Nature Notes - by Di Redfern

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Engineers at Work - May 2021

"Spending time with nature offers us all precious breathing space away from the stresses and strains of modern life. It enables us to experience joy and wonder, to slow down and to appreciate the wildlife that lives side-by-side with us."
Sir David Attenborough, Butterfly Conservation President

When Charles Darwin was asked to pick what he thought was the most important animal in the world he chose the earthworm He thought that it was the most significant animal on earth and called it nature's plough which means that maybe we, as gardeners and farmers, don't have to worry about digging the soil since it causes so much disturbance to the soil and life within it which is in itself a complete ecosystem.

image003.jpg - 54.1 KB About half the living things in the world live in the soil but until recently it has been rather disregarded, taken for granted and is often referred to as dirt or mud. it is its own world with all kinds of amazing and strange relationships between plant roots and algae bacteria, nematodes, weevils, protozoa, fungi and a host of others that we have not yet understood.

Soils are also a massive carbon store containing more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals.

Although oceans store most of the earth's carbon, soils contain approximately 75% of the carbon pool on land. Therefore, soils play a major role in maintaining a balanced global carbon cycle so it is very important to respect the soil rather than degrade it. In the next 2 nature notes I hope to show how we can use our soils in a better way using earthworms as our mentors.

Shearing time as early as possible
Flystrike can be s fatal condition in sheep. When it comes to blowfly strike the aim should really be to prevent it from happening in the first place. It affects all ages of sheep and is caused when blowflies in this case greenbottle, bluebottle and blackbottle flies lay their eggs on the fleece of a sheep. They will be attracted by the odour of decomposing matter such as wounds and soiled fleece especially around the rump and sometimes the shoulders... Each female lays upto 250 eggs that hatch after the very short time of 12 hours. The subsequent maggots burrow down through the wool and eat the flesh of the sheep. It is very horrifying to see. A sheep can virtually be eaten alive because the maggots are very hard to see within the thick winter fleece. I always hope that I can have my sheep sheared as early as possible before blowflies are about. This year they were sheared on April 4th. Very early. The weather was cold but they have a good shelter bedded down with straw and plenty of herbal hay to eat.

Not so long ago sheep had to be dipped. They had to be fully submersed twice within a minute so that any insect pests would be killed. It was a horrible and dangerous experience for both sheep and dippers because highly dangerous chemicals (to the environment & humans) were used. Now there are much better and easier ways of preventing the problem usually by spraying the fleece around the rump and shoulders and along the spine every 8 weeks or so depending on the brand used.

The spray is a bright colour so that it can be easily seen.

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All is well for another year.

It's a Blackthorn Winter
The blackthorn is the very first of our native shrubs to flower. Its star like white flowers blossom well before its leaves burst open when, in fact, the plant looks quite dead. Many confuse the blackthorn with hawthorn but hawthorn flowers do not come out until its leaves are fully open and is therefore much later to flower. When I was a child the farmers and country people in general referred to a 'blackthorn winter' for it was frequently bitterly cold when the blackthorn flowers came out usually after a false spring. William Cobbett writing over 150 years ago said 'It is a remarkable fact that there is always, that is every year of our lives a spell of cold and angry weather just at the time this hardy little tree is in bloom. The country people call it the Black Thorn winter and thus it has been called I dare say by all the inhabitants of this island from generation to generation for a thousand years' and so it is this year.

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The thorn itself is long piercing and unforgiving and has a reputation for puncturing tyres and the feet of sheep and cattle. It is always wise to wear robust gloves when cutting back blackthorn. It is likely to be an extremely effective but invasive hedge.

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Book Recommendation
My Garden World by Monty Don

This is simply a book to sit down, relax and enjoy because Monty describes everything that is going on in his garden month by month and these are mostly things that the reader can recognise and say 'oh yes I've seen that too.' Usually he adds some extra detail that is new to the gardener and of course has beautiful pictures including the wonderful Nigel and now Nell and Pattie.

A quote from Monty Don.
'All our gardens, streets and patches of sky are part of our own perception of the world. If, in our own modest back yards, we can help preserve and treasure our natural world, then we will make this planet a better place- not just for ourselves but for every living creature.'

The beginnings of the meadow
image015.jpg - 52.6 KB By the end of March the sheep have been banned from the meadow much to their disgust. Once they have stopped grazing meadow plants begin to make headway and the first hopeful signs of a meadow full of wildflowers and grasses begin to appear. One of the first that is obvious to recognise is this orchid.
image017.jpg - 32.1 KBWhat is this? Answer at the end if you need it
Its leaves look quite exotic bit it is only a common spotted orchid but even so there seem to be many in the smaller meadow. In 1985 when I arrived here I could only count 3 such orchids but last year there were too many to count so that is pleasing and looks to be repeated this year.

End Pieces
Swallows seem to be arriving late this year. I spotted a swallow on April 25th. all on its own so I assume that it was waiting for others to arrive after their massive journey of flight.

Zest for life
On September 13th.2020 this willow was pollarded. It grows along footpath 51 which leads to and from the A368 and Sandmead Road. It is a good route for Sandford students to take to and from Churchill Academy.

By April 22nd.2021 the willow had already burst back into new life.

image019.jpg - 68.3 KB image021.jpg - 61.3 KB Answer. It is the inside of a tulip another single flower that is advertising its pollen and nectar to insects.

Food for insects - April 2021

Sometimes in February, certainly this year, and definitely in March, impregnated queen bumblebees emerge from their winter solitude in order to find food and water. For the queen bumble bee, this is a very vulnerable time. Pollen and nectar sources are scarce, and she'll need to find both very quickly in order to survive. The nectar gives her energy whilst the pollen helps her to replace vital body fats. It also provides protein to help her ovaries mature, and is needed later to feed her brood.

It is so easy for gardeners to provide the ideal source of food - spring bulbs. The pictures below show how accessible food is to reach in these predominately single flowered plants. They have the added advantage of giving us such pleasure too on cold windy or wet days and they are perennial and are often prepared to spread all over the garden without any human intervention.

image001.jpg - 48.5 KB image003.jpg - 44.1 KB image005.jpg - 38.6 KB Crocuses. Pollen is easily seen so the plant can be pollinated and used as food for the bees too. There are even clear guide lines leading to the nectar source at the base of the petals.

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Hellebores & primroses both single flowered with clearly visible pollen & conspicuous guide lines.

image011.jpg - 49.8 KBAconite
image013.jpg - 49.3 KBAnemone blanda
image015.jpg - 35.4 KBWood anemone
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image019.jpg - 28.6 KBSite of a bumble bee nest - highlighted by the pink circle, a bumble bee entering the nest. (not my photo)

During this time winter flowering shrubs and plants, such as mahonia, willows, rosemary, winter heathers, blackthorn, berberis provide a vital life line for bumble bees.

Once the queen bumble bee has recovered, her next task is to find a suitable place to nest such as an abandoned rodent hole, tussocky grass or even a bird's nesting box.

Usually once the nest site has been located, the queen bumble bee will build a little wax cup inside it, which she will fill with nectar to sustain her whilst she incubates her eggs. She'll also create a further wax cell, in which she will deposit a mound of pollen, and then lay her eggs on top of it. She incubates the eggs by lying on top of them and by vibrating her flight muscles to generate heat up 30 ℃!

After about 4 days, the eggs hatch into larvae (these look a little like maggots). The larvae continue to feed and develop, and will go through a number of stages in development (shedding their skin 3 times) until after about 14 days, they produce silken cocoons and pupate. Within the pupae, the larvae shed their skin once more, and undergo metamorphosis. After about 14 days, the little grub-like larvae are transformed into young bumble bees, which bite their way out of their cocoons.

The first bees to emerge from these cocoons are young female worker bees.

Meanwhile, the queen has already laid more eggs that are also in development.

The newly emerged workers will be a great help to the queen in rearing the rest of the brood. Within a day or two, these workers will set about helping the queen, initially with nest duties, but some will then go out to forage for pollen and nectar for rearing the next brood. A colony of bumble bees could have between 50 - 500 workers, but will commonly consist of around 120 to 200.

At some point, the queen will stop producing workers, and will switch to rearing males and young queens. Once the males have emerged, they will soon leave the nest in search of a mate.

The young queens may remain in the nest for a while, laying down fat reserves in preparation for the winter hibernation. In the case of bumble bees, the whole colony will die, except the new queens. The new queens leave the nest, mate, then hibernate, and re-emerge the following year to establish new colonies and so the next generation of bumble bees begins.

Top Ten
The top 10 garden pests and diseases for 2020 have been published by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in their 25th annual pest and disease ranking report.

In order to conduct the research, the gardening charity looked into the top pest complaints made throughout the country last year. At the top of the list came slugs and snails back to the top after being taken over by the box tree caterpillar for 4 years.

  1. Slugs and snails
  2. Vine weevil
  3. Box tree caterpillar
  4. Ants
  5. Woolly aphid
  6. Glasshouse red spider mite
  7. Fuchsia gall mite
  8. Glasshouse thrips
  9. Rosy apple aphid
  10. Capsid bug and glasshouse mealybug.
Honey fungus and pear rust were named the top diseases by the RHS, closely followed by leaf spot and canker of prunus.

But are they really pests?

At a time when insects are in serious decline in the UK, some environmentalists and gardeners hopefully believe that we should welcome all life and promote rich biodiversity everywhere. Leading climate crisis campaigner Chris Packham describes this as being "a bit more tolerant."

"If you build a garden space that's attractive not only to you but to other species, they will come. If you build it, they will come - and when they do come, you need them," Chris says "You might not think that you need wasps and pigeons and mice but if they're there, they're doing a job, and without all of those jobs being done, your community won't be sustainable and as complete as possible. So never dial 'P' for Pest control if a wasp turns up in the corner of your shed, just let them go about their business. Dial 'T' for Tolerance instead." Taken from his book 'Back to Nature' recommended last month.

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Who Did This?
I have only just noticed these holes in a gate post that I pass every day. It looks as if it is a work in progress with one perfectly round hole and others being worked on. I can only assume this is the work of a woodpecker but I am surprised that it would work so near the ground and where people are moving to and fro frequently. It must have spotted easy pickings in the rotting post. Neither have I either heard or seen it. Has anyone got other ideas? Could it be an insect?

Wild Daffodils
image026.jpg - 40 KBThe 'native' daffodil. Photo taken by Sue Hutton
There seems to be some debate about whether we have a native daffodil in the UK. I have been looking in various wildflower books and some recognise a wild native daffodil and others do not. For example The Concise British Flora in Colour by W. Keble Martin does not include a picture of a daffodil at all whereas Majorie Blamey, Richard Fitter and Alistair Fitter in Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland do In fact they list 4 types the most well known one of which maybe the Tenby daffodil (Narcissus psuedonarcissus that has naturalised in Wales but can be bought from nurseries and on line. Wild daffodils tend to be daintier and more miniature than the common garden daffodil. Locally wild growing daffodils have colloquial names such as Lent lily, averill, bell rose, bulrose, chalice flower, common daffodil, daffy-down dilly, eggs and bacon, Lent cock, Lent rose, trumpet narcissus and yellow crowbell.

Book recommendation
Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland by Marjorie Blamey, Richard Fitter and Alastair Fitter.

This is a real 'go to' book for identifying wildflowers. It is now in its second edition. It was written by 3 old friends who had each spent a lifetime of love and the study of wildflowers. The pictures are painted and illustrated in colour showing each plant's flowers and other notable features such as fruits, buds and leaves. Even better the flowers are usually life-size. There are maps in the left margin to show the distribution of each plant.

