Islay Nature Report 17 May - Gorse

Jeremy Hastings: Another interesting week with some amazing spring and summer migrants as well as wonderful plants and views of distant hills and mountains too. But, also we had wild weather again - with the wind mainly from the east it brought with it squalls and coldness.

Young birds seem everywhere now. We have Siskins with young in the garden and greenfinches too and it will not be long for the resident house sparrows as well. The Cuckoos which have bee seen for the past couple of weeks are now in full cry as are several Corncrakes. Terns fish at the head of Loch Indaal and Ringed Plovers sit on eggs, Oystercatchers protect territories and Lapwings also seem to have been successful with wee ones too. Odd gulls are turning up as well. A Glaucous was seen at Bowmore and a couple of Iceland Gulls near Machir. One of the Young Adventurers brought in a photo a an albino Siskin that had been on their garden peanut feeder. Continue reading......The main colour we have at this time of year is yellow and none more than the the magical Gorse or locally 'Whin' and although it is lovely to look at and hide behind out of the wind as we were doing this afternoon whilst watching a Whitethroat and Willow Warbler here is the really interesting bit:

It is a

NITROGEN FIXER Gorse is a legume (like beans and peas) and thus has useful associations with colonies of bacteria which occupy nodules in the root system. These are able to fix (grab) nitrogen from the atmosphere present in the soil and make it available to the gorse plant. By shocking the plant, (coppicing or mini pollarding) some of the nitrogen is released and becomes available to other plants occupying the same root space. still about:

CALCIUM GRABBER Gorse is particularly good at grabbing any available calcium in acid areas. It will get it from the subsoil and then, as the plant drops its spikes or even dies, makes the calcium available on the surface. It thus has the effect of making topsoil less acidic at the expense of increasing the acidity of subsoils.

MULCH Gorse drops a lot of material during its life span and mature stands are generally self mulching. This results in a rich, fibrous top soil.

PROTECTION In several areas around Scotland it has been planted as a protecter and wind break. Many of the early pioneer trees (birch, willow) were severely trashed by the large population of feral deer (roe deer) that roamed through scotland as well as the Red deers too. However, wherever a tree came up next to (or even inside) a gorse bush, the deer tended to leave it alone, or only browse on side. This meant that even with high numbers of deer passing through the site, the regeneration was very fast.

INSECTS and BIRDS As gorse spends much of the year flowering, a host of insects are attracted to it, including bees. This means that there's a lot of bird activity (insect eating birds) and hence phosphate cycling. Ants appear to play a significant role in the movement of gorse seeds and on Argel there's a good example of an abandoned ant heap sprouting gorse plants.

ANIMAL FODDER With nearly half the protein content of oats, gorse provides a valuable fodder without the ploughing and aftercare required by a grain crop. It was used as a fodder crop traditionally in many areas (notably Ireland and Wales and some parts of Scotland). It was usually ground between stones to a moss like consistency for feeding to cattle. Processing for horse was much simpler and involved basic devices to snap the gorse up and there is an example of an early machine at St. Fagans. It does not seem to have been used much for sheep although they will browse it in hard winters; in fact, local lore relates the hardness of the winter to the pin pricks of blood around a sheep's mouth resulting from gorse's spines.

FIRE It burns. If the weather is hot and dry, it burns extremely well. A useful source of kindling in the past and great fires starter when I teach fire husbandry to bushcraft students! A well managed fodder system is all green (a lovely, spiky sight!) and much less liable to burn.

BARRIERS, HEDGES Gorse hedges were maintained in Ireland and Scotland as well as Wales; Gorse topiary? Now there's a thought.

It also brightens up a grey and dull day - Gorse anyone?

Other relevant Islay Wildlife and Birding Information Resources:
- Jeremy's News Blog
- Previous Islay nature reports By Jeremy Hastings
- Islay Seasonwatch by Teresa Morris
- Islay Birds blog by Ian Brook
- Islay Birder blog by John Armitage

Tag: gorse whin birding spring weather nature

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