Sunday, 7 February 2010

Traditional Hereford calf, Hazel catkins etc., Natural History Blog Pre-internet

The new Tradtional Hereford calf is doing well and her great lumbering mother is very protective. She is always very watchful if there is a dog around even when she is in a pen and the dogs are outside. I never go into the field with the Herefords with or without a dog. They are not aggressive but just very protective of their babies. The Farmer is not unnerved by them but I am of a much more nervous disposition and am quite happy to admire them from afar. They are very handsome beasts and being a rare-breed it is always marvellous when we have a heifer calf. I think there are only about 5-6 hundred of these animals in the country. We will be having to find a good name for this baby so that she can be registered with the herd society soon.

Having been out to supper last evening with our friend the Surveyor and his family we had a delightful meal,and were home rather late and so everything was a bit behind times this morning. However after collecting the eggs, I walked the dogs and was very pleased to notice that Spring is beginning to stir... we have the first snowdrops in flower along our drive, I saw the first daffodil just opening on a verge and  I spied hazel catkins fattening up in the hedgerow.
Hazel catkins are of course the male part of the plant. To see the tiny red females parts one needs a magnifying glass to appreciate their beauty with their scarlet petals.

The hazel is a plant that has had its usefulness much diminshed by modern living. In the past it was used for so many things; not just baskets and walking sticks but hurdles for making enclosures and livestock pens and for the frame-work for the wattle & daub construction of dwellings and animal housing. In many woodlands one can find the stools of coppiced hazel where the hazel was managed for harvesting of rods and sticks. Of course the nuts were an important source of protein and could be harvested and kept through the winter. There has been much archaeological evidence of neolithic peoples eating vast quantities of hazel nuts.
In the garden here I have a beautiful red hazel that has glorious rich maroon coloured leaves and produces dark red nuts with a very sweet flavour.
The other vital role that hazel plays is in providing habitat for dormice. I have yet to find evidence of dormice here on the farm though they are in the area as neighbours have found nut shells with the distinctive small nibblings typical of dormouse teeth.

Going through one of our bookcases this morning I came across a small collection of old notebooks which contain the Nature Writings of the Farmers' father. From 1945 to 1960 'Robin' wrote a weekly column on natural history and the farming  seasonal round, for his local paper, the Wolverhampton Express & Star, (I should explain that the Farmers' family originate from Staffordshire and moved to Wales in 1960).
The forerunner of blog, I can't help thinking, they are exquisite pieces written by a man who was a passionate naturalist  and observer of wildlife.
Here is an example of his writing taken from a piece written in February 1954;

"Sunlight filtering through the trees gives promise of new life to the damp deadness of the woodland scene of trees torn up by their roots lying acros the tangles of bracken and ferns and the clutter of fallen leaves.
The new life awaits the signal of longer, warmer days. In the buds of trees are leaves and flowers tucked away in embryo form; the debris on the woodland frloor covers a wealth of dormant life: the rootstocks of windflowers, sorrels and ferns, bluebell bulbs in uncountable numbers, and the seeds of many trees and woodland weeds. When the warmer days arrive all these will spring into life and create the pattern of flower and green of the new season.
To compensate for the dormancy of plant life the woodland birds are full of activity - they have to work hard to find sufficient food in the short daylight hours and, with no leaves on the trees, they are more easily seen now than later in the summer. Woodpeckers and nuthatches hammer at the dead branches and sometimes they are lucky and find a fallen hazel nut; blackbirds and wrens flit around in the low bushes and the titis go around in happy little flocks. the blue and great tits are the most numerous in these parties; marsh and coal tits, tree-creepers and goldcrests are often'hangers-on'.
Towards evening the owls begin to call and the woodpigeons come in to roost; the latter like to shelter in the thick fir trees, but the organised shooting is already driving them to roost out in the widely scattered hedgerow trees."

I think perhaps I should just re-produce one of 'Robin's' gems for each blog posting and leave it at that!

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