Mistletoe (Viscum album) has never been so common in the south-east as in the west midlands but it seems to be enjoying a resurgence, perhaps because unlike holly, which throws out few berries after a hot summer, mistletoe thrives in sweltering conditions.
One of a handful of native British evergreens, it is a partial parasite growing on trees with soft bark, which means it makes some of its own food but takes most of its sustenance from the host tree. These are usually Apple (Malus domestica), Lime (Tilia sp), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Poplar (Populus sp) or Field Maple (Acer campestre).
The plant's white, seed-bearing berries are popular with the thrush family in general and the Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus, wingspan 45cm) in particular. But they are very sticky and the birds can end up cleaning their beaks on bark, thus giving the plant the chance to develop.
Mistle Thrushes are fairly common and hold sizeable territories, larger than those of the Song Thrush which is smaller and less strikingly marked. Mistle Thrushes feed their young on protein-rich invertebrates and go for berries in autumn and winter.
The pictured Mistletoe is on a single apple tree, and following the apple link a little further, orchards, which are close to being a semi-natural environment in the amount of wildlife they encourage, have been grubbed up all over the place in the last 40 years, with roughly half disappearing.
One of the most obvious reasons for this is that despite increasing public interest in buying organic crops and local produce from farmers' markets, the demand is still insufficient to make the old methods viable. Put simply, orchards are not cost effective in an era where supermarkets claim that their shoppers require apples of an even size, weight and surface.
In truth, supermarket chains influence taste rather than responding to it, with the result that flavour can go to blazes with apples, as with much in the way of the fruit and vegetables these behemoths sell.
If anything, the EU, and as a result major supermarkets, used to encourage intensive agriculture by their determination to obtain uniformity. That policy was reversed in 2009 but still seems to hold good (or bad) judged on the food filling the shelves in stores. Moreover, intensive agriculture, with its reliance on relentless spraying with pesticides and fertilisers, helps to kill taste and goodness by destroying many beneficial organisms in the soil.
Food which does not fit a pre-ordained shape tends to be ploughed back into the ground, an appalling waste and another indication that the dominance of supermarkets represents the economics of the madhouse vis a vis farmers. It must be lunacy when customers pay little more for products than they cost to grow.
Supermarkets - and the general public - are also ludicrously wasteful of resources in terms of dumping unsold or uneaten food. With the amount of food waste rising by anything up to 15 per cent a decade according to research done by John Vidal of The Guardian and BBC Radio 4's Costing the Earth, the future may well be progressively less sustainable than the present, though some helpful developments have occurred, including unsold food being used to provide meals to those suffering hard times through such organisations as FareShare.
A few years ago the East London Community Recycling Partnership calculated that each person in Britain throws out 2.7kg of food each week. However, composting and recycling on a wider scale are gaining in popularity with individuals, local authorities and commercial operators, which is all to the good.
Some of the waste is not our fault either. Who hasn't bought milk that goes off before the use-by date, or fruit that wrinkles or goes rotten without warning well before it ripens? Maybe one day the date harvested, rather just the sell-by date, will have to be marked on produce by law. Then we may really know the score.
The frightening 'chuck-out' figure above would lessen a little if large retailers paid a little more attention to the reduced requirements of the growing number of individual family units - now around 7 million in the UK - rather than assuming when packaging food that everyone is part of a social group of two or more.
Occasionally, as with the family of Starlings in the picture, food waste can be used by wildlife but that is just an unintentional aberration. Moreover, scavenging on landfill sites is of questionable assistance in the long-term since it can create an unnatural imbalance artificially favouring some species over others.
As it happens, Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris, wingspan 40cm) have suffered a major decline as breeding birds in Europe including Britain in the last 25 years and are now a species of high conservation concern. Their fall in numbers - in winter millions come here - is a shade surprising given their adaptability in feeding and nesting.
Images © Jeremy Early. All rights reserved.
In 2013 I published My Side of the Fence - the Natural History of a Surrey Garden. Details may be found, and orders placed, via this hyperlink My Side of the Fence. In November 2015 Surrey Wildlife Trust published the atlas Soldierflies, their allies and Conopidae of Surrey, jointly written by David Baldock and me. Details are on this web page: Atlas.