The Nature of Iceland

Happy December everyone!  I hope you are all feeling jolly and are enjoying the festive season so far.

It has been a while since I have written about a specific place, but after a wonderful break and first visit to Iceland, I have been inspired to share my experience by delving into some brilliant, beautiful natural wonders!  Arriving on the evening of 23rd November, myself and partner Ed, had planned an eventful trip which certainly lived up to expectations.

Friday 24th November:  The sun didn’t rise until around 10:30am, by which time we were already out and about.  We spent the first day exploring Reykjavik, sampling several delicious pastries from Sandholt bakery and the highly rated Brauð & Co bakery, visiting Hallgrímskirkja, spotting birds we had not seen in real life before (American robins and ravens were regulars on the trip), absorbing some wonderful views along the harbour and admiring the Solfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture.  The steel sculpture is “a dream boat and an ode to the sun“, and the way in which the metal catches and reflects the sunlight is simply stunning!  We also walked under 23 life-size models of whales in the ‘Whales of Iceland’ museum.  Although entrance for the museum was quite pricey, I enjoyed learning about the natural history of Icelandic waters, experiencing the immense size and magnificence of such a beautiful species, whilst also capturing some photographs which look like we had been swimming with them!

© Whales of Iceland, November 2017

Once the sun began to set, we headed back to our apartment and filled up on pasta, delicious cinnamon biscuits and tea before layering up in numerous layers, thermals and jumpers and heading out once again at 8:30pm for our Northern Lights trip!  We were picked up at a stop around the corner from our apartment by BusTravel Iceland (which was very handy indeed) and reached our destination out in the countryside after around forty minutes.  The guide instantly led us to a snowy, dark, open area of land which was amazingly already crowned by a graceful, wide arc of cloudy green light!  (The green of the aurora is caused by collisions between fast-moving electrons from solar activity and the oxygen particles in our atmosphere).  We were lucky to have the aurora borealis above us all evening, and as time passed, the wide arc separated into thinner streaks which stretched almost from horizon to horizon and towards the end of the night, Mother Nature even treated us to an ephemeral curved aurora band with vertical rays.  Stunning!  The best way I found to see the colour distinctively was to cup my hands around the side of my temples to block any peripheral light (of which there was little anyway) and frame the aurora above me… I think this along with the nighttime darkness and cold air on my face made me feel in my own little world whilst experiencing the natural, magical spectacle.   It was certainly a memorable experience which truthfully, I haven’t stopped thinking about.

Saturday 25th November:  It was an early start for another trip with BusTravel Iceland – this time the Grand Golden Circle tour in the Southwest of Iceland!  As we travelled out into the countryside, we were able to watch the sun rise over snowy mountains before making a brief stop in Hveragerði, “the capital of hot springs” or “flower village“.  This was a lovely little town to view on the way down the mountain road as it lays on an active geothermal zone, so there were many hot springs and pillars of steam dotted throughout (even in people’s gardens) reflecting the early light, along with warmly lit greenhouses, which are heated by hot water from the volcanic hot springs.  In fact, Hveragerði “has the highest concentration of greenhouses in Iceland where residents have been harnessing geothermal energy since 1920 to provide the country with much of its home grown produce“.  We had a little wander and stretch and before returning to the bus, also had a look at a small exhibition called ‘Quake 2008’ which was all about a powerful earthquake (6.3 on the Richter scale) that struck the area on 29th May 2008.

We made five ‘highlight’ stops throughout the day – each offering something remarkable and with snow on the ground and sunny blue skies, we were both able to take some lovely photographs to save and share the beauty.

Kerið volcanic crater:  I had only seen pictures of this in spring and summer – a bright blue crater ‘lake’ looking up through a red and green embankment, so was fascinated to see it frozen over, surrounded by dark snowy slopes and patches of red rock.  It is believed that Kerið (which measures about 270m long, 170m wide and 55m deep) was once a cone volcano that erupted, clearing its full magma chamber in the process.  With no magma remaining, the cone likely collapsed into the void, resulting in the crater we see today.  The ‘lake’ naturally lays at the same level as the water table and varies between 7m and 14m throughout the year.  During our visit, it had a peaceful, still atmosphere which I would love to experience again, maybe even in the warm season to see the wonderful colours of the water and moss complementing the red volcanic rock of the caldera!

