October 2020

Autumn colour – Sheila Sims

October is full of colour as the leaves change to wonderful reds and golds which, if the strong winds stay away, will stay with us for at least another month. In a few years the colours should increase, as the water companies in England have pledged to plant 11 million trees in the next ten years.

Perfect October sunset - Sheila Sims

Perfect October sunset – Sheila Sims

Trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, and give out oxygen; this plan should improve the environment as well as providing habitats for wildlife. Trees stop flooding by taking up water through their roots and those roots also help stabilise the soil preventing landslides.

Shaggy caps – Mike Sims

This will increase the presence of fungi most of which have symbiotic relationships with trees. One very attractive toadstool is the Shaggy Cap. This fungus is a member of the mushroom family and was once considered edible but not now. I suppose there must have been a few upset stomachs or even deaths to change peoples minds! It is mainly found growing at the base of deciduous trees but sometimes conifers. It will also grow in clusters on dead wood from which it obtains nourishment by breaking down the remaining nutrients the wood contains.

Mushrooms have been in the news as scientists at Kew Gardens, with others, have discovered that if the natural properties of some fungi could be harnessed they could be used to break down plastic, one of the main components of litter and rubbish. Chinese scientists have found, on a Pakistani rubbish dump, that a member of the Aspergillus family can eat plastic by breaking down the molecules in weeks, rather than the years it takes for the plastic to disintegrate naturally. There is a lot of excitement in the scientific world about this finding as it could solve a major environmental problem. Meanwhile manufacturers are trying out various plastic substitutes which are environmentally friendly. Strange, isn’t it, that what was once thought of as a wonder material should now be something that we are working to get rid of. I’m sure if the litter louts of this world would be more caring and recycled their rubbish in a responsible manner it wouldn’t be such a problem. Of course this would require all plastics to be reusable.

One of natures great recyclers is the earthworm, which will drag leaves into its burrow to eat in safety away from all the birds and mammals which would certainly enjoy a tasty meal. Not enough is known about these very important creatures without which our soil would probably turn into a desert.

Earthworm Watch (yes, there is such a thing!) would welcome any data from the public and their website can be found on the internet.

Greenfinch – Sheila Sims

Finches are in danger from a disease that previously was thought to mainly affect Greenfinches and birds in the pigeon family. Now it has been found to also be prevalent in Goldfinches and Chaffinches and it also affects raptors. Although finches are still relatively common, their numbers have decreased significantly. The responsibility lies with, among other things, Trichomonosis, a water borne disease spread by parasites which inhabit bird tables and baths and is spread by close contact between the birds; this disease can also be found in cage birds. Affected birds will be ruffled, unsteady and do not feed. So make sure the feeders and baths are thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis.

Rabbits were released by Natural England in the Brecks, on the Norfolk and Suffolk border, which is composed mainly of inland sand dunes and pine forests. It is hoped the rabbits digging habits will create a landscape that will be beneficial to some of our rarest flowers which have declined due to development and agriculture. This happened earlier in the year so there will be more, now, than the number that were released. I imagine there was some opposition to this plan from people living locally!

Bar-tailed godwit – Joan Dixon

The RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have combined in a project to save the Black-tailed godwit from extinction in this country. Eggs have been removed from the nests of the few remaining nesting birds; these birds tend to nest in long grass bordering their feeding grounds. This choice of nesting sites leaves the birds open to predation and flooding, so the eggs are incubated and the hatching chicks are hand-reared and released when they are strong enough. This is called head-starting and has been successful as there are now more than 150 Black-tailed godwits in the fens of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

I hope you all remain safe and virus-free.

This winter we are going travelling again; I’m taking you to the Galapagos Islands.

© Sheila Sims 2020. Email sheila@norfolknaturediary.uk

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