Treat Our Bluebells With Respect – Don’t Kill Them

There have been multiple reports of bunches of bluebells being picked and then discarded

While the vast majority of people enjoy Birchanger Wood’s springtime carpet of bluebells on their walks through our local woodland, some visitors are picking large numbers of them and trampling them by straying off paths.

The picking of wild flowers and plants in Birchanger Wood is a criminal offence. According  to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 it is illegal to “uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier” or to pick flowers from a special conservation site or reserve.

Almost half the world’s bluebells are found in the UK, they’re relatively rare in the rest of the world. Bluebells are fragile flowers that don’t like change or disturbance, preferring ancient woods like Birchanger Wood where the ground has lain undisturbed for years. 

Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish – around five to seven years from seed to flower. The flowers can take years to recover after footfall damage. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, they die back from lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesise. As such, it is essential to stick to the paths.

In Birchanger Wood you will see how narrow tracks made by one person soon become wider and the bluebells end up in island-like patches instead of a woodland-wide blue carpet that we all love.

Bluebells look best when they are undisturbed

Another reason to stick to designated paths in bluebell woods is that the bulbs become damaged when the soil is compacted from the weight of footfall. The situation has become so critical in popular bluebell areas that woodland owners like the National Trust and the Woodland Trust have taken measures to control the numbers of people and where they walk, simply to preserve the flowers so that future generations can enjoy them. 

Despite notices and publicity in the local press, members of the public have also been ripping ivy off trees, perhaps under the false assumption that they are helping the trees. Healthy trees are not harmed by ivy. Nectar, pollen and berries of ivy are an essential food source for insects and birds during autumn and winter when little else is about. It also provides shelter for insects, birds, bats and other small mammals. Destroying ivy in Birchanger Wood without the permission of the Birchanger Wood Trust is also a criminal offence.

The Birchanger Wood trustees are dedicated to conserving and protecting woodland habitat and volunteers work tirelessly to look after the wood. Our work is undermined by damage to our woodland flora, whether bluebells or ivy, which are essential parts of the woodland ecology. Please respect the efforts we go to in order to ensure there is a thriving woodland habitat on our doorstep, open to the public without charge all year round.

Wood Offers Respite in Troubling Times

The coppice season had come to an end by the time the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the country was forced into lockdown. Volunteers worked hard all winter to fell trees to bring light to the woodland floor, as part of the management plan agreed with the Forestry Commission.

Public appreciation of the value of Birchanger Wood has increased during the lockdown. It is a place where people can take their daily exercise, so they can remain physically fit and find some headspace in a crisis that many are finding difficult.

The Forestry England compiled studies that show there is strong scientific evidence that visiting a woodland can improve mood and attention span, and even enhance psychological stress recovery. It says walking among trees reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and claims a forest walk can boost the immune system through breathing in phytoncides, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.

With so many children off school for months, the woodland also offers plenty of opportunities for education as well as leisure. One of our Trustees, Jono Forgham, who previously worked as a school teacher at Summercroft School, has been publishing regular blogs with ideas on how children can explore nature, whether in the wood or in their back gardens.

While the lockdown is ongoing, we urge people to observe social distancing measures, while ensuring they keep to the paths and not trample on flowers. We also stress the importance of our visitor’s code, which includes keeping dogs under control and preferably on a lead, as well as respecting the flora and fauna.

Our visitor data shows that public useage of the wood is low during the early morning, so those who are in higher risk categories could consider taking a relaxing walk at sunrise to hear the dawn chorus without worrying so much about bumping into others.

Birchanger Wood: Safety First

Following Storm Ciara and the predicted Storm Dennis, the warden and trustees of Birchanger Wood Trust would like to advise locals on using the wood safely. As seen from these photos, several large trees were brought down by Storm Ciara. The volunteers, trustees and warden have checked the safety of the paths but have yet to assess the damage to trees away from the paths. Therefore, we advise all users of the wood to stick to the paths and not wander from them. There may be heavy boughs caught in adjoining trees that could come down at anytime and therefore represent a danger to all who stray from the paths.