Faxi waterfall:  Faxi or Vatnsleysufoss waterfall is located on the Tungufljót river and is a striking natural wonder that glistened magically in the mid-morning sunlight for us.  At 80m wide and 7m high, Faxi had a humble charm about it and a prettiness that has remained in my mind.

Geysir Geothermal area:  This was our longest stop of the day as it included lunch and the extra time meant that we were able to slowly walk around the geothermal field and witness some impressive hot spring action!  It is believed that the entire field has a surface area of 3km², but most of the springs are aligned along a 100m wide strip.  The Great ‘Geysir’ is a large hot spring in this area and gives its name to hot springs all over the world – the name is actually derived from the Old Norse Icelandic verb geysa, meaning “to gush”Although Geysir is relatively inactive itself anymore, he was once a powerful marvel, reaching heights of 170m at one point, but as our guide explained “he is now in retirement”… but just as magnificent as ever!

‘Strokkur’ is now the most energetic spring in Iceland.  It spouts every ten minutes (or less as we saw it occur several times) and generally reaches between 10m and 20m in height, yet has been known to reach 40m!  Like Geysir, Strokkur’s power has fluctuated over time.  In 1789, it began mightily spouting water, gas and steam, yet by 1830 had calmed down and actually had to be encouraged to spout by people with stones and turf!  Between 1896 (after an earthquake) and 1920, it subsided completely twice with slight activity occurring occasionally in between the years, but in 1963, on the recommendation of the Geysir committee, “a 40m deep hole was drilled from the bottom of its basin” after which it has been spouting regularly ever since.

As well as the spectacular geysers, we also saw smaller bubbling hot springs, mud pots and steam eruptions from fumaroles.  Once again, the blue sky, snow and this time ice made for some awesome bright and reflective photographs, but it also meant that these natural sights were accompanied by sights of people sliding in slow motion and slipping over, so if you do visit in winter and want to remain upright (like Ed and I managed to) either take in the surroundings calmly by walking slowly or as the signs suggest in certain areas, wear crampons!

Gullfoss waterfall:  Of the locations on the Golden Circle tour, Gullfoss or the ‘Golden’ Waterfall (which gives the tour its name) is probably the most famous.  It has been named as one of the world’s top ten waterfalls and in 1979, officially became a nature reserve to permanently protect it and to allow visitors to safely enjoy the impressive site and sight.  Being the largest volume fall in Europe, Gullfoss has an average flow of 1400m³/s in the summertime and 80m³/s in the wintertime, which cascades down 32m in two stages into a commanding canyon (70m high and 2.5km long) below.  This canyon “was created at the end of the Ice Age by catastrophic flood waves and is lengthened by 25cm (9.8in) a year by the constant erosion from the water”.

As we visited the majestic Gullfoss in November, a lot of the ‘falling’ water was actually frozen mid-flow, which looked absolutely amazing and dreamlike in the ambient amber light of the setting sun!  I was interested to later learn that a waterfall freezes in such a way because the flow of water ‘supercools’ (experiences a temperature less than its freezing point without becoming a solid) and consequently slows down which causes the water molecules to stick together and form tiny, solid particles of ‘frazil ice’.  There are three vantage points from which the waterfall can be viewed (the lowest of which was closed whilst we were there for safety as it was very slippy), so we were able to get a clear look at this well known beautiful area of nature.

Þingvellir:  ‘Thingvellir’ National Park or ‘Parliament Plains’ was our final stop of the tour, and what an awe-inspiring stop it was!  On the way there, our guide explained that the Alþing general assembly was established around 930 AD and the Icelandic parliament continued to assemble at Þingvellir until 1798 to have important discussions and plan significant events.  Even today, the people of Iceland meet there for special occasions and dates, so it has become “a protected national shrine” and was accepted on the World Heritage list for its cultural values in 2004.  “The Environmental Policy of the Thingvellir National Park was approved by the Thingvellir Committee to ensure that the internal work of the national park is in accordance with the management plan of the park and to make sure that the actions of the park are environmentally responsible”.

The Thingvellir National Park is part of a “fissure zone” that runs through Iceland and is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (the boundary between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates).   There was so much to see – mountains, trees, rocky cliffs and valleys, all of which were covered in crisp, white snow.  It was simply breathtaking – reminiscent of vintage Christmas card scenes!  I feel that a whole day could definitely be spent there, so I would love to go back and explore even further than we did.  One section would be Lake Þingvallavatn which lies partially in the National Park and sounds spectacular:  “The lake is particularly fertile and rich in vegetation, despite the very cold temperatures.  A third of the bottom area is covered by vegetation, and there is a large amount of algae.  Low-growing vegetation extends out to a depth of 10 metres while higher vegetation forms a large growing-belt to 10-30 metres deep.  A total of 150 types of plants have been found and 50 kinds of invertebrates, from the shore to the center”.

