Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Happy Hedgehogs - Family Friendly Afternoon at Harcourt Arboretum

The arboretum provides habitats for a great range of animals and this half term we decided to celebrate the hedgehogs.  We had wonderfully warm and sunny weather for our Happy Hedgehogs family friendly afternoon on Tuesday and lots of families took part in the event.

On our Happy Hedgehogs trail, families followed the trail markers through the crunchy autumn leaves at the Arboretum, counting the number of hedgehogs in the array on each trail marker to check that they were at the right stop.  The trail included a mix of fun facts about hedgehogs and a range of activities including building a hedgehog house.  If you weren’t able to join us on Tuesday then why not visit the Arboretum and try out the Happy Hedgehogs trail?  The trail will be available until Monday 3rd November.  Please collect your trail sheet at the ticket office.

Our craft activities included making paper plate hedgehogs, prickly sweet chestnut hedgehogs and soft and squishy pompom hedgehogs.  All three activities proved very popular with our visitors.


“Thank you.  It is my favourite thing to do crafts & go & explor in the woods!”
“The hunt was great!  I really liked the craft.” – 8  year old participant.
“My favourite part about the arboretum is looking at the trees and doing the activities.”
“The boys loved the hedgehog trail and craft activity.”
“Thank you for the hedgehog trail.  The kids loved it - especially the hedgehog house building.  The activities were great too and we have several pet hedgehogs now!”
“Brilliant half term activities - great fun had by all!!  Thank you.”

A very big thank you to our fantastic volunteers who helped the 225 children who took part in the craft activities.  And thank you to all the families who came along to the event, crunching through the autumn leaves, following the trail and joining in the craft activities.

Monday, 27 October 2014

First impressions at the Botanic Garden

I can just about hear the soft murmur of traffic in the distance as I follow the gravel paths of the Botanic Gardens, my new placement as an HLF trainee Education Officer. It’s extraordinary that such a tranquil environment, alive with nature, can be found just off the High Street; Oxford’s main road which leads traffic into the busy city centre.

As I explore my new workplace, my senses are invigorated with interesting sights and smells. I’ve arrived at the Garden at a splendid time, as autumn is my favourite season, primarily for those vibrant reds and yellows and the crisp air which sometimes has that bonfire aroma. I enjoy crunching over dry fallen leaves of all shapes and sizes, although many have been tidied up by a dedicated team of horticulturists and volunteers, who have been particularly busy following the harsh winds caused by Hurricane Gonzalo.

To my surprise, many of the Garden’s flowers are still blooming with health and there are beautiful shades of pink, purple and blue; I hope to discover and remember their names (including a few tricky Latin ones) as the traineeship progresses. As I venture further into the Garden, a small tree just off the gravel path immediately catches my eye. It bears an unusual looking fruit which I’ve never seen before. It looks a bit like a small brown apple and has a star shape at its centre. I learn from Emma, who is Primary and Families Education Officer at the Garden, that this is a medlar tree; a rare sight these days. After a doing a bit of research on the internet, I discover that medlars were at their most popular in Britain in the mid 1800s and were feasted upon when they had become rotten; the pulpy flesh was scooped out and eaten by those who enjoyed the fruit’s sweet custardy taste. Without the Botanic Garden’s tireless conservation work, interesting and peculiar trees from our past such as the medlar would disappear altogether; a sad prospect.

As I approach the end of my first day, I can appreciate already that the Botanic Garden is an invaluable educational resource for engaging visitors with conservation issues. I look forward to learning more about this area myself whilst preparing for school sessions and family activities, the first one being this Wednesday’s ‘Wild About Gardens’:

Jenny Hulmes, HLF Education Officer Trainee    

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Japan Hotspot Project - Week two: Chichibu Forest

This last week has been spent collecting and surveying in the University of Tokyo Chichibu Forest, Saitama Prefecture. This area falls within the Chichibu Geopark and comprises mixed deciduous and evergreen forests, mountains up to 2000m and some stunning scenery. During our stay the autumn colour was just developing, creating some magical hues.

Being further inland the forest is classified as temperate, containing a more familiar flora to that found in the warm-temperate coastal forests of the Boso Peninsular in Chiba Prefecture. A second typhoon prevented work on one day, but the remainder were jam packed; trekking through the forest collecting seed and conducting vegetation surveys.

