Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Insect East Enders

The Square Metre has risen to great heights over the Festive Season with an outing on ITV1's  Harry Hill's TV Burp on 26 December under the title Insect East Enders.

It is on Watch it Again for a while about a quarter of the way in:


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Orange, red and wet

A note on the Emthree after quite a long gap.

t has been raining for days and everywhere is awash: a carpet of sodden leaves and mud.  And still it rains - I can hear it outside as I type.

The overall gloom is enlivened by two splashes of colour on the edge of Medlar Wood.  At ground level there are the first berries in a split pod of gladdon (Iris foetidissima).

20091128 Metre 004a

In the branches of the medlar tree above there are some bunches of black bryony (Tamus communis) like bunches of small scarlet grapes.

20091128 Metre Tamus 008

So far these bright fruit have been left alone by the birds (who undoubtedly sowed their original seeds), but as the weather hardens I expect they will quickly disappear.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sixth anniversary of the project

Today was the sixth birthday of the project and the area really does look different from day one, though many of the plants are probably the same.

20030918 Metre  15 September 2003

20090915 Metre 004 15 September 2009

I wanted to record something new by way of a celebration and managed to find some small, round microfungi on fallen leaves from the box. They were Mycosphaerella buxi, like small white drum tops with a brown rim.

20090915 Mycosphaerella buxi 015

Flowers now include only some closed up smooth hawksbeard, a late heath speedwell, square-stalked St Johnswort and one white herb-robert behind Midsummer Pond.

The trees, not surprisingly, have grown to some size and in a few more years the area will be a coppice with one birch standard.

Butterfly Rock is its usual tapestry of moss and lichen, somewhat refreshed by recent rains. Surprisingly two small Crepis capillaris plants towards the northern edge of the top plateau have survived the long dry summer. Do they get moisture and sustenance from earth formed by the lower plants, or have they sent questing roots down the north face into more fertile ground?

20090915 Metre Butterfly Rock 008

The medlars are falling: it is almost autumn again and I wonder if the Metre and I will travel together for another six years ... or more.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

More than one rose?

Granddaughter Ellie came to the Square Metre with me today and here she is jumping over the yew log to show me Wilson (who lives in Medlar Wood) cupped in her right hand.

20090906 Metre & South View 008Since my earlier assault the brambles against North Wall have all grown up by half a metre of so with new primocanes. I cut them all back including, inadvertently, the wild rose which has slowly been gathering strength since I moved it from the centre to the corner of the Square Metre itself on               1 November 2004, nearly five years ago. It has another cane left, so it should be alright and would, in any case, sprout again.

It is, I think one of the dog roses (Rosa canina aggregate), but I have recently noticed what looks like a field rose (Rosa arvensis) near the north east corner of Butterfly Rock. I will have to wait a year or two before I feel certain.

Sean Saul-Hunt has put a new log of wood across the Square Metre to place the now almost vanished birch of White Log. The newcomer is cherry-plum wood (Prunus cerasifera) and as a non-native I am not entirely happy with it, but it might stay.

Something had turned the doll’s head over since my last visit and I think we are getting regular visits from deer, who might be the culprits.

There is still no sign of the two seedling oaks in Medlar Wood and I guess the oak mildew must have killed them.

Before we went Ellie insisted on taking a picture of me sitting in front of the bramble hedge.

20090906 Metre & South View 012

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A swarming of ants

A quiet moment in Emthree on this our 50th wedding anniversary, the golden wedding. The rowan and spindle to the east are full of ripe, or ripening, berries.

It was a sultry afternoon and the ants decided to swarm. At first I caught sight of a glitter of wings on my sempervivum tufa rock that sits above the stump that collapsed under me the other day and that the wrinkled ant queens, males and workers were coming up from there.

Some 15 minutes later, when I was sitting down again I heard an almost continuous rasgueado of feathers from the side of the ancient yellow meadow ants’ nest to the east of Emthree. A non-stop flight of queens and males were heading up into the sky southwards from the hill and the bristly scraping sound was coming from a young blackbird that was enthusiastically anting by gathering the unfortunate insects in his beak and rubbing them under his feathers.

