Birch trees of both kinds were the first trees to colonise England during the boreal period, when England was still a peninsula connected to mainland Europe (around 12-10,000BC!) As birch trees form a light, open canopy, they make a great habitat for rich understories full of grasses, mosses, wood anemones, bluebells, sorrel, and violets. Although long gone from the UK, birch woodlands were a beautiful and striking habitat. They can still be found in places like Canada.
Birch is considered a pioneer species for its ability to quickly colonise barren or undeveloped land. It was essential to the development of British ecology, but due to its shade intolerance is now out-competed by many other species. While the birch woodland is no longer present in the UK, birch trees can be found throughout our mixed broadleaf woodland.
The silver birch provides food and habitat for over 300 insect species, its leaves being the larval food of many moths such as the buff tip, angle-shades, the pebble hook-tip, and Kentish glory.
In early Celtic mythology, the birch resembled renewal and purification. To this day birch "brooms" (the birch besom) are used to purify gardens. In Scottish Highland folklore, it was also symbolic of love and fertility.
Aspens were among the first pioneer species to colonise the UK, along with birch and sallow. These trees mostly occupied sheltered copses, which as a tree that forms clonal colonies, the aspen excelled in. Aspens are a preferred species of our native beaver, and its deadwood cavities provide great nesting habitats for birds. It attracts many insects including gall midges and the aspen hoverfly uniquely, which are a great food source for birds and ladybirds.
In Greek, the aspen is named "aspis", meaning shield. This was a traditional use of its wood.
In Celtic mythology, the quaking leaves was believed to be the tree's means of communicating between this world and the next.
Aspens are historically linked to death and the underworld. It was believed a crown of aspen leaves would grant the power to safely visit the Underworld. They have been found in ancient burial mounds, and may have been included as a way to allow spirits of the dead to be reborn or otherwise return from the Underworld themselves.
Sallow were one of the first four pioneer species to colonise the UK during the boreal period. During this period, most woodlands were found in sheltered areas, which usually followed watercourses into what are now our denes. Goat willow would have performed great alongside alder along these watercourses.
Their leaves are the fungal food of many moths, such as the sallow kitten, sallow clearwing, dusky clearwing, and lunar hornet clearwing, as well as being the main food plant for the purple emperor butterfly! Also, the provide an important early source of pollen and nectar for our pollinators. All of this bug activity makes them a great foraging spot for insectivores such as birds.
In biblical times, all willows were related to celebration -- but in modern times, they are more heavily associated with mourning and sorrow. For instance, in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia drowns near a willow tree.
It is believed to be the origin of the words witch, wicked, and Wiccan.
Carrs are often either made up of willow or alder. An alder carr can provide a great habitat for mosses and lichens. It also provides the larval food of species such as the alder kitten, and the blue-bordered carpet moth. Its catkins produce nectar earlier than other trees, and so is a good early source for pollinators.
All oaks are a huge boon to our native wildlife, supporting a huge amount of insects, which in turn are a food source for birds, for which its sturdy branches are also a great habitat. Its flower and leaf buds are larval food of purple hairstreak butterflies. In autumn, its acorns are a food source for red squirrels, badges, and deer. The rich leaf mould supports funghi and insects such as stag beetles and oakbug milkcaps. Holes and loose bark also provide great homes for small passerines such as the marsh tit or redstart, as well as bats!
Supports over 257 species of insect, and supports more life than any other native tree species, even with its fallen leaves!