Christmas kiss

Hello everyone! Here we are at the end a year in which we experienced the whole gamut of weather conditions these islands of ours can throw at us. The icy blasts in February, courtesy of the Beast from the East, were countered-balanced by weeks of sweltering heat in June and July. An extended period of very little rain saw the pond in Quarry Wood nigh on completely dry out for the first time since we acquired the land nineteen years ago.

Now, as I sit here in front of my books and laptop, we are being battered by the sort of rain not uncommon in the monsoon season of a subtropical rain forest. As a result, the reserve wadi is recharging with satisfying rapidity.

It has been a year when, if you believe the media, the world seems to have become aware of the perilous state of our planet. It would be unseasonably churlish to stress the fact that many of us were concerned about plastic waste, mass extinction and global warming forty years ago, so I won’t, but we were! More about these topics in the new year when we will be considering to what extent the health and biodiversity of our little reserve and its surrounds is an indication of the state of the natural world in general.

Nevertheless, as we enter the season of goodwill to all, it is worth mentioning one of the specific issues associated with anthropic activity. Thanks to the Roman festival of Saturnalia, a significant promotional campaign by Charles Dickens and the Teutonic traditions of both ‘Good Queen Charlotte’ and Prince Albert, we bedeck our homes with copious amounts of festive greenery.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

Very nice it is too! However, the upshot of adorning our households with Ma Nature’s finery is that we offer a whole host of mini-beasts the opportunity to come in and share a bit of unseasonal warmth. Most of these are harmless and, as is the case with most of the domestic fauna throughout the rest of the year, we are oblivious to their presence. However, speculation is rife as to whether those dreaded Arachnids, Ticks, are numbered among these Christmas visitors. There is no doubt that they remain active throughout mild winter months, but the risk to humans was deemed minimal after an extensive study carried out by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in 2012.

Be that as it may, it would be prudent to be wary and cover up when visiting tree farms. Just last month the European Parliament identified several possible causes for the increase in the numbers of infected Ticks and Lyme Disease throughout the Continent, these included global warming, climate change and the spread of invasive plants. The Commission has vowed to combat the ‘silent epidemic’ and will ensure that uniform surveillance programmes, standardised diagnostic tests and treatments are put in place throughout the Union. MEPs have also called for mandatory reporting in all member states affected by the disease and for the promotion of individual Tick prevention and control.

I feel this is an appropriate juncture to revisit my last article and recommend Lorraine Damonte’s excellent children’s book, Spot The Tick In England, as a stocking filler (see Beware the Tick, October 2018). It could save you months, if not years, of sickness, discomfort or worse!

I am sure Lorraine would not mind me switching from her very important little book to a truly extensive written work, produced almost 2000 years ago.

Those who have studied the Sandal’d and Toga’d Ones (see What have the Romans done for us? – Nov 2009; Fungal fatalities and festive fare – Dec 2012; A question of perspective – Dec 2013; Prince with a thousand enemies – Mar 2014)  will be familiar with one Gaius Plinius Secundus, or, as many of us know him, Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), army and naval commander, naturalist, philosopher and prolific author. His most notable work, Naturalis Historia, is divided into thirty-seven books which are organised into ten volumes covering a vast range of, what we today would term ‘scientific knowledge’. Pliny started his book in AD 77 and had not made a final revision before his death two years later. He died in Stabiae, near the modern Italian town of Castellammare di Stabia, possibly while trying to rescue some people in his boat from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.

By all accounts he was an avid reader and scholar and considered himself unique among his countrymen with his comprehensive approach to the study of the natural world. That feeling of self-worth is exemplified by his finishing sentence, a prayer to the Earth Mother asking for his work to be blessed:

Hail to thee, Nature, thou parent of all things! and do thou deign to show thy favour unto me, who, alone of all the citizens of Rome, have, in thy every department, thus made known thy praise.

What has happened to our jolly festive musings I hear you cry! What is all this talk of Ancient Romans, volcanoes and encyclopaedic tomes? He has not even mentioned the Winter Solstice yet!

