February 2019

Back in Norfolk in time for the beginning of spring.

Snowdrops
Sheila Sims

Tree stump with lodgers!
Sheila Sims

Many people will be starting to tidy up in their gardens this month but let’s not be too hasty. All those dead leaves and branches will be sheltering amphibians and insects which have been spending the winter hidden away. Also, do leave old tree stumps for these become little ecosystems; wood boring insects will make their homes in them and plants, fungi, mosses and lichens take root and use up the last remaining nutrients. Eventually the stumps will rot down and become part of the soil. Some of those stumps will be the remains of Elm trees, many of which suffered in the early seventies from Dutch elm disease. This was a fungal disease, carried by the Elm bark beetle, which attacked the vascular system of the trees, the system by which water is transported from the roots to other parts of the tree, obviously essential for the life of the Elm.

Often diseases are named after the place where they originated but in this case it is called ‘Dutch’ because the main research into this devastating disease was carried out in the Netherlands.

As if these poor trees haven’t suffered enough, there is a new threat to those Elms which proved resistant to Dutch elm disease. The zigzag elm sawfly, originally from Japan, has spread across the south and the east of England. It is also known as the ‘Zorro’ fly because of the ‘Z’ shaped holes the larvae make in the leaves. These larvae can consume nearly all the foliage on a tree, not only causing severe weakness which leaves the Elm vulnerable to disease and drought, but also endangering other insects which rely on the elms for their existence. Pesticides cannot be used against the fly as they would kill indigenous insects including one of the UK’s most endangered butterflies, the White letter hairstreak. The fly is thought to have arrived in this country as eggs on imported trees and as it can breed asexually and doesn’t need a partner, one female is all that is needed to cause an infestation. Why we need to import foreign trees is beyond me, surely we have enough natives that can be used for propagation.

Last summer’s very hot weather was bad for many trees in Britain, in particular the Ash and the Oak. The drought boosted the disease Ash Die Back and the Oak processionary moth, which we have talked about before, also thrived well in the heat.

Brown hare
Sheila Sims

Another sad thing is happening in our part of the country; sick and dead hares are being found in parts of East Anglia. It is feared that rabbit heamorrhagic disease or myxomatosis has made the jump from rabbits to hares but I’m sure the cause of these deaths will be confirmed by post- mortem examination; the Suffolk and Norfolk Wildlife Trusts are working with The University of East Anglia in the investigation. Eighty per cent of hares have disappeared from Britain due to changes in farming methods, resulting in loss of habitat, the fact that there is no closed season for hunting and shooting and illegal hare coursing still takes place. East Anglia is the stronghold for hares, which are not common in other parts of the country, so it would be disastrous if this disease should wipe out the existing population.

Don’t go on the road!
Nicki Dixon

As well as hares we have plenty of deer in our region and as they have no natural predators their numbers are increasing. Culling does take place when some are shot for meat and the old and weak are taken out to keep the herds healthy. Unfortunately, some also die on the road because when a deer decides to cross it doesn’t look left or right but has its eyes fixed on its destination, the other side, and once it makes the decision to go, it goes, regardless of traffic, often resulting in an injured or dead deer and sometimes a badly damaged car. So it pays to drive slowly in areas where these animals may be, particularly at dusk and dawn and at night because these are the times they are most active. Remember, the little Muntjacs also come to town where they live in parks and large gardens, so care is needed here too.

Greenfinch
Sheila Sims

If you have been feeding the birds during the winter you may have noticed some, in particular finches, with crusty looking growths on their legs. This is called Scaly leg, also known as ‘tassel foot’, and is caused by a tiny mite which burrows under the leg scales. It is quite common but seems to peak during the winter months and may well be linked to the fact that many birds migrate to our country at this time; it can also affect your chickens.

Chaffinch
Sheila Sims

Its not all bad news! Norfolk’s farm ponds are being restored by a team of conservationists. These so called ‘ghost ponds’ can often be located by the presence of wet areas in fields where the ponds used to be. After the second world war there was a drive to increase home-grown food and so the ponds were filled in, hedges and trees removed to make more room for crops. This saw a decline in the wildlife of the Norfolk countryside but now that the ponds are being excavated and will refill, the plants and animals should return. Congratulations to those involved in this very worthwhile project.

Frogs and toads will be emerging from hibernation as the weather warms up and although most return to the pond to breed where they themselves were spawned, hopefully some may find these restored ponds and decide to stay. People have asked me why some frogs, in the spring, congregate in gardens where there is no pond. The most likely reason is that there probably used to be a pond there that has been filled in; many people do this for safety reasons when they have children.

Next month, if the weather is warm enough, hedgehogs will also be starting to wake up from their hibernation and I’ll be writing about a ‘Hedgehog Haven’ in North Walsham.

Things to do in February:

  • Meet a hedgehog – family event.

  • Sounding coastal change .

  • Winter Waterfowl.

  • World Wetlands Day, 2019. All at Cley Marshes.

  • The nightjars of Thetford Forest.

    © Sheila Sims 2019. Email: sheila@norfolknaturediary.uk

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