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What are Buckingham Palace Gardens like from the inside?  And what are the Royal gardeners trying to achieve?

What are Buckingham Palace Gardens like from the inside?  And what are the Royal gardeners trying to achieve?

by Angus, 8 October, 2021, 0 comments

The main thing about the queen's gardens is that they are very private.  They are large (39 acres) and surrounded by busy roads but not many people get a chance to go inside and even fewer get the inside story from the horse's mouth.  So my guided tour around the gardens this week with the Head Gardener, Mark Lane, was an unusual insight, made possible by being a member of the Royal Forestry Society. Mark explained that the Queen wanted no photos whatsoever of the garden and he wouldn't even let me take a mugshot of him.  Beyond the privacy that exists within the garden, there are extensive efforts to keep it hidden from the outside - the eight gardeners and dozens of contractors have planted evergreen trees and shrubs just inside the walls to shield the gardens from voyeurs in neighbouring high-rise buildings.  And there's a lot to hide with a 3.5 acre lake, a tennis court, statues, a summer-house with its very own corgi (stuffed, I think), and a private borehole for watering and lake-filling.   Mark Lane has been working in the garden for over 40 years, 30 of those as Head Gardener so the planting and design are very much a joint creation by him and the Queen herself, working to create a giant secret garden on what is, in essence, a triangular traffic island.  They have tried to plant as many different species as possible so you are also in what could be thought of as an arboretum - I saw no weeds whatsoever so it's probably fair to say that there is not a tight budgetary constraint.  Mark's bold claim is that "any habitat you can name we have an example of here."  I walked along the herbaceous border for 150 metres without seeing the same plant twice, apart from the six or seven banana plants.  This border runs along the edge of a lawn extensive enough for a helicopter to land.  Indeed one chopper touched down just before the coronation in 1953 making it London's oldest helipad, now reinforced with matting underneath the lawn.  Behind this is the lake with two islands, both rarely visited by Royals - or other humans - to encourage wildlife there.  Another semi-secret element is the woodland path behind the herbaceous border for the Queen to use on occasions "when she wants some peace and quiet". Apart from creating a pleasure garden for the Royal family, the gardeners are focused on the three big garden parties the Queen holds in early summer each year (aside from Covid years).  Each one is for 7,500 guests, who are allowed to roam freely around the gardens.  Mark and his team are so concentrated on these events that his motto for each party day is, "not a leaf out of place".  They also prune the roses in late autumn rather than Spring so that they bloom and are at their best for the parties.  His main criteria for choosing the species of rose are that they should have maximum fragrance and be disease resistant. "Every garden," insists Mark, "should have a conservation plan" and Buckingham Palace Gardens has one: they recycle 99% of their waste, they have bee hives on the island, they retain rotting Robinia trees for the bats, and they have much increased their areas of meadow grasses.  These grassy patches have been good for moths and butterflies and the gardeners can be sure of this because every year they choose several nights to set up overnight moth traps.  Using a mercury light, they trap, count and then release dozens of species and they have a record of this annual audit going back to 1956.  Other species are not so lucky - grey squirrels are "controlled" though Mark was too coy, even with the group of foresters I was accompanying, to say whether he shoots, traps or poisons these "tree rats"   It seems that being Royal doesn't stop your trees or garden from suffering from pests and diseases.  Honey fungus is a menace that they attack using fungicides and "air-spading",  whilst Oak Processionary Moth nests are removed for incineration, and even their London Plane trees are attacked by the Massaria fungus which has been present in London since 2007. Buckingham Palace Gardens have a very long history and at one time had a four-acre mulberry garden to produce silk worms.  The King at the time (King James 1st) was so keen on silk production that he ordered every county in the country to plant 1,000 Mulberry Trees, some of which still survive such as the ones at Charlton House in South East London.   The variety and quality of trees mean that Buckingham Palace Gardens has 15 National Champion trees, three of which were planted by the Royal family.  One of the most unusual plants we stumbled across was the Ilex vomitaria, a species of holly which, when eaten, makes the consumer vomit.   But my favourite was the common hawthorn whose berries had been recently harvested - they are used to make Buckingham Palace Gin which for £30 a bottle is available commercially (who said the Queen doesn't share?!). All the hundreds of varieties of trees and shrubs are part of Mark Lane's aspiration as Head Gardener which he describes as "to create a garden that is notable not just because it's attached to Buckingham Palace but which stands on its own merit."  He told us of an incident in the gardens, when the queen was meeting a man who was one of thousands of guests at one of the tea parties.  His phone went off and he looked a bit confused, not sure whether to take the call. She advised encouragingly, "yes, take it - it might be someone important." Although photos are not allowed it seems some have been smuggled out.  If you search "Buckingham Palace gardens" on Google images you'll find a nice collection of snaps.  My pictures are all from outside, trying to look in. Have you visited?  What was your impression?  
Big Butterfly count 2021.

