After a smattering of overnight snow, the traffic leading out of Cheadle, north Staffordshire, was stationary. It wasn’t the best start to the day, but I arrived at the training course safe and well, if a little late. As I sat in the traffic, I developed concerns about missing the introduction of the training day, but my concerns were put aside as soon as I entered the room. I was greeted with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and Mark Duffell, the course co-ordinator, spent a few minutes getting me up to speed.
The course first covered certain diagnostic characters which can be used to identify trees in the winter. A large proportion of trees are identified by their leaves alone, but in winter this is no longer possible. Instead, the key characters to look at are the buds; how many, their arrangement, their shape and the presence of bud scales or hairs. Other characters to look at include the twigs, bark, growth form and fruit (if present).
Some tree species are immediately identifiable by their buds, such as the Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) which has conspicuous black buds in winter. Cherry trees (Prunus sp) are instantly recognisable due to their horizontally striped bark. However, other species require further investigation. All attendants in the room keyed out a specimen with Mark, who explained how the different identification keys worked and how the different characters should be judged. This first example turned out to be Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). We then worked in smaller groups and keyed out species which you might not come across as often, such as Wayfaring-tree (Viburnum lantana), Common walnut (Juglans regia), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis). Our group even managed to find a leaf scar which looked like the face of either a sloth or ET. Sadly, this last character did not feature in the books provided.
Despite arriving late, I had a thoroughly worthwhile time on the training course. I feel confident in identifying trees in winter, and even if I cannot recognise the species immediately, I know how to work it out. Many thanks to Mark Duffell and MMU on another excellent course.
Declan, UES Graduate Ecologist