Wednesday, 12 July 2017

In search of the Purple Emperor


Last week, on another blisteringly hot day, off we went to Knepp Castle, 8 miles from Old Copse, for a Purple Emperor Safari.

Knepp Castle is a 3,500 acre estate which the owners have been 're-wilding' from unproductive farmland since 2001. They are working with natural processes and have introduced Tamworth pigs, deer and longhorn cattle which roam across the estate.

Neil Hulme, Safari Leader and butterfly expert pointing out the goat willow (sallow), and what happens to former fields when left to their own devices 


Surrounded by willow scrub


We were hoping to spot a few Purple Emperors, and to learn more about their habitat at Knepp, so that we can do everything we can to encourage the butterflies into Old Copse, part of which was known to be a breeding site for them.  After the fields at  Knepp were left uncultivated, and the land was no longer subject to  herbicides, and fertilisers, goat willow scrub grew in abundance.  This clearly pleased the butterflies, which arrived  in large, and ever increasing numbers, much to the astonishment of  owners, workers, and naturalists, who had previously assumed that the Purple Emperor was a woodland butterfly. The Purple Emperor colony at Knepp is now the largest in the UK.

We had hoped to see the butterflies as they settled on the ground, where we could see their famous purple markings close up, but were told that they very rarely come down from the tree tops.  We soon found how difficult it was to firstly, spot them, and even more difficult, to take a photograph.

Luckily, one of the safari leaders had an excellent scope so we could see the butterflies in closeup....

There they are.......oh  missed them..........again

Purple emperor behaviour: thugs of the butterfly world, they will attack and see off creatures much larger than themselves, including birds and dragonflies. Lurking in the top of an oak waiting for something to invade their territory they will shoot out and scare them away. Often drunk on fermented oak sap, they also like to fight among themselves and will swoop and wheel in a distinctive movement, swooping and swerving at an astonishing speed........


See those blurry spots at either side of the picture? Purple Emperors on the attack


A female with her wings firmly closed
It's up there somewhere

They perch on leaves at the edge of a gap in the canopy - waiting to go on the attack

Zoom in (same photo) - that blur is a purple emperor

Purple Emperor egg on willow leaf (somewhat blurred)
At Old Copse we have worked hard to provide a space to welcome the Purple Emperor  but we don't have 3,500 acres to grow sallow in . This felt a little disheartening until Neil said that we probably do have the butterfly in the wood, though not in the large numbers to be found at Knepp, and advised us to put time aside to really look for them in the trees during their summer season. Sallow does regenerate naturally, although most of the new shoots get munched by the deer. Also, we shall be thinking about planting a lot more sallow at Old Copse.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Ground flora


We are starting to see the effects of our woodland management on the ground flora. The recent wet weather in May followed by some very hot sunny June days has meant that all the ground flora has put on a growth spurt. The photo above shows a group of foxgloves in the willow grove - plus several varieties of ferns including hard ferns and shield ferns. The willow grove is too wet for bracken, and the deer don't like foxgloves - which explains the fine show.

Where the pines have been thinned, and light now penetrates to the woodland floor, the bracken is dominant.  Bracken bashing shows how in the absence of bracken, a variety of grasses soon colonise. The line of bracken at the back shows clearly what happens if the bracken is not controlled. In the foreground are dense tussocky clumps of Deschampsia cespitosa. 


These ferns have colonised a damp spot which is too wet for bracken to thrive.

This photo shows the track through the birch which was created  in late 2015/early 2016. On the ground of the newly opened track there are still some ground flora species which are more commonly found under the canopy - eg wood sorrel and mosses. However, now there are also a range of different grasses, ferns, foxgloves, wood sage  Some parts of the track have taken longer to recover from the wear and tear of the felling machinery. The dark green is soft rush  - Juncus effusus - which seems to be a plant of early succession in the places where the ground has been made bare and compacted. We have noticed in other spots where the machinery was busiest - such as up in the log stacking area in the cark park - that Juncus will colonise first. Presumably this is because it can tolerate poorly drained soils. Once it has established, it quickly becomes dominant. However, we aren't that concerned because we have noticed that after a short time, other plant species move in - mainly grasses, and Juncus's dominance is restricted only to those small patches which were most compacted.








Monday, 29 May 2017

Glorious Spring

May weather has been a mixed bag, starting as it did  unseasonally dry and cold with a few night frosts  and ending with a mini -heatwave which broke last night with a spectacular thunder and lightning storm. I slept through it, so was a bit surprised to see that the garden water butts were filled right up. Today is muggy and  warm, with dense fog on the hills, and  drizzle. 

During the dry weather, growth in Old Copse seemed to have stalled, but with the downpours we've had recently, combined with the warmth , everything has burst into leaf. We can relax after worrying that our new trees wouldn't survive the summer. They have put on a huge spurt in growth , with just a few failures to thrive.

