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Nature Notes - February 2016

Nature Notes February 2016
 
I am writing this on 1st January 2016.  However, walking in the countryside this morning I would be forgiven for thinking that it was March or April.  Most noticeable was the birdsong.  I awoke to the clear tones of a songthrush singing in my back garden.  The song could be heard clearly through the closed double glazing!  There was a frost on the grass and roofs, which was the first for months, but the sky was bright and the sun came out briefly.  On my walk I was amazed to see expanded hazel catkins dangling and swinging in the breeze.  On close inspection the tiny red female hazel flowers were also out.  These will receive pollen from the catkins and make a hazelnut in due course.  But to see these on 1st January in the Sussex countryside is really unusually early.  I saw violets in bloom yesterday, and other herbs were growing in the hedgerows already.  I almost expect to see frog spawn appearing in the pond any day.  This usually turns up during late February or early March.  I have also seen daffodils in bloom in some places already.

There is an old saying that as the days lengthen the cold strengthens.  I am expecting some cold weather in January and February.  I fear that many plants and animals will suffer as a consequence, but we will see.  Nature is very resilient, and left to itself will always find a way to mend damage and fill a gap.  It is right for humans to care about nature and to attempt to right the wrongs caused by human excess.  My team and I spent 15 years reversing an invasion of aliens in Lake Wood.  The aliens were Rhododendron ponticum and Prunus laurocerasus also known as cherry laurel.  We worked every first Saturday of the month from October to March carefully cutting out and burning these two plants that had effectively swamped about 4 hectares of this beautiful woodland.  These plants from the European continent were introduced during the mid-nineteenth century, and took over when management was relaxed during the Second World War.  Rhododendron poisons the soil and transmits a disease to oaks.  Both plants prevent natural regeneration of young trees and ground flora effectively eradicating plants such as bluebell and wood anemone.  The result is that that these native plants are returning en force and young native trees are replacing the alien evergreen shrubs.  The biodiversity of Lake Wood has probably never been higher.
 
Martyn Stenning