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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Mistletoe


 
Mistletoe is, of course, one of those plants associated with Christmas. I had a couple of encounters with Mistletoe during this festive season, but, alas, I regret to report that none of these encounters involved any of the traditional kissing!
I visited my brother and his family in the Norfolk village of Congham near King’s Lynn. As I’ve reported before, this village is located in glorious ancient countryside with at least two nature reserves, of national importance, nearby and old lanes bordered by rich hedgerows and copses of old oaks. I have to report though that the area is becoming increasingly suburbanised and, I imagine, most of its modern inhabitants are commuters who work in nearby towns (perhaps as far away as Peterborough or Norwich). Although I’m sure that many of Congham’s inhabitants do appreciate the quality of their environment, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that many of them just drive through it and never really see it (when I went for walks I rarely encountered anyone on foot – lots of cars speeding through the village though).

Anyway, I digress! My first encounter with Mistletoe was not on a nature reserve, or in a lane, but on an apple tree in the garden of one of my brother’s neighbours; there were three or four plants in the same tree. But the really major sighting was last Thursday (27.12.2012) from the window of the 12:56 train out of King’s Lynn, on my way back to Manchester. In the suburbs of Lynn, in the middle distance, I spotted an urban park bordered by old Lime trees – probably (hybrid) Common Limes (Tilia x europaea). The boughs of many of these trees were conspicuously adorned with the characteristic frozen starbursts of Mistletoe plants; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much Mistletoe in such a limited area.
The great expert on the British landscape, Oliver Rackham, tells us that: “Mistletoe is a flowering plant usually seen on exotic trees – cultivated apple, hybrid lime, hybrid poplar – with a preference for old specimens ... It has a natural habitat on ancient native trees, especially hawthorns.” He also tells us that there is evidence to suggest that Mistletoe was never a woodland species but a characteristic plant of more open, ancient savannahs. I vividly recall finding it on a Hawthorn bush on the Barnack Hills and Holes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. It was only after reading Rackham’s book that I realised that I had been afforded a privileged glimpse of a prehistoric landscape!
There is only one species of Mistletoe in Britain: the plant with the scientific name, Viscum album. Worldwide there are many other species, all belonging to the family, Santalaceae.
Mistletoe, like Yellow Rattle which I referred to in the last post, is a hemi-parasite i.e. it derives some of its nourishment from the host tree but also has chlorophyll in its leaves which allows it, like most plants, to synthesise sugars from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the process being powered by sunlight. A severe infestation of Mistletoe can actually kill a tree.
Mistletoe seeds are delivered to the host tree by birds. An interesting website, called ‘The Mistletoe Pages: a website about the original mistletoe of western tradition and folklore’ (link below) has more to say about which species of bird are involved:
“[Mistletoe] relies entirely on winter birds for berry, and therefore seed, distribution – so birds are essential. Secondly the white sticky berries of Viscum album are not attractive to many birds – many ignore them as they are looking for red, orange, black or blue berries (mistletoe is the only native British species with white berries) and even if they try them the birds are put off by the super-glue quality of the berry pulp. So which birds do take mistletoe berries? In Britain the answer is largely Mistle Thrushes, whose common name and latin name, Turdus viscivorus, hint at a mistletoe specialism. Other thrushes – including Redwings, Fieldfares etc will also eat the berries. But despite their name Mistle Thrushes aren’t really mistletoe specialists as they occur commonly across the country in areas with no mistletoe, where they will eat many other berries. Furthermore they’re not really very efficient at spreading mistletoe. They usually swallow the whole berry, seed and all, excreting a mass of semi-digested berry pulp and seeds about 30 minutes later. Some of those seeds, still sticky, may stick to a branch where they can germinate. Most will not – often hanging uselessly below a branch. A few other birds will eat mistletoe too, including Waxwings and a few other relatively uncommon species, but the most efficient mistletoe spreading species is the Blackcap. These smart little birds only swallow the berry skin and pulp, wiping each seed off their beak before swallowing – and so they are much more efficient than Mistle Thrushes. Blackcaps in Britain migrate south for the winter, so they have not, traditionally, been a factor in mistletoe distribution in the UK. But changing migration patterns in the last 20-30 years have led to first 100s and now 1000s, of migrant Blackcaps from Germany visiting Britain each winter.”
This website also tells us that the main stronghold for Mistletoe in Britain is in the South and West Midlands, but that the distribution appears to be changing – possibly as either the result of climate change or the changed migration patterns of Blackcaps.

Mistletoe always seems to have been rare or uncommon in the Manchester region. The shoemaker botanist, Richard Buxton, in his flora of 1849, gives only two locations:

“Parasitical upon apple trees. In the neighbourhood of Pilkington and Prestwich.”

Ten years later his contemporary, Leo Grindon reported in more detail:

 “On apple-trees in garden and orchards at Lymm; Warburton; Atherton near Leigh .. Prestwich (also on hawthorns), Knutsford, Baguley and elsewhere, but very sparingly, and generally out of public view or Christmas thieves would have destroyed what little there is.”

Until recently I thought that Mistletoe must be extinct in this region but, amazingly, I now have two sites for it – both in Common Limes in the Didsbury area (I don’t want to be too specific for fear of [modern] “Christmas thieves”!). The photograph above was taken at one of my sites. As Common Limes are - well - common in parks and cemeteries, I can think of plenty of places where it might be worth searching for more local Mistletoe.

Dave Bishop, December 2012.

References:

Rackham, O.  ‘Woodlands’, Collins, 2006.


The Mistletoe Pages: http://mistletoe.org.uk/homewp/

Buxton, R. ‘A Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns, Mosses and Algae Found Indigenous Within Sixteen Miles of Manchester’, Longman And Co., 1849.
 
