Brav­ing black­thorn is worth it for ecosys­tem

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - WILD LIFE -

PEALS

The pond had be­come hid­den un­der deep, shady un­der­growth. Lay­ing the black­thorn along the edge will en­able the spring sun to warm up the wa­ter, en­cour­ag­ing a va­ri­ety of plant and pond life.

Black­thorn, spiny and densely branched, grows to six or seven me­tres, the branches of neigh­bour­ing trees be­com­ing twisted tightly to­gether. It is a beast of a plant to work with; the long sharp spines are t hrob­bingly painful as they punc­ture the skin, and fail­ure to re­move all trace of the thorn can re­sult in nasty in­fec­tions.

And so it was into this ‘dan­ger zone’ that a few valiant vol­un­teers ven­tured, to lay ma­ture black­thorn trees. It is no won­der that in mythology this tree has been associated with witchcraft; wands and staffs be­ing made with its hard wear­ing wood. Lay­ing the black­thorn will stim­u­late new growth; the im­ma­ture black­thorn shoots are vi­tal to the rare brown hairstreak but­ter­fly. The den se thorny base, cre­ated by lay­ing ma­ture trees, will of­fer a place for birds to nest and newts to hi­ber­nate. A nat­u­ral bar­rier is es­tab­lished that pro­tects the edge of the pond from our vis­it­ing cows. Black­thorn is so vi­cious, and yet so ben­e­fi­cial for a wide va­ri­ety of wildlife. Tiny del­i­cate white flow­ers will start to blos­som within weeks, pro­vid­ing plenty of early nec­tar and pollen for bees and but­ter­flies. The small nar­row leaves come later and sloes, the fruit of the black­thorn, pro­vide a valu­able food source for many birds in au­tumn.

Each year we tackle an­other thorny tree too. Across the cen­tre of the mead­ows lies a young hawthorn hedgerow, be­tween barbed wire fences, a sec­tion is laid ev­ery win­ter.

Year on year, the hawthorn grows, leav­ing less space for work­ing vol­un­teers. The tall ones, so suited for reach­ing high branches, can no longer fold them­selves into this area; oth­ers will no longer tol­er­ate the dis­com­fort of mud and thorns and a cold wind that chills to the bone. And so we post the small and mighty through the barbed wire into this des­o­late spot!

Com­mon hawthorn is dense a n d thorny, and can grow up to 15 me­tres. Its bark is grey and fis­sured, its trunk twisted. The small, deeply-lobed leaves ap­pear be­fore the flow­ers. Known as the May-Tree, the white, pink-scented blos­som blooms in May. Deep red haws are its fruit. Hawthorn’s value to wildlife is bound­less: sup­port­ing more than 300 in­ver­te­brates, it is a food plant for moths and a nec­tar and pollen source. The flow­ers are eaten by dormice and the haws by birds. Tack­ling these thorny species is chal­leng­ing for vol­un­teers, but many birds and in­sects will ben­e­fit from the vig­or­ous new growth come spring and through the year. Find out about vol­un­teer­ing with BBOWT at bbowt.org.uk/vol­un­teer.

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