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Nature walk taking in Grange Paddocks, Bat Willow Hurst Country Park and Birchanger Wood on Hertfordshire/Essex border





Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...

Having visited Wall Wood for my last piece, I thought a trip to the wonderful Birchanger Wood could make for an interesting comparison. Both have predominantly oak and hornbeam trees with a wide variety of less populous deciduous specimens.

So last Monday found me parking at the bottom of Cannons Mill Lane and heading over Grange Paddock meadows towards Bat Willow Hurst Country Park. Light and temperature were good as I checked alders near the car park for the winter-visiting siskins, but none were apparent. A flock of goldfinches were present and several carrion crows probed the soft earth for invertebrates.

Rose hips (61008677)
Rose hips (61008677)

I crossed Michaels Road into Bat Willow and was immediately struck by the profusion of rose hips on the briar rose bushes. These hips, when soft, often after a cold snap, can attract several moth species as they feed on the sugar. This takes place after dark, so I planned to return here later to see what I could find upon them with the help of a bright head torch.

I continued along the paths. A blaze of yellow near one of the balancing pools where stands of ragwort were still in flower. Moths also nectar upon these after dark, too. Another tree offering sustenance for Lepidoptera species were the guelder rose trees with their red, soft berries. Upon these berry clumps were numerous spider webs. These are constructed every evening by the spiders in the hope that insects will be attracted to the fruit. Most of these webs were presently sparkling with the morning dew drops.

I checked the two balancing pools thinking that the warm air temperatures may still offer a dragonfly sighting, but I think they have now finished for the year as none were found. I moved on to complete the circuit before heading along Michaels Road towards Stansted Road.

Ragwort in flower in the last week of November (61008601)
Ragwort in flower in the last week of November (61008601)

I enjoyed a coffee at Home and Eat before picking up the footpath that runs along the side of Wickes and Pets at Home, which leads into the western portion of Birchanger Wood. A robin sang vociferously nearby, affording me a few photos, before I took the path to the right towards the water tower. Right on the top of the tower, a flock of starlings and a solitary magpie surveyed all before them.

A nuthatch called from a tall oak as I checked rotting tree trunks for a variety of fungi species. Hen of the woods, various unidentified polypore fungi and a splendid clump of fairy inkcaps were discovered. This fungi can be found on fallen tree trunks and when there are plenty on one trunk it is known as a troop. Another name for them is fairies bonnets. As is often the case with fungi species, these were growing in a dark and damp place so some adjustments were made to the camera for a photo.

I moved on and came to a large area where some recent coppicing has taken place upon hazel trees. Also here, many large ash trees have been professionally felled as they have ash die-back disease and, as they were adjacent to the A120, had to come down. This was at great expense to the Birchanger Wood Community Trust.

I was impressed with the coppicing of hazel, and a little further along an even larger area had received the same treatment. Wood piles have been made with the brush wood and these will be used by plenty of insect species as well as smaller birds such as robins, dunnocks and wrens. Larger logs had been arranged into neat piles and in these, next summer, several bee species will lay eggs having hibernated in them over the forthcoming winter. Good management here with a view to enhancing the woodland biodiversity.

Robin (61008637)
Robin (61008637)

My eyes were drawn to a fern species emerging through the russet leaf litter. Possibly a beech fern with fronds measuring two feet or so. It appears to have been a good couple of years for these species as in Millennium Wood, a small wood I manage, there has been a good emergence of these ferns that must have been dormant in the ground for years.

Nearby, a yellow hazel leaf showed leaf mines of the tiny micro moth Stigmella microtheriella. An egg is laid by the adult upon the leaf and the caterpillar feeds between the layers of the leaf, leaving a tunnel (or gallery) mine that becomes visible as the leaf changes to its autumnal colours.

A large beefsteak bracket fungus protruded from a fallen sweet chestnut trunk before I found myself back at the far end of the wood, so a quick wander along to Cannons Mill Lane, over the River Stort where mallards and moorhens paddled in the shallows to the level crossing and a return to Grange Paddocks.

Beef steak bracket fungus (61008465)
Beef steak bracket fungus (61008465)

A calling treecreeper wisped unseen, wood pigeons flew out of an alder and a mixed flock of great and blue tits dived into a bramble for cover. I headed towards the river to see if I could track down the elusive siskins. I heard and saw a few in the distance, but too high in the trees for a worthy photo. A quick and unsuccessful check to see if the local kingfishers were about before I turned around and headed back to the car park.

A wonderful walk and one thing I did note was that there appeared to be a lot more fungi species in Birchanger Wood compared to Wall Wood. The coppicing will be continuing in Birchanger Wood for a while yet, opening up the forest floor to light and rain that aid dormant flower seeds and fern spores to germinate. The stump of the hazel will sprout new shoots next spring and these will grow tall and straight. From Anglo-Saxon times they were used for fence and hurdle making whilst larger-diameter branches were used as scaffolding poles.

Birchanger Wood coppicing (61008481)
Birchanger Wood coppicing (61008481)

At 4.30pm I headed back to Bat Willow with my moth net and head torch and set off towards the stands of guelder rose and rose hips. Initially very little seen and no moths, but, as time moved on, a few species came on to the wing. A chestnut moth was netted, as was a fluttering winter moth. After several circuits I began noticing moths now feeding upon the rose hips, but not on the guedler rose berries. Perhaps these had gone over too much?

All moths were the satellite species, so named as it has a large white (or orange) dot on the wing and, when checked more closely, two much smaller dots either side, resembling satellites around the larger dot.

Guelder rose berries (61008543)
Guelder rose berries (61008543)

Volunteers Wanted

I recently completed a report on the Leipidoptera species of Stocking Wood. This private wood is found between western Bishop's Stortford and Bury Green. In the report I recorded more than 400 moth species and an amazing 27 species of butterfly. Exceptional number for such a small woodland.

The report lists ways that the wood can be enhanced to improve the habitat – simple techniques that do not require experience, just the ability to cut back overhanging branches etc.

Coppiced hazel (61008523)
Coppiced hazel (61008523)

There is plenty to do and I am looking for volunteers to help with this project. There will be jobs for the whole family and will only involve a few hours per month.

If you would like to become actively involved in an initiative that improves our local environment or would like to be involved in survey work, such as counting butterfly species, then please contact the Indie.

Fairy inkcap fungus (61008526)
Fairy inkcap fungus (61008526)

No experience is necessary. With natural history projects, I always think enthusiasm is better than experience. Plus, any novices to this work or the survey work will receive guidance and support with their work.

All who volunteer will receive the full 64-page report to gain a better understanding of the philosophy of the project. The report also has helpful tips to identify butterflies as well as a photographic guide to all species found within Stocking Wood.

It would be wonderful if some readers could join me. Many thanks.

Fern species (61008540)
Fern species (61008540)
Hen of the woods bracket fungi (61008561)
Hen of the woods bracket fungi (61008561)
Leaf mines of micro moth Stigmella microtheriella (61008580)
Leaf mines of micro moth Stigmella microtheriella (61008580)
Polypore fungus species (61008595)
Polypore fungus species (61008595)
Satellite macro moth feeding on rose hip (61008682)
Satellite macro moth feeding on rose hip (61008682)
Starlings on water tower (61008689)
Starlings on water tower (61008689)

Got a story for the Stortford Indie? Email us at newsdesk@bishopsstortfordindependent.co.uk.



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