 
Grindon, L. ‘The Manchester Flora’, William White, 1859.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Making a Meadow on Ivy Green


 
 

Species-rich, semi-natural grasslands (e.g. traditional hay meadows) are now some of the rarest habitats in Britain, and they are also some of the most colourful and biodiverse.

Up until the Second World War such grasslands were common – particularly in river valleys. These meadows were full of wild flowers and were at their most glorious in May and June. In late summer they were cut (traditionally using scythes) and the cut grass left to dry in the sun. Once dry, the ‘hay’ was raked into piles, loaded onto horse-drawn carts and dragged away to be stored in barns, eventually to be fed to animals during the winter months.

I don’t suppose many of the old farmers thought too much about the effect they were having on biodiversity (!) Nevertheless, the drying and raking stages helped to spread the wild flower seeds (not to mention the grass seeds) and removing the hay crop kept the nutrient content of the soil on the low side. This may seem counter-intuitive but high nutrient levels lead to the habitat being dominated by a few vigorous species, whereas lower nutrient levels tend to suppress these species whilst giving more delicate species a chance to flourish.

After the Second World War millions of acres of meadowland were ploughed up and planted with crops or turned into species-poor ‘ley’ meadows dominated by Perennial Rye-grass. In the Mersey Valley the ancient meadows were tipped on, turned into golf courses or sports fields or grossly over-grazed by horses. But when I first moved to Chorlton, in the 1970s, there were still small patches of species-rich grassland left, with some of the original meadow flora. The local authorities then committed a series of outrageous acts of crass vandalism by planting trees on many of these precious patches. This was basically a stupid and perverse assault – a bit like gluing a false moustache onto the upper lip of a beautiful woman! It led me to formulate Bishop’s First Law, i.e. an organisation’s knowledge of, or concern for, its local environment is inversely proportional to it propensity to plant trees.   Whenever I walk on Chorlton Ees (i.e. Chorlton Meadows) and see those gloomy, species-poor pseudo-woods that dominate the area now, I mourn for the rich, colourful place that we could have had if the local authorities had known what they were doing.

I have reason to believe that the old local meadows were of a type that ecologists call ‘Alopecurus-Sanguisorba’ – that is meadows dominated by the grass Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)

 
 
 and the herb Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis).
 
 
A defined suite of other species tend to accompany these two dominant ones. A sad, degraded remnant of such a meadow is still just about visible near Sale Water Park.

I was wandering across Ivy Green, one day last June, admiring a large patch of Meadow Foxtail, and thinking, “wouldn’t some Great Burnet look good with that?” Suddenly I stopped in amazement because with the grasses were a few plants of Great Burnet - in a site where I’ve never recorded that species before! Frankly, I can’t explain how they got there and how I had previously failed to spot them. It occurred to me that here was an opportunity to attempt to re-create a Mersey Valley hay meadow.

I asked the Mersey Valley Wardens if they could strim the area in late summer or early autumn. They did so, and then last Sunday (13.10.2012) members of FoCM raked off the hay. This wasn’t too easy because, after all the rain recently, the hay was sodden (luckily we weren’t planning feed it to any animals). One of our members said that raking this soggy mess reminded him of combing the knots out of one of his children’s tangled hair.

Although two of the appropriate species are present on our site, many other key species are missing. In the weeks leading up to our hay raking day I had been gathering appropriate seeds from up and down the Mersey Valley. After we had finished raking, and had removed the hay, I mixed these seeds with some dry sand and broadcast the mixture over the site.

Species I chose included some more Great Burnet plus Bistort, Meadow Buttercup, some vetches and Red Clover and two dandelion look-a-likes: Common Catsear and Autumn Hawkbit. Most important, I added seeds of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor). This plant is a ‘hemi-parasite’ – which means that although its leaves contain chlorophyll and are green, it also attaches itself to the roots of grasses and steals nutrients from them.  This suppresses the grasses and reduces the competition with the more delicate plants.
 
 
When attempting a project like this it is extremely important to use local seed and not any old imported ‘wild flower mix’. Perhaps I’ll get round to explaining why in a future post. Suffice it to say that, contrary to popular opinion, planting any old ‘wild flower’ seeds in the countryside can be as damaging to local biodiversity as planting the wrong trees in the wrong place.

So, will all of this effort pay off? We’ll have to wait at least until next May to find out – watch this space!
Dave Bishop, October 2012

Monday, 24 September 2012

An Encounter with the Trichomanes Gametophyte


 
On Saturday afternoon I, and some fellow fern enthusiasts, got very excited about a green, fuzzy patch on the wall of a rock crevice. For reasons which will be revealed later, I can't tell you where this was - but it wasn't in the Mersey Valley.

I suppose I'd better explain:

In Britain and Ireland there are three species of, so-called, 'filmy ferns'. These are Wilson's Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum wilsonii), the Tunbridge Filmy Fern (H. tunbridgense) and the Killarney Bristle Fern (Trichomanes speciosum). These grow in wet, sheltered sites on rock faces - usually in areas with high rainfall. They all have translucent leaves which are only one cell thick (hence the 'filmy fern' name). In the 19th century colonies of the handsomest of these species, T. speciosum, were practically destroyed by fern collectors, and they have never really recovered. At least the colonies of the adult form of T. speciosum - i.e. the spore-bearing or 'sporophyte' stage - have never recovered but, relatively recently, an extraordinary discovery was made. Ferns have a complicated life cycle and before they reach the sporophyte stage go through a 'gametophyte' stage in which a female element is fertilised by a male element. Typical fern gametophytes are usually tiny, heart-shaped scales clinging to rocks or soil.

Around 30 or 40 years ago Donald Farrar, a professor of botany at Iowa State University, discovered that certain American fern species, including filmy ferns, produce 'independent gametophytes' - tiny plantlets that never produce adult sporophytes; they exist in a state of permanently arrested development. He discovered colonies of these independent gametophytes by examing the interiors of rock crevices, fissures and other shady places with a torch (OK - a 'flashlight'!). Unlike typical fern gametophytes, the independent gametophytes of the American filmy fern species, Trichomanes intricatum, are like green mats of thread-like filaments - sometimes covering several square metres. They reproduce via tiny, specialised buds, called 'gemmae', which become detached and dispersed to new locations.