End Piece
By now wild garlic is coming into abundant leaf and in the woods the pungent smell is everywhere especially as you knock against the leaves. Another year has gone by! Wild garlic pesto is a delicious alternative to the more usual basil pesto. The same ingredients can be used - pine nuts, parmesan cheese (or whatever you have), olive oil or walnut oil and the garlic. It is an easy recipe and the pesto freezes well in small batches for use as a pasta sauce on cold winter days.

By the time you read this another joyful sign of spring may have happened. Members of the swallow family may be back with us for the summer.

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Random Observations - March 2021

This little robin has been singing earnestly and early every morning for over a month now. I expect that he is singing for a mate or setting up or defending is territory for the spring to come. Yet to me he is a joyful start to the lockdown day. In the evening the robin, probably not the same one, is the last to cease singing but this time, to the human, it sounds languid and even melancholic. It is the end of the daylight.

Pat Jones has kindly written about her efforts to attract wildlife to her garden at all times of the year and this is very much a work in progress as she thinks of more ideas.

My Garden by Pat Jones
My garden isn't very big at 60 foot by 45 feet but it is somewhere I really enjoy. In the winter there are areas that the winter sun doesn't reach. It has a lawned area with trees, shrubs, perennials & pots which gives me lots of different gardening jobs through the year. There is also a small summer house and gravelled area where my young grandchildren play, and a greenhouse. The garden is not a "neat & weed free "garden, but has plants and areas to attract insects and birds.

My favourite season is spring and usually the first flowers to appear are snowdrops (galanthus) which cheer up the dull days with the promise of more things to come!
You can plant snowdrops as bulbs in the autumn or better still as plants "in the green". To do this divide clumps after flowering and replant at the same depth as when in flower.

As well as snowdrops I have iris and honeysuckle "fragrantissima" with scented flowers in January. I always bring some indoors to put on my kitchen windowsill to enjoy!

In late winter I try to lift some perennials to divide and make more plants for elsewhere in the garden. Hellebores are beginning to pop through the ground and there has been winter Jasmine (yingchun-Chinese, and means "the flower that welcomes spring").
One of the plants I have in a shadier spot is Heucheras. They are in pots; however something has been eating the leaves/roots under the soil. Possibly vine weevil? This pot needs to be emptied and disposed of to avoid further problems.

"Seeds for free"! Wherever possible it's a good idea to save seed. This is very easy and an opportunity to increase the plants in your garden for free. I do this in late summer to late autumn. Some of these are poppies, sweet peas, nicotiana, zinnia and marigold.
Plants for attracting wildlife are to increase biodiversity and to provide shelter and food.

Some of the plants in my garden are salvia, single dahlias, lavender, hardy geraniums, potentilla. buddlia, teasies, verbena, wallflower and forget-me-not which start to take over so I divide them and give to friends, to do the same in their garden!
All these attract small insects, bees, butterflies, dragonflies and more.

Last year I was lucky enough to have robin nest in an open bag of bark. We watched as the 3 baby robins were fed until "mum" and 2 babies fled the nest. Sadly one died.

Also last year I decide to plant a fruit tree and chose a self pollinating pear to join the apple tree which was planted for the Millennium in 2000. The pear tree will now probably be a reminder of the lockdown and COVID 19!

A log pile is a good way of attracting insects. I have a log pile in partial shade where there are a few ferns and primroses; this isn't a large area but it is surprising what can be done!

Looking forward to a good gardening year.

image003.jpg - 56.3 KB I expect that whilst most people have never seen a live mole they would have no difficulty in recognising this rather beautiful and distinctive creature. Perhaps it is because as children we came across Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, (see book review) Moles are very rarely seen as they spend most of their lives underground. I have only ever seen one and that was caught by my cat, Zoe, when it came up to the surface. Unfortunately I was unable to rescue it. They are stocky animals, with a wedge-shaped body and short tail. They use their spade-like paws to dig tunnels and hunt for their favourite meal of earthworms.

I started to think of moles when walking along the verge from Greenhill Lane towards the ski slope turning on the A368. Suddenly one day over 50 molehills had appeared. Apparently a mole can dig up to 15 feet each hour using its spade-like forepaws to effectively breaststroke its way through the soil. Every now and again, loose soil is pushed up to the surface, resulting in what we see as a mole hill. These molehills appeared in early February and that is the start of the breeding period for moles so one mole may have been trying to access a mate in a new area or was simply endeavouring to keep the tunnel in good repair. My mother used to collect the soil from molehills to use on the garden since she said it was so fine and crumbly and no doubt fertile.

Moles are antisocial, solitary animals living alone except to breed. No more than three to five moles live on each acre but two to three is more common though it looks far more especially if he/she is living beneath a prized lawn. Surface tunnels connect with deeper runways that are located 3 to 12 inches below the surface, but may be as deep as 40 inches. Deep runways are main passageways that are used daily as the mole travels to and from surface tunnels and its nest. Moles are just occasionally seen above ground. They come to the surface to collect nesting material and to look for food when the soil is dry. That is why my cat saw the mole and young moles come to the surface to look for new homes when they leave their mother's burrow.

Are moles useful to gardeners and farmers? Most definitely YES. They are the unsung and unseen heroes of the animal world and yet there are many web sites explaining in great detail how to get rid of (kill) moles.

By digging up the earth, moles help make the soil healthier by aerating it. This allows more types of plants to grow, which in turn feed more insects. Not only this, their tunnels improve soil drainage, which helps stop flooding and huge puddles forming on the ground. They also like to eat underground grubs that would usually feed off crops, so moles can help to control unwanted invertebrates.

It seems that, like us, birds have their particular favourite food. For example there are 2 goldfinch feeders in the garden containing niger seed but if both are available most goldfinches go to teasels first. It's surprising that the teasel heads still contain seeds and they must be very sharp and prickly to access. Niger seeds are not native as are the teasel seeds. They come from an African yellow daisy so why not grow teasels in the garden for free instead of importing seeds (food miles) from other countries.

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Stop Start Spring
On January 30th. until February 2nd.two birds started to behave as if spring was here, first a greater spotted woodpecker began drumming on telegraph poles or tall trees all around the garden. I assume he was either staking out his territory and/or trying to attract a mate. Secondly a thrush started singing early in the morning for over an hour. He usually used the same tall larch tree at the foot of the garden. Then both stopped presumably anticipating the very cold weather but today February 21st. they have started again but without any great conviction yet.

Mallard Visitors
Every year since 2014 I have recorded when 2 mallard ducks arrive on the goose pond. This morning, February 20th. they had arrived and were having a swim and tidy up. Now they will visit daily both morning and evening. As they get used to me they will eat the grain put out for them but today they hastily flew away. I have several questions to ask. Are they the same 2 ducks every year? If so they must be nearly 10 years old now and have survived predation both of them or does one bring a new mate? How do they know their way here? Maybe they are the progeny of the original ducks? Lastly how do they know the time to come? I expect that it is in readiness to breed. But they must 'feel' that it is spring coming. These are the dates that they have arrived 2014 February 14th. 2015 February 22nd.:2016 February 12th.: 2017 February 19th.: 2018 February 19th.: 2019 February 18th.:2020 February 14th.: 2021 February 20th. There is only a difference of 8 days in their arrival date. Perhaps that is linked to weather conditions. They always breed (see below) but I don't know where but eventually the youngsters are brought by the female to the pond in an ordered way for a ducking and diving session.

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image011.jpg - 59.9 KBBy late summer they will be gone not to be seen again until the spring.

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Book Recommendation
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and evocatively illustrated by Ernest Shepard.

This story is for children and adults alike. It tells the adventures of humanised Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad. When Mole goes boating with the Water Rat instead of spring-cleaning, he discovers a new world. As well as the river and the Wild Wood, there is Toad's craze for fast travel which leads him and his friends on a whirl of trains, barges, gipsy caravans and motor cars. To me it has been a comforting and most enjoyable read as an antidote to lockdown. Kenneth Grahame wrote his book in 1908 so setting his story in a beguiling Edwardian countryside -one in which many of us might like to live today? However there is no mention of willows in the story!

End Piece
Now is the time to plant bulbs 'In the green' ready for next spring. These might include snowdrops, aconites, and English bluebells. Cyclamen corms are often included too though they are not bulbs. These are advertised very reasonably priced in garden magazines and are more reliable than simply planting bulbs. If you have plenty of your own bulbs they can easily be split now and planted wherever. Such bulbs are an early food source for newly emerging insects.

image015.jpg - 26.6 KBSnowdrops 'in the green' Flowers still on but dying
image017.jpg - 28.1 KBMake a hole and insert 3 / 4 bulbs Wait a year!

2. Yesterday, (February 20th. ) I saw a bumblebee foraging among the hellebores and other bulbs and the next day many solitary bees.

Ideas for Rewilding - February 2021

Rewilding is about letting nature do its thing and take care of itself, but it's also about us the people who are committed to this.

The conservation charity, Rewilding Britain (, is leading a campaign to rewild the UK, with the aim of turning an area equivalent to the size of Greater Manchester over to nature within three years. This is about 300,000 acres. The aim is to increase biodiversity and tackle climate change.

The charity's new Rewilding Network will bring together farmers, landowners and community groups, who are rewilding or considering doing so, and provide them with expert advice and a forum to share information and ideas to help reverse the alarming collapse in the UK's wildlife which has left 56% of species in decline plus 15% threatened with extinction.

Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain's chief executive, said. "Our Rewilding Network will help propel rewilding to a whole new level, so we can all begin to enjoy a Britain rich in wildlife again, with healthy living systems soaking up millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, and our lives enriched by wild nature and strong resilient communities, regenerative farms and nature-friendly businesses."

Rewilding Britain reports receiving unprecedented numbers of requests for rewilding advice in recent years. Over the last 12 months alone, it claims to have provided assistance to 50 landowners, with 200,000 acres of land between them, as well thousands of small-scale farmers, gardeners and local groups.

While more people want to get involved in rewilding, many don't know how to get started. Billing itself as a "go-to hub" for rewilding advice, the Rewilding Network will advise people about making space for nature and help them build new enterprises around rewilding.

The charity has launched a crowd funding campaign to raise £25,000 to cover start-up costs, including the creation of an online resource centre offering individual support, videos and webinars. Much of the network's information will be free to access.

image001.jpg - 58.1 KBNatural generation in the meadow field. There are 2 oaks, 2 hazels, 1 blackthorn & 1 field maple. Not a good photo. It would have been better to include a spring picture I know but needs must
Local Rewilding
This can be on any scale just use your imagination. For example Rewilding Britain hopes that natural regeneration should be the made the default approach to woodland creation rather than our current concentration of planting trees even in unsuitable places. Natural regeneration means that the right tree grows in the right place creating a natural ecosystem with its own resilience and ability to adapt to climate change.

I would be pleased to see these young saplings growing in the corner of the field and then my reaction would be to dig them up and plant them somewhere else that I thought preferable. Rewilding tells me to leave them there. After all that is where they chose to grow.

For the last 3 months I have been asking people to contribute pieces of writing about how they have made changes in their gardens to encourage wildlife and /or to reduce their carbon footprint. This month Richard Parish sent this inspiring piece. His garden is in Somerville Road, Sandford.

My Front Garden
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder! Whilst many see a front lawn with straight parallel lines as a thing of wonder and order, I see it as a green desert, an insult to the diversity of nature with its uniform grass often sprayed with herbicides and fertilisers. To further insult the planet it needs to be cut every 2 weeks at least. I am not sure that there are many more boring and energy wasting activities than mowing a lawn using electricity or petrol. I wonder what the fossil fuel energy use is in this country.

Back to the lack of diversity. One type of grass with so called weeds banished, and even the wondrous softness of a moss carpet is ruthlessly eradicated.

