From the archives: Life on the Edge

February 2007

Today I headed over into Warwickshire for a long overdue visit to Edge Hill. Last time I walked there it was late summer, cows were grazing the fields and there were butterflies to be seen. Now there are patches of snow in sheltered spots and the butterflies are long gone. The views across the south Warwickshire plain are as brilliant as ever though:

Edge Hill is a west-facing escarpment, the steep slopes of which are clothed with trees. The woodland at the north end of the escarpment is known as Edge Hill Wood, and that is where I walked today. The wood is home to a variety of birds, and while walking I heard several species including long-tailed tits piping and trilling, jackdaws chattering, a buzzard mewing, and a greater spotted woodpecker drumming.

The trees here are almost all native species, including one of my favourites, the beech. The beech has a smooth, pale grey bark which really stands out against the blue sky when the sun shines on it – as you can see in this photo:

There are some exotic tree species too, such as the Chile pine or monkey puzzle tree. The photo below shows something you would not normally get to see: buds at the tip of one of the monkey puzzle’s top-most branches. I was able to take this photo not because of amazing tree-climbing abilities, but due to the fact that the tree had recently fallen. It was most likely a victim of high winds within the last couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, down on the woodland floor there is an increasing amount of greenery. The leaves of bluebells, dog’s mercury and lesser celandine are all showing, as are those of another plant which has variety of names. Lords and ladies, cuckoo pint, jack-in-the-pulpit and wild arum are just some of the monikers by which this species is known. The unusual flowers which give rise to many of the interesting names for this plant will not be on show for another couple of months. For now, all we can see are the distinctive leaves.

Fungi are traditionally associated with autumn, but I have seen a number of species over the winter and several were on show today. The jew’s ear fungus is particularly prolific at this time of year and grows on elder. As I was looking at the specimen in the picture below, a spider crawled out from underneath. I had time for just one shot before the arachnid retreated.

This orange fungus was growing on the trunk of a dead tree at the top of the steep series of steps known as Jacob’s Ladder:

Finally, by far the most eye-catching specimen I saw today was this brilliant yellow species, known as yellow brain fungus or witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica):

As you can see, not only is there life on Edge Hill, there are lots of different colours to be found too!

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