Saturday, 25 March 2017

Storm Doris and More Dead Wood

A huge amount of fallen and lying timber currently adorns the ground in gardens, parks and woodlands around Britain,  following Storm Doris's fly-by a few weeks ago.

A Met Office image of Storm Doris
The clean up operation began immediately -  but many fallen trees will remain undisturbed where they lie, and will gradually decay naturally. In some cases taking 50 years or more, the rate of decay depending on a multitude of invading decomposers, including fungi and invertebrates in all shapes and sizes and further aided by wind, rain and extremes of temperature.

other trees will be cleared away immediately
The transition from 'plantation' to 'woodland' is a gradual one, elevated somewhat by the presence of deadwood and the decaying process.

For details on deadwood management in woodland and forest follow the link below$FILE/FCPG020.pdf

Monday, 20 March 2017

Eyes On The Ground - EOTG

A Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust initiative to encourage the observation of wild flowers -

March hedgerow, bank and ditch at the Grove, Kings Heath. The oldest oak tree is around 150 years but the feature could date back to the Enclosure Act of 1772. A 'hidden history' of Kings Heath.
The term 'eyes on the ground' often has military connotations and has been conceptualised thus since the Iraqi war.

other definitions =
"The term "eyes on the ground" is occasionally used to describe those
individuals (frequently soldiers) who are close to an event and can
give first-hand information to decision makers." Google


""witnesses."  The Americanism "eyes on the ground" appears
to be military (or espionage) jargon for information obtained directly
("what they saw with their own eyes") as distinguished from
deductions, documentary information etc.   But the meaning is
simply witnesses." Google

Here's a link to a blog, exploring the concept further =

Our approach focuses on less sinister motives and encourages a 'walking pace' approach to life - a slow, very slow, walking pace at that. No dashing from here to there required - simple gentle grazing only.

Daffodils at Highbury
The season for EOTG began, for many, a couple of weeks ago, or perhaps earlier, when the snowdrops first poked an appearance. it's a bit like searching for a pinhole of light in a darkened place, such as a sweat lodge, odd analogy but never mind. The first sign that winter is subsiding and/or that Spring, warmth and light and food, is near.

This means a 'chance of survival' for many creatures, no time to lose in the search for an essential morsal - creatures with an adeptness for spotting the first bud or bug, behaviour becomes slightly frantic - feeding - establishing territory - attracting a mate. The song of Blackbirds and Thrushes have been my wake up call for the past 3 weeks.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

A mixed bag of Springy goings-on

This is, at least for me, always an exciting time of year. I'm not desperate to be rid of Winter 2016-17, for it has been relatively comfortable, 'unseasonal', some might say, followed by 'we need a good freeze to get rid of pests'. I'm not convinced with this argument, although I do enjoy wintery seasonal conditions, you know - threatening, moody skies followed by heavy snow, resulting in standstill on the roads, or bright clear night skies followed by hard, hoary frost. I do sympathise however with those poor unsteady-on-feet souls during such conditions, and falls can be fatal for elderly people; indeed it seems that most years an inevitable 'fatal fall' happens somewhere in my extended family, as it did this year to a 99 year old. The 100th celebration will continue later this year however.

The 'pest wipe-out' argument' also results in many small bird species declining, and in some cases, quite devastatingly, although often recovering in numbers the following breeding season.

This Winter I have both witnessed and received reports of Goldcrests galore, together with positive sightings of Wrens, Dunnocks and Goldfinches locally.

For now it is Spring with loads of changes taking place as we read/speak; and rapid plans are afoot for the coming seasons. I'm somewhat perturbed by the frantic nature of human behaviour at this time of year. For some, it's as if they've been cooped up for the past 16 weeks, and have now burst in to action with overgrown excitement. 

Aah but hang on, that's perfectly natural, look at the Blackbirds dancing on the lawn, listen to the early morning song of Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Robin and Blackbird, see the aerial cavorting of Crows and Buzzards, hark the drumming GS Woodpecker or the yaffling Green, smile at the antics of Blue Tits. 

