When the British Isles were covered with huge swathes of forest, Silver Birch was one of the dominant species. Although these woodlands have shrunk dramatically, there are still plenty of Birch to be seen around Otley. The bark is more white than silver, but these trees support a lot of wildlife, not least because their fractured canopy allows a lot of light down to the shrub and ground layers below. It is a pioneer species, in that it is one of the first to grow again in disturbed land – the old railway line east of town has many good examples of this. We use its oily, peeling bark as tinder in bushcraft, but in Finland they use leafy, fragrant boughs to gently beat themselves in the sauna, and used to make shoes out of the bark – unsurprisingly it is their national tree. We also use it for furniture, racecourse jumps and kitchen utensils. Resin from heated bark makes a good waterproof glue, and the spring-time sap can be consumed like maple syrup. Watch out for tangled masses of twigs – known as “Witches’ Brooms” and caused by a fungus – growing amongst the branches.
Photos by Neil Griffin and Pixabay