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© Þingvellir National Park, November 2017

Once we were back on the bus, our guide thought it would be apt to sing the Icelandic national anthem to us.  I had not heard it before, but apparently it is notorious for being extremely challenging to sing, due to its large vocal range of high and low registers, but she was absolutely fantastic!  A lovely end to a wonderful tour.  Back in Reykjavik, we treated ourselves to a nice warm dinner of wild mushroom soup from Svarta Kaffið, a cosy eatery which offers two soup options served in a large crusty bread roll!  We then settled down in our apartment and slept very well ready for our final day.

Sunday 26th November:  We enjoyed a relaxing morning in Reykjavik, walking around and looking in the shops for a couple of mementos.  Being Christmas time, we had learnt about the interesting Icelandic Christmas traditions and folklore which instead of Santa Claus, includes thirteen ‘Yule Lads‘ who descend from the mountains to visit the towns and “wreak mischief in the nights leading up to Christmas”, but to also leave small gifts in the shoes of good children, or potatoes for the naughty children!  We agreed that it that would be appropriate and fun to buy a bauble with a Yule Lad on, so had a read through them and chose our favourite – ‘Pottasleikir’.

“Pot Licker, the fifth one,

was a funny sort of chap.

When kids were given scrapings,

he’d come to the door and tap”.

(Excerpt from the poem “Jólasveinavísur” by Jóhannes frá Kötlum)

At 2pm we set off on our final trip in Iceland – the Blue Lagoon!  We had been keeping our eye on the weather forecast and snow was predicted for the afternoon, so we were in for a magical time.  The snow started to fall right on cue whilst we were travelling and within an hour we had arrived.  After getting changed, showering and slathering plenty of conditioner through our hair, we met at the indoor mouth of the lagoon and made our way into the mineral-rich, hot blue water, through a door and out into the open.  “The geothermal water originates 2,000 metres below the surface, where freshwater and seawater combine at extreme temperatures.  It is then harnessed via drilling holes at a nearby geothermal power plant, Svartsengi, to create electricity and hot water for nearby communities.  On its way to the surface, the water picks up silica and minerals. When the water emerges, its temperature is generally between 37°C and 40°C”.  

It was a surreal and ethereal experience – with the steam rising and snow rapidly falling, we were in a white-out for the majority of our time there, so we couldn’t really see many people, which was nice as it is a popular place, so made us feel like we were alone at times and didn’t feel busy at all.  Everyone was relaxed and quiet, so it was lovely and peaceful.  We slowly swam around, tried out the silica mud mask and chilled out in the dreamy waters.  (If you do go, look out for people with their mobile phones wrapped in plastic bags, taking selfies and holding them above their heads instead of relaxing – it’s very bizarre)!  When we were well and truly ‘pruned’, we changed back into our layers, hopped on to a Reykjavik Excursions bus and travelled back to the capital.  We had a bite to eat at Reykjavik Chips (for the second time on our trip because the chips were so amazing) and ended our visit to Iceland reinvigorated and content.

Our first trip to Iceland was amazing and certainly somewhere I would go again.  Have you been, or perhaps you are planning a trip there?  I would love to hear what you did or what you have planned!

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Big Butterfly Count

Tomorrow is the start of this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count‘ – a nationwide survey (and the world’s largest butterfly survey) held by the British charity, Butterfly Conservation and Waitrose, to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  Counting butterflies helps determine natural health as they “react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators“.  If we begin to see a reduction in butterfly numbers and/or species, it could warn us of other wildlife declines.

To take part, you simply have to count the butterflies that you see in any location within a 15 minute time period.  Like the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you are counting in a single area, you should count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time.  However, if you decide to count the butterflies you see on a 15 minute walk for example, then you can add up the number of each species that you come across.

Your results, even if you see no butterflies, will not only support the environmental health assessment, but also help the charity identify species’ trends and consequently develop protection plans.

To help you with your 15 minute butterfly count, you can download a useful identification chart from the Butterfly Conservation!  Once your sightings have been tallied up, you then simply have to submit your results online or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count runs from Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August, so if you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes, do something wild, get counting and have fun!

pb© Peacock Butterfly

#30DaysWild Days 11-20

June seems to be flying by… and I have another ten random acts of wildness to write about!  The majority this time unintentionally ended up being bird-themed.

