Planting woodland on Houndkirk Moor

This morning I joined a group of about twenty keen volunteers to plant up a few hundred tree whips on Houndkirk Moor, on Sheffield’s western outskirts.  This initiative is led by the Eastern Moors Partnership, which manages the extensive moorlands of northeast Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. They have teamed up with a semi-regular group of volunteers organised by local author and environmental campaigner Sally Goldsmith to create the woodlands of the future. 

alder and holly whips
common hair moss
oak and willow whips

All that is left of what was once a wooded landscape is a smattering of birch, some veteran rowans, oaks and pockets of willow on damper soil.  Bracken has taken hold of this land;  wherever there is bracken a woodland once stood – it is a woodland species.  Take the shading effects of trees out of the ecosystem and rhizomatous bracken runs amok. 

Managing bracken encroachment is a time consuming and sometimes controversial business, or at least it is when chemical controls are used.  In quantity bracken is toxic to sheep and cows, meaning that grazing methods used to control other vigorous plants cannot be applied.  It would be easy to give up the fight, however restoring woodland might go some way toward taming the bracken.

getting the tree roots covered
John with bracken rhizomes
Sally and veteran rowan

This may be the landscape we inherited but we can plant a better legacy.  Planting the right trees on the right patch of moorland – the areas already blighted by bracken rather than the blanket bogs already effectively storing carbon – is a smart and cost-effective move.

We need locations to plant the vast number of trees required to draw down carbon from the atmosphere to help meet CO2 reduction targets.  That is reason enough, however this is also an opportunity to plant native woodland to provide food and cover for birds and other wild animals.  Trees planted today will provide seed for the next generation of woodland, which will regenerate naturally to fit its environment more perfectly than even our best attempts at restoring nature. 

The tree planting volunteers

Unsurprisingly, the main challenge this site presents is rampant bracken. Having never planted into it before this was a new experience for me.  It involves bashing and trampling before digging can even begin.  My progress was slow but at least I was thorough.  The soil is good for planting in the sense that it is peat, only it is full of tough bracken rhizomes that take some teasing out.  Little soil is left afterwards.  We also had to be particularly careful to not damage surviving examples of Sphagnum peat moss; I saw only fragments of it.  Another Bryophyte highlight was a couple of common hair moss (Polytrichum commune) patches.

Species we planted: 

alder (Alnus glutinosa) – in wet soil

birches, both silver (Betula pendula) and downy (B. pubescens)

hawthorn (Crateagus monogyna)

holly (Ilex aquifolium)

rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

sessile oak (Quercus petraea)

willow (Salix spp.) – in wet soil

Walks for Festival of the Outdoors

Sheffield’s 2020 Festival of the Outdoors runs from 1st to 31st March. It will be the first time that Sheffield Woodland Connections has participated in the festival, for which I’ll be leading three walks. Each walk is two hours long and we will cover subjects including: identifying trees in winter and recognising veteran and notable trees. For more information click on the links below.

Sheffield General Cemetery
Date: Sunday 1st March 2020.
Time: 11.30am – 1.30pm.
Tickets: from £5 – £7.  Book your place here.
Ecclesall Woods
Date: Sunday 8th March 2020.
Time: 1 – 3pm.
Tickets: from £5 – £7.  Book your place here.
Hillsborough Park
Date: Sunday 22nd March 2020.
Time: 1.30 – 3.30pm.
Tickets: from £5 – £7.  Book your place here.

The trees of Meersbrook Park Walled Garden

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to have a tour of the Meersbrook Park Walled Garden, Sheffield, in the company of Kaktus, a volunteer and fellow tree enthusiast. This visit was in preparation for a walk that I will be leading here next year. Along with the park itself, the walled garden makes a wonderful place for a tree walk on account of the species variety, many of which are seldom seen in this part of the world.

The spectrally white Himalayan birch
A tunnel formed from white willow

Upon entering the walled garden from the park the first highlight is the ghostly Himalayan birch (Betula utilis), the white bark of which is especially stunning when all the leaves have fallen. Immediately to the right is a tunnel formed from flexible white willow (Salix alba) that is identifiable, even without its leaves, by the yellow stems of younger growth. This tree’s common name comes from the white underside of the leaves, just to clear up any possible confusion.

The deceptive oak-leaved hornbeam has deeply incised leaf margins
Hornbeams are identifiable by their striated silver-grey bark

One of the trees caught me out. It was an oak-leaved cultivar of hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Quercifolia’), which I have never encountered before. A few minutes were spent scratching my head: the leaves were saying ‘oak’ but the bark was something else altogether and I will admit to being thrown off the scent. Only when Kaktus confirmed it was a hornbeam did all the bits of the puzzle fall into place. Even when young the bark has the characteristic striated appearance that is best evoked by the North American name ‘musclewood’.

One of the more exotic specimens found here is the foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa) and, despite hailing from Central and Western China, it grows surprisingly well in Northern Britain providing it gets enough shelter from the wind. I will be back in May to check out the spectacular lilac-coloured flowers. For now it can be recognised by the unusual, pointed, seed pods, each apparently containing 200 seeds, which contributes to this beautiful tree being regarded as an invasive weed in North America.

