Tuesday, March 17, 2015

If you go down to the woods today

There’s a few things happening down in the woods at the moment.   Firstly spring has arrived and with that the procession of the killer caterpillars.   These processionary pine caterpillars live high up in nests on the pine trees.  The first spring we had in Portugal we were overrun by thousands of these, in recent years I have seen less and less as the weather has not been quite right for them (too much rain I expect), but this year we’ve had an increase.    

These little hairy things are trouble, their hair is very irritating and produces a severe allergic reaction.   So severe that it can kill dogs and cats and send humans into anaphylactic shock.  

 I have been told a way to treat a dog who has licked or trodden on one of these pests is to give the animal orange juice.  All very well but for anyone who has tried to get a tablet down a dog I think they know making a dog drink orange juice is nigh on impossible. 

Brighter, but as much of a problem as the killer caterpillars, is the Mimosa has started to flower.  This creates a wonderful yellow throughout the forest, vibrant, colourful and it tells us that spring is on its way.   

 But it is becoming a big problem…..having been introduced to Portugal (via Australia) as an ornamental plant, it has literally taken root and is now a real problem to the natural forests and woods in Portugal.   The tree produces seed pods which seem to grow in any condition and the tree has adapted so well to conditions here large areas of national forest are being ruined by this invasive species.   The tree grows in clumps, creating impenetrable areas in the forest.  Making song birds leave the area, making it impossible for deer and boar to pass and creating a major problem for the Portuguese Government who really need to act on the issue before large areas of natural forest are lost to mimosa for good.     

Mimosa clumping and nothing else grows

 Here in Central Portugal our natural forest of cork oak and chestnut are already threatened by the over planting of the paper producing eucalyptus (another Australian tree which does very well here).   On the Silver Coast of Portugal the problem is even greater with the National Forest being taken over by the mimosa.   

A more natural habitat

The final thing which surprised us in the woods recently was a great big digger coming towards us down the path.   I asked the Portuguese driver what he was doing, and in perfect English with a very strong Yorkshire accent (four years working in Yorkshire) he tells me that 41 pylons are going up in the forest to transfer the electricity from the wind machines.   

Looking up the mountain from the other side of town you can see the great scars across the landscape as trees have been cleared to make way for the trucks to dig the foundations for the pylons.  The trucks have made a huge mess on the local paths; tree roots have been dug up and dumped so walking across some of these areas is impossible.    It’s a real shame that the beautiful natural landscape is being treated so unsympathetically, but we all want to use the power generated by the wind farms so complaining won’t do any good. 

It seems that this spring if I go down to the woods I will always be sure of a surprise.