Saturday, 11 October 2014

Week 38: Juniper - A Hint of Hogwarts in Hemel

Autumn leaves in a puddle in Hay Wood

I might have got you here under false pretences (oblique references to Harry Potter can do that) but it’s all in a good cause. I had to think of an appealing characteristic of slow-growing, unchanging, small green trees which, if you’ve walked Roughdown Common for a number of years, might just as well be covered in the cloak of invisibility. I’m referring to the modest but locally unique population of regenerating Juniper (and that wasn’t a nod to Dr Who, I promise). In fact, it’s “one of the best populations in the County” according to page 98 of the Dacorum Landscape Character Assessment. Nationally, Juniper has been steadily declining and is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The destruction and loss of chalk downland, one of its preferred substrates, is likely a factor but more worryingly, according to the Woodland Trust, “it appears that the plants are unable to regenerate successfully - [lack of TARDIS notwithstanding] this problem is partially attributed to browsing of foliage by deer and rabbits. Juniper may also be affected by Phytophthora root rot and has recently been found to be susceptible to Phytophthora austrocedrae, a fungus-like organism which infects the plant via the roots and causes foliage to decline and eventually die.” Put into context, it soon becomes clear that the healthy, regenerating population at Roughdown Common is genuinely precious (echoes of Lord of the Rings reverberate around my head). Given its scarcity and value within the Box Moor Trust landscape, it had to feature within a blog post…

Juniper’s appearance has always seemed beautifully gothic, and evokes in me thoughts and emotions associated with the magical; with witches and wizards and wispy shapes within the darkness. Actually, according to the Woodland Trust website, “Juniper is considered to be a deterrent against the devil and witches. It was hung over doorways on the eve of May day and burnt on Halloween to ward off evil spirits. It was said that you would prosper if you dreamed of gathering juniper berries in winter".

I've photographed the Junipers in daylight, when the berries glisten, but I reckon their shape and texture is best revealed when illuminated against the darkness…











Aside from its scarcity and beauty, the dense foliage of Juniper provides great nest sites for little birds like Goldcrests. It’s also the larval foot plant for a number of moths, including the Juniper Pug (Eupithecia pusillata), Juniper Carpet (Thera juniperata) and Chestnut-coloured Carpet (Thera cognata). The mothing team recorded Juniper Pug this year but I’m not sure about the Carpets. As for the berries, Thrush species get to snack on those. One website even mentioned that Ring Ouzels like them so I shall have to keep my eyes peeled as Autumn migration progresses.

Speaking of migration, I have been out searching for Hoopoes, well, one would have done. Thursday morning, I walked from Dellfield, through Snook’s Moor, Snoxall’s Moor, Herdsman’s Moor, Fishery Moor and Station Moor and up into Roughdown. Forty miles away, up at a Willington (near Bedford), there’s been a Hoopoe hanging around all week (photographed below). And, you get to wondering whether it brought any friends along and, if so, where did they end up? Hemel moors are as good a place as any. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even rustle up a Yellow Wagtail amongst the cattle. Not to worry, it kept me distracted. With the drop in temperature and change in weather, I am fighting the urge to build a nest of duvets and pillows and snuggle up à la Edible Dormouse.



Finally, this week's Oak photograph, catching the leaves before they dry up and fall.


Wishing you all a week of sweet juniper-berry-filled dreams.

3 comments:

Martin Parr said...

Interesting and informative as ever Lucy! And thats a cracking Hoopoe shot!

Dan at Hemel Birding said...

Lucy, if your blog was printed as a yearly diary, with your photography & writing, I would buy it, read it, love it, & read it again. It's fantastic :) Dan.

Boxmoor, naturally... said...

You're both thoroughly lovely, thank you.
Well done for braving the rain today, Dan - great to hear that the Redwing are just beginning to arrive locally.