|Hainault Forest Website|
|Written and Designed by © Brian Ecott|
|NOVEMBER - DECEMBER 2003|
The Lake rose several inches, and the outfall which had stopped flowing in the summer, began to flow again as a result of rain, which occurred on several days in November. There was a noticeable change in the parched grassland areas, which due to the mild temperatures, promoted growth of the grass and seed, turning the area green again. December northerly winds brought occasional sleet and hail showers
and the continuing rain made several areas very muddy. To ensure adequate drainage and prevent flooding, the Country Park staff were occupied in keeping streams clear of fallen timber. The last day of the year was cold and foggy.
Number of Canada geese continue to rise and the large flock is generally accompanied by a few feral geese including a barnacle goose. On the Lake were the usual Mallard, Pochard, Tufted ducks, Coot, Moorhens, Great crested grebes, Cormorants and a pair of Mute swans. They were joined in December by a small flock of Shoveler ducks. They are winter visitors to the Forest. They swim low in the water and with their short necks and large shovel-like bill are able to scoop up large quantities of surface water and with the aid of filters in the bill, concentrate the animal and plant plankton which they feed on. Their feeding strategy is interesting to watch as they zoom around, often in circles, not unlike dodgem cars in a fairground.
Fieldfares and Redwings are present in groups feeding on the Hawthorn berries, and flocks of Goldfinch are feeding on the Alders on the farm. Family groups of Blue tits and Long-tailed tits were seen flying and feeding in the wooded areas. Green woodpeckers have been common this year. A collection of finches - Siskin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Redpoll can be seen in an aviary on the farm, and the peafowl have been introduced to the petting area.
On the 21st December, a cold but bright, showery day, several Mottled Umber moths Erannis defoliaria were found sitting on the brick wall of the Bothy. Mottled Umber moths fly late in the year and are all males. The female moths are smaller and wingless, and normally found at night sitting on the bark of trees.
Another visitor to the Country Park is a Welsh Mountain Badger-face (Torddu) ram. He has been introduced to the two Badger face ewes on the Rare Breeds farm and it is to be hoped that some lambs might be born in mid to late May. Torddu means black belly in Welsh, and refers to the black which extends from the throat, chest, belly and to the tip of the tail which is long.. The face is striped and has a resemblance to a Badgers face. Torwen (meaning white belly) sheep also exist which have reversed markings i.e. black with white markings on the face, and white chest and belly.
A "seat" for the forthcoming Culture Trail is in place in a clearing in the plantation area. It has been sculptured from an Oak tree cut down in the Country Park. I feel sad that a living tree, of greater use to its ecosystem alive, should be used in this way. Oaks support a large number of species, including many spiders, 45 bugs, many gall wasps - (see the Oak Gall page), 200 species of moth caterpillars, a myriad of invertebrates and associated bird life. The Purple hairstreak butterfly is very selective often choosing one oak tree in which generations will be reared over many years. Fungi are associated with the oak's roots, bark and heart wood. A dead sculpture will eventually succumb to wood boring beetles and fungi but little else will be attracted to it. I am reminded of a poem written by a youngster at the Poetry Writing Workshop run by The Woodland Trust in August 2003:
I was a beautiful beech tree until
I got chopped down and made into
An ugly figure, everyone looked at me
But now everyone just passes me by, like
I am not even there
I hate being me now
SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2003
September remained very warm, with a change to a more seasonal autumnal weather in October with cold winds and falling temperatures. Lately there have been some ground frosts, but still very little significant rainfall. The grassland areas are parched with deep wide cracks in the London clay. A high population of rabbits are heavily grazing the field edges.
On the farm there is little to graze and the animals are being fed on the hay crop which was cut and harvested earlier in the summer. The drought has meant that the trees are shutting down earlier, and there are some magnificent colour changes to the oaks, beeches, hornbeams and maples. Blackberry leaves are exhibiting a range of colours from yellows, pinks and reds. These autumn colours are best seen with the sun shining through them. High winds on a mid October weekend brought out many kite enthusiasts with their buggies on to the grassland area.
