Spring Wildlife Walk

Earlier this year, The Friends joined with Sam Bentley-Toon of London Wildlife Trust for a Spring evening’s walk around the park. Aim was to identify wildlife which is established and/or unusual around Blythe Hill Fields. We started at the Codrington Hill entrance then went up the Fields bearing right around the edge and then along the Montacute Road path, before ending at the log piles in the corner by Bexhill Road.

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The largest tree at the bottom of the Fields is a Crack Willow (Salix fragilis), this type is one of UK’s biggest native willow trees. It is not used for weaving as the twigs are brittle, hence the name. Willows like being near water and here it grows in the boggiest part of the Fields. The slender oval leaves are dark green above and light green below, they are shorter than that of the similar White Willow. This one is a male willow tree.

Crack Willow Leaf

Nearby, further up the slope, is a Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), with dark green palmate leaves and a few pointed teeth. It is often found in British parks due to its tolerance of compacted soil, shade and pollution.

Blackthorn bushes (Prunus spinosa) are also seen, these are spiny shrubby trees with black-purple twigs. They can be differentiated from the similar Hawthorn plants as their flowers come out before the leaves, unlike Hawthorn. As they are early-flowering they provide a valuable source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects in spring. In late summer the blue-black berries appear, formed from the flowers, once they have been pollinated by insects.

We also have a Lime tree (Tilia x europaea) which are native to the UK. The tree has dark green heart-shaped, flimsy leaves and five-petalled, white-yellow flowers. These trees are valuable to wildlife as the leaves are eaten by many moth caterpillars, ladybirds, birds and bees.

Lime tree leaf

Because of Alder trees’ (Alnus glutinosa) ability to fix nitrogen, due to their association with the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Frankia alni, these trees improve the soil’s fertility. Their dark green leaves are racquet shaped and leathery. The flowers, growing on catkins, appear between February and April.

Tall and graceful Ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) are also seen growing in the Fields, they have not yet been affected by Ash dieback. The pinnate compound leaves can move in the direction of the sun. Ash trees can be identified by their black buds and seed clusters.

There are many English oak trees (or Pedunculate Oak, Quercus robur) in the Fields. Oaks have long yellow catkins which distribute their flowers in the air. Oaks provide a rich habitat of biodiversity, supporting more lifeforms than any other native trees.

Ramshorn Gall

Some Oak trees were spotted with various types of Galls. These are abnormal growths caused by another organism (such as a bacterium, fungus, plant or animal) interfering with the Oak tree’s cells. It usually means that these form a growth, which protects and provides food for the gall maker, protecting its larva which remain there till maturity. Different types of gall makers form different galls. These do not kill the tree however. These include Ramshorn Galls made by the wasp Andricus aries. These were first seen in UK in 1990s – before then were known in eastern Europe. Also Sam identified the knobbly red-brown Knopper Galls which affect acorns, formed by the wasp Andricus quercuscalicis. These have been present in UK at least since 1960s.

Birds: Great tits (Parus major) with its distinctive two syllable song were heard in the trees, as were chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) with their loud song and varied calls. and blackbirds (Turdus merula).

Great tit

Flowers seen include Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), also known as Queen Anne’s lace. It has large flat umbrellas of white frothy flowers and pinnate leaves, which have a fractal modular arrangement and produce a strong aniseed scent. Beware, Cow parsley looks a lot like Hemlock however, which is deadly poisonous!

Sam identified chickweed (Stellaria media), with tiny, white star-shaped flowers, with five very deeply divided petals. It produces seeds in large quantities.

The Red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) is not really a nettle at all. It can be identified by its square stems, and crimson flowers which appear March-October. It is a common plant of roadside verges and field edges where the ground has been disturbed or cultivated. It is popular with bees and caterpillars.

Fungi spotted by the wood pile were identified as glistening ink caps (Coprinus micaceus) which are often found near broad leafed tree stumps. Bracket fungi were also seen growing on the logs, these cause decay or rot on living heartwood of trees.

Pictures from Wikimedia Commons, except where explicitly specified.