Tag: Nature

Trees of Beeston

“A culture is no better than its woods.” – W.H. Auden

It seems only fitting in this Trees of Beeston column to consider how the natural world, its biological systems and lifeforms, can give pointers to humans about valuing the interconnectedness of the local, the national, and international. Of the way nature abhors borders and boundaries, and demands fuller realisation by making connections with other places.  Plants and seeds serve as symbolic of hope: the seeds of an idea, the green shoots of new growth. The culture of sharing plants and trees across scale and between countries in terms of landscaping urban planning further exemplifies how human cultures and lives, and the animals that live alongside, can be enriched and life possibilities expanded by such exchanges of flora.

As a geographer, studying the world and its human and non-human interconnectedness is at the heart of the subject: how people and the environment are part of wider interdependent systems of life and life forms. And so it is that I bring you two tree-based sculptures, one living and growing, one formed of a once-living tree, fashioned as a reminder of the need for humans to remember their connectedness to the natural world and to each other. Both tree forms are located in Dovecote Park, and they are the European Union (E.U.) tree circle and the Yew Green man of Dovecote Park.

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Encircling the bandstand of Dovecote Park, the E U tree circle acts like a fairy ring of twelve trees.  Each tree is a Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) a deciduous tree native to mainland Europe. Each one represents one of the twelve Western European Union member countries who had joined by the E U by the mid 1980s prior to the additional member states joining in the intervening years since the tree ring was planted in January 1993 by members of Broxtowe Borough Council’s Technical and Leisure Services Committee. Ornamentally, the Norway Maple is planted as a shade-giving tree, and certainly they have provided that to many picnic-going Beestonians attending events at the bandstand in recent summers.  As current debates rage around Britain’s political, economic and social membership of the E U, this tree circle serves as a reminder to the power of collective connection and endeavour, to look back to the past, to the cooperation and benefits of being connected to other parts of Europe and the world; and how trees have often provided a way to illustrate vital human kinships across national borders.  Think of the Norwegian spruce, gifted to Trafalgar Square every December, or else twin-town gifts of memorial trees planted in villages and towns up and down the British Isles by way of recognising civic friendship across the world. It is a reminder that our towns and cities are often enriched and benefit from landscaping ideas, such as tree-lined streets, stretching back to the Victorian era from landscaped parks and gardens across the globe, but in particular influenced by urban planning initiatives from France, Germany and Italy (Johnston 2017).  Such tree planting symbolises the desire of the people and place in which they are located to forge social, economic and political connections from the local to the global, marking an expansive vision of a more welcoming and humane world.

Dovecote Recreation Park was gifted to the residents of Broxtowe in 1908 and ever since continues to be a much loved and well used green space.

Plants and trees symbolize growth and fruitfulness. Gifting plants is a common enough practise. If one has the privilege of having an allotment or garden, consider how many plants or seeds are exchanged to enact knowledge exchange and friendship, to share the bounty and joy, the hope and growth promised in a single plant.  These small acts make landscapes more inclusive, more friendly, and serve to symbolize a humanity and humility. Hopeful acts from the past, living in the landscape of the present, signposting possibilities of hope for the future.

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Green spaces such as parks also offer up much needed connectivity to the non-human world, for the mental and physical wellbeing to people who are able to avail themselves of it.  Dovecote Recreation Park was gifted to the residents of Broxtowe in 1908 and ever since continues to be a much loved and well used green space to residents for a variety of purposes: from those who once or twice daily walk their dogs, take their daily exercise, meet with friends to play, or simply as a space through which to wander and ponder life. To mark its centenary in 2008, the local Beestonian sculptor Stan Bullard (who used to have a striking totem pole in front of his house/studio on Dagmar Grove), carved the statue of the Green Man out of an old Yew trunk.  Replacing a previous statue on the site which commemorated the Earth Summit in 1992, the plaque tells how Bullard’s green man symbolises “man’s (sic) interaction with the natural green world”.  Carved from a found Yew tree trunk, Bullard’s Green Man is in thoughtful pose with a variety of insects, birds and animals surrounding him.  The sculpture gives afterlife to a tree (The Yew itself having many spiritual connotations to do with protection and the afterlife) and serves as reminder to those who see it of the need to be thoughtful of humans and their responsibility as custodians of the natural world, to live sustainably. It serves as reminder that our actions have consequences, and that what we do to the natural world, we ultimately do to ourselves.

