Autumn’s here and so are many fungi, some edible but some poisonous, so take advice from an expert before you fry up your foraging finds with the bacon. A lot of fungi associate with trees in symbiotic relationships where each gives the other something they need. But one that is harmful to trees and woody shrubs, eventually causing their death, is a species of the dreaded Honey fungus or to give it its alternative name, Bootlace fungus. There are several types, some more damaging than others, and they usually make themselves known by the appearance of clusters of honey-coloured toadstools at the base of the tree. However this doesn’t always happen but the tree or shrub will slowly become sick with poor flowers and fruit and dying leaves. Sometimes, though, it will make a last ditch effort and produce a bumper crop before giving up the ghost and dying. So it isn’t always obvious that the tree is infected but one way of telling if this devil is present is to have a look at the base of the trunk and the roots. If it is Honey fungus which is causing the problem, under the bark will be white threads, mycelium, which once exposed will eventually turn black. Honey fungus spreads by way of bootlace-like threads, called rhizomorphs, that travel beneath the soil at the rate of a metre a year. When it has killed a tree it then feeds on the dead wood. There are suggested ways of controlling this pest but they are difficult and time consuming. One is to chop down the dead tree and dig out the stump and roots but as the largest underground system that has been found was 4 square miles and thought to be thousands of years old, this could be a lifetimes work! Trees that are stressed through damage, insect attack or drought, are obviously going to be more vulnerable than healthy plants but there are species that have some resistance to Honey fungus and lists of these can be found online or ask at your local garden centre.
Don’t be too hasty about starting to tidy in the garden yet, as dead leaves and log piles provide winter shelter for insects, reptiles and animals and seed heads will attract birds, especially Goldfinches which we all love to see. It’s time to clean and fill your bird feeders and if you are lucky enough to have a visiting hedgehog put out some ‘Spike’s Dinner’ available at pet shops.
The winter thrushes, Redwings, Fieldfares and Mistle thrushes will start to arrive this month from their summer quarters to spend the cold months with us so, hopefully, there will still be some berries after the drought this summer. They will strip what’s left from the trees and shrubs, that is if the Blackbirds haven’t eaten them all. Leave your windfall apples and scatter dried mealworms for these thrushes as they prefer to feed on the ground.
It’s big spider time, again, when they dash across the floor in search of the females. They like to hide away during the day and one chooses to rest up in my dressing gown. The first time I became aware of this visitor was when he suddenly dropped out onto the floor. I wouldn’t really mind but I’d been wearing the dressing gown for half an hour! It’s happened a couple of times since, so I make sure to give the garment a good shake before I put it on. What attracts him I don’t know; perhaps he just likes the colour.
A caterpillar which is often still around in October is the Pale tussock which will be searching for somewhere to pupate and spend the winter as a cocoon; as with many hairy caterpillars it should not be handled with bare hands as the hairs are highly irritant This exotic looking creature feeds on a variety of plants and was once considered a pest by hop growers; hop pickers in the past gave it the name of ‘hop dog’. In the spring the adult moth will emerge, easily recognisable when at rest by the furry front legs which it stretches out in front of its body; also the male has feathered antennae.
A little over two years ago I wrote about the amount of plastic waste we generate and how damaging it is to wildlife and the environment. This subject has been given much publicity since David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’ was shown. Several people wrote to me with suggestions of what we as individuals can do to help and there have also been some in the media, one of which I have taken on board. I have bought some ‘Tupperware’ containers (other makes are available) and yes – yes, I know they are a type of plastic but they are reusable and will last for years. So at the end of shopping in a supermarket, after passing through the checkout, I remove all the plastic wrapping, put the contents in my containers and leave the waste on a chair or in the trolley. I do feel a little guilty about giving the hard working staff even more to do but I feel I have to make the point and if we all did this sooner or later the management might take the hint. You may feel a bit self-concious at first – I did – but after a couple of times you will get used to doing it (you will also become immune to the looks you get!) and it adds only a few minutes to your shopping time; take a small pair of scissors to remove the plastic wrappings and some biodegradable wet wipes to use after handling the meat, fish and cheese. I know the reasons for wrapping food in plastic are for hygiene and protection, but until compostable or recyclable materials are used – they are available – I will continue to remove it. My husband pointed out that by taking off the packaging you don’t know when the ‘use by’ date is, which is a good point, so I put the label in with the goods. However, from the 3rd of this month I won’t have to remove the packaging from some items because Tesco have said that if you take your own containers they will wrap goods, such as cheese, fish and meat, in recyclable paper and put them in your boxes. Thank you Tesco; hopefully the other supermarkets will do the same. If you have the odd Chinese take-away, save the containers; they will be useful for your next shopping trip. It was a good move by supermarkets to make a charge for plastic carrier bags but I bet the sale of plastic bin bags has rocketed since! Tesco is also running trials at selected stores paying 10p for each returned plastic bottle; they hope this will become countrywide.
On the same subject, congratulations to William Darling! In case you missed it an article about this fourteen year old boy, featured in last month’s edition of the Norfolk paper ‘Town & Country News’, told how he has been kayaking around the Broads collecting rubbish from the water. He has been chosen to take part in the Camp International expedition to Tanzania where he and others on the expedition will be cleaning beaches of plastic waste as well as many other helpful activities. If you would like to sponsor William go to www.gofundme.com/williamdarling-tanzania2019 where you can also read his full story.
Things to do in October:
Fungi & Beach clean – both at Cley Marshes.
Signs of autumn & Creatures of the night – both at Hickling Broad.
www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.
Wild things at Halloween & Birding for beginners (ideal for children)
both at Titchwell Marsh. firstname.lastname@example.org or 01485 210779.
© Sheila Sims 2018. Email: email@example.com