All trees that have been brought down will be chain sawed and either left upon the forest floor to improve the bio-diversity of the wood, or be chopped for firewood and stored at the compound under the water tower. This wood can be bought for £12 a barrow on Saturday mornings when volunteers will be on hand to help load your car. All money raised from these sales goes back to preserving and conserving this ancient and magnificent habitat. We thank you for your cooperation and understanding with this safety matter.

Call for Volunteers for Coppicing and Woodland Ecology Survey

Protecting native woodlands is regarded as crucial in the fight against climate change. Our community is very fortunate to have an ancient woodland on its doorstep, Birchanger Wood. The trust that manages the wood was originally set up to end encroachment by housing and preserve it as “green lungs” in an area dominated by the M11 motorway and an international airport.

Birchanger Wood Trust chair Michael Nolan, getting hands-on in woodland management

The wood can only be properly managed with the help of volunteers and support from the community. Over recent months, residents have bought our seasoned firewood, while the Stort Valley Rotary Club and the Premier Court Care Home in Thorley have kindly donated funds to help support the maintenance and improvement of the woodland.

Birchanger Wood warden Pat Forrest

Yet, nothing could happen without the involvement of our team of volunteers, led by our warden Pat Forrest – a man whose name well suits his lifelong commitment to environmental conservation at Birchanger Wood. Every Saturday during the coppice season, they are active in coppicing trees – a sustainable way of managing trees, which regrow and provide the firewood that funds our operations.

However, we are always in need of more members of the team and would warmly welcome people who are prepared to be hands-on. If you are interested in conservation volunteering – even just an hour or two on a Saturday – please go to the compound next to the water tower on Heath Row, Bishop’s Stortford.

Meanwhile, local ecologist and science educator Jono Forgham has been documenting all the species in the wood. He is calling for community involvement in a year-long study of the wood and its natural history by recording the tree species, birds, mammals, insects, arachnids, plants and fungi. He will be visiting two to three times a week with moth trap nights on a weekly basis and would like anyone who is interested, no matter their experience, to join him. If you would like to be involved then please contact him at jforgham@hotmail.com or text him on 07805571551.

A young conservationist helping to collect wood from coppiced trees

Thirty Moth Species Identified in August Moth Night

The mid-August moth night organised by Jono Forgham and members of the Herts Moth Group identified at least 120 moths of 30 species recorded in Birchanger Wood. The total was less than expected. However, there were two moth species identified that had previously not been recorded – the gypsy moth and the metalampra italica micro moth – which have expanded their range.

Birchanger Wood Moth Survey, 15 August 2019

SPECIES NUMBER OBSERVED
Micro
Paronix 1
Blastobasis adustella 35+
Metalampra italica 2
Hofmannophila pseudospretella 1
Carcina quercana 5
Agonopterix heracliana 1
Agonopterix alstromeriana 1
Emmelina monodactyla 1
Apotomis betuletana 4
Cydia splendana 1
Endotricha flammealis 1
Scoparia ambigualis 1
Eudonia mercurella 4
Agriphila tristella 10
Agriphila geniculea 1
Pleuroptya ruralis 10
Total Micros 16 species and more than 79 moths
Macros
Riband wave (Idea aversata) 1
Yellow shell (Camptogramma bilineata bilineata) 1
Brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) 2
Black Arches (Lymantria monacha) 2
Gyspy Moth (Lymantria dispar) 2
Dingy Footman (Eilema griseola) 1
Flame shoulder (Ochropleura plecta) 1
Large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba) 5
Broad bordered yellow underwing (Noctua fimbriata) 1
Lesser Broad bordered yellow underwing (Noctua janthe) 20
Setaceous Hebrew character (Xestia c-nigrum) 2
Square spot rustic (Xestia xanthographa) 1
Svensson’s Copper underwing (Amphipyra berbera svenssoni) 1
Common rustic (Mesapamea secalis) 1
Total Macros 14 species of 41 moths
GRAND TOTAL 30 species of at least 120 moths

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Taking Stock of Summer, Preparing for Winter Work

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Gypsy moth – the first record in Birchanger Wood of this new arrival in Herts and Essex. 

Autumn brings a new season of activity to Birchanger Wood with our group of volunteers beginning coppicing trees. Coppice rotation is a sustainable method of woodland management that opens the woodland floor to sunlight, provides products such as firewood and wood for craftsmen and extends the life of a tree.

