Watch Out for the Bluebells!

(Posted on behalf of Doug Edworthy)

The Bluebells are beginning to push their leaves above ground in preparation for the magnificent display they put on for us each year. But after seeing the recent damage to plants in Dallington Forest from off-road motor bikes I felt I should pen a short article about these beautiful flowers of ancient woodland.

photo of bluebells in Dallington SSSI
Bluebells in Dallington SSSI. Credit: Doug Edworthy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bluebells face two existential threats: competition with the more vigorous Spanish bluebell which has been escaping from gardens and hybridizing with our native species for 300 years, and the effects of change or disturbance (which is why they are an indicator of ancient, undisturbed woodland).

Hybridisation

There is a real danger of losing the genetic integrity of one of our best-loved native wildflowers, not to mention the spectacular colour and scent, because our native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) readily cross-breeds with both its Spanish cousin Hyacinthoides hispanica, often planted in gardens, and with the resulting fertile hybrid Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta. But, do you know the difference between the species?

Photograph of native bluebell
Image Credit: Doug Edworthy

Native bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta

This bulbous perennial, native to north-western Europe, seems to prefer slightly acidic soils and partial shade. Early in the growing season, they can be a dominant species in coppiced woods on light soils, but they are also found on hedge-banks and sea-cliffs.

The native bluebell’s deep violet-blue flowers have a strong sweet scent, the pollen is yellow and the flower stems droop or nod distinctively to one side.

White-flowered native bluebells are exceedingly rare. If you are tempted to take one home, please note: it’s against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy native bluebells.

Photo of Spanish bluebell
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica

This species, native to Portugal and western Spain, was first introduced in British gardens as an ornamental plant in the 1680s. It was favoured over the native because it can grow on almost any soil and has bolder blooms.  It is a larger, more upright plant than the native bluebell. Its flowers range in colour from pale to mid blue, or white or pink, and has characteristically deep blue pollen but no scent. The Spanish bluebell was first recorded in the wild in the UK in 1909. This species is often confused with the hybrid and has therefore probably been over-recorded by botanists in the past.

Hybrid bluebell Hyacinthoides hispania x non-scripta

The Spanish bluebell readily cross-breeds with the native bluebell to form the fully fertile hybrid. The hybrid was first recorded in the wild in the UK in 1963 and is also extremely common in gardens. Hybrid plants can demonstrate characteristics of both the native and Spanish bluebells.

What can we do about the non-native bluebells?  Well, plant only native bluebells in your garden and be on the lookout for Spanish or Hybrid bluebells in the wild. If you find some, let me know and/or Sussex Wildlife Trust. Please don’t uproot them unless they are on your land, and then only if you are absolutely sure they aren’t native.

Disturbance

The other threat comes directly from the impact of us walking where bluebells grow and, unintentionally or not, damaging them. It’s against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy native bluebells.

During their active phase, which runs from February through until the leaves have died back in Summer, they are extremely susceptible to damage from our boots. Treading on the soft, succulent leaves damages them so they can no longer photosynthesis and they die back. This reduces their ability to put food back into their bulbs, reducing the plants’ ability to produce flowers and seeds.

Also, soil compaction damages the bulbs so they won’t appear next year. You can see the effect of this along many woodland paths where not keeping to paths during the bluebell season has widened the paths as the bluebells recede.

Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish – around 5-7 years from seed to flower, and can take years to recover after footfall damage so please keep to paths and resist the temptation to step into the blue for a selfie or a photo opportunity. Your feet could be doing more damage than you realise.

Enjoy the sight and scent of these wonderful flowers and take care where you tread so they will still be carpeting our woodlands for future generations to marvel at.

Wanted: Tree Champions in Brightling and Dallington parishes!

(Posted on behalf of Doug Edworthy, Tree Warden/Champion,  Dallington & Brightling)

For a number of years, the two parishes have shared one Tree Champion. But there is no limit on the number a parish can have. This was brought home to me recently during a zoom webinar on the new Rother Tree Champion scheme during which I discovered some areas have a half a dozen or more. There are so many things that need to be done in our parishes and I really need some help doing them.

If this interests you, here’s what The Tree Council, the organization that set up the National Tree Warden scheme, says about the role (https://treecouncil.org.uk/take-action/tree-wardens/):

What Tree Wardens do

Tree Wardens plant, protect and promote their local trees. No training or experience in tree management is needed – just a love of trees and a few hours to spare. Tree Wardens are organised into local groups. Each group is managed by a co-ordinator and is autonomous, meeting regularly to decide what they would like to focus on.