Well, Dear Reader, vincit qui patitur, as Pliny’s contemporaries would have quoted. It so happens that chapter ninety-five in the sixteenth book of Naturalis Historia finishes with a fascinating description of the Druids’ veneration of Oak trees and, by association, a familiar parasitic plant that has travelled down the centuries into our Christmas traditions.

Of itself the robur is selected by them to form whole groves, and they perform none of their religious rites without em- ploying branches of it; so much so, that it is very probable that the priests themselves may have received their name from the Greek name for that tree. In fact, it is the notion with them that everything that grows on it has been sent immediately from heaven, and that the mistletoe upon it is a proof that the tree has been selected by God himself as an object of his especial favour.

The robur in question is the Common Oak (Quercus robur) and it is believed that the Mistletoe was almost certainly Loranthus Europæus, which is more likely to be found on Oak than Viscum album, the species usually found in this country. Interestingly, Pliny does not specify which particular god is bestowing his favours upon them.  He then goes on to describe how it was harvested with a golden sickle under a waxing moon before commenting on the various properties accorded to the plant:

It is the belief with them that the mistletoe, taken in drink, will impart fecundity to all animals that are barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons.

So there we are, when we give someone a Christmas peck under the Mistletoe we are playing out the last vestiges of an ancient Druidic fertility ceremony. No sacrifices needed!

Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that would have done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum.”

Charles Dickens- The Pickwick Papers (1836)


Happy Christmas One and All!

Put me right at

Paul Johnson



Beware the tick

Hello everyone! I hope you have enjoyed a Summer of extreme heat and dry ponds, followed by Storm Ali, lots of rain and, dry ponds still. That, at least, is the case in Quarry Wood where our muddy wallow remains in a conspicuously, un-pond-like state! It will be interesting to see just how much rain the ground will soak up before we see our pond creeping along the woodland floor again.

Autumn is upon us once again. Mabon has passed (Lammas, Mabon and Samhain – Nov 2008), the good ladies of Rattlebag delighted us with a seasonal rendition of Gather Up and foragers are scouring the countryside for culinary delights.

Gather up the dill
And the thyme
And the walnuts.
The fennel
And the sage
And the garlic
And the foxgloves.

Matt Berry (2013)

The trees and undergrowth are in a constant state of commotion as Squirrels scurry about searching for nuts and acorns for their winter caches; stopping briefly to gnaw on the odd chestnut (Grey Clouds – Feb 2018). Insects are still dancing in Phoebus’ rays in the last of the warm, sunny days and the gateway to our little reserve has a late maturing wasps’ nest guarding the entrance. Woodland green is giving way to gold and red as the trees flaunt their amazing techni-coloured dream coats.

Forgive me dear reader for the most tenuous of links as I segue from autumn leaves to shelf-scanning in bookshops. Dozens and dozens of books on natural history appear each year showing us how to identify fauna and flora from the four corners of the Earth or detailing a year in the life of birdwatchers, botanists, country parsons, poets and artists. All of them are entertaining in some form and I have found that many of them fill in a gap in my knowledge base, even if it is the most minute of details.

However, not many of them offer a more serious message than a beautifully written gem I found in the children’s section of a local book vendor. Spot The Tick in England is a charming little book created by Lorraine Damonte with one goal in mind, to raise awareness about the prevention of Lyme Disease, a truly horrible bacterial infection that is spread by contaminated Ticks. Lorraine suffered for six years after being diagnosed and is reliant still on several treatments to maintain good health, so she really does speak from experience.

Along with Mites, Ticks make up the Subclass Acari, of the Class Arachnida most commonly associated with spiders, scorpions and Hollywood phobia films. They tend to be very small, typically less than 5mm long, with round bodies and no obvious segmentation.

