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Isle of Wight Green Gym - Official Blog.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wed 25th March 2015 - Riverside Centre, Newport.

Mark's Photographs.

Carrie's Photographs.

The television interpretation of "working" on an allotment always shows you someone sitting in a deckchair, drinking tea and chatting with the person on the plot next door..! For some reason, when Green Gym turn up to work on one, it involves three hours of back breaking toil - how do we always get things so wrong? Our task for this week's session was to prepare the Riverside allotment in readiness for the various groups that use the centre to do their summer planting. If one was being kind, then the plot could be described as being "a little neglected" but, in reality, the brambles and couch grass had really taken hold. The allotment is very long and thin, set out in terraces on the side of a rather steep hill. One job was to clear the lowest area of brambles before constructing a composing area from corrugated iron, this gave us somewhere to deposit all the material we were removing from the upper  levels. Care had to be taken as some areas were planted up with various berry trees and shrubs that were to be retained and several people found frogs and toads that had to be rehoused locally. One GGmer was overheard saying "I have dug over the same plot three times now and I am STILL getting roots out...!" The staff at the Riverside Centre must have decided that we were in need of a mid-morning sugar rush as they supplied lots of yummy cakes and biscuits for our tea-break.... Many thanks ladies! Come the end of the session we had really made some real progress, with far more freshly turned soil being visible rather than the huge areas of grass that we started with. Well done to all those who attended.

Carrie's Nature Finds.

Our first find this week was a common toad (Bufo Bufo) – this amphibian is widespread throughout Britain, but are not found in Ireland. They prefer deeper bodies of water for breeding including ponds, reservoirs, fish ponds or village duck ponds, however, such types of freshwater bodies are threatened in many parts of the U.K.  These toads can grow up to 8cm, and are generally brown or olive brown with warty skin which often appears dry. As they have glands in their skin containing powerful toxins, many potential predators learn to avoid eating them.
They have strong migratory instincts, and will follow the same route back to ancestral breeding ponds each spring, usually congregating a couple of week after the common frogs complete their breeding cycle.  After a short time they migrate away from ponds, being more tolerant of dry conditions than the common frog.

They are most active at night, when hunting invertebrates including slugs, spiders, ants and snails.  If they find good food sources, they can become quite sedentary and may often remain in gardens for long periods in the summer months.  Unlike common frogs their spawn is laid in strings, their tadpoles are black and form shoals, with toadlets emerging from ponds in large numbers during early summer.

Our second find was the blossom of the blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) also known as “sloe”, a small deciduous tree native to the UK and most of Europe. It grows naturally in scrub, woodlands and copses, is commonly used as a hedging plant, and its fruit or sloes are used to make sloe gin.
Its mature trees are spiny and densely branched, growing to a height of around 6-7 metres and living for up to 100 years.  Their dark brown bark is smooth and twigs form straight side shoots which develop into thorns, while the slightly wrinkled leaves are oval, toothed pointed at the tip and tapered at the base.

It is a hermaphrodite, which means both male and female reproductive parts are found in one flower, which is white and appears on short stalks before the leaves in  March and April either singly or in pairs.  Once insects have pollinated the plant, its flowers develop into the blue-black fruits.

Blackthorn provides a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in spring, while its foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the magpie, small eggar, swallow-tailed and yellow-tailed, lackey and magpie.  Birds nest among the dense thorny thickets, eat caterpillars and other insects from the leaves, and feast on the berries in the autumn.

A couple of other interesting facts are that blackthorn wood has been used to make walking or riding sticks, and was the traditional wood for Irish shillelaghs – it has long been associated with witchcraft, it being said that their wands and staffs were made of its wood – its timber is tough and hardwearing, light yellow with a brown heartwood, often being used as firewood as it burns very well.

Many thanks to Carrie and Mark for their photographs this week and to Carrie for her Nature Natter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wed 18th March 2015 - Castle Copse, East Cowes.

Mark's Photographs.

This is the site where 200 trees were planted in 2013.

Carrie's Photographs.

It is almost one year, to the day, since we last visited this site so nice to go back and see what has been happening. Initial impressions were good with the hedge we planted last time starting to show signs of this years growth. As we investigated further, it became apparent that there were more than enough jobs to keep us occupied for at least one GG session...! Mark pointed out some of the areas for us to concentrate on which meant lots of smaller groups working across the full extent of the copse. The work involved dealing with muddy areas on the pathways, weeding out where we had planted up before, rebuilding some dead hedging, litter picking and, of course, the usual cutting back the bramble. Perhaps the numbers were down by a few this week but it was great to see that two GG members were back from "sick leave".
With the Spring Equinox due in a couple of days time, the weather reflected this - bright sunshine and light breezes - wonderful after the long winter spell.