So my front garden. It started with my son giving me some 60mm sawn planks with the bark still on to make a couple of raised herb beds. One has done particularly well with rosemary, sage, thyme varieties, oregano, fennel and artichoke. I have not taken down the imposing fennel stalks as they may be providing shelter for the most forgotten species of our environmental movements (the insects). The other bed was given over to mints and hyssop with less success. However lemon verbena has survived a couple of winters and the blue flowers of chicory were always a delight to me as I walked by.

Gradually the rest of the front garden has followed in rewilding. I am sure critics would be more forgiving if I had designed the whole thing! However that seems to defeat the purpose! I actually believe that nature probably has a plan, but it is too complex to unravel, so I tend to plant random plants in a random way. Some seem to thrive (Salvia 'hot lips 'and a couple of others whose names I forget) whilst others struggle and then give up. I have planted a variety of bulbs and we will see what comes up. Gradually the plants that like the environment will thrive and others wither - that is the point!

Overall I think the chaotic jumble of plants is exciting, hopefully it will be attractive to our little friends who need as much help as possible. Not just the bees, but all of them. It will not win prizes at the Chelsea Flower Show, but hopefully the beetles hoverflies, etc. will give it a buzz of approval.

So my front garden now provides me with herbs for pizza bases, pasta, loaves, tea, and much more including the pleasure of seeing new growth and a busy bumble bee. Then there is pleasure in not getting annoyed by the futility of having to mow it (do men who love it, do it to get away from their partners?).

And to paraphrase Martin Luther King 'I have a dream .' that all front gardens in my street were rewilded providing a wildlife corridor with hedgehogs and clouds of butterflies. I have noticed a couple of neighbours leaving bits of their lawns uncut - so just maybe.

Book Recommendation
image005.jpg - 12.6 KB image003.jpg - 9.2 KB There are 2 books this month both by the same author and artist with the same theme theme but with a very different format.

The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris

A beautiful hand-illustrated large format spell book which celebrates the magic and wonder of the natural world. This book would appeal to readers of all ages.

Andrew Motion, ( once time poet laureate) Michael Morpurgo and Robert Macfarlane, warn that the decision to cut around 50 words connected with nature and the countryside from The Oxford Junior Dictionary is "shocking and poorly considered" in the light of the decline in outdoor play for today's children. They are calling on publisher Oxford University Press to reverse its decision and, if necessary, to bring forward publication of a new edition of the dictionary to do so.

Almond, blackberry and crocus first made way for analogue, block graph and celebrity in the Oxford Junior Dictionary in 2007. The current 2012 edition maintained the changes, and instead of catkin, cauliflower, chestnut and clover, today's edition of the dictionary, which is aimed at seven-year-olds starting Key Stage Two, features cut and paste, broadband and analogue. Other words omitted include herring, kingfisher, lark, acorn, lobster, magpie, newt and otter.

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris.

This book is much easier for children to handle and possibly take out with them on nature walks so that they can identify common birds and mammals.

Bad news for bees
The EU agreed a ban on all outdoor uses of the neonicotinoid insecticides on 27 April 2018, in order to protect bees and other insects.

On Monday January 11th. 2021 the Government reversed this ban on bee-killing neonicotinoids for sugar beet crops.

The Government has bowed to pressure from the National Farmers Union and agreed to authorise the use of the highly damaging neonicotinoid thiamethoxam for the treatment of sugar beet seed in 2021. The Wildlife Trusts, including the Somerset Wildlife Trust, strongly oppose this decision and have written a letter to the Prime Minister and to all MPs including our local MP. John Penrose. They are asking for concerned people to say No to Neonics by signing these letters and sending them by e-mail to both people. The web site is

Last night I watched and listened on line to a panel of 4 experts gathered together by the Trusts to discuss this decision. A farmer who grows sugar beet was included.

What I didn't realise was that beet seeds are coated in the neonicotoid. It is a systemic product and so from the seed it can reach all parts of the plant. It is highly toxic to all pollinating insects. But the plant only uses 5% of the chemical and the other 95% goes into the soil and eventually into water courses so affecting entire ecosystems. The chemical is also very toxic to all other insects that live in the soil and water.

Many seeds are routinely coated with pesticides and fungicides or a combination of both though gardeners may be unaware of this. The reason for such treatment is to provide protection against many seed and soil borne plant pathogens that may harm the crop during growth and /or storage. A way round this problem is to garden entirely organically as mentioned many times before! The equivalent society to the RHS for organic gardening is Garden Organic which is based at Ryton near Coventry. They produce a very attractive seed, plant and equipment catalogue called The Organic Gardening Catalogue. Of course there are others too ( They work with Dobies and in addition use entirely peat free compost for all their plants.

End Piece
From the end of December I started searching for the first snowdrops piercing their way through the grass. It is so exciting to see the delicate lance like leaves braving all weathers as they push their way into life onto the surface. The first signs of spring surely and hope for the future time of growing.
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image011.jpg - 38.4 KBJust a beautiful piece of construction highlighted by frost
Gradually it is possible to see the little white buds nestled between the leaves. They are, I find, called noses and then suddenly the whole flower is there, anywhere as gradually they multiply and spread into the most surprising and very welcome places.

What's New, Different or Familiar - January 2021

New to my bird table this year is a pair of pheasants that pick up the seeds dropped by birds that use the feeders. Both are extremely shy birds and are quick to detect and react to any movement that they see as a potential danger.

image003.jpg - 43.7 KBFemale
image001.jpg - 44.2 KBFlamboyant male
It's not hard to spot the male but it took me a long time to see the female bird. She is extremely shy and lurks along the hedge bottom. Her camouflage blends in beautifully with the foot of the hedge. As soon as she senses any possible danger she slowly makes her way to a hiding place. She was hard to photograph even from an upstairs window because she saw the window opening even though, to me, it was soundless.

During the year 29 bird species have frequented the bird table all of them common - robin, blackbird, thrush, green woodpecker, greater spotted woodpecker, long tailed tit, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, wren, pheasant, raven, crow, jackdaw, magpie, goldfinch, chaffinch, house sparrow, dunnock, herring gull, collared dove, wood pigeon, pied wagtail, gold crest, great black- backed gull and jay. Sadly I have not seen a greenfinch for 2 years in my garden but my friend has them at Compton Bishop.

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What has happened to the greenfinch population?
From 2005 the UK population of greenfinches was hit by a deadly disease, trichomonosis, which is a parasite induced disease that was until then only found in pigeons and doves. The 2019 BTO Breeding Bird Survey estimated a 64% decline in greenfinches in the last 23 years. Greenfinches are the hardest hit but other members of the finch family particularly chaffinches are also susceptible.

Greenfinches are seed eating birds that used to frequent farmland but with changes in farming practices they have quickly taken to gardens and to bird feeding stations. They are also very gregarious so enabling the disease to spread more easily. Therefore bird feeding stations are thought to be a part of the problem. The disease affects the throat and gullet causing infected birds to regurgitate food. The pathogen can then be passed on to other birds at the same drinker or feeder.

Bird lovers can take steps to minimise the spread of disease so playing a key role in helping the greenfinch population to recover.

Bird feeding good hygiene:
The peak disease time is from June to September.

  • Dispose of any food that has become wet or mouldy.
  • Don't allow excess food to accumulate at the foot of the feeder but clear it away or only put out as much food as can be eaten in one day.
  • Move birdfeeders around the garden to reduce the risk of disease build- up in one place.
  • Buy well designed feeders that can be taken apart for cleaning.
  • Regularly dismantle and clean out seed and fat ball feeders. Scrub these and the bird table itself with a wildlife safe disinfectant and allow it to fully dry before refilling.
  • Regularly (ideally daily!) scrub out and refill bird baths with fresh water.
  • Should you notice signs of sick birds stop feeding for at least 2 - 4 weeks and empty bird baths.
  • Be especially careful in the peak disease time from June to September.

Information partly taken from the RHS The Garden magazine for December 2030

Tree preservation Orders (TPOs)
A tree preservation order is a part of town and country planning in the United Kingdom. A TPO is made by a local planning authority to protect specific trees or a particular area, group or woodland from deliberate damage and destruction if those trees are important for the amenity of the area.

There are 64 TPOs in Sandford and last year I checked to see how many are still in place. Most are. A list of these trees is kept in the parish office at the Community Centre in Winscombe. I spoke to almost all of the owners of these trees and many were extremely proud of their trees and pleased to keep them in their gardens. In the following months other TPO trees will be highlighted.

image009.jpg - 59.8 KB image007.jpg - 56.9 KB Here is a majestic beech at All Saints Church in Sandford. It is at the edge of the churchyard and easily visible from the road leading from the church to Winscombe. The TPO was awarded in February 1992. During the spring the area around the beech is covered in primroses and in the autumn with masses of fallen copper leaves. It is very inspiring especially in the winter to stand under the tree and simply look up and see the skeletal shapes made by the branches over many years. It is very grounding at this time of anxiety and loneliness for many just to wonder at the splendour of the tree and the many traumas it has been through but it is still standing proud.

The underground root system supporting the whole tree looks just as impressive and the copper leaves.

Already certain trees are producing new forms of growth ready for the spring.

Catkins are already in their early stages of growth but will not start to produce pollen until next year's spring. The ones included here are alder, hazel, hornbeam and silver birch. There may be others so please let me know.

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Book Recommendation
Rewild your Garden by Frances Tophill.

image019.jpg - 22.1 KB In 2000, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell let nature take its course on their 3,500-acre estate in West Sussex. Twenty years on, with their land now teeming with life including rare species, such as purple emperor butterflies and turtle doves, they have kick-started a new appreciation for how wildlife, ecosystems and biodiversity can be not just conserved but restored.

This approach might work well on a large scale but what can the average gardener, who still wants to look out on to something aesthetically pleasing, hope to achieve? This is the question tackled by writer and Gardeners' World presenter Frances Tophill. In this book she encourages us to consider the garden ecosystem both as a whole and as part of the wider landscape all around us. Plants for pollinators and bee hotels are all very well, but they are only part of the solution. The woodlouse, the ant and the earwig are all just as essential - as are bacteria in the soil and fungi and mosses in the ground layer above.

The book begins with a brief assessment of the different levels of the garden ecosystem, from the soil to the canopy layer with suggestions for three different approaches for each, varying from the highly controlled to the almost total non-intervention that characterises true rewilding. She then goes on to consider the various components of a typical garden, from ponds and lawns to kitchen gardens and flower beds and for each advising on ways to attract as much wildlife as possible.

Combined with beautiful illustrations by Jo Parry, this is such an encouraging book that aims to help you find the level of rewilding that is right for you, while acknowledging that even the smallest of steps can make a difference. Good reading for the dark pandemic nights whilst we hopefully await the spring and renewed and nature inspired efforts in the garden. It's not long to go to the shortest day, the winter solstice on December 21st.

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End Pieces
Pollination by post. Brilliant Bugs is a set of stamps issued in October to highlight important pollinators that are often overlooked. There are 6 stamps chosen with help from The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Oxfordshire and created by artist Richard Lewington.

Stamps are available individually from Post Offices or in a presentation pack that can be ordered online.

2. I heard first and then saw the first fieldfares and redwings searching for apples on December 6th. this year.

3. All the berries on the holly pictures taken last month were eaten within a week mainly by blackbirds.

Ending the Year - December 2020

None of us can be sure at the moment what Christmas will be like this year, whether or not we will be able to spend time with our families. However there are 2 plants and one bird that we traditionally associate with Christmas and the end of the year. They are quite likely to feature in decorations, carols and most definitely on Christmas cards. They are mistletoe, holly and robins.

image001.jpg - 33.2 KBTip: our robin prefers the meal worms to be soaked before eating maybe all robins do!
This piece about robins is a kind contribution to Nature Notes from George and Glenys O'Court.