11. It had been a while since I had been on a decent walk, so my boyfriend and I visited Dovedale in the Peak District.  As soon as we started our walk, a grey wagtail hopped on the path in front of us with a beak full of midges, flew up onto a branch at eye level and stayed there long enough for us to get a good look and some grainy phone photographs (neither of us had taken our proper cameras)!!  I was very excited as it was the first grey wagtail I had seen (that I am aware of) and I had been admiring them on Springwatch the week before.  The yellow of it’s underside was so bright and beautiful!

Grey wagtails unfortunately have a red status with the RSPB – red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action.

12. I decided to have a lunchtime stroll and watch magpies!  I am very fond of magpies, their large nests, their distinctive call… and always salute if I see one on it’s own.  There are often large numbers of magpies near my work and on this particular day, I noticed that there was something unusual about one.  After a while, I realised that it looked smaller and didn’t have a long tail – it was a lovely little juvenile exploring the ground!

13. I planted some chilli seeds back in April and as they had grown into two-inch tall seedlings, I re-potted them and gave some away to my family.

14. It was a lovely hot day (the beginning of the ‘heatwave’) and I had planned to visit my friend for the evening.  I chose to walk to her house via a conservation area, one of 24 in my city.  “Conservation areas are parts of the city that have been designated for their special historical or architectural quality.  They are areas where the preservation or enhancement of the unique townscape is particularly important and they add much to the city in terms of attractive living environments, historical and cultural significance and high quality design”.  Buildings and developments are controlled to preserve their character and appearance, the demolition of buildings is controlled and I am glad that trees are also protected in the conservation areas.

15. As some of you may have seen, there was a fascinating section on Springwatch about soundscapes and acoustic niche hypothesis which you can read about here.  I thought the idea of ‘Soundscape Ecology’ was brilliant and consequently listened to the soundscape of my back garden.

16. I have loved bird-watching since 2015 when I stayed in a lovely cottage in Anglesey.  It had its own woodland, a garden full of bird feeders and as a result, lots of amazing birds, including a great spotted woodpecker and a jay!  I have since spotted and watched many birds, so decided to treat myself to a little British birds Spotting & Jotting Guide by Matt Sewell, who just so happens to be one of my favourite illustrators too!

17. It was a Wildlife Weekend at Bradgate Park in Charnwood Forest and I went bat detecting!  The park usually closes just before dusk, but it was opened up at 9:30pm especially for the 30 odd people who attended the event.  It was run by the Leicestershire and Rutland Bat Group – a voluntary organisation formed in 1984, dedicated to the conservation of bats in the two counties.  My sister and I took our own bat detectors and the group handed out several to other people.  It was a slow start, but once we reached the River Lin, which runs through the Lower Park, we picked up regular ‘calls’ and detected several common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles, one or two Daubenton’s bats and noctules, which I was very pleased with, particularly the latter as you may remember from my post about Bat Conservation that I wanted to see one this year.

18. I spent a nice, chilled-out day in my dad’s garden, admiring the plants, flowers and of course, birds!

19. Having seen a glimpse of several ‘fork-tailed’ birds near my dad’s house, I wanted to learn how to distinguish between swifts, swallows and martins from just a silhouette.  I found a brilliant ID guide on the RSPB website but also discovered just how much swifts are in trouble.  “Their breeding numbers plummeted by 47 per cent between 1995-2014, making them an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern”.  As a result, the RSPB would like to find out where swifts are seen and where they are nesting, so if you are aware of any, let them know by submitting your sightings to the Swift Survey.

20. A slow walk home from work in the heat called for a simple but pleasant act of wildness… a bit of bird identification using the BirdUp app on my phone.

What did you do for days 11-20 of #30DaysWild?

#30DaysWild Days 1-10

It is the 10th June today, meaning we are a third way through #30DaysWild.  Like last June, it has been a relatively rainy month so far, but I have managed to do my ten random acts of wildness:

1. I signed up for two online environmental courses through FutureLearn.  ‘Extinctions: Past and Present’ which starts on the 19th June.  This course is run by the University of Cape Town and will explore how life on earth has been shaped by five mass extinction events in the distant past and the crisis that biodiversity is currently facing.  The second course is ‘Elements of Renewable Energy’ which starts later in the year with the Open University.  I will be studying renewable energy using the four Greek elements: Earth –the Earth’s renewable energy sources, Air – wind power, Fire – the direct power of the Sun and finally, Water – hydropower.  I am very much looking forward to these, particularly the latter as on the 7th June 2017 the National Grid reported that power from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied 50.7% of UK energy – more than half of UK electricity for the first time!