Some of the projects Tree Warden groups have done include:

    • Arranging local tree planting days
    • Pruning, watering and giving vital aftercare to local trees after planting
      Rejuvenating local woodlands in need of management
      Raising funds and identifying suitable land for local tree planting projects
      Going into schools to talk to young people about the value of trees.

To that list I would add:

    • Surveying the tree stock of the parishes so that informed decisions can be made about planning and other activities that impact our trees, and
    • Conducting guided walks for our parishioners.

Please get in touch if you think you could help (contact details below). You don’t have to be a tree expert (I’m not) – just enthusiastic!

Doug Edworthy, Tree Champion, Brightling & Dallington Parish Councils
Email: treewarden@dallington.org.uk   Mobile: 07711 090925

Dallington Forest Walk #1

Posted on behalf of Doug Edworthy (Tree Champion, Dallington and Brighton): We may not be able to restart group walks for a while due to COVID-19, so I’ve started putting together self-guided walks in the forest for people to use at their leisure. This is the first of (hopefully) many so I would really value your feedback on content, presentation and whether you found it helpful in guiding your walk.

Dallington Forest Walk No. 1 Ancient Forest Ghyll, Hollow Ways and the PoW Tree

Map of walkOn this walk you will experience one of Dallington Forest’s ancient woodland ghylls full of majestic veteran Beech trees, prehistoric rippled sandstone beds and the Prisoner of War tree, and also hollow ways formed by the feet of many millennia of travellers.

In Spring the ancient woodland ghyll is full of the sight and scent of stunningly beautiful bluebells and ransoms (wild garlic).  The starting and finishing point is the end of the metalled surface of Bakers Lane, Dallington. This is also the junction of three footpaths and a bridleway. Unfortunately, there is no car park here or in Dallington Forest and the nearest public parking is the lay-by on the B2096 at Wood Corner.

Download the full walk with map and descriptions:   Dallington Forest Walk 1

Length: 3.2 km (2 mi) [includes 1.5 km round-trip from/to car-parking]
Level of difficulty for people in normal health:

      • Under 50 yrs = Easy; you’ll hardly notice it
      • 50 – 60 yrs = Good exercise; it’ll raise your heart rate
      • 60 – 70 yrs = Taxing; you’ll know you’ve done it
      • Over 70 yrs = Quite challenging

Thinking of planting trees or hedgerows?

[Posted on behalf of Doug Edworthy]

Map showing Dallington Forest Project Area
Map showing Dallington Forest Project Area

Have you been thinking about planting some woodland or hedges on your land?

Our beautiful AONB in the High Weald is characterised by interlinked pockets of ancient woodland and small irregular-shaped fields and it is important to maintain and enhance this as much as possible. So, of course, it has to be ‘the right trees in the right places’.

Your Brightling and Dallington Tree Champion is seeking landowners with suitable land in Brightling and Dallington parishes that falls within the Dallington Forest Project area (see map above – larger version at end of this post) for planting-up of small woodlands or hedges. Dallington parishioner Jamie Simpson has a source of funding for the supply of native trees together with the necessary protection from rabbits and deer. The cost to landowners would be for planting labour and follow up aftercare necessary for successful establishment.

Suitable planting projects would be:

    • Creating new woodlands (with the proviso that important grassland or heathland habitat is not damaged or destroyed)
    • Creating new woodland to link existing pockets of ancient woodland
    • Filling gaps in neglected or poor condition hedges to restore them
    • Replacing some of the enormous number of hedges that were removed in the 20th century’s drive for bigger agricultural fields

Planted trees/hedges must be able to be appreciated by the public, so must be within sight of a road, right of way or on public land. Grants need to be applied-for during the summer so that the funding is available for an autumn/winter planting project.

If you are interested in this project please contact me as soon as possible.

Doug Edworthy, Tree Champion, Brightling & Dallington Parish Councils  treewarden@dallington.org.uk 07711 090925

Map showing Dallington Forest P
Map showing Dallington Forest Project Area

 

Rare Black poplar trees looking for a planting place

(Posted on behalf of Doug Edworthy):

Rare Black poplar trees looking for a planting place

Photograph of black poplar leaves
Image credit; © Copyright Robin Stott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Our tree Warden, Doug Edworthy, has had a great response from people willing to have one of the rare (and free) Black poplar plants growing on their land.

