A short video among the English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) tracing the winding paths in Ecclesall Woods, Sheffield. Enjoy the sights and sounds of South Yorkshire’s largest ancient woodland in all its springtime splendour. With around 50% of the world’s population, Britain is the only place where you can see such large colonies of bluebells and the dazzling display only lasts for a month at most.
Bluebells are a key ancient woodland indicator species and where extensive carpets of them are seen it is safe to assume that you are in woodland dating back at least 400 years. While the bluebells themselves are not this old the bulbs lay dormant in the soil, surviving for decades while they wait for enough light to flower and creep incrementally outwards.
The proposed route for HS2 Phase 2b will destroy 16.7 hectares of ancient woodland in 19 ancient woods. Another 11 ancient woods will be indirectly damaged.
At a time when species decline is accelerating we should be doing everything we can to protect ancient woodland. With only 2.3 percent of the UK landmass covered in ancient woodland, losing any of it for any reason is wholly unacceptable. These habitats not only support great diversity but they are also one of the best places to connect with nature’s magic. These irreplaceable habitats must be preserved so that our descendants are allowed to benefit from the same experiences that presently enrich so many people’s lives.
The Woodland Trust have provided an automated form, to which you can add further comments if you wish. Respond to HS2 Ltd’s consultation. Deadline: 21 December 2018.
Today I had the pleasure of visiting a fine ancient black mulberry tree, a Morus nigra, at a secret location in Sheffield. From a distance the heart-shaped leaves could be mistaken for a lime although the tree’s squat, slightly bushy, form has more in common with a wind-blasted field oak. At closer range the hairy leaves are considerably larger than those of a lime, although confusingly some of the foliage is deeply lobed like that of a fig. This quirk is a characteristic of the younger leaves at the base of new shoots and is a helpful identification tool. Not that you are especially likely to come across a mulberry, as they are certainly not common and tend to be located in parks, private estates and the gardens of country mansions. Being sunlight lovers they are almost never found in woodlands.
Perhaps it is this association with the upper classes that helps perpetuate the popular misconception that mulberries were introduced into Britain by King James in the 17th century. It was actually the Romans who brought them here to cultivate for their fruit and their medicinal roots and bark. James was in fact responsible for promoting the planting of mulberries, as he was keen to establish silkworm colonies in what was a short and unsuccessful foray into the silk industry. The reason for him planting black mulberry is a matter of some debate, with some maintaining that the king was duped into planting M. nigra when the leaves of M. alba are the preferred food of the silkworm. Or it has been suggested that this species was deliberately chosen for its tolerance to the cold, wet UK climate.
It is thought that this mulberry could be as much as 450 years old, placing it among the oldest trees in northern England. It is certainly possible, as this date corresponds with earliest documented mulberries elsewhere in the country.  Its ancient status is supported by other features: deeply riven bark with many knots and bulges, and the presence of epiphytic plants growing in the thin soils accumulated in the tree’s many crevices. However, coppiced trees such as this one are notoriously hard to age accurately. This difficulty is exacerbated by the mulberry’s tendency to grow a deceptively thick trunk and slump over in imitation of more venerable trees.
 There is a black mulberry in Syon Park, London, which is thought to have been planted in 1548.