2. One of my favourite lunch-time spots to visit when I am at work is Welford Road Cemetery.  It is designated as a Local Wildlife Site and is actually listed Grade 2 in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens, so it is used by many as a ‘park’.  I spent by lunch break walking around the cemetery, taking in the views and spotting plenty of wild animals.

3. Although I love to be outdoors, I have got to admit that I am a bit of a shade-hunter… but I decided to make the most of the sun and actually stayed out in it all afternoon painting my Grandma’s shed.  I, of course, wore plenty of sun-cream and a rather fetching hat!

4. Last year, I grew my own tomatoes for the first time and absolutely loved it!  The plants were still going strong well in to October and I ended up making tomato chutney for Christmas!  I decided not to grow any from seed this year as I only have a small yard and one suitable windowsill which has been taken up by chilli seedlings for a couple of months, but I was given some large tomato seedlings ready to plant out, so that’s what I did – replanted them in a grow-bag in my garden.

5. I have recently become a voluntary ‘Positive Impact Coordinator’ for the Environment Team at the University where I work.  As part of my role, I organised a ‘Fruit & Veg cake sale’ in my office and also volunteered on the main cake stall at the annual Sustainability Festival.  The event fell on World Environment Day and aimed to raise awareness of sustainable lifestyles whilst raising money for The Real Junk Food Project Leicester.  The main event raised £60 and I managed to raise another £40 for them from my cake sale!

cakesale

These are just some of the cakes that my workmates and I baked.  The idea was that they each contained either a fruit or vegetable and at least one fair trade or ethically sourced ingredient.  I made savoury cheese and courgette muffins and chocolate, carrot and cinnamon cupcakes with chocolate cinnamon buttercream!

6. I had quite a busy day, but managed to share some of my favourite wildlife footage from live cameras with my family and friends.

7. For a few weeks now, I have noticed a row of ants keeping busy at the bottom of some outdoor steps at work.  The numbers have gradually been increasing and on the 7th I noticed that there were a lot more than I had previously seen, so watched and studied their actions for quite a while!

8. It was raining on and off, but having not spent much time outdoors recently, I decided it was time to do a random act of wildness in the fresh air!  Luckily I managed to get out on my lunch break during a dry spell and walk around a local park.

9. A nice simple random act of wildness for the 9th.  I gave my workmate two tomato plants that were going spare.  I will definitely be asking for updates on their progress over the summer!

10. I sowed a virtual seed for Grow Wild!  Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and is supported by the Big Lottery Fund.  It is the UK’s biggest ever wild flower campaign and by sowing a virtual seed we can all help raise awareness of the importance of wild flowers and their impact on our well-being.  So join me and the 20,385 other people so far by sowing a virtual seed too!

Throughout the last ten days I have also been continuing to check the NTU peregrine falcon live stream footage, which has become less active as the chicks become more and more independent and of course, I have been watching Springwatch!  It has been brilliant seeing so many animals raising their young, watching wild birds fledge (including some jays) and learning how different birds and raptors nest!  I absolutely love the kestrel nest in the side of Sherborne village church – it looks cosy, sheltered and gets lit up beautifully by the sun at times.  

(Video from the Springwatch Facebook page)

One of my favourite stories on Springwatch so far has got to be the Salisbury Cathedral peregrines fostering an orphaned chick.  It began with three peregrine chicks having to be rescued from a nest in Shropshire after the parent birds were found illegally killed!  As a result, the orphaned chicks were fostered into carefully-selected nests in the wild – two went to a nest in the Midlands, and the third chick was fostered in the Salisbury Cathedral nest, which is currently being filmed and shown on Springwatch.  The footage of the orphaned chick meeting the single chick at Salisbury Cathedral, snuggling down together, being instantly fed by the adult female and being accepted by both adults as their own was a joy to watch!  You can read more about the story here.

It’s Time To Go Wild!

This June, the Wildlife Trusts is once again challenging the nation to do something wild every day for #30DaysWild.  I took part for the first time last year and had a fantastic month full of random acts of wildness, which you can read about here.

