28th November 2018

Listening to the BBC Radio 4 programme last Sunday, ‘Ash to Ash’ (available on catch-up) reminded me how devastating Ash die-back is going to be to the British countryside and ecology. Ash is the third most common tree in Britain, and valuable to at least 1,000 species, many of them specific to Ash trees. Its’ sparser foliage and early leaf-loss also enables light to penetrate woodland, enhancing wild flower species. The tough, shock absorbent wood has been here since the ice-age, with myriad uses, from Roman chariots to tool handles, hockey sticks to furniture construction. Ash can live for 400 years, or longer when coppiced, and yet it is dying over many parts of the country already and the only hope known to date is that some individual trees may

Ash die-back

Ash flowers

Ash bud

be resistant. Open Country suggested we should be planting similarly ecologically-rich trees now, as the disease has so far proved unstoppable. The arrival and speed of Ash die-back is also a reminder that many species are likely to be threatened by the increasing globalisation of plant diseases. Conditions: Grey, drizzly days. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.

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15th October 2018

Hawthorn- there is a bumper crop of Haws, Hawthorn Berries, this year as the photo’s show. These berries have been used as herbal remedies since at least the ancient Greeks, and probably far longer. They are high in anti-oxidants and are still used by some to treat stomach-aches, stress and sleep-problems. Hawthorn has long mythic associations, and our Celtic ancestors believed the trees to be protected and inhabited by Faery Folk, representing

Haws

Haws

Haws

places where time passes differently to our own. Isolated trees were not cut down, for fear of invoking the wrath of the Faery Queen. The site of Westminster Abbey was once called Thorne Island after the stand of sacred Hawthorn trees there. The berries can be made into jellies, and I have just seen a recipe, on Countryfile’s website, for Hawthorn Gin. We might give it a go. Makes a change from Sloe Gin. Conditions: Grey and drizzly. Temperature: Max 10 Min 9C.

9th August 2018

Plantlife reveals disturbing figures: We have lost 97% of our meadows since the 1930’s, one in five of our wild flowers are in danger of disappearing, and every county loses a wild flower every couple of years. They work hard to reverse this ‘great thinning’ and have created 90 new meadows in 3 years, and protected and restored 3,000 hectares of grassland in just one of their projects. Without our wild flowers and meadows, insects decline rapidly (75% recorded loss in a recent survey) and so do birds. Every little bit helps, from growing nectar rich plants, introducing wild flowers to your garden, encouraging settlements of all sizes to plant wild flower meadows. Joining plantlife.love-wildflowers.org.uk is also worth

Wildflower meadow

Wild Flower Meadow, Sheffield, Earl Marshall

Rich meadowland

Meadows support insects which support many birds

considering. Conditions: Showers and cool at last! Temperature: Max 16 Min 10 C.

22nd July 2018

Six-spot Burnet Moth

Burnet Moths – the Six-spot Burnet moths can be seen wherever their caterpillars’ food supply- trefoils and vetch- thrive ( see photo). Cyanides in these plants are passed from caterpillar to adult moth stage, deterring bird- predators. However, in Ireland last month, on the wonderful Burren limestone, we saw ( a first for me) these Transparent Burnet Moths on the gorgeous deep mauve Tufted Vetch. You won’t see these in England but the Six-spots ( see one of the photos) are pretty common and flying now. Conditions: continuing parched dry, hot weather. Temperature: Max 24 Min 16 C.

Transparent Burnet Moth on Tufted Vetch

Transparent Burnet Moth

7th July 2018

Round-headed Rampion or ‘Pride of Sussex’: at last, on one of its’ dwindling habitats high on the South Downs, I have seen the Sussex County Flower, once common on chalk grasslands and, in Shakespeare’s time, grown frequently in kitchen gardens, for its root, used as a pot-herb (a bit like parsnip), as it still is in parts of Europe. A deep, azure blue, the heads are not a single flower but made of a cluster of

Round-headed Rampion

Round-headed Rampion

Round-headed Rampion

flowers, curling inwards like claws. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton is its ‘species champion’. She is one of a network of MP’s who work to raise awareness of specific threatened wild-flower species. Conditions: Very hot and dry again. Temperature: Max 28 Min 13C.

4th July 2018

You can watch the wonderful flights of the Banded Demoiselle above slow-moving streams, south of the Humber, as they emerge from their two-year larval existence beneath the water, to their couple of weeks life as flying adults. The males, with dark

Banded Damselfly, mating

Banded Damselfly, mating

Male Banded Damselfly

Male Banded Demoiselles battling for territory

petrol blue bodies and bands across their wings, emerge and fight other males for territories, (beautiful to watch) before mating with the bronze-green coloured females. They do a dancing mating flight, before clasping the female behind her head and flying to a leaf with her ‘in tandem’ (see photos), where she will coil her body round to the ‘wheel’ position for mating. After a few minutes they separate and the female flies off to find a plant just below the water’s surface on which to lay. The male defends her until she has safely deposited their eggs. Conditions: Cloudier and a little cooler but still dry. Temperature: Max 22 Min 13C.

29th June 2018

The Marbled White Butterfly can appear in large colonies on chalk and limestone on flower-rich grasslands, which is why we saw these beautiful individuals on Old Winchester Hill in the South Downs National Park today. They are more closely related to the Browns than the Whites and love basking in early sun during July and August. Marbled Whites are the only black and white butterfly remotely

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

like this in the UK, which explains why I could identify it despite never having seen in before, except in books i poured over as a child! Conditions: A cooling breeze eased the very hot, unrelenting sun. Temperature: Max 25 Min 11 C.