Category Archives: trees

Growing Rowan Trees for Planet and People

Many years ago I spent much time rock-climbing in Snowdonia, especially around Ogwen. It was vital to find good belays and on numerous occasions I used a rowan tree. I wonder whether they would have held me if I fell. Since then the rowan, or mountain ash, has been my favourite tree. here’s one on Arenig Fawr.

There are fairly common in the uplands of England and Wales and some are struggling in a hostile place. In the autumn they are known for their scarlet berries which are devoured by birds. here is a fine example;

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You can find rowans almost anywhere, as in this remote valley in the Forest of Bowland

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They are hardy trees and here is my favourite, also in the Forest of Bowland, of a tree possibly struck by lightning still valiantly braving the elements. Note the lovely creamy-white blossom.

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Hardy though they are, they struggle to survive on higher ground as do these planted rowans on Wild Boar Fell. They grow very little each year.

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Rowans are relatively small trees and usually grow to 25 or 30 feet making them ideal for smaller gardens and amenity areas, which cannot take a mighty oak. Over the last 40 years I have planted them in various gardens and they are now a good size. Those I planted in 2001 are now about 20 ft and covered with blossom then berries.

Here is one in my present garden.

Rowans are beautiful trees but what are their virtues?

Their beauty enhances wherever they grow , in the wild, in a garden or in public spaces. Too many of our towns and estates are being denuded of trees and here is a smallish one which is suitable in most gardens. Not so long ago most estates would have front gardens with shrubs and small trees, but the craze for plastic grass, gravel and hard surfaces has often destroyed that. I wonder how much wildlife is lost through that.

As well as that, they attract insects to their blossom and birds to eat the berries, and probably other insects eating leaves or making their home on a branch. Being native they attract other creatures as well.

At a time when there is so much encouragement to grow trees, rowans are ideal and will absorb a little carbon but not as much as an oak. Not every garden or open space is suitable for an oak! most can take a rowan (or a malus or cherry.)

I started doing this in the Autumn of 2017 and during 2021 I gave away a dozen of so and now some are in my street and others as far away as Cambridge and Shrewsbury.

I don’t claim to be a wonderful gardener but this is what I did.

I began in Year 1 – autumn 2017 and collected berries

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which I planted in a Seed tray with compost ( no peat) about few centimetres apart. They were left outside for the winter and I kept them neither too dry or too wet

Year 2 (2018)

By May most had germinated and so I pricked them out and put them into little pots

and up again if need me

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Year 3 (2019)

The next year i had to keep potting up as needs be and some were growing faster than others. (At times this was due to my negligence.)

Year4 2020

By now some had got to over two feet but with lockdown I simply grew them one and trying to avoid the dangers of too wet and too dry.

Year 5 2021

By now after three and a half years the larger ones ready. Note the variation in size. This photo excludes the larger ones which i’d given away.

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and I gave a dozen to various people.

Here’s one a few doors down from me. Since planting in May it has grown well over a foot in height and is thriving. I doubt that it will have flowers for two more years. It is as big a tree you may dare to plant there. It is great to be able to watch one of my trees grow.

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I hope people will try this and I seuggest reading up about growing trees form seed as I am no expert. The main problem I have had has been losing plants through neglect , wither letting them get too wet or bone dry.

Some may ask “What’s the point? Why not just buy saplings?” If you want immediate results then that is the best course.

Growing from seed is very satisfying as you then totally own the trees. It is fun to do, apart from some disappointments. You are also taking part in actual growing rather than funding it. You learn a lot.

In a small way you are contributing to biodiversity and increasing the number of trees.

There is nothing like seeing a tree you have grown from seed.

One can do this with other plants as I am with Purple Loosestrife. I will have to find forever homes for them next spring.

And finally, some groups want volunteers to nurture plants thus for example “growers” are needed for Silverdale AONB in Lancashire.

If you have enjoyed reading this, why not try it? It is fairly simple provided you can think three years hence!

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges … (with apologies to Darwin)

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms, which were there before, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what is there now after the mowers moved in.

Many will realise that is a parody of the fantastic poetic conclusion to Darwin’s  The Origin of species.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, ……..

 

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That might baffle you why this photo is here and what it is.

It is the flower of one of 25 Southern Marsh Orchids mown down on a tiny grass verge in Lancashire. This flowered was beheaded or decapitated by someone unaware what it was, and perhaps it is reminiscent of the head of one of Henry VIII’s many victins on the executioner’s block.

Here is a fine specimen of a Southern Marsh Orchid a few hundred yards away and then the verge as it was early in June before the phantom mower came. The first is from an “amenity centre” which fortunately is not mown indiscriminately and one of a hundred along with a host of other flowers. The second is of the narrow verge of short grass where 25  orchids were flowering until 11th June 2020.

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That changed when it was mowed on the morning of 11th June. Wyre Council claim it was nothing to with them

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/decapitating-orchids-in-lancashire-environmental-vandalism/

The grass was so short. The first shows one surviving ording and the second a mangled one.

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Another example near Scorton of Red Campions and cow parsley just trashed.

