Woodland Adventure

The bright jewels of winter found thriving in Acton Wood Nature Reserve on the north side of Derwent Reservoir

Fringing the edge of Derwent Reservoir on the North side, are a stand of old willow trees, gnarled, blackened and reaching high into the sky.

A pollarded willow, showing new growth

(The Heart of Durham Project works in partnership with Northumbrian Water)

In January Durham Wildlife Trust Heart of Durham volunteers have been pollarding these willows. Pollarding is a pruning system involving the removal of the upper branches of a tree to promote a dense head of foliage and branches lower down. Last year the volunteers carried out this work and on patches of willow on the reserve and the results have been impressive. This lush new growth will be beneficial to a variety of birds as willows are host to a wide range of insect species and caterpillars.

Cut lengths of willow waiting to be planted

As well as pollarding the willows, cut lengths of willow have been planted to create new young trees.

Ann Walsby planting the cut lengths, three in each spot.

Willow usually is the easiest tree to grow from cuttings, but last year’s plantings failed. January and February 2017 where unnaturally dry and the resrvoir throughout the year was very low allowing sheep to slip around the fences knocking over the whips.

New whips planted 2018, in tubes to protect them from deer browsing

Willow trees fringe the edge of the reservoir, but the nature reserve site consists of a small fir plantation surrounded by majestic veteran oaks and wonderful ancient birch woodland.

Dripping from the branches of all these woodland species are a wide range of lichen and fungi – jewels of colour in a grim January day.

Lichens are very interesting as they are a symbiosis of at least two quite different organisms, a partnership that always involves a fungus, which lives with one or more partners which can do photosynthesis. The photobiont partner may be a green alga and/or a cyanobacterium and these live inside the fungus exchanging nutrients with it. The lichen is a distinct form of life and as a result is very different in shape to its partners.

Tree bark offers lichens a good substrate to grow on, but different trees have bark of different acidity and this will dictate the type of lichens that will colonise.  Lichens are sensitive indicators of air quality, with some thriving in areas with high levels of nitrogen compounds, whilst others are only found where there is low air pollution.

Lesley Hodgson, a volunteer with the Heart of Durham Project, took some photographs whilst working in the nature reserve.

Lecanora chlotata
Ramalina farinacia (Bottom one).
Evernia prunastri
Ramalina fraxinia
Phlyctis argena
Silverleaf fungus, Chondrostereum purpureum

The Nature Reserve at Derwent is not open to the public but all of these lichen and fungi can be seen in most woodlands so go on get out there and spot some jewels.