Monday, 28 December 2015


This is one of the few birds that you can hear right through the winter.  A very loud voice for a very small bird.  It's a jolly little song with a string of chirruppy phrases including a long 'churrrr' towards the end.

My Collins Bird Guide describes the wren as "very small, and this reinforced by ludicrously small tail that is usually raised vertically, also by short neck"

But it's not always easy to spot a wren as it likes zipping around in dense undergrowth and will often sing from the middle of a bush or a pile of twigs and branches.  

Wrens like to breed in woodland with dense undergrowth and overgrown clearings.  This is the sort of habitat we hope to promote with our coppicing activities.  At first the coppiced area or coupe looks rather bare and barren, but by cutting down the shrubs and removing some trees we let more light in and hopefully a dense under storey develops.

Just right for wrens.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The man who made things out of trees

Book of the week this week is about a man who decided to fell an ash tree and see how many things could be made out of it.  He describes the felling in a most poetic but still practical way.  It's very accessible to lay people but satisfyingly correct in its descriptions of all the crafts involved in making the 'things'.  There are still two episodes to go on Radio 4 from 9.45 till 10 o'clock.  It's being read brilliantly by Anton Lesser.  You can hear all five episodes on bbc radio i-player.

or get the book

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Coppice workers

Our coppicing is proceeding well despite the wet and gloomy weather.  Derek took some photos last Sunday so with just a few words of commentary, I'll let the pictures tell the story.

 Alan and Will making the most of some 'marginal' wood

 Steve and a pile of firewood logs

Eric sharpening stakes for the dead hedge 

Alan and Will still trimming sticks

 Steve in action with his billhook

The dead hedge made from waste material 

It marks out where we have been, so we can remember next year.  There is no intention to keep people out so we leave entrance gaps. 

It can also form a different sort of habitat if it's dense enough.

Orderly piles of trimmed sticks

Destined to become firewood, charcoal, beanpoles, plant stakes and hedging stakes 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The spoonbill sandpiper

On Radio 4's "Tweet-of-the-Day" on Sunday morning, I heard about the spoonbill sandpiper.

This attractive little bird is in serious decline from 2000 pairs in the wild in the 1970s down to 100 pairs in 2011 and even fewer now.  Trapping for food and habitat degradation are to blame.  They breed in Kamchatka and overwinter in Bangla Desh, migrating through Japan, China and Korea.

I grieve to hear this but am struck by how easy it is to blame people in other countries when our own record on habitat maintenance is so poor.  Turning so-called waste land into housing estates, railways, food production and football pitches, we too are destroying habitats which untold numbers of plant and animal species depend on.  

Maybe it is inevitable that the world's wildlife will gradually die out.  But we should look at our own record on, for example, loss of ancient woodlands, wetlands, heaths and grasslands before we rail about the destruction of rainforests and the hunting of whales.  In our way we kill far more creatures with our garden pesticides and obsession with tidying up nature, than poor villagers in Africa or India who kill the elephants or tigers that plunder their crops and cattle.

The enemy is poverty.  What is our excuse?

Sorry about the rant.  Just got a bit riled by some journalists.
There is good work being done to save not only the spoonbill sandpiper but many other creatures and the habitats they need and deserve.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Slow worm

Found this slow worm in my garage the other day.  Unfortunately it was dead and had dried hard and rigid in this shape.  

I wonder what the story was.  Was it old and ill and sought a quiet place to breathe it's last?  Did it crawl in and then fail to find its way out again?  My best guess is that it came into the garage to hibernate a year or so ago, but never made it through the winter.

At least we can take comfort that these members of the lizard fraternity are still alive and about the place - except for this one, of course.

Slow worms are not snakes although they have no legs.  

Two lizardy clues - 
  • slow worms blink - they have eyelids, which snakes don't
  • slow worms can shed their tails like other lizards;  snakes can't.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Forest Schools at Filnore Woods

Several school and Scout groups have visited Filnore Woods and we have a couple of qualified forest school leaders who have been using Filnore Woods for a group of disabled people to get in contact with the natural world.
Nicola, Rachel and some other helpers, working with the Forest of Avon Trust, took a group into Filnore for several weeks to try out environmental and creative activities, including felling a small dead tree, painting with natural dyes, making a wooden xylophone and lighting a small fire (under carefully controlled conditions, of course). 

Suspended xylophones made from hazel wood

Art work

Paint not always on target


Jane Gulliver, co-author of '1,2,3 Where are You', a book of games for children in the woods, is also thinking of running some days for a group of children with special needs and their dads.

Great to have the woods being used as a resource for learning in the widet sense.

Friday, 4 December 2015


Some people pronounce it 'litchen' to rhyme with kitchen but more people pronounce it 'liken'. 

There are  20,000 different species of lichens worldwide:  some are crusty (crustose), some are leafy (foliose) and some are branching like miniature fruit trees (fruticose).  The more structurally complex lichens require cleaner air, so they can be used as an indicator of air quality.  If you only find crusty lichens you are in an area which is relatively more polluted.  Leafy lichens indicate slightly better air quality and fruticose lichens indicate even cleaner air.

My photos show leafy lichens on a piece of ash wood, recently fallen from a tree at Filnore Woods.  Lichens have no roots so they do no damage to trees; they just find tree bark a good place to sit.

They are strange and fascinating organisms.  They look a bit like mosses but they are not.  A lichen is made up of a fungus and an alga living together and dependent on each other. (Sometimes a 'cyanobacterium' or 'blue-green alga' joins in too.) The fungi provide the structure and the algae use sunlight and carbon dioxide to provide food for the team by photosynthesis.  They are not just side by side, their cells are intermingled.  It's a totally symbiotic relationship.