A Foretaste of Spring

This morning we made a supreme effort and managed to drag our weary bodies out of bed early. After a brief breakfast, we headed off to Rufford Abbey and country park.


All week there have been up to ten hawfinches in the trees surrounding the car park and we wanted to see these birds. We crossed the city in record time and found ourselves getting out of the car less than 45 minutes after we had set out. Following the know of birdwatchers in the car park gave us directions to nine hawfinches obligingly perched high in a tree.


They remained in full view for approximately 15 minutes. It was the best view of hawfinches I have ever had. Around us, blue tits great tits nuthatches and chaffinches all sang at the top of their voices. We had limited time due to an appointment at 11am so we headed for the lake. 

Although the weather was cold four degrees it was bright and sunny and we found our first snowdrops in flower. You may not be able to feel spring is around the corner. You may not be able to see it but these small signs are the foretastes and promises of the spring and they always make me happy.


Hazel trees were full of catkins and we saw wild arum just poking above the soil. Great tits, robins, and blackbirds have been shouting all week about how sexy they are and proclaiming territory. Indeed earlier this week a blackbird was still singing well after dark just near the library

Our diligence was rewarded with four goosanders two males and two females on the lake. Some species of birds were obviously accustomed to being fed regularly by visitors. A crowd of robins followed us hopefully whilst blue tits and great tits hovered nearby. At a bridge, we were treated to sights of a coal tit a few feet away from us great tits and blue tits were everywhere as were dunnocks robins and an occasional wren. A goldcrest hovered at the edge of a yew completely oblivious to our presence.



Our pleasure was increased by a flock of approximately fifty siskins who flew into the trees at the edge of the lake. One of two of us were sure there was redpoll amongst them but your father refuses to be convinced. None of those I saw had the red forehead but they did have the streaky pattern and buff wing bars of immature redpolls. 



We headed back to the car seeing treecreeper, nuthatch and two great spotted woodpeckers on the way. We missed the brief flash of a kingfisher as it shot past. However, despite this disappointment, we saw three new species for the year Hawfinch, siskin and treecreeper. The drive home took twice as long as the early morning drive. For a short trip, we picked up four new species for the year, had wonderful views and had a lovely walk in the sunshine. A really lovely morning. As you can see the close-up shots of birds courtesy of Nottinghamshire birdwatchers are far superior to anything our camera can achieve. Hope everything is going well.

Love Mum 



Galium aparine L. cleavers

Galium aparine L. cleavers,
Also called clivers, goosegrass, kisses, stickyweed, stickybud, sticky willy
This species is a straggling climber, growing up to 3 m long, with slender 4-angled stems. Its narrow leaves can reach 7 cm long and are arranged in groups (whorls) of 6-8 (rarely 4) around the stem.

Goosegrass plant

Goosegrass plant

This is a scrambling annual whose stems may reach up to five feet in hedgerows, fields and gardens where it flourishes. It clings by the curved hook-like prickles on the four angles of the stems and the edges of the leaves.
Indeed the whole plant is covered in minute hooked hairs, and can cling to skin, fur and clothing. It has been raised from the excreta of various birds demonstrating that it is consumed by them. Viable seeds have also been found in manure and compost showing that they are resistant to the heat required to decompose manure and compost and that they are persistent. The flowers are tiny (2mm across), white, 4-petalled tubes. The fruits are purplish green covered with numerous colourless joked bristles, often borne in clusters of two or three. The individual fruits are approximately 2mm to 2.5 mm across and weighs approximately 0.02 to 0.05 grams. Germination mostly occurs in autumn but may occur in spring. In harsh winters it is the latter that survives. The germination in different seasons is a characteristic that has enabled this plant to proliferate.
goosegrass flowers

These fruits are also covered in hooked hairs which catch in the fur of passing animals or the peoples clothing. This is an efficient distribution mechanism that has contributed to the plant’s wide geographical range.
goose grass seed

.It is well known by children for its ‘stickiness’, owing to its covering of hooked hairs. There is a rather cruel Scottish children’s game involving this plant. The trick is to persuade somebody to allow a piece of it to be put in their mouth – then pull it out fast. The hooks being rather sharp, the game is called ‘bleedy tongues’! Galium aparine is also well known by herbalists for its medicinal properties.

