We came across this early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) the other day whilst working in a Burghley Estate woodland just off the A47 in Rutland. A testament to the good woodland management of the estate that rare flora is flourishing in its woodland that is managed sensitively for its biodiversity and woodland products.
Spring 2011 was warm and early and by mid May, as travelling about the Rutland area I noticed that a significant number of Yew trees were looking distinctly sick, in particular isolated trees on the Stamford Road around the Council Offices at Catmose, at Langham Churchyard and at Burley on the hill.Upon closer inspection it was apparent that large sections rather than whole trees were being affected and at first I thought that heavy frosts might have been the cause. Yew trees can colour bronze over winter but the species is tolerant to very low temperatures and the pattern of damage was not consistent with frost damage. Under microscopic inspection I found translucent mites in numbers that were later identified as Yew gall mites (Cecidophyopsis psilapsis). A sign of the presence of this mite is a deformation in buds resulting in an unusually large bud. The early spring, I surmise, made conditions beneficial for the mite to proliferate and the damage caused quite severe in isolated cases, so much so that large sections of dead yew are still apparent on some of the trees and at least one of the identified trees in Catmose has been removed.
To add insult to injury another pest has been having a go at Yew trees in Rutland. A significant number of Yew trees at the Clipsham Yew tree Avenue have been badly damaged, resulting, in the worse cases, to up to 60% defoliation. I was asked by the owner, Mrs Thomas, to investigate and report upon the cause.
The damage is typified by patches of dead leaves, sometimes an area of a few square centimeters and sometimes areas conglomerating to encompass metres of damage. Upon examination it is clear that each area of dead foliage can be traced back to a ring barked (entire circumference stripped of bark) branch. This damage is occurring predominantly to branches of approximately 5 -10mm diameter. Under close inspection, with a hand lens, thin strips of remaining bark and scraping marks can be found where bark stripping has occurred.
Ring barking of yew branches is consistent with reports of damage (Strouts and Winter 1994) by the Bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus), this is further backed up by the existence of nesting holes beneath trees and feeding remains on branches.
It appears there may have been changes to the mowing regime at Clipsham, managed by the Forestry Commission, and this is likely be a strong causal factor for an increase in bank vole numbers and hence the amount of damage recently seen.
It remains to be seen if this year’s hard winter will affect Bank vole activities and whether mowing regimes will be tightened up in an effort to control bank vole numbers.
Hedge-laying season is now coming to an end. We recently bound up this completed hedge during a fine day earlier in the month. Buds are breaking and very soon hedges will be fully leafed up, an invitation to birds to take cover and begin building their nests.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 makes it an offence, subject to certain exceptions – such as the control of some species for permitted reasons under license, to kill, injure or take any wild bird and to take, damage or destroy any nest that is either in use or being built.
Long-tailed tits build a uniquely shaped nest
over approximately 3 weeks using mosses, lichen,
spiders webs and thousands of feathers.
It is recommended that works to trees and hedges should not be undertaken where there are risks that the works or its effects would be harmful to resident birds. If works to trees and hedges have to be carried out between March and August then they should be inspected thoroughly for nesting birds and where found, works postponed until the young have flown the nest.
Other arboreal creatures are at risk from tree works operations such as bats, dormice and red squirrels, these are similarly protected by law.
Ash die back disease (Chalara fraxinea) is the latest in a host of diseases to affect our native trees. It appears from the rapid spread across the continent (first recognized in Poland in 1992) that this pathogenic fungi has now taken a hold in the UK with a total of 413 confirmed cases as of 18 March, predominantly in the east of England.
- die back from the tips of trees, most visible when in leaf
- lesions and cankers on stem branch and twigs, visible throughout the year
- leaves die back from mid-summer leaving black or brown leaf stalks
- wilting of leaves in spring and early summer
- crown dies back from the tree tips
- tiny fungal fruiting bodies can be seen on leaf stalks in June/July
- Excision of affected stems reveals dark stains.
What you should do if you notice any of these symptoms: firstly, don’t panic, there may well be other explanations, and if it does turn out to be Ash die back affecting your tree it may not sound the death knoll for the tree, as some trees have a natural resistance to the disease and not all trees die from infection. But as with any other tree problems, assess the safety of the tree first, track the progress of the symptoms and prune or fell where branches threaten to cause significant harm. Where practical, collecting and burning leaf litter in autumn will help limit spread of the disease.
Movement restrictions are in place on infected material and it is good practice for those working on any potentially diseased tree to sterilize equipment after use to limit potential cross infection.. Tree professionals and the general public are helping to track the spread of the disease by reporting symptoms to Forest Research. This can be done via their website where you can fill in and submit a form or download an app for your phone. Much more detailed information as available on the Forestry Commission website at www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara.