April 2013

First a howling blizzard woke us

Then the rain came down to soak us

And now before the eyes can focus


Lilja Rogers

With just a couple of weeks to go before Easter this delightful piece of poetry perfectly describes spring this year. Remnants of snow still
remain, ponds are covered with ice in the mornings and the bitter wind hassuddenly switched from north westerly to a slightly warmer south easterly. But
the signs of spring are there with tree buds swelling and leaves of bluebellspoking through the litter on the woodland floor. Pussy willows are covered with
hairy catkins and hazels are festooned with their ochre yellow tassels carrying the pollen and the minute, vermillion coloured female flowers scattered along
the branches looking like tiny rubies. This Chinese proverb puts the situation perfectly - Spring is sooner recognised
by plants than by men.
Meanwhile, the birds are continuing their mating rituals. A pair of tawny owls have been calling in the early evening since the
beginning of March and Mallard ducks have been flighting over in small groups and just this morning two drakes, with immaculate plumage, were in the company
of a single hen on the garden pond. A small group of long tailed tits have made a series of short, surprise visits to the garden and other less common visitors
included greenfinches.

Many of you will have noticed that the fields to the east of Dayseys Hill have been stocked with a large flock of sheep and many of them are
very obviously pregnant so this year we should have the pleasure of seeing spring lambs gambolling in the meadow providing they don't run out of grass. It
is many years since this last occurred; back in the 1970's sheep from RomneyMarsh were regularly brought to Outwood to be grazed on these fields during the
winter months.


Lichens are a fascinating member of the natural world. They
are highly varied in shape and colour and are adapted to a range of different
environments from the tropics to the high arctic. Some species are to found on
old grave stones, others on rocks, brick walls, sea shore rocks, concrete, trees
and even on London pavements walked on by thousands of pairs of feet every day.
Lichens are a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship in that they are a
combination of an algae and a fungus. The fungus provides physical protection
and the algae provides chemicals resulting from photosynthesis. The algae is
usually green or occasionally a cyanobacterium also known as blue green algae.
It is believed there are approximately 30,500 lichens worldwide of which 18,000
have been identified. Lichens are extremely sensitive to atmospheric pollution
and are not normally found in heavily industrialised areas. Lichens reproduce
either through small pieces breaking off and growing elsewhere or by spores
produced by the fungus which then need to join forces with the right kind of
algae or they simply die off. Since the introduction of the Clean Air Act in
1956 lichen growth has increased. In the 1970's I found Usnea cornuta (finely
branched on left of photo with Hypotrachyna revoluta mixed with small moss) dripped
from most of the trees and bushes on Dartmoor but not in Outwood, now it is
frequently seen locally. Lichens have had many uses, before modern chemicals
they were used to make woollen dyes and surprisingly the Egyptians used them to
stuff their mummies - one suspects they had a good reason. In modern times drug
companies use them to manufacture antibiotics.

Mike Johnson