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Winter 2003  http://www.nbnrs.org.uk

Merry Christmas!

 Happy New Year!


  Greetings from Chairperson - Betty Haynes

Well, Christmas is nearly upon us once again! Where has the year gone? Mind you, they say time flies by if you are kept busy and I'm sure it's true. We have to report that our ranger, Paul Bown is leaving us in December after serving us for nearly three years. He is leaving Essex to take up a new position in Sheffield. He has shown dedication not only to the nature reserve but to the Society itself, especially at the monthly work parties and his attendance at our committee meetings and events throughout the year. We will miss Paul and we wish him well in his new job in Sheffield.

This summer some vandalism occurred on the reserve mainly caused by young people fishing and incidentally damaging young trees around the ponds. Fishing lines left around and in the ponds are a hazard to the ducklings bred on the ponds and becoming entangled. Committee members collected at least two bags of rubbish every day to keep the reserve looking clean and tidy and not like a tip. These problems should be solved this winter as all the fish are to be removed.

The Open Day in June was again very successful as was our visit to Norsey Wood in October. That was a sunny day with a very cold wind but the event was very well supported and our display site was kept very busy. A good day was enjoyed by all.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We're sorry that our usual Yuletide Ramble has had to be cancelled this year as Kenilworth Place is no longer available for the mince pies and mulled wine celebration at the end of the walk. An alternative hall will be reserved for next year.


On a very wet Sunday in November we enjoyed meeting old and new members at the Noak Bridge Christmas Faire. We extend a warm welcome to the seven new members. There are currently 58 households who are fully paid up members of the Society for 2003/4. We would like your help in increasing our membership. Attached to this newsletter is a blank membership form, so if you know anyone who may be interested in joining please pass it on to them.

Contact Weed at 01268-289577 for information or log on to our website - http://www.nbnrs.org.uk. Lots of interesting stuff there! Thank you, Weed.

Membership dues may be paid to Weed at 44 Lower Street or to Janet Bircham at 42 Crouch Street.

  Work Parties

There will be NO WORK PARTY in December. Some of the tasks we have tackled this year include weeding the steps, cutting back weeds, planting trees, filling in cracks along the paths, removing litter and monitoring and replacing bird nesting boxes. We look forward to meeting our new ranger in the new year and will possibly be clearing vegetation around a submerged supermarket trolley, removing rubbish thrown over a garden fence and replacing a water danger sign at Fox Pond.


Folklore of Christmas Plants

Have you ever thought why we bring holly, mistletoe etc. into our homes at Christmas rather than other plants? Here are a few reasons why this may be so.

  Holly,  Ilex

As with other evergreens holly represents immortality and in the church, represents Christ, its white flowers the purity of the Virgin Mary, the red berries Christ's blood and its prickly leaves his crown of thorns. Holly was given as a gift at the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which lasted five days and ended with the winter solstice, and later the "Holly King" a tradition carried on in mummers plays would vie with the "Oak King" for the hand of a fair maiden. At midsummer the Oak King was defeated by the Holly King and at midwinter the Oak King triumphed thus ensuring the seasons flowed smoothly. Holly was taken into homes for a variety of reasons. It was regarded as an excellent form of protection against evil spirits, poisons, thunder and lightning. The red berries would ward off witches and the evil spirits would stick to its thorns. A holly bush was used for sweeping chimneys and it was also used to protect Christmas bacon from rats. Another custom was to hang bows in cowsheds as good luck to the cattle. What about the holly sprig on top of the Christmas pudding? This is part of a centuries old custom with the flaming brandy symbolising the fires of long ago which were lit to fend off the dark winter days.

  Ivy,  Hedera

Ivy also takes us back to Roman times, as it was associated with the Roman god Bacchus. It was thought to bring good luck, fun and great happiness.

If a man places one of ten leaves gathered on 31st October (Halloween) under his pillow he will dream of his future bride. Women should recite the following once they have collected the leaves.

"Ivy, ivy, I love you,
In my bosom I put you,
The first young man who speaks to me,
My future husband he shall be"

In Shropshire it was believed that drinking from an ivy cup would cure a child of whooping cough, and an alcoholic would be cured if he drank from a cup made of ivy wood. Most of us know the carol "The Holly and the Ivy", they are also brought together by a butterfly. The Holly Blue lays its eggs on holly in the Spring and its caterpillars feed on the holly flowers. However when the females are ready to lay their second brood in late summer, there are no holly flowers so she lays them on the ivy buds.