In 1989 Prof. Farrar was on sabbatical leave in Britain and found colonies of the independent gametophyte of T. speciosum here. This discovery prompted further research and such colonies have now been found in several areas of Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

The big question, of course, is how did this phenomenon arise? The American fern expert, Robbin C. Moran, has put forward an extraordinary explanation: Most filmy ferns are tropical species found clinging to trees in rain and cloud forests. Until the middle of the Tertiary period, 35 million years ago, such forests existed in America and Europe. Then the climate began to cool and become more seasonal, culminating in the last Ice Age. A few species hung on as sporophytes in wetter, somewhat warmer areas (like western regions of Britain and Ireland) but in other drier, colder areas they 'toughed out' the climate change by confining themselves to the stable micro-climates in rock crevices and similar places, and arresting their development to their gametophyte stages. So, and I hardly dare write this, those little green patches that we saw on Saturday, and which were not noticed until just over 20 years ago, have probably existed in Britain for millions of years!

The colonies of T. speciosum gametophytes which we found on Saturday looked like thin layers of bright green cotton wool pasted to the rock and we had to use torches to see them (and because of the cramped and awkward conditions my photo is rubbish - well, that's my excuse!).

All stages of T. speciosum are protected by law in Britain and Ireland (it's a Red Data Book species) - which is why I can't tell you where the site is. A passerby asked us what we were looking at and, I'm ashamed to say, we lied and told him that we were looking for mosses. On the bright side, though, by lying we didn't have to kill him and he didn't have to endure my explanation of what a gametophyte is!

Dave Bishop, September 2012

References:

Moran, R.C., 'A Natural History of Ferns', Timber Press, 2004

Rich, T.C.G. & Jermy, A.C., 'Plant Crib 1998', BSBI, 1998

   

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Re-scheduled Bat & Moth Night

Well, the evening of the Bat & Moth night turned out to be a bit 'moist'. Nevertheless, about ten (mad? dehydrated?) people turned up! Everyone seemed perfectly happy to stand around in the dark and the pouring rain, in a flooded car park, chatting about bats and moths - while the subjects of these conversations were sensibly tucked up in their little bat and moth beds. Eventually sense prevailed and we all went to the pub.

Obviously we didn't see any bats or moths that night ... well that's not entirely true because Ben Smart brought some moths in plastic boxes which we peered at by torchlight.

Later, in the (warm, dry) pub, we decided to re-schedule the evening. Details of the next, hopefully less moist, Bat & Moth night are as follows:

Date: Sunday 16th September

Time: 7:15 pm

Place: Ivy Green car park on Brookburn Road, Chorlton (opposite the bowling Green pub).

If you decide to attend, you may like to bring a torch with you.

Hope to see you there.

Dave Bishop (FoCM Chair)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Forthcoming Bat & Moth Night

Here's another outing for you - a nocturnal one this time!

BAT AND MOTH NIGHT Chorlton Ees & Ivy Green

Date: Saturday 25th August

Time: 8:15 pm

Meeting Place: Ivy Green car park, Brookburn Road, Chorlton (opposite the Bowling Green pub)

The plan is to wander along the bank of Chorlton Brook until we reach the river bank and then back to the car park. We will have bat detectors with us to pick up the ultra-high frequency bat calls.
On our return to the car park we will check a special moth trap with local moth expert, Ben Smart, to see how many species it has attracted (no moths will be harmed - hopefully!).

PLEASE BRING A TORCH WITH YOU.

Hope to see you there.
Best Regards,
Dave Bishop (FoCM Chair)

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Walking with the Butterfly Man

By copland smith



Peter Hardy is the recorder of butterflies for Greater Manchester; the Friends of Chorlton Meadows were privileged to have him as walk leader on the first Sunday of August.

A smaller turnout than the last couple, about a dozen - perhaps 10.30 on a Sunday was a shade too early for some [I thought that the turn- out was quite good, actually – and we always start at 10:30! – Ed.] .

But a new member called Julian saw our activities halfway round and joined the group.

The showers held off and there were enough sunny spells to bring Lepidoptera out to play. We'd hardly left the Ivy Green car park when the first Speckled Wood fluttered into view. These are shade-loving butterflies and we were to see a few during the day, mostly males defending their territories against rivals as they waited to ambush any passing female.

As Peter explained, adult butterflies cannot eat solids and most rely on nectar to fuel their reproductive activities. Most of the time, they hold their tongues in a tight spiral like those licorice circles, but when they land on a flower, the "tongues" are unrolled into a sucking-straw as long as their gangly legs.

Speckled Wood females lay their eggs on grass for the caterpillars to eat. August is the peak time for the grass-feeders, when the grasses are at full height. In fact, the wet and warm weather had made the grasses taller than usual.

A Comma butterfly was warming itself in a nettle patch, angling its wings - nettles are the caterpillars' food-plant. The adults have a distinctive ragged edge, and a checker-board of black and orange, almost like a fritillary, but are named for a small, white comma on the darker underwings. The butterfly we saw will go into hibernation in early autumn and not emerge to mate until the first warm days of spring.



The first Holly Blue we noticed was sucking up thistle nectar. Later we would see one feeding on Rosebay Willowherb - something neither Peter nor I had seen before. These tiny, pale blue jobs are really "The Holly and the Ivy" Blue - this one had  grown in holly and would lay its eggs in ivy, where the next generation would grow, before emerging next spring to restart the holly generation.

When we reached a grassland area, we were buzzed by patrolling dragonflies - Brown Hawkers. And like tiny blue matchsticks amongst the grass stems, Common Blue Damselflies shimmered.

