Improving biodiversity in churchyards

Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Diocese of Bath and Wells have started a joint Wilder Churches project to protect biodiversity in churchyards and on other church land. You can read about it on the Somerset Wildlife Trust website. Somerset Botany Group have been asked by the SWT coordinator, Pippa Rayner, to provide help with habitat mapping and plant identification. The diocese covers almost all of historic Somerset, and so the project will include parishes in BANES and North Somerset.

If members of SRPG, or other people with habitat and botanical skills, would like to participate you would be most welcome. Please either contact the SBG via Chris Billinghurst on 01761 221579 or Val Graham. You might also like to find out if your local parish is participating.

The first zoom session for parish representatives was attended by 200 people, so it seems there is a high level of interest. A video of the meeting is available on the SWT project page.

A year of first flowering dates

It has been a year since the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown and a year since Simon Leach started the First Flowering Dates project. To mark this milestone he has compiled a report on the first three weeks findings from this March. There won’t be regular reports this year but there will be a grand round-up when the ivy is in flower. More background on the project and its current status can be found under Activities > Projects.

Target Species for Spring 2021

As we are definitely in spring now that the Equinox has passed, we thought you might like to look for some woodland flowers. A list of five species, with maps and descriptions, has been prepared by Liz McDonnell. You can find it in the new Target Species section (under Activities > Projects in the menu).

The RPR account of Oxalis acetosella (Wood-sorrel – pictured) has been updated as well. While you are there you can have a look at the new account of Trinia glauca (Honewort).

The mistletoe project is now closed and the web page has been updated (also under Projects).

Some plants in the news

Allium ampeloprasum by Philmarin CC BY-SA 3.0

A couple of interesting plant stories have appeared in the last few weeks. Firstly, in BSBI News for Jan 2021 there are reports on two of the plants in our Rare Plant Register.

The first, is Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum (Wild Leek). Tim Rich collected and cultivated plants from the colony on Flat Holm (VC41) and determined that it never sets seed. His conclusion is that the colony is likely to be a single sterile clone of cultivated origin. As a result, he calls into question its status in the British Vascular Plant Red Data Book. He believes that both the Flat Holm and Steep Holm (VC6) colonies are likely to be relics of cultivation.

The second species, Lythrum hyssopifolia (Grass-poly), has been re-found after an absence of over 100 years by the Norfolk Pond Project following pond restoration. This species has always been very rare in the UK. Before you rush out to hunt for it in Somerset you should read the RPR account.

And finally, the ultimate gall  –  a newly described fungus from Guyana that mimics a flower – as described on the the excellent botanical blog “In Defense of Plants”.

Additions to RPR – March

Glaucium flavum at Stert Point (2012). Photo: HJC

Another handful of rare plant accounts have been added to the Rare Plant Register this month. They are Carex extensa (Long-bracted Sedge), Cerastium arvense (Field Mouse-ear), Glaucium flavum (Yellow Horned-poppy), Ononis spinosa (Spiny Restharrow), and Polygonum oxyspermum subsp. raii (Ray’s Knotgrass) .

Mistletoe at Sheppy’s Cider Farm

As some of you may know, Sheppy’s is a cider farm, restaurant and visitor centre of more than 90 acres of orchards, just outside Wellington. We thought it might be interesting for you to read the “Question and Answer” email conversation I had with the owners. It is good to have a slightly different perspective on the issue of Mistletoe. Linda Everton

See more at https://www.sheppyscider.com/

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In a visit to Sheppy’s last week, I passed through your many acres of fruit trees and noted that quite a high percentage of your trees had infestations of Mistletoe, but, on the face of it, not to an extent that would cause damage to the trees or reduce yield. I am presuming (perhaps wrongly) that you carry out some sort of Mistletoe management and to add interest to our project, I was wondering if you would be prepared to give me information around how you do this. For example, it would be helpful to know:

How many fruit trees do you actually have?                               

Around 20,000 (about 750 standard trees, the rest bush)

What different fruit trees do you have and are they differentially affected by Mistletoe?                

Almost exclusively apple trees.  Some pears, but no evidence of mistletoe in these as a) they are very young and b) they have been very badly affected by fire blight

Is there a level of infestation beyond which the tree yield is adversely affected?                 

Yes, but it has to be extremely heavy.

Do you let older parts of the Orchard finally succumb to Mistletoe over-infestation?         

Never.  Our oldest trees are all still productive and very beneficial for wildlife.  We try not to allow trees to be overwhelmed.

Do you harvest and sell Mistletoe?           

Yes, to sell in our farm shop.

What birds and insects are associated with your Mistletoe?          

I’m not aware what insects are specifically associated with mistletoe, but we get masses of redwings and fieldfares which come in for the apples first, then the mistletoe.  There must be many other birds which benefit as well, but they are less noticeable.  The orchards are still full of fieldfares.  There maybe redwings, but you don’t always get to see them up very close.

Are you aware of any Mistletoe on Oak within your property?    

No, and I do notice.  Poplar and willow are especially good hosts, I’m sure I’ve seen it in hawthorn, but never oak around here.

Given the traditions and folklore surrounding Mistletoe over the centuries, do any groups carry out any pagan/ religious/traditional ceremonies at Sheppys associated with Mistletoe?.       

Not that I know!  We use it everywhere we can, because it’s magnificent.  It goes in Father Christmas’s grotto, the shop and restaurant (who wants tinsel!) and in large quantities for our annual wassail. 

I used to pick mistletoe and sell it to local florists.  I had the idea that we could live with mistletoe, but it is a major problem.  I’d like to think that we could manage it, but in fact we will never really be able to do that.  It is now infesting all our orchards and is a particular problem on the older trees.  We cut it out fully, but when a tree has it all over its bigger branches there would be nothing left.  Our oldest trees were planted in the early 1930s and they are wonderful, beautiful hosts to so many insects and birds that every one lost is a great shame, but they are gradually succumbing to storms and some are fairly infested with mistletoe.  This year’s berry crop was so heavy I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like that, and, of course, the birds will have spent the whole Winter spreading these about, so this will continue to be an on-going problem which it is going to be very difficult to manage.  It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship!

It is said that this is not a plant which is common in Devon, which is interesting.  I’m not sure if it’s the climate or what.  I wouldn’t be without it, but we could live with less!