A couple of weeks ago we were shown harvest mice nests in the reeds and willows by a local ecologist. One of them is still here, the small bundle of grasses and leaves. Not much bigger than a cricket ball. I turn again to the alder woodland and a willow has crashed and fallen in the water. Its trunk has split, creating an entrance into its rotten core. The sun floods this wet woodland and the light brightens the dark glut of trees.

The broken willow again:
a movement in the shadows.
Whiskers and a pink nose.
Brown fur and paws.

It exits a hole where the heartwood used to be and slips back inside, down to water level. Out again it reveals itself on the willow bark with two paws spread out like furry stars, a white throat and breast. It turns its head to one side and sniffs the air. It dances back inside and disappears.

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A couple approach me with caution. Aware I am now kneeling on the boardwalk I stand up and turn to them:

‘I’ve just seen an American mink,’ I say.

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Owlbeech - 18-10-2019 lo-res-28

St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, October 2019

After a night of stormy weather, the high winds blew through the woods and really I probably shouldn’t have been there. But October is such a special time in the woodland year that any time spent there is to be cherished.

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I walked for three or so hours in the Forest and found lots of species, masses of small brown and grey mushrooms in the leaf litter that don’t make great photos. My first find was a lovely species known as twig parachute.

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Staying in macro mode these miniscule bonnets were were growing from a bed of moss on the buttress of a tree.

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There is a small clearing I’ve recently found, well hidden from paths but obviously the secret space for other visitors as well. Here a thick humus of leaf litter and, in particular, beech nuts were creating good fruiting ground for mushrooms. This little brittlegill (I always prefer their Latin name of Russula, indicative of their redness) was one of those to benefit.

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A beech tree has dropped a large limb and deadwood fungi have begun to colonise it. This is a splitgill and only really comes to life after prolonged rain. It’s a process of re-hydration. They’re tricky to photograph but always look nice with some bokeh (the baubles of light) in the background.

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In the mosses growing in the dark and wet corners under holly trees, species like what-I-think-is curry milkcap were fruiting. This species is said to have a curry-like taste.

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St. Leonard’s Forest sits on the edge of sandy heathland soils and Wealden clay. Passing into the heathy areas which make it a ‘Forest’ (forests were open landscapes used for hunting by the aristocracy, and don’t denote woodland alone) fly agaric suddenly arrived. These shrooms are thought to have given Father Christmas his red and white outfit and provided the hallucinatory impact that gave visions of reindeer flying. I’ll write something about that one day but still, these should be treated as deadly poisonous.

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While we’re on deadly shrooms, this relative of fly agaric is panther cap. It’s definitely poisonous and is more photogenic when it’s in its bulbous stage. Again it’s common on sandy heathland soils.

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There is some constant pleasure about seeing boletes. Perhaps it’s because the cep/penny bun/porcini is the tastiest. This bolete scares me. Can you see the smiley face and squiggle of hair on the cap?

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Days of cloud were broken up by the storm and it was a relief to see some sunshine. This footbridge runs over a gill that cuts between the clay woods and the heathland on that travels further east into St. Leonard’s Forest and the wider Weald. The gill was as full as I’d seen it because of torrential downpours.

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On my way back home I found a gang of clustered bonnets on a trunk that crossed a path. It had been chainsawed in half so people can still walk through. It’s the perfect height and position for photos.

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The sun broke through the trees and lit the bonnets where they had squeezed their way out from behind the bark. To me they look a little bit like they’re hiding from something beyond the wood they cower behind.

Read more:

The Sussex Weald

My Wood-Wide-Web

 

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Ebernoe - 11-10-2019 djg-3

Ebernoe Common, Sussex Weald, October 2019

Last week I spent a drizzly and dark afternoon at Ebernoe Common, a National Nature Reserve managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust. It was raining not only water but mushrooms. The first signs of the good times came in the shape of a magpie inkcap. This is something I’ve only seen three times, twice at Ebernoe and once on the North Downs.

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The word magpie relates to the English phrased ‘pied’ which means black and white. This species goes into the delicious state of deliquesce (an inky kind of melting), just like its relative the shaggy inkcap. Unlike the shaggy inkcap, though, it’s toxic so don’t eat it. The thing I like about this image is the glow of green in the background gradually turning to yellow as autumn progresses. Beech usually provides this kind of backdrop.

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Porcelain fungus is a reliable species. It fruits in the same place, often en masse, each year. It is a beautiful species but the beauty, like so many things, lies underneath.

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The gloopy glimmer of the cap is photogenic but the gills of porcelain fungus are stunning.

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I use a small LED light to illuminate mushrooms in this way. I can’t tell you how much more character this can offer to photos. Actually I can: a lot more.

