Nature Notes for March: Splashes of colour

Song thrush
Song thrush
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So, here we are, just a couple of weeks away from the Vernal equinox. As Frau Cox and I creep as gently as possible toward our eighth decade we are increasingly aware of how wretched a season is winter even a mild one which we have endured this time around.

At Yuletide I had the odd experience of being temporarily wheelchair bound and since then we have been on limited mobility rations. That meant our perambulations were slower than in previous times. More time to notice those tiny transformations which indicate seasonal change.

Wren

Wren

In February’s notes I wrote about the loss of St Clement’s ancient willow tree and coppicing. I am continuing that theme for a while. There are lots of old buildings in the village of T.St.C of course and as everywhere else new houses are scheduled. There is a lovely old double fronted house where previously a decent sized front garden was annually filled with phacelia and tucked away in a corner there were a few beehives. In summer we would always pause in wonder as honey bees went about their business. Alas no more, maybe a change of ownership or age of the occupant has brought about these changes. Thankfully however one feature of this garden remains. The road side is fronted by a splendid range of pollarded limes, it is truly a work of arboreal expertise.

Not far from this site there is a rather old rambling array of buildings, I use “rambling” as a positive feature, a respect for the old. Again I know nothing of the occupants and certainly do not fancy their winter fuel bills. By March the fine show of aconites and snowdrops have faded but plenty of narcissi are showing. Not sure how many of these are Mr Packham’s detested “Naffodill” variety and maybe for purists he has got something. Most of us though are simply just pleased to see colour after winter’s gloom.

Continuing the theme a snippet from Professor Allan Downie of the John Innes Centre. Professor Downie is co-ordinator of the Nomex consortium which is urgently seeking a genetic answer to ash die back. I have written about this previously in these notes, how could I not do so? This allows me to trumpet God’s own county again, I am always ready to do that aren’t I?

So to a summary of this battle. All old geezers will remember the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease – yes it merits capitals. The culprit was from memory something called the scoliosis beetle which carried the fungus which devastated elm trees. Frau Cox is reminding me some readers might rightly correct me if there is an inaccuracy. For this reason I am using the Google thingy so although it might be a bit soulless here it is. “Dutch elm disease (DED) is a serious disease of elms caused by the fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. It is a type of disease known as a vascular wilt because the fungus blocks the vascular (water transport) system, causing the branches to wilt and die. It is spread by elm bark beetles.”

Pollarded Limes

Pollarded Limes

To continue It seems that in the village of Ashwellthorpe there grows a grand old lady named “Betty”. That is the affectionate name given by researchers to an ash tree which proved tolerant to ash die back. The next threat if seems comes from the emerald ash borer beetle which is moving steadily through Russia. This pesky bug is now top of the UK plant risk list.

And from sleepy Norfolk I switch to industrial Yorkshire. Many readers will have been following the strange squabble between Sheffield Council and some of its citizens who are angry at the loss of some of their favourite roadside trees. We now learn that some of the councillors have not seen the unredacted contract between the Labour council and the private contractor Amey. Not surprisingly other prominent voices have been raised and Nick Clegg has chipped in with “something you’d expect to see in Putin’s Russia, rather than a suburb of Sheffield”. Chris Packham has joined the fight (his second mention) along with musicians. Just in case there are any readers under 40 years old, Jarvis Cocker has joined the protesters, a clear case of – wait for it – “Pulp Fiction”. That has just produced another of those looks from Frau Cox so I might have to quickly seek a conclusion.

An elderly lady who occasionally spoke to me as I gathered twigs to start our fire (it’s that primeval hunter-gatherer thing) passed on this ditty: “Ash will burn though wet or dry to warm your ladies slippers by.” And yes, it is quite true. Just time to mention the first song thrush warbles of the spring and dunnocks and wren investigating nest sites in our garden, always look on the bright side.