Monthly Archives: April 2014

After the fire

I recently took a walk down from Millbrook East car park to look at the area we burnt this spring. As it was my first burn on the Forest, I was keen to see how the vegetation was responding, and I was pleasantly surprised. The first sign that all was well was the presence of plenty of Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) in flower. This is a partial parasite on the roots of grasses, and the fact that it was flourishing bodes well for some of the other perennial herbs, particularly the Marsh gentian.

Lousewort

Lousewort

Whilst grubbing around on my hands and knees for the photo above, I had a quick look at some woody stems, to confirm that they were, as I suspected, Creeping willow (Salix repens). I was surprised to find a couple of clusters of eggs on the underside of the leaves.

IMG_1996_tonemapped

The owner of the eggs was close by – a Red poplar leaf beetle (Chrysomela populi). Despite its name, it seems quite common on willows, with plenty of records from Creeping willow.

Red poplar leaf beetle

Red poplar leaf beetle

All this activity suggests that the burn has certainly done no harm, and will hopefully have benefited a range of heathland species. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the site as the season unfolds.

Steve Alton

Conservation Officer

 

Plants that bite back

Lots of plant species are coming back to life on the Forest; one that I’m particularly excited to see is the Round-leaved sundew. This is a carnivorous plant – it catches and digests insects using the sticky glandular hairs on its leaves. This is an adaptation to the poor soils of places like Ashdown Forest; the sundew obtains nitrogen and other nutrients from the bodies of its prey.

If you look closely, the leaf at the top of the photo has caught a fly

If you look closely, the leaf at the top of the photo has caught a fly

The Round-leaved sundew is uncommon but widespread in the UK; it is very much associated with Sphagnum moss and peat bogs, an increasingly scarce habitat. It does have a particular Ashdown Forest link, though. One of the earliest books on plants that catch and digest insects was written by Charles Darwin. Prior to his research, there was a lot of debate about whether or not the capture of insects was deliberate, and if the plant actually derived any nutritional benefit from the process. In The Insectivorous Plants, published in 1875, Darwin showed conclusively that the carnivorous habit was a deliberate mechanism to supplement the plant’s diet. And the sundews he used in his studies, in his greenhouse at Down House in Kent, were collected from Ashdown Forest.

I hope he had permission!

The kind of nutrient-poor peaty pool favoured by sundews

The kind of nutrient-poor peaty pool favoured by sundews

Steve Alton

Conservation Officer

Fencing, more fencing and a lot of rubbish!

Recently in our funny 6000 acre world we have been focusing on the fences around the main grazing area. For the most part, we don’t need to replace the wire, just replace stakes or posts, and missing fencing staples. Still, it is a nice excuse to be out and about on the Forest, although Dartford Warblers still evade me!

TomFence_tonemappedWe have also erected the electric fence for a smaller grazing area in Black Bog for our Galloway cattle. The lines through the taller vegetation had already been cut and it took us a couple of days to put up the fence. It isn’t electrified yet but warning signs will go up when it is!TomCone_tonemapped

This is the same area where we cleared the rhododendron earlier in the year and the Scots Pines in that area are a favourite of Crossbills, picking seeds out of fir-cones. Just as we were finishing the last stretch of the fence, one bird was feeding and dropping its discarded fir-cones so rapidly I was able to catch one! Here it is and you can see how all the spines on the fir-cone have been opened by the Crossbill.

I also saw in this area a Green Tiger Beetle, a heathland specialist, on the bare ground just above where we had been fencing.  These only appear at this time of year and if you can get close enough (this one didn’t hang around for long) you can see it has some very impressive pincers!

TomTigerBeetleThe job isn’t all fun, working in nice places and writing blogs, as we are in the middle of the Forest-wide litter pick. Needless to say, there are much more worthwhile things that we could be doing so could everyone please take their litter home with them!

There have been some highlights though, like when I was emptying one bag into another and found a female Great Huntsman Spider (Micrommata virescens) on the bottom. It was quite alright and it scurried away but I was really surprised by the vibrant, bright green!

TomMicrommata

That’s all for now from your friendly Countryside Worker,

Tom.