The grassland flickered with the browns and oranges of three more producers of grass-feeding larvae - the tiny Small Skipper; the larger, chocolate-bordered Gatekeeper (used to be called the Hedge Brown), and the still larger, tattier Meadow Brown. The Skipper and Gatekeeper have in common another trait: if the forewing has a dark smear on it, this is the male scent gland and shows his gender.


Skippers look like moths. When they rest, the hindwings are horizontal and the front wings angled; only skippers do this. A few weeks earlier, Large Skippers would have been in the same habitat; really quite similar to the Small, but with some patterning on the wings.

Tiny grass moths flew deep in the grasses; the most common were more triangular than some; Peter identified them as Udea lutealis­ -most micro-moths lack common names. There are only 59 species of truly British butterflies, but there are over 2000 species of moth, not all of which wait for night before flying.

There was a moment of torture (for me) when we approached the region of the Jackson's Boat inn, and then Mr. Hardy swung round and headed in the opposite direction for a further hour. It was all right though, the Bowling Green pub lay in wait instead. (Later, out of Peter's sight, a Gatekeeper would land on the pub wall, and another Holly Blue would emerge from the graveyard. He will be sent these records too.)

White butterflies zoomed about. The largest were Large Whites, scourge of allotment brassicas. All the smaller ones that stopped to be identified had a tracery of veins on the hind underwing - Green-Veined Whites. These are the commonest on the Meadows. They don't trouble the gardener - they feed on wild crucifers like the Cuckoo Flower (or Lady's Smock, it has many common names) — Cardamine pratensis. Their flowers are long gone, but there were plenty of other wild members of the cabbage family around.

There may have been a glimpse of a Peacock butterfly, but no one was sure enough for it to become an official record.

Great Hairy Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) and ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) grew everywhere, painting the landscape pink and yellow, and on many flowerheads of the Ragwort, the black and gold striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth were crawling.

Towards the end of the walk, down near the river, a Small Tortoiseshell showed itself, giving a welcome splash of colours. Freshly emerged from its nettly hiding-place, its iridescent blue studs shone along the edge of the pattern of reds, browns, white and black.


A satisfying Sunday: 9 types of butterfly, 2 moths and 2 dragonflies, and the company of some very nice humans as well. All of the Lepidoptera records will go into Peter's database and thus into the county and national records. It's the unpaid work of people like him throughout the country that provides data that conservationists need. Our thanks to him for that, and for an enjoyable and informative day.

copland smith

August, 2012

copland.smith@gmail.com

Species noted

Lepidoptera - butterflies


Thymelicus sylvestris Small Skipper

Celastrina argiolus  Holly Blue

Pieris brassicae        Large White

Pieris napi                Green-veined White

Aglais urticae           Small Tortoiseshell

Polygonia c-album  Comma

 Pyronia tithonus      Gatekeeper

Maniola jurtina        Meadow Brown

Pararge aegeria         Speckled Wood


Lepidoptera - moths

Tyria jacobaeae       Cinnabar (caterpillars)

Udea lutealis            a grass moth

 Odonata - dragonflies and damselflies

Enallagma cyathigerum        Common Blue Damselfly

Aeshna grandis        Brown Hawker

Useful books

must haves

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland Richard Lewington ISBN 978 0 9531399 1 0 (British Wildlife Press) £9.95

Field guide to the Dragonflies and damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland Ray Lewington (British Wildlife Press) ISBN 953 13990 5 £18.95

 The Birdwatcher's Pocket Guide to Britain and Europe Rob Hume ISBN 9781845334352 (Hamlyn) £9.99

more specialist books

The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland (2nd Edition) Jeremy Thomas, illustrated by Richard Lewington (British Wildlife Press) ISBN 978 0 9564902 0 9 £24.95

Field Guide to the Micro-moths of Great Britain & Ireland Phil Sterling and Mark Parsons, illustrated by Richard Lewington ISBN 978-0-9564902-1-6 (British Wildlife Press) £29.95


 Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland - Paperback (2nd edition) Paul Waring & Martin Townsend, illustrated by Richard Lewington ISBN 978 0 9531399 8 9 (British Wildlife Press) £29.95

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Forthcoming FoCM & 'Grey to Green' Events

Just a reminder (if you haven't put it in your diary yet) that FoCM's next event is a Butterfly walk with local butterfly expert, Peter Hardy.

Date: 5th August 2012

Time: 10:30 am - 1:30 pm

Meet: Ivy Green car park on Brookburn Road, Chorlton (opposite Bowling Green pub)

Another upcoming event is part of the Greater Manchester Local Record Centre's 'From Grey to Green' project:

Last year the Greater Manchester Local Records Centre (GMLRC), which is attached to the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit (GMEU), submitted a bid to the National Heritage Lottery Fund - and the bid was successful. The resulting project, which will run for three years, is called 'From Grey to Green' and its aim is to encourage the people of Greater Manchester to appreciate and record the wildlife around them. I think that this is a very exciting development and that FoCM should be involved as much as possible.

The next 'Grey to Green' event is entitled 'Summer in Manchester' and will be led by Steve Atkins of GMLRC

Date: Saturday 18th August

Time: 10:30 am to 1:30 pm

Meet: Mersey Valley Visitors' Centre, Rifle Road, Sale.

Further events in this series will be entitled: 'Autumn in Manchester' and 'Winter in Manchester' and I will send out details in due course.


GMLRC will also be running a course entitled 'An Introduction to Wildlife Recording' at Manchester Museum on Oxford Road. There will be six sessions on the following dates: 8th Nov, 22nd Nov, 6th Dec, 10th Jan, 24th Jan, 7th Feb. All will be evening sessions from 6 pm to 8 pm. This course will be free - but you will need to book through Steve Atkins: stephen.atkins@tameside.gov.uk

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Himalayan Balsam - Where It Came From & How It Got Here



In 1937 the climber, explorer and plantsman F.S. Smythe travelled to the remote Bhyundar Valley in the (then) British Protectorate of Sikkim in the Himalayas. In the course of his expedition he noted that, “... where extensive grazing is permitted, the smaller and tenderer plants are soon eliminated and in their place spring up a tall knotweed (Polygonum polystachyum) and an even taller balsam (Impatiens Roylei). Once these two plants have got a hold of the ground, pastureland is permanently ruined and I noticed a number of places in the Bhyundar Valley where this had occurred.”

