Saturday, 23 July 2016

Determined not to melt

Yes, that was me - and pretty much the whole country - this week. Waaay too hot for us Brits on the whole, but despite this, I did force myself outdoors to enjoy the weather.

Last weekend I spent a bit of time in the garden - doing the Big Butterfly Count, some weeding and taking a moment to appreciate the wealth of invertebrate life buzzing away.

Although my privet hedge is completely out of control and in need of a good prune, the blooms this year are amazing, and subsequently are attracting the whole neighbourhood of bees, together with several butterfly species. So far this week, I've seen red admiral, large white, meadow brown, gatekeeper and small tortoiseshell. And the various flowers I planted a couple of years ago have now really taken hold, so I'll not have to do quite so much weeding soon once they spread out.

And the produce from the garden has started too - I have 4 raspberry canes, which are supposed to flower in the autumn, but one always starts way before the others - I'm now getting one a day, which I'm freezing in the hope of having enough to do something with at some point! My strawberry - whichI planted last year having purchased from the reduced to clear section late in the season - was soon overshadowed by the buddleia, so only one fruit from that this year. The plum tree has four plums on it, but the apple has been hit hard by aphids (and probably my pruning!) so didn't even blossom this year. And the garlic has also been disappointing - just three small bulbs. The tomatoes have suffered with the wet weather of late, but I do have two (yes, two!) on their way but still very green. I'm hoping they'll turn red before the blight gets them all.

Apart form admiring the fruits of my (minimal) labours, I did manage a few quick walks. We pottered off to Langley Wood NNR on the Sunday, and I've had a couple of yomps from the flat down to the river as well. Everything is in bloom and a-buzz with life - it's a wonderful time to be alive!


Friday, 15 July 2016

Beauty in miniature

I've just come back from a lovely walk with a friend on Canada Common near Wellow, on the edge of the New Forest.

This time, the vast plain (closely-cropped by the many ponies and donkeys) was a carpet of colour, although you had to look closely to see it. Some might say that it's overgrazed, and it would certainly appear to be when compared to some of the other commons in the Forest, but all the species are there, just in miniature!

Three species of heather were in flower - common, bell and cross-leaved heath, together with patches of bright yellow spearwort in wetter areas, the precise four-petalled forms of tormentil, and the blue of heath milkwort.

This contrasted greatly with last Sunday's attempt to work off the baked cheesecake! With the sun shining, we headed off to Old Sarum, with the butterflies flitting around in the warmth. It seems to be a good year for marbled whites - I don't usually see them around the hillfort, but they were making the most of the sheltered spots and copious nectar sources (ragwort and hawkbits in the main).

The weather over the weekend is supposed to be vaguely summer-like, so might be a good opportunity to head off to some sunny woodland rides for a bit of butterfly spotting. Don't forget the Big Butterfly Count starts this weekend, running until the 7th of August - more info on the Butterfly Conservation website.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Overlooked beauty

I forced myself out of the house, after work on Monday, for a quick yomp through the Stratford Reserve. It was a muggy, overcast evening, but the dull light seemed to intensify the colours of the vegetation.

In particular, I was struck by the variety of colours and forms of the grasses that had been left to grow especially long. Timothy grass - purplish 'cats' tails' of flower heads, drooping yellowish false oat grass, mingling with the stiff, dark green heads of rye grass.

The walk also runs along some arable fields, and it is clear that the farmer is in an environmental stewardship scheme, as their field corner has been left unsown - it's alive with insects including marbled white butterflies, and has a great variety of grasses itself, as well as wildflowers such as common knapweed.

I'm no expert on grasses and as an ecologist I struggle to retain the knowledge on identifying species, but this year I feel I've discovered how beautiful they can be, which has really helped in remembering certain species. Of course, it's difficult unless you're regularly outside surveying, which I am not these days, sadly.

However, saying that, I did manage to persuade some of my team to take me out on a day of site visits connected to protected species licensing for works. The first site was on an MoD rifle range with stunning views out across the Fleet to Chesil beach. Both are SSSIs, due in part to the unusual formation of Chesil beach - a stretch of shingle connecting the mainland with the Isle of Portland. Tt encloses the largest saline lagoon in Britain ('the Fleet'). Both are also internationally important for the breeding and overwintering birds they support, notably breeding little terns. For me, this pat of the world brings back childhood memories. my Granny lived in Upwey just down the road, and we would often pop to the Abbotsbury swannery on the shores of the Fleet.

This weekend the Wimbledon finals will likely prevent any outdoor excursions!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The canal conundrum and other stories

Last weekend I visited a friend in Essex, where, in between the showers, we managed a morning rowing on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. Coming from Wiltshire, with its history of canals, the contrast was stark.

In Devizes - where I used to work- the Kennet and Avon canal is heavily used by large narrow boats (sounds like an oxymoron!), but in Essex the only moving watercraft we encountered in 2 hours was the tourist boat doing trips up and down the canal, and another rowing boat. The banks were lined with a thick carpet of yellow and white water lilies, and the tall stems of branched bur-reed. The water was clear and fished by common terns flying overhead. A far cry from The K&A, where the constant traffic stirs up the sediments and prevents larger plants from settling. This results in a pea-soup, home only to rats, and a few waterfowl and water voles if they're lucky.

Before my visit to Essex, I managed a quick yomp up to Clarendon Park, as I mentioned in my previous post. It always surprises me that this extremely important historical site - with its royal hunting lodge patrolled by llamas - as well as having great views back to Salisbury, and beautiful ancient woodland, is completely devoid of visitors. It's right on the doorstep of so many people - but then that's fine with me, as it wouldn't be nearly so enjoyable if the hordes descended on it!

This weekend will probably involve a bit of gardening - my near-vertical slope of a garden has got out of hand again. But on the plus side, random plants are making their way in - some sort of vetch has established itself in the intentionally-wild corner (where the bramble is in need of taming), and cut-leaved cranesbill has seeded into one of the troughs next to a tomato plant. I right mish-mash of stuff! Lots of meadow brown butterflies are fluttering around, together with various bees, so the garden is finally becoming the wildlife haven I had hoped for.