In studying these two tree sculptures, new ways of seeing the other trees in the park become apparent.  Dovecote Park is blessed with a variety of trees: there is a stunning Oak, its branches reach out and provide glorious shade if one attends formal activities or has a picnic in the summer months.  There have, however, lately been a number of notable losses in the park: three trees that once stood near the Dovecote Road entrance have been felled as have the height of a number of poplars that once stood near them.  This removal also serves as reminder that our trees and our green spaces need to be cherished and valued for the priceless gifts they afford residents and visitors to the park, and that we have an ongoing responsibility to maintain and ensure their preservation.

References:

Mark Johnston (2017) Street Trees in Britain: A History.  Oxbow Books.

JN

 

We Dig NG9: Plants gone wild

Tamar Feast on Beeston’s Wild Side

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Six years ago, this odd patch of grass next to Myford’s factory was basically a dumping ground for litter, garden trimmings and erm… discarded golf paraphernalia. I passed it, wearily, twice daily.

Four years ago, I got the Council to not cut it, and started establishing it as a wildflower dumping ground for litter and garden trimmings instead.

One year ago, it was recovering from erroneous grass cuts due to the Council’s sheer circumlocution-like ineptitude. The burgeoning meadow flowers I’d planted and sown the years before were denied their fifteen minutes of fame and, despite managing to win a Level 4 award in the ‘RHS East Midlands in Bloom: It’s Your Neighbourhood’ competition, it looked pretty sorry for itself.

Despite more set-backs this year, [fanfare] the grass has now erupted in a SUMMER BOOM of colour. This is largely thanks to extra wildflower seed donated by a guy called Chris, who sowed it with his daughter, Holly, once the footpath reopened earlier in the year.

It’s not just about pretty flowers, though. There’s a brash heap and log pile (good for grass snakes, insects, invertebrates and small mammals), and fruit trees and hedglings from The Woodland Trust.

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RHS Wisley it ain’t. But it IS a-buzz with pollinators flitting from plant to plant, taking pit stops on the Bug Squat (hotels are sooo ‘Bridgford). Here too, Hedgehogs rummage around; Bats and Swifts (numbers of the latter are worryingly low this year) hunt overhead in the last of the light at dusk and the gloaming.

It really is simple: less is more. Leave a piece of your garden to ‘go over’, or plant wild flowers if you prefer (native ones are best – so you know they’ll help insects in this country).

To some, it may look weedy (“I’d torch the lot” said one lady to me while I topped-up the bird feeders). But wild verges work hard, helping our underappreciated Beestonians: the critters pollinating your fruit, veg, and flowers; or eating the ones eating your fruit, veg and flowers. And they need all the help they can get.

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We love to see wildlife in our gardens. But if we tidy away the places it lives, feeds and breeds, or if the only ‘wild abandon’ we allow is that with which we throw down slug pellets, then it could soon disappear. Don’t get me started on slug pellets – I don’t have the word allowance…

Although small, rewilding areas like this connects one patch of habitat to another, so species who thrive or rely on linear movement; on mixing species through urban areas, or on stop-offs to larger habitats – such as Attenborough Nature Reserve – can survive.

It really is simple: less is more. Leave a piece of your garden to ‘go over’, or plant wild flowers if you prefer (native ones are best – so you know they’ll help insects in this country). If you have space for a pond, this will exponentially boost the benefit – even an old washing-up bowl sunk in the ground, filled with rain water and some rocks (for escape) will soon be colonised.

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If all this sounds like too much mess and effort, or you’re only up for doing one thing to help wildlife: please STOP USING SLUG PELLETS.

