Back in Norfolk the trees are very different from those in the Ecuadorean cloud forests where I took you during the winter. The British trees are still quite bare at this time of year which makes us aware of how Ivy can take them over; it is evergreen so is very visible in the winter. It is not a parasitic plant and uses the tree purely as support by way of rootlets on its branches; these produce discs that adhere to the tree enabling the Ivy to climb.
Although it doesn’t get its nourishment directly from the tree, because its roots are close by, it will compete with it for nutrients and water. As well as this, Ivy’s presence denies the tree sunlight and air causing defoliation and this will eventually weaken its host leaving it prone to parasites and disease, which can lead to the tree toppling over. If Ivy decides to make a building its home it can cause significant damage as those rootlets invade the mortar between the bricks and eventually loosen the structure.
However, Ivy isn’t all bad news as it flowers in the autumn and provides pollen and nectar for insects when not many other plants are blooming; the black berries are poisonous to us but are relished by some birds, especially Wood pigeons which will feast on them as though they haven’t eaten for months! It is also good cover for birds and many species will roost in it at night and use it for nesting in the spring, protected by the tangle of branches and leaves. Deer like to feed on Ivy and our sheep love it!
Well meaning people will often try to ‘rescue’ what they think are abandoned seal pups along our coast. Because seals’ milk is very rich, the pups obtain a great deal of energy during the nursing period, which is not very long allowing the mothers to return to fishing at sea; this is usually where they are when the pups are observed on their own on the beach. The RSPCA has said to please leave the pups alone because if they really are in trouble the wardens, who patrol the beaches, will become aware of the situation. Also, avoid touching any dead seals because, if you have a cut or scratch, this can result in acquiring an infection which is very difficult to treat; the seal hunters and whalers in the past often contracted this which usually resulted in amputation. We found out about this when my husband got a case of ‘seal finger’ while carrying out a post mortem on a dead animal. (Not a hobby – he’s a vet.) He was hospitalised for a week while they searched for the right antibiotic. Thankfully he didn’t lose the finger but it doesn’t match the others and will always be distorted.
Snowdrops are lovely this month cheering us up and heralding the blooming of other spring flowers, that is if the squirrels haven’t been eating all the bulbs. Another little bulb thief is the vole and we have seen quite a lot of these little creatures lately. A few months ago we acquired a cat called Ozzy and she is a little sweetheart except that, like all felines, she insists on bringing in a lot of wildlife, particularly voles. Some have already gone to that great volery in the sky but some are very much alive and usually retreat to an inaccessible hiding place. Either Ozzy has found where the voles hang out or they are a bit slow. Whichever, they appear from underneath the furniture now and then and run around the floor for a bit of exercise, much to the excitement of May, our Lurcher.
Muntjac deer may have young at the moment because, unlike other deer, they do not have a set rutting season but breed all the year round if conditions are favourable.
The Woodland Trust intends to plant thousands of trees this year to increase the absorption of carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen which trees do very efficiently. We can all help by planting trees of our own but we must make sure they are native specimens and not ones that originate in other countries.
As well as trees woodlands are home to many fungi; trees and fungi have a symbiotic relationship, supplying each other with essential needs. So if one goes, so does the other. Unfortunately, woodlands are being stripped of their fungi by commercial pickers who help themselves to vast numbers of edible mushrooms to sell in markets and to restaurants. These illegal pickers are being prosecuted and fined and one had a haul of 108lbs (40 kgs) of fungi! I believe it is OK to take a few for your own table but to gather them on this scale does irreparable damage to woodlands.
Some good news! Overhead power lines have been removed from South Walsham Marshes and replaced with underground cables. Not only has this improved the view across the marshes but also removed a hazard for birds that have often been in danger of flying into the lines.
Things to do in February:
• Free family fun.
• Norfolk’s wildlife in a changing climate.
• Really wild half term.All at Cley & Salthouse Marshes. Details – 01603 625540 orwww.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk
• Plant a tree!
© Sheila Sims 2020