goose grass close up
Geography and distribution
Galium aparine is naturally widespread throughout Europe, North America and some parts of Asia, and occurs as far north as Alaska and Greenland. Its seeds have been recorded from deposits of Paleolithic or Mesolithic Age, which render it less probable that it owes its presence to conditions created by man, despite being especially associated with habitat conditions that are partially artificial. It can grow at heights of up to 1500 feet above sea level. It has been introduced as far south as Australia, New Zealand, and the sub-Antarctic Islands. It can be a prolific weed of cereal crops (especially in Europe and North America). Heavy infestation can cause significant yield losses, and its seeds can be difficult to separate mechanically from those of crops such as oilseed rape (canola). It is found throughout the British Isles (except in some places in the far north) and appears to be increasing in abundance in recent years despite the use of species-specific agricultural herbicides. Galium aparine can be found growing naturally on scree slopes and shingle banks.

Used as a love medicine by one tribe, the infusion of plant was used as a bath by women to be successful in love. Also used as a hair tonic, said to be good for the hair, making it grow long. Several Native American Tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhea. A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root, it is said to dye bones red. It was also believed to remove freckels. Gerard writes of Clivers as a marvelous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures. A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk
John Ruskin went so far as to trace out aesthetic and moral standards for flowers labelling weeds as unfinished. He argued that it was unnatural for a plant to have a cluster of bristles springing from its centre. Interestingly the term weedy when applied to humans has connotations of weakness or feebleness rather that those of strength and intimidation characteristics of many weed species.

This is not a recommendation merely information
The whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty, and in China, for example, it is eaten as a vegetable. In times of war of famine it has been eaten possibly from desperation rather than as a delicacy. Its seeds can be roasted to prepare a sort of coffee substitute. It is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties, having been used in traditional medicine (usually as an infusion) to treat kidney problems, skin disorders and high blood pressure among other ailments. Archaeological evidence suggests that it may have been used in this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Cleavers is still used by medical herbalists today, although scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness is still lacking.
botanical drawing of goosegrass
Britain’s wild harvest
Kew’s Sustainable Uses of Plants Group undertook a survey of commercial uses of wild and traditionally managed plants in England and Scotland for the Countryside Agency, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage to determine the economic role of wild plants and to assist in their sustainable use. Despite the revival of interest in herbal remedies in UK most plant material used in herbal products is imported. However, there are exceptions. In Norfolk, for example, cleavers is gathered from hedgerows and used in herbal products.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
This weedy species is an annual that can be grown in temperate regions, in parts of the garden managed for wildlife, as either a summer or winter annual (or occasionally as a biennial). The seed is thought to be viable for around 2-6 years unless frozen. Seeds should be sown in moist soil, preferably a rich loam, with above-average fertility and pH of 5.5-8.0. Seeds must be buried to germinate, ideally at a depth of 2-10 mm. Seeds that have passed through the gut of a herbivore are thought to have a higher germination rate. Development is rapid with flowers appearing as soon as eight weeks after germination. Ripe seeds develop from summer through to autumn, depending on the region in which plants are grown. Supports such as pea sticks can be provided, as this plant likes to scramble. Plants will die down after the fruits are released at which point seeds must be collected for next year’s plants.
Note that this plant can be invasive. In some parts of the world it is a serious weed of crops and native vegetation, where it can out-compete indigenous species. For this reason, if cultivating cleavers, care should be taken to prevent its spread into farmland or sensitive areas of conservation importance.
hooks on seeds

Climbing mechanism of Galium aparine.
Galium aparine is a herbaceous climbing plant that attaches to host plants mainly via its leaves, which are covered by hooked trichomes. Although such hooks are found on both leaf surfaces, the leaves of G. aparine are mainly positioned upon the leaves of supporting plants and rarely beneath. In order to understand the mechanism underlying this observation, we have studied structural and mechanical properties of single leaf hooks, frictional properties of leaf surfaces, turgor pressure in different leaf tissues and bending properties of the leaves in different directions. Abaxial and adaxial leaf hooks differ significantly in orientation, distribution, structure and mechanical properties. In accordance with these differences, friction properties of leaves depend on the direction of the applied force and differ significantly between both leaf surfaces. This results in a ratchet mechanism. Abaxial leaf hooks provide strong attachment upon the leaves of adjacent plants, whereas adaxial hooks cause a gliding-off from the underside of the leaves of host plants. Thus, the leaves of G. aparine can function as attachment organs, and simultaneously orient themselves advantageously for their photosynthetic function. Further adaptations in turgor pressure or concerning an anisotropy of the flexural stiffness of the leaves have not been found.
goose grass showing hooks