They are divided into two Families, the Ixodidae which are the flat-bodied, Hard or Scale Ticks and the Argasidae, the Soft Ticks, the majority of which possess rounded, berry-like bodies, though, just to prove the rule, some species are flattened. In general, it is the Hard Ticks that spread Lyme disease. On our little island it is the Deer or Sheep Tick (Ixodes ricinus), the Hedgehog Tick (I. hexagonus) and the Fox Tick (I. canisuga) that are chiefly responsible for transmitting the disease to people and their pets. However, all Ticks can carry Lyme disease.

When a Tick is in need of a meal it will simply wait on some low vegetation, stretch its front legs out, and when something brushes past it will hook onto it and go in search of a suitable feeding site. Like Mosquitoes and malaria, it is not the Tick bite, unpleasant as it is, that is the real danger to Human Beings, it is the bacteria they are infected with. In the case of Lyme Disease, the culprit in question is Borrelia burgdorferi, commonly found in birds and rodents. Ticks that feed on infected animals can infect their next host, whether it be animal or human, by transferring saliva or even their stomach contents into the victim’s bloodstream.

Unfortunately, the incidences of the disease in the UK are rising each year. Much of the blame is given to an increase in the number of Deer throughout the country. They are the preferred host of I. ricinus. The Ticks very rarely become infected from Deer and tend to acquire the microbe from the aforementioned rodents and birds.

This all sounds pretty ghastly, and, that is exactly what it is. There is a huge amount of information online if people want to read the gruesome details about how a Tick feeds on its host’s blood, how to remove Ticks, and the symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease. Suffice to say that the best way to avoid the disease is to reduce the probability of getting bitten. Cover up, especially when in long grass, undergrowth and woodland. For those of us who spend a lot of time in those environments, the advice is to do a thorough body check for Ticks after our fun in the green gym.

Enjoy the Autumn, take precautions when clearing those leaves and, as Lorraine Damonte put it, Think smart, think tick, spot the tick!

Put me right at

Paul Johnson

Image credits: Original Quarry Wood and Crowhurst Community Arts photography: Lorna Neville; img 7: Spot the Tick book cover by Paul Johnson; img 8: Deer Tick by Adam Roscoe, used under Creative Commons License 2.0; img 9: Sheep Tick by Andy Murray, used under CC2.0; img 10: Deer Tick by John Flannery, used under CC2.0.

Ten Years of Tales

Hello everyone! A scribble with a difference this month. To mark a decade of Tales from Quarry Wood, we are reflecting on the weird, wonderful and often obscure titles that have headed the articles over the years. No explanations, just so I can retain a sense of mystery and wonderment!

