The weather has been kind this Christmas holiday so Tuesday was the perfect day for a winter walk. I have featured this walk before two winters ago (how times flies!). The walk is part of the Foxford Way and the area is called Laughil, near Pontoon here in Co. Mayo. There are lovely views of Lough Conn from the track.
Over the years we have been walking here the birch and willow have been growing fast. It’s nice to see this natural regeneration. There is also quite a bit of holly too. Further along the track there are some stunted old oak trees. The trees are festooned in amazing ferns and lichens.
An oak and ivy natural sculpture
In one place much of the path is covered in fallen oak leaves. Here the low winter sun creates long shadows where there are planted conifers on one side of the path with the more natural woodland (mainly large oak) on the other side.
A lovely, pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
Over the weekend we helped my parents plant some deciduous trees in one of the fields adjacent to the existing conifer plantation that is being felled. This deciduous wood will add to trees planted in 2008 and 2010. Both these plantation contain mainly ash trees, though there are a small number of oak, cherry, rowan, birch and chestnut.
Recently a new fungal disease affecting ash and has been spreading rapidly though Europe. Ash dieback disease (Chalara fraxinea) was first recorded in Ireland in 2012. So far our local trees appear to be okay but once again the drawback in planting monocultures of trees becomes obvious.
Over the winter we have been managing the trees closet the house. This involve cutting out lower branches and where possible having just one leader stem.
8-year old ash trees
With the threat of ash dieback the Forestry Service are grant aiding more oak woodlands and that is what we planted over the weekend. The majority of the trees planted were pedunculate oak (Quercus robur), but also sessile oak (Quercus petraea), rowan, birch and Scots pine.
A digger effectively creates “mole hills” of soil which are then planted with tree whips. The rain sodden soil meant it was pretty grubby work, though my eldest didn’t seem to mind.
My eldest enjoying getting muddy
It will be interesting to see how the oak fair. Some of the ash trees planted in 2010 have done well though many of those planted in 2008 are still smaller than the later planted trees.
The walk we did on Sunday is part of the Foxford Way, a long distance walk (56 miles) though some of our stunning Mayo countryside. The great thing about the walk is that you can do little sections of it and this is what we did. This section of the walk starts just west of Pontoon Bridge. It follows a track through an area of bog/heath. This area was planted with a conifer plantation some time ago but thankfully someone realized this was a mistake as it was an area of old woodland, so the conifer plantation was cleared. As far as I can tell the area is left now for nature to takes it course. Already birch and willow trees are coming back and hopefully oak and hazel will return over time.
Foxford Way – Laughil
The place-name is Laughil, in Irish na Leathchoille. Leath can mean half or side and Coille is a wood. Looking at old ordnance survey maps this area was wooded since at least the 1840’s. Once you get past the area of that has been cleared you find old oak trees, covered in moss and lichens, hazel too is abundant, and holly. There is moss, everywhere.
And lichens, including this one Lobaria pulmonaria, an indicator lichen for old woodlands.
On the way back you get to admire the view all over again.
We took a slight detour at the bottom and headed down to the lake shore to admire the stillness of the water.
I found these oak galls growing on a small oak tree that is part of a hedgerow we planted a couple of years ago. It may look like something you could eat – one species is known as ‘oak apple’, but it is in fact the larva stage of a gall wasp.
Our native oaks are hosts plants to up to 30 different species of gall wasps. Depending on the type of gall wasp, the female inserts eggs into either a vegetative bub, a flower bud, an acorn or even the root of the tree. When it hatches the grubs secrete a chemical that results in this abnormal growth, know as a gall. It is this that encloses the larva of the wasp. The gall does not harm the tree.
I think these ones are Oak Marble galls (Andricus kollari), also known as oat nut, but am open to correction.