Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Kent’

Having been continually wooded for hundreds, if not thousands of years the Blean is an area steeped in history which is unusually well documented. The continuity in woodland cover has also resulted in the creation an immensely rich habitat. Almost all of the 11 square miles of woodland comprising the Blean complex is classified as ancient woodland, which contains an enormous variety of biodiversity. Its value for wildlife is recognised at a national level with over half of the Blean being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest; further to this, approximately one third is designated as a Special Area of Conservation, affording it protection at a European Level. – Blean Woods official website

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-16

Along a pathway, sessile oaks pale with algae, a sign of clean air

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-7

Sunlight through sessile oak leaves

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-13

One of very few mushrooms, a species of Coprinus inkcap

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-18

Coppice with standards: the piles of timber are sweetchestnut cut (I think) last year, the spring-summer growth can be seen

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-19

September is a beautiful month, the light has a spring-like quality about it. This gorse caught my eye where it grows in the areas of heathland in Blean Woods

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-2

Some epicormic growth on a sessile oak. I shot this at f1.4 with my 50mm lens to try and highlight the woodland ‘bokeh’

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-27

Blean has lots of birch, much of it coppiced. On the pathway between Canterbury and Blean the strongest signs of autumn were the seeds (of which I took many back home with me accidentally, and to me look like little flies in flight)…

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-28

…and the leaves tangled in spiders webs

blean-september-2016-lo-res-djg-29

The orchards, of which there are a fair chunk running between Blean and Canterbury, were heavy with apples, the ground littered with hundreds of decaying fruits.

I’ve recorded a lo-fi folk song about Blean Woods, which you can listen to here:

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Swanscombe Marshes, August 2015

The Swanscombe marshes are threatened by an impending planning application by London Paramount. They want to build a theme park on this vast wildlife haven. Is that really the best use of wild land when wildlife is in severe decline in Britain? I don’t think it is. I visited Swanscombe in March and have written this poem. There is a petition by a locally-led campaign to save the marshes, please sign it if you like what you see here.

Swanscombe

Swanscombe has a number of different habitats: reedbed, brownfield, hedgerow, woodland, farmland and species rich brownfield grassland.

Swanscombe Marshes - 16-8-15 blog pics-2

The grasslands along Black Duck Marsh are covered by wild carrot, birds-foot-trefoil, kidney vetch, red clover and a number of other nectar rich plants. This has attracted a number of interesting insects which have seen flower rich meadows and waysides disappear over the past 50 years. The insect above is an ichneumon wasp, one of over 2000 species in Great Britain.

Swanscombe Marshes - 16-8-15 blog pics-8

It’s unusual to see early bumblebee around in August, but here one was, feeding on hawkweed oxtongue, a weedy plant that provides a great deal of nourishment for invertebrates at this time of year.

Turnip sawfly

Turnip sawflies were seen across many of the flower heads of wild carrot, a common plant at Swanscombe. Sawflies are lesser known pollinators related to bees and wasps.

Painted lady

Sited alongside the Thames, it was not surprising to find a few migrant butterflies. There were a number of clouded yellow (too quick and unsettled for me to photograph) and this painted lady. It was fresh and may well be readying for its amazing journey south through Europe to North Africa where its parents had set off on their journey in the spring. How they can find their way back is not yet known to science.

On the southern slope of the rocky bank that runs through Black Duck Marsh, lucerne grew in large clumps. Even on a grey and breezy day there were a number of butterflies there. This, however, is a day-flying moth, the latticed heath.

Swanscombe Marshes - 16-8-15 blog pics-10

There were patches of kidney vetch growing along the rocks of the Black Duck Marsh bank, and we wondered if small blue, a very rare butterfly in Britain that relies on the plant, could be present. We didn’t see a small blue but I did find this common frog hopper, the insect responsible for what I knew as a child to be ‘cuckoo spit’.

Swanscombe Marshes - 16-8-15 blog pics 23-1

Common blues were flying low in the grass, possibly laying eggs on birds-foot-trefoil.

Swanscombe Marshes - 16-8-15 blog pics-11

The breeze made macro photography very tricky, but I tried to make the most of the grey sky, wild carrot and lacewing feeding on its flowers.

Swanscombe Marshes - 16-8-15 blog pics-15

Sitting on the bank of Black Duck Marsh we were visited by this stunning hornet mimic hoverfly, Volucella inanis. This insect is in the family Volucella, a group of hoverflies which mimic bees and other Hymenoptera (bees and wasps) in order to deter predators and instead fool them into thinking they’re a threat.

