Tony Drakeford's nature notes

Holly, ivy and mistletoe.

'The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood the holly bears the crown'

Thus runs the first verse of a popular Christmas carol. Centuries ago it was considered unlucky to fell a holly bush, a symbol of Christmas, because of a superstition that the tree's evergreen properties warded off evil spirits.

An 'old wives' tale professed that a plentiful crop of berries predicted a cold winter ahead but of course the opposite is true and the tree is bountiful because of a good growing season beforehand.

Ivy was another favourite Christmas decoration for, according to folklore, goblins and elves, those cheeky chappies are at their naughtiest around Christmas time so bringing ivy indoors restricts their mischievous ways while in Scotland ivy was hung up to stop hobgoblins from spoiling cow's milk!

Mistletoe is another traditional Christmas and new year favourite. It was said that each time a man kisses a girl under mistletoe, thus maintaining a centuries old tradition, he must pick a berry until there are none left, so preventing any rival from stealing his chosen conquest.

The picture shows a pair of tiny goldcrests foraging on holly near the windmill on Wimbledon common.

Best wishes to everyone for a Happy Christmas and New Year.