My World

Gnome Tour

The Secret World of Gnomes

British Worlds

I am currently... The current mood of shades4dogs at

26/01/23 Beautiful World of Hedgerows Archive

Hi guys! I hope you all had a brilliant new year. I've been back at college, and just today we were doing something that really captured my imagination. It's something that's come up before in class, but hasn't been really covered in a while. That is the beautiful world of hedgerows.

Hedgerows are a very traditional form of boundary that consists of straight lines of trees being partially felled one over the other in an interlocking pattern in order to form a boundary. By industry standard this is usually done with 80-90% hawthorn trees, followed by 10-15% blackthorn. The rest can be made up of species such as field maple, dog rose, hazel, and crab apple! There is a very persistent effort in Britain to keep the art of hedgelaying alive, and it's a really underrated form of boundary. There's many different methods to arranging a hedgerow that are found in different areas of the UK, such as the double-brush style of southern England, and the sawn-timber stake style of Derbyshire.

Laying a hedge involves felling the trees within the age range of 5-10 years, although 7 years is the most ideal as they will be at the best thickness for sturdiness as a boundary while still being flexible and easy to lay. In order to lay the hedge, you need to cut through the "pleacher" -- this is the stem of the tree -- deep enough that it is easy to bend, but CRUCIALLY you need to maintain the cambium layer on the inside, the hinge of the bend. This is what connects the living tissue of the pleacher to the roots of the tree, and removing this outer layer will kill the tree completely! Our method involves two rows of trees offset to create a zig-zagging pattern when laid, allowing for width and density, as well as a more complex lay better for sturdiness and inhabitability.

There's several reasons for the species selections I described above. Hawthorn is a brilliant species to make up a majority of the hedge for the following reasons:

  • It grows to a good height and width for laying within a decently short timespan (5-10 years).
  • Like several other species such as willow trees, when it is laid it will begin to grow new shoots vertically, contributing to the structure of the hedgerow.
  • It is covered in thorns and has very small leaves, which makes it unattractive to grazing or browsing creatures that could damage it. This includes domestic animals such as livestock, as well as wild species such as deer.
  • It is very affordable and accessible, partly due to the abundance of seeds it produces which are very easy to collect!
  • The pores in hawthorn are very small. A concern with how the tree is wounded in order to lay the pleachers is that it makes it vulnerable to infection or colonisation by fungal networks which will decompose the hedge's components. The small size of the pores prevents this from being an issue at all.

Mixing in other species comes from a conservation perspective, because the truth is a LOT of different species benefit from a well-laid hedge. Below I will describe some traits of the hedge and how they benefit wildlife!

  • Flowering bodies: Hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, and dog rose all have flowering bodies. A wide variation of flowers, such as the bright pinks of the dog roses compared to the beautiful small white flowers of blackthorn, will be attractive to a wide variety of pollinating insects. A particular quality of blackthorn is that it is the first tree to flower in spring, and including blackthorn in a hedgerow means that it will be valuable to pollinating insects just coming out of hibernation, where the pollen is needed most.
  • Fruiting bodies: Due to having a lot of fruit-bearing trees and plants within it, a well-done hedgerow is a great food source for passerine birds who can feast on the blackthorn's sloe berries, the rose hips of the dog rose, and the bright red hawthorn berries.
  • Habitat for birds: The hedgerow, being made primarly of hawthorn, will have a dense and tall canopy layer with a short woody component at the bottom. This provides a large and accessible space for passerine birds (songbirds) to shelter safely and nest. The thorns and density of the hedge will prevent birds of prey from being able to see and access the songbirds, too!
  • Habitat for bugs: A lot of larvae make great use of the dense leafy component of a hedge. This includes larvae of moths and butterflies, as well as other flies in general. It is a safe habitat for them to feed and grow. The addition of large-leaved plants like field maple to a hedgerow makes it more accessible and appealing to a wider variety of bugs, increasing biodiversity.
  • Habitat for mammals: You may have seen holes for rabbits under hedgerows before, and this is because it provides good cover for their homes!
  • A wildlife corridor: The term "wildlife corridor" refers to a linear habitat that connects two otherwise isolated habitats to one another. This includes things like woodland rides and hedgerows. A hedgerow is an excellent wildlife corridor due to, first of all, where they usually are found: on agricultural land. These are vast, wide open spaces when used for crops or grazing, and having this corridor cutting through them makes it safer for vulnerable small creatures to cross between habitats, preventing populations from being isolated from each other. The way a hedgerow provides this is through its dense, maze-like woody component toward the ground. It is sheltered and compact, perfect for rodents and small creatures like hedgehogs (which especially favour hedgerows as a habitat)!
  • The edge effect: This is the consequence of the ecotone developed on either side of a hedgerow, especially if the hedgerow has a fence on both sides to prevent grazing animals from forcing a stark shift from grassland to hedge. An "ecotone" is the gradient, transitional zone between two forms of habitat, such as a shore between ground and water, or -- in this case -- a slightly taller field layer to transition between short grassland or a crop field and the tall hedge. In this area you can find a wider range of flora, as it acts as a bit of a "crossover" between the two habitats. For instance, the ecotone between a field and a hedge can host a lot of wildflowers that are appealing to butterflies!