Jono Forgham, a science educator and conservationist who writes a regular column in the Bishop’s Stortford Independent, staged several interesting, lively, hands-on activities in the wood over the summer months. Bug hunts and moth nights involving people of all ages, including some very enthusiastic children, have helped us assess what is living in the wood and the diversity of out insect life.

Insects are crucial to the food chain and maintaining the woodland ecosystem, but in high numbers they can represent a threat. The spring saw many of our trees blighted by the November moth caterpillar, which munched through the canopy. It’s probable that the caterpillar infestation was worsened by a warmer and earlier spring, which meant there were fewer hatchling birds to eat them. The trees appear to have dealt with the problem with some later leaf growth. We observed that in areas where trees had been coppiced, the level of bird predation of the caterpillar increased and there was less tree damage. This underlines the importance of our work in managing the balance of woodland flora and fauna.

Nature is always striving towards a balance and it’s likely that the November moth will not pose such a challenge next spring, with predators such as birds and wasps taking better advantage of increased caterpillar abundance. The long-term challenge in Birchanger Wood is dealing with climate change and disease. Last year’s drought put enormous stress on trees, leading to a significant losses across our countryside and encouraging disease. Ash trees are succumbing to chalara ash dieback across Europe, a fungal disease that researchers led by Oxford University will cost the UK a total of £15 billion – half of which will be over the next decade. Indeed, the Trust managing Birchanger Wood has had to set aside a considerable contingency to manage the disease, which means we are always looking for any funds to support woodland management.

Chalara is not the only disease. The oak processionary moth, whose caterpillars strip oaks of their leaves, is expanding its range and this summer it was identified just a few miles away; it seems inevitable it will reach us. Attacks by the oak processionary moth caterpillars and make them vulnerable to diseases, such as sudden oak death – a fungal disease that can affect many other trees and shrubs, from bay to sweet chestnut. All the more reason to keep up our programme of bug hunts and moth nights as well as our active conservation management.

Birchanger Wood Trust is always on the lookout for volunteers to join in the woodland management. We meet up every Saturday morning at the compound next to the water tower on Heath Row, Bishop’s Stortford. You can also support the trust by buying our firewood, which has been properly seasoned in our new wood stores.

Bug hunt: the Results

Led by local conservationist and science educator Jono Forgham, Birchanger Wood’s bug hunt on 22nd June recorded over 100 invertebrates. Adults and children were deployed around the wood to find bugs of various sizes in the trees and under logs. Most were identified on site, but others required further study through a magnifier or microscope. The biggest challenge came in the hoverfly category where leg colour, facial hair and size may determine each to specific species.

English names given where they have them, otherwise just the family group.

Those that were identified successfully were:

Lepidoptera

Micro Moths:

Hedya pruniana

Udea olivalis

Butterflies: Nymphalids

Vanessa atalanta: Red Admiral

Parage aegeria: Speckled Wood x3

Maniola jurtina: Meadow Brown (on A120 verge)

Butterflies: Lycaenidae

Celastrina argiolus: Holly Blue.

 

Arthropoda: Arachnida

Araneae: True spiders

Diaea dorsata….Green crab spider

Amaurobius similis……….(one of the lace web spider sp)

Xysticus lanio…..(one of the crab spider sp)

Eratigena duellica….(house spider sp from woodpile)

Enoplognatha ovata…. Common candy striped spider x4

Opillones

Harvestman sp

 

Hemiptera: Bugs

Pentatomidae: Typical shieldbugs

Troilus luridus: Bronze shieldbug

Dolycoris baccarum: Hairy shieldbug

Coreidae: Leatherbugs

Coreus marginatus: Dock Bug

Miridae: Plant or Capsid bugs.

