Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Wild birds and woodland plants can sense the approach of spring

Wild birds and woodland plants can sense the approach of spring

THIS morning I got up later than usual but it seems no problem for my feathered friends.

Sitting on my wooden bench, I scatter some grain for the robins, dunnocks and blackbirds that hop around totally unafraid of me.

A pair of wood pigeons sit on my fence, cosy up and proceed to preen each other. I’d almost forgotten that they mate for life.

All our feathered friends seem to be pairing up and nesting sites are being planned. They know that spring is on the way and with it great promise. Walking through some local woods, I gaze at the ground where some beautiful flowers will soon emerge.

The privet bushes still have berries in abundance, poisonous to humans but obviously not to wildlife. Another showy plant, deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), bears fruit that appears enticing but is ultimately lethal.

Why a plant should produce attractive but malign treats with the intention of creating a new generation at the expense of its reproductive vector seems strange but that’s nature for you!

In Bottom Wood, near Goring Heath, the world beneath my feet is beginning to stir. I’m looking out for the handsome leaves of primrose that precede their lovely, delicate flowers.

On a nearby hill these plants sometime hybridize with cowslips, resulting in false oxlips. I’ll have to wait a while to encounter them though.

Wood spurge (Daphne laureola), an evergreen, is in flower already with its delicate yellow blooms.

Close by its deciduous relative Mezereon (Daphne mezerium) is already forming the little pink buds that will develop into four sepalled flowers.

Both plants thrive on chalky soils. Mezereon is a rarity but its cousin is common locally but both are scarce outside the South-East.

Both are quite poisonous too. I believe that only members of the thrush family can eat, digest and propogate these two species. Deep down on the valley floor a huge swath of young ash trees has been felled, victims of ash dieback disease.

Logs are piled up, presumably for sale as fuel. A cursory glance at some reveals the tell-tale sign of the trees’ demise — a black ring within the trunks that denotes infection.

I believe that if just one per cent of our ash trees are immune to this appalling scourge then they will survive and provide us with future generations of these elegant and important components of our landscape. Fingers crossed!

There are plenty of beech saplings and wayfaring-trees filling the void so in years to come this wood will once again become a green and handsome refuge.

Vincent Ruane

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