One additional thing you can do to enhance the conservation value of a hedgerow is to include standard trees. These are trees left to grow as standard, that will interrupt the understorey-level hedgerow with a taller canopy in regions. One of the benefits of this is it makes the hedgerow more attractive to a wider variety of birds, such as larger birds in general. Additionally, the tree will cast shade on a small portion of the hedgerow that will make the smaller trees have to compete and grow more for access to sunlight. This additional stress on a region of the hedge might give it a weaker or more open canopy, but will in itself create a unique niche microhabitat for different species to capitalise on! Furthermore, the leaf litter from the tree will act as a shelter habitat for some species' larvae, which may hibernate beneath the blanket of leaves. It will also contribute to the population of detritivores who will decompose this leaf litter. It all comes together babey.

The UK government, under Countryside Stewardship regulations, will pay a landowner for the construction of a hedgerow -- particularly as it contributes to the overall tree coverage in the UK. Under this regulation you're also not allowed to remove or destroy a hedgerow once it has been created. Under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) you can currently be paid up to £22 per metre of hedgerow planted! This is a quantity that has doubled in recent years turning it from a "breaking even" situation into an explicitly profitable venture for any landowner who can create one. At the moment, supply of hedgerow species such as hawthorn can't meet this demand, but in a few years this could be a booming industry.

One of the hardest parts of hedgelaying is getting people on board with the idea, especially farmers who much prefer to flail the canopy without maintaining the hedge's structure. This results in a woody component that is too tall, with a very weak canopy -- the farmer is destroying the part the birds inhabit and nest in! Additionally, there is a recurring issue of people forgetting to come back and actually lay the hedge once it has grown to the appropriate age. This results in a literal row of trees, with no understorey coverage and therefore much less benefit. Not great. One thing that really turns farmers off from hedgerows is how long they take to actually be usable. They need at LEAST five years to be of pleaching age, after all. However, this can be remedied by the construction of a stock fence on both sides of the hedgerow, meaning there is still a physical barrier that doubles in purpose by protecting the young trees from grazing and browsing by creatures such as rabbits, livestock, or deer.

15/12/2022 SNO GAIN!!! Archive

Hello! It's been a while since my last blog update. I've been very distracted by other things lately, but I was too excited about recent developments to NOT share how things are going! So, on December 11th we had our first proper snowfall. It laid down very thick and crunchy underfoot. Snow here around Christmas time is frankly pretty rare, and although it's doubtful it'll last to Christmas day, I'm still really glad we've gotten some. As of today, it's still here, and we got more in my village earlier! Although I was out, so I did miss it. This is Sad.

So, I'm writing today to share some practical management I did in class for my last day of college. We were at an ex-plantation site that is a valuable habitat to the small pearl-bordered fritillary. The butterfly is of high priority and rare in the UK, with its population on the decrease. The site contained wet grassland, birch woodlands, and a LOT of scrub. An area of the site was fenced out to maintain an open grassland for the marsh violet, the larval food of the fritillary mentioned.