The exotic-looking foxglove tree grows well in this sheltered garden
Yellow berried holly at the Meersbrook Park Road entrance

There are many trees of note elsewhere in the park, some of which I have mapped already, however it is a huge space and I will have to return to complete the rest in the New Year. On my way back to Meersbrook Park Road I spotted a yellow-berried holly, right next to this entrance, which was truly resplendent in the slanting winter sunlight. The birds tend to favour red berries first and so the yellow berries will likely remain throughout winter.

A Halloween fungi walk

On All Hallow’s Eve what better way to celebrate the cycle of death and renewal than go looking for fungi? They are nature’s great recyclers; many of them are saprophytes that feed on dying plants and animals, making their nutrients available for next generation of life.

L to R: Cavalier, with a floppy hat; mycena aka fairy bonnets; and the toxic wood pinkgill with a undulating edge

Last week I joined the autumn fungi walk led by by Micheal ‘Ziggy’ Senkans, Biodiversity Officer at Sheffield City Council around the fields and woodland of Waterthorpe Meadow in Beighton. Fungi are their most visible later in the year as herbaceous plants die back and deciduous trees lose their leaves.

Deceiver mushroom (Laccaria laccata)
Deceiver mushroom, older and paler
A deceiver has pale pink gills and consistent colour

As a whole different order of life from plants and trees, it has taken me years to develop an eye for identifying fungi. It is still a work in process but as my confidence grows I have been able to forage a few edible mushrooms this year, which feels like an achievement.

Immature meadow waxcap (Cuphophyllus pratensis)
Mature meadow waxcap, upturned gills (Cuphophyllus pratensis)
Candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)
Scarlet hood (Hygrocybe coccinea)

Caution is needed at all times. Start with the assumption that all fungi are poisonous. Especially if they are red, have a wavy collar or ‘skirt’ at the top of the stem or feature an egg sac at the base.

Agaricus spp, with a ‘skirt’ on the stem
Webcap (Cortinarius spp.) – poisonous
Wood pinkgill (Entoloma rhodopolium)- poisonous

All the fungi featured on this page have been identified by an expert. Please do not use this article as the sole means of identifying any fungi you may find, especially if you intend to eat them. People die each year after mistaking edible mushrooms for deadly ones. Be safe!

Jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) – edible
Common funnel cap (Clitocybe gibba)

Free woodland walks at Ecclesall Woods – Sunday 20th October

As part of this year’s Feast in the Forest at Ecclesall Woods, on Sunday 20th October, I will be leading two tree ID and woodland appreciation walks. These free to attend walks are designed to support the aims of the Tree Charter.

The first walk will begin at 10.30am and the second at 1.30pm. Meet outside the main entrance to the Discovery Centre ten minutes before the stated start time.

These walks are open to all but places are limited and booking is advisable. To reserve your place please use the contact form.

Extra woodland photo workshop – Sunday 27th October

Thanks to the enthusiastic uptake for the earlier photography workshop at Ecclesall Woods, I have organised a second date for Sunday 27th October.

If you are interested in learning about how to photograph trees and woodland habitats then why not book yourself on this half-day workshop at South Yorkshire’s largest ancient woodland.

Tickets cost £25 and are available through Eventbrite here.

Woodland walk for Over 50s, Sheffield General Cemetery – 8th November 2019

Want to learn more about trees and woodland in a fun an informal way? Then join Sheffield Woodland Connections, Drink Wise Age Well and Friends of the General Cemetery for an Over 50s woodland walk on 8th November 2019.

To book your free place call: 0800 032 3723.

Meet at the gatehouse entrance at the end of Cemetery Avenue at 1pm.

Woodland walk for Over 50s, Parkwood Springs – 1st November 2019

Want to learn more about trees and woodland in a fun an informal way? Then join Sheffield Woodland Connections, Drink Wise Age Well and Friends of Parkwood Springs for an Over 50s woodland walk on 1st November 2019.

To book your free place call: 0800 032 3723.

Meet at the large car park off Shirecliffe Road at 11am.

Woodland walk for Over 50s, Wadsley & Loxley Common – 24th October 2019

Want to learn more about trees and woodland in a fun an informal way? Then join Sheffield Woodland Connections, Drink Wise Age Well and Wadsley & Loxley Commoners for an Over 50s woodland walk on 24th October 2019.

To book your free place call: 0800 032 3723.

Meet at the junction of Laird Road and Rural Lane at 12.30pm.

Woodland walk for Over 50s, Hillsborough Park – 14th October 2019

Want to learn more about trees and woodland in a fun an informal way? Then join Sheffield Woodland Connections, Drink Wise Age Well and Friends of Hillsborough Park for an Over 50s woodland walk on 14th October 2019.

To book your free place call: 0800 032 3723.

Meet at the outside the Bowling Pavilion off Middlewood Road at 1pm.