Big Butterfly count 2021.

by blogs at woodlands, 7 October, 2021, 0 comments

Butterfly Conservation has organised the Big Butterfly Count for the last twelve years.  This year, the count took place between 16th July and August 8th.  The count gives some information of how butterfly and moth populations are faring.  Both butterfly and moth numbers give us some information about the ‘health’ of our environment, and indeed what has been termed the insect apocalypse. Though some 150,000 counts were registered this year, the ‘average’ number of butterflies / moths recorded per count was nine. This was down from the average count of 11 last year,  and 16 in 2019.   The total number of butterflies / moths counted was down by some 14% overall compared to last year. Those species that had significantly reduced counts were Peacock down by 64% Common Blue down by 59% Speckled wood was down by 41% Small tortoiseshell and the Comma dropped by 32% On a more positive note, the ringlet and marbled white were recorded in greater numbers (but they did have low counts last year). The Spring weather was probably a significant factor in these generally disappointing results.  The wet May would not have helped breeding or feeding; low temperatures are not conducive to activity.  The poor weather would particularly impact on those species that normally produce two broads a year.   Further information on the results of the count can be found the Butterfly Conservation website :  here.
Viruses, Varroa and honey bees.

Viruses, Varroa and honey bees.

by blogs at woodlands, 2 October, 2021, 1 comments

Honey bees are often infected by the mite - Varroa.  Mites are small arachnids.  The varroa mite is an external  parasite, attaching to the body of the bee and feeding from it.  It also infects honey bees with various viruses, which further harm the bees.  One such virus is the deformed wing virus.  Bees that are severely infected with this virus die within days, some have such poorly developed wings that they cannot properly forage for nectar and pollen.  The virus also affects their ability to learn, so that if they forage they may not be able to find their way ‘home’.  Lost bees die, the colony is deprived of food collected by such bees and the colony may collapse. Eliminating the mite is difficult and the use of chemicals risks contaminating any honey collected from treated colonies / hives.  However, researchers at the National Taiwan University have found a naturally occurring compound that may help alleviate the effects of the virus.  The compound in question is sodium butyrate Na(C3H7COO).  In a series of experiments, the research team found that bees that were fed sugar-water laced with butyrate were better able to resist the effects of subsequent viral infection.  Compared to a control group that did not have butyrate, some 90% were still alive five days after infection whereas 90% of the control group died.  The butyrate treatment also improved the bees’ ability to forage and return to the hive.   Further details of this work here. Sodium butyrate is an inexpensive chemical, and if its benefits are substantiated then it could provide an affordable solution to the mite and virus problem that honey bees face.
Woodlands web updates 7

Woodlands web updates 7

by blogs at woodlands, 2 October, 2021, 0 comments

The British Dragonfly Society has produced a report “State of Dragonflies, 2021”.  Dragonflies display the usual characteristics of insects, three pairs of jointed legs, three clear divisions to the body, compound eyes and a pair of antennae.  They also have two  pairs of (transparent) wings.  The hindwings are broader than the forewings so they belong to the group - Anisoptera (from the greek unequal wings).  They can fly fast and manoeuvre well.  Their ancestors were some of the first winged insects to evolve. The report notes that Many species have increased their distribution (since 1970), for example, the emperor dragonfly,  the ruddy darter. Though some like the black darter seem to be in decline; this may be associated with a lack of heathland management and the drying of blanket bog areas. Several species have arrived in Britain from Southern Europe for the first time, with others returning after long absences.  The vagrant emperor is a long distance migrant from Africa and the Middle East. It is thought that it might now be breeding more regularly in Southern Europe so that some now migrate northwards more often. Dragonflies are moving northwards across Britain and Ireland (associated with warming temperatures and climate change) Whilst the distribution of species has increased, the actual numbers of different species is not known so it is not possible to say if dragonfly numbers have increased overall. However, compared to many reports on the collapse of insect numbers, it would seem that that many dragonfly species are responding to climate warming and an increase in the number of ponds (for example, see the woodlands blog of the restoration of ghost ponds in Norfolk), lakes, gravel pits in recent years. The larval stages of dragonflies (nymphs) are spent in water. Apart from changing the distribution of various animals (and plants), climate change can have other effects.  Some homeotherms ‘warm blooded’ animals (birds and mammals) are undergoing changes in their body form or ‘shape shifting’.  Sara Ryder et al of Deakin University, Australia has studied several species of Australian parrot and has found that their beak size has increased since the nineteenth century:  this increase in beak size is thought to be associated with better heat exchange.  Other research has reported on changes to tail length in wood mice, also tail and leg size in masked shrews.  The changes are generally less than 10% but they do seem to be responses to changing climatic conditions. Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) is a tall, clump forming grass with attractive plumes that can find a home at the coast, in town or in your garden.  It was originally a species native to South America. However, it now has a much wider distribution, mainly due to its use as an ornamental plant though it was also used in South Africa to control erosion on dumps around mines. Each plume can produce tens of thousands of seeds.  Consequently, it is now regarded as an invasive species in many countries. It has expanded across industrial and urban areas, squeezing out native species in coastal regions of France, Spain and Portugal, Now the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has introduced a system to recognise the threats posed by harmful species (such as Pampas Grass)  - The Environmental Impacts Classification of Alien Taxa.
opening and closing - flowers, leaves .....