Always on the bright side: the climbing mechanism of Galium aparine
Georg Bauer,1 Marie-Christin Klein,2,3 Stanislav N. Gorb,2,3 Thomas Speck,1 Dagmar Voigt,2,3 and Friederike Gallenmüller1,*
Author information ► Article notes ► Copyright and License information ►
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

References and credits
Allen, D.E. & Hatfield, G. (2004). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: an Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press, Portland.
Bown, D. (2008). The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Gucker, C. (2005). Galium aparine. Fire Effects Information System [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available online
Milliken, W. & Bridgewater, S. (2004). Flora Celtica –Plants and People in Scotland. Birlinn, Edinburgh.
Prendergast, H.D.V. & Sanderson, H. (2004). Britain’s Wild Harvest: The Commercial Uses of Wild Plants and Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Countryside Agency, London.
Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.A. (eds) (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: an Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Kew Science Editor: William Milliken
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.
Richard Mabey 2010 Weeds Profile books London
Edward Salisbury 1961 Weeds and Aliens Collins Press London

History of the uses of Nettles

History of the uses of nettles

Fabric woven of nettle fibre has been found in burial sites dating back to the Bronze age. A Bronze Age (2200 – 700 BCE) body was discovered in Denmark wrapped in cloth made from nettles.

Ancient Fabric from Denmark made of Nettles

ancient nettle cloth

Human settlements that have long since been abandoned can be spotted by archaeologists as nettles still grow there.
Nettles at Danehill Fort

nettles at Danehill fort

The plant is listed as one of the Anglo Saxon nine sacred herbs. Samuel Pepys enjoyed nettle porridge on 25th February 1661 and Sir Walter Scott wrote about the gardener in Rob Roy raising nettles for use as early spring kale (Mabey 2010).

The Romans are said to have brought Urtica pilulifera to Britain where they used them to relieve rheumatism and arthritis by flogging themselves with small branches of them tied together, this stimulates the blood. They also used them to keep out the cold of the damp British climate. However this species of nettle is not common in the United Kingdom.
Urtica pilulifera

Urtica pilulifera

Nettles Urtica dioica have been used to make cloth, paper, fishing nets, sails, tablecloths, ropes and textiles since the Neolithic times. The German army used nettle for their uniforms in World War 1 However it took 40kg of nettles to make a single shirt. In the Second World War the leaves were used to make the green dye for the military uniforms.  Today nettles are again being used to make cloth as they are Eco-friendly and easy to grow. The tough fibres from the stem are used to make the cloth. It is reported that it is stronger than cotton and finer than hemp. People used to sleep between the sheets made from nettles.

Nettle Cloth

nettle fabric

 Nettles can also be used to make paper, however the process is complicated

Nettle Paper

nettle paper

There are records of nettle fibres being spun into ropes.

Nettle Rope

 The roots can also be made into a dye that is yellow (Mabey 1977).
The chlorophyll is used as a green dye and is listed as a food colorant (E140) by the European Community.

Weed of the week Stinging Nettles Urtica dioica

Weed of the week Stinging Nettles Urtica dioica

Birdwatching in Norfolk Titchwell and Hunstanton 2nd April 2012

It was a chilly morning as we breakfasted, loaded up the car and set out for Norfolk. It had an ominous sky that promised rain and we were suitably sober as a result. Birding in heavy rain is a miserable experience. However, by the time we had reached Norfolk, pausing at The Farm Shop for tea and stickies, the weather though still cold, looked decidedly more promising. On the way we had seen most of the Corvids Carrion Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpies most of the pigeons and several hares.

I have noticed that often although it is raining and wet inland it can be quite bright and sunny on this coast. We were not due to arrive at the flat we had rented till late afternoon se we had the day to amuse ourselves. we therefore started at Titchwell RSPB site of much of our birdwatching on this coast. We found several Marsh Harriers in the air before we had left the car park. They were joined by a Red Kite and a Buzzard a common one but where can you see three species of raptor in the visitor car park?

On the bird feeders we found the usual suspects Long Tailed Tits,Blue Tits, Great Tits,  many Chaffinches,  Greenfinch and Goldfinch and abundant House Sparrows. On the reed beds we saw a number of Reed Buntings and Linnets flew over our heads and settled on the salt marsh. In the trees around the visitors centre there were a number of Chiff Chaff singing loudly, several Dunnocks were lurking in the vegetation, a blackbird was turning over leaf litter looking for food and a songthrush was seen on a shrub. A Robin was giving star performances by taking food from the visitors, whereas a wren just chided us for getting too close.