Your random acts of wildness do not have to be extreme – they can be small, fun, indoors or outdoors and are simply about experiencing, learning about and helping wildlife.  I have come up with some suggestions which you can use as inspiration.

For sunny days:

  1. Visit a nature reserve and enjoy a walk, bird watching or even bat detecting
  2. Do some wild photography
  3. Go wild in your garden to benefit wildlife
  4. Take time to stargaze on a clear night
  5. Make a bee waterer (using a dish, stones/marbles and clean water) to keep our pollinators hydrated

For rainy days:

  1. Dance in the rain
  2. Make a terrarium
  3. Become a member of a wildlife charity
  4. Write a poem about nature
  5. Learn cloud names and classifications

For days at work:

  1. Hold a fruit and veg cake sale
  2. Watch live wildlife footage on your breaks
  3. Go outside and take a walk at lunch
  4. Take a healthy packed lunch full of fruit and veg (maybe homegrown)
  5. Explore your workplace for plants and wildlife

For the kids:

  1. Camp in the garden
  2. Explore a forest
  3. Go on a bug hunt
  4. Press flowers and leaves
  5. Build an insect hotel

For people who are unable to get out and about easily:

  1. Do a mini garden birdwatch
  2. Watch a nature documentary
  3. Experiment with windowsill gardening
  4. Read a nature book or blog
  5. Do some ethical cooking

If you are feeling inspired and have other ideas of how to be wild for 30 days, you can sign up for the #30DaysWild challenge here.  You will receive a free pack of goodies including stickers, some wildflower seeds and a wallchart to help you plan your month, plus lots more ideas from the brilliant Wildlife Trusts.

Like last year I will be blogging about my #30DaysWild month and would really like to hear what other people do for their random acts of wildness!

The Major Oak

It has been a busy few months, but recently ‘the Green & the Wild’ has been calling… so here I am, ready to write about the beautifully fading green and welcomed wildlife of Autumn and Winter in the UK.

I awoke this past Sunday to a lovely, crisp, blue-skied morning – the ideal day for a ramble outdoors.  Hoping for a day like this, my partner Ed and I had bought some picnic food and planned to drive to Sherwood Forest after having seen the magical ‘Major Oak’ tree on television a few weeks before.  I was amazed that I had not heard of ‘Britain’s Favourite Tree’ before, and living only a 90 minute drive away, Ed was equally as amazed that I had never visited it as a child, as he had done several times.

After a simple, pleasant drive, we arrived at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre car park, where we paid our £3 parking fee (very reasonable we thought) and headed for the map to get our bearings.  There were three different marked routes through the forest to pick from, each of varying length, so we opted for the two hour walk… but first the Major Oak!  A five minute stroll took us straight to the 800+ year old Oak, which like a wise old man full of stories and memories, stood, resting on several stilts.  I spent a good while studying it’s branches, golden leaves and aged bark, picturing the hundreds of years of change that had taken place to it and the surrounding forest – my own imagined time lapse.

“Due to its national importance, conservation measures to the tree have been carried out continually since 1908” which is very important as despite it’s age and hollow core, the Major Oak still supports a variety of insects and creatures.  Jackdaws nest there, Winter Moth Caterpillars take nutrients from the leaves and in turn provide food for Blue Tits and their chicks.  In Autumn, Squirrels forage for the tree’s precious acorns, but not only them – rangers also collect and plant the acorns “so even though the Major might be nearing the end of its life, its descendants live on” – how lovely is that!?

The two hour walk that followed was just as wonderful and awe-inspiring.  It was a pleasure spending time amongst so many veteran trees and walking across nature’s different carpets, from dark-leaf mud to freshly fallen yellow paths, all glittered with the delicate warmth and light of autumnal sunbeams.

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© the Green & the Wild

Find out more about Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak here.

Chalice Well and Gardens

“The Chalice Well is among the best known and most loved holy wells in Britain” and is located in one of my favourite places, Glastonbury. Glastonbury is a lovely little market-town in Somerset, with an array of eccentric shops, delicious food, famous Tor and beautiful Abbey. I have been there at least once a year since I was eight and it is always so lovely to see and feel the change of seasons whenever I visit the Chalice Well and Gardens.

