I spent a fantastic morning in early September with members of the British Naturalists Association (Central and North Essex Branch)in the woods at Little Baddow, learning to identify trees.
This is something I'd wanted to be better at for some long while, but its not always so easy to be ferreting about in a book looking things up while you're out and about, especially with active little boys around .. better to be playing and having fun! So to have the opportunity of someone more experienced taking the time to actually show me how to recognise a range of the more common trees was a great treat.
I'm sure I won't remember a lot of what I saw, but even if a few trees stick each time then I will be getting there .. and I'll definitely go again next year, as it was such a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours with lovely people in beautiful peaceful surroundings. The things I was most pleased to have seen were the Wild Service Tree, which is apparently quite rare, and the seed pods of Hornbeam which are beautiful .. I would have had no idea what they were beforehand. I can now also distinguish between a Sycamore and a Field Maple! It was also interesting to see healthy young elm trees growing .. I had not realised that they are not affected by Dutch Elm disease until they reach the height of about 10 feet.
I find writing things out helps me to remember (partly why I blog!) but also I am finding that its important when I have been shown things to go straight out again within a few days to look for the trees or plants again, while the new knowledge is fresh. And, later that week, I was lucky enough to stumble across a beautiful area of trees at Wivenhoe Park on the University of Essex campus. This gave me the chance to test my knowledge and take some pictures to reinforce what I had learnt.
Learning about different types of Oak trees.. on the Pendunculate Oak, acorns have stems but leaves don't, as seen here. With Sessile Oaks it is the other way around (am on the hunt but haven't found one yet).
And here is Alder, my favourite tree from the whole experience. Completely new to me, I remembered we were told it liked/could happily tolerate the wet, and here at Wivenhoe were alder trees growing right at the edge of a lake. Its got a nice distinctively-shaped leaf for the novice spotter and, best of all, its cones stay on the tree right the year round giving you another means to identify it.
As we went round I collected a leaf from each tree and wrote its name in biro on the back as a reference (sacrilege, I know, but for the greater good!). Then when I got home I was able to press and keep the leaves in an album. I had scribbled little notes of what were told onto the back of the handout, and I copied these out alongside.