The hide in the reed beds was very quiet indeed the whole reserve was very quiet in terms of visitors. We heard Bearded Tits but we only caught a glimpse of them flying. We found a male Blackcap in the woodland near the centre and a Cetti’s warbler sang from just outside the reed bed hide.  A phesant called from the reeds somewhere.

On the water we found Mute Swan,  Shellduck, Egyptian Geese, Canada Geese, Tufted Ducks, male and female Gadwell, Widgeon and Teal, Shoveler and Pochard. A lovely surprise was a pair of Red Crested Pochard on the Freshwater lagoon. An elusive male Goldeneye kept disppearing as he dived for food at the back of the lagoon and several females were also found. We found a rather sulky Grey Heron fishing in the reeds. On the marsh a Little Egret was conspicuous as only a white bird on a salt marsh can be. Oystercatchers were making amorous advances on the salt marsh and a Kestrel just hung in the air above the reeds.  Skylarks were displaying over the marsh a group of approximately 30 Brent Geese lingered obviously not that eager to fly to their breeding grounds.

As for waders we found Avocets displaying, Ringed Plovers, 10 Grey Plover, Lapwings, 10 to 15 Ruff a group of 10 Dunlin, Redshank. A Curlew flew over and a snipe was found trying to hide amongst some vegetation on the freshwater lagoon. the tide was high so there were about 30 Black Tailed Godwits roosting on a muddy island in the lagoon.

A large group of gulls contained Black Headed Gulls, Common gulls herring Gulls and Lesser Black backed Gulls

All of this whetted our appetite for when we arrived atthe beach. We met a bired who assured us that nothing was on the water. Thankfully he was mistaken,  we found 3 Scoter species and though we waited for an age to see them move so that we could determine if they were the velvet Scoter that had been reported no luck so they were just down as Scoter sp. Just out from the beach a line of 9 ducks gave us excellent views and turned out to be Long Tailed Ducks, a drake was amongst them we could distinguish their facial markings.  On the beach sanderlings were running towards the sea and back again like some sort of wind up toy, Turnstones were also busy on the beach. A couple of Blackheaded Gulls kept coming closer and closer to us in the hope of some food probably. We found great Crested Grebes on the sea. On the return walk we noted a number of Meadow Pipits and a flock of Linnets that flew between the salt marsh and the brackish lagoon. After another hot drink and snack we decided to go for a walk at Hunstanton. the weather was becoming decidedly colder and windy. we walked along the base of the cliffs finding Fulmars on their nests and several Stock doves freezing hiding in crevices on the cliffs. A common seal watched us for a while from just off the beach and we found a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers on the sea. It was starting to rain so we headed for the digs. Around the flat were quite a few rabbits. Finally in the tree near to the house we found a Willow Tit. we had seen 75 seperate species of bird and 3 species that I hadn’t yet seen in 2012 an excellent start to the holiday.


Attenborough 1st April 2012

On the First of April, with a weeks holiday before us we started birdwatching with a new zeal. The day was sunny and clear if a little breezy, the previous week had been very hot and sunny and we had all chafed at the restrictions imposed by earning a living. Even though it was not yet 10am the car park was very full indicating how popular this reserve has become.

By the visitors centre we had soon notched up the usual quote of ducks and geese. Great Crested Grebes are present here in such large numbers that it has become a notable site for these birds. Coot were already on a nest by the visitors centre. Cormorants are also present in large numbers drawn by the fish and disliked by the fishermen for the same reason. Grey herons used to nest in large numbers in the woods on the opposite bank of the river Trent but many have now moved to nest near to Attenborough village and they nest earlier than many species. Greylag and Canada geese were plentiful and several pairs of Egyptian geese originally introduced as ornamental wildfowl and now a feral self sustaining population. A pair of Red Crested Pochard swam around the visitors centre looking for any free handouts of food. I feel somewhat suspicious of the genuine wild status of a bird that comes to collect custard cream biscuits from the hand, consequently this pair are definitely suspect, despite having bred here for several years.  Oh and just to round off this motley crew, a cape shellduck stood sunning itself beside the visitors centre. Call me suspicious, but the thought that this plump well fed and apparently tame bird had flown thousands of miles is rather too difficult to believe and it was noted as an escapee. Alongside all these were the usual range of interbred ducks and geese some definitely with a great deal of farmyard in their phenotype.