Chalice Well is somewhere I have returned to over the years for its beauty and overwhelming sense of peace. “The Well and surrounding gardens are a Living Sanctuary, a place to soothe the soul and revive the spirits.” Surrounded by nature and healing waters, you cannot help but absorb the pure atmosphere and celebrate life. There are many areas of the garden to visit, including the Meadow, an ideal spot not only for insects but also for a picnic with a wonderful view of Glastonbury Tor.  The Healing Pool, Yew Tree entrance, Vesica pool and the Well head itself all add magic to the gardens. The cover of the Well features an“ancient sacred symbol of two interlocking circles”, geometry that symbolises a union, of“spirit and matter” – the duality of existence.

© the Green & the Wild

The gardens quietly sit and grow between Chalice Hill and Glastonbury Tor, the charming hill which never fails to attract me to it’s summit for amazing views across the Somerset levels.

Woodland Conservation Management

With only a couple of weeks left of my Ecology, Conservation and Habitat Management course, it is the latter, Habitat Management that I have been reading up on recently and more specifically, it is Woodland Conservation Management that I have been particularly interested in.

Woodland is extremely rich in species, but unfortunately every single one cannot be individually managed.  Certain groups of plants and animals however have become the main focal points for woodland conservation management, as they ultimately benefit many other species.  Some of the main species may use a range of habitats for example, or may even be very rare and specialised, which are equally as important.

So what are these groups and management plans?

Tree communities

There are around 54 types of tree community today in ancient woodland, and most are genetically the direct descendants of the original trees that grew.  Trees of the same type can be found in all areas of Britain, but no one individual tree will harbour all of the insect/lichen/bird/fauna species that are known to be associated with that type, or even the woodland it is in.  This is due to climatic and geographical variations in different areas of Britain.

To maintain the variety of trees and therefore species that benefit from them, it is important that semi-natural tree communities are managed through natural regeneration (the growth of trees that develop from seeds that fall and germinate on site) and/or by planting new trees of local provenance.

Ground flora

Like the tree communities, ground flora varies greatly from one woodland to another due to location variations and actually tends to be more abundant and concentrated in ancient woodland than in newer woodland.  However, the isolation of ancient woods, could in fact lead to the extinction of some plant and invertebrate species (particularly those with poor mobility), so it is important that such species are encouraged to colonise or re-colonise to avoid extinction from habitiat deterioration.  Open spaces and development of young growth are both vital for certain species.

Epiphytic flora and fungi

Plants that grow harmlessly upon another plant and derive moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris are called epiphytes, and many mature trees in relatively unpolluted parts of Britain carry an interesting and huge array of epiphytic flora and fungi (including more than 70 species of lichens alone).  Particularly in the west of the country, these epiphytes are very rich and resemble those that lived in the original forests.

Epiphytes need to be conserved with methods such as partial-cutting to ensure that the mature tree communities they grow on remain in particular woodland sites and continue to naturally regenerate.

Small mammals

There are several small mammals in British woodlands that are rare and thankfully protected, and one of these is the Dormouse.  The Dormouse is an elusive nocturnal mammal which can be found mainly in woodlands in the southern counties of the UK. Over the last 100 years its distribution has declined and it is now extinct in 7 counties where it previously existed. This is mainly due to changes in woodland management and habitat fragmentation.  They feed on a combination of plant materials including flowers, fruits and nuts as well as insects, so it is important to manage sites specifically for them or any other rare species.  Good management will help increase numbers and make the site more ‘valuable’.

Management for small mammals must include the provision of nest-boxes, tracking and surveying, coppicing and the encouragement of mixed species in the woodland to ensure good food supplies.

Birds

Although birds are different to most other woodland groups in terms of being very mobile, woodlands still have to be managed to ensure a range of birds benefit.  Some species prefer mature, native trees or depend on dense close-canopy scrub, whereas others are associated with replanted areas.

Woodland management for birds is therefore concentrated on maintaining a mixture of age classes, by reducing the amount of old habitat deterioration and creating new suitable habitats.

Butterflies and moths

Many woodland butterflies and moths inhabit areas of young growth where nectar sources and food-plants for their larvae can be found.  There has been declines in several species for many years however, and this is due to many things including woods becoming isolated which in turn weakens the ability for colonisation, as well as a reduction in coppicing which would produce new growth.

Understanding the complex life cycles of butterflies and moths provides an insight into what they need from woodland habitats and could provide the answer to effective conservation.  Each stage may require a different habitat, from sheltered, warm places to areas that are plentiful in food sources, so management must concentrate on providing nectar-rich areas and suitable habitat for egg-laying and larval development.