  Mistletoe  Viscum album

Viscum album, the commonest European form, is sometimes seen on oak trees but mostly grows on apple. The name mistletoe was derived from the belief that the plant grew from bird droppings. "Mistel" is an old Anglo Saxon word for dung and "tan" is the word for twig. It can be seen therefore that mistletoe means "dung-on-a twig"

The early Christian church banned its use in Christmas celebrations due to its pagan origins. It was supposed to bestow life and fertility, protected against poison and had aphrodisiac properties. It could be worn as a protective amulet, and was a good charm against lightning during a thunderstorm if a branch was put above the house doorway. This would give you double protection as it also prevented entry by witches. To be most effective however, it had to be harvested using "a golden sickle during a full moon". We are all familiar with "kissing under the mistletoe" and this too dates back to the festival of Saturnalia but is also thought to be associated with the Scandinavians who believed it to be a plant of peace and harmony and to have the power of fertility. Enemies or warring spouses would kiss and make up under a branch of mistletoe. In some parts of England mistletoe was burned on Twelfth Night, because if it weren't, those who had kissed under it would never marry. When a man kisses a woman under the mistletoe he should pluck a berry from the branch and when all the berries have gone the kissing has to stop. English and Welsh farmers would give the Christmas bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that calved in the New Year.


The lore about pine concerns pine in general and not particular species. Like the other plants mentioned above they symbolize immortality and also the birth of light at the winter solstice. The Druids built great fires of pine in the winter to draw back the sun, which is thought to have become the custom of burning a Yule log. Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria is credited with having introduced the practice of bringing a pine tree into the house, to the British. It was the tradition in his native Germany. Most of us could not now imagine a house decorated for Christmas without a pine tree.

Thank you, Joan Fynn

  Rangers Report - Paul Bown

The long hot days of the summer seem a distant memory now with the rain and wind of autumn giving way to the cold dampness of the approaching winter. The ponds that were very low or even dried out have started to refill thanks to the recent rainfall. This should continue if the weather carries on as it has over the last month. The dragonflies and damselflies you may have seen over the summer have all died by now. They will have left their eggs in the ponds that will form larvae, which will stay in the water for up to five years. They will emerge one summer and continue to entertain us with their bright colours and flying displays.

Many of the other animals that you will have been seen over the summer will have migrated, died off, or will be going into hibernation. Hedgehogs will be preparing to go to sleep over the winter, and brimstone butterflies will be hibernating in evergreen shrubs. They may be seen on sunny days before the end of winter, and their yellow colour originally suggested the name butter-fly. We are left with other species still around, particularly birds such as the robin, which can be found on many Christmas cards. Watch out for them if you are digging in the garden, they will follow you and snap up any worms you uncover.

Many of the plants we have on the reserve will help the animals survive the winter. The blackthorn with its dark purple berries, the hawthorn with its red haws, and the dog rose with its bright red hips. The hips ripen through the summer and then soften after a couple of frosts. They continue well into January when food is scarce for the birds. The rose hip has the most vitamin C content of any fruit, and was used in the Second World War to supplement people's diets by making it into rose-hip syrup. Look out also for the teasels too, which look like giant thistles. The seeds are a favourite food of goldfinches in autumn and winter. Because of its hooked spines, a variety of the teasel used to be cultivated and was used to raise the knap on cloth.

The work party have been busy again with work on the reserve. Thanks to this dedicated group of volunteers we are able to maintain the reserve for the benefit of all our visitors. In the last two months we have cleared a large amount of fly tipping from the reserve in the area behind Thistle Close. We have also been repairing the green Geo-Block path that has suffered from ground movement due to the very dry summer.

I am ending this report with a sad note (depends on your point of view). After two and a half years, over twenty work parties, two open days and too many bags of rubbish to count, I will be leaving Countryside Services. Thank you to all the volunteers and members of the Noak Bridge Nature Reserve Society who give many hours of their time to keep the reserve clean and safe for all the visitors. I hope the group continues to look after this special place and that many more people become involved to help maintain it and enjoy the wildlife. I will be leaving at Christmas to go back to my roots in Yorkshire, where they have proper hills and a decent amount of snow at Christmas (although we didn't do badly down here last year). I have enjoyed my time in Essex; it doesn't deserve the reputation that it has been given by the rest of the country (except for some very select areas). One thing I have never been able to work out is why everyone says they are going up to London? I still think its down!

Farewell,  Paul

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last updated - 16 August 2015
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