It is always good to see robins in our gardens, especially at this time of year when the days shorten and the garden prepares for winter. Fiercely territorial towards other robins, they will defend their "patch" quite aggressively. But they are friendly and companionable towards humans, particularly when work is in progress in the garden, being ready to take advantage of any worms or grubs unearthed.

The one in this photograph visits the garden several times a day for a feed of mealworms. He can be alerted by a certain whistle, which he has learned, but if he is kept waiting he will flutter outside the patio doors to attract attention!

These trees are noticeable from many parts of Sandford. They are, in fact, growing along Sandmead Lane and are festooned with mistletoe year after year.

Mistletoe loves to grow on broadleaf trees and provides an important habitat for woodland wildlife. Its leathery green leaves offer welcome colour among bare winter branches when much else is dormant. It grows on a range of trees including poplar (especially in Sandford) willow, sycamore and apple. It seldom grows on oak but I don't know why. It is an evergreen plant with distinctive forked branches and pairs of symmetrical evergreen leaves. In winter it produces clusters of pearlescent white berries which are favourites with hungry birds such as thrushes and visiting blackcaps.

image003.jpg - 54.8 KB Blackcaps and thrushes love mistletoe berries. Blackcaps visit the UK for the winter from Germany and Austria. After eating the flesh, they wipe off the sticky seeds on the branches of trees. Some of these germinate and that is how mistletoe spreads. You can try it for yourself but don't eat the berry. It is poisonous to humans. Just extract the seed from the flesh by hand and then try to attach the seed into maybe a crevice on a branch.

Unlike many plants which are both male and female, mistletoe is in a group of plants that are dioecious. This means that plants are either male or female. It is only the female plants that have the white berries. I wonder how this actually works botanically? How does the mistletoe know that it is to be female like all the other bunches on that particular tree?

Despite being evergreen mistletoe is semi parasitic technically 'hemiparasitic', which means that it takes some of its nutrients and water from the plant that it is growing on which is called the host but its green leaves also photosynthesise. If there are a lot of mistletoe plants on a relatively small tree, the tree may be affected by the increasing risk of wind-blow and water stress, and so reducing the number of fruits, for example on apple trees. If this is the case, the mistletoe can be managed so that both plants are kept healthy.

There are a few creatures that are found only on mistletoe such as the mistletoe marble moth (Celypha woodiana) and a bug (Anthocoris visci).

The tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits.

image005.jpg - 57.6 KB A mature holly tree growing along the roadside at Churchill Green. There are an unusual number of trees and also holly hedges that are occasionally cut all along the road
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image007.jpg - 2.9 KBTortrix caterpillar and moth
Mature trees can grow up to 15m and live for 300 years. The bark is smooth and thin with lots of small, brown 'warts', and the stems are dark brown. Its distinguishing features are the bright red berries and shiny, glossy, leathery leaves that usually have spiny prickles at the edges. The older the tree gets the smoother the leaves are likely to become.

Holly is another native and evergreen tree that also is either male or female. Only the female produces the beautiful berries.

The mistle thrush is known for vigorously guarding the berries of holly in winter to prevent other birds from eating them. I have noticed that blackbirds do the same with cotoneaster.

From a wildlife point of view holly provides dense cover and good nesting opportunities for birds, whilst its deep, dry leaf litter may be used by hedgehogs and small mammals for hibernation. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly, along with those of various moths, including the holly tortrix. The berries are a vital source of food for birds in winter, and small mammals, such as wood mice and dormice.

Holly branches have long been used to decorate homes in winter. The tree was seen as a fertility symbol and a charm against witches, goblins and the devil. It was thought to be unlucky to cut down a holly tree.

Farming for food, profit and wildlife. Hope Farm
image012.jpg - 30 KBThe flower rich hedgerow and field margin encouraging birds, insects and invertebrates The bird population has increased by200%
Much of the UK's wildlife depends on farmland. I enjoy listening to Farming Today daily (except Sundays) on Radio 4 but it is on early at 5.45am. Increasingly there is much more emphasis on interviewing farmers who are willing to find and share practical wildlife-friendly farming techniques but still with profit and efficiency in mind. Often the interviewees are younger people with innovative ideas and this is even more noticeable on the programme On Your Farm Sundays at 6.30am.Hopefully one day they might be broadcast at times when more people are likely to listen.

An example is Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire bought by the RSPB 20 years ago. Since then they have worked with farmers, scientists and policymakers to show how nature and farming can work hand-in-hand - providing a home for wildlife, as well as a steady profit.

The ethos is to demonstrate research and encourage wildlife-friendly farming. It is showing how it's possible to run a successful farming business that produces food, makes a profit, and is valuable for wildlife as well. At Hope Farm, new farming techniques are being developed that can be shared and built upon.

Book Recommendation
image014.jpg - 15 KB Back to Nature by Chris Packham & Megan McCunnin

I have not finished this book yet but it is typically hard hitting piece of writing as would be expected from Chris Packham. His step daughter, Megan, who is a biologist, introduces the most current new developments in science and her contributions are within boxes keeping them quite separate from the basic text. The author says ' We need to change-that most difficult of human challenges - and because some of that change needs to happen very, very quickly we will meet reluctance and outright resistance. We are going to make a last change for nature because we have no other choice.'

Here is a reminder of all the books recommended in 2020
January 2020The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Eohlleben
February 2020 Notes from Walnut Tree Barn by Roger Deakin and The Robin A Biography by Stephen Moss
March 2020 Month by Month Organic Gardening by Lawrence Hills
April 2020 The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben
May 2020 Greenery. Journeys in Springtime by Tim Dee
June 2020 Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler – How Birds Got Their Names by Stephen Moss
July 2020 Mushrooms by PeterMarran
August 2020 Woodland Flowers Colourful Past, Uncertain Future by Keith Kirby
September 2020 The Accidental Countryside by Stephen Moss
October 2030 Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
November 2020 RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife by Peter Holden & Geoffrey Abott.
 Garden Wildlife by Michael Chinery
 My First Book of Garden Wildlife by RSPB Michael Unwin

End of Year Quiz. Pollinators for your garden
There are 10 major insect pollinators in our gardens that have been included here. There are really many thousands of pollinators throughout the world. The generic name is fine for the quiz but once again there are many different species of each type and I have included those as well where possible.

Answers at the end of the notes.

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End Piece
John Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath

1.I have been rereading Grapes of Wrath and came across this wonderful and precise description of seed dispersal.

'The concrete highway was edged with a mat of tangled broken, dry grass, and the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog's coat, and foxtails to tangle in a horse's fetlocks, and clover burrs to fasten in sheep's wool; sleeping life waiting to be spread and dispersed, every seed armed with the appliance of dispersal, twisting darts and parachutes for the wind, little spears and balls of tiny thorns, and all waiting for animals and for the wind, for a man's trouser cuff or the hem of a woman's skirt, all passive but armed with appliances of activity, still, but each possessed of the anlage of movement.'

2. As yet I haven't seen any fieldfares or redwings when walking. Has anyone?

Answers to quiz
A. Wasp (common) B .Bee (honey) C. Butterfly (Red Admiral) D. Moth (6 spot cinnabar) E. Hoverfly F. Lacewing G. Social bee (Buff-tailed) H. Beetle (soldier) I. Fly (bee fly)

The lacewing and hoverfly are too difficult for me to identify specifically but it would be helpful if any reader could please.

Preparing for Winter - November 2020

Most creatures including humans are in the process of preparing for colder temperatures, less sunshine and less food. There are many ways of doing this and I am hoping to touch on just a few. Those of us who garden can help with dealing with harsher conditions in many ways. This is a bit of a retrospective piece of writing since preparation probably began in September but it's not too late. It is also a complex subject with many different responses but generally the principle is to store and save energy and keep out of danger until easier times return.

Hibernation and torpor are survival tactics used by animals to survive the winter months. They both involve lowering body temperatures, breathing rates, heart rates, and metabolic rates. Hibernation is a voluntary action whereas torpor appears to be an involuntary state that an animal enters into as the conditions dictate. Though hibernation is longer than torpor it is not continuous and animals will regularly wake to drink every 1 to 3 weeks. This can cost the animal about 80% of its energy reserve, so once awake a bat may not have the energy to survive re-entering torpor, making it crucial that they are well-fed before winter arrives and this is where we can help by providing high energy foods such as nuts and fats.

Maintaining body temperature and looking for food can burn more energy than organisms are able to consume. The only mammals that truly hibernate in the UK are hedgehogs, dormice and bats. Most butterfly species spend winter in the larval stage, but some hibernate as adults, including the brimstone, peacock and comma. They settle down in outdoor structures like sheds and farm buildings or even indoors for example in curtain folds and enter a dormant sate as the weather turns cold. They wake again around April or May.

Caches of food
One way to survive is to collect food whilst it is still available and store it in a safe place for if and when hard times fall.

image003.jpg - 32.1 KB image001.jpg - 51 KB It is a pleasure well beyond the size of the find to come across these beautiful jay wing feathers. It is a joy to pick them up when you see the jewel blue colour and collect them to give cheer on darker days. Jays collect as much food as they can and store it away. Acorns are a favourite food and in a good mast year such as this year food is plentiful but we can help by providing peanuts and suet.

Studies on how many acorns are hidden during a season have revealed that a single jay can store as many as 5,000 acorns. Jays 'cache' their acorns in many different places but most often in natural holes, under leaf litter and crevices in tree bark and surprisingly they can remember where their stores are The jay can remember where it left most of its cache and is thought to use visual clues such as nearby features to help guide it to its booty. They can even dig them out of 40 cm of snow.

Amazingly, a jay can fit up to nine acorns in its gullet at any one time, although on average they transport two or three, with one in the bill. This behaviour usually starts in September and will carry on until all the available acorns have been eaten or hidden.

Squirrels also store nuts especially hazel nuts but acorns too. They do not seem to remember the location of all their stores and that is perhaps why gardeners find oak trees coming up in unusual places such as raised beds and flower pots containing other plants.

Storing food as fat
Many migratory birds, for example, may nearly double their weight in the weeks before migration as they store fat to fuel their journeys.

All birds must fatten up in winter to ensure a reserve that is enough for them to survive the frostiest of nights. It seems sensible to have some evergreen trees in the garden that provide a bit of shelter from the strongest winds and frosts. Keeping nest boxes in place is also helpful since several birds may huddle up together in them to keep warmer. During those freezing nights, they fluff their feathers to trap heat and slow their metabolism to conserve energy.

Birds will become dependent on the food you supply, so it is important to make sure your feeders are kept topped up to prevent them from having a wasted visit. Providing a fresh, ice-free supply of water is another cold weather essential - drinking and bathing is a vital part of the daily routine of birds.

You may well witness a flurry of bird activity first thing in the morning - as they replenish energy lost overnight - and last thing in the afternoon to prepare for the long night ahead.

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Hide away
Some creatures try to find a safe and dry place to hide away. This little toad was found in a pile of empty compost sacks that my friend was about to tidy (that word again!) away. Of course she put them back in place and hoped that she had not disturbed the toad too much.

A garden needs plenty of hiding places such as nooks and crannies, gaps between paving stones, hedge bottoms (not strimmed frequently) plenty of undergrowth including piles of leaves, log and brush piles, nesting boxes, evergreen vegetation and most luxurious an insect hotel or similar.

Frogs, toads and newts go into a state of torpor when it's cold, dropping their body temperature, breathing and heart rate. They can withstand winter better than others, but will creep under rocks or logs or lay buried at the bottom of ponds when the temperature really drops. They emerge again from January.

