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Interpretive Sign 1

The Log Pile:

We hope you found the pile of logs and maybe searched for and found some of its inhabitants. The log piles and felled trees have been left there deliberately as a great habitat for all sorts of creatures; Crustaceans like woodlice, Insects like beetles, and millipedes, as well as slugs and snails! They play an important part in the food chain…for birds such as Wren and Thrushes and animals such as badgers, hedgehogs and foxes. 

What are Crustaceans? 

Crustaceans are a very large group of animals with exoskeletons (their skeleton is on the outside). So in order to grow they have to throw away their old skeleton (moult) and grow a new one! There are 67,000 different Crustacean species ranging from tiny shrimps at 01. mm to a huge Japanese spider crab with a leg span of up to 3.8m! 

They are very ancient animals with fossils that date back to the Cambrian period about 500 million years ago! Most crustaceans like lobsters, crayfish and shrimp are free-living aquatic animals, but some, such as woodlice, are terrestrial and some, such as barnacles, are sessile (ie they don’t move at all).

About 7.9 million tons of crustaceans, mostly shrimp and prawns, are harvested every year for humans to eat.   A scientist who studies crustaceans is known as a carcinologist 

What about insects? 

Like Crustaceans, Insects have a hard exoskeleton but differ by having a three-part body (head, thorax and abdomen), six jointed legs, compound eyes and one pair of antennae. 

Beetles are the largest group of insects, with over 300,000 known species. Of these, 4,000 occur in Britain. Some are very small, others are relatively large. Most beetles can fly, but they spend much of their time on the ground or in low vegetation.

But what about a Spider? Both insects and spiders have an exoskeleton but there are a number of differences that separate insects from spiders, most obviously a spider has 8 legs while an insect has 6, making the spider an Arachnid and not an Insect. 

Horse Chestnut Trees:

These trees (Aesculus hippocastanum ) can live for 300 years and produce ‘conkers’ – covered by a green spiky jacket, these brown seeds make for a great game!  The trees have pretty white and pink flowers in the spring. 

However, leaf-mining moth has spread rapidly since it was first identified as present in Britain from Wimbledon in 2002. The leaf-miner is a small moth with caterpillars that feed inside horse chestnut leaves, causing brown or white blotch mines to develop between the leaf veins. The effect on the appearance of horse chestnut trees in late summer can be profound. It is usually easy to spot trees affected by the leaf-mining moth, especially as the season progresses.

  • Horse chestnuts produce normal foliage and flowers in the spring and the first signs of leaf-mining usually appear during June
  • Elongate blotches, at first white but later turning brown, develop on the foliage
  • Caterpillars, or circular pupal cocoons, can be seen within the mined areas if the leaf is held up to the light
  • By August, most of the leaf area may be occupied by leaf mines, giving the impression that the tree is dying, although it will survive
  • Heavily affected trees can drop their leaves early, it has been found that this has almost no effect on the growth rate or health of trees, although conkers may be slightly smaller.

A fungus called Leaf blotch is something else the tree has to deal with. Leaf blotch is an infection of the leaves of horse chestnuts by the fungus Phyllosticta paviae, which causes irregular brown blotches, often with yellow margins. You’re most likely to see attacks in summer.

Bleeding canker is a disease of horse chestnut trees. It affects trees of all ages and produces external and internal symptoms. Ultimately the disease can lead to tree death, but trees can also have periods of remission and even recover.  One of the first external symptoms of infection is bleeding lesions: patches of dying bark on the stem or branches that ooze drops of rusty-red, yellow-brown or almost black gummy liquid. 

Goldcrest:

‘What is Britain’s smallest bird?’ is a favourite question on quiz shows and not many people get it right.  The Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) is smaller and lighter than a wren and in Cassiobury Park, you have a chance to see one. They particularly like foraging for insects in conifers, some of which edge the path behind the gardens of Gade Avenue houses.  

The stripe that gives the bird its name has been described as glittering like ‘burnished gold’, or glowing like ‘a lemon yellow flame’, but at times it can be difficult to see. 

Its voice is comparably tiny. Listen for the thin, high-pitched 3-4 syllable call or the more rhythmic song, which has been described as a ‘wonderful silver toned tinkle’ that can suggest ‘the turning of a badly oiled wheel’!  Indeed, ‘it is useful to test one’s hearing, as it is said to be the first song that old age loses!

So the best way to spot the bird is ‘size’ and ‘speed’.  It moves about very quickly and catching sight of one in binoculars can be tricky but if you do catch up with one then 90% of the time it will be a Goldcrest.   (Ref: Birds Britannica) 

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