Those parts of the valley that were not over-grazed were smothered in wonderful displays of wild flowers: Androsaces, Saxifrages, Sedums, Potentillas, Geums, Asters, Gentians and many more.

Polygonum polystachyum, now called Persicaria wallichii, is Himalayan Knotweed; it does occur in Britain, as a garden escape, but doesn’t appear to be particularly common (yet!) but in many American states it’s classified as a pernicious weed.  Its close relative, Fallopia japonica – Japanese Knotweed is a pernicious weed in this country and has a fearsome reputation for being hard to eliminate. 

Impatiens Roylei, now called Impatiens glandulifera, is Himalayan Balsam. It is just as invasive in Britain as it is in its homeland (of Northern India), and probably even more so because here it doesn’t require overgrazing in order for it to take a hold. It is now found all over Britain, along rivers, streams and canals and in damp places and on waste ground.  Whereas the two Knotweeds described above are perennials with extensive and invasive rootstocks, Himalayan Balsam is an annual which regenerates every year by seed. It is reckoned that its seeds can remain viable in the ground for around two years. Once this plant’s long, tear-dropped shaped seed pods are ripe, in late summer, they explode at the slightest touch and fling out seeds with such force that they can travel many yards from the parent plant.

On the Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green Local Nature Reserve Himalayan Balsam is found in abundance along the banks of Chorlton Brook, where the seeds have probably been deposited on the banks following floods. The exploding seed pod mechanism has then allowed the plants to spread out sideways and beyond the confines of the brook’s banks.

The Sunday before last (01.07.2012) members of FoCM attempted to remove as much Balsam as possible from the edge of a small Birch and Willow copse. We chose this site because the copse provides a habitat for a rather scarce species of fern called Narrow Buckler Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), which we believe it is important to conserve.

So how did I. glandulifera get to the UK and become so invasive? This turns out to be a rather surprising story. It was first introduced into the UK in 1839, when Dr John Forbes Royle, an Indian born British botanist, sent seeds to Kew. By 1855 it was first found growing wild in Hertfordshire and Middlesex. The Manchester botanist, Leo Grindon mentioned it in his ‘Manchester Flora’ of 1859: “The Impatiens coccinea (sic), a tall and weedy plant, with flowers of a dull red colour, is rapidly disseminating itself ...” (I’m not sure where Grindon got that name – but it’s almost certainly yet another defunct synonym for I. glandulifera – and there’s really nothing else that it could be).  So rapidly did Himalayan Balsam ‘disseminate’ itself that by 1932 it was found in 27 out of 112 British Vice Counties (for the purposes of biological recording Britain is divided into standard, approximately equal area zones called ‘Vice Counties’); by 1962 it was found in 47 VCs and by 1993 it was found in 107. This relentless spread was probably due to the fact that the species proved to be very attractive to gardeners - who saw it as exotic looking, attractive and easy to grow (surely, a monumental understatement!).

 During the course of the 19th century the influential gardener, William Robinson developed his concept of the ‘Wild Garden’. This was, basically, a reaction against Victorian regimented bedding schemes. Robinson was aiming for as ‘natural’ a looking garden as possible. This was mainly an aesthetic concept, and had little to do with wildlife or ecology. In his planting schemes he used many of the plant species that were pouring into Britain from the temperate parts of the world. Among the species that he selected were such ‘horrors’ as Giant Hogweed, Japanese Knotweed and – you guessed it – Himalayan Balsam; and we’re still living with the consequences!

But we can’t blame Robinson alone.  In 2000 Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, presented a paper on the spread of Himalayan Balsam to a conference on Ecology in Birmingham. Rotherham, and his colleagues, had initiated a study of the spread of the plant – first in the Sheffield area – and then in the rest of the UK. They published a request for information, from members of the public, in the local and national media (mainly gardening magazines). They received over 200 replies. It became obvious that many people like this plant – and have deliberately spread it! For example:

In 1948 Miss Welch collected seed near Sheffield and released it by a river on the Isle of Wight.

In the 1990s Mrs Norris of Surrey introduced seeds to ‘spare land’, gave them away to a passersby, a work colleague and an Irish market gardener friend, scattered seeds in local woods and took them on holiday to France and Spain (!)

I believe that these stories reveal a worrying attitude to the environment, which may be one of the roots of our present biodiversity problems, and can be summed up thus: “My local environment is of no account, and contains nothing of interest, and I can introduce anything I like into it with no significant consequences.” The remorseless spread of I. glandulifera, and its deleterious effects on local environments all over the UK, demonstrates just how wrong this attitude is!

During his Bhyundar Valley expedition in 1937 F.S. Smythe had the following experience:

“For a little distance we followed a rough shepherd’s track but presently lost it and had to force our way through a wilderness of pink-flowered balsam (Impatiens Roylei) growing fully eight feet tall. Had it not been for the labour we might have appreciated the beauty of these flowers which covered acres of the valley floor in a sheet of bloom; as it was, we were heartily glad to regain the path, dripping with sweat after the unusual exercise.”

It so happens that I know exactly what he meant! A couple of years ago I was making my way from one part of Urmston Meadows to another; this involved negotiating a narrow track – much of which was ankle-deep in mud. To my left was a Himalayan Balsam ‘thicket’ - which was easily eight feet tall.