Saproxylic invertebrates

These animals depend on dead, decaying or living wood and fungi to survive, so it is important that areas of mature trees, or even individuals are maintained and protected, to avoid dead wood being removed which would ultimately reduce or destroy the specialised habitats of many saproxylic invertebrates, including beetles and flies.  Populations of such species rely on old wood being in a specific condition, so it is vital at these sites that the continuity of prime wood and trees is considered.

 

30 Days Wild 1-10

With the familiar intro tune of Springwatch filling my living room every evening, the beginning of June has certainly been nature-packed and I have managed to do something wild each day as part of the Wildlife Trusts #30DaysWild challenge.  I admit that some activites have been a little less wild than others, but all of my ‘Random Acts of Wildness’ have connected me to nature and made me happy.

So what have I done so far?

1. Using books and the internet, I managed to identify trees near my house from leaves I collected.

2. I took a longer walk home from work and tuned into the birdsong on my route and also admired all of the unnoticed wild flowers and plants growing on the pavement.  I even found some poppies!

3. Day three was pretty busy, but I still managed to buy a beautiful succulent houseplant to add to my collection.

4. A long-awaited weekend off! I visited Welford Road Cemetery with my binoculars and spent a while bird watching and walking around the meadow area.

5. I took a trip to Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve.

Middleton Lakes in located just south of Tamworth, in the Tame Valley.  Having been acquired in 2007, it is a relatively new RSPB site, but it has been beautifully restored and is a lovely reserve which homes a wonderful array of birds and wildlife, from tufted ducks and smews to butterflies, wetland plants and even otters (which I unfortunately did not see). The RSPB states that it will become the most important site for breeding waders in the Midlands.

The reserve benefits the visitors as well as wildlife, so there are plenty of areas for bird watching and photography, such as reedbeds, meadows, lakes, woodlands and one of my favourite features – the new Lookout hide, which overlooks the scrapes.

Open from dusk until dawn, there are a lot of things to see and countless birds to listen to at Middleton Lakes.  Entrance costs £3 or RSPB members get in for free.

© the Green & the Wild

6. Having enjoyed identifying trees earlier in the week, I challenged myself to identify as many birds as I could from their calls.  I only knew 3/7 and have always been eager to learn more, so searched and found some brilliant apps for identifying birds and plants- BirdUp and PlantNet.  BirdUp works very well and is quick to identify the bird you have heard – it occasionally suggests two or three options, but it all depends on background noise.  PlantNet seems to have potential, but doesn’t directly tell you the plant – it provides you with many suggestions which you have to search through.

7. I discovered some interesting insects on my rose bush and after some investigation, I realised that they were ladybird larvae.  I was amazed and shocked that I had never seen them before!

8. This was another busy day which ended with a job interview, so after walking in the sweltering heat to visit my Grandma for her birthday, I decided that my random act of wildness would be to simply walk barefoot and sit outside in her garden. Simply lovely.

9. I had been growing tomatoes in my utility room over May and felt it was time to put them outside, so I replanted the best ones in their grow-bag in my garden (just in time for all the rain!)

10. RAIN! So much rain! I did the only thing you can do when caught in a downpour and doing the #30DaysWild challenge – I ran and laughed in it with my friends!

#30DaysWild

This June, the Wildlife Trusts is running a month-long nature challenge – doing something wild every day.  Making nature part of your life is very important and you can still sign up here to feel happier an healthier this month.

I have signed up and am raring to go with my wall-chart.  I will be blogging about my Random Acts of Wildness and I would love to hear what you all do too.

#30DaysWild ideas

  1. Go for a walk
  2. Watch the sun rise and set
  3. Plant wildflowers
  4. Make a bee waterer
  5. Build an insect hotel
  6. Go bird watching
  7. Watch live footage of wild animals
  8. Recycle
  9. Volunteer and #dosomethinggreat
  10. Visit a local nature reserve
  11. Photograph wildlife
  12. Sketch outdoors
  13. Write a poem about nature
  14. Have a picnic in the wild
  15. Go camping
  16. Forage for wild garlic and cook something delicious
  17. Go berry picking
  18. Feed the birds
  19. Cut a hedgehog hole in your fence
  20. Learn how to skim stones
  21. Climb a tree
  22. Press flowers and leaves
  23. Explore a rockpool
  24. Climb a hill or mountain
  25. Learn how to identify trees/birds/flowers
  26. Read a wild book
  27. Inhale the scent of the outdoors
  28. Walk barefoot through the grass
  29. Collect fallen feathers
  30. Grow your own fruit and veg

For more ideas and information, click here.