opening and closing – flowers, leaves …..

by blogs at woodlands, 27 September, 2021, 0 comments

Some flowers are open during the day, ready to receive visitors (pollinators) but close up each night at dusk; for example, crocuses, tulips, poppies.  Other plants move their leaves in response to light and dark. Such movements of flowers and leaves are known as nyctinastic movements. The reasons for these movements are not particularly clear / obvious. A number of suggestions have been advanced : The closing of the petals at night might serve to keep pollen dry.  When wetted, pollen is heavier and less easy for insects to distribute. By closing at night, the nectar and pollen is protected from unwanted visitors.  Some insects are nectar robbers that is they take nectar but do not contribute to pollination. Darwin made the suggestion that the closing might help protect the floral organs from the chill of night time temperature. Leaves may move to help capture rain, closing down at night to allow water to trickle down to the roots (?). Different explanations may apply to different plants but these movements have a common underlying mechanism, namely phytochrome.  Phytochrome is a blue-green light absorbing pigment. It responds to red (in the region of 660 nM) and far red light (>730 nM). Red light is generally abundant during the day, but the balance between red and far red shifts towards the end of the day. This change is detected by phytochrome and it directs the plant’s circadian / daily rhythm.  Phytochrome is involved in many processes during a plant’s life cycle from germination to flowering.  The nyctinastic movements of plant parts is, however, largely controlled by the movement of water into and out of cells - cells can swell or shrink.  Some plants have special structures called pulvini to control the movement of leaves.  Pulvini are found in the bean family (Fabaceae), and plants like the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) and the Prayer plant (Maranta sp).  Pulvini are usually located on the leaf stalk (petiole). A pulvinus is a small swelling on the stalk, it has a central core of vascular (water-conducting) tissue surrounded thin-walled cells (parenchyma tissue) with large fluid-filled vacuoles.  The flow of water in and out of the vacuoles of these cells raises or lowers the leaf stalk / leaf. [caption id="attachment_36023" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pulvinus on sensitive plant[/caption] [caption id="attachment_36032" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Young Mimosa pudica[/caption]  
Woodland web updates 6.

Woodland web updates 6.