After a while I encountered a path which entered the balsam thicket, and I assumed that it marked an entrance to a detour around the mud. I followed the path – and after a while realised that it was going downhill and was not a detour. Eventually, I came to the river bank and concluded that the path had probably been made by fishermen. I turned around and then realised that the boots that I was wearing had little traction on the slippery, muddy, upward slope that I was trying to negotiate. I fell over a couple times and generally floundered around in the midst of this tall, impenetrable balsam thicket. After a while I began to imagine the headline: “Body of Chorlton man found on river bank at Urmston.” 

Somehow, though, I survived, and eventually emerged wiser, sweatier and a lot muddier.

Dave Bishop, July 2012

References:

Beerling, David J. and Perrins, J.M., ‘Impatiens glandulifera ROYCE (Impatiens Roylei Walp.)’, Journal of Ecology, 81, 367 – 382, 1993.

Grindon, Leo H., ‘The Manchester Flora’, William White, 1859.

Robinson, William, ‘The English Flower Garden’, Hamlyn ed. 1984 (first pub. 1883)

Rotherham, Ian D., ‘Himalayan Balsam – the human touch’, paper presented to the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management Conference, Birmingham, 2000

Smythe, F.S., ‘The Valley of Flowers’ Cadogan Books ed. 1985 (first pub. 1938)


Stace, Clive, ‘New Flora of the British Isles’, Cambridge University Press, 3rd ed., 2010

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Friends of Chorlton Meadows - Summer 2012 Events






Here are details of three events coming up in the next few weeks:

1. Sunday 8th July - Balsam Bash

Meet Chorlton Ees car park at 10:30 am

2. Sunday 15th July - Wild Flower Walk

Meet Chorlton Ees car park at 10:30 am

3. Sunday 5th August - Butterfly Walk with local Butterfly expert, Peter Hardy

Meet Ivy Green car park at 10:30 am


IMPORTANT – PLEASE READ! :

There are two car parks for the Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green sites: Chorlton Ees car park is at the end of the cobbled road off Brookburn Road (between Brookburn Road Primary School and Chorlton Brook) and Ivy Green car park is on Brookburn Road itself (opposite the Bowling Green pub). This seems to cause endless confusion!  Please check the meeting point before setting off!  

For all events you may like to bring a packed lunch. You will also need to wear suitable footwear (boots or stout shoes) and dress for the weather.

The Wild Flower Walk has been organised by the MV Warden Service but will be led by Dave Bishop (FoCM Chair)
Dave Bishop, July 2012

Friday, 29 June 2012

Gardening in Chorlton


When I moved into my house, near Chorlton Green, in the 1980s, I was delighted by the small garden at the back and threw myself enthusiastically into cultivating it. I concentrated on cottage garden perennials and alpines in sinks and troughs. There were some problems - for example, the garden is north facing, with relatively lower light levels compared with gardens with a more favourable aspect, so some plants I wanted to grow tended to become etiolated and to fall over, whilst others were even reluctant to flower. Nevertheless, I persevered, learned to select plants which suited the conditions, and was generally pleased with the results. Then life intervened! In 1987 I was made redundant for the first time - just as I was in the middle of studying for an Open University degree. I quickly found another job, but settling into it and finishing the dgree took up an awful lot of my energies. Over the next decade or so it was 'just one damn thing after another' (I won't bore you with the details) and it was the garden which bore the brunt and became more and more neglected (in retrospect, a poor decision - as it could have provided me with some solace during the difficult times).

Earlier this year I looked out of the kitchen window onto a dismal tangle of ivy, brambles and nettles and decided to do something about it. Then I received an unexpected windfall and now had the funds to do something about it. I contacted Betel Gardens (ring 07791 808 727 for details) and they sent round a couple of lads to clear the garden so that I had a 'clean slate' to work with. Many thanks to Andy and his mate for a great job! That was back in February, the top photo shows where I was up to in mid-June. The re-discovery of my garden has been an exciting adventure for me (especially as I now have plenty of time to devote to it). I'm tending to concentrate on ferns, this time round, as I am obsessed with them - and they do suit the conditions rather well. Neverthless, there are many shade tolerant, but colourful, flowering plants available which contrast well with the ferns; Foxgloves, Primulas and Hardy Geraniums all work well.

Last Sunday was Chorlton Open Gardens day - and very enjoyable it was too! I walked my legs off in order to visit as many gardens as possible and to share my newly re-discovered passion with my fellow Chorltonians. The gardens varied in size from 'substantial' to yard-sized - but everyone obviously derived huge pleasure from their particular 'patch' and I was impressed by the enthusiasm, knowledge and creativity on display.

One topic which was mentioned frequently was wildlife in the garden. Because I have been spending more time in mine I have, inevitably, noticed more garden wildlife:


As I was cultivating mine, post-clearance, back in March, Jays and Magpies fought a constant aerial battle overhead.

Glancing over the wall at the bottom of my garden, and down into Chorlton Brook, I several times glimpsed the resident Kingfisher (probably Chorlton's most loved inhabitant!).

On one fine evening recently I was sat out eating my tea and a Fox cub jumped up onto the wall and sat watching me.

And last month I noticed, and photographed a Dragonfly perched at the top of a bamboo cane. I'm not sure what species it was - but the closest I can get is a Darter Dragonfly in the genus Libullela (please feel free to tell me if I'm wrong!). For some reason this visitor impressed me the most and it felt like a sort of 'benediction' on all of my efforts to restore the garden.

Dave Bishop, June 2012

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Fletcher Moss Gardens in Late May



Recently (23rd May), I walked along the banks of the Mersey from Chorlton to Didsbury. There were plenty of late spring flowers in evidence - but this time I didn't find anything new. Still it's always good to be re-acquainted with 'old friends' in the sites that I'm used to seeing them in year after year.

I ended the walk in Fletcher Moss gardens in Didsbury - which, I have to say, were looking absolutely stunning!