True to its word, an established ‘wild’ patch can get on with very little interference from us.  And, though We Dig NG9’s will never be proper idyllic ‘meadow’, of course – if it looks nice, well that’s just a bonus.  (TF)

Connect with We Dig NG9 on Twitter and Instagram: @WeDigNG9

WeDigNG9@gmail.com

TF

Trees of Beeston

Trees of Beeston is a psychogeographical and art project that celebrates the arboreal entities and architectures that enrich the landscapes and lives of humans and animals living, working, or visiting Beeston in Nottinghamshire, UK.

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Between spring and autumn 2018, Dr Jo Norcup will facilitate a small group of Beestonian tree-appreciators under the moniker ‘The Beeston Tree Appreciation Society’. We will map and record (via words, sounds and pictures) stories of trees that serve as landmarks and enhance the landscape of Beeston. Informed by historical and civic activities as well as by the stories and connections that Beestonians and honorary Beestonians have in how they connect and appreciate the trees that mark our landscape, a gazetteer map will be created so that residents and visitors alike might explore the local geography of Beeston and the living landmarks that endow and make habitable life in this part of the East Midlands.

Tree appreciation will be further explored in a series of forthcoming workshops and local field trips to be held in the autumn (details TBA).

For further details on how to get involved and to find out more go to www.geographyworkshop.com/TreesOfBeeston

Please follow on social media via @geo_workshop hashtag #TreesOfBeeston

Trees of Beeston #1 “The Truffula Trees” (Silver Birches) of King Street.

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“I speak for the trees, for they have no tongues”

In his children’s book The Lorax, Dr Seuss’s wise tree environmentalist and eco-warrior, The Lorax, warns of the rapid loss of trees and environments at the hands of short-term profiteering “I speak for the Trees” he repeats. The Once-ler (who narrates the sad story), tells how he learnt, too late, not to destroy the natural environment.  How, when the trees are removed, the animals, birds, insects and other animals move away, leaving a desolate and depleted landscape no animal, and indeed, no human wants to live in.  The moral: to be mindful of the future, to be wise custodians of the trees, plants, and animals that enrich our daily lives so that we and future generations might also have a quality of living that appreciates in turn the natural world and non-human lives that enrich it.

My son was the first to see the shape of the silver birches along King Street in Beeston as the Truffula trees of Dr Seuss’s tale.  On a street where there are no street trees to speak of apart from these majestic deciduous duo (save the holly tree growing from the cracked tarmac at the side of the ginnell wall between the motorcycle showroom and the housing near the Queen Street end of King Street – yes, I see you too wee tree), these two Silver Birches (and a couple of smaller saplings at their base) provide both landmark and respite to the eye from the primarily residential and industrial buildings along King Street.  Go closer to these trees, and you find a wee ecosystem, as the silver birch provides the lightest of canopy of leaves through which sunlight can dapple its way through to enable other plants to grow.  Other smaller saplings are present, fighting for light and space in their small location in front of an electrical sub-station where a small black fly-tipped bin and rubbish that someone has dumped has been grown over by wild flowers (“weeds” to give them their antisocial pejorative shorthand) and the foliage of the saplings.  Three types of valerian grow in white, pink and purple, giving colour and cover as well as pollen and habitat to insects and butterflies. The Silver Birch (Betula pendula) is known as a ‘pioneering tree’ because it can grow pretty much anywhere. The roots draw up nutrients and when its small serrated heart-shaped leaves and catkins fall, this deciduous tree provides fertile compostable nutrients in which other plants can find a home. It is a tiny oasis.  Walking past them regularly as we do, the sound of the leaves gently bristling in the slightest of breezes that on a parched heatwave day is akin to a lightly babbling brook. The sound calms. The cascade of leaves on thin branches cools with its light coverage. We always greet the trees with a respectful hello. They are friends.  They are much loved.  They make our daily lives better. We always slow down for them, more often than not stopping, for fleeting seconds to pay our respects. For local dog owners, these trees provide a stopping point and canine territorial interest. In 2013, The Beestonian (issue 21) published a poem by the local poet Steve Plowright about them.  It is repeated below.

