Teme Valley Musings, July 2019

by Stephanie Mocroft

The Woodland Trust is a national charity dedicated to conserving existing trees and planting new woods. The Trust encourages everyone to get out and about communing with nature and has released a list of ten lesser-known woodland inhabitants for people to look out for when they visit their local wood. Two species on the list are relatively familiar here in the Teme valley, but the remainder are just plain weird and wonderful.

Of the two familiar creatures, the hawfinch and the yellow-necked mouse are those known locally. The former caused a stir hereabouts last winter, by turning up in good numbers to feed in the Teme valley. Quite a few of them were spotted by keen-eyed members of the public. The hawfinch is Britain’s largest finch and has a big strong bill designed to crack nuts and seeds. Around here cherry stones are abundant and the powerful bill of the hawfinch is up to the job of cracking them open. Damson stones and haws (from which they derive their name) are no problem either.

Yellow-necked mice are relatives of the wood mouse who have a yellow ring of fur round the underside of their necks. Only seen as separate from wood mice since 1834, they distinguish themselves by being in possession of a sharp, and freely-offered, nip.

The other creatures on the list veer into the esoteric, although some have eye-catching names.To start with are two spiders, the wasp spider and the catchily-named Mr Whippy spider. The wasp spider, not surprisingly looks like a wasp, but has eight legs, and the Mr Whippy spider is tiny and yellow and lays eggs on leaf-undersides that look like soft ice-cream. Next on the list is the log-jam hoverfly, which appears in spring after its larvae have developed over winter, in wet logs that have got stuck in streams.

Another unsung creature to look out for is the lemon slug, a bright yellow ancient-woodland dweller that ventures out in late summer to munch on mushrooms. But perhaps not the next item on the list, the curry milkcap, a small reddish-brown mushroom that smells of curry powder. Next is a lichen called tree lungwort. This was named long ago, when it was thought to possess curative powers over lung disorders. Surprisingly, recent research has shown that it does have medicinal effects,but against prions, the proteins that cause BSE and CJD diseases

Next, there’s a slime mould, a weird and wonderful being that, despite comprising a group of individual single-celled organisms, can act in concert to navigate a maze – allegedly! And finally, the campion anther smut fungus, a mould preying on red campion flowers, turning all the flowers it lands on into male flowers (even if they were female flowers to start with). Weird or what!