The photograph above is of a general view which is awash with handsome plants and flowers: Rhododendrons, Primulas, Maples, Gunnera, ferns and many others are all in evidence - all looking very healthy and well cared for.

The photo below is of a large patch of, so-called 'Candelabra Primulas'. These are Asiatic relatives of our native Primroses and Cowslips; they differ because their flowers are arranged in several whorls up the stem. I would guess that those in the picture are probably hybrids between two or more species.



I was also pleased to see a Tree Peony with deep crimson flowers (see photo below).



I have known this plant, in this particular spot, for many years and believe it to be a Chinese species called Paeonia delavayi. According to a book on Peonies (see ref.): "[It] originates from the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. It grows in shady moist areas of pine forest, in forest clearings and among scrub at altitudes between 3,050 and 3,650m (10,000 - 12,000ft). It was first discovered by Pere Jean Marie Delavay in 1884. Delavay (1834 - 1895) was a missionary and botanist, who, during his very active life, sent an amazing total of 200,000 dried herbarium specimens to the Musee Mational d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris."

Not only are this plant's flowers very striking but it also has marvellous deeply cut leaves of a very pleasing shape.

So, congratulations to the staff at Fletcher Moss for putting on such a marvellous show!

I'm planning to write a bit more about gardening in my next post.

Dave Bishop, June 2012

Ref: 'The Gardener's Guide to Growing Peonies' by Martin Page, David & Charles, 1997

Monday, 4 June 2012

Roydon Common, North Norfolk



I'm afraid my posting on here has been a bit sporadic of late. All will come clear in time.

At the end of April I visited my brother, Martin, at his new abode in the village of Congham, near King's Lynn (quite a long way from the Mersey Valley, of course). I thought that the readers of this blog might be interested in the highlight of this trip (sorry that its taken this long to get round to writing it up).

About 20 minutes walk from Martin's house is a Norfolk Naturalists Trust nature reserve called Roydon Common. This is a large area of sandy heathland with a high water-table. During the Second World War it was used as a bombing range and and after the War was covered in conifers by the Forestry Commission. Luckily, local naturalists had recognised the importance of this area for wildlife and it was bought by the Trust and restored to sandy, heather dominated heathland by removing the conifers (which must have been an enormous job!). Today the reserve is grazed by Dartmoor ponies to keep it in tip-top condition.

The plant list alone from the area is remarkable, with many rare wetland plants like Black Bog Rush and all three British species of Sundew. Adders and Nightingales also occur on the site.

I hoped to see some of these, and other rarities, on my visit - but didn't actually see any of them. The day was cold and (very) wet - and I was probably a month or two too early. But I did see, in a ditch, the plant that I really, really, really wanted to see above all the others on the list: Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris)! Yes!!!


On sober reflection I suppose that this doesn't mean much if you're not a 'fern fanatic' like me (musn't write 'fernatic', mustn't write 'fernatic', mustn't ... drat, I've written it ... twice!). Anyway, I was thrilled!

This plant is rather uncommon in Britain. According to one of my books (see ref.): "T. palustris declined before 1930 due to drainage, but it can be remarkably tenacious where natural succession has occurred, and has been re-found in several of its stations after many decades. There have been few losses [since the early 1960s]."

Soon after this momentous find the heavens opened (remember the rain in April?) and I was forced to beat a hasty retreat.

The pictures above show a general view of the Common (with rain clouds) and the fern growing in the ditch.

Unfortunately, I've recently learned from Martin that there are more than rain clouds on the horizon. A big quarrying operation wants to dig for sand in areas near the Common. These operations could well alter the water-table - which would have a disastrous effect on the Common's ecology. Watch this space.

Dave Bishop, June 2012




Ref: 'New Atlas of Ferns & Allied Plants of Britain & Ireland' Ed. by A.C. Wardlaw & A. Leonard, British Pteridological Society, 2005.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Grey to Green Taster Session, Chorlton Ees



Last year the Greater Manchester Local Records Centre (GMLRC), which is attached to the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit (GMEU), submitted a bid to the National Heritage Lottery Fund - and the bid was successful. The resulting project, which will run for three years, is called 'From Grey to Green' and its aim is to encourage the people of Greater Manchester to appreciate and record the wildlife around them. I think that this is a very exciting development and that FoCM should be involved as much as possible.

Initially Steve Atkins, of GMLRC, will run a taster session on Chorlton Ees - details below:

Wildlife taster session – Sat 2nd June 10.30 to 12.30 at Chorlton Ees. This will be an introduction to the From Grey to Green project, explaining why it is important to record flora and fauna. There will be a walk around the local area demonstrating how the course will teach people to identify and record wildlife. The aim is to explain to people how they can contribute to protecting sites and conserving species through recording and to encourage people to sign up for future courses.

The meeting place will be Chorlton Ees car park which is at the end of the cobbled road off Brookburn Road, Chorlton (the entrance to the cobbled road is between Brookburn Road Primary School and Chorlton Brook).

More events are planned and I will let you know about them when details become available.

If you want to know more about the 'From Grey to Green' project, please contact Steve; his e-mail is: stephen.atkins@tameside.co.uk.

Dave Bishop (FoCM Chair)

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Free Birdwatching For Beginners walk, 19th of May 2012

On Saturday 19th of May 2012, Friends of Chorlton Meadows (FoCM) members will be leading a Birdwatching For Beginners walk. It is a free two-hour walk around Chorlton Meadows and Sale Water Park, with the intention of getting beginners young and old into birdwatching.

FoCM members will be on hand to point out any summer visitors and other birds that make their home in this beautiful mixture of grassland, woodland and water habits. 





Timetable For The Day
9.45 – 10.00 Meet at Mersey Valley Visitors' Centre, Rifle Road, Sale (near Sale Water Park).
10.00 Introduction, housekeeping and walk plans.
10.05 Walk along Sale Water Park to bird hide at Broad Ees Dole nature reserve.
10.35 From Broad Ees Dole along River Mersey to Chorlton Ees.