Rhabdomris striatellus: (one of the capsid bugs)

Mirius striatus: (one of the capsid bugs)

 

Coleoptera: Beetles

Carabidae: Ground beetles

Cychrus caraboides: Snail hunter

Pterostichus madidus: Black clock x3

Pterostichus melanaurius: (ground beetle sp)

Pterostichus niger: (ground beetle sp) x2

Notiophilus biguttatus: (ground beetle sp)

Carabus violaceus: Violet ground beetle x 3

Carbus problematicus: (ground beetle sp)

Stomis pumicatus: (ground beetle sp) x 5

Elateridae: Click beetles

Dalopius marginatus: (click beetle sp)

Staphylinidae: Rove beetles

Ocypus olens: Devil’s coach-horse

Philonthus decorus: (rove beetle sp)

Cerambycidae: Longhorn beetles

Clytus arietis: Wasp beetle

 

Mecoptera: Scorpion Flies

Panorpidae

Panorpa germanica

 

Diptera: True flies

Syrphidae: Hoverflies

Syrphus ribessi  x20

Syrphus torvus

Episyrphus balteatus: Marmalade fly x20

Conopidae: Thick-headed flies

Conops ceraeformis

 

Hymenoptera: Ants, bees and wasps

Ichmeumonidae: Ichneumon wasps

Ichneumon deliratorius

Vespidae: Social, Potter and Mason wasps

Vespula germani: German wasp

Bombus: Bumble bees

Bombus hypnorum: Tree bumble bee

Apis: Honey bee

Apis mellifera: Western honey bee

Birchanger Wood Moth Survey: the Results

Jono Forgham

 

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Graeme J Smith, Steve Easby and Jono Forgham of Herts Moth Group set up three light traps within the wood around 8.30pm on the Friday night for a public moth night. Local residents were invited via the Birchanger Wood website and Facebook account, posters within the wood and a mention in the local newspaper.

In total, around 20 people turned up, including four children. Jono gave a brief introduction as to how the traps work and a little on the biology of moths, detailing their evolution and that there are two large groups of moths, split into micro moths and macro moths. The temperature was perfect for a late May night and by 9.15pm the group began wandering around the wood. The children were given pots and a net to see if they could catch any early fliers and the first moth to be taken was a Nemapogon cloacella, the Cork moth.

The traps consisted of 2 Robinson type traps with 125W mercury vapour bulb powered by inverter generators and a smaller Heath type trap running off a 12 Volt battery with a 15 watt actinic tube.

Mothing was slow as it appeared to be quite dark, but a look to the sky proved that it was still too light for most moths, especially the macros to be on the wing. This was a shame as it was getting too late for the children who had to leave around 10pm and it was shortly after this that moths became more apparent, roosting on the sheets that had been set adjacent to the traps.

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Illustration of a Pipestrelle bat preying on a moth. Picture courtesy: RSPB

By now, bats could be seen flying, especially around the open spaces of the water tower. Jono had brought his bat detector that amplifies the sounds bats make to guide their flight. By setting the device to a specific frequency the bat can be identified to species by the sound and also by the kilohertz range. These bats were within the range 45 – 52KhZ which showed they were Pipestrelle bats. A larger bat was seen flying within the wood but had disappeared before the detector could be set to the correct range.

By now the group settled around one of the larger traps and Graeme and Jono talked folk through the species. At this point the highlight of the night for most of group made an appearance, a large female Poplar hawkmoth. Other good moths seen included a Figure of 80 and a Brindle white spot, the latter being an uncommon moth for East Herts with only a few records for Bishop’s Stortford, being more common within Broxbourne Woods further south. A moth that uses oak, lime and birch as its larval foodplant.

It was then decided that the traps should be checked, so the group gathered around each trap in turn as the moths were checked roosting on the egg boxes placed inside the traps. They were all counted and listed.

In total, a somewhat disappointing 106 moths of just 32 species were recorded. We had anticipated twice as many but packing up by midnight meant we missed a good selection of the late flyers. Another trapping night towards the end of July will offer a much wider selection of high summer species in considerably larger numbers. However, all that attended seemed to have enjoyed the evening, seeing many moth species for the first time.

Our next event is the Bug Hunt on 22nd June, from 11am to 1pm – meet at the compound by the water tower, Heath Row, Bishop’s Stortford.

