Monday, December 02, 2013

Bracken and silver birches

click photo to enlarge
The other day, while walking in the vicinity of Woodhall Spa, we passed Highall Wood. Not unusually for woodland in that area of Lincolnshire the two dominant species were bracken and silver birch. I stopped to take a photograph of the pale, flecked trunks of the slender trees rising out of the blanket of brown bracken, plants that only a couple of months ago would have been a sea of green. A few pale, yellow leaves still clung to the thin branches of the trees, though as I write this, a couple of days later, I suspect the recent stronger gusts have brought even those stragglers down.

As I child in the Yorkshire Dales I loved bracken and played in it on the hillsides. We liked the way the individual fronds uncurled and the fact that it grew taller than children making it ideal for hide and seek. But, ever since I discovered that the plant has carcinogenic properties I've viewed it in a different light. Apparently the relatively high incidence of stomach and oesophagal cancers in Japan and Korea may be connected to a liking by those countries for the plant as a foodstuff. When I read this I wondered if I needed to be concerned by the plants' air-borne spores too. I'm not aware that bracken has ever been eaten by people in Britain, but I do know it was used here for thatching cottage roofs, as bedding for humans and animals, as fuel for the fire and as a floor covering. Today it is generally seen as an invasive pest that takes over pasture, something to be controlled and eradicated. In the wood above it appears to be growing wherever it likes. As I walked on I wondered whether the way in which it carpeted the woodland floor led to its roots reducing the already short lives (in tree terms) of the silver birches.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17.8mm (48mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On