Some of the trees have had massive crops of seed. The Ash is heavy with keys, Horse chestnuts produced many conkers, the Crab apple was heavy with fruit and the Dog rose and Hawthorn have good numbers of hips and haws, which is good news for the winter migrant Fieldfares and Redwings. Blackthorn produced many sloes but due to lack of rain they were rather dried up. On an autumn walk we stopped to look at the pink Spindle berries which open out to reveal four orange berries. Spindle is a shrub of ancient woodlands. Closeby was Purging buckthorn with its shiny black berries. Both these berries have very strong purgative qualities and would almost certainly have been collected by Old Dido, a hermit and herbalist who lived near Sheepwater in the late nineteenth century.
The oak has not fared so well this year as most of the acorns have been galled by the knopper wasps. The undersides of the leaves were also covered with Common spangle and Silk button galls. Of 84 galls that I have recorded in the forest 66 were found this year, including the Stalked midrib gall on Black poplar found in June, which is a new record.
Sunny days in October brought out Speckled wood and Comma butterflies and Common darter dragonflies fly in the rides and clearings. Chaffinches are present on the farm and flocks of Goldfinch are feeding on the seeds of alder, thistle and Michaelmas daisies. Dunnock and Wren are seen skulking in the low scrub areas. Numbers of Canada geese are increasing adding to the grazing problems, and these are accompanied by the lone Barnacle goose and other feral geese.
A Fallow deer was seen entering Lambourne wood from 50 acre field late one evening by Lambourne resident Alan Galpin out walking his dogs.
Hart's tongue fern was seen growing out of the mortar on one of the barns. It is one of two specimens found on the brickwork where it likes damp shaded conditions.
Fungi have been few and far between so far this year, with those growing on rotting wood stumps being the most common. One large bracket growing on a beech stump was identified by Peter Comber as the rare Ganoderma resinaceum. On removing the overlaying brambles to photograph it, the fungus exuded a resin like substance from its scratched surface. The annual fungus foray produced only 27 species.
A nature trail through the plantation area is being planned, and an application for Local Nature Reserve status for the forest area is being sought which means that in consultation with English Nature and London Ecology, in order to increase wildlife diversity, some of the myriad of paths through the plantation area have had to be closed to all users, by erecting dead hedging barriers. Thinning out and some scrub removal is taking place in the wooded areas by the Woodland Trust, who are creating two new paths. One from the start of Dolneats Lane to the Camelot path links the two horse rides. In creating this path a fine specimen of Wild Service Tree, another ancient woodland indicator, can be seen. The other path links Sheepwater, Roe's Well and the Retreat path. The Heathland area which was cleared of trees last year is even more overgrown this year with six foot high coppice, and seedlings of Aspen, Birch and Norway maple. This really is a priority area for conserving not only for the forest but for Essex where heathland is rare, and Heather, Petty whin and Dwarf gorse declining species.
|Some reminders of Autumn|
JULY - AUGUST 2003
Long spells of very hot weather occurred during July and August with temperatures breaking all previous known records. The daytime temperatures reached 100°F (37°C) on many occasions. Several small fires were dealt with by the Fire Brigade or the Country Park Staff who remained vigilant during this period. One plant that seems to survive in such weather is the Yarrow or Milfoil which remains green and its white flower heads brighten up the parched grasses. The last few days of August have seen a return to cooler temperatures with some light rain showers.
Swallows nested in one of the goat shelters and the young could be seen resting on the farm fencing. The adults are beginning to flock together ready for their migration to Africa.
New arrivals at the farm include a young Donkey named Herbie and a Golden Guernsey goat nicknamed TJ. Some Peafowl chicks were hatched along with goslings and Indian Runner ducklings.
