Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Top 3 tree threats

The Woodland Trust claims that the UK stands to lose up to 30% of its woodland trees unless tougher biosecurity import laws are introduced.  This comes after DEFRA’s publication of ‘The Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan’ a year ago, which aims to tighten controls but fails to take a strong stance on monitoring trade imports.

To control the speed and spread of introduced pests and diseases, it’s been suggested that the UK government should take a lead from other island nations by increasing checks, quarantining imports when required and dispensing heavy penalties for violations and infringements.

The Woodland Trust would like to start with an immediate ban on importing ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior), one of the three native trees worst hit.   Currently accounting for an astounding 30% of our woodland, the common ash is being struck by a fungal infection known as Ash Dieback Disease (Chalara fraxinea).  Already extensive throughout Europe it spreads rapidly, as the Danes have found to their cost, losing 90% of their ash trees in a mere seven years.  Will the common ash go the way of the elm?
Distribution of ash trees within Europe
(source: Wikipedia)
 Another established pathogen without a cure is Phytophthora ramorum.  Spread through spores and dispersed by rainwater, this is less discriminate in choosing a host and is responsible for the death of a variety of plants and trees.  The disease targets both deciduous and coniferous trees and is the cause of Sudden Oak Death.  Japanese larches (Larix kaempferi) in particularly vulnerable, as well as camellias, rhododendrons, pieris and viburnums.  At present there are at least three other destructive Phytophthora species recorded within the UK.

The effects of Sudden Oak Death

One of the UK’s three native conifers, the scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), is also at risk.  A fungal infection referred to as Red Needle Blight (Dothistroma septosporum) causing defoliation and weakening trees, is reaping havoc on a range of conifers, especially pines.

Example of Red Needle Blight
(source: Jarmo Holopainen (2008),

With global distribution behind the prevalence of destructive non-native organisms, surely there is a case for increasing levels of home-grown stock in UK nurseries?  Whilst not a short-term solution to meeting demand, this would boost jobs in the horticulture sector and in the long term maybe we could increase our exports with healthy, certified pest- and pathogen-free specimens.

During the ‘70s Dutch Elm disease decimated the elm population, killing an estimated 20 million trees.  Although very small at the time, I can just about recall the elms in our neighbourhood being felled and the sadness felt throughout the community.  Let’s try to avoid a similar scenario by urging the government to initiate a mandatory ban on ash tree imports until stricter measures are implemented; please sign this petition:

And if this article doesn’t convince you of the need for tighter controls, the Forestry Commission has a list of “top pest and disease threats” available here:

Monday, 21 May 2012

Colouring in

After infrequent, but disastrous, attempts over the years to use watercolours, I recently decided to address this problem and sought professional help.

Whilst there's obviously still a lot to learn (and to practise), my initial surprise at producing something other than my previous sludge-coloured soggy efforts was great (patience appears to have been a long missing factor).

The scans below aren't brilliant ... rather like the images ...  but I like to think that I'm showing a gradual improvement.

1st effort: poppies

2nd effort: sheep & background wash

3rd effort: llama

Confidence boost

Last week I spent a day back with my previous employer, helping the very pleasant lady who eventually replaced me, to prepare for the impending audit season: quality, environmental and, to a much lesser degree, H&S.

Although initially a little odd to return as a visitor (my turn to be waited on - fabulous!), after the pressure of the past couple of weeks it offered an unexpected morale boost.  It's always gratifying to have your work appreciated, especially the elements you'd forgotten about.

Sad though it may sound, my favourite moment was definitely the rediscovery of a little spreadsheet/chart combo inspired by last year's BA 'Green Engineering' course.  Nothing too exciting but I'd not only calculated the vehicle fleet's annual fuel usage in kgCO2e but also in barrels of oil, courtesy of  It's always nice to find a chance to transfer skills/knowledge.

And strangely enough, the new lady's daughter is also studying landscape architecture (but not at Greenwich) - small world!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Transitional frustation

I have lots of ideas for my MA site design thingy - I know what I want to do - so why do I find it so hard to make the transition between thought and masterplan creation?

Am I missing a trick or merely a bit rubbish at this?  Not a great thought - hopefully it's just some kind of mid-afternoon crisis or something ...  or I'm in serious trouble.

And one clap of thunder approximately every half an hour does not make a storm - make your mind up weather!

Spring site visit

Following sensible advice to go outside, I visited Cane Hill a couple of weeks ago with my sister and, courtesy of a very pleasant security guard, gained access to most of the site.  Apparently neither of us look like a) squatters, or b) lead thieves - hurrah!  Admittedly, we did have to promise not to scale any fences - not really likely on my part as I had chosen to wear an inappropriate outfit for a site visit, unlike my suitably clad sister.  But where's the challenge in that?

Anyway, as I'm still currently struggling with deciding upon suitable, non-bland yet not ridiculously patterned, layouts for my proposed live/work scheme, I though I'd post a few photos of the day (note the stunningly clear, blue sky). 

NB: The quality of some of the images has been reduced due to compression.
Primary route, looking north towards Coulsdon Town Centre
Access from the A23 (note Debbie not wearing a floaty sundress for scrabbling amongst overgrown shrubbery, but playing with her mobile ... again)

Buses once serviced Cane Hill
View of Farthing Downs from Cane Hill
SW wing of the Admin Block built with yellow London stock bricks, typical for the asylum

The imprisoned Water Tower, spiky fences discourage exploration
An enormous but very healthy-looking laurel hedge - landscapers have ventured this way before ...

Chapel & Admin Block (on left), viewed from slope
Derelict building - has a day care/occupational therapy centre look.  Wandered through a gap between trees before sighting the surrounding fences ... oops
The building was evidently in use in 2001

Remember to maintain your pond, else silting up may occur

Water Tower again, note the relatively level ground (unlike most of the site)

After chatting with friendly security man, I believe this may have been a doctor's residence (i.e. further away from the hospital than the nurse's quarters)

Water Tower from another vantage point - and no, we didn't scale the fence

Cane Hill Asylum: a village in itself

Now that's not exactly politically correct, is it?
We chose Brighton Road, handy for Lion Green Road car park
And another one for the landscapers - 'recently' planted trees with evidence of a root irrigation system

We also spotted deer on site but sadly failed to get a decent picture due to their lurking in wooded areas, coupled with my wobbling about on a steep slope above them.

After leaving Cane Hill we decided to pop over to neighbouring Farthing Downs and take some pictures of the view from there.  In hindsight, a less floaty dress would've been good for such a, by late afternoon, windy location.  Trying to preserve your modesty whilst taking photographs whilst buffeted by a strong breeze isn't easy ... sorry dogwalkers.

View towards Cane Hill (includes the fields on the left-hand-side) from Farthing Downs
Sadly, possibly due to being the end of March, no refreshments were available so we stopped for an (unanticipated) ice-cream in nearby Marlpit Lane park before trekking home.  Fun was had by all ...