After a few photos I returned to my seat only to discover a new congregation of the same species of ant milling about on Butterfly Rock. All these flight episodes began and ended very rapidly – 15 or 20 minutes maybe – and it is one of the very few times I have seen the yellow hill makers out in the sunshine in any numbers.

20090804 South View & Swallowtail 049

So far as I could make out the males are small and black (see top right of the picture, on the leaf) and the queens much larger with black thoraxes but yellowish bodies both in contrast to the wholly yellow wingless workers.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The whitethroat isn't there

As I stood in the 9am sunshine yesterday, having just given the tortoise his lettuce, a small  bird flew into the tall Thistle Heath birch.  It was a whitethroat (Sylvia communis), of the most delicate mouse-beige with a paler puffed out throat and breast where it kept all its songs.

It had something white in its beak - a moth maybe - and was trying to dash its brains out on a slender branch while keeping a wary eye on me.  After a few seconds, satisfied with its impending breakfast, it retired to the thicks of the medlar tree.

Sylvia communis can be roughly translated as 'the common woodlander' and, though common enough, it was bird I had not seen in Emthree before.  Though not currently threatened, according to the British Trust for Ornithology "a drought in the western Sahel region of Africa in 1968 caused a 90% drop in the number of whitethroats breeding in Britain; a crash from which numbers have still not fully recovered."

This bird inspired me to take the picture below of the Thistle Heath birch (not including whitethroat), a plant that appeared in the Square Metre in the summer of 2003 

20090801 Metre Thistle Moor birch 018

Friday, July 31, 2009

The first Pontania

Heavy rain today and cold for late July. It cleared up in the evening and I was able to do a little further tidying following the great purge of the last two days.

20090730 Metre 004 

Despite my activities there is a good showing of flower: some red (as well as the usual white) herb-robert, self-heal, white clover, square-stalked and perforate St. Johnswort, cat’s-ear, smooth hawksbeard, marsh thistle, mouse-ear chickweed, wood dock and other species. The fleabane is having its best year, but is not in flower yet.

The ferns in Medlar Wood are magnificent, perhaps because they are well-fertilised from above by birds.

On one of the cut sallow branches I found a pale green, hairy, subglobular gall the size of a small pea. Pontania pedunculi I think, but it is difficult to be sure of the identity of the Salix-leaf sawflies without rearing them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Re-invigoration & biodiversity value

28 July 2009  I have been giving the project a rest for several weeks. During this time many plants particularly the brambles have grown at a considerable rate. In the case of brambles snaking-long primocanes have arched over Troy Track almost preventing access from east to west. Behind the tall birch a marsh thistle has grown to over 3 metres and there are grasses and etiolated phorbs flopping about everywhere.

So I took shears to it all. Shaped up the bramble hedge, cleared the route through to the west and generally made things look tidier. I enjoyed working in the sunshine to re-invigorate the project and even managed to fall over backwards when a stump holding up the seat on the eastern side of Emthree collapsed in a heap of powdered dry wood.

I found a new plant too, a seedling field rose (Rosa arvensis) in The Waste close to Butterfly Rock. A bird sowing no doubt, but a plant listed in our area as an ancient woodland indicator.

29 July 2009  After yesterday’s exertions I concluded that the whole project was overdue for a makeover. Accordingly I ‘shredded’ the birches and the sallow as high as I could reach – about three metres.  (Shredding a tree means cutting the lower branches back to the trunk).

I removed all the brambles along North Wall as they have become very untidy and out of hand, casting Mice & Red into almost total shade. I have concluded that it is best to keep Emthree bramble-free in the future: there are plenty of plants in the hedge to the south of Troy Track.

After this bramble purge I cut the box bush on the northern side of the project using the vertical fall from the old washing line as the limit to which it can grow as this is virtually congruent with the Square Metre’s northern boundary.

