Monday, 30 November 2015

Queen wasp

A couple of days ago while I was at my computer, I was buzzed by a low flying aircraft.  It was a queen wasp.  She was probably looking for somewhere warm and dry to hibernate.  Only the queens survive the winter, carrying within them the eggs that will form the new colony of wasps next year.  She eventualy landed on the floor and I took the above snap of her.

Although an extra-large wasp flying just above my head gave me a bit of a shiver,  I admire these smart looking insects.  They feed almost exclusively on other invertebrates through the year and only become a nuisance at the end of the summer when there are no more grubs to feed.

If you have ever seen a wasps' nest you will know what a wonderful artefact it is, made entirely of paper which the wasps manufacture from wood which they gather and chew and mix with saliva.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Scenic seeds

The fruits of burdock are covered in 'velcro' bristles to hitch on to passing animals and spread the seeds.

Thistles spread their seeds by fluffy thistledown spread by the wind, but the spiky remains, although dead, are a sculptural work of art.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The cowshed cafe

For some time now we have noticed random fires being lit in the woods.  

This frequently damages the trees, either burning and killing the bark or killing the invisible but vital roots beneath the soil.

Taken last winter

A year on, it can be seen that the lower bark has died for nearly half the circumference of the trunk.

So it might help if we provided a safe place for the pyros to light their fires.  The foundations of the old cowshed are concrete and could be a suitable location, acceptably private with a wall of undergrowth providing shelter.  

So our intrepid volunteers from Essilor gathered to clear the brambles and nettles.  Underneath this green covering lies a piece of agricultural archaeology. 

 When Filnore Woods was first created in 1998 the cowshed was still standing with several walls and a bit of roof.  It was used a lot by children and teenagers but eventually someone set fire to it and it had to be demolished for safety reasons.  We cleared it back in 2013  .  .  .

.  .  .  but then it got overgrown again.

So we decided to restore it as a safe place for youngsters to play out in the wilds and even have a fire without danger to the surrounding woods.  

Matt and Rob from Essilor piling up the vegetation they cleared in one morning

 Go Essilor go!

Woooo!  Somebody's set fire to it already!

Exhausting work but the bramble roots have been removed

And log seats arranged for a meeting.  

Let's see if anyone is interested.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Harvestmen - information for next year's harvest time

Todat's frost will  probably have finished off the last of the harvestmen.  They overwinter as eggs.  But I've written this posting anyway so you can think about them all winter and look for them next summer

They look like spindly spiders with very long, slender legs which keep their bodies suspended above ground, like something from 'Star Wars'.   Most people find they are not so scary as spiders, probably because they don't come into our houses.

They have eight legs like their relatives the spiders.  The second pair of legs is always the longest and they use them to feel the ground ahead, just as some insects use their antennae.  

Spiders have a separate body and head, but harvestmen have them combined into just one blob.  And they can't make webs or any silk at all.

   On top of the head is a little stalk or turret called an ocularium, with two eyes.  This is particularly spectacular in a species called  Megabunus diadema.

.    There are about 25 different species of harvestman in the UK.  They are easiest to find in late summer and autumn when they are mature.  But they die in winter so it may be too late now.  You may have to wait a bit.

This one called Phalangium opilio is the commonest harvestman in the world.  The males have forward pointing 'horns' on the front, which helps with identification

Photo: naturenet

Harvestmen mostly like damp habitats and feed on almost anything: tiny invertebrates like springtails (dead or alive), mites, small caterpillars, tiny slugs and snails, decaying plant and animal matter, even bird poo.

So quite good at clearing up then.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Not everything dies in winter

While cutting hazel in the woodland near the pylon, we came across evidence of wildlife still at large.

This seven-spot ladybird had probably found a sheltered spot near ground level to overwinter.  Then we came along and woke her up.  Sorry, your Ladyship!

And moles are still clearly at large under the turf.  They stay active right through the winter.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


We've made a start at cutting and sorting hazel poles up near the pylon.  This is the third winter of coppicing and we have chosen the area next to the last two coupes (coppiced areas).