All animal behaviour changes in Britain during early Spring.

Which brings us to the 'Spring Clean', there are plenty of site clean-ups around, so let's spend some of that built up and stored energy  out and about tidying up a littered green space.

For there is much litter.......
Rea Valley footbridge at Ten Acres

Kings Heath Park pond

The rear of Kings Heath Park House

Ground art at Kings Heath Park by Colmore School
Hidden History walk at Highbury with Mary-Ann Ochota (12th March 2017)

Friday, 10 February 2017

Highbury Park Friends January 2017 newsletter

Join Highbury Park Friends to get up to date information about this wonderful park - follow the link above for the latest newsletter.
NIA funded meadow seeding with the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust, January 2017

There's so much going on already and this is set to increase as the Chamberlain Highbury Trust look to bring many new and exciting ideas to the Highbury estate and adjoining park land. Check out their website on the links below

Weekly and monthly activities incuding 'Woodland Wednesdays' with the Rangers and B&BCWT, supported by NIA (Nature Improvement Area) funding.

Woodland Play after school club, every Wednesday at the Orchard - Highbury Orchard Community Interest Company oversee this -

Highbury Park coppice 2012

Coppice stool

Coppice products and crafts

Woodland activity with hazel stobs

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Hidden History of Highbury with Mary-Ann Ochota

Mary-Ann Ochota is an archaeology writer and TV presenter who's worked on Time Team, Britain's Secret Treasures and Ancient Impossible. Her new book, Hidden Histories: A Spotter's Guide to the British Landscape arms the landscape spotter with the information to explore the archaeology & history of the British countryside 

Alf Dimmock is a Senior Park Ranger for Birmingham City Council, and is the resident expert on the history and wildlife of Highbury Park.

check out this link for further details and booking procedure - 

Historic features of Highbury Park -

  • Bronze aged burnt mound - 
  • Mediaeval ridge and furrow (open field system)
  • The ancient Yew (Possibly 12th century)
  • The Henburys estate and farm (established by the early 18th Century)
  • Dad’s Lane Farm
  • Hedgerow (early enclosures)
  • The Great Oak (C1690)
  • Kings Norton Enclosures Act of Parliament 1772
  • The Railway 1837
  • Highbury house and estate from1878
  • The Highbury crucible wall

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A visiting student from Virginia asks -


Q1 What do you think are the biggest benefits of teaching and using traditional woodland management techniques in city parks?

A1. The essence of a Ranger’s role is to engage the community at large with the aim of encouraging more people to use parks and green spaces. Therefore a range of themes, topics and activities are employed to meet the broad interests and diverse nature of the public, involving people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities etc. 

The ‘woodland’ theme seems to have universal appeal and is steeped in history, ecology, science, spirituality, mythology and culturally, much more.

So generally we can assume people want to learn something new, make something using natural resources and have an involvement in their local green space, so that a few basic skills, some knowledge and a morsel of understanding related to ecological principles allows people to feel good about themselves and enables them to share these good feelings, acquired skills and gained knowledge with family and friends.

Q2.  Why do you think it is important to offer volunteer/educational events in city parks?

A2. Healthy outdoor activity is key to a balanced healthy life, especially in a modern city in which ‘green’ opportunities are few and the stresses many. So by providing outdoor activities in pleasant green space we provide an opportunity for people to escape the pressures of city living. Try Richard Louve, ‘Last Child in the Woods’ for a fully persuasive account of the consequences of inadequate exposure to nature and green space. Here he coins the term ‘nature deficit disorder’, awaiting those in later life who fail to satisfy their primeval needs early on.

Q3.  What's been one of your most rewarding projects in Highbury Park (or another park if something stands out)?

A3. The concept of ‘Woodland Wednesdays’ was born out of the persistent demands from the Highbury Park Friends and other park users, who came with a series of never ending and insatiable enquiries, so that we were meeting weekly to discuss the latest ‘new track’ or unauthorised activity’ or bit of unexplained flattened vegetation. Relatively minor issues in themselves but the sum of which required attention - so began regular site meetings entitled the Highbury ‘Working Party’, and included the Friends, the Orchard (HOCCIC), bee keepers, allotment holders, passers by and anyone caring to join in. 