During early July there was an immigration of Painted Lady butterflies from the continent. Many were seen in the forest particularly nectaring in the wild flower meadows which had changed from spring flowers to the summer flowering Knapweed, Wild carrot and Thistle. The meadows support a large number of insects and hoverflies. A brief look early in August revealed two large spectacular hoverflies identified as Volucella pellucens and Volucella zonaria and other smaller hoverflies, a Green shield bug, Gatekeepers, Large white, Comma, Meadow brown, Small tortoiseshell and Painted Lady butterflies. On a Black poplar a pair of Sawflies Rhogogaster sp. were seen mating.
The yellow flowers of Ragwort are noticeable at the moment. There are two species found in the grassland area, Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea and Hoary Ragwort Senecio erucifolius. It is the Hoary Ragwort with its finer cut leaves which is the dominant species in the forest.
While searching for galls on Black poplars I found a tiny bundle of sticks seemingly glued on the upper side of a Black Poplar leaf. By coincidence a friend had found some on the bark of a tree and had identified them as belonging to Bagworms (Family Psychidae). These are the larvae of small moths. They construct a case of sticks, scales, bark or sand which they bind together with silk. Each species using different materials. On pupation the case is glued to its substrate where the pupa develops into a small day flying moth. The females are wingless, and in some species remain in their case.
Blackberries have ripened early this year. They provide food for many creatures including birds and mammals. In feeding on them insects such as wasps cut the fruit with their mouthparts which enables other insects to suck up the juices. A food web can be constructed by observing the visitors to a bramble bush. It is interesting to observe how many of the trees, shrubs and plants have arrangements for their seed to be dispersed. Some fruits are eaten and their seed passes through the body or is passed as a pellet from a birds crop, the fruit providing food throughout the winter months. Other trees like maple, sycamore, ash and lime have winged structures which spin them like helicopters away from the tree. Thistles, dandelions and willow herbs have seeds attached to a parachute of fine hairs which carry the seed far away. Burdock, Cleavers and Herb Bennet have tiny hooks like Velcro which attach themselves to the fur and feathers of animals. Acorns are collected by Grey squirrels and Jays and are buried for later use. The large numbers of Knopper gall this year in the Forest means fewer acorns. Several examples of Forest fruits are on a separate web page.
MAY - JUNE
It is now 100 years since the Forest was purchased, and by Act of Parliament was put under the control and stewardship of the London County Council. Petty whin (together with Heather and Dwarf gorse) was recorded by The Essex Field Club, at that time, on the heathland area. Despite current fears for its survival, it is still hanging on and seed pods are being formed. It will take several years of continual management and intervention to restore the heathland to its former state. Seeding may be necessary from the current stock of plants present. Lowland heaths are rare in Essex and conservation work is at present being carried out on two on the Danbury ridge.
The wildflower meadows which were sown last year are proving successful and are a mass of Ox-eye daisies, with a few plants of Viper's bugloss. Corncockle is also in flower, but many of the annuals are expected to die out. Other perennials such as Wild carrot, Self heal, Corn marigold will come out later. The meadow will increase the insect diversity. Clumps of Yellow iris around the Lake looked good and many Black-tailed skimmer dragonflies were flying in
June, taking up positions on the stones by the outfall, and chasing off any other coming close by. Dragonflies and damselflies are being recorded in all the forest ponds during the season and hopefully will form a separate page on the website shortly. Roe's well turned a bright red colour in early June due to an algal bloom of a red pigmented unicellular green alga possibly Haematococcus sp. There is a fine growth of the Stonewort Chara vulgaris again this year.
A mixed bag of weather in May together with high pressure in June with sunshine and high temperatures has been good for insect life.
Butterflies seen during the period included Red admiral, Comma, Peacock, Speckled wood, Common blue, Small copper, Large and small skipper, and Meadow brown. Small tortoiseshell and Painted lady have been present in larger numbers this year. Moths seen in the Heathland and Latchford meadow included 6-spot burnet moths, Silver Y, Mother Shipton and Lattice heath. In early May swarms of Long horned moths Nemotois degéerella were dancing around the newly emergent oak leaves. The female long-horned moths have much shorter antennae. Although St. Mark's day is on 25th April, St Mark's fly is still swarming in early May. It is most noticeable being black and having very long legs. Tortrix moth caterpillars hung from gossamer threads from the trees in May and by mid June were flying as pale green adult moths.
