An abundance of fruitful finds in our hedgerows

damsons by Peter Wolstenholme

damsons by Peter Wolstenholme

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Peter Wolstenholme was in touch a couple of weeks back to say, with a title of ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’:

‘Hi Ian, We have been picking fruit along one of the ancient hedgerows near Handsworth and Woodhouse, and are now busy making jam.

‘With nine pounds of Damsons from a Woodhouse hedge, we made sixteen pounds of jam.

‘This was from collections on two dog walks.

‘This year’s Damsons are the biggest we have ever seen here.’

It shows what you can find by ‘foraging’ in your local patch.

As well as hedgerows, there are some old, abandoned fruit orchards, which produce pounds of very nice fruit. This is 
free, local provenance, and generally much tastier than from the supermarket.

You might get the occasional grub as a bonus, but try to regard that as added protein, and after all, eating insects is now catching on worldwide.

I was out in the Peak 
District at Abney Clough, 
a once favourite haunt
 that I had not visited for quite a while.

Along the northern side of the valley are the remnants of a formerly extensive wood pasture now reflected in place names such as ‘Oaks Wood’, clearly an ‘ancient woodland’.

The shadow of this wood pasture and maybe a coppice wood is visible today with large, multi-stemmed oak trees dotted across the open pasture landscape, but masked in twentieth century re-planted ‘woods’; a fascinating environment.

Overhead a skein of Pink-footed Geese made itself known, loud calls audible well before the birds were seen; maybe 200 birds.

The geese were followed by a real treat, as small flocks of both Siskins and Redpolls flitted through the tallest treetops, given away by the buzzing calls of Redpolls and the twittering of the Siskins.

Suddenly, flying between two or three favoured conifer canopies, there was a flock of Crossbills, their loud jip-jip calls very distinctive.

Once sighted, the Crossbills are characteristically scarlet (the males) and green (the females), and they are large for finches and chunky.

The large head and short tail are helpful in identification too. Given a closer view, the crossed mandibles of the bills can be seen; ideally evolved for splitting open pinecones to extract the seeds. This is a good time and indeed a good year to look for Crossbills.

Try areas like the upper Rivelin Valley, or perhaps around Longshaw Lodge, and the Ewden Valley.

Close by, in a stand of mature and dead birch, calling loudly, a Great Spotted Woodpecker joined the scene.

It was still calling half an hour later, as it moved slowly away and into an adjacent copse. The mixed woodland with open glades, older plantation, younger Birch wood, and a few ancient oaks, is great habitat for our most common woodpecker.

n Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.co.uk; follow ‘Ian’s Walk on the Wildside’, UKE Conet for more information.