When you're fencing off a grassland area with intentions of keeping it a grassland, it's a good idea to create an 'edge effect' outside of the surrounding fenceline. This is the act of removing trees in order to allow for a steadier gradient of the field layer (the grassland) into the understorey (shrubs) which will then 'curve up' toward the canopy (treetops). Ecotones such as this are extremely valuable in conservation, as the niche habitat provides for a very wide array of both generalist species and unique, niche species. For instance, a healthy shrub layer surrounding the grassland will be appealing to passerine birds, like this robin we saw!

We also saw a group of thrushes flying about when we arrived, and thrushes like to feed on seed heads. The field was abundant with these and it's absolutely most likely that the thrushes were planning to come in to the grassland to eat before we arrived. This just goes to show how valuable to nature a grassland can be even during the winter!

Clearing out open spaces in woodlands, even though it seems antithetical to woodland conservation, is overall extremely beneficial as it can drastically increase biodiversity for the woodland at large, even if it means some of the woodland itself is lost. When woodlands form a dense, tall canopy it starves any new growth within the woodland, meaning the vertical structure of the woodland will be the same throughout. You can actually see this in one of the images above -- all the trees are of an equal height! A perfectly consistent vertical structure like this ruins the integrity of the woodland by making it more susceptible to strong winds. This combined with the dense canopy (outside of winter, of course) means that there would be a very weak understorey/field layer in that area. This genuinely makes it a poor habitat.

A great way to introduce more value to this site would be to select specific trees within it to fell on a rotational basis, creating small glades throughout. This would allow light to travel to the field layer and support the growth of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and younger trees (which, it may be a good idea to encourage species such as birch and oak into this area). It would also be a great idea to leave some of the arising deadwood on the site as another habitat. I plan to create a page on the value of different types of deadwood in terms of conservation in the nature area of my site. Having varying age structure means that the canopy and understorey will have varied height and coverage, which makes it a more effective and appealing habitat to all sorts of wildlife!

Another very interesting thing on the site is this area here. The woodlands were cleared out in order to place the power line you can see running through the field, and it's about balanced on each side in terms of size. It succeeded into a very interesting little patch of grassland!

You can see in the second photograph that some heather has grown on the site. Along with this, we also saw bilberry and a lot of bracken. These are very typical species of an acidic heathland! While heather is usually associated with man-made heathlands, it is important to remember that heathland is, naturally, a component of the shrub layer in woodlands. It thrives on nutrient-poor, acidic soils.

We didn't originally consider clear, open spaces to be conservationally valuable until we realised, from having to clear it out for human structures like the power line, how much biodiversity it brings with it. Now they're an important part of woodland management.

Heathlands are one of the most interesting habitats to me, and seeing species characteristic of it in the grassland was really exciting! It's cool to see heather thriving outside of a heathland and to remember how heather might naturally occur.

02/11/2022 Weaver? I Hardly Know 'Er! Archive

Lately in our class practicals we have been working on the building of willow revetments aside the river that flows by our campus. The bank had originally been completely covered in invasive Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam, which destabilised the riverbank and made it vulnerable to being swept away in the current. After successfully clearing the area (the extent of which is seen in the above photos) we began to weave these reventments out of goat willow collected in the nearby inland willow coppice.

Weaving is an ancient practice of creating fast, sturdy, and effective boundaries, and has been practiced for centuries upon centuries. It really doesn't fail! The process involves cutting down trees and using the thicker, older growths (one you can nicely wrap both hands around) to make stakes which are stuck into the ground. Then, new growths (particularly of trees like willow, which have long, flexible green growths) are cut and thinned of leaves, which are then woven in-between the stakes in a S-shape, alternating back to front each time. These are firmly pressed down as far as they will go comfortably, resulting in a very densely-woven boundary.

