165 Bluebell cropped

The Track a Tree phenology project continues for a third year in Hillhouse wood

As keen readers of this blog, and my Mum, will know, for the last two years I have done field work for this project.  This involves visiting some specific trees (four in my case) more or less weekly throughout the spring to record data about what is happening.  ‘Happening’ stuff involves the stage of bud burst and leaf break, and the numbers of specific species of flower that are showing underneath the tree.  By capturing this data at different sites in the UK, the project enables differences in the timing of ‘Spring’ to be rigorously identified across the country and between years.  It ran for two years to support a PhD project at the University of Edinburgh, and I’ve been glad to hear that it is continuing for a third year, at least, even though Christine has gained her qualification.

165 Bluebell cropped

For me, this is a ‘Goldilocks’ project – it involves just the right amount of work, data collection and handling and time frame – not too much and not too little.  And it provides an excellent ‘excuse’ to pop down to my local wood (Hillhouse wood, owned by the Woodland Trust) at the time of year when it is at its best.  I’ve found that it’s surprising how much more wildlife you can see or hear when quietly engaged in a little bit of fieldwork.

Because the survey is essentially concerned with the measurement of change, it is important to establish a baseline from which that change can be measured.  By this I mean a visit to the wood early enough for nothing to have happened.  This enables a time to identified for when the first ‘happening’ stuff occurs.  And so it was that I visited the wood on 4 March to collect the baseline ‘null’ data record.  It was enjoyable to find my four trees again, and to look forward to observing their embrace of Spring.

Of the four trees, my Ash is in a part of the wood with a quite different ground flora to the other three – a Hazel coppice stool, a Silver Birch and a might Oak.  The Hazel and the Oak have nothing but Bluebells underneath (not that I’m complaining!), while the Silver birch has Bluebells, a few Wood anemones and Celandines.  But the Ash flora is dominated by Wood anemones, Dog’s mercury and Celandines, with a few Early purple orchids thrown in.  The first ‘actions’ to look out for each year are flowering Wood anemones under the Ash, and bud burst on the Hazel.

Bearing in mind all this, I was slightly taken aback to discover on my first visit this year that some of the buds on the Hazel were already showing the green of the leaf inside, through the thinning bud scales.  Was I too late – had bud burst already started?  Upon returning to base camp I refreshed my memory with the project’s field guide, and was relieved to see that the definition of bud burst requires buds to have become swollen and misshapen, as the leaf pushes its way out. Phew!  My data was still ‘null’!

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