I also hay-cut a section of The Waste on the south west side to allow more light and air onto the yellow meadow ant’s nest, which is still going strong.

My exertions certainly made the project look lean, spare and spacious and, to the tidier parts of my mind, under control with much better insolation of the original Square Metre. I feel a bit uneasy about this need to, as it were, control the wilderness, but perhaps it is deep in our human nature and I am sure it will enhance the area’s biodiversity.

I think the expression ‘biodiversity value’ when applied to an area might be better than ‘biodiversity’ as this seems to be just a count of species number. An island, for example, with a few species but mostly endemics would have a higher biodiversity value than an arable field with probably rather more species.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gladdon (Iris foetidissima)

The stinking iris, or gladdon, has started flowering for the first time in Medlar Wood.

20090613 Wbx, BHW etc. 005Although quite large the flowers are easily overlooked and are sometimes blue rather that yellow.

These plants are bird sown from the medlar tree above and the flowers will, in winter, be followed by fat pods of red berries.

I have never heard what I would regard as a satisfactory explanation of its name 'stinking iris' as no p[art of it seems to smell of anything much.

20090613a Wbx, BHW etc. 009The attractive plant bug Grypocoris stysi crept out on to one the standards as I stood admiring this plant.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Budding hawthorn

A couple of days ago when I was looking for rabbit damage I noticed that the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) seedling in Medlar Wood was already showing green and ready to burst.

20090227 South View & Metre 017

This is several weeks ahead of normal bud break time despite the fact that it has been a fairly cold winter.

However, I am sure this is not global warming.  Maybe young plants for some reason come into leaf earlier, though I cannot see how this could be an advantage.  It would seem to make them more vulnerable to hungry browsers and late frosts.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A cold winter

Yesterday there was some of the heaviest snow for several years and it persisted today, though with intermittent thaws. It did not seem to have covered Emthree to a remarkable depth and was melting quite quickly when I visited.

20090203 Metre snow 011

However, this is said to be the coldest winter for many years and it will be interesting to see if there are any manifestations later in the year that might be attributable to this.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dung cannons (Pilobolus crystallinus)

I put some of the rabbit pellets in a damp box and they have developed a fine vestiture of the dung cannon fungus (Pilobolus crystallinus).

25012009 Pilobolus crystallinus 005

There is a much better picture here.

This humble microfungus must be one of the world's most remarkable plants.  The little black spore capsules on the top of each thread-like, crystalline stalk can be fired for up to 2 metres and can accelerate from 0 to 45 mph in the first millimetre of flight - apparently the second fastest accelerator in nature.  The pressure in the stalk below the capsule can build up to an astonishing 7 kilograms per square centimetre (100 pounds per square inch) to enable this.

Pilobolus is also the name of a celebrated American dance company (one of the founding members studied the fungus with his father when he was young). They are an amazing group as their web site www.pilobolus.com shows and somewhat more elegant than my crop of fungi on rabbit dung.

I feel quite pleased, however, that close scrutiny of a rabbit dung pellet has opened such interesting doors.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Some winter finds

Now the weather is milder it is easier to do some work in Emthree and yesterday I started to clear back some of the long and untidy grass that has been blanketing the ground since last autumn.  Underneath it is thick with moss and I discovered some tubers on the base of one of the stems of common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa).

20090117 Metre figwort root nodules 009

The ones lower down the stalk had been attacked by a white mould or mildew and looked dead, but the smaller upper pair were still in good shape.

These tubers (which are perfectly normal structures rather than galls caused by an external agent) were much used in the past against conditions like scrofula (hence the scientific name Scrophularia) and hydrophobia.  In the latter case it was recommended that the dried tubers were powdered and sprinkled on bread and butter after which one was supposed to take a long and energetic walk wearing far to many clothes for comfort.

Another discovery was a scatter of rabbit droppings along the mossy top of the yew log on the edge of Medlar Wood.  Positive evidence that they are still active in Emthree.

20090117 Metre rabbit droppings 001