Due to the generosity of Wakehurst Place (the Kew Gardens outstation where clones of the remaining Black poplar strains are being cultivated) we have six plants more than we have planting places!

These Populus nigra betulifolia can live for up to 200 years and grow to 30 m (100 feet) high. They are the food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the hornet, wood leopard, poplar hawk and figure of eight. The catkins provide an early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, and the seeds are eaten by birds.

Doug is looking for land that is boggy or wet, close to a watercourse or on a floodplain owned by someone who would value having one of our rarest trees on their land.  If possible, a planting position within sight of a road or public right-of-way would be preferred so they are visible to the public.

They must all be planted by the beginning of March before bud-burst so please get in touch with me urgently if you are interested. Contact details at the end of this message.

To protect the trees from deer and rabbits, and ensure their best start in life, Doug will provide netting, stakes, rabbit guards, tree-ties, mulch and other planting accessories which he has purchased himself, so he would be grateful if the landowner could reimburse these costs at £20.44 per tree.

Also, any help to dig holes and erect fencing would be gratefully received as a total of 29 trees need planting before March.

Email treewarden@dallington.org.uk
Mobile 07711 090 925
Tel 01435 830195

Looking for volunteer tree surveyors

The Woodland Trust is looking for volunteers to take part in the Observatree project which aims to protect the UK’s trees, woods and forests from new pests and diseases.

Volunteers receive training to enable them to correctly identify signs and symptoms of Observatree’s 22 priority pests and diseases as well as carry out effective site surveys

if you are interested, you can find out more at https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-with-us/opportunities/tree-health-surveyor-various-locations/

Sheep killed by dog(s) in Dallington

A farmer with land close to Dallington Forest has just informed us that a dog or dogs have killed two ewes, that a further lamb was missing and other ewes had bite marks and injuries. The whole flock has been traumatised.

The dead ewes were found yesterday [Thursday 24th May] but it isn’t known when the attack occurred – it would have been between an inspection the day before and yesterday afternoon.

A number of owners let their dogs run free in Dallington Forest and on a number of occasions this Spring have been seen running around on this piece of land. But, as the attack wasn’t witnessed, it’s not known if the dog(s) came from that direction.

Naturally, a close watch has been mounted of this flock as dogs getting a taste for sheep-killing tend to return.

Particularly at this time of the year owners need to keep their dogs under close control.

Dog owners should note that farmers are within their rights to shoot any dogs found worrying sheep.

Dallington Community Speedwatch Group

(posted on behalf of Andy Bagnall)

The Dallington Community Speedwatch Group (DCSWG) was formed at the end of 2017 with the objective of trying to make our Parish roads safer.

Strict rules govern where, how & when we can operate & as a consequence we are currently limited to monitoring the very dangerous 40mph stretch of the B20096 that runs through the centre of our village

At the moment we have 7 residents who all have undergone the necessary two-stage training process. This is not onerous- the 1st stage is undertaken online & the 2nd consisted of a session in the Old School run by a police representative.

Clearly the more trained operatives we have, the more times we can be active on the roads & hopefully the safer we can make them. So if you would like to join us & help make Dallington’s roads safer, then please go to communityspeedwatch.co.uk or contact the Dallington group co-ordinator andy_bagnall@btinternet.com

Guided walk in Dallington Forest Monday 7th May

On Bank Holiday Monday 7th May our Tree Warden Doug Edworthy will be conducting a 1-2 hour circular walk in the part of Dallington Forest closest to the village. Nothing too strenuous, though the walk will involve fording a stream, climbing over fallen trees, muddy and slippery paths, and some steep ascents. But, providing they don’t go over too quickly, walkers will experience the sight and scent of beautiful bluebells in an ancient woodland ghyll full of majestic veteran Beech trees,  prehistoric rippled sandstone beds and the Prisoner of War tree.  Afterwards, for anyone who still has the energy and time, Doug may add on another hour or so of circular walk through more ancient woodland and planted forestry illustrating the challenge faced by the remnants of ancient woodland in Dallington forest.

The meeting point is the junction of the Baker’s Lane bridleway with the Glaziers Forge track at 10:30 for a 11:00 departure.  Please note there is virtually no parking for cars so walking there is the best option. If you would like to come, please email Doug at treewarden@dallington.org.uk  so he knows how many people to expect.