Brownfield is a poorly understood habitat, it is also in the firing line as the housing crisis intensifies in the south of England through lack of affordable housing and poor planning in central London (I’m referring to the luxury accommodation, property banking boom), to name but a few symptoms. As for its importance to wildlife, willow tit is a severely declining bird in England but is now seemingly favouring brownfield over ancient or more established, secondary woodland. Brownfields are often so rich because, like Swanscombe, they are free of pesticides and are left to establish of their own accord. Many brownfields are more precious and indeed green than parts of the Green Belt, a measure ordained to protect open space. They’re also pointers to the feeding opportunities that non-native species like the above white melilot can offer to native insects like bees, a group of insects that offer £560million to the UK economy through pollination (Bumblebee Conservation Trust).

The Channel Tunnel could be heard as it raced underneath our feet. The above photo is the largest spread of birds-foot-trefoil I have ever seen, all growing on the spoil from the original development of the tunnel. Again, brownfield habitats can be some of the richest in Britain. This area would be lost to the development.

There were a number of pathways cutting through the marshes, like this buddleia byway.

Swanscombe Marshes - 16-8-15 blog pics-13

My single memory from visiting Swanscombe Marshes in August will be the colour of the grasslands, the yellow of the trefoil, the white of the carrot and purple and blues of the lucerne. Please sign the petition to raise awareness about this unique and diverse wild place. There is time to make a difference and Save Swanscombe.

See more at the campaign page for Save Swanscombe Marshes

2 Comments

Colts foot growing at Swanscombe Marsh

The concrete and riverside
flip flop driftwood and rope
harrier haunting a level of reeds
some policeman of phragmites
of seedy beards that bend and shiver
to the breathing Thames

and its godlike pylon
with chickweed toenails
and ravens for lice.

It’s an icon of a time
when England created
for an age when
she will but consume.

Marshland—
you will be deleted.

© Daniel James Greenwood 2015

Swanscombe Marshes is threatened by an impending planning application from London Paramount to turn the area into a theme park. This could have devastating consequences ecologically. Please have a look at the following links:

Petition to Save Swanscombe
Save Swanscombe Marshes website

1 Comment

Fox

Would you want to take to horseback and storm over hill and dale to enforce the slaughter of this beautiful wild animal? The British prime minister does. Personally I’d rather volunteer for a wildlife conservation charity.

38 Degrees are running a petition to start the fight against the Government’s attempts to repeal the Hunting Act by stealth. Online petitions are many but are often ignored by government (303,000 against the mindless and inhumane badger cull). Still, they can draw attention to important issues.

Please sign here and share.

Leave a comment

Beetle

Beetle on grass blade, near Otford, Kent, England, May 2015

I am walking the North Downs Way back to front, upside down and inside out. This beetle was doing its best to remain on a blade of grass at the side of the path near to the village of Otford. It succeeded. I am struggling to identify it.

Please click through to see more pictures of the North Downs Way on Flickr.

Leave a comment

Sweet chestnut coppice

King’s Wood, Kent, December 2012

The piles of birch trunks tell us that this chalky fringe of King’s Wood has recently been coppiced. The heartwood glows golden against the black, brown and grey of a winter’s afternoon. The paths are boggy, holding the tracks of boots and the tyre marks of cyclists and scramblers. Large ditches appear at intervals, home to trees and dead wood. A Soakham Downs poster a little way back identified these as chalk pits dug in old times to extract the chalk from the soil. The chalk was then spread in the fields – what once would have been woodland – to fertilise the soil, left to weather under sun and rain.

Further ahead the woodland opens in earnest, endless tracts of sweet chestnut coppice climbing into the sky. A brown puddle reflects the bare branches. Sweet chestnut provides the nuts we like to roast at Christmas, as well as forming the most economically viable form of coppicing in today’s market. The poles are cut after about five or six years and split down the middle to make chestnut paling, a type of fencing used in parks and nature reserves up and down the country. It’s another aspect of the Roman’s botanical legacy – they brought it along with them. The vertical slant of the branches is interrupted by a movement of four legged animals crossing our path in the distance. Our talking pauses as we watch an endless trail of deer move from right to left, disappearing into the trees. One of them was all white and it sticks in my mind like a puncture. We make our way towards Chilham, stopping briefly to search amongst these overgrown trees for walking sticks. We listen to the multiple stems tapping together as the wind steals through, some trees creaking. This a sound that in the endless scene of coppiced trees we mistake for shrill and distant calls of people.