The established  beech trees are particularly lovely, their  almost  luminous, lime green leaves stand out from everything else and make us realise just how many there are in the wood. Not all the oaks are in leaf, which  indicates  that they have varied DNA

This is a photographic post ,  a  Springtime record of what Old Copse looks like in May 2017,  to enable us to compare with past and future years. To a casual viewer of this blog it could well appear that nothing much changes and it all looks the same from year to year , apart from seasonal differences. However, as frequent workers in the wood, we have every opportunity to observe changes, and to note what is doing well, and vice versa.


We've started opening up clearings and made a track through the dense birch wood

Each year there are more bluebells, and they are gradually spreading down among the thinned pine.

Grasses, foxgloves and ferns  are  colonising cleared ground 

The fallow deer have become very bold since the close of the season.

It's that time of the year again , Mark and his deer stalkers came in to do some heavy lifting.

And here they are taking a welcome break. Many thanks chaps for ........ 

Doing some tough holly clearance

.............and  processing, transporting, and stacking a large amount of birch firewood for next winter.





Recent sightings. Sarah was lucky : she disturbed a woodcock (red listed)  at the North end of the wood. It was taking cover under a beech tree in among the birch,  and later a tawny owl flew low over her head heading back to its roost in a large beech tree in the north of the wood.










Saturday, 29 April 2017

Springtime Regeneration



A new patch of Bilberry 

We've been hurrying to search out newly regenerating tree seedlings before the deer eat everything. It's a bit of a race against time. The fallow deer season ends April 30th, and after that it's the closed season until August 1st. So for three months they can run riot in Old Copse eating everything in sight, but especially the tender and tasty newly regenerating shoots.  There's been a lot of walking about these past few weeks looking for tiny seedlings to mark with tape before protecting them with recycled tree tubes and home-made hazel stakes. There appears to be much more regeneration than in previous years. This could be due to a number of reasons: the felling of Scots Pine and birch to let in more light;  the ongoing routine of  bracken bashing which prevents ground flora being buried in mounds of dead bracken,  and the gradual reduction in deer numbers .









Alder seedling in the 'wet wood'

Here are a couple of photos which show the difference made by bracken management. The first photo shows our 'control' area  in the Scots Pine plantation where the Pine has been thinned but no replanting or bracken bashing has been done. Note how dead bracken has smothered the ground flora - no bluebells or very much else can survive in these conditions. In contrast, the two other photos show a couple of areas where the bracken has been ruthlessly removed, and which were devoid of bluebells until this Spring.








We wrote about our spreading patches of wild daffodils in a previous post. Here are some more examples of regenerating ground flora:

Violets 

Just outside the cabin - ferns, wood sorrel, birch, grasses

New lush grass in a damp spot 

Rowan emerges in abundance and is usually eaten by deer, but we protect some we want to keep. We'll need to fit a longer tube on the rowan in the photo below .



A new patch of heather

Woodsage


Willow springing up next to the deck

We're getting much better at growing our own trees . Last December we came across abundant acorns at Wakehurst Place (National Trust/Kew Gardens), 13 miles from Old Copse. They looked especially large and robust, so we gathered a couple of handfuls and plonked them into small pots of compost , not really expecting much of a result. So we were very pleased to see them all successfully germinating and growing into sturdy young oak trees. We should have more than 40 to plant out next Autumn.



It has been an exceptionally dry Spring so far and we have been worrying about the survival of the 500 + tree 'whips' we planted last Autumn. But  under the dry pine needle and deciduous leaf  'crust', the soil is still damp. We would like a really good downpour though to get the trees through their first season. Both the willow grove and the alder wood are looking good, inhabited by marsh tits attracted by their dampness.



Willow pollards with shoots removed last winter. We pollard by rotation, a section at a time, so there's a variety of growth..

We came across a fallow deer corpse in the willow grove. We think it might have been injured on the road and made its way into the willow grove to die. Herbie was very interested, but also nervous about approaching it. After a bit he decided that the corpse wasn't a threat and  got closer to have a sniff. It was quite fresh - the buzzards, crows , foxes and badgers will make short work of it.



Thursday, 6 April 2017

Bufo Bufo

otherwise known as.....the Common Toad

















These great photos of toads in Hawkins Pond were taken by Karl, three weeks ago in early March. Toads (and frogs) use Hawkins as a breeding site, returning every year to spawn. Apparently toads moved elsewhere will find their chosen pond even if they are more than two miles away. The mass migration to Hawkins has been watched by the fishermen, who have seen hundreds of toads assemble for the annual mating. Males arrive first and remain in the pond for several weeks, while females only stay long enough to mate and spawn. The female lays a long double string of small black eggs, which the male fertilises. The toadpoles hatch out after two or three weeks. There are thousands of them, but many will become food for the grass snakes who have now come out of hibernation and will hunt them in the water.  By twelve weeks the young toads will be ready to leave the pond.  They spend the rest of the year living in damp lairs, concealed under rocks or log piles, coming out at night to hunt. 

We've got plenty of log piles and are be careful not to disturb the inhabitants underneath with too enthusiastic tidying!