by blogs at woodlands, 17 September, 2021, 0 comments

Pesticides problems. The effect of pesticides on bees and bumble bees is now well documented.  However, the combined effect of different pesticides is less well known.  If pesticide A is known to kill 10% of the bees in an area that has been treated, and pesticide B kills another 10% then it might be reasonable to assume that 20% of the bees would be killed - IF the effects are additive.  However, evidence is beginning to indicate that the effects of the pesticides is more than the sum of the parts - the pesticides work together / synergistically. Pesticide formulations that are sold to farmers are often ready mixed ‘cocktails’ so exposure to more than one pesticide is often the norm,  so it is important that these co-operative effects are understood and known. Honey bees have been affected by not only pesticides but also varroa.  Varroa is a mite, which lives and feeds on honeybees and their larvae.  Fortunately, bees have complex hygienic behaviours, for example, removing dead larvae or pupae.   Research indicates that honey bees are modifying this behaviour to deal with varroa mites. Helping pollinators Researchers at the University of Freiburg have recently published work establishing the importance of semi-natural habitat regions next to orchards and other agricultural landscapes for pollinators.  Such areas (ditches, banks, overgrown fences etc) help ensure that flowers (and therefore nectar and pollen) are available over a significant period of time.  This is important for pollinators such as hover flies, solitary bees, bumblebees etc. as nectar / pollen provided by crops is only available for a short and limited period.  Such areas are also important for overwintering, nesting sites, providing food for larval stages etc).  Their work focused on orchards near Lake Constance in Southern Germany. Soil remediation with lupins. There are many sites around the world where the soil is contaminated with metals (such as arsenic) as a result of past mining / industrial activities.  Such arsenic contaminated soil might be ‘revived’ by using the natural mechanisms that some plants have evolved to deal with certain contaminants.   The white lupin (Lupinus alba) is an arsenic-tolerant plant that might be a candidate for phytoremediation of soil.  The tolerance of the white lupin to arsenic is thought to be due to the release of chemicals by the roots into the soil.  Staff at the University de Montréal placed nylon pouches close to the roots to capture the molecule released.  The chemicals were then analysed to see which could bind to the arsenic (phytochelatins).  Phytochelatins are known to be used within plants to deal with metals but here they seem to be used externally.  Quite how they work is yet to be determined.
Banner Yellow stagshorn

August Fungi Focus: Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)

