As the New Year begins the paths are still very wet underfoot. Surprisingly the rainfall has been about average for the month but the ground is saturated so any additional water is just settling on the surface. We’ve had one or two frosty nights and mornings but generally it’s been very mild for the time of year with bright yellow aconites and white snowdrops providing a taste of Spring around the pathways and hedgerows.
This time of year is a great time to look at hedges and some of the secrets they hide away in the summer when in full leaf or flower. We have a relatively newly planted hedge which separates the allotments from the wood itself, but the boundary hedges are much older. The really old hedges or ‘assart’ hedges are formed from the edges of woodland which has been cleared of trees and turned into a field for cultivation. The planted hedges we’re familiar with may well have their origins in the enclosures of the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries, which greatly relied on blackthorn and hawthorn saplings to provide barriers and hedgerows as they grow so quickly. Look closely at established hedges and you will see where maintenance has been done over the years to keep them compact . Pollarding, coppicing and hedgelaying are all traditional techniques, and many hedges are machine cut to make it possible to maintain the miles of hedgerows that criss-cross the country. The new hedge between the allotments and the wood was beautifully laid in February 2017 helping it to grow thicker and last longer as the pleachers (trees which are partially cut and laid horizontally) throw up new vertical growth.
The odd occasions when we’ve had beautiful sunny days this month have been a wonderful opportunity to see the golden hazel catkins or ‘lambs tails’ which are the male flowers on the coppiced hazel in the far corner of the wood. Both male and female flowers can be found on hazel and the small fuschia pink female flowers can be clearly identified if you take a close look.The hazel wood is much prized for its bendy stems and used in many traditional crafts such as hedge laying, making wattle, withy fencing, baskets, and the frames of coracle boats.Take a look at the bird hide in the far corner of the wood which Michael made from the hazel coppiced from the Wood and you’ll see how useful and attractive it is. It’s not only humans who like to eat hazel nuts, as they are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits, wood pigeons, jays and small mammals. The leaves of the hazel provide food for the caterpillars of moths, and where it’s coppiced, the open, wildflower-rich habitat supports species of butterfly, particularly fritillaries. Coppiced hazel also provides shelter for ground-nesting birds, such as the nightingale,yellowhammer and willow warbler. Perhaps one day the Jubilee Wood will be home to one or all of them, please add them to the species list if you see them.
Hazel flowers provide early pollen as a food for bees. However, bees find it difficult to collect and can only gather it in small loads, as the pollen of wind-pollinated hazel is not sticky and each grain actually repels against another. A lot of hard work for early and probably hungry bees!
Hazel has also long been associated with the dormouse (also known as the hazel dormouse), but so far there have been no reported sitings of the tell tale holes made in the hazel nuts by dormice, which isn’t surprising as they are quite rare in this part of the UK and mainly found in Southern England and Wales, so perhaps they haven’t chosen the Jubilee Wood as a home yet….. but it would be wonderful to find traces of them so keep a lookout as you wander around the wood.
The Wood Wanderer