Braving blackthorn is worth it for ecosystem
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.