Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Ground Support

(Pretty chuffed with myself whenever I get an aviation reference into a blogpost.)
  This is all about the good work of JSA Landscape Group, Gatwick's team of grounds maintenance contractors. The past few years they have proved invaluable in our larger-scale habitat and conservation project works.

Goat Meadow stag beetle loggery; withstands clambering human test

These guys and gals achieve a lot in no time at all with their heavy-duty kit and know-how. I hesitate to call them 'the big guns', only because that sort of terminology doesn't go down well round these parts.
   The only problem with handling all this big equipment is how it requires another level of logistical innovation for otherwise straight forward habitat enhancements...

Fred creates grass cutting piles for Grass Snake breeding areas 

In terms of access, Ashley's Field in the Land East of the Railway Line is no problem for Fred and his big ol' tractor 'n' trailer. Goat Meadow however is a remote piece of grassland in the middle of some boggy woodland, so shifting materials and equipment here presents a much greater challenge...

Moving large deadwood through Upper Picketts Wood

Transporting grass cuttings to Goat Meadow

Our sincere apologies once more to Tom S. and his volunteers for the state of their once carefully edged steps and footpath... Lucky we were able to supply you with all those extra wood chippings eh! 

Mick and chainsaw vs. Willow in the North West Zone

In the depths of winter I like to take Mick and his team to all the best places, including trench-foot-inducing boggy grasslands to the west of Brockley Wood. It's hard to imagine right now, but in the height of summer-time these areas are alive with butterflies, bees and burnet moths, blissfully unaffected by the airfield just a few hundred meters away.

Gradual reduction of the Willow scrub to maximise the grassland area

These neatly staked brash-piles got the Thomas Simpson seal of approval (phew)

Hay cut along the River Mole, 2014

The cut-and-collect of our grasslands is our final job for the summer. By cutting around late September, we will minimise disturbance to any grassland species such as Harvest Mice, as well as allowing the maximum amount of meadow flower seed to drop.

Invasive species management

Lauren might be the smallest member of the JSA team, but it doesn't stop her from taking on forests of Himalayan Balsam growing along Gatwick's waterways (actually she's not that tiny, she's just very far away).

Nick uses a brush cutter to keep the woodland rides open. Horleyland Wood

Scrub management along the south bank of Man's Brook.
 This allows more sunlight to hit the banks, increasing floral diversity

Scott T. from Per Hire is another fella I've been fortunate to work with, providing us with his skills and experience in operating the 360 excavators. He has bags of energy and is an excellent problem solver; much appreciated when it comes to the difficult habitat works such as these... 

Dredging out a blocked channel along the River Mole to improve flow

Massive hibernaculum creation - North West Zone

Another hibernaculum in Goat Meadow, Land East of the Railway Line

Scott T's experience with almost every kind of digger means that nothing is too big or too small to stack...

Beginning a Stag Beetle loggery 

On occasion he's allowed to show off.

Unsubtle bag theft

Many thanks once again to all of the JSA's staff, getting these trickier habitat works 'off the ground'!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Legends from an Elm branch

Guest author: Nick Aplin

A post about Elm trees, bryo-parasites, cannibalistic fungi, new species and the joys of microecology...

One of the problems with recording fungi is that the bloomin’ things are everywhere.
   Seriously, everywhere. They’re in your fridge. They’re on every single leaf. They’re even in your lungs whilst you’re reading this. Considering their ubiquity, surveying a whole piece of woodland can be somewhat daunting for the average mycologist. Where should one start?
   I think the best thing to do is earmark a microhabitat or two; perhaps an old stump, a muddy ditch or maybe a little mossy patch. Around Picketts Wood there are thankfully many such nooks and crannies: A fallen Pine trunk here, a dead hedge there...

