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Mollyblobs

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Wednesday 14 March 2012: Pollard at dusk

Another day has flown by - I'm not sure where the time goes. Up early as usual to take Alex to the station, then a couple of hours tidying before driving to Bourne Woods to meet the current botanical recorder for South Lincolnshire. I'm going to be sharing this role with him and we had agreed to meet at a location mid-way between our two homes to discuss how we would share the responsibilities.

If today had been a warm spring day this would have been idyllic. We sat at a picnic table surrounded by ancient woodland and birdsong, and during our discussions my attention was distracted by good views of a nuthatch extracting peanuts from a nearby feeder. Unfortunately it was only 8C and overcast, and after sitting out there for two hours, I could scarcely feel my extremities. I put the car heater on full blast on the way home, and still needed a steaming hot chocolate to warm me through properly.

I'd only just drunk this when it was time to pick Chris up from the station. He's back from university for a few days, though he's got to work on some essays while he's home. He accompanied me on a dog walk towards dusk, and I captured the setting sun perfectly frames by the arms of a pollard willow.

Pollarding is the traditional way of managing willows along our local river valleys. It was practised on land used for timber and cattle production for hundreds of years. Unlike coppicing, where trees are cut down to ground level every decade or so, pollarded trees retained at least six feet of main stem, keeping emerging shoots above grazing height.

New branches are less reliably straight than coppiced wood, but species such as willow were exploited for their more whippy growth and cut every year or two, for weaving and basketry. This eventually causes the crown, or "boll", to swell, seemingly engorged with the sap it needs to fuel growth of six feet or more in one season.

One consequence of pollarding is that pollarded trees tend to live longer than unpollarded specimens because they are maintained in a partially juvenile state, and they do not have the weight and windage of the top part of the tree. Consequently the trunks often develop interesting cracks and hollows and they can be very important for dead-wood insects.

Poll was originally a name for the top of the head, and to poll was a verb meaning "to crop the hair". This use was extended to similar treatment of the branches of trees and the horns of animals. A pollard simply meant someone or something that had been polled (similarly to the formation of "drunkard" and "sluggard"); for example, a hornless ox. Later the noun pollard became used as its own verb: "pollarding". "Pollarding" has now largely replaced "polling" as the verb in the forestry sense.

PS Thank you for all the good wishes for the speckled hen. She still seems to be holding her own at the moment...

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