A Pair of Silver Birch Trees

By Steve Plowright

Silver-soldered soldiers
Solid through the Seasons
Re-assurance resonates,
Whilst gazing through your filigree
Of branch and twig and leaf

Silver sheen of bark
Mercurial magicians
Light unwilling journeys
On sighing school mornings
You never beg to question

Just a pair of silver soldiers
Guardians of our secrets
You never show your feelings
Thanks for your solidarity
Thanks for being there

 

Tree facts: #1The Silver Birch

  • Botanical name: Betula pendula of family Betulacae
  • A native tree to Europe and parts of Asia, known in America as the European white birch.
  • Deciduous tree with a white peeling paper-like bark with slender and pendulous branches, it has small heart/triangular shaped leaves with serrated edges that are green in spring and summer, turning yellow before they fall in the autumn.
  • The Silver Birch flowers catkins and is self-pollinating bearing both male and female catkins (droopy and small, compact cylindrical respectively) that scatter seeds with the wind.
  • Known as a pioneer species of tree as they are often the first type of tree to appear in a clearing, the catkins produced often containing high levels of nitrates drawn up from the roots, the leaf and catkin litter producing fertile compost in which other plants are able to succeed.
  • Silver birches provide habitat for a diverse range of insect and bird species, and larger specimens in gardens and parks provide ideal perching points for songbirds.
  • Humans have derived a number of uses from the Silver Birch: their sap can be tapped when it rises in March, and the sweet liquid can be used a little like maple syrup or concentrated and fermented for brewing wine and beer. The timber of the Silver Birch can be used for joinery, firewood, brooms and tool handles. Medicinally, Silver Birch has been used in traditional medicine as a diuretic, and externally can be used to promote healing to relieve skin pain and inflammation as its decorative bark contains triterpenes.
  • The Silver Birch is the national tree of Finland.

References and wider reading:

Edlin, H.L. (1970) Collins guide to Tree Planting and Cultivation. Gardeners Book Club. Newton Abbott.

Plowright, S (2013) A pair of Silver Birch trees. The Beestonian no 21. Back page.

Dr JN

Beeston Bees

(Yes, it is all about bees).

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Roald Dahl once wrote a short story called ‘Royal Jelly’. It revolved around a beekeeper called Albert, who fed his family the bee food, especially his underweight baby daughter. The twist being of course, that he and his daughter turn into bees.

So I was wondering what I would expect when I met experienced local beekeeper Mary Venning, and her three hives, which are situated in the Wollaton Road allotments, one of nine in the area. “Did you know that Oliver Cromwell’s son in law gave this land in perpetuity? That was found out when they built the medical centre.” As anyone that’s visited the site will know, it’s a very big triangle shaped area. We reach Mary’s rather large growing space.  “This hive is the most productive at the moment,” says Mary, indicating a hive prominently placed and literally buzzing with the sound of bees. Mary then shows me her other two hives, which don’t seem to be as active. “The queen may have died in this one,” indicating a hive with very little activity around it.

Mary’s bees were also very busy around the parts that they make their honey in, that she had out on display  “They are licking all the honey off. Every little bit.” We watched as many, many bees were swarming round these honeycombs. “Bees have such different personalities. I used to have a hive where they were quite aggressive. But the ones now are friendly. People shouldn’t be anxious around them. Bees don’t like loud noises, people waving their arms around, or strong perfumes, as they might think you are a flower. Leave them alone, and they will leave you alone. If you do get stung, then pull the sting out and apply something alkali, like milk of magnesia.”

They prefer to gather nectar from open or tubed flowers.  Dandelions are the best plant for bees, as its nectar is already 50% food

I asked Mary how she got into beekeeping. “I studied the life of bees as part of my psychology degree. The nature of animals. I then did a beekeeping course when I retired. It was a weekend course over five weeks.” It is an expensive hobby. Did you know that once the queen has been chosen, she is fed royal jelly, created by worker bees?  You can see how enthusiastic Mary is about the insects. ‘Buzzing’, you might say as she imparts so much different information about them, quicker than I can write it down. “Bees hum in the key of C major.” Or, “They prefer to gather nectar from open or tubed flowers.  Dandelions are the best plant for bees, as its nectar is already 50% food. If only people would let a few dandelions grow in a patch of ground or in a tub, then that would be very helpful to them. Pussy willow and Hawthorne are also good sources of pollen.”