Where has all the Water gone? –  Sept 2008

Fabulous Ferns – Oct 2008

Lammas, Mabon and Samhain – Nov 2008

TQW 2009

Alpha & Omega – Dec 2008


Winter Clarity – March 2009

Dawn’s Chorus – April 2009

Sprung Beds and Egyptian Stuffing – May 2009

Seasonal Colour & Friendly Foxes – June 2009

Building with Light – July 2009

Damsels & Dragons – Oct 2009

What have the Romans done for us? – Nov 2009

TQW Dec 09 thumbnail

What’s in a Name? – Dec 2009

A Decade of Trees – Feb 2010


The Big Sleep – March 2010


Spring Watch – April 2010


Aliens that laugh in the night – May 2010


Wind flowers, Swiss butter & sleeping Greeks – June 2010

TQW Jul 10 thumbnail

River Hags and Cattle Feed – July 2010

Blowin’ in the Wind – Sept 2010

TQW Oct 10 thumbnail

Life, the Woodlands and Everything – Oct 2010

TQW Nov 10 thumbnail

Meles meles – Nov 2010

Autumn Colour and Festive Greenery – Dec 2010


Cookbooks, Chemists and Catwalks – May 2011

Flaccid Foliage & Frisky Foxlings – June 2011

TQW Jul 11 thumbnail

Poseidon’s Offspring – July 2011

A Taste for Blood – Sept 2011

Katia, Lucrezia, Titania & Flopsy – Oct 2011


A Challenge to the Gods – Nov 2011

Fiery Redcoats and Tiny Troglodytes – Dec 2011

TQW Feb 12 thumbnail

The Wrong Sort – Feb 2012


As Light as a Snowflake – March 2012

TQW Apr 12 thumbnail

Lucifer’s Bane – April 2012

Cudgels and Clouts – May 2012

TQW Jun 12 thumbnail

Consummate Eco-Engineers – June 2012

Food for Thought – Sept 2012

A Success Story! – Oct 2012

Fungal Fatalities and Festive Fare – Dec 2012


Tales from the Beleaguered Lands – Feb 2013

TQW Mar 13 thumbnail

In Danger of Silencing Spring – March 2013

TQW Apr 13 thumbnail

Drums and Laughter – April 2013


Then and Now – May 2013

The Music of the Night – June 2013

The Venerable, the Capricious and the Maladjusted – July 2013

Fun in the Woods – Nov 2013

A Question of Perspective – Dec 2013


Ne’er a Drop to Drink – Feb 2014

Prince with a Thousand Enemies – Mar 2014

TQW Apr 14 thumbnail

Lemon Curd and Honey Bees – April 2014

Conservation – A Brief History of Time – May 2014


The Straight and Narrow – June 2014

Celtic Fools and Cowpox – July 2014


The Autumn Cometh – Sept 2014

TQW Nov 14 thumbnail

A War to End All Wars – Nov 2014

TQW Dec 14 thumbnail

Walking in the Air – Dec 2014


Recollection and  Déjà vu – Feb 2015

The Helix Conundrum – March 2015


The Amphibification of Fertility – April 2015

TQW May 2015 thumbnail

Portents and Pollutants – May 2015

TQW June 2015 Common Blue

Arboreal lights & disappearing coats – June 2015

TQW Jul 2015 thumbnail

Dawn’s Cacophony – July 2015

They Fly By Night – Oct 2015


Candles, Copters & Colours – Nov 2015

Prophesies from the Easterlies – Dec 2015

Here we go again! – Feb 2016

orchid th

Spines & Spots – April 2016

TQW June 2016 th

Stripes for danger – May 2016

June 2016 th

Tempus Fugit – June 2016


How is your lady wife today? – July 2016

Two thousand and sixteen thus far – Sept 2016

Making logs while the sun shines – Oct 2016

Jasper, beware! – Nov 2016


Wassail! – Dec 2016

The Velvet Underground – Feb 2017


The Great, The Blue and The Long of Tail or Carry on Birdwatching – Mar 2017

Not so humble! – April 2017

Two go forth! – May 2017

The Bug of Many Names – June 2017

Artistic seats & the tiniest of giants – July 2017

The Summer of ’17 – September 2017

Celebrating the ton! – November 2017

A year in the life of a reserve – Dec 2017

Grey Clouds – Febraury 2018

Green Clouds – March 2018

The Great Game – April 2018

Yellow Clouds & Purple Thorns – May 2018

Life on the Surface – July 2018

Ten Years of Tales – Sept 2018

So, there it is: Ten Years of Tales. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have writing about life on our little reserve in the lovely village of Crowhurst. None of it would have been possible without the encouragement, IT input and photography of Lorna.

It is gratifying to note that the issues I have covered remain relevant to this day. We could reprint the very first scribble with some justification as the present state of the Quarry Wood pond is a sorry-looking, muddy wallow beneath the rockface!

Here’s to the next ten years!

Paul Johnson –


Crowhurst Nature Reserve is a four and a half acre community-owned woodland in Crowhurst, East Sussex, known locally as Quarry Wood. It was bought by the village for the village in 1999 to protect and preserve it.

Paul Johnson is the warden and has been writing a series of articles called Tales from Quarry Wood for the village magazine since 2008. Our little reserve is the central thread and star turn, but his themes often range further, taking in ecology, botany, mycology, history, mythology, Latin and literature. All with a healthy dose of irreverence and the odd bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Click here for more about Paul and Crowhurst Nature Reserve; the most recent article is below  and you can explore all the previous articles through the chronological year tabs above or take a more meandering approach using the tags.