News

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

image5 (1)
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