Thursday, 21 January 2016

A Regular Health Check for Our Trees

 We have had a few very frosty mornings recently. But often with frost comes a clear, sunny day. This was Wednesday (20th Jan). Crisp, icy grass crunching underfoot and sunshine at first in the tops of the trees but then gradually working its way down to sparkle on the grass.

Although the air was cold there was some warmth in the sun and the birds were warming themselves in the sunny areas after a long cold night. It is important for them to find food early before they lose too much of their weight and strength.
It's a dangerous time for the smaller birds. During the week I saw a Sparrowhawk swoop down to pluck a grey wagtail from the Trym. Fortunately for the wagtail it escaped and flew away up the river calling out  a loud warning. It was early morning and the hawk would have been very hungry.

 The hawk flew straight towards a pigeon in the trees above but it escaped between the branches.
I have since found evidence where other pigeons haven't been so fortunate. It isn't safe for birds to stand around for long in open space feeding. There could be a predator watching from a nearby branch. The Sparrowhawk will more often take smaller birds but a large female will take a pigeon or a dove.
The prey has clearly had feathers removed at the site or lost them in the struggle but they have not been eaten here.
 The pigeon will have been carried off to a tree stump or convenient place where the predator would eat it or if it was feeding chicks it would prepare the carcass for the chicks. I couldn't see any remains close by but I will be looking out for them. If you are interested in looking for signs left by wild animals whether signs of feeding, droppings or tracks you might be interested in a book I bought myself for Christmas.  It's called The Nature Tracker's Handbook by Nick Baker. It has an RSPB label. See it here. It's full of information and I shall have some fun looking for owl pellets and the like.

 There were several birds searching for food on that cold morning. This is a redwing. It had been in the trees between the Greenway Centre and the Meadow but there aren't many berries which is its usual food source and so it went down to the ground to see what it could find. They can be in large flocks and quickly remove all the berries from a tree but this one seemed part of a small group.

This blackbird was looking for food amongst the frosted grass and undergrowth but I think the jay was taking a break and enjoying the sun's warmth. The jay primarily eats acorns but also nuts and other seeds in winter. In spring and summer it will eat the eggs and chicks of other birds. However, it is a very striking bird with the flash of blue on its wings and its black moustache.

 The coppicing work party on Jan 9th was a great success. The Avon Wildlife Trust and Friends of Badock's Wood joined forces to coppice some of the hazel near the Triangle. This involves cutting the hazel back to almost ground level so that more light gets to the ground encouraging smaller plants. The hazel will grow back as many shoots from the original and will eventually need recutting again every 10 or 12 years. This process improves the habitat for plants, small animals and birds. There is a lot of information about the process online but for a brief introduction read the first paragraph of this Telegraph article...Coppicing.
The above photo shows us receiving the all-important and obligatory Health & Safety talk given at the beginning of each work activity and on the left is a volunteer sawing close to the ground.
It can be hard work but there is good camaraderie and the long term benefits are for future generations.
There will be a work party each month and in February the FOBW will be cutting back the Wilson's Honeysuckle, which is an invasive plant growing on the slopes near the Triangle and also in other parts of the wood. No previous experience is necessary to join a work party.

The waste wood is put into stacks of wood or piles of foliage and both of these are valuable habitat for wildlife, including insects and fungi.
You can see many bracket fungi on the decaying fallen trees as you walk around the wood. They have descriptive names like Turkey Tail and in warmer weather you will see Honey Fungus and Candle Snuff Fungus growing from the wood.

 The Parks Department is planning a Health & Safety Check of trees in the wood. We have seen several large trees fall during the last year and some of the carved benches are the product of fallen trees. No one has been injured by these trees but walking through any wood during periods of high winds will always be a risk.
I have put two photos of trees in the wood that are showing advanced deterioration. I hesitate to call it disease because it might be a normal part of the ageing process. The core of the first tree (Horse Chestnut)) appears to be crumbling into soft powdery wood. It's difficult to know whether the trees are in danger of falling because there is still live wood in the trunk and this might be a very strong structure. In fact the lower left photo is the reverse side of the same tree and it doesn't show any sign of a problem. This tree is on the side of the Trym opposite the steps up to the meadow.

This second tree (Ash)  is on the right of the path from the Triangle up to the Sports Field. It has a very large cavity at ground level. It might be perfectly safe but will be checked during the Departments H&S tour of the wood.
You can see that from the other side of the tree there is again no evidence of the problem


These example show the importance of regular health checks for the trees, not only for safety reasons but also to prevent the spread of disease and preserve a healthy stock. You might see that a few of the trees near the Lakewood Road entrance have a green spot on them. These are trees that have been singled out for removal. This might be for safety reasons but also to reduce the canopy of the wood.

 Having looked at some trees with problems it is worth looking at some of the beautiful and healthy trees of the wood. These are the ones we would like to preserve but also to encourage today's saplings and young trees to be the beautiful mature trees of the future.
This tree can be seen from the Triangle. A tree popular with jackdaws particularly at night but also worth looking at during the day in the hope of seeing either a green or great spotted woodpecker.

If you would like to play a part in the care of Badock's Wood, either by joining a Work Party or by joining a Litter Pick to help keep the wood free of litter then you can join the FOBW mailing list via its website, Click here.  Or you can email directly to  or respectively. Feel free to email for more information.

Next Work party : Saturday 6th February 10am - see notice boards.
Next Litter pick  : Saturday 23rd January - 10am - see notice boards.
OR: email above addresses for information.

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mike townsend

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