Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Horsham’

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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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Fungi Friday 20th March 2020

Happy Spring Equinox! Yesterday was a special day, the first proper mushrooms of 2020 made an appearance in Sussex, to me at least. Problem was I completely missed this mushroom, blewit! Wood blewit, that is (sorry). Thankfully it was pointed out to me and I had a glove model on hand (lol) to show it off.

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This has been an incredibly difficult week for people and it’s hard not to talk about it here. Heading out to see which birds are now singing or which mushrooms might be fruiting is a massive tonic to the social frenzy which is hitting pretty much everywhere at the moment. This week I heard my first singing chiffchaff of the year, a rubberstamp of ecological spring. This female great tit may soon become a mum.

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We have to look to nature now as spring arrives. It puts you back in your place and gives a picture of the longer term. The wild life will go on. But we should also consider that the problems we are now facing are linked to our awful devastation of the natural world, the abuse of its wildlife and ecosystems. Seriously people, we have to consider what we are doing to wildlife and their habitats first hand and also by our consumption of unsustainable products like beef from Brazil or chocolate from companies with poor ethical standards. I really hope that people can find a love of nature now that makes us slow down, consume less and see that our impact has to change forever before nature changes us more abruptly. After this, there can be no going back.

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As I say quite often on this website, I’m not a forager of edible plants and mushrooms, though I know a fair number that I could eat. By that I mean plants and mushrooms, not actual foragers. I have never lived in a place where the foraging of anything beyond blackberries is sustainable. Some foragers must have been banking on this moment of temporarily empty supermarket shelves. Though our numbers are too great and nature’s larder probably too diminished to sustain our diets now. Shame that the toilet roll you find in the woods ain’t ripe yet.

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Most of the fungi I saw yesterday was not edible, either because of its species or just generally because something else had already eaten it. The Coronavirus situation should remind us that there are millions of other species with lifestyles that are far more sustainable than ours, and we are vulnerable to pandemics, especially as we force our way ever deeper into untouched ecosystems that have been intact for millions of years or disturb people who have lived in harmony with those landscapes for a long time. The fungus above is probably shaggy bracket or Inonotus hispidus, one you usually find in bits on the floor having dropped off from higher up. I learned this species conducting tree health surveys with tree inspectors.

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A common mushroom popping up now is glistening inkcap. The ‘record shot’ above is enough to show you how few mushrooms I’ve seen recently. The standards should get better as winter diminishes in the rearview mirror.

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Some fungi need a bit more before they’re ready to go on stage. Here we have a splitgill fungus, which I covered a few weeks ago. Still this snowy white shroomster was a pleasant sight against the blackened rings of this log.

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I am getting mentally ready to spend a lot of time in my garden this spring. I am very privileged to have a garden and, having eventually got to this point, I will never take it for granted. During one of this week’s WFH lunch breaks, I found this miniscule fungus frowing on the remains of a magnolia leaf. I wasn’t even looking for it, I saw it later when editing the RAW file on the computer.

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This very tiny fly was resting on a patch of fungus in the pigment of this leaf. I’d like to learn more about these types of fungi but one of the more recognisable ones is that which grows on bilberry (blaeberry, blueberry) leaves.

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I owe lichens for getting this #FungiFriday blog close to completing its third month. Let’s hope that Fungi Friday can help us adapt to the life changes we are all experiencing just now. I plan to do a virtual Fungi Friday guided walk if we’re still allowed out, in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for that, but most of all stay tuned to the season rather than your news app on your smartphone. It will help you when you need it.

More mushrooms

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SLF 50mm - 18-1-2019 blog-7

St. Leonard’s Forest, January 2020

The winter sun floods the dark stands of birch, oak and sweet chestnut. It glitters in the frost as it melts away from crowds of moss. Steam rises from the soil as the sun warms the ground between oak trees, where nuthatches pipe and skip through their upper reaches. I scan a fallen pine tree for small things, fungi, moss, and find an incongruous clump of slime mould. The mould is like an emptied basket of boiled eggs resting in the swirling heartwood of the pine, smoothed by rain and people sitting.

The slime mould has a rope of spider silk crossing it and it has begun to melt in the centre like poached eggs that haven’t cooked for long enough. I set up my tripod as a man and his two black Labradors exercise themselves nearby. He stares at them, hidden behind a tree. I thought he had gone and left them until I stepped back and his monolithic profile appeared.

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Mud squelches grey and beige under foot, still on the Wealden clay, with the sandy soils of the High Weald sitting only across the gill. Speaking of the stream, I can hear it gushing down below. The rain has fallen heavily all week, with the Arun and the Rother both bursting their banks and swallowing fields whole. This feels like the first sunny day of the year.

A song thrush scampers across under holly, with redwing dotting the branches overhead. Their contact call is a bit like a hiccough. A stock dove’s wings beat in a way that sounds to me like the gentle yaffling of a green woodpecker, stopping abruptly as they land on a branch. A real woodpecker, my first of this year, hammers in the top of an oak. Robins rise up onto waist-high branches and sing their songs. Spring is building in the winter wood.

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At the foot of the High Weald’s heathland, where the clay comes to an end, frost looks to have crashed down over night onto the bracken. The fences that protect the heath are topped with barbed wire, itself entwined in honeysuckle. The warm weather (eleven degrees on Thursday) have given the green light for some plants to grow. The honeysuckle spurts small green tongues, its leaves hold the water beads of melted frost. In the droplets the shape of pines, sky and open heath glow, in a world turned upside down.

The Sussex Weald

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SLF - 17-11-19 blog-38

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

After so much recent rain, the water flows fast through the s-shaped streambed of Sheepwash Gill. Clouds have consumed a sunny morning, Wealden clay clogs under foot. I’m trying to cross the gill by treading across the buffed sandstone which is usually above water. This is no ‘Robert Macfarlane climbing a mountain up a stream in his pants’ kind of effort. The water runs ankle-high against my boots.  On the other side a dog bounds down off the leaf-littered slope and barks at me, stopping my crossing. It’s big. It jumps around at the water’s edge in that ‘I’m trying to pretend I’m going to eat you’ kind of way. Its owner calls it back and I find another way to cross.

A girl watches me as I find a short gap to hop over. The dog is her family’s. They’re gathered around dens made from branches and logs on the banks of the gill. The eldest man is grappling with a thirty-foot long birch tree that’s hung up in another tree. He’s getting advice from his young son on how to get it down. The man is wearing brown leather safety boots, a sure sign of a construction worker enjoying a Sunday with his family in the woods.

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The birch won’t move much and he gives up. St. Leonard’s Forest is covered in birch. It’s the most westerly point of the High Weald’s heaths, much of which is covered by wild birch and gorse, or otherwise planted up with conifers for forestry. Birch is seen as an enemy or nuisance but it is a special tree that has benefited our species in our evolution. Its wood makes excellent spoons, its bark can be used as fire lighter, its sap tapped for syrup, its branches make brooms. Its Latin name ‘betula’ means ‘to beat’. Getting walloped by birch branches was once a recognised punishment, sometimes in public.

The birches are all yellowing and dropping now, turning to their deep, purple and leafless phase. The small yellow leaves catch by the petioles in mosses and on the splintered fibres of broken heartwood. In the dark pine plantations of St. Leonard’s Forest they fizz and spark.

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Explore the Sussex Weald

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