Mary then goes on to tell me about the worker bees’ waggle dancing, a figure of eight movement and how it informs the other bees about where the best pollen can be found, how far it is from the hive and if there are any dangers about. All this in very little, or no light in the hive.  She then told me about some joint research being done between Nottingham Trent University and the Centre Apicole de Recherche et D’information in France over the vibration of bees. Martin Bencsik at their Brackenhurst site is also looking at ‘swarm preparation’ that should aid beekeepers in the future, in that it may reveal health of bees and how the hive is doing.

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There have been a lot of stories in the news over the last few years about the vast reduction in bee numbers, due to a change in farming practices and the increase in chemicals that are used on the land these days. Bees are vital to the food chain with their pollination of plants and fruit trees. So the work that Mary does, and other beekeepers like her around the world are so important to the life of these interesting and much loved insects and, in fact, for us.

CDF

Take it to the Ridge

We take a ramble through the Ridge…

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If you’re in search of a little patch of green in the (greater) Beeston area, maybe it’s worth looking just across the A52 to a little known piece of land called Bramcote Ridge or the Alexandrina Plantation. The two linked plots are an elongated area between Wollaton, Bramcote and Lenton Abbey and can be best approached from Thoresby Road, as you head away from Bramcote shops. The ‘open space’ is about 12 acres: “a mosaic of acid grassland, naturally regenerating scrub and mature woodland which, through lack of appropriate management in the recent past, has developed into the attractive semi-wild area” you’ll find when you visit. Part of the space is privately owned and the rest belongs to Broxtowe Borough Council but despite this mixed ownership the public has unrestricted access.

The history of the site is a bit vague: Bramcote generally was enclosed by Act of Parliament in 1771 and the land put to unknown agricultural use. The westernmost section of the Ridge was planted with trees between 1836 and 1880, possibly to celebrate the marriage of the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) to Princess Alexandra in 1863 – hence this woodland is known as the Alexandrina Plantation. Many of the older trees were coppiced, probably during the Second World War when fuel was scarce. The Sandy Lane Bridleway runs along the eastern edge on the original Nottingham City boundary and this used to be the only way from the main Nottingham/Derby Road (A52) to the village of Wollaton. Remnants of hedgerow and even an old boundary marker from 1933 can be found. There is broom scrub on the site, reminding us that ‘Bramcote’ derives from ‘cottages in the broom’ which indicates what our Anglo-Saxon forebears found when they arrived!

The site has 85 species of wild flowers, 20 species of trees and shrubs, 20 species of grass and 3 species of ferns; 40 species of bird have at one time or another been spotted here.

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As residential development increased this area came to be seen as a valuable amenity and in 1975 Broxtowe BC designated the whole of the Ridge as an ‘Area of Restricted Development’ ensuring its survival as a wild area, valuable both for residents and wildlife, up to the present and, we hope, beyond.

Environmentalists especially will be pleased to know that the site has 85 species of wild flowers, 20 species of trees and shrubs, 20 species of grass and 3 species of ferns; 40 species of bird have at one time or another been spotted here. Common woodland mammals such as fox, grey squirrel, hedgehog and the occasional badger inhabit or visit.

If YOU fancy a visit, there are a number of access points and it might be worth going to the Friends of Bramcote Ridge website http://www.bramcote-ridge.org.uk/ridge to check these out. If approaching from Thorseby Road, don’t park on the road itself as you’ll restrict traffic – there is limited parking on side roads.

Before we go, we must give a ‘shout out’ to those ‘Friends’ who have frequently won Green Flag awards. They are an intrepid band of volunteers who clear and plant to keep this site as an amenity for the rest of us – and a little haven for wildlife: good on yer!

CT

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