Ash is a fast-growing, native tree, quick to colonise woodland and openground. Ash is the UK’s third most common species after Oak and Birch and makes up 13% of our broadleaved woodlands. In some areas Ash is the dominant tree species. The flexible wood has many uses, and, though no species is dependent on Ash, many birds and insects benefit from it. Sadly an estimated 6 out of 7 Ash trees could succumb to the devastating disease of Ash die-back.
Each month we will be featuring a species of tree found on Parkwood Springs. Visit our tree of the month page for further details here. This month we will be highlighting Blackthorn (Sloe).
The Blackthorn grows to a height of 6-7 metres and can live for 100 years. It has a dense growth and naturally suckers to produce thickets which, together with its long, strong thorns, make it a safe nesting and roosting site for many small birds and mammals, including the nationally threatened Nightingale and Turtle Dove. The same properties make it a valuable hedging plant.
Each month we will be featuring a species of tree found on Parkwood Springs. Visit our tree of the month page for further details here. This month we will be highlighting Hazel.
Pollen sampling has shown that Hazel was one of the first colonisers after the Ice Age. The wood, used since prehistoric times, is smooth greybrown, with yellow pores. Hazel can grow up to 12 metres and live for 80 years but when coppiced, this can extend to hundreds of years.
Each month we will be featuring a species of tree found on Parkwood Springs. Visit our tree of the month page for further details here. This month we will be highlighting Alder and Italian Alder.
Other uses for native Alder Wood:
Each month we will be featuring a species of tree found on Parkwood Springs. Visit our tree of the month page for further details here. This month we will be highlighting Silver Birch.
The graceful, delicate-looking Silver Birch is actually very hardy. A ‘pioneer’ coloniser, it can grow up to 30 metres and, along with Rowan, it grows at greater altitude than other species. It can live for over 100 years, and supports more than 300 insects, including the Angle Shades and Buff-Tip Moth and in some areas the rare Camberwell Beauty Butterfly.
Silver Birch carries male and female catkins on the same tree, producing thousands of seeds in late autumn/winter, providing food for many birds, including Redwing, Siskin and Greenfinch. Caterpillars that feed on the leaves also feed many birds in spring. It is the favourite nest-site for the increasingly rare Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
Fungi associations: Silver Birch develop strong mycorrhizal fungi associations beneath the soil, as well as the ‘fruiting bodies’ we see above ground, both on the tree and growing under its light canopy (see Fly Agaric below). Here are some of the fungi closely associated with the tree.
These are the species positively identified on our autumn fungi walk, led by Ziggy Senkans, October 2022. Many thanks to Ziggy for another great walk.
The species found on our walk can also be downloaded as a PDF at the bottom of this news article.
Over 30 people, adults and children attended the guided fungi walk. Shaggy Inkcap was present on site a few days later.
Slime mould is not a fungus but this (wonderfully named) mould is quite common on old wood at Parkwood Springs.
Below attached are the species positively identified on our autumn fungi walk, led by Ziggy Senkans.
Each month we will be featuring a species of tree found on Parkwood Springs. Visit our tree of the month page for further details here.
There are two native oaks that we will be highlighting this month, Pedunculate and Sessile Oak.
English oak can live for hundreds of years and support an incredible 2,300 species of wildlife, including birds, bees, wasps, butterflies, and mammals.
Mast years. The amount of fruits and seeds on some plants and bushes can vary enormously from year to year. Some of this is down to weather but it is likely to be more interesting than that. A heavy crop on trees like Oak and Beech is called a ‘mast year’ and occurs every few years. Producing a lot of seeds uses a great deal of energy and reduces the amount the tree can grow that year. It is thought that the trees have evolved to maximise seed production some years, to ensure new seedlings germinate and the species spreads, while producing less other years, so maximising the energy put into the existing tree’s growth and strength whilst also limiting the populations of their predators. For the Oak, Jays, mice and Squirrels are among the main common species that feed on the Acorns. There is much we still have to find out about the subtle evolutionary strategies of even our best known species.
There are about 50 tiny wasps whose eggs and larvae create galls (abnormal growths) on our native Oaks. The wasps are non-stinging and mostly tiny, looking more like flies. Here are some of the most common:
We looked at dozens of common wild flowers on our walk - many were used in the past for food, herbal health or day-to-day needs. Here are a few we looked at:
There are many plants of the pea family on our local open space. Here are a couple, though Gorse and Broom belong to this family too - the flowers of all provide good sources of food for insects, fix nitrogen in their roots, and, like their cousins the garden peas, have pods that are high in protein for wildlife.