Although frog tadpoles were present in large numbers throughout the forest ponds, the bomb crater ponds and temporary pools have dried out.
Nightingales were not heard this year, but other migrants were present including Blackcap, Chiff chaff, Garden warbler and Willow warbler. Song thrushes have been heard singing. A male Golden oriole was reported in the forest on 11th May by Richard Thewlis of The British Trust for Ornithology. The usual wildfowl were seen on the Lake and a Ruddy duck was noted.
An area of Hawthorn scrub near the Lake was cleared last winter and a large area of Field pansy is flowering there in the short turf. Many Rabbits are present and Stoats and Weasels are frequently seen.
The gall Vasates quadripedes is present in large numbers on the Silver maples in the plantation area. Several new galls have been added to the list including Acalitus stenapsis a mite which causes leaf edge roll on Beech, Eriophyes inangulis a mite which causes galls on Alder leaves which appear in the angles of the vein with the midrib. One exciting find was a stalked globular gall on the midrib of Black poplar. It is described in the latest literature as rare and is caused by an aphid Pemphigus populi. The aphids leave the gall, which breaks down in June/July.
On the farm are young rabbits and chicks, and two Dorset poll lambs were purchased in late May and will soon be let out on to the grass. A petting area is open every Saturday and Sunday afternoon where some of the animals can be met at close quarters.
MARCH - APRIL 2003
Little rain fell in March, it being mainly dry, sunny and warm with pleasant above average temperatures. A notable change occurred on the first of April when for a fortnight, more typical showery, windy, changeable weather with lower temperatures were felt. Some showers fell as snow, hail or sleet. By mid April temperatures were again in the eighties and many butterflies were on the wing including Orange tip, Comma, Peacock, Small tortoiseshell, Small white, Green veined white, Speckled wood and Brimstone. Late April saw swarms of metallic Long-horned moths Adela reaumurella and St. Mark's flies dancing around the oak trees.
A Chiff-chaff was heard calling on the 19th March. They are summer migrants having travelled from North Africa and Southern Europe to breed. The tall trees and scrub in Hainault Forest make a suitable habitat. It will sing from high perches where it flits to and fro searching out aphids and small insects, and builds its domed nest in the scrub. A Cuckoo was calling on Good Friday the 18th April.
Some wild flowers have flowered two or three weeks earlier this year including Coltsfoot, Lesser celandine and Greater stitchwort compared to 2002, although Ground ivy was a couple of weeks late by comparison. These flowers, along with Wood sorrel and Butchers broom symbols of ancient woodlands were pointed out on the Spring walk on 30th March, attended by 40 visitors.
Apart from the usual waterfowl on the lake, a Black swan and a couple of Greylag geese were noted. The Black swan was probably the same one seen a couple of days earlier at Rainham and had probably escaped from a private collection.
Several grey wagtails were seen at Sheepwater, and about 200 clutches of frogspawn were noted on the 19th March. Spawn was also found in Roes well, two bomb crater ponds and in temporary pools throughout the forest. In one bomb crater pond on the wood pasture site there was a mass of tiny black tadpoles on the 30th March. The Stonewort found in Roes well last year has been identified by Ken Adams of The Essex Field Club as Chara vulgaris var. vulgaris. An indicator of clean water, it is often the first coloniser of a new habitat. Roes well was cleaned out and re-excavated in the winter 2001/2 and the banks this spring are covered in Lesser celandine, Early dog violet and Barren strawberry.
Another interesting find, as yet unidentified, were three Slime moulds found growing on an Oak tree and also two on a Hawthorn tree stump on the 19th March. They appeared as pale peach coloured cauliflower-like masses about 5 cm in diameter. Similar pale lemon colour ones were found in Great Wood at Lambourne on 18th April.
