tree in Alexandra Park with an early flowering cherry blossom behind it

Winter Diary: The Sound of the Woodpecker and Unexpected Cherry Blossom

The first sign of winters end and my first true harbinger of spring was the sound of a woodpecker, pecking at wood, in Queens Wood, North London on the cusp of January turning to February. The woodland trust says the best time to hear this is early Spring, so is this an early harbinger or has spring come early to London?

Coincidently, that evening I read how the woodpecker begins the creation of a housing ecosystem in trees in European woodlands, being the first to arrive at the trunk of a tree looking for a home. Here is a summary of the story from The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I will be using this as an example of a reciprocal system for a workshop I am running (as part of a separate project to When the Future Comes).

“In Europe, it’s usually a Great Spotted Woodpecker or a black Woodpecker that gets things started. The bird hacks out a hole in the trunk that may be only an inch or two deep… As far as the fungi are concerned, this is the invitation they have been waiting for, because usually they can’t get past the bark… Finally, the day comes when construction is complete and the cavity is ready to move in…Renovation is necessary because the fungi that have invaded the space are by now unstoppable…They keep eating deeper into the trunk, transforming the wood into damp mush which isn’t an ideal environment in which to raise a family… And now it is time for the subletters to move in… species that can’t work with wood themselves… Over time the trees continue to rot.. and sometimes there is a series of woodpecker cavities up the trunk that speeds the Owl’s entrance…But the tree can lengthen it’s life-span considerably if it at least manages to get a grip on its external wounds and can survive another hundred years…”
(The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben)

Meanwhile cherry tree blossom is appearing unexpectedly, I don’t know enough about the different types of blossom to distinguish between those that come in winter and spring but I suspect some of the fluffier pinky white blossom is not normally expected in January or early February. I saw some that looked like they had emerged too early and then got caught by frost, all soggy and confused in Alexandra Palace, North London in mid-January but every year that we have met in Nottingham when the trees blossom in Christ Church Gardens we think they will come early, and then they emerge in April as we expect (still early compared to 20 years ago).

Rachel Jacobs

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