Bush Vetch - Bumble and honey bees, weevils and beetles all feed on this plant, and some caterpillars eat its leaves.
Bird’s Foot Trefoil - The name comes from the seed-pods which look like a birds toes, this plant is also known as ‘Eggs and Bacon’ because the yellow flowers can be tinged with red. It is very good for insects and the leaves are the main food plant for some beautiful butterflies - the Common Blue, the Green Hairstreak and the duller ‘Dingy Skipper’!
Herb Robert - this very common wild flower also goes by the common name ‘Stinking Bob’ and if you gently rub a leaf, you will soon see why. Often the stems, and the leaves are reddish which led it to be associated with Robin Goodfellow, as mentioned by Shakespeare, and it was thought to bring good luck. The juice on your skin was used as a mosquito deterrent. Some herbal uses of plants are still very valuable but there was a practice in the past that was less reliable. This was the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’ whereby the look of a part of a plant was taken to mean it was a useful cure for a condition that resembled it- because of the redness of this plant, it was used to treat blood disorders.
Stinging Nettles: Nettles are rich in minerals, the young tips of leaves make a tonic-tea in spring, while the leaves were often used as a ‘potherb’. For 1000’s of years, until cotton and silk were introduced, the fibres in nettles were used to make cloth. In the Second World War a green dye from the plant helped to create camouflage material. Nettles are really valuable for wildlife toomany insects feed on the pollen, the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterfly caterpillars feed on the leaves and birds eat their seeds.
Bluebells - Voted the UK’s favourite wildflower, we hold half the world’s population. Our native bluebell (which have flowers hanging from one side of the stem, and narrower leaves and stems) is under some threat from the bigger-flowered garden or Spanish Bluebell but most on Parkwood Springs are still true Bluebells (except nearer gardens), and haven’t yet crossed with the Spanish plants. Bluebells feed many insects, including moths, butterflies, hoverflies and bees. Those bees that are too big to reach inside the flowers sometimes ‘steal’ the nectar by biting through the petal at its base. Some birds do this with some of our wild flowers too. They get the food but don’t pollinate the plant because they don’t pick up pollen on their bodies and carry it to the next flower they visit! Bluebell seeds, as with Snowdrops and Primroses, are covered by a sweet substance which attracts ants. Ants carry the seed off to their nests where the coating is eaten by their larvae. The larvae get fed and the seeds get spread! In the Middle Ages the sap was used to fix feathers to arrows, as well as to bind books. Elizabethans used it to starch their ruffs and collars.
Garlic Mustard or Jack By The Hedge - There are big patches of this lovely plant around Parkwood Springs. It was also called ‘Sauce Alone’ and has a mild garlic flavour with at least 6,000 years of human use. The young leaves and flowers can be used in salads and sauces and there are many 17th and 18th century recipes for its use with lamb, fish and bacon. The leaves were cooked as a vegetable (pot herb) and it was used internally to treat sweating illnesses and externally as an antiseptic. I have it in the garden because it is one of the food plants for both the Orange-tip and the Green-veined White Butterfly.
May or Hawthorn: There are many myths and folk stories around this common hedge-plant/shrub and it is the origin of the saying ‘Cast not a clout (‘vest’) till May is out’. On the 1st of May thousands of women, including Samual Pepys’ wife but also those within living memory, would rise at dawn to bathe in the dew from the flower, to enhance their complexion. It was a fertility symbol and the origin of the ‘Maypole’. It was also associated with death and people would not bring it into their homes,. Recenlty, chemical analysis has shown that the flower contains the same chemical as decaying bodies and that clearly led to people associating it with death. It is a wonderful plant for wildlife - feeding 300 types of insects with its flowers and leaves, plus many birds and small mammals with its red berries (‘Haws’). Its dense growth provides shelter and nesting places for birds and mammals. On the way to school we would eat the very young leaf-buds, known to us as ‘bread-and-cheese’.
Ribwort Plantain: This common plant was a gene for many of us -you can pull out a stalk, loop it and shoot off the head, or use the stalk/flower head like a conker. Recent research shows, as with trees, it has a microrhizome-fungal relationship with fungi in the soil, which helps it fight pests and gain nutrients. It had many herbal uses, for skin and eye conditions and to staunch wounds. Antibacterial properties means its juices are said to be better for insect bites and stinging nettle stings than dock. The young flowerheads, before pollen appears, taste of mushroom. It also provide food for insects and the seed-heads are eaten by finches throughout autumn and early winter.
Each March and June a Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology is carried out at the kilometre square SK3489, most of which covers our great Sheffield urban park, Parkwood Springs. This is not a complete study of birds to be seen on Parkwood Springs - for that, you can read the more thorough bird survey on this website.
What is the ‘Breeding Bird Survey’?
For the Breeding Bird Survey you have to follow two paths across the kilometre square, SK3489, in the early morning, once in early spring and again in early summer. For the survey you have to walk the paths over about 45 minutes each, noting every adult bird seen and heard. Thousands of other volunteers do the same, every year, for kilometre squares all over the country. These survey-sites are chosen by the BTO to create a record of birds across urban, rural and industrialised areas and all habitats. They help build a picture of how birds are doing, which species are thriving and which are in decline. In turn that is used by the BTO and other campaigning groups to argue for better ‘green’ policies, especially important when so many habitats and species are seriously threatened.
Which paths do are used to record Parkwood Springs’ Breeding Birds?
The paths were chosen by a previous BTO volunteer which were taken over from when they retired. One of the kilometre paths is beside the River Don, along Club Mill Road, from its beginning at Neepsend Lane and one kilometre stretches up hill from Vale Road, beside the old Ski Village site, to the viewpoint and down the path besides the housing near Penrith Road.
Some highlights of birds recorded on Parkwood Springs
Here are some of the less common birds for you to look out for, too, in our lovely local urban parkland (N.B. all images are taken by myself, and most very locally, though not on Parkwood Springs itself - it isn’t possible to do the survey and take photos at the same time!)
Along Club Mill Road beside the river and through the industrial estate Sand Martins and Swifts are regularly recorded, as well as flitting Grey Wagtail, fleeting glimpses of wonderful Kingfishers and dipping Dippers, this year including a young Dipper with its parent, feeding in the river Don. Mallards and Moorhen are common.
Along both kilometre paths there are Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, many Wrens and Robins, singing Song Thrushes and Blackbirds and of course more common species like Magpie, Wood Pigeon and Carrion Crows, to name a few.
Along the second path Buzzards are increasingly to be seen and heard, along with Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel family and it is especially good to see several pairs of Lesser Whitethroat which are clearly breeding successfully. Once, Skylark's singing have been heard - maybe we will get more regular Skylarks as well as other grassland nesting-species as the old Veolia ‘tip’ site becomes more established as a grassland hill.
A family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers was clearly visible, too, this year.
These are only some of the species seen in the times when the Breeding Bird Survey is recorded. We hope, as more habitats are created over the next few years, there will be even greater diversity on Parkwood Springs than there is now.
When you are next up at the Beacons Viewpoint, enjoying the view across the city and beyond, have a look closer to the ground, at the wild flower meadow areas which the Friends’ group are creating.
We started in early spring 2018. You will probably remember the two shipping containers which were put up by the Viewpoint for a film of Steve Peat’s amazing cycle stunts. The brambles which covered the area were removed by machinery, and, once the containers were taken away, we took the opportunity to increase the biodiversity of the area by cultivating a wildflower meadow.
So, after digging out some large stones and scraping off the grass which had very quickly recolonised the area, we raked the soil and planted wild flower seeds. Crucially, the city council ecologists brought hay from the flower-rich meadows at Beauchief and Gleadless. The hay was full of seeds from the wild flowers which thrive in Sheffield, and this was scattered over the seed bed too. Every year since then we have cut the meadow in the autumn, left the hay to shed some of its seeds, and then moved the hay to the other grassy areas around the Viewpoint, to shed more seeds. The wildflowers are gradually spreading and now, on warm days, the sound of grasshoppers and bees can be heard above the noise from cars and machinery in the valley.
Every year we see different numbers and varieties of flowers. At the moment we are really pleased that the yellow rattle is doing well. This plant feeds off the nutrients in the roots of grasses. As the grasses get less vigorous more delicate flower species will have room to thrive.
So, have a look at the wild flower meadows and see how many kinds of wild flowers are growing there, and which insects are enjoying the meadows as much as we do.