Late season food and shelter
image007.jpg - 51.4 KB Nectar, pollen and berries of ivy are an essential food source for insects and birds during autumn and winter when little else is about. It also provides shelter for insects, birds, bats and other small mammals. This picture was taken in late October when the flowers were just opening and there was a distinct buzz as bees were sourcing pollen and nectar.

Honey bees rely on ivy for the majority of the pollen and nectar they collect during the autumn months, a crucial time when the insects are trying to build up stores for the winter and feed their young so please try not to rip up ivy. Honey bee larvae are possibly the only vegetarian insect larvae. Most other insect larvae such as hoverflies, ladybirds and lacewings consume insect 'pests' such as aphids .Once the eggs have been laid that is the end of parent responsibility but not so with bees.

Keeping feathers in first class condition
image009.jpg - 33.9 KBYou need to be very supple to preen every single feather!
Birds acquire new feathers by moulting soon after their young have fledged - losing their old feathers and replacing with new Preening is how birds groom their feathers to keep them in the best possible condition, especially in winter. By preening birds remove dust, dirt, and parasites from their feathers and align each feather in the optimum position relative to adjacent feathers and body shape. They are likely to spend several hours a day preening and I find that washing and preening by my geese comes first before eating (maybe because food is always available).Most birds have a preen gland at the base of their tail that contains oil. Birds extract the oil to help water proof their feathers.

Birds grow more downy feathers that insulate efficiently and so keep them warm. Often people comment that birds look 'fat' but that is usually not the case. They spread out their feathers to help air circulation and insulation. It is a ploy to keep warm.

image011.jpg - 61.7 KBA peppered moth can change its colours according to its surroundings

Crypsis is the art of camouflage There are 4 different types but this time the notes will concentrate on just one that is cryptic colouration which is a defence or tactic that organisms use to disguise themselves, usually so that they blend in with their surroundings in the hope that predators will not spot them amongst leaves or on the bark of trees This camouflage is always in place but is especially important during the winter when organisms stay still for long periods. Moths and their caterpillars are particularly adept at crypsis. The Brimstone butterfly overwinters as an adult and can make itself look very much like a twig especially amongst ivy leaves.

Book Recommendation(s)
image013.jpg - 11.6 KB image015.jpg - 12.5 KB Now that many of us are trying harder to attract wildlife into the garden more books are being published to help with the identification of wildlife that visits or even better lives in the garden and the care it needs. Here are 2 such books:

image017.jpg - 12.5 KB The RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife by Peter Holden & Geoffrey Abbott.

The second is one of the Collins Nature Guides more a handy pocket book size. It is called Garden Wildlife by Michael Chinery

More books are being published for children now. Here is one example from the RSPB.

End Piece
This is from The Somerset Wildlife Trust and you will need to find their website at in order to receive the guide.

Will you help the most important creatures on the planet?

41% of insect species face extinction.

The loss of their habitats and overuse of pesticides are two major reasons why these little creatures are dying out eight times faster than large mammals.

However, it's not too late and with your help, we can put insects into recovery.

Claim your FREE Action for Insects guide and start to make a difference today.

By working together, we can change the future of insects. Starting right now, you can make small changes in your home, lifestyle and community that will help these fascinating creatures. Follow the advice in our Action for Insects guide and create an insect-friendly garden that is teaming with wildlife.

Here and There - October 2020

Growing Wildflowers from Seed
As mentioned last month it is quite easy to grow your own flowers from seeds that you have collected from your own garden. It is worth a try and either sow now or in the spring next year is a good time to try. Not only are you doing your bit to attract pollinating insects and therefore birds and small mammals, but you are choosing your own mix of seeds that suit your own growing conditions. The process is virtually free too so you will save some money to buy yourself or friend a different plant treat!

First you need to know a little about your chosen plant what strategies it has for survival and what type of growing conditions. It is possible to plant directly into the intended growing place, but I do not always find this successful because of nuisances such as squirrels, mice and birds looking for an easy meal. It seems better to grow in seed trays or pots again making sure that these have a cover that lets in light but keeps out pests. It's all a matter of trial and error. It is possible to overwinter autumn grown seeds in a cold frame, greenhouse or other sheltered place though there are exceptions.

The compost is also important. You can fiddle around with various mixtures but equal amounts of peat free compost if possible and horticultural grit seems fine. Perlite or vermiculite is also useful for covering the surface or to use instead of grit. It is best not to use garden soil because it may contain other 'weed' or pests and diseases.

Some seeds such as cowslips, primroses, evening primroses need a period of cold weather before germination and one way to achieve this is to store the seed in a fridge. However, a better way is to leave the seeds outside for the winter since it is now assumed that they like fluctuating temperatures of warmth and cold.

Some seeds that have a harder case may need scarification. This involved rubbing the seeds gently together to allow water to freely enter. Naturally this would happen in the soil when the seeds are moved around by worms and other things. Plants such as cranesbills, vetches and trefoils benefit from this.

Light is another very important factor in the germination of some seeds especially annuals. Poppies are a good example so either firm the seed onto the surface without covering or just cover very lightly.

If you would like to grow berries such as hips and haws, put the berries in a sieve under running water and gently remove the outer protective flesh to release the seeds. These can then be collected, dried and sown.

Though tempting it seems that seeds hardly ever germinate if scattered directly onto grass. There is too much competition.

Pioneer tree species
Trees such as alders, poplars, birches and willows are known as "pioneer species" because they are often the first trees to colonise a new site for example areas that have been damaged by earthquakes, fires, floods or the cutting down of coniferous trees for commerce. Pioneer species grow rapidly and establish new canopies faster than competing vegetation. They may later be replaced by other slower growing trees such as oak.

One of the reasons for being successful pioneers is the sheer amount of seed that these trees produce and they are wind blown.

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image001.jpg - 44.1 KBThe coin is a 5 pence piece to give the idea of the tiny size of the birch seed
These are silver birch seeds that are very prolific now. They seem to get everywhere even indoors on the floor, in the bath even on cushions as shown here. Some manage to land in potted plants both indoors and outdoors and then they are quite likely to germinate. Once established they can be extracted and grown on as trees as shown in the right hand photo.

The birch catkins contain hundreds of tiny seeds, each with 2 transparent wings, which help in their dispersal by the wind. A large tree can produce up to 1 million seeds in a year, but only a few of these will germinate and grow into mature trees.

image005.jpg - 44.9 KB A gall is a growth on a plant that is made of plant tissue but caused by other organism such as insects, bacteria, fungi or viruses. Insect galls are the most common. There are estimated to be around 133,000 gall-causing insect species in the world. All galls are formed for the same purpose: The deformity is a deliberate mechanism by the gall causer to use the plant for its own purposes. It is a parasite on the host plant. The gall causer manipulates the plant tissue for itself, but the plant receives no benefits in exchange. Most galls don't harm the plant though and will have no effect on the health of the host trees.

The picture at right is a rose gall made by one of 5 species of rose gall wasps. They are growing on a dog rose hedge in Greenhill Lane.

It is called the bedeguar gall and is made by the tiny wasp called Diplolepis rosae. Each gall contains many larvae, each living in their own chamber inside the gall. The gall reaches full size and colour in late July to early August, and the larvae wasps don't leave until the following spring when they're fully grown. This is another reason for not cutting back all hedges at the same time. The gall is commonly known as the Robin's Pincushion.

Plants for Pollinators Quiz
There are 4 wildflowers and 4 cultivated plant flowers. All grow well from seed saved from year to year.

Answers at the end of the notes.

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Book Recommendation
The winner of the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing has been announced at a virtual awards ceremony on September 8th. It is the Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty. At 15 years of age Dara is the youngest ever winner of a major literary prize. Dara's book is an extraordinary portrayal of his intense connection to the natural world alongside his perspective as an autistic teenager juggling exams, friendships and a life of campaigning. Starting in the spring for a whole year Dara chronicled what he saw as he walked and grappled with autism and Asperger's. I'd be happy with this review:

'McAnulty is the UK's answer to Greta Thunberg: a leader in the youth environmental movement and an impassioned speaker on the love of nature. This is a wonderfully observant and introspective account of his fifteenth year: of disruptions - moving house and school, of outrage at the state of the world and at individual and political indifference, of the complications of being autistic, but also of the joys of everyday encounters with wildlife. It's easy to forget you're reading a teenager's work.'

End Piece
Footpath 51 that links Greenhill Road (A368) with Sandmead has been refurbished with 2 new kissing gates adding to the 2 original ones that remain. This is a peaceful path to walk along for anyone but it is also a convenient route for students of Churchill Academy to walk to school and I expect that is why these new gates were installed by North Somerset Council and not the more usual Woodspring Ramblers. This new gate is especially welcome since the original stile had long since disintegrated leaving a slippery fence to negotiate. I was pleased to see that the original iron kissing gate further along has been retained together with some huge flag stones. Just some new paving stones have been added to avoid muddy areas.

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image027.jpg - 68.3 KBThe original iron gate that now works properly. It will be interesting to see how quickly the pollarded willow starts its regrowth

Answers to Quiz
A. Knapweed. B. Bird's-foot Trefoil. C. Devil's -bit Scabious. D. Hogweed E. Echinacea.. F. Aster. G. Foxglove. H. Echinops

Making Use - September 2020

image003.jpg - 44.6 KBPerfect!
image001.jpg - 48.2 KBHere they are!
This is from John Dunster just to say that we really can help wildlife in our gardens and help to save some of our threatened species just by re-using things that we already have - in this case bits of wood and broken canes.

'I made a bee box this year and within no time at all the leaf cutter bees found it and could not believe their luck with a rose bush right beside it. They started making their nests using sections of leaves from the nearby rose and gluing them together with a mixture of nectar and pollen. When they have gathered sufficient food they lay one single egg and cap the cell with a circular piece of leaf. This process is repeated until the nest has room for about 20 larva cells. The larvae hatch and develop, pupating in autumn and hibernating in winter. What amazes me is how they found the box so quickly.' Thank you John.

The goldcrest is even smaller than a wren and Europe's smallest bird. Even so they are in fact quite common and feed mainly on insects and spiders.

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image007.jpg - 47.2 KBMore perfection
image009.jpg - 38.2 KBThe 1ib. honey jar is there for scale. The nest has a diameter of about 3 inches

Perhaps this is one of my most exciting and privileged finds. I was walking passed a tree that my stepsons had as a small rooted Christmas tree when they were young They are now 43 and 41 years old. The tree is a Norwegian spruce I think and is very tall. On the ground, just below it was this tiny nest so beautiful and yet so strong. It had fallen or perhaps a squirrel had been looking for trouble. I assumed that it was a goldcrest's nest because I hear them in the old Christmas trees and had seen and heard them on occasions but had never seen a nest before, I wonder whether it had been used. The outside was encircled with 3 larger golden brown feathers which may have come from my Pekin bantam and inside was perfect symmetry with a liner or moss and lichen and then perhaps for warmth tiny pieces of goose down feathers all white and white hairs of maybe a dog or badger even. Do birds then have a sense of symmetry? Clearly yes and colour coding?

Wildflower Seeds
Maybe you planted wildflower seeds this year and many are now beginning to set seed. It is possible to collect many of these seeds and use them for a display and attraction to beneficial insects again next year.

image011.jpg - 61.5 KB The best time to sow wildflower seeds is in the autumn when they are 'fresh' (August to October) as this will give the earliest display of flowers. However seeds can be sown in the spring (February to March) too. Though many seeds can be sown directly into the soil it often pays to give them a good start free from competition by sowing them in seed trays, pots or modules and leaving them on a window sill, greenhouse or just outside depending on the type of seed. If outside I think that they need to be covered with mesh/fine wire to deter squirrels and mice from having a welcome meal.

