On Saturday 18th January, the London Borough of Sutton ran a short day course in winter tree identification.
The course, delivered by Sutton Biodiversity Officer, Dave Warburton, started off proceedings in the beautiful Honeywood museum located next to Carshalton Ponds. After a brief introduction to trees and some basic taxonomy, we started to run through various common tree species and how to tell them apart in the winter. Obviously, very distinctive features, such as leaves, are largely absent in the winter months and so to differentiate between species, you instead need to look at the buds and the bark. The large sticky brown buds of the horse chestnut tree, for instance, easily distinguish it from the small clustered buds of wild cherry. However, with closely related species such as peduncular and sessile oak, the differences become much more subtle.
After much frantic note scribbling and some lunch to re-energise us, we headed out into the Ecology Centre grounds to apply what we had learnt in the classroom. With each new species we came across, we were encouraged to point out the features present, trying to narrow down which species it could be. We quickly got the hang of many of the more iconic trees and shrubs, such as sycamore and hazel, as well as differentiating between blackthorn and hawthorn. By the end of the long walk, we even began to recognise some of the trickier species, without too much prompting!
Finally we headed back to the Ecology Centre, where we were presented with a test. 22 numbered specimens were laid out on the table; we put our notes away and used what we had learnt to identify what each one was. As it turned out, most people got just over half right, with the top scorer achieving 17!
This was a great course and incredibly useful at this time of year. Everyone had a great time and we all left with a much greater understanding of winter trees than when we went in.
Biodiversity Project Officer