Riverside mistletoe is more natural

A morning spent on the floodplain of the River Salwarpe, just upstream of its confluence with the Severn. Not to look at mistletoe, but to discuss reedbed creation. The areas we were looking at are between the Salwarpe and the Droitwich Canal, and as part of the canal restoration project we are planning to create new reedbeds on land next to the canal to compensate for those currently in the old canal channel.

We started off just upstream of Hawford Mill, a site familiar to me since my late teens, when I helped research the history of the Salwarpe mills. I say ‘familiar’ but in truth, other than the name, the actual site doesn’t ring any bells at all. But that was about 20 (ok 25) years ago – am I getting old?

Anyway, the first site, just below some fishing lakes is rather wonderful old pastureland, full of teasels and thistles. Whilst these are a little past their best at this time of year (except to goldfinches) the accompanying riverside scrub is more seasonally interesting, as it supports lots of Mistletoe! The scrub here, and on the ramp up to the old canal bridge, is predominantly hawthorn, and there are numerous small mistletoe growths. These are typical of hawthorn, where it seldom grows large. But each growth is a magnet to a mistletoe enthusiast and I insist on visiting each one, just to look at it, much to the amusement of my companions – Trevor the Fishing Lakes proprietor, James the Canals Restoration Project Manager, and Tim the Property man from the District Council. They’re even more amused when I take a call on the mobile from BBC Radio Guernsey about an interview on the morning programme for tomorrow. About mistletoe of course. Does it pay, asks Trevor? Er, no, I reply. Don’t give up the day job is his advice…

Later on James and I visit more fields downstream of the mill, and the roar of the A449 dual carriageway. These are ‘orrible improved grassland, no teasels here. But there is still mistletoe on the canal and river margins, largely on mature willow this time, with much bigger balls of growth. We’re right on the Severn confluence here, and it is an interesting demo of how mistletoe grows ‘in the wild’ . One of the great mysteries of mistletoe distribution in Britain is what would be the pattern if man hadn’t cleared the woods and created fields, parks, orchards and gardens? For these are its preferred habitat – trees in open, well-lit, unshaded locations. And these would be rare in the primeval forest that should cover the UK. River margins may be one of the rare examples of a natural mistletoe habitat – the thorns and willows on their banks would be at the edge of the woodland canopy, and provide the openness mistletoe needs – as well as being preferred hosts. So these mistletoes may be truly ‘natural’ unlike those of orchards and gardens etc. Now I may be a ‘mistletoe anorak’ (as I was described by last weekend’s Telegraph) but I find that fascinating, which is why I’m drawn to each growth.