If you go down to the woods today…

The woods around Levenmouth are one of my favourite parts of the reserve, the mixed woodland providing a brilliant bit of semi-natural habitat that then provides for the wildlife that you can see enjoying the birch, pine, oak and willow.

I’ve decided to do this post after having been out to the woods today, and being completely soaked so I’ll type about it instead of lingering in it.

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Doesn’t look as wet in the pic as it was in real life…

The woods are made up of a mix of native tree species, including Scots pine, silver birch, goat willow, and alder. To start with, the Scots pine is Scotland’s National Tree and can be recognized by looking at the needles which should be in pairs and be twisted all the way along the length of them. The younger bark towards the top of the tree will be red-ish in colour, and the older bark will be made up of nice, big flakes.

The Scots pine is a terrific provider of food and habitat for some specialist species that you can find around Levenmouth, of course, the most obvious being the red squirrel. These little acrobats leap through the canopy eating the pine cones which they are capable of reaching due to being lightweight and having very good balance.

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Red squirrel with the reddish bark of a Scots pine behind

Pines also provide feeding for charismatic birds such as the crossbill. This finch’s beak has been specially adapted for splicing open the cones to then extract the pine seeds with it’s tongue. They do visit Levenmouth now and then, but your best bet is to pay nearby Portmoak Moss a visit.

The silver birch is probably the most abundant tree in the woods and is easily recognized by its white bark which sometimes peels off the trunk. The scientific name for the silver birch is Betula pendula. Betula = birch, and pendula = hanging. The reason for this ‘hanging birch’ name is obvious when you see the shapes of the taller trees.

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Some trees are more obvious than others with their drooping branches, such as the one behind and to the right in the picture above. The centre tree, as you can see, has distinctive clumps of dense twigs. You may think these are birds’ nests but they are in fact the result of a parasite in the tree, called witch’s broom. This could be caused by all manner of species including the fungus Taphrina betulina, other fungi, or viruses.

The trees themselves are a habitat for other organisms, and not just animals, but plants as well. Due to the wet conditions in Levenmouth Woods, the bark of the trees provide a suitable place for some plants to take hold and thrive. These include mosses and ferns, some of which do very well indeed.

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The vivid green moss here is called broom fork-moss Dicranum scoparium, and it can be found growing on a lot of the trees, along with the lighter green moss here; heath plait-moss Hypnum jutlandicum. If you’re about in some wet woodland, have a look at the mosses and you’ll notice that there are many species, all with slightly different characteristics.

Bigger plants also manage to grow on the wet bark of the trees. Ferns, such as the broad buckler-fern, will grow where there is slightly more substrate that has built up on the trees, substrate being what the roots of the plant grow into. Typically deadwood is better for producing substrates as the rotting wood makes a substrate like really finely chipped wood. In some places other plants like wood-sorrel will manage to cling on to the wood, especially if helped by a lush carpet of cypress-leaved plait-moss Hypnum cupressiforme.

Also on the deadwood you can find some wonderful fungi. Fungi help with the natural breakdown of the wood, allowing other organisms to benefit from the nutrients held in the wood. One that is particularly common on a lot of wood is stag’s-horn fungus Xylaria hypoxylon, and if you want something a little less mono-chrome then turkeytail Trametes versicolor is for you! Both of these species are well named, don’t you think?

The location of Levenmouth Woods plus the abundance of flora gives the area a very high air quality, as there’s little traffic nearby and the plants all help to take carbon out of the atmosphere, process it through photosynthesis and give out oxygen for us to enjoy.

There is one very good indicator of the good air quality at Levenmouth, and these are the lichens! Lichens are not plants, nor are they fungi. Lichens are formed by two organisms working together, an algal body and a fungal body. The algal body (or photobiont) acts like a plant does in that it makes its own food through photosynthesis which the fungal body can’t do and therefore can’t actually survive on its own.

The fungal body (mycobiont) provides the algal body with the ability to grow in places where the algae wouldn’t be able to grow otherwise. This relationship gives us a wonderful array of lichens to enjoy in our woods. Here is a selection of the ones that can be found in Levenmouth.

On top of everything I’ve already covered, there are many wildflowers, insects, arachnids, molluscs, and a whole manner of other things that I’ll leave for another blog post.

So, if you go down to Levenmouth Woods today, hopefully you’ll know what to look for and will be surprised at the abundance of life to be found in the woods!

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