A Little Owl roosts near the visitors centre and its pellets were carefully examined to check on its feeding habits. The main diet was worms and beetles, although some bones of Pigmy and Common Shrew and Field Vole were found. Click here for more details.
Poplars and willows are described as dioecious, that is each tree is either male or female. Often trees of one of the sexes will be rare or absent in the British Isles, the trees being propagated by cuttings. The female tree of Grey Poplar is described as rather rare. In Hainault Forest a female Grey Poplar exists and as a result it has given rise to numerous young trees and saplings. Most trees are in leaf. Hawthorn is in blossom. The leaf buds of Ash, Sweet chestnut and Black poplar are just beginning to burst. To aid identification of Hainault Forest trees a leaf web page devoted to leaves and leaf shape has been created by scanning the leaves directly into the page.
Work is continuing on the heathland area. It was good to see 3 plants of Petty Whin in flower. Hopefully seed can be collected from this together with the Dwarf gorse and Heather to recolonise the cleared area.
Currant galls are present on the underside of leaves and catkins of Pedunculate Oak Quercus robur. These form as a result of eggs laid parthenogenetically (unfertilised) in April by an agamic (asexual - female only) generation of the Gall Wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum.
Male and female Gall Wasps hatch from the Currant Galls in June (the sexual generation) and after mating the females lay fertilised eggs on the underside of the Oak leaves which develop into Common Spangle galls in July. Up to 100 Spangles can occur on one Oak leaf.
The Spangle Galls fall from the leaves in September when mature and the Gall Wasp continues to grow, over wintering in the leaf litter. These hatch as a female-only (agamic) generation which start the cycle again by producing the Currant Galls in April.
JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2003
A light covering of snow fell during the night of 3/4th January, and four days later, the 8th, snow fell all day. By the evening the Forest was alive with hundreds of children and families with sleighs on the slopes of Hog Hill. Giant snowballs were rolled. For many children this was their first experience of snow. By the following morning there was hardly a patch of virgin snow to look for animal footprints, but the snow provided some photo opportunities. There have been several spells of sunny but cold, frosty weather during February.
Throughout the period there have been many Redwings and Fieldfares feeding on berries in the plantation and on the hedgerow which runs along the lake feeder stream. Flocks of Goldfinch descend on Foxburrows Farm. Blue tits, Great tits and family groups of Long-
tailed tits have been active everywhere. In the woodland pairs of Great spotted woodpeckers were seen. On Cabin Hill a Goldcrest was seen feeding in the scrub. A Kingfisher has been seen feeding on the goldfish in Sheepwater. On the Lake were many Coots, Moorhen, Pochard, Tufted ducks and several species of gull. One or two Cormorants have been present and on the 16th February a pair of Great crested grebes were performing their courtship dance, in which there is much synchronised swimming, diving, head shaking, weed presentation and running on water.
Canada geese have been present in flocks of over 100 usually with a lone Barnacle goose. The large amount of bread thrown down has encouraged Brown rats which are now a common sight in the forest especially around the Lake and Sheepwater. Rabbits are present in good numbers in the plantation and a fine looking dog Fox is often seen there.
European gorse has been in flower throughout the winter months and looked particularly splendid draped in snow. Lesser celandine was seen in flower on 16th February and catkins of Common alder and Hazel were found. Hazel has provided my first gall of the season - the big bud gall. Coltsfoot flowered by the lake edge on the 26th February. Last year it flowered on the 17th March, so is roughly three weeks earlier.
I have been compiling a list of an interesting group of plants, the Lichens, in the forest this winter. Lichens are very sensitive to Sulphur dioxide pollution and are useful in monitoring air quality. From the list of species present is indication of an improving air quality. Two interesting species known as pixie cup lichens from the shape of their fruiting bodies, are Cladonia fimbriata whose cups appear like golf tees, and Cladonia chlorophaea with very small cups. The lichens were scanned directly on to the computer, and are also shown with others on the Lichen page.