The purpose of building this revetment was to prevent the bare soil, heavily affected by the invasive species mentioned prior, from eroding and being swept away into the river. It created a nice, accessible and appealing open area that will regenerate with native species overtime.

This was all well and good, but something really enhanced this experience for me, and that was the absolutely torrential rain we had the entire last time we did it. It was HEAVING. I had worn my heavy-duty raincoat, and still got a little damp around the arms. Due to the ground being bare soil, it quickly became extremely slippy, and was genuinely quite dangerous to move about on. I wedged my foot against the stakes in the ground for stability as I wove the willow per our teacher's advice.

I genuinely found the experience really enjoyable! I'm glad I joined in for it. It's fascinating to partake in such a traditional means of management.

09/10/2022 A Mushroom's World?

Today, in honour of yesterday being national fungi day, my local dene had a Fungus Foray! This involved a professional mycologist taking us on a guided walk around the dene, where a group of us (namely me, my classmate, the kids, and the older enthusiasts) would scout out nearby mushrooms off the path and hand them in. The mycologist then went over what species he believed they were, their edibility, and how to identify them! Originally my mam wanted to come, but this morning she was ill and sadly couldn't. I got a lot of photos of the mushrooms both to show her, and to add to the site! I might add them over the next week.

Lately, after the intense dry heat of our 2022 summer, we have gotten random intense spells of rain. This has been amazing for bringing out a huge variety of mushrooms! There was lots to find. I think my favourite mushroom we found was the Dryad's Saddle. This isn't my photo, but the one we found was extremely old and weathered. It's the largest capped mushroom you can find in the UK and in this way is very distinct! It is named after the creatures of Greek myth, the Dryads, who were believed to sit on this comfortable mushroom.

I'm very new to mushrooms, so there's a lot I didn't know. Today I learned about mycelium networks, the way they form, and the unique relationships they can have with trees. The reason some species of mushroom are associated with one species of tree is due to these unique relationships. An example of this would be the jelly ear and elder trees!

All of our fungi were collected in a basket the mycologist carried around with him, for us to further identify when we finished our walk. My friend and I were too exhausted and hungry after the walk to do this part, but as I took many photos and wrote down any names I could, I still have a lot to work with for my own research. It was very fun to have my first Foray into the Fungus World.

29/09/2022 How are you doing?

Hi! This is the first blog-type post I'd like to do on my site. It'd be fun to make little posts to talk about what I've been doing with my course, volunteering, and anything else.

On Tuesday 27th, we went out to a magnesium limestone grassland that was being managed to promote the growth of rock rose. It's the larval food of the Brown Argus butterfly, of which my county has a unique subspecies, so it's good to support them! We worked for four hours on our knees poisoning invasive grass species on the field with sponges glued to plastic tongs. It was a very slow process and I think I know how grazers feel now. It was fun though!

Yesterday for class we learned about Peterken's principles of woodland conservation and management. He basically wrote the bible on that topic! Specifically my group focussed on the importance and impact of open spaces in woodland, including glades, watercourses, and grasslands. From the angle of woodland conservation, Peterken was pretty clear that these are bad things as they take up places where woodland could be -- but the existence of watercourses and open spaces in woodlands significantly boosts the biodiversity of the surrounding woodland by creating new microhabitats, ESPECIALLY bodies of water like ponds or lakes!

We also learned about different rock types -- metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary -- and their distribution across the UK. Honestly, the soil stuff goes way over my head. I understand there's multiple types, like clay, silt, sand, loam, and also peat and chalk and whatnot, but I easily get caught up in it all. It was definitely interesting though, and I'd like to add the ideal soil types for different trees to my tree ID page. It's a great thing to consider when doing woodland management.

Lastly we did metapopulations. This is the concept of species populations having a network of habitats connected to one another that they migrate between for purposes like overloaded carrying capacity, mating, or fleeing danger. A really good example of this is deer. There tends to be a central source population with the highest quality and suitability of their habitat, which is connected to a web of "sink" populations which are generally of lower quality, and then peripheral populations that are connected to these sinks with no direct line to the source. I'd like to make a page explaining processes like this too but it's very technical.