 

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Birchanger Wood Moth Survey, 31 May 2019

SPECIES NUMBER OBSERVED
Micro
0125  Emmetia marginea 2
0140  Nematopogon swammerdamella 5
0148  Nemophora degeerella 1
0216  Cork Moth (Nemapogon cloacella) 30
0224  Triaxomera parasitella 1
0343  Phyllonorycter esperella 1
0417  Argyresthia spinosella 1
0648  White-shouldered House Moth (Endrosis sarcitrella) 3
0661  Pseudatemelia flavifrontella 1
0921  Phtheochroa inopiana 1
0986  Syndemis musculana 1
1082  Plum Tortrix (Hedya pruniana) 2
1174  Epiblema cynosbatella 1
1176  Epiblema trimaculana 1
1392  Udea olivalis 1
1428  Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella) 4
Total Micros 56
Macros
0017  Common Swift (Hepialus lupulinus) 20
1654  Figure of Eighty (Tethea ocularis) 2
1727  Silver-ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata) 2
1728  Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata) 1
1764  Common Marbled Carpet (Chloroclysta truncata) 3
1776  Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria) 1
1819  Mottled Pug (Eupithecia exiguata) 2
1834  Common Pug (Eupithecia vulgata) 1
1875  Small White Wave (Asthena albulata) 2
1904  Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolabraria) 1
1906  Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) 1
1950  Brindled White-spot (Parectropis similaria) 1
1961  Light Emerald (Campaea margaritata) 2
1981  Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) 1
2028  Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 1
2064  Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa) 1
2092  Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta) 2
2380  Treble Lines (Charanyca trigrammica) 1
2441  Silver Y (Autographa gamma) 1
Total Macros 46
GRAND TOTAL 102

 

 

 

Completed Wood Store Will Boost Trust’s Funds

The Trust’s volunteers have been busy in recent months, building a new covered wood store in our compound off Heath Row to improve storage and seasoning of firewood for sale.

Cut wood from coppicing is stored in the new shelter, providing a better quality seasoned log that burns hotter and more efficiently with less smoke. Air can circulate around the logs, which are better protected from the elements. With a solid base for the logs to sit on, the store also reduces the possibility of a wood pile collapse and is therefore safer.

Wood sales contribute to funding the work in Birchanger Wood, helping to maintain this ancient woodlands for future generations. A second wood store is planned at our compound, subject to more fund-raising. More storage will mean increased income for the Trust, enabling it to meet its charitable aims and objectives.

Logs are sold to the public at our compound every Saturday all year round, between 9-10am and 2-3pm. Each barrow load costs £12.

Before and after

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A Case of Too Many Very Hungry Caterpillars

caterpillar1

Some visitors to Birchanger Wood have remarked on the massive number of tiny green caterpillars. Unfortunately, this Spring we are facing a massive invasion of winter moth caterpillars, which are chomping through young leaves on our trees. Hatching is timed to coincide with the budding of oak leaves, their favourite dish. They also feast on maple, birch, hornbeam, hazel and beech – all the tree species that can be found at Birchanger Wood. The large number of caterpillars is leading to the defoliation of many trees.

Hatching is determined by temperature. The moths are adjusting to climate change through selection with the larvae of the most adjusted eggs thriving. As the climate is changing in winter and spring, the winter moth is hatching earlier and earlier to synchronise with their main food sources. If the caterpillars hatch before the trees bud, then they will have no food source and will starve.

There is little we can do about the blight but hope that the birds will take advantage of this plentiful food source. Tits are known to predate the winter moth caterpillar and will feed them to their young. However, this will only work well if the peak wood moth caterpillar population coincides with the hatching of the tits’ eggs. Scientists have found that the birds are less able to adjust to the earlier peaking of caterpillar populations, which means they are often unable to take full advantage of the higher caterpillar population.

Research has found a mismatch emerging between caterpillar hatching and the hatching of woodland birds. Dr Karl Evans, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, told The Telegraph: “Our work suggests that as springs warm in the future less food is likely to be available for the chicks of insectivorous woodland birds unless evolution changes their timing of breeding.”

So, the problem isn’t going to go away easily. We can only hope that this is a bad year due to specific weather trends this Spring and that the trees will continue to bud new leaves after the caterpillars pupate.

If you are interested in moth identification and learning more about moth species in Birchanger Wood, please visit our events page.

The pictures on this page were taken today in Birchanger Wood.

 

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