For those of you who have wondered why it is called Castle Copse, then please have a look at the following link (supplied by Mark)

Carrie's Nature Find.

This week’s find, sunning itself on a log at teabreak, was a Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta).  These beautiful butterflies have dark black-brown wings, each with an orange-red band, forewing tips are black with white spots, while the underside is orange, blue and white and hindwings camouflaged dark brown.

After hibernation, adults have a strong urge to fly northwards, bringing immigrants from the Continent throughout the summer. By mid-August they begin to return south, leading to a build-up in southern England in autumn. During the summer females lay single eggs on the growing tips of nettles, and after about a week the caterpillars hatch with each one spinning a tent around itself by fastening a young leaf double with silk. Four weeks later these caterpillars, which are bristly and dark with a pale yellow stripe running down each side, pupate in a similar ‘tent’. Adults may hibernate in England, usually choosing an exposed site such as a tree trunk, but many perish in our cooler climate.

The adults drink nectar from flowers: buddleia is a favourite, while in autumn they feed on rotting fruit, and the caterpillars eat stinging nettles. You will be able to see the adults and caterpillars between May and October in most flowery places at urban and rural locations, feeding on a variety of flowers and basking in the sunshine.

A note from Mark...
"Apart from the Red Admiral some of us spotted a Brimstone too, which would also have emerged after a winter hibernating. We also saw evidence that hedgehogs had been using the copse recently."

Many thanks to Carrie for her photographs, Nature Find and to Mark for his photographs, information.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Finally..... an answer to Munsley...!

In a recent blog I asked if anyone had any ideas why Munsley Bog was so called. The reference books that I have failed to answer the question as did talking to Godshill locals.

Tonight I had the following email from Mark....

Many thanks to John Margham for researching our query, and he has emailed me the following...

According to Kokeritz's The Place-Names of the Isle of Wight Munsley means either 'Mul's leah' with Mul being a personal name, or 'the leah at the muzzle-like hill' (1940, p. 17-18). I suggest that you look for a muzzle-shaped hill in the vicinity on your next visit! Leah is an Old English term best translated as wood-pasture, but at Munsley it could very well refer to more open pasture, i.e. the area of the bog itself being used for rough grazing. Munsley was first recorded as Mollesleghe in 1287-90 according to Kokeritz. 

So...we finally have an answer - although we will have to look for the "muzzle-like hill" on our next visit. Many thanks to Mark and John for the research.

Wed 11th March 2015 - Afton Marsh South, Freshwater.

Carrie's Photographs.

Sue's Photographs.

The dreaded MUD....!

Although Carrie's monthly article about March claims otherwise, I am firmly convinced that the word March is just a corruption of the word MARSH. With the first two GG sessions of this month being at two marshy venues, then it has to be true..??? Yes, once again we found ourselves in ankle deep mud which can make getting around quite "interesting" and after a couple of hours work, energy sapping.
With two fire sites established, it was slash, cut and burn anything that wasn't marsh reeds - this opens up the area allowing it to return to it's natural state. As can be seen from the photographs above, the larger cut material is sawn into shorter lengths then piled up to form protective areas for an wildlife. The weather was forecasting rain showers and although it did cloud over, we all went home dry (except for the muddy clothes!) With a good turnout of GGmers, we made excellent progress clearing the designated area.

Carrie's Nature Finds.

Two finds this week, the first being spotted by Gill is Trametes Versicolor, which means several colours, and the common name of turkey tail (as you can see from the photograph), and grows in tiled layers with a rust or dark brown cap, sometimes with blackish zones.  It is a common bracket fungus which grows on the side of logs or trees, is leathery to the touch, and has a spoon or cup shape up to four inches wide.

It is very colourful, and ranges from brown, white, tan, orange, red and purple or all these colours at once.  Like other fungi, the turkey tail part you see is like the flower of the fungus, with the rest being inside the log it is growing on.  They grow from May to December, and can last for several years growing in dead or dying wood especially oaks, and are also known to grow from wounds in a tree.  It can harm a sick tree, but often helps to break down old dead logs and tree branches, allowing the nutrients to be returned to the soil and used again.

The second find was the male catkins of the pussy willow which, before they come into full flower, are covered in fine, greyish fur leading to a fancied likeness to tiny cats. The catkins appear long before the leaves, and are one of the earliest signs of spring.

Pussy willow is used as a decoration for the Chinese New Year, as the fluffy white blossoms resemble silk, giving forth to young shoots the colour of green jade.   The stalks are frequently decorated with gold and red ornaments that signify prosperity and happiness, while felt pieces of red, pink and yellow are also a common decoration in Southeast Asia.

Photographs contributed by Sue and Carrie, many thanks.