Wildlife in extremis

Small songbirds like this Blue Tit are most vulnerable in freezing weather. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2018.

This week, in view of freezing temperatures and the covering of snow which the district has experienced over the last few days, BridgeNature.org reiterates our plea for people to think about our wildlife out in the cold. The sad truth is that huge numbers of smaller animals and birds will simply die of starvation and hypothermia over this period. It has been calculated that in the notorious winter of 1963, 50% of all Britain’s birds died, but no one seems to have any idea how many small animals perished.

We can’t all do a great deal to assist animals in the frozen countryside, but we can at least offer food to the birds visiting our garden bird tables and try to provide a regular supply of fresh water, which is vital. Any water in a butt will be frozen solid, and birds do not like our tap water, it has too much of a chemical smell for their tastes, so supplying a drinking station is not easy. If water is left out, after a day or two it will lose its odour, so that is one option, but of course in this weather it is likely to freeze pretty quickly too. So, a better alternative is to try to keep a bucket of melted snow somewhere where it won’t re-freeze, then top up the bird bath, or a flat container, with this every day, or twice a day if possible, so that the birds will at least have some opportunity during the day for a drink. Bird feeders are essential, but it is also helpful to clear a surface high off the ground, perhaps on a garden table, and put extra food out.

It is not a good idea to regularly spread seed or food on the ground near the house, for this can attract rodents to the home, but in these extreme conditions a handful of bird seed scattered on bare ground under a hedge at the end of the garden or at the roadside verge will do little harm and may save a tiny life.

A Parasol in the shade

Parasol Mushroom at the ball stage. Bridge area. September.

Parasol Mushroom at the spherical stage. Bridge area. September.

This month, if you happen to be walking in the dappled shade beneath beech trees in a small area of local woodland, you may see this rather spectacular sight: the Parasol Mushroom shaped like a ball on a stick before it opens into its full parasol-like shape.

The Parasol Mushroom stem can grow to a height of about 12 inches (as was the example pictured) and, when opened, the cap can extend to 10 inches in diameter, making it quite a visible feature in the landscape. Although unfamiliar to many ramblers, they are not particularly rare in southern England and they will grow in a wide variety of locations, including garden lawns.

Parasol Mushroom at mature stage and approx. 11 inches high. Bridge area. September.

Parasol Mushroom at mature stage and approx. 11 inches high. Bridge area. September.

The Parasol’s sweet nutty flavour and large size make it a culinary favourite, as is the Raggy Parasol, a smaller relative with a plain untextured stem: however that one is known to cause stomach illness in some people. Besides growing in the wild, where they are highly sought after by foragers, Parasol Mushrooms are also grown commercially across Europe.

As we have previously stated, BridgeNature.org opposes foraging because we believe wild plants and fungi should be left for the wildlife who rely on Nature to provide to get them through the seasons; they do not have the option of buying commercially grown produce. Those people who do feel tempted to pick and eat a wild Parasol Mushroom should be aware that there are mushrooms with a close resemblance which are known to be toxic.

Is it a method or ironic coincidence of Nature that most of the edible mushrooms have a similar looking double which is extremely poisonous?

Custard Apples at the Red Lion


Chirimuya, Custard Apple of the Inca

Chirimuya, Custard Apple of the Inca

Harry, the landlord of the Red Lion in Bridge, is an interesting chap with an international background. His father worked for the American Diplomatic Service and as a consequence the family have lived in various diverse parts of the world. A few days ago he was telling some of his customers about the sweet delights of the Custard Apple. The date was April 1st; some were not sure whether or not to believe him. However, some days later Harry, being a generous soul, duly arrived with a few of the said Custard Apples and handed them out for friends to try. Having never heard of the fruit myself, I thought it would be interesting to do a little research on them and share my findings.

Although green and similar in size to the familiar apples of our Kent orchards, that is where the resemblance ends, for Custard Apples are not really apples at all. The plant is actually part of the Annona family from South America and the Caribbean, although they are now widely cultivated in tropical areas including Africa, Australia and even southern regions of Spain. There are several varieties, but the one Harry gave to customers (pictured above) appears to be the Annona Cherimola; the Inca name for it was the Chirimuya. The size of a large eating apple, it is heart shaped, rather like a big strawberry and the surface is layered with little shield shaped ridges. When you see it in reality it is a thing of subtle beauty.

To eat, one must allow them to ripen, then cut in half, scooping out the soft white seed laden interior with a spoon. The pips should be discarded (or you can spit them out) and the sweet white flesh enjoyed. Reader they are delicious!

Flooding in Bridge (7th February)

Church Meadow in the flood. 7 Feb. 2014.

Church Meadow in the flood. 7 Feb. 2014.

Parts of Bridge flooded more seriously at the weekend, particularly Brewery Lane and premises on the High Street near the river. We express our sympathy to those, including some good friends of BridgeNature.org, who have suffered damage.

Below we include a short film which captures some of the scenes of the flooding from an environment and landscape perspective.

Click on the link to watch:


Grain harvest underway

Grain harvesting, Great Pett Farm, Bridge. 12 July 2013. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

The grain harvest is now well and truly underway on arable farms across the Bridge area and the gentle hum of combine harvesters can be heard throughout the day and sometimes into the night.

For country folk, this has always been an exciting time of year, when the sleepy fields of sun drenched golden wheat are suddenly brought to life with bustling activity of the harvest. These days modern harvesting equipment has replaced the huge labour forces of old.

The combine harvester, or sometimes simply the combine, was invented in the early 1800s in the United States where huge swathes of land are planted with wheat. The combine is so called because it combines three separate operations comprising reaping, threshing and winnowing into a single process. Originally the machine was pulled by a team of horses, but by the 1920s self propelled motor harvesters had been invented. Combines were an immensely significant labour saving invention for agriculture, enabling harvesting work to be carried with a fraction of the man and horse power of the old days.

The main crops harvested in the UK with a combine today are wheat, barley, rye, oats and flax. The straw left behind on the field is the main stems of the wheat or barley. This contains little nutrition so it is usually chopped and spread on the field to improve soil quality or baled up for livestock bedding.

The picture below shows a harvester at work on Great Pett Farm, near Station Road, Bridge on Monday evening.