Vegetation surveying

Collection highlights included Trochodendron aralioides, Tricyrtis hirta, Abies veitchii, Arisaema japonicum, Betula grossa and Hosta longipes. We also encountered Pteridophyllum racemosum, a monotypic endemic genus in the family Papaveraceace. Alas, we were 3-4 weeks too late for seed, so hopefully we will see it again on further trips. Fortunately the fauna was much tamer here, no sight of snakes, giant spiders or macaques.

Pteridophyllum racemosum

Our last day in the forest involved a one hour ascent aboard a (very small and precarious-looking) monorail. A great way to see the vegetation and a very unique experience indeed.

All aboard!
We are now in Tsukuba, north of Tokyo, for a few days working on the species rich Mt. Tsukuba. We head to Toyama for our final week of fieldwork on Thursday.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Week one collecting & surveying on the Boso Peninsula

After a slight delay due to the super typhoon whilst in Tokyo, we made it to the University of Tokyo Forest, Chiba. Despite losing a couple of days in the field, we have managed to make some good collections and complete two rapid botanic surveys; one on Mt. Sengen and the other in Godai forest. Some of the highlights from the collecting and surveying were Tricyrtis hirta, Dendropanax trifidus, Cardiandra alternifolia, Torreya nucifera, and Castanopsis sieboldii.

Tricyrtis hirta
In and amongst the collecting, we have also encountered a wide variety of wildlife; Wild boar, Macaques, deer, big spiders and infinite leeches. We have also been lucky enough to see (from a safe distance) a Tiger Keelback snake….

Tiger Keelback snake...

Hisamoto-san (Research Associate UTF Chiba Forest) & Dan Luscombe, Curator, The National Pinetum, Bedgebury 

Cut test to establish seed viability

Eupetelea polyandra voucher 

Today has been spent making a few last collections, with the main part of the day sorting herbarium vouchers, cleaning seed and labelling images. Everything needs to be packed up and loaded into our (not as big as we were hoping) car!! Tomorrow we leave the Boso peninsula and have a five hour drive, heading back up past Tokyo and onto Chichibu. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Greater Water Parsnip Replanted

The greater water parsnip, Sium latifolium, is a plant of fens and wet ditches which grows in still or slow-moving water, sometimes emerging from rafts of floating vegetation. It grows to 2m in height, producing large umbels of white flowers in mid to late summer. Despite being related to the culinary parsnip, it is, like many other umbellifers, poisonous. Restricted to floodplains and fens to the east and south of England, the population of this plant has suffered a sharp decline in the last 40 years, mainly due to the destruction of its habitat through drainage, land reclamation and changes in the way water levels are managed. It may also be affected by high levels of nutrients in water caused by fertiliser run-off. Now categorised by the IUCN as Endangered, Sium latifolium is also a priority species for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. In Oxfordshire, the Oxford Flora Group are actively involved in the conservation of this species (among many others). Last year, the Botanic Garden raised plants from seed collected in an SSSI near Wytham, to provide the Oxford Flora Group with plants to reintroduce at the same site, helping to boost the population.

Collecting seed from Sium latifolium

On a sunny day at the end of september, staff from the Botanic Garden joined Dr. Judy Webb, who is flora guardian for Sium latifolium to collect more seed from the Wytham site and to plant out eleven young plants raised at the garden. We were careful to choose stretches of ditch where competition would be minimal.

Given the chance to grow in its preferred habitat, we hope that this beautiful and striking plant will begin to recover from its decline. We were delighted to be able to reintroduce plants of local provenance to this site and we are sowing many more seeds in order to have more plants to return to the site next year.

Three Sium latifolium plants, newly installed

All photographs Dr. Judy Webb

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Japan Hotspot

We have arrived in Japan for the second of our seed collection trips as part of the Japan Hotspot Project. Over the course of the next four weeks we will travel across central Honshu, visiting the University of Tokyo Forests of Chiba and Chichibu, Mount Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture and finally collection sites in Toyama Prefecture.

Once again we shall be conducting Rapid Botanical Surveys to support ongoing Biodiversity Hotspot research at the Department of Plant Sciences Oxford, collecting seed for ex situ conservation in collaboration with partners in both Japan and the UK and collecting supporting herbarium vouchers to be accessioned into the University of Oxford Herbaria.

We will update the blog each week, but you can also follow our progress on Facebook or via Twitter.

Tom Price (Gardens Curator) & Ben Jones (Arboretum Curator).