We started by removing a big clump of brambles on 28th October.

Then on 8th Nov we got stuck into cutting the hazel and dogwood.  This is the easy bit. 

The harder part is choosing which bits to save as useful poles and stakes and which bits to commit to the dead hedge around the coupe.  Useful poles have to be trimmed of side branches with a billhook.

We shall be working through the winter to clear as big an area as possible.  As the hazel re-grows in each year's coupe, we shall be creating a mosaic of habitats with different characteristics: bare ground, twiggy growth, scrub and mature woodland.  Eventually after seven years, we would hope to come back round to where we started and take a new crop of poles from the same stools (roots).

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Cushion fungus

The cushion fungus (Phellinus pomaceus) usually occurs on the branches of cherry or plum trees, wild and cultivated.  I found this one on a dead branch of cherry in the old tree nursery near post 16 in Filnore Woods. 

It gets into the tree via a wound of some sort, and makes the branch brittle so that it may snap off.  Not so good, you may think but on the other hand it does a good job of clearing up dead cherry and plum trees.

Thursday, 12 November 2015


Did you cook a hedgehog accidentally on bonfire night?

A typical bonfire heap of sticks and twigs and autumn leaves is just what hedgehogs are looking for for their winter hibernation place or 'hibernaculum'.  So it's a good idea to either build the bonfire immediately before you set light to it, or look underneath.

Alternatively, build a heap of sticks and leaves specifically as a hedgehog hibernaculum.

photo: College Park Infant School, Portsmouth

I haven't seen a hedgehog in Thornbury for about 30 years, but one of our volunteers, Paul, says he has seen them in his garden recently.  Their population is in steep decline nationally, plummetting from an estimated 30 million in the 1950s to only 1.5 million now.

Nobody is sure why but it could be any or all of these:

(a) loss of hedgerows and permanent grassland - at Filnore we are trying to reverse the trend in a small way
(b) less prey - slugs, snails, earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, etc - because of pesticides
(c) smaller, tidier gardens with fences, which makes it harder to move around and find food 
(d) habitat carved up by new roads and buildings isolates small populations of hogs, which makes them more vulnerable to local extinction.

Apparently they are good swimmers, but can get stuck in garden ponds if it's hard to climb out.

photo: College Park Infant School, Portsmouth

Nov 21st  is The Day of the Hedgehog.  The People's Trust for Endangered Species is holding its annual conference for hedgehogs in Telford - I mean about hedgehogs.

Here's a link to Avon Wildlife Trust's hedgehog booklet - how to build hoghouses, how to feed hogs, how to make your garden hog-friendly.

and here is a link to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Monday, 9 November 2015

Frilly Fern

At Filnore Woods we have a lot of Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium).  It has flat undivided leaves with slightly wavy edges.  I should say 'fronds' for a fern -  they're not strictly leaves from a botanical point of view.  It's the only British fern with undivided fronds.

A hart is a male red deer and the specific name 'scolopendrium' according to wikipedia, is the latin word for centipede.  This is because the brown spore cases on the back of the leaves once reminded somebody of centipede's legs.

photo:bbc gardening plantfinder

Hart's tongue is a woodland fern and prefers alkaline or limey soils, or rocks including walls.  So if you see it you can be fairly confident the soil is over limestone and therefore alkaline. 

But in the photo below, this particular specimen, growing in the old tree nursery, has extraordinarily frilly fronds.

Oh the wondrous variety of nature!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Apples and Pears

In the tunnel of the old Northavon tree nursery we have a number of unusual trees including crab apples, which have now shed their fruit. 

 It won't be wasted:  birds, small mammals and the last of the insects will relish this feast.

And up near the memorial limes at post 3, the wild pear trees we planted seventeen years ago are also fruiting

Not very tasty for humans but another feast for the inhabitants of Filnore Woods. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

October colour


Red Campion   

Bryony berries  


Yellow Aspen and red Dogwood    


Guelder Rose Berries