Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Sussex wildlife’

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

I stand on the long, straight track that cuts through the heart of St. Leonard’s Forest. I recently looked for it on a map from the 1870s. I thought it might have been a 20th Century addition to ease forestry operations. To my surprise, it was there cutting through what today remains a heavily wooded landscape.

Looking around, it’s probably even more wooded now. In the 1870s, the woodland was likely oak and beech with holly underneath. Where pines now stand abandoned to nature, heathland probably expanded over more open areas.

The name ‘forest’ actually denotes open land where laws once controlled gathering of natural resources and the hunting of animals, with brutal consequences for rule breakers. ”Aforestation’ was the implementation of Forest Law on more land, often at the expense of entire vilages of people.

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At one point in history, a third of England was subject to Forest Law. It was a landscape of oppression, violently enforced by England’s Norman conquerers after 1066. The management and control of deer was a key part of the Norman forest landscape.

The track is endless in this crepuscular light. At the edges ditches are stuffed with bracken which has yellowed in the August heatwave. Sudden explosions of heather interrupt the vertebra-like leaves of the bracken.

Ahead I can see two people or animals. The light is fading, the sun has slipped beyond the pines. As I get closer I can see one is a roe deer. The other figure has gone. The deer are grazing the edges of the ditches, stopping to check on my progress. I’m moving slowly, but hurrying with my hands to change the lens on my little camera to one with more reach. I get closer but it doesn’t fear me. It turns and walks away into the dark woodland.

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Walking further down the old track, a pathway, broad and green appears on my left. Two fallow deer are looking at me. They must have been grazing with the calm roe I have just passed, but they are less accepting. They scarper, one zig-zagging and leaping to distract what is a would-be predator.

Then, from the bushes, a roe deer has been startled and lurches across the path into the undergrowth that the fallow deer has disappeared into. Squashed into that small green lane, that burst of animal limbs felt almost like watching a stampede.

The Sussex Weald

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Fungi Friday 5th March 2020

A couple of weeks ago I was inspecting a bird table in my garden and spotted a moss growing from its ‘roof’. This bird table has been, literally, around the houses and has probably gathered many organisms along the way. Looking more closely I found some jelly fungi.

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The weather has been showing signs of spring, with queen bumblebees on the wing and what I am sure was a male hairy-footed flower bee travelling through the gardens. On Monday I was in the garden briefly and had a closer look at the bird table. On the edge I found a nice cluster of what I think are lemon disco (yes, great name!).

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During a brief trip to The National Trust’s Nymans in the Sussex Weald this weird species was on the decaying heartwood of an old cherry tree. It’s a slime mould known as false puffball. If you press it with your finger it bursts, a bit like other Lycoperdonย slime moulds such as wolf’s milk (search for it).

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Elsewhere, the state of Sussex’s rivers shows how high the rainfall has been so far this year. But the lichenised-fungi are benefitting.

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Along this stretch of the river Arun, these beard lichens were profuse. One hawthorn was so covered with them it seemed like there would be no room for leaves in a couple of weeks!

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Lichens were doing well in other places too. This knotty old fencing rail was making a home for these cup lichens (Cladonia). Lots of countryside fence posts are home to these lichens.

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Not far away from the gushing Arun was a veteran ash tree with lots of King Alfred’s cakes growing from the damaged bark. In this image you can see the folds of the cambium where the tree is trying to protect itself from fungi and other invading organisms. This fungus will have a boom from the amount of dead ash trees caused by the evil fungus behind ash dieback disease.

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To people outside the UK or without a grasp of English history, this name is quite meaningless. It is based on the tale of King Alfred who was exiled in the Somerset Levels during the Viking invasion of Winchester. Alfred failed to keep an eye on a woman’s loaves of bread that were on the fire and they burned. It is said that she had no idea he was the King, so far removed was his from his throne. Don’t worry, he eventually came back and pushed the Danes away a bit.

In the real world this fungus is said to be a host species for hundreds of invertebrates. It’s also used as a kindling and many people who know of it do so for that reason.

Let’s hope for milder temperatures and less rain and see if some more photogenic fungi pop up!

Thanks for reading.

More fungi

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