It is therefore a good time to collect seed now and allow it to dry thoroughly before sowing or storing.

Seeds need to be collected on a dry day and spread out to dry completely indoors in a light place but not in direct sunlight. Usually the seeds are ready when they have changed from green or white to a dark brown. It is important to name and label each seed type separately (see below).

Once ready seeds can be sown or stored. The small brown envelopes that can be bought at stationers or post offices. (see picture too) are ideal for storage. The envelopes are about 4ins, square. Don't forget to label and date these as well.

Another way is to gather whole stems of the chosen plant and invert them into a brown bag so that the seeds will fall out as they ripen. This works well for small seeds. (see top left corner).

Seeds should be kept in a paper bag or envelope so that they can breathe. Never store seed in a plastic bag or air tight container. The moisture trapped will cause the seed to go mouldy and ruin the sample. The bag should always be kept in a dry place.

image013.jpg - 20.6 KB Sowing the seed is not always straight forward since seeds have developed their own strategies for survival. Therefore it is important to know about the plants for example their natural habitats and needs. This will be discussed in the October nature notes but the main factors to consider are vernalisation, scarification, light levels, wetness and compost type.

Book Recommendation
The Accidental Countryside by Stephen Moss (who is President of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.)

Since the Second World War a drive towards more and more intensive farming has turned much of the countryside into an almost wildlife free zone with hugely negative consequences for many plants and animals, This has meant that wildlife has had to make use of the margins such as urban skyscrapers, churchyards, docklands, golf courses, gravel pits, railway sidings and roadside verges. Stephen Moss calls these the Accidental Countryside and the book traces the habitats and wildlife to be found in such places such as peregrine falcons in large cities using high rise buildings as the equivalent of cliff tops.

End Piece
image015.jpg - 52.3 KB The mother duck and her 7seven youngsters no longer visit the garden together for a swim and food so I assume that they have found a new and more suitable home. I hope so. Occasionally one or two of them are suddenly there for a snack or a swim but they are very cautions and fly as soon as they see me. In the last week the pattern seems settled in that 3 ducklings arrive early morning and late afternoon for food and a swim.

At 3 weeks, the ducklings' feathers begin to grow, especially around their tails, and their yellow feathers fade to brown. After two months of feeding and growing alongside their mothers, the male and female ducklings' feathers are fully brown, resembling their mothers' in appearance. This duckling is beginning to develop a speculum on its wings. The speculum, is a patch of iridescent purple-blue secondary feathers on each wing.. The speculum seems to help ducks identify their own species when flying in a flock when the speculum stands out very clearly.

I watched 3 pairs of blue tits successfully hatch a family each in a nest box. I know that they will probably have 2 broods but I have not seen any use a nest box for a second time. Does anybody know whether this happens or do the adults build another nest elsewhere?

WildflowerSeeds Harvested from the Wild at Hillview August 2020
If anybody would like some of these seeds please contact Di Redfern

  1. Betony
  2. Bird's Foot Trefoil
  3. Common Vetch
  4. Corncockle
  5. Devil's -bit Scabious
  6. Field Scabious
  7. Gipsywort
  8. Greater Knapweed
  9. Harebell
  10. Hedge Bedstraw
  11. Lady's Bedstraw
  12. Meadow Cranesbill
  13. Meadowsweet
  14. Musk Mallow
  15. Nettled Leaved Campanula
  16. Ragged Robin
  17. Teucrium'Purple Tails'
  18. Vetchling
  19. Wild Carrot
  20. Yellow Rattle (can't be stored but sow immediately)

On the Wild Side - August 2020

Many comments have been made about the sightings and hearing of more wildlife during lock down. Whether that is because we have had more time to become aware of our surroundings or whether wildlife has become more confident to move about more freely I am not sure but possibly it is a combination of both. I expect history will have a lot to tell us about this in the future. Books will be written, TV programmes made and so on.

image001.jpg - 35.8 KBDeer?
However there has certainly been more wildlife to be seen here. The weather has been so beautiful that many meals have been eaten outside and from my seat I was able to watch the comings and goings in 3 bird boxes from hatching to fledging and leaving the nest. It is amazing to see that there is just the one chance to fly out and off never to return again. The youngsters are very much on their own. In one nest, under tiles in the porch roof -sparrows have just started their second brood at the same site.

I noticed in the hay field places where the grass has obviously been laid on overnight and assumed that the occupants were deer. Yesterday this was confirmed when I saw 2 tiny fawns lying in the grass and as the dog and I quietly watched they began to graze. They were very vulnerable and completely unaware of us. What struck me was that though the young ones were much smaller they looked adult in every other way. I did not see the mother but I know it is common for adults to leave fawns alone 'hidden' in the grass for quite long periods. Unfortunately this grass was not very long; not more than a foot so that they were very exposed.

Once aware of us I was surprised how quickly they ran and how sure they were of their route of escape which was down the length of the field and across a small stream.

image003.jpg - 38.4 KBAdult
image005.jpg - 33.8 KBFawn. Photo in approximately the same place.
image007.jpg - 34 KBRoe deer foot prints found after recent rain. They are similar to sheep prints but with sharper toes.
Experimenting with Wild Flowers
During the autumn of 2019 I grew a range of wild flowers from seed with the intention of persuading visitors to the usual Open Garden to try making a small meadow in a part of their lawn or similar area from plant plugs. The Open Garden didn't happen so I decided to plant some of the more easy to manage and brightly coloured wild plants in the main borders of my garden and I feel that it has worked well. They are all very efficient pollinators and include evening primrose (used by moths so flowers come out at night in the main) corncockle, musk mallow, ragged robin, nettle leaved bellflower, knapweed and betony. Here are the flowers of some of them

image009.jpg - 28 KBEvening primrose
image011.jpg - 33.5 KBMusk mallow
image013.jpg - 29.2 KBCorncockle
image015.jpg - 11.4 KBNettle leaved bellflower
image017.jpg - 28 KBPoppy
image019.jpg - 45.6 KBRagged robin

Ducklings! (and an inevitable unphased squirrel)
image021.jpg - 36.6 KB image023.jpg - 31.5 KB Imagine my surprise when I opened the kitchen curtain at 7am.on the morning of July 7th. to see at least 8 mallard ducks eating grain set out for the usual wild birds. They seemed to be with a mother but were quite able to fly and seemed to be fully feathered. This picture was taken through the glass so is not at all clear but I managed to creep outside and see the mother and her7 youngsters following her along the path. I have no idea where they went but they return in various different combinations daily, evening and morning for their supplies. I assume the mother is in front since she is significantly larger. I found out that ducklings can fly within 50 to 60 days so these young ones must have been born in April or May. I think the mother did extremely well to bring up so many. Maybe she had more that were predated but even so 7 is a good achievement.

Wild and Native Hedgerows
It is noticeable that for about 4 months from March until the end of June the wild flowering trees and hedges are at their best mostly having white or cream flowers and that they come out in a sequence. Unlike the more ornamental trees of the garden they seem to have no years of poor flowering whatever the weather. They are all the treasure ground of bees and look stunning when in full flower. The blackthorn opens the season with its myriad little star shaped white blossoms and no leaves yet. The blackthorn blooms on into April and then the wild cherry begins often a very tall tree if it is growing in woods. image025.jpg - 11 KB All this time the leaves of the hawthorn, or may, have been forming and then the flowers burst into their glory with their pungent vanilla like perfume as they cascade down the hedge sides. Soon comes the crab apple often with the may and after that the elder, dogwood and lime with the beginnings of the dog rose and bramble, Some, towards the end of their flowering, have a pinkish shade though the dog rose is always a delicate pink.

There are no wild exotic flowerings trees of scarlet, blue or purple. Gorse and broom alone just break the sequence of pink, cream and white.

Book Recommendation
Woodland Flowers: Colourful Past, Uncertain Future by Keith Kirby This is the latest edition to the British Wildlife Collection to which I have referred in other nature notes. It is basically a reference book but the author infuses it with a lifetime of personal memories and observations that greatly add to the reader's enjoyment of his book. Inevitably he is very aware of climate change and the changes in ecology that this is inducing in all our habitats.

End Piece
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In the June nature notes I referred to the almost complete lack of knapweed in the meadow. This year I have counted only about 6 clumps but they were found!

This leads to many questions such as how did these 6 spot cinnamon moths find these odd flowers within an acre of other plants. Do they simply fly and search. This seems wasteful of energy. Do they see the bright colour - more likely? Do they smell the flowers or is there another sense? Anyway there is always queuing to get to the nectar so I hope that the knapweed plants that are growing well in a tub can be transplanted into the field next autumn.

Meadowlands - July 2020

image001.jpg - 34.9 KB A chair - originally a lovely peaceful sanctuary to escape the humdrum of everyday life now seems to sum up the idea of isolation and loneliness that many of us have suffered over the last 3 months but is hopefully beginning to lift now. Maybe it will be a place of escape once more.

The meadow is disappointing again this year because of the lack of knapweed which seems to be the flower that attracts the most and greatest variety of insects. All the other flowers are there and some have increased in numbers especially the yellow rattle which is already setting seed if anybody would like to collect some (a lot) They need to be sown directly onto the chosen site.

image003.jpg - 35.5 KBSorrel used by the small copper butterfly. This plant is a member of the dock family bit is smaller, more colourful and the caterpillar food for the small copper butterfly

The common orchids are thriving and have now spread into both fields and too many to count. When I first noticed them there were 5! For the first time ox-eye daisies have self sown and this adds to the character of the meadow. Sorrel has also multiplied and adds a deep crimson against the grasses. Another plant that has spread greatly is self heal that normally sticks to the hedgerow but has now spread into the meadow itself. Bird's-foot trefoil is reliable and plentiful as ever.

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These pictures of the meadow were taken on the same date and in the same place but how it has changed. The rich purple sheen created by the Greater Knapweed has completely disappeared. There were no knapweeds growing anymore in the last 3 years although a few are beginning to return. This in turn means that the amount of wildlife will also be diminished especially the presence of the 6 spot burnet moth.

image011.jpg - 42.7 KB image010.gif - 74.3 KB I have been trying to reinstate the knapweed by growing plants from seed. They are planted in a tub in the hope that they will flower and then spread seed. It was difficult to insert them into the ground because until now the soil was solid and also because I thought that the young plants would be overwhelmed by the more established species especially the grasses,

Butterflies of the meadow
image015.jpg - 6.4 KBThe meadow brown
image013.jpg - 34 KBThe speckled wood
This is the peak time for butterflies mostly of the 'brown' variety with some common blues. The more colourful garden species such as the red admiral, peacock and tortoiseshell are seldom seen.

The speckled wood: This species is unique in that it can overwinter as both a third instar or as a pupa. An instar is one of the developmental stages that an insect goes through before becoming an adult. Therefore there is a mixed emergence so that adults can be seen anytime from April to October. They usually have 3 broods in the south west. Like all butterflies they do not use the meadow as a permanent habitat but just visit for food or to bask in the sun. After all the meadow will eventually be destroyed by cutting from July onwards depending on the weather and the meadow management policy.

The speckled wood feeds mostly in the canopy of trees on aphid honeydew and sap if available but they will also take nectar from a variety of plants. Brambles are especially popular I notice. They fly abundantly in the meadow in order to find nectar, find a mate possibly and to bask in the sun.

image019.jpg - 27.7 KBThe small skipper
image017.jpg - 33 KBThe gatekeeper
The meadow brown: This is a very common butterfly and when walking through the meadow clouds of them will lift from their feeding or basking place. They are very similar to the gatekeeper but there is one obvious way to spot the difference if you can get close enough. Both have a black spot on their forewing with a tiny white spot within it. The meadow brown has one white spot whereas the gatekeeper has two. What a fine difference nature can produce.

