Wild About Wildlife: The magic of hazel: Albert Nolan

Albert Nolan

Reporter:

Albert Nolan

Wild About Wildlife: The magic of hazel: Albert Nolan

The long, yellow male catkins of the hazel tree appear in January and February

I was out walking and enjoying the different species of trees found along the hedgerows and paths. Ash, alder, hawthorn and blackthorn all have their role in protecting nature in my part of the countryside.

I am also very lucky along with wildlife to have a hazel trees growing just a few hundred meters from my house. The tree is multi stemmed and is regularly coppiced by the machine and cutter as it grows directly under the electricity wire.

Coppicing is an ancient method of managing trees. The trunk of the hazel tree is cut back to within a foot of the ground. Next spring dozens of shoots appear and when they have reached the required length they are harvested. This has no negative effect on the tree and well coppiced hazels can live far longer than unmanaged ones.

The poles were traditionally used on the farm and in the home for a variety of implements from thatching spars, fencing and charcoal for making gunpowder.

Hazels are members of the Birch family and grow very well in the shade of other species. When fully grown it can stand 8 meters with an equal spread. In their wild state 80 years is a good age but managed as a coppice they can live for well over 150 years.

The leaves are large and oval and the edges are toothed like a saw. These leaves are important for the caterpillars of many species of moths. The beautiful large emerald and nut tree tussock moths all feed on hazel. Male catkins are long and green while the females are small and red. Both sexes are found on the same tree and the hazel is pollinated by the wind.

I carefully searched the trees and managed to find a few nuts. You have to be quick as they are on the menu of many woodland creatures. Squirrels will horde them away in their larder for the lean winters day and birds like jays will devour then by the dozen. Mice will nibble irregular holes in the nuts and this also creates an entrance point for smaller insects like slugs and woodlice.

At home in the garden these went into a pot of compost and were covered with wire mesh to keep hungry animals at bay. Next spring they will hopefully germinate and I already have a space ready in the woodland.

In mythology Hazel was known as the tree of knowledge. Nine hazel trees were supposed to grow around a sacred pool. Their nuts fell into the water and were washed about by the stream. Here the salmon ate them and gained wisdom. The number of spots on the bodies indicated how many nuts they had eaten and how much knowledge they contained.

This ancient myth might not be as fanciful as it first appears. Hazel nuts are really good for your health and contain lots of protein. mono unsaturated fats, minerals and Vitamin E. Fresh fish is food for the brain and this is what I tell my kids all of the time.

Hazel can also be grown from cuttings if the hedgerow animals have already beaten you to them.

For more, email albert.nolan@rocketmail.com or phone 089 4230502.

Albert is available to do walk/talks with schools, tidy towns, youth and community groups.