The photo above shows a view Simonside from Holystone plantation. The forestry Commission have cleared some of the conifer plantation and amixture of tree species are being planted.
Juniper (Juniperus communis) maintains a foothold in this area. It is an evergreen conifer native to the UK, Europe and much of the northern hemisphere. Mature trees, can reach a height of 10m and live for up to 200 years. Its bark is grey-brown peeling with age, and its twigs are reddish brown. Juniper populations in the UK are shrinking, and the species is a priority under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Being dioecious, male and female flowers grow on separate trees. Male flowers are small, yellow and globular, and grow in leaf axils near the tips of twigs. Once pollinated by wind, the green female flowers develop into fleshy, purple, aromatic, berry-like cones used to flavour gin. These are eaten and distributed by birds.
We visited the churchyard where some of us tried to estimate the age of the large sycamore tree on the right hand edge of the picture. One easy method is to measure the circumference with a tape measure in cm and then divide by 2.5 cm. For example if the girth measured 275 cm then the age would be approximately 110 years old.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a non-native tree, introduced in the 16th Century. Unless pollarded, they have a lifespan of 200 – 400 years or so. The Tolpuddle martyr’s Sycamore has been dated to 1680.
The stream that runs from the Lady’s Well still had Monkey flower (Mimulua guttatus) in bloom. It is another non-native but has the distinction of being the county flower of Tyne and Wear. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) was also thriving in the burn. In the picture above Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) and Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant) are visible.
By the Lady’s well fungi was springing up, benefiting from the recent wet weather. This white one is Crested Coral (Clavulina coralloides) but Beechwood sickener (Russula nobilis) was emerging under the beeches.
This attractively marked fungus growing on a stump on the path up to the North Wood is Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor).
Along the same path Orange Peel Fungus (Aleuria aurantia) favoured the red whin chippings on the path. Calluna vulgaris, Autumn Hawkbit, Heath Grounsel, Deschampsia flexuosa, Bracken had sprung up in the clearings.
In the wetter areas Sphagnum mosses (Sphagnum fallax) and Juniper Haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) pictured above were conspicuous.
Holystone North Wood is an upland oakwood, of both sessile (Quercus petraea) and English Oak (Quercus robur), is as an ancient semi-natural woodland site. There is evidence of some coppicing and parts of the wood were last worked about 60 years ago. This type of woodland, more typical of the Lake District, is found here under much drier climatic conditions and examples in the eastern part of Northumberland are particularly scarce. It has an SSSI citation.
The wood is noted for Lichen and Bryophyte species. The large mossy hummock above is White Moss (leucobryum glaucum). Waved silk moss (Plagiothecium undulatum) was present.