11.15 Walk around Chorlton Ees and Chorlton Meadows to Jackson’s Boat.
12:00 Arrive back at Visitors’ Centre for final review and dispersal.

Bring binoculars if you can!


See you all on the day.

Friday, 20 April 2012

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to post a poem by local poet, Copland Smith. Copland, like so many other people in Chorlton, values our Meadows and often gains inspiration for his poetry there. I suspect that the recent intrusion of the Metrolink tram system into our precious green space, and the ominous precedent that it sets for further destruction, may have prompted the poem below.



after John Clare


There once were gardens, like the one I had,

Where weeds and brambles scrambled, foxes slept,

And blackbird fought with dunnock over bread,

And foxglove grew and Johnswort. Foxes pupped

In wilderness that I so roughly kept,

As sparrows filled the hawthorn with their cries.

Now there is lawn, that nothing may corrupt.

Now all is silence as the birdsong dies,

Where once were hedgerows full of butterflies.


There once were wren and redbreast by the lane,

But motorways were widened. All that’s gone.

They’re laying tracks to carry city trains;

Where once was song, their tuneless engines drone.

And tarmac spreads where grass and sedge were growing;

Out of once rich meadows, buildings rise.

Once, the larks were singing, lapwing dancing.

Now all is silence as the birdsong dies,

Where once were hedgerows full of butterflies.

Copland Smith, 2012


 I note that Copland cites John Clare as an influence on this poem. He tells me that he has actually borrowed one of Clare's rhyming schemes for its composition.

John Clare (1793 - 1864) was born the son of a farm labourer. His home village of Helpston is just a few miles north of Peterborough  (actually, my home town). He was a prolific and inspired poet. As a young man he experienced a relatively brief period of fame before the London literary set dropped him and he sank into obscurity - and, eventually, into madness. Nevertheless, his poetry has endured. Because so much of his verse was inspired by nature and the natural world - particularly the countryside around Helpston - it would not be too inaccurate to describe him as "the Patron Saint" of the English countryside. During his lifetime he had to endure watching vast tracts of that countryside being destroyed by the enclosure movement and his grief and rage at that desecration forms a dark undercurrent in many of his poems.

Sadly, in the early 21st century, we still have to watch treasured places being destroyed in the name of 'progress'.

Perhaps it's time we woke up to the fact that if it's not truly sustainable, it's not progressive! 

Dave Bishop, April 2012
    

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Forthcoming Urban Fox Documentary

A wildlife cameraman is currently filming for a Channel 4 documentary on urban foxes. He is interested in talking to people in South Manchester who have opinions and knowledge about local foxes. If you feed foxes, try to deter them or have a 'foxy' story, please get in touch with him.

He would particularly like to film a fox den, especially one under a shed, a deck or a patio. If you know the location of a den he would love to hear from you.

Contact Details:

George Woodcock,
Windfall Films,
0207 251 7675

George_wood@hotmail.co.uk

Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Historical Background to the Study of Natural History in the Manchester Region - Sources

OK, so I said that I was going to write three or four articles in this series ... but this is the sixth! I promise you, though, that this is the last one (apart, that is, from the odd historical snippet that I feel the need to pass on). It's not very exciting, though, as it is a list of sources. So if anyone out there has found this series interesting (?) then, using this list, you might be able to find out a bit more for yourself. It's also, of course, good form to acknowledge one's sources.




Sources:


Altrincham and District Natural History Society, history of: Society’s website (http://www.pettipher.me.uk/altnats/history.shtml)
Material on Bailey, Charles in Manchester Museum Herbarium Department.

Broady, Hilda, ‘Diary, Notes & Drawings of Specimens’, unpublished MS, 1959.

Buxton, Richard, ‘A Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns, Mosses and Algae
Found Indigenous Within Sixteen Miles of Manchester’, Longman And Co, 1849.

Material on Caley, George: Wikipedia Article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Caley)

Coward, T.A., ‘Bird Haunts and Nature Memories’, Frederick Warne, 1922.

Material on Coward, T.A.: Wikipedia Article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Coward)

Material on Crowther, James: ‘The Late James Crowther, The Naturalist’ obituary in ‘The
Manchester Guardian’, 13th January, 1847.

Gaskell, Elizabeth, ‘Mary Barton’, Penguin Library Edition, 1970 (first pub. 1848).

Grindon, Leo, ‘Country Rambles and Manchester Walks and Wild Flowers’, Palmer and Howe, 1882 (omnibus edition of two earlier works).

Manchester Field Club, history of: Society Website (http://www.webspace.mypostoffice.co.uk/~christine.walsh/)

Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society, history of: Society Website (http://www.manchestermicroscopical.org.uk/mmshist.html)

Material on Harthan, Bess from Exhibition in Mersey Valley, Sale Water Park Visitors’
Centre, 2003.

Lancaster, Roy, ‘In Search of the Wild Asparagus’, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1983.

Percy, John, ‘Scientists in Humble Life: The Artisan Naturalists of South Lancashire’, in
Manchester Region History Review, Vol. V, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1991, ps. 3 - 9.

RSPB, history of: Society Website (http://www.rspb.org.uk/about/history/)

Rochdale Field Naturalists Society, history of: Society Website (http://www.rochdalefieldnaturalistssociety.co.uk/)

Secord, Anne, ‘Science In The Pub: Artisan Botanists In Early Nineteenth-Century Lancashire’,
in History of Science, Vol. 32, September 1994, ps. 269 – 315.

Shercliff, W.H., ‘Nature’s joys are free for all: A History Of Countryside Recreation In
North East Cheshire’, pub. W.H. Shercliff, 1987.

Weiss, F.E., ‘Leopold Hartley Grindon (1818 – 1904)’, North Western Naturalist, Vol. V, 31st
March 1930, ps. 16 – 22.

Dave Bishop, March 2012