I was determined to keep the themes and meetings positive, and rather than constant ‘fire fighting’ or fending off awkward questions with equally awkward and pathetic responses I decided to overwhelm the complaints and feelings of dissatisfaction with an overload of information and philosophy, that was the idea anyhow.

Woodland Wednesdays came as we were setting up ‘Active Parks’ sessions and rangers were encouraged to put a programme together. There was no way I was leading ‘zumba’ or ‘pilates’, which at first I thought was some type of Italian food, so we managed to successfully persuade the organisers that woodland management, themed walks and ‘Down To Earth’ activities for young children would fit the bill as far as public health and well being was concerned. This has been most satisfying but is now under threat from budget cuts - which leads nicely to the next question.

Q4.  What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing Birmingham's city parks?

A4. Surviving the budget cuts - check out this link - 

Parks, along with all local authority services have received severe budget cuts for the past 8 or 9 years and there’s no let up this year, in fact the Parks Department is at a critical stage in its existence and by 2020 is likely to be unrecognisable from the department of 2010. 

Wildlife connections - "Modern life is such that it can be hard to see beyond the present"

 (Rob Cowen - Common Ground)
The Brockley Oak at Brockley Grove, Holders Fields
Rob Cowan's early words in 'Common Ground' resonate with many of us as we struggle to come to terms with 'life's meaning'. We are provoked to read on in search of 'the way' forward, an answer maybe or a coping mechanism; 'Common Ground' encourages us to observe the detail around us and to connect with our local green space.

The map of Edge-land at the beginning of the book provides a simplified snapshot of space around Bilton in Yorkshire, but it could be anywhere, a somewhat timeless image that almost everyone can imagine and one that virtually anyone can draw, no scale or perspective required. 
From 'Common Ground'
Modern life is an ordeal, and so it was last year and last decade, last century and beyond; life and survival have always been an ordeal, the present is everything, the future a luxury and the past? well, nostalgic for one, and many prominent men and women have very different things to say about the past - 

""Every past is worth condemning." Friedrich Nietzsche"

""Only a good-for-nothing is not interested in his past." Sigmund Freud"

The great oak trees speak a different history, one in which we can delve, with a little insight and observation and portions of time. As we are sensitive to seasonal changes and aware of light and temperature variations, a visit to the local oak tree aids a distraction from modern life and draws us into unspecified realms in time and space. Like us, and all species, trees have a heritage.

natural history carries a somewhat broader significance beyond the human record and is defined by The Free Dictionary -

The study and description of living things and natural objects, especially their origins, evolution, and relationships to one another. Natural history includes the sciences of zoology, mineralogy, geology, and paleontology.

Friday, 20 January 2017


Cannon Hill Meadow
10.00am January sunburst across the meadow at Cannon Hill. Deep midwinter and mid morning beams stirring the undergrowth.
Brockley Grove

Here I briefly sunbathed with a squirrel as a male Sparrowhawk glides through in hunting mode. The crows stir.

Perhaps it's a youngster as little else seems concerned.

Brockley Grove was once a garden area, between the 1940's and 70's, now it is overgrown and lush, providing good and largely undisturbed cover. 

Badgers abound and the sett is prominent.
Brockley Grove vegetational density
January 20th 2017; a winter's day with frost and blue skies, and enough sunburst to spark the garden and woodland birds into territorial song. 
It's a mixture of dense hawthorn, hazel coppice and regenerating oak scrub, amongst coarse grassland thus providing a rich mix of feeding and shelter opportunity to many birds

Here we hear and see bullfinches abundant together with a variety of other woodland species. 
Brockley Grove scrub, woodland and grassland
The Brockley Oak complete with coding for 'crown reduction'

Today's list included - 
  1. Bullfinch
  2. Blackbird
  3. Nuthatch
  4. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  5. Stock Dove
  6. Magpie
  7. Crow
  8. Blue Tit

The Brockley Oak with winter sun