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Here you can see my roving light (yes, I meant this!) mixing it with some delicious bokeh in the background. Leaves and branches create lovely bokeh because of the break of light in the gaps.

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Here is one of ‘the finished images’. I like that the light circles can imitate the caps of mushrooms in photos and offer a deeper layer of resonance and reflection. Who knew.

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In photography, macro is where the fun happens. There are so many amazing things happening at our feet that our eyes are incapable of seeing without the help of magnification. If you want to have a go at macro, don’t hesitate. Just do it. I call this one ‘Climb every mountain’. The piece of deadwood does have the appearance of a peak in this light. The mushroom is like a protagonist, playing on a theme of mushrooms as individuals or sentient beings throughout human history:

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This seems to be particularly prevalent in German culture and Christmas or New Year celebrations. Christmas has evolved from Pagan traditions (Paganism was once considered any religion which was non-Christian) and the place nature has in the human imagination is pretty clear here.

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Back to life, back to reality. Honey fungus is enjoying its first boom phase and seems to be having a good year.

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There is a dead veteran beech tree at Ebernoe Common which is basically where all the mushrooms live. This wide angle image shows just how many larger species were making a home within the tree. Here you can see giant polypore (bottom left), honey fungus in the middle and Ganoderma brackets everywhere. This is a stunning tree and of the highest ecological importance because of all the species, not just fungi, it supports. All of these species are contributing to the tree’s decay and recycling into organic matter (soil).

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Not far away was a patch of hen-of-the-woods, an aggressive root-rotter (harsh). It’s said to smell like mice (more harsh).

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You can imagine how I thought someone was playing a trick when I passed this. A swing made from a beech log that was covered in porcelain fungus. It was embarrassingly hard to photograph well. Thankfully only the mushrooms were looking and they haven’t evolved to use Twitter yet.

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On my way out I spotted this slurp of fungus low on a log by the path.

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Looking closely with the macro lens it has the appearance of something you might find in a coral reef. Then that’s the beauty of woodland, it has a depth to it that you have to dive in to experience for yourself.

Thanks for reading.

 

Read more:

The Sussex Weald

My Wood-Wide-Web

 

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Yorkshire Dales - October 2019 blog-6-2

Howgill Fells, Yorkshire Dales National Park, October 2019

At the beginning of October, my friend Eddie Chapman and I walked ten miles into the Howgill Fells in the Cumbrian reaches of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. You can view and download the walk on ViewRanger here.

The evening before the walk we passed the Howgills during the golden hour. A day of heavy rain dried up and the sun cast its glaze across the folds of the fells.

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Cloud hung over the Calf, the highest peak in the area and was to remain for the next day.

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The stone barns are one of the Yorkshire Dale’s most iconic features. Swaledale seems to have the greatest compliment of these beautiful structures.

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The walk began from Sedbergh, the largest settlement in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The day was sunny and surprisingly warm.

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The cloud still lingered over the highest points but the fields glowed in the morning sun.

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Looking east towards Garsdale, the Yorkshire Dales are always more wooded than I remember.

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As we made our way up into the hills through a steady ascent, the clouds settled in overhead.

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Here Eddie could still make out a small family group of stonechat in some bracken.

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Climbing higher onto Arant Haw the mist locked down, a strange and claustrophobic experience.

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Up and over our first peak, the mist began to clear only when we headed towards the Calf, the highest point of the Howgills.

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It was a great relief to have the folds of the fells reappearing from the cloud.

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Anyone who has travelled between Glasgow and Manchester will have passed the Howgills. At this junction in the fells the motorway can be heard in the distance and the small specks of vehicles passing. Above you can see what looks like the remains of an old sheep pen.

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The clouds lifted and the fells appeared. The creases speak of millenia-old waterways.

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Greater views began to appear, with Ribblesdale appearing in the distance in the shape of Whernside, one of the three peaks famed for the 30-mile day hike challenge.

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Atop the Calf, Eddie is happy to be out of the clouds for once.

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This sheep felt like it was being watched.

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The light began to dip as we headed deeper into the folding Howgills.

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Our target was Cautley Spout, the waterfall that would lead us down into the valley for a return to Sedbergh along the river Rawthey.

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The waterfall thunders down into the valley from Cautley Crag.

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The waterfall is a safehaven for trees, unlike the wider hillsides which are either unsuitable due to the boggy nature of the moorland or because of sheep grazing. Rowan, ash, holly and elm were all growing in the gully.

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The limestone surrounding the falls is covered by map lichens glowing neon.

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This area holds evidence of an Iron Age settlement. It isn’t surprising. There is protection, the river provides food and once woodland will have been more prevalent providing fuel. This landscape was potentially a site of spiritual significance. The allure is undeniable.

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