The small skipper darts around the meadow amongst the long grasses. It is easily seen as a glint of sun lights up its golden colour. The small skipper's (and there are others) caterpillar uses Yorkshire fog grass as its food source almost exclusively.

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Rose chafer
I am always hoping to spot something rare or even just uncommon and last week I thought that I had at last been successful when I saw these insects 'sitting' in a rose flower. They looked gaudy and iridescently green in the blazing sunshine.

However not so. These are rose chafers that are widespread and common throughout the British Isles just that I had managed to miss them during the 34 years that I have lived here.

Book Recommendation
Mushrooms by Peter Marran

image023.jpg - 12 KB For many years I have been fascinated by mushrooms and toadstools and as I walkthrough Sandford Woods I have taken many photographs of whichever mushroom I saw hoping that one day I would be able to name some of them. During the last 3 months I thought it an ideal time to get to grips with the subject and joined a local mycologist (people who know about mushrooms) society. Little did I realise the complexity and enormity of this subject but at least I believe that I will eventually learn a little more. Peter Marren points out that their diversity is greater than the mind can easily grasp. image024.jpg - 31 KB Just in Britain there are about 12000 described species of which about 3000 are larger fungi (macromycetes) easily visible to the naked eye. The rest are micro-fungi needing a microscope for identification. Even then new species are being discovered all the time. Within Britain alone about 400 new species were discovered between 1980 and 1989. At least 37 new species in Britain were recorded in 2010 alone. There must be 1.5 million species of fungus on the planet but less than a tenth of that number has been described scientifically. Perhaps 90% of the world's fungi are still unknown. So I will have to stick to some of the larger fungi in Sandford Woods and get to know their names usually scientific not common by sending photos to an expert for identification.

Millions of seeds saved in UK for regrowth amid crisis
Around 13 million seeds from over 70 species of native trees and shrubs in the UK have been collected as part of a seven year project to meet the challenges of the climate crisis and increasing numbers of pests and diseases. The seeds are now stored in the sub-zero underground vaults of Kew's Millennium Seed bank for long-term conservation. It is already time to save some wildflower seeds for our own use now. The seeds of the vetch family and bird's foot trefoil are already ripe and can be dried and stored in small brown labelled envelopes.

End piece
image026.jpg - 33.8 KB All has gone quiet at the bird table thank goodness. It has been hard to keep up with the demands of adults feeding their fledglings. However I have been able to sit and watch 3 nest boxes and I think that all the youngsters hatched successfully and managed to fly to make their own lives. I am not sure where they go maybe to the local woods or possibly there is plenty of food available without recourse to the feeders.

However at about 9.45pm. a badger has been coming for about 2 weeks and last night there were two. They seem to have poor hearing since I can stand quite close without them being aware apparently.

Finding the Time - June 2020

image003.jpg - 41.3 KBBluetit parent looking very tired after feeding the young for at least 12 hours a day
image001.jpg - 20.4 KBJust checking that nobody is watching me go in to my family
During the last few weeks luckily, very luckily, I have been able to spend time in the garden, not working, but just watching. This includes watching plants especially coming into leaf then bud and finally flower. With such beautiful weather to me the process has been very fast. Each day it is possible to notice something in flower that either you did not see the previous day or it has responded quickly to the warm sunshine.

Birds have been endlessly fascinating to watch and in the last 2 or 3 weeks their pace of life has been increasingly frenetic as they try to feed fast growing youngsters. Gradually you hear more and more insistent noises coming from nest boxes in particular but also from the hedgerows. I have been trying to provide the adults with as much food as possible but have virtually had to sit with them at various points of the day to ward off the more threatening and demanding bigger birds (which hardly seems fair to them) but they do get some!

image005.jpg - 27.6 KBArrival time was 7.30pm
There are 26 species that I have counted at or near the feeders all common birds but nevertheless present. They are robin, chaffinch, greater spotted woodpecker, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, long tailed tit, blackbird, wagtail, goldfinch, dunnock, sparrow, green woodpecker, jay, jackdaw, crow, rook, raven (just 2 who live in conifers next door) magpie, sparrowhawk., collared dove, wood pigeon, herring gull and great backed gull Each one flies off in a different direction but never directly to the nest I notice which is a sensible ploy to put potential predators off the track. Small suet pellets have been very popular since smaller birds can quickly grab one and take it to the nest or eat it itself under cover of a shrub so avoiding predators.

There have also been foxes desperate for food for their young and fast growing cubs. They arrive at any time of day and from any direction so making it hard to keep poultry safe and so the chickens and geese have spent much time confined to their quarters. The situation has calmed down now so either the errant fox has sadly been shot or the cubs have been sent off to find their own lives and territories. A badger I think a young one also came to visit very early in the evenings about 7pm. but he/she has also disappeared now.

Brimstone butterflies
Brimstone butterflies are often the first to be spotted on the wing because unusually they have hibernated as an adult rather than a chrysalis or caterpillar. So once warmer weather comes they are ready to go. By the way evergreen ivy is an excellent spot for hibernation so be sure to keep some in the garden. They fly for much of the spring and summer but there is likely to be another increase in August when the young emerge. They all feed up well on nectar throughout August and then into autumn so that they are fit for hibernation again.

image007.jpg - 30 KBPossibly a female
image009.jpg - 30.9 KBpossibly a male
image011.jpg - 46.7 KBBuckthorn the food source for the brimstone caterpillar. It is flowering now
The males are a very distinctive lemon yellow colour and so it is hard to miss them flying along hedgerows often seeming to be in a scrap with another male for territory or females. The females are not yellow but greenish almost white with characteristically pointed wings. Both have an orange spot in the centre of each wing.

Although many of us are trying hard to provide nectar and pollen rich plants we must also be careful to provide food for the Brimstone caterpillar and that is buckthorn or alder buckthorn only. Very specific.

Back to Insects
Much of the following information on the importance of insects is based on research done by The Wildlife Trusts of the UK but specifically for us the Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Avon Wildlife Trust but first a quote from Sir David Attenborough.

'Whereas in 1945 it was thought that the way to solve the problem of nature's decline was to create wildlife parks and nature reserves, that is no longer an option. They are not enough now. The whole countryside should be available for wildlife. The suburban garden, roadside verges... all must be used.'

By thinking of your home and garden as part of a network of nature friendly spaces which can help wildlife move through the landscape, able to feed, find shelter and to breed and helping populations to recover it is possible to see how even a small garden window box or bird feeder fits into something much bigger.

In Somerset there are an estimated 124,000 gardens covering 1,900 hectares of the county plus more than 1,700 hectares of SWT nature reserves. Imagine the extra benefit for nature if everyone in Somerset looked after their gardens in a wildlife friendly way. Currently insects are dying out up to 8 times faster than larger animals ((Professor David Goulson, November 1990.) This is horrifying. Without insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and fish would starve and of course us.

In response The Wildlife Trusts have launched the Action for Insects campaign, encouraging everyone to pledge to take action in the face of this largely unnoticed disaster... The Trusts are also trying to work with the government to enforce some helpful measures to bring back insects from the brink.

image013.jpg - 11.8 KB If you would like to be involved contact or the Somerset Wildlife Trust -

You will receive a digital resource pack with content from The Wildlife Trusts, Pesticide Action network and Garden Organic. It is very interesting and fun to read and act upon.

Book Recommendation
Mrs. Moreau's Warbler - How Birds Got Their Names by Stephen Moss

Swallow and starling, robin and kestrel, blue tit and chaffinch. We use these names so often that few of us ever pause to wonder how and when these names came about. Stephen Moss who lives locally in Mark Somerset does just this. There is also a whole range of folk names different in different parts of the country. For example would you be able to guess scribble lark, sea swallow, flop wing' and furze wren?

(These are yellowhammer, common tern, lapwing and Dartford warbler respectively).

End piece

image017.jpg - 11.7 KBSimon Hood took this picture
image015.jpg - 50.5 KB Despite being one of our most common woodland mammals, the small, sweet and secretive wood mouse is hard to spot. They feast on nuts, seeds and invertebrates and are an important food source for larger mammals and birds of prey. When feeding the wild birds on grain I spotted this little mouse also feeding. For a while it didn't see me so I was able to watch for a time. It soon realised and jumped into this stack of roofing tiles that had not been tidied away and so they will remain there as a mouse habitat!

Chris Packham
Chris Packham is presenting a guide to 12 garden birds during Springwatch on Tuesdays to Fridays at 8.00 pm on BBC 2 starting on May 26th.

Migrants are back! - May 2020

I saw the first swallow back in Sandford on April 9th. So far the weather has been perfect for them because insects have been out day after day and have been able to find plenty of food for themselves I assume. Monty Don made a very poignant talk about their arrival on Tweet of the Day last week. This is a daily talk about birds given mostly by naturalists on Radio 4 daily for 90 seconds just before 6 am.

image001.jpg - 71.2 KBWhose turn to feed?       My turn!
Flies of all kinds, beetles, moths and aphids are just a few of the enormous variety of flying insects that a swallow is catching as it skims, twists, turns and dives with breathtaking agility over pastures, hedges and mature trees. Even better if there are sheep, cattle or horses grazing. They attract even more insects.

The swallow whilst in flight, can somehow tightly pack a mixture of insects held together with saliva. Such a bolus would typically include 11 large and up to 40 smaller items which are fed to the young. A pair of swallows is likely to make between 10 and 25 visits to the nest every 30 minutes, depending on the time of day, availability of insects, needs of the young and freedom from predators such as sparrow hawks and kestrels. Bringing up three youngsters from hatching to fledging needs approximately 1000 visits to the nest over 21 days. Exhausting work.

An awful lot of insects are needed. However evidence suggests that insect numbers are declining- perhaps because of the intensification of farming with more monocultures and fewer ponds, orchards and meadows. New housing takes up former farmland. Each leads inevitably to the loss of habitats and food sources for many creatures.

Swallows seem doubly threatened. Their traditional association with humans means that swallows have a particular liking for buildings - barns, porches and stables in which there are ledges or solid rafters on which they can secure their nests. These are made of individual pellets of mud cemented together with grasses into a beautifully symmetrical cup shape. Such a nest takes about 10 days to construct and another day to line with feathers. Once built it is likely to remain as a permanent home for future generations of that family, unless, of course, it is removed. It is astonishing that nests are destroyed because of the mess created over the breeding season.

The modern fashion for barn conversions means eviction for many swallows. How shocking that after a huge migratory journey back home, the swallow finds no home... Added to this is our penchant for tidiness, and security, meaning that once open garages, roof spaces lofts and barns are now sealed against all intruders including swallows, swifts and bats.

Throughout the UK swallows are a legally protected species and in North Somerset they have their own Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) so that if their nest sites are threatened by development, mitigation must be made. The state of the insect is equally hard to address without changes in the type of grasses sown and with the return of more sheep and cattle grazing out of doors. The increase of horse keeping and provision of stables seems a positive step for the entire swallow family.

Gardeners can play a part too. Creating a variety of habitats will encourage biodiversity including an increase in insect species, whilst cutting a swallow- sized hole in a door will give access to a bird but not to an intruder (not even a cat or squirrel).

Swallows are birds evocative of summer days. It would be terrible to take them so much for granted that we miss the stresses from which they may well already be suffering.

A Special Treat
Maybe this time of social isolation has given us more time to enjoy not only our garden s but also the wildlife that is around us and seems to have been particularly stunning during this spell of beautiful weather.