by Jasper Sharp, 7 September, 2021, 1 comments

Quite remarkably, this is the 50th of my monthly Woodlands fungi blog posts since I began some four years ago with a short piece on Chicken of the Woods. They originally went out unto the heading of ‘Monthly Mushroom’, but this changed to ‘Fungi Focus’ a couple of years back, with my piece on Ash Dieback reflecting how my own interest in the mycological world had moved past the point where the first question I asked when finding a new species was whether it was edible or not.  Instead, the posts were intended to reflect the wider questions I began to ask myself around such ideas as where certain species fit within the wider woodland ecology and what wider purpose they might serve – questions that the more I continue to dig deeper into the subject, the more I realise how much more we still need to learn about this cryptic world.  I’ve also hoped to show that there’s a lot more to fungi than the familiar agaric cap, gill and stem types – a world of crusts, rusts, discs and jellies that also leads into other related areas such as slime moulds. In fact, as I look back over my posts so far from 2021, I realise that only one of the subjects, the Fairy Inkcap, is a conventionally umbrella-shaped one.  [caption id="attachment_35959" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa).[/caption] We are now moving into the peak season for the more eye-catching and recognisable fungi species, and I shall be returning to some more standard mushroom and toadstool examples over the coming months. Before this, however, I just wanted to dwell on a group of jellies belonging to the Calocera genus of ‘Stagshorns’ that have already started coming into their own, although they can be seen pretty much around the year. Geoffrey Kibby’s wonderful Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain and Europe vol 1 (3rd edition published last year in 2020) lists five biological orders within the broad group of jelly fungi. The Auriculariales include Wood Ears and Tripe Fungus, as well as the two black species encompassed by the name Witches’ Butter, Exidia nigricans and Exidia glandulosa; while similar in form, the two yellow species known as Witches’ Butter belong to an entirely different order, Tremellales – the fundamental difference is that these types are not feeding on the dead wood itself (i.e. are saprotrophic) like the Auriculariales, but are parasitic on the mycelium of other fungi feeding within the dead wood.  [caption id="attachment_35960" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Small Stagshorn (Calocera Cornea)[/caption] The Calocera species belong to a third order, the Dacrymycetales, which also includes the Common Jellyspot (Dacrymyces stillatus) that you might see proliferating all over fences, garden sheds and outdoor furniture in damp weather. (We’ll gloss over the other two orders Kibby lists that contain gelatinous fungi, Agaricomycotina and Sebacinales). Pat ‘O Reilly writes in First Nature that the name stems from the prefix ‘calo’’ meaning beautiful and that the ‘-cera’ part comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘like wax’, as indeed, these beautiful horn-like fungi do have a distinctive waxy texture to them.  Within the Calocera genus itself there are 15 species, although just a few seem to be commonly found in the UK, and only two of these make it into most field guides. But they are all instantly recognisable, not to mention incredibly photogenic, despite their sizes making them surprisingly tricky to get a decent photograph of.  [caption id="attachment_35961" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)[/caption] Calocera viscosa, commonly known as the Yellow Stagshorn or Jelly Antler, is the type species for this genus – the species that typifies a particular group and which is considered the prime reference point for other species within it. Like the others, it is a bright yellow, with pale orange to red tints appearing in drier weather, although occasionally pale white versions can be found. The reason for the Stagshorn part of the name is fairly obvious. These grow in clumps of branching antler-shaped growths, like vivid yellow corals. They are not, however, related to other coral fungi, like the Ramaria species, which are a lot tougher in texture due to their flesh being the same solid mass of hyphal cells as the fruitbodies of normal mushrooms. The various Ramaria species seem to be a lot less common than the Yellow Stagshorn and in any matter, are not jelly fungi. The differences are easy to discern if you see them side by side than, though rather less easy to describe. If we ignore the superficial similarities, an obvious one is that if you try and take a sample of Yellow Stagshorn, it tends to squash between your fingers and it’s difficult to get home a piece home intact without it squishing or drying out. If you do manage to get to the stage of getting spores samples on a microscope slide, you’ll also notice that Calocera spores are white and more allantoid or sausage-shaped than the brownish more symmetrical ellipsoids of the spores of Ramaria species. [caption id="attachment_35962" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)[/caption] Another feature that will points towards positive identifications of the Yellow Stagshorn is that they grow exclusively on conifer stumps and dead roots, I found one right at the base of the rare Antrodia carbonica crust fungi I found last summer on a Douglas Fir stump. They are typically not very large, seldom reaching 10cm in height, with several of my guidebooks listing a range between 2-8cm tall. This makes them relatively easy to spot but actually pretty tricky to photograph in terms of getting everything in focus.  That said, they are considerably easier to snap than their relative, the Small Stagshorn (Calocera cornea), which appears in single pointed, non-branching protuberances, usually less than a centimetre in length and about a millimetre in width. You’ll see these spikes spreading almost like hairs across their hosts, the decaying wood of broadleaved trees, particularly beech. Again, quite striking and difficult to miss, but individually difficult to photograph without a macro-lens and, en masse, it is difficult to get everything in focus. [caption id="attachment_35963" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Small Stagshorn (Calocera Cornea)[/caption] Kibby and the authors of Fungi of Temperate Europe list a couple of other Calocera species. The Forked Stagshorn (Calocera furcata) is about the same size as the Small Stagshorn but has bifurcating tips like the larger Yellow Stagshorn, although appears dotted across its substrate rather than bunched at the base. Calocera glossoides grows in small single clubs, and while it doesn’t have a common name listed in the British Mycological Society’s list of English names, Kibby writes that ‘glossoides’ means shaped like a tongue. That leaves one more Stagshorn for our focus, the pallid looking and spatula-shaped Calocera pallidospathulata, or Pale Stagshorn. It is not dissimilar in form to C. glossoides, but it’s gelatinous flesh is pale and semi-translucent at the stem, yellowing at the top. This is a bit of an interesting one, this one, because while it appears to be a lot more commonly found than the previous two I’ve just mentioned, this was not always the case.  [caption id="attachment_35964" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pale Stagshorn (Calocera pallidospathulata)[/caption] In fact, according to this brief article ‘An alien tale: the history of Calocera pallidospathulata’, the species was only discovered in Yorkshire and subsequently named as recently as 1969. This wasn’t just the first UK record; it was the first record of the species anywhere in the world. How and where it came from remains a mystery, although the article claims that the renowned mycologist and slime mould expert Professor Bruce Ing has conjectured its origins might lie as far afield as Mexico.  Certainly I focussed on a similar case of a fungi taking to British woodlands like a duck to water earlier this year with a blog piece on Crimped Gills. The Pale Stagshorn also seems to have spread rapidly across the UK. In the first decade since its initial 1969 sighting, it had been recorded in a number of locations across the north of England, but made the leap to the south with its first record in the New Forest occurring in 1989. Fungi of Temperate Europe describes its range as “Common in the UK, where probably introduced from North America, but likely to be spreading to other parts of temperate Europe, e.g. the Netherlands; all year.” [caption id="attachment_35965" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pale Stagshorn (Calocera pallidospathulata)[/caption] I have to say, that while I have yet to come across Calocera furcata or Calocera glossoides, I did find a patch of Pale Stagshorn in a woods near Canterbury a few years back, so I can vouch for the fact that this particular species has spread to East Kent. Not that we should have anything to fear by this seemingly rapid spread. The Stagshorn species all appear on dead wood, and are not harmful in any way to living trees.  Still, it makes one wonder what the processes and mechanisms might be by which more harmful species such as the Ash Dieback fungus might spread across the country.  Supplementary images. [caption id="attachment_35967" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Pale Stagshorn (Calocera pallidospathulata[/caption] [caption id="attachment_35968" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)[/caption]  

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