Late last year I stumbled upon a little stand of Elm trees, presumably struggling in their war against Ophiostoma novo-ulmi, a nasty fungus which is to blame for the fact we generally doesn’t see Elms around much anymore (Dutch Elm Disease has so far claimed the lives of about 100 million Elm trees in the Northern Hemisphere).
   These trees at Picketts Wood are a bit sad looking, with many droopy dead bits. Luckily the decomposing branches are home to lots of other organisms, including some curious little fungi. To give you a snapshot of the sheer omnipresence and diversity of the fungus kingdom, I’d like to tell you about some of the many species I found on just one Elm branch over the last few weeks:

The first two species are largely dependent on dead Elm wood for survival – I wonder whether they will both be in decline considering the effects of Dutch Elm Disease?

Orbilia comma

Orbilia comma, with its little spores that look like commas.
 (OK you have to squint a bit whilst using your imagination….)

Quaternaria dissepta

A cross section of Quaternaria dissepta, its ominous, black fruitbodies embedded in the substrate and its dark, curved spores. If Darth Vader were a fungus, I reckon he’d be this one.

Bionectria ralfsii

Some scaly fruitbodies of Bionectria ralfsii breaking through the bark. This species usually comes with two types of spore: hyaline, sexually produced ascospores (right) along with green, lemon-shaped asexual spores called conidia (left).  Yes, fungi have sex too – Gross, right?

Cryptodiscus (Karstenia) rhopaloides

Karstenia rhopaloides likes to break through the bark of dead branches and is surprisingly common on many different woody plants throughout the colder months. Officially, this species is known as Cryptodiscus rhopaloides, but I guess no one has had the time to move it to the right genus yet….
Can you spot it in the branch photo above?

Diaporthe eres

A cross section of Diaporthe eres - Here, the spores are created in chambers below the surface of the substrate and are then ejected through those long creepy looking black tubes.

Hyalorbila erythrostigma

Hyalorbilia erythrostigma -These little guys are found eating other fungi. Sometimes they like to parasitize Orbilia species (see O.comma above). This little group were growing near lots of other fungi too, so I wasn’t quite sure what they were up to here!  There are only 3 previous UK records for this species.

I have no idea what to call this one. I don’t even think it has a name, yet. I know that some mycologists are aware of its existence, but they don’t know what to call it either. Perhaps it’s a Lasionectria, perhaps something else entirely. Answers on a postcard….
   Isn’t it strange to think that there are undescribed species around Gatwick?

Octospora affinis

Finally, this is Octospora affinis, a bryoparasite. It has a rather boring diet. It only eats Orthothichum affine (the moss that you can see growing on the branch above – Thanks to Brad Scott for the ID). This collection on our Elm branch is the first time it’s been seen in the UK. Perhaps it occurs elsewhere; I can’t imagine many people out there are looking for it….
   I should say that I have no idea what species of Elm I've been looking at. Elm taxonomy eludes me. If you happen to find an Elm expert (Pteleologist!) hanging around Gatwick, please point them in my direction!

Nick Aplin (Sussex Fungi Group)

Monday, 2 February 2015

Gatsbees B-Log: January 2015

Hi, I’m Gillian the beekeeper and I fell into this excellent project by happy accident, so the bees and I would like to welcome to you to our B Log from the Gatwick apiary. 

Gatsbee Apiary in Ashley's Field

As it’s a project about biodiversity, our philosophy is about wildlife rather than honey... 

...but the odd pot or two is always a bonus.

Last season, Tom and Rachel soon became hooked on beekeeping and with their background of conservation and preservation, it seems appropriate for us to provide as natural a life as possible for the bees while trying not to let them go completely wild.

We recently moved Diana's (one of our queen bees) hive into the natural copse after the weather had been cold for several days, and propped a large branch over the entrance so that when the bees came out, they would know that their house had moved and think that their tree had fallen over. Think like a bee!


The bees cluster together in the winter, and Eve's (another queen bee) colony is under a glass cover for easy viewing. The colder the weather, the tighter the ball of bees...

...and this year I made a quilt for each hive out of an old cotton duvet cover, filled with sawdust, which will hopefully contain the warmth and absorb some of the moisture the girls create while keeping themselves warm by beating their wing muscles.


A couple of the bees braved the cold wind yesterday to go to the loo or collect water to dissolve the old stores of honey, but the sun didn't stay out long and they all rushed home before they got chilled. I know the feeling! 

 Stay warm. Gill