On Clifton pond Wigeon, Gadwell, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye were busily feeding. This is an excellent assemblage of species for this time of the year especially after such gloriuos weather the previous week. A pair of Ruddy Ducks were swimming at the back of the pond. Ruddy Ducks have been hunted to ‘protect’ the White Headed Duck with whom they can interbreed, justified on the basis that the Ruddy Duck is a North American bird. A bit of distasteful avian ethnic cleansing  that has reduced Ruddy Duck numbers over the last few years. However I love seeing them as it supports my subversive sense of humour, good for you I think. A Buzzard flew from the woods at Barton in Fabis and all the seagulls flew up to defend their patches. A Kestrel was hunting over the field and pheasants were calling. The usual assortment of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks and Chaffinches were busy on the feeders alongside the resident Tree Sparrows. A pair of Oystercatchers were on one of the Islands but apart from the Lapwings and a solitary Snipe these were the only waders we saw. Waders are rather few in this part of the county.

We decided to move on and head for Tower hide.  Beside the path a number of short trees, Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Elder had been planted and as we got to Tower hide we found a very unusual small warbler at the base of one of these shrubby trees. We watched it for a few moments before deciding this was a Cetti’s Warbler, which was confirmed when we heard the bird sing. Such an volume from this tiny bird is amazing. Chiff Chaffs were everywhere and later we found a male Blackcap also very vocal. At the edge of the pond are posts which were used to fence off the reedbed so the geese would not eat the young reeds before they could become established. On one of this posts sat a Common Tern another new species for the year. At the end of this path is a sunny spot loved by a number of butterfly species, so it was that we headed there after Tower hide. We saw more Reed Buntings than one might usually see all year. The pair of Long Tailed Tits were busy nest building, Greenfinches were singing from the tops of the trees and we saw several species of butterfly. Brimstones the first butterflies of the year were present, Orange Tip males were about, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were abundant and a pristine Speckled Wood butterfly came through. We all managed to find a Comma butterfly at some point during the day.  Beside the path from the Tower hide to main pond there were a number of plants flowering that normally do not flower simultaneously. We saw Coltsfoot an early spring flower and White Violets, but we also saw Pink Campion which usually flowers later and Ground Ivy was everywhere, Lesser Celandines were very conspicuous and as usual Dandelions were capitalising on the warm weather .

We walked beside the River to the Bund and then came all the way back as the path though the village was closed not that there was any notification until we actually went to use this path. The last encounter we had was of a female Scaup on church pond looking very like a Tufted Duck but with the characteristic white patch above the bill and a less distinctive break between the colours on the body, when seen next to a female tufted it is glaringly obvious.

We saw more of the same species and heard a Willow Warbler.  Although we missed the Bittern that we discovered had been seen earlier in the day and a Curlew we had seen 54 species and I had now seen 129 species this year. We had also spent 4 hours walking a distance we could have covered in an hour. To anyone who does not understand the attraction of birdwatching it is so hard to explain. Time ceases to matter, we are fully associated, we reside in the moment without the worry of work, chores or conscience. There is always the uncertainty of what will we find today and the search for  an encounter sometimes we see very little sometimes an unexpected delight,  a particular long encounter, or a previously unobserved behaviour. If there is little to see there are always plants, lichens and things that don’t run or fly away.

Insects such as butterflies and dragonflies are even more elusive. they live as adults for only a short time. A cold spell or a rainy summer can severely reduce numbers. There are reluctant to fly unless it is sunny and some are confined to specific areas of the country. In addition we have to earn a living, so we are not available except at weekends. These are severe constraints on any encounter. How often are our summers sunny and consistently warm? Many summer holidays have been ruined by wet cold weather and the resultant lack of dragonflies or butterflies, at least birds are still present in cold wet weather and plants stay still whilst being photographed and allow themselves to be closely examined to verify identification and note any interesting details.  On the second of April we were due to travel to Norfolk staying in Hunstanton for  five days of holiday.

I was however exhausted and worried at how unfit I appeared to be. Surely all the swimming and exercise I regularly undertook four or five times a week should have meant I was much fitter than this. It was only as the week developed that I came to realise that I was ill and the tiredness was a major symptom of this.