Leave a comment

An ancient woodland in Wiltshire, England (by D. Greenwood)

“The very considerable need for both crushed rock aggregates and dimension stone, together with the eventual biodiversity improvements, and the ongoing socioeconomic benefits, would clearly outweigh the loss of the ancient woodland and the other adverse effects of the development in this case.” – Eric Pickles, July 2013

When Eric Pickles described ‘the eventual biodiversity improvements’ in destroying Oaken Wood in Kent, an ancient woodland sat conveniently on a bed of limestone and next to a commercial aggregates mine, it may have been the final call for a phrase that has come to mean so little. By this I mean ‘biodiversity’, a phrase that attempts to describe the diversity of non-human life. It’s now a word sucked into planning regulation and the corporate tongue that blankets all meaning – it is impossible to put into one word or describe the immense variety of wild animals, plants, fungi and other living organisms that make their home on planet earth today. In the case of Oaken Wood it is a saddening instance, where a kind of Orwellian newspeak is being used to make people feel better about the largest loss of ancient woodland in England in decades, and purely for economic, short term benefits. Note also the phrase ‘the ongoing socio-economic benefits’, hinting that the government’s stance on the environment is improving the economy and getting people ‘back into work’ where they belong.

In the case of Eric Pickle’s ecology lesson, he should note that an ancient woodland takes 400 years to mature and establish, for the soil conditions to be right for the species of plants, lichen and fungi (yes, wildflowers and mushrooms, not just trees) that will make it a unique and stable ecology for the insects that will pollinate it and act as food for the bats and birds that give ancient woods their star turns and top predators. We can only hope that in 400 years no one will have heard of Eric Pickles but sadly people might have no idea that an oak woodland once grew in that part of Maidstone, nor might they enjoy Pickles’ ‘biodiversity improvements’, which sounds like a London landscaping company. There will be no benefit to wildlife in comparison to how things are now, just disruption, local extinction, desecration and, for the species of birds and migratory insects that might manage to return on the wing after the aggregates gurus have had their way with the landscape, pollution.

It is perhaps now time to point out that if woodlands and other wild places are not treated with their ecological and natural importance in mind that there will be wider and wider declines in species depending on ancient woodlands, meaning that in 400 years there will not be the diversity of wild creatures to even enjoy a renewed woodland. In short, biological life will be far less diverse. Unfortunately this horrendous government do not understand the impacts of their decisions. Just like Justine Greening thinks the 50 ancient woodlands that HS2 Ltd have in their sights could be ‘moved’, Eric Pickles thinks a woodland can be put back where it was, like a rug pulled up from the floor, swept under and replaced. The characters mentioned here are not fit to make these decisions, just like Owen Paterson’s failure to listen to the people and the science over both a badger cull and bee pesticides make him ethically unsuitable for his post as Environment Secretary.

If we can’t use ‘biodiversity’, what can we say? I always go for ‘wildlife’, it’s not perfect, but it indicates the living creatures which do not have a voice, which haven’t been domesticated like dogs or cats and refers even to urban ‘horrors’ like the brown rat or ring necked parakeet. It also rouses our sense of the wild, of freedom from human strictures and civilisation, of the world that we came from and that underpins all our activities, for which we depend on for nourishment, energy, mental and physical well being. It also uses that vital word – ‘life’ – which ‘biodiversity’ fails to point to at all. The loss of a wild place means a lot of death and, in Oaken Wood’s case, purely for human greed. Isn’t that what society was developed to put an end to? Biodiversity is a scientist’s term and for all the incredible scientists out there more often than not many fail to describe things simply or to capture people’s interest and passion for nature. Smartphones wouldn’t be as popular if they were marketed by the geniuses who developed them.

I remember listening to a park keeper talking about doing things for ‘the biodiversity’, to attract ‘the biodiversity’. I have no doubt this phrase had filtered down from talking to bureaucrats in the council, the same language drenched all over planning documents and used in this sense to mask the fact the speaker didn’t know or really care about how the land was being managed to benefit the environment. It’s also used by politicians to appease conservation charities, to make them feel they’re being listened to. It’s the new ‘green’. When people hinge their argument or point on the word ‘biodiversity’ is it possible it could be to hide the fact they don’t know or care about what they’re saying? Perhaps not always but at times it is resoundingly true. All we can do is be clear when arguing the case for preserving and enhancing our natural heritage both for wildlife but also ourselves and those yet to be conceived who deserve and need to see, experience and live alongside wildlife. For those trying to champion the diversity of natural organisms, our language has been compromised and used against the very thing it’s intended to support.

Leave a comment