A great new adventure began in 2012 when I acquired a little over five acres of neglected fen woodland on the banks of the River Yare. The intention over the next years is to upraise its wildlife potential through practical work and with the support of others, but especially my friend, poet Matt Howard. Blackwater Blog is a way of recording these slow-won achievements and celebrating this glorious patch of wild Norfolk.
The mystery red landscape with its even brighter river featured on my home page is, in fact, a close up of a recently cut cork oak in Extremadura, Spain. They were a highlight of my recent inaugural 360˚course with Martin and Claudia Kelsey. The colours of the bark have been in no way enhanced. They really are that vivid. The bark - the cork - is cut every nine years and the woodmen make a point of not incising the trees' living tissue so that they recover from the indignity of being so disrobed. I think you can see how the cut lines leave swollen knobbly extrusions in the bole surface and when these close over with fresh bark they increase the surface irregularity of the trunks and, my guess is, maximise the diversity of their topography. So the cut cork trees produce more complex habitats for invertebrates and, thus for everyone else. Incidentally the wriggling lines that look like a river course on the home-page picture were probably made by some species of burrowing beetle.
These cork oaks are beautiful and rich in biodiversity but also valuable to the woodsmen and their employers. Very often you find trees at the tops of really steep slopes that have still been visited for the crop. The raw material supplies the shoe and tile industries and, of course, wine producers. Cork is still economically important but it is environmentally crucial. On our walk through this wood it was full of crested tits, short-toed treecreepers and azure-winged magpies. They in turn, are made from the insects that thrive in cork oak. Meanwhile overhead were flying barndoors - the black vultures with their 2.5m wingspans - that nest in these oak estates known as dehesas. So drinking Spanish wine with cork stoppers is truly promoting conservation. So go on, open it and salud!
© Mark Cocker 2013