Field Meetings

The society is proposing to organise some more walks this spring, though any plans put in place may of course change at a moment’s notice. Outdoor meetings with groups of up to six are permissible, given the following guidelines:

  1. Members will need to pre-book through Des Marshall and receive a confirmation that they have a place.
  2. Equipment and books should not be shared or passed round.
  3. Members are asked to maintain a two-metre distance between each other.
  4. Members are advised to bring hand sanitiser and face mask.
  5. Members should be aware of their own risk level and the suitability of this activity.
  6. Please do not come if you are showing any symptoms of Covid 19 or have recently been in contact with anyone who has contracted Covid.

We have arranged six walks for spring/early summer 2021. They are spread around the county, and each will last about two hours, though members can come and go in the usual way. Most are general walks to see what natural history is around. They are not primarily intended as recording exercises, though we shall record what we see.

For more information please see the upcoming events page.

Annual General Meeting

The GNS Annual General Meeting is due to take place on the evening of Friday 26th March 2021; as we are unable to hold conventional meetings at present, the AGM will be carried out as a virtual Zoom meeting via computers, tablets and smart phones. Please don’t be discouraged by Zoom, it’s not that difficult.

Members can participate in this meeting free of charge – please e-mail our secretary, Barrie Mills at [email protected] and he will send you an invitation link to the meeting. If you have any comments, questions or other observations relating to GNS and its business, please e-mail either Barrie or Andrew Bluett at [email protected] as soon as possible before the meeting so that they can be properly considered.

Some of the documents that will be referred to during the meeting can be downloaded from here.

You are all welcome, please do join us if you would like to.

Winter twig identification

The sheet illustrates twigs of common trees in the British countryside. It was used during the GNS Zoom members’ meeting on 20 January 2021. The twigs are arranged so that twigs with similar features are close to each other.

Thus, both elm and field maple often have very ridged bark on quite small twigs, but the buds on an elm twig zigzag along it, whereas field maple buds are opposite each other.

Sycamore is another member of the maple family, and it shares the feature of buds opposite each other, but its buds, especially the end one, are much larger and usually bright green.

Another twig with opposite buds is ash, but in this case the buds are sooty black (ash – sooty – get it?).

Willows are very confusing, with twigs in a range of colours often with buds in a matching colour. If you look closely you will see there is just one scale covering the bud, which comes off as a single unit when the bud bursts in spring. Lime twigs can look quite like willow, with the twigs often coloured red on the sunny side, but the buds are placed zig-zag fashion. The buds of lime are often a rich red, and each bud has a covering of two or three bud scales which are different in size to each other making the bud look a bit like a mitten.

Both oak and cherry can have clusters of buds together on the end of twigs with side buds spiralling up the stems. You may see long extension twigs on cherry with more evenly spaced buds and just two or three at the top. If in doubt, look at the ground because oak leaves are very tough and will survive the winter intact. Cherry leaves are less durable but you may be lucky.

From a distance a walnut tree can look quite like ash. Walnut has dark buds, but they are not opposite each other. In walnut the leaf scar, where the previous year’s leaf stalk dropped off, is a bit like a monkey’s face, broad, with the marks of the vascular bundles looking like two round eyes with a smiling up-turned mouth below. In ash you just get the smile. Another fun clue to walnut is that the twigs have laddered pith, which is a rare feature not found in other common trees in the British countryside. There will always be twigs on the ground that can be split to check.

The twigs of sweet chestnut are rough, unlike the silky smoothness of lime, for example. The sweet chestnut leaf scar is offset at the side of bud, not directly below it which is the more normal placement.

In poplars the buds spiral up the stems, but the side-buds sit directly over last year’s leaf scar. The illustration is of a twig with leaf buds, but beware that in poplar, and indeed in many trees, flower buds can look very different, much larger and rounder. In poplar, at least, they are often on little side-shoots. The balsam poplars are easy because the buds are sticky and smell strongly of sun-tan lotion. Poplars sucker, so you will often see young stems coming up in the field 50 yards or more away from the parent tree, and they can
grow fast – more than 6ft in a year.

Beech separates out easily because the buds are very long and pointed, zigzagging up the twig and sticking out at an angle of more than 45 degrees. Hornbeam buds are pressed tight up against the twig, sometimes with the tip curving inwards. Both beech and hornbeam can retain dead leaves on lowest branches over the winter, especially as hedges, but the angle at which the buds are held will easily differentiate them.

This is an introduction to get you looking at some of the important features. There will be plenty of exceptions and of course many more species to examine. For rigour, consult John Poland’s The Field Key to Winter Twigs (2018).

Juliet Bailey

Winter Bird Survey cancelled

Just a note to remove any doubt – the Gloucestershire Winter Bird Survey for February is cancelled.

As you know, the situation has become worse since November and we now have a do-not-travel-if-avoidable rule.

The intention is to start the survey up again this November, and if you took part in the last one you’ll be contacted in October unless you decline in the meantime.  If you have not taken part and would like further information please email [email protected]

‘Connecting People to Nature’

How connected do you feel to nature?

This inspiring, short 5-minute film from Foresters Forest and Wye Valley River Festival shares
how National Lottery Heritage funding in the Forest of Dean has helped improve the habitats of
birds, reptiles and butterflies whilst also encouraging us to feel more connected to the local
landscape. Explore the natural world around you and experience a sense of well-being.

A Wilded Churchdown Garden

A Wilded Churchdown Garden by Ann Smith

Our small 1930s suburban garden on the edge of fields and in the vicinity of Gloucestershire Airport has been home to us and to many creatures for 30 years. As I have aged, I’ve allowed the humble plot to become wilder and wilder and I encourage others not to panic at the sight of a little unkemptness. While I have not yet, to my shame, photographed many fauna for you, I show examples of how to create pockets of different habitats. Hedgehogs no longer raise their young here, but I suspect there are many intricate food-chains plus regular bird visitors. A common whitethroat popped in and a grasshopper warbler once came close. I have submitted bird records to
GCER. When we extended a couple of years ago, we added integral sparrow nestboxes within the brickwork, high up under the eaves. They were soon in use, alongside the 15 other varied non integral ones (including a starling box). Every day when I wander outside, I am thrilled by another seedling poking up through a paving slab crack, another jumping spider warming itself on the rubble I left especially, by the blackbird feasting on pyracantha berries or on the heritage apple varieties from Gloucestershire Orchard Trust. A thousand tales to tell, one hundred nooks and crannies, a single soul uplifted with happiness. All is welcome here.

In memory of my mother, Jennie, who inspired me so.

Please read the captions for each photograph for ideas.

GNS Winter Walks

The society is proposing to organise some walks this autumn, though any plans put in place may of course change at a moment’s notice. Outdoor meetings with groups up to six are possible given the following guidelines:

  1. Members will need to pre-book with the walk leader and receive a confirmation that they have a place.
  2. Equipment and books should not be shared or passed around.
  3. Members are asked to maintain two metres between each other.
  4. You are advised to bring hand sanitizer and face masks.
  5. Be aware of your own risk level and the suitability of this activity.
  6. Please do not come if you are showing any symptoms of Covid-19.

We have arranged six walks before the turn of the year. They are spread around the county, and each will last about two hours, though members can come and go in the usual way. Most are general walks to see what natural history is around and are not primarily intended as recording exercises, though we shall record what we see.

Please see the events page for the full list of upcoming walks.

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