 

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Mowing machines have been the scourge of lockdown this spring. I don’t mean those which you use (or shouldn’t have used) to mow your lawn, but the excess misuse of mowing machines on roadside verges this year. It’s not only Lancashire but every part of the country as mowers have gone in and removed the flora.

Consider the contrast both in beauty and wildlife of these two images taken from twitter

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Every day over the last few months I have noticed mangled banks and verges, where mowers have gone in to do their damage. I ought to explain that most days I go out for a 30 odd mile cycleride in the lanes of Lancashire. Rather than improve my speed, I prefer to see what is there and especially enjoy the wildlife, whether a hare, rabbits, stoats, various birds including the Purple Heron. I had a close shave when a buzzard nearly flew into me near Inskip. I also look at the flora and continually improve my skills of identification.

But as I saw the trashed flowers the words of the last paragraph of The Origin came to mind and then I decided to parady it in honour of the mowers.

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms,  so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, which were there before,have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what was there before the mowers moved in. These new laws of environmental vandals, taken in the largest sense, being no Growth without Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost lost by lack of reproduction; invariability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of  the fossil-fueled mowing machines, and from extermination; a Ratio of Increase so low as to lead to an inevitable Death, and as a consequence to Unnatural Selection, entailing loss of Divergence of Character and the Extinction of all improved forms. Thus, from the war against nature, from moving, pesticide and herbicides, the most unexalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the loss of all fauna and flora, directly follows. There is no grandeur in this view of life, despite life having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved, are now being hurried to extinction by the wanton disregard of the Creator’s allegedly highest creation, the damned miscreator.

I have come across not only those decapitated orchids, but rare stands of Ragged Robin and Red and White Campions with their hybrids cut right down. I have only seen one example of those two floral gems. That is apart from  common wildflowers being mown down just before flowering. I blogged some details of the mowing here; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

The total area of road verges in Britain is immense as mile upon mile of 2 metre wide strips adds up to an awful lot, giving space for an immense diversity of flora and thus of insect, bird and mammal life. We cannot afford to lose it. It is comparble to domestic gardens which are increasingly hard-surfaced or put down to plastic grass.

Sadly , this mowing has taken place throughout the countries of the UK. Many have complained to their local councils.

I have complained to local councillors from Lancashire County Council and Wyre borough but have had no useful response.

In my twitter comments I also linked to the twitter accounts of Lancashire County Council and Wyre Borough Council, which elictied responses, which were unhelpful. LCC were quick to say verges were Wyre’s responsibility. But Wyre said that the verge with the orchids was not their remit. Even senior employees of either council gave me no answer. As a result I cannot say who was responsible and only deal with the results.

The results are very clear;

  • Mowers have no regard for flowers, whether common, or less so, in flower or in bud, and simply mow them down.
  • In many lanes a mown strip 2 to 3ft wide would be sufficient, but often anything up to 12 ft /4 metres from the road is mown, without regard to the flora.
  • often strips are mown right up to base of a hedge, if present, thus removing plants about to flower or in flower eg. ramsons, campions, ragged robin , various parsleys, Meadowsweet, vetchs etc.
  • A frequent appeal is for safety and visibility , but that would never require mowing back several metres from the road.

My observations also indicate that councils are not the only ones mowing, as it is often done by local farmers or residents, and, possibly other bodies.

I would suggest that every local council and councillors  need to be challenged on this by as many people as possible, until a better policy is implemented.

Despite by very much an amateur naturalist, it is clear to me that councils need good sound botanical advice to inform their mowing regime AND then enforce it.

I could go on, but will finish with quoting that final paragraph of Darwin’s Origin,  which is an excellent scientific picture of our natural world.

Have lived in Shrewsbury, Darwin must have ridden past many entangled banks as he travelled the area on his horse. Some of the best banks were on his various routes to Woodhouse, where his visited his first girl-friend Fanny Mostyn Owen, before he went to Cambridge.  The entangled banks near Downe House are equally gorgeous.

So I’ll give Darwin the last word, with a few of my photos.

The conclusion of The Origin of Species (1st ed)

 

 

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank,

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clothed with many plants of many kinds,

 

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with birds singing on the bushes,

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with various insects flitting about,

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and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

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A most useful guide on how verges should be mown

 

https://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/3315/7063/5411/Managing_grassland_road_verges_Singles.pdf

Chronicle of a Grassland Saved

The dangers of tree-planting as the universal panacea, without checking what is already there.

an excellent blog giving a much needed warning.

BTW I have 30 rowans looking for homes

a new nature blog

For those of us of a certain age, The Milky Bar Kid was part of our childhood. A boy, dressed as a cowboy, implored us to eat white chocolate  – which was not particularly popular back then. By coincidence one of the boys who played The Milky Bar Kid (there were several) was at the same primary school as I was (there was a famous acting school nearby). I remember him being a bit smug, but then who could blame him? He was The Milky Bar Kid! There was a catchy jingle which I can still recall 50 odd years later. The funny thing is now I realise that white chocolate doesn’t have any more milk in it than milk chocolate (perhaps it has less)  – it’s white because of the cocoa butter that’s used, not the milk. Amazingly, Milky Bars are still selling well nearly 85 years after they…

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