I have put together a group of pictures taken in Sandford Woods last week and hope that they bring some joy to those who cannot get outside.

image005.jpg - 38.7 KB
image003.jpg - 38.2 KBThe unopened head of a fern is called a fiddlehead
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The early purple orchid
As its name suggests, the Early purple orchid is one of the earliest flowering orchids, appearing from April to June. It is often found in habitats with non-acidic soils, such as hedgerows, banks, ancient woodland such as Sandford Wood where this one was found and open grassland. The pinkish-purple flowers appear on a spike of medium height.

The Early purple orchid can display up to 50 dark purple flowers, which are arranged in a dense, cone-shaped cluster on a tall spike. The lower lip of each flower has three lobes and the upper petals form a hood. The leaves of the early purple orchid are glossy and dark green, with dark spots, and form a rosette on the ground. They appear from January onwards.

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Book recommendation
Greenery. Journeys in Springtime by Tim Dee

Between the winter and summer solstices in Europe, spring moves north at about the speed of a swallow's flight. This is also similar to the human walking pace. Tim Dee decided to hang onto his favourite season by walking northwards at the speed of spring and other migratory birds... He starts in South Africa and ends in Arctic Norway. He includes quotes from other spring lovers such as D.H.Lawrence and Samuel Coleridge Taylor plus plenty of his own beautiful and deeply informed nature writing.

The title was chosen to remember his grandmother who always asked him to bring her greenery at the start of spring.

End piece
I noticed this strange fungus (?) when coming out of the woods but I have no idea what it could be. Does anybody know? It looks as if could be a toy and yet when I looked it was very firmly fixed.

image022.jpg - 37.6 KB image024.jpg - 28.8 KB image026.jpg - 33.2 KB One week later it had turned to this brown colour and when I touched it many, many spores burst out

Bonus Articles
Looking after Insects in the Garden

Pollination and Pollinators

Looking Closely - April 2020

image001.jpg - 45.5 KBAn amazing hawthorn hedge near the playground in Sandford
Maybe this month some of us will have more time on our hands with self isolation being forced upon us especially us older ones so I started to think I should look more closely and carefully at some of the unbelievable beauty that nature offers. I have started to take such things for granted a little. Spring is about to come and hawthorn, the iconic plant of the English hedgerow is already coming into leaf so maybe that will be a good place to start. In my childhood farmers referred to the newly unfurled leaves as 'bread and cheese' and these they ate as a lunch time snack. Perhaps they instinctively knew from previous generations the possible medical properties of the leaf, flower and berry to help complaints to do with the heart and digestion.

Each flower (see below) is made up of 5 snowy white dish shaped petals speckled with stamens (the male reproductive part) tipped with dark pink. Standing proud at the centre of each flower is a pale yellow green stigma (the female reproductive part) which will receive pollen. Each individual flower is exquisite but can be easily lost in the sheer mass of blooms that cover the tree or hedge. Hence the need for close observation. The flowers are also highly scented.

Following the flowers are festoons of crimson red berries called haws much loved by blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings and also small mammals

image004.jpg - 36 KB image006.jpg - 43.1 KB
image010.jpg - 33.1 KBCrataegus Paul's Scarlet

image008.jpg - 17.6 KBGreen & red hawthorn shield bug

Crataegus Paul's Scarlet ia an attractive compact hawthorn especially suited to the garden with all the same attractions as the common hawthorn.

Hawthorn is extremely valuable to wildlife. Just one example is the green and red shield bug whose larvae eat the berries but the bug itself can be seen from April until October.

Seeds and germination
There is something magical about seed germination. Seeds really are amazing. They carry within their miniscule bodies all that the future plant needs to fuel it for growth, except water and a medium in which to grow. From such a seed might grow a wild flower, a precious orchid or a huge tree. Having planted seeds into a compost mix it is always exciting and slightly unbelievable that that little seed has pushed out little green specks onto the surface. Down below little roots have already formed and are providing the delicate shoots with nutrients and water.

image012.jpg - 37.8 KBTiny, tiny seeds of the harebell beside a night light for scale
image014.jpg - 43.5 KBThe persistent green shoots are suddenly there after 2 or 3 weeks
image016.jpg - 44 KBThe harebell which is extremely easy to grow with a long season and attractive to beneficial insects

Anemone blanda
image020.jpg - 49.6 KB image018.jpg - 31.7 KB By far the most popular flower for bees this spring has been the anemone blanda. Although there are pink and white variations the purple is the favourite possibly because bees see in the ultra violet spectrum. Anemone blanda are small, rather insignificant looking knobbly, small black bulbs. You can simply drop them on the soil or grass and push them in with your fingers. They are almost certain to grow but the good thing is that they move around or are moved around and so it is always surprising where they pop up.

Looking closely at a plant is a revelation especially inside a flower. Every species is different but equally beautiful. It may be an idea to buy a small hand lens to keep in your pocket so that you can look even more closely. They are relatively cheap -£10 - £12 for a x10 or x12 magnification. The more you pay the more detail is shown up.

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Book Recommendation
Dancing With Bees - a journey back to nature by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Quote 'I was quite shocked the day I realised that I knew more about the French Revolution than I did about our native trees. It stopped me in my tracks.' T his is how the book begins as the author realises that she needed to rekindle her relationship with wildlife - the wildlife she knew and loved as a child. Now she no longer even noticed nature and hadn't done so for 40 years. This is her story of our she re taught herself largely through a passion for the bee family to get back in touch with nature and more than that feel a part of it. This is a lovely read when in isolation so that I find myself rationing how much I read to make the experience last longer.

End Piece
Hopefully it won't be too long before swallows arrive back from Africa to set up home and breed new families in their familiar places. That will be a joy to watch and to listen to their constant chat as they dart over the grass fields gathering up insects.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint in the Garden - March 2020

The Gardeners' World magazine in the February edition published 12 ways to reduce the carbon footprint in our gardens. Here is the list:

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  1. Dig a pond
  2. Plant a tree
  3. Make compost
  4. Use more hand tools
  5. Grow more plants yourself.
  6. Grow plants from seed.
  7. Grow your own food
  8. Make your own mulch
  9. Avoid digging
  10. Use peat free compost
  11. Make your own fertilizer
  12. Reuse and recycle.

Several of these topics have come up before and others belong more to the Garden Notes section so I am going to concentrate on some of the easier ones to deal with and those that encourage bacteria, invertebrates, insects and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. It is worth noting though the following about trees.

It is thought there are 27 million gardens in the UK. If there was one extra tree planted in each one, there would be 27 million more trees across the country, without any farmland being compromised. It's widely accepted that planting trees can make a dramatic difference to the climate since during the vital food making process of photosynthesis in the leaves they absorb carbon from the atmosphere and release oxygen as a waste product- but not waste to us!

A lovely small, upright and conical shaped pear tree to plant is Pyrus 'Chanticleer' (right), that will grow to just 5 x 3 metres in 20 years. It is just coming into blossom now and so is a welcome tree for pollinators.

Instead of Wasting Autumn Leaves Try Making Leaf Mould.(mulch)

image005.jpg - 15.1 KBLeaf mould 2018 (possibly needs sieving)
image003.jpg - 52.1 KBLeaves autumn 2019
Be careful when gathering fallen leaves if you might have hedgehogs in your garden. They may well hibernate in leaf piles.

Leaf mould is easy to make and rewarding to use as a mulch in the early spring.

The leaves can be stored in a simple wire netting cage. They are used simply to contain the leaves so there are plenty of ways of making the container. Pig netting will be fine. Not even a cover is needed. Alternatively it is possible to store the leaves in black bags with holes punctured in them to let in air.

It is good practice to store deciduous leaves separately from coniferous leaves since deciduous leaves decompose more quickly. Coniferous leaves are also more acidic.

It takes between 2 and 4 years for the leaves to decompose into dark brown friable mulch which is unrecognisable from the original leaves. It feels lovely to handle. Therefore it is better to make 2 containers one in use and one storing. It can be used directly or sometimes it may need to be sieved.

You can pile the leaves up as high as you like since they soon begin to decompose and sink and then more can be added

Leaf mould acts as good mulch for soft fruits such as the currant family and raspberries or generally in the garden. It needs to be applied when the soil is damp so that moisture is conserved. The mulch needs to be at least 4 inches (6-8 cms.) deep to suppress weeds. Any that come through are weak and easier to extract. The mulch is also attractive to birds such as robins, blackbirds and thrushes since it should contain many insects especially worms. The best months to apply leaf mould are February, March and April or September, October or December.

Make your own compost
Composting food and garden waste stops it going into landfill or being incinerated so saving transport and pollution too. In landfill, biodegradable waste breaks down anaerobically, producing the greenhouse gas methane, thought to be 70 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. By composting such waste instead, you can reduce the production of this harmful greenhouse gas. What's more, composting waste results in a fantastic soil conditioner for your garden, which can be used as a mulch or as part of a potting mix.

Make your own fertiliser
image009.jpg - 15.7 KBBocking 14 comfrey
image007.jpg - 8.1 KBLiquid comfrey
The production of artificial fertilisers and pesticides is very energy intensive, and therefore clocks up a large carbon footprint. But it's easy to make your own. As well as feeding your soil, use comfrey and nettle solutions to feed your plants throughout the growing season, and encourage natural predators and use home-made solutions to control pests. Over time, by using fewer artificial chemicals, you will notice you have fewer pests as the garden re establishes a natural balance.

Lawrence Hills describes his way of making natural fertiliser which I find works very well especially for greenhouse plants. This one is made of comfrey. Comfrey can be very invasive but it is possible to buy Bocking 14 comfrey which does not spread at all. The comfrey must be cut before it flowers. Comfrey has very deep roots so that it can tap minerals that other plants do not reach. This is his recipe. Put 14 lbs (6.3 kgs.) of freshly cut comfrey ( a small wheel barrow full) in a 20 gallon ( 9.92 l) fibre glass water butt, fill up with rain or tap water replace the lid to exclude light and in about 4 weeks a clear liquid can be drawn out from the tap at the bottom. No dilution is needed. The comfrey liquid has 3 times as much potassium, a third less phosphorous and rather more nitrogen than well known brands. Bocking 14 or Russian comfrey can be bought from the Organic Gardening catalogue -

Reuse and recycle
image011.jpg - 11.7 KB Simply by using less, we can cut our carbon footprint. This means looking after the stuff we have: Wipe down and oil garden tools, wash and carefully store existing plastic pots, propagators and cloches for constant re-use, and buy second hand items where possible. The Repair Cafe at the Lynch Chapel in Winscombe can repair almost anything especially electrical goods. They recently repaired my propagator that I was about to take to the dump. The cafe is open on the third Saturday of the month from 10am.until 12.30 pm. There are people to chat to and delicious refreshments whilst you wait.

Book Recommendation
Month by Month Organic Gardening by Lawrence Hills. This book really doesn't quite fit in with Nature Notes but many of the techniques practised respect living organisms and the soil and help to reduce our carbon footprint.

This is very much a 'back to the future' read. In the preface Lawrence Hills says' I have written this book to help those who have health problems to garden their way out of them, for the healthiest of all health foods are those grown without chemicals in your own garden.'

image014.jpg - 10.7 KB You don't really need another organic garden techniques book.

End Piece
There are 15 nest boxes in my garden. Last week they were emptied and brushed clean. Thirteen of the boxes contained nests with sheep's wool and moss being the most popular building material. Interestingly the two unused boxes were both wooden whereas the used ones are made of woodcrete a much more durable and safe material because they withstand heavy rain and winds.. The woodcrete boxes are more expensive but they are usually guaranteed for 25 years. They do not rot and woodpeckers and squirrels find them difficult to break into They are made with different size holes to suit particular birds

Fill Dyke