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Bewdley Town Council

February in the Forest

By Bewdley Town Council Bewdley Town Council

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

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This is a good month for those winter jobs in garden, farm and forest. Last month I wrote about hedgelaying at Uncllys Farm, and we have also put in many hours pruning the apple and pear trees. The stone fruit (cherry, plum, damson, greengage and apricot) are pruned in the growing season when the sap is rising so that they are less vulnerable to diseases such as silver leaf. I feel myself very fortunate in being able to get rid of the prunings by having a jolly good bonfire, often of such good proportions that I can cook my dinner in the embers! This is, sadly, not an option for most town-dwellers.

The snowdrops seem to have been up for a while, and the hazel catkins for even longer, spilling clouds of pollen on breezy days. This month look out for the leaves and green flowers of Dog’s Mercury in the woods: it’s one of the earliest plants to flower and probably the least exciting! However, my research (for which I thank the ‘Flora Britannica’ by Richard Mabey) has turned up some interesting facts on this common woodland ground cover. For one thing, it’s highly poisonous and there are records of foragers mistaking it for something palatable and being very ill with vomiting and other unpleasant symptoms. It belongs to the spurge family, of which I can’t imagine eating any member knowingly. The ‘mercury’ part of the name is shared with the old pot-herb Chenopodium bonus-henricus, more commonly known by the name Good King Henry. Hungry folk who had survived the winter on dried beans and salted meat would have welcomed the spring shoots of both this and the common stinging nettle, cooking the fresh greens and doing themselves some good with a dose of iron and vitamins.

Now for something much more colourful. The Hawfinches in Jubilee Gardens have attracted quite a bit of attention from birdwatchers. They and other flocks in Britain have arrived from mainland Europe, especially Germany and Romania, where seed crops have failed. They are particularly attracted to yew and hornbeam, feeding on the fruits and seeds. They used to be associated with the local cherry orchards and could crack open the cherry stones with their powerful beaks to get to the kernels inside. These would probably have been native birds (now quite scarce) living and breeding here, although their numbers would have been boosted by visitors each winter.  Thanks to Mick Farmer for his photo.

Peacock and brimstone butterflies should emerge from hibernation this month if the weather is warm enough, and perhaps there will be some birdsong and nest-making. Frogs may even start to spawn if we have a good, sunny spell.

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