A Walk on the WILD SIDE with Professor Ian Rotherham Last call for the Great Oak of Pontfadog
As we enjoy the woodland flora let’s also mourn the loss of a venerable companion through a millennium of human history.
Enjoy the wood anemones while ye may………..At last, the wood anemones are now out with stunning displays at say Whitwell Wood, at Gillfield Wood in Totley. Enid Scholey emailed to say, ‘On Sunday April 14th we walked from Firth Park across Wincobank Common, where we heard and saw chiffchaff, and also spotted fourteen magpies. On Wincobank Wood beside the main path were about ten rather dried, dead bumblebees’. Maybe these had emerged from hibernation but been unable to feed because of bad weather. The message continued ‘Off the edge of Wincobank we saw our first swallows, about three or four’. Moving on to Woolley Woods, Enid saw her first wood anemones in flower, only a small patch but definitely in bloom. In Ray Sykes’ garden, the anemones have now joined the lesser celandines that have been out for some weeks.
The birds are busy nesting in wood, hedgerow and especially in gardens. I had a message from Roy Robinson of Ansell Road, Sheffield, with a few tips for encouraging your blue tits to nest. He says ‘For the past 10 years we have had Blue Tits nesting in a box in our garden, and after their departure I remove the old nest and clean out the box with scalding water.’ [Which is good as that will remove any nasty nest parasites]. ‘This year I put a couple of inches of cotton wool in the bottom of the box, when the blue tits duly arrived they spent a day chucking out the cotton wool which was festooned all around our garden. For the past few days, we have had a pair of goldfinches collecting up all the cotton wool, unfortunately their nest is not in our garden.’ I guess the moral of this story is that the birds do not always appreciate what we are doing to try to help them. On the other hand, in nature, very little goes to waste!
However, I have to finish on a sad note; news came through this of the loss of one of Britain’s oldest oak trees – the great oak of Pontfadog in North Wales. Presumably weakened by the wet summer last year, and then by the extreme cold weather and heavy snow this winter, the tree finally keeled over about a week ago. It was estimated to be around 1,200 years old, and of course a problem with such conic living trees, is that over time they die. However, it is a shame that more was not done to prop up the venerable giant so that it could see out a couple more centuries. If its roots are at all intact, then maybe it still has a chance since many trees toppled by the 1987 storm resurrected themselves as ‘phoenix trees’ It was under this tree that Prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his trees in 1157 to defeat Henry II at the battle of Crogen. Apparently, the necessary remedial work would have cost about £5,700 and this was considered too much to pay, but not a lot in the scheme of things, so a bit sad really. Surely we could have done more, I mean, only £5,000 to safeguard the oldest oak tree on the planet? What do you think?
Professor Ian D. Rotherham is a researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues