Kind of blue
16 May, 2013
Over the past couple of weeks my work has taken me to some of the woodlands managed by Historic Scotland. Seabegs Wood on the Antonine Wall, Inchmahome and Caerlaverock woodlands all have one thing in common: at this time of year they have a beautiful carpet of bluebells. Or at least they should have, but this year they have been delayed by cold weather.
Bluebells start growing in January, well before other plants, and are among the first woodland plants to flower. This year, the cold weather has slowed the growth of the stalks, so they will probably not flower until late May. This may be good news, however, because there is a link between a late spring and a good summer – we can but hope!
Bluebells are associated with old woodland. Seabegs Wood is an example of ancient woodland – one which dates from before the 17th century. Some may even be remnants of the original wildwood that covered Britain after the last Ice Age.
Half the world’s bluebell population can be found in the British Isles, but our native varieties are at risk of disappearing as a result of crossbreeding with paler, scentless, non-native Spanish bluebells. These escape from neighbouring gardens, or are dumped over the fence with other garden waste.
There is evidence to suggest that Bronze Age hunters used the sap of the bluebell as glue to attach feathers to their arrows. This versatile adhesive has also been used to attach pages to the spines of books. It is high in starch and was used in Victorian times to stiffen collars and cuffs.
While walking through the woodlands at Caerlaverock I came across a ‘thrush anvil’. Songbirds love to eat snails – a critically important food source when other prey is scarce. The problem is getting at them through their protective shells. Song thrushes get round this problem by throwing the snails against a suitable stone to crush their shells. The same stone will be used over and over again, so the broken shells accumulate. The snails use camouflage to conceal themselves, usually yellow or red bands, depending on the type of vegetation and colour.
A bit of tree news to finish off. Diseased elms have been removed from Holyrood Park, in association with GalGael Timber. GalGael is a charity set up to assist in the rehabilitation of vulnerable people, for example people with addiction or mental heath problems.
GalGael uses a portable sawmill to harvest timber. This is either sold to the public, or else used in the charity’s workshops to make wooden goods to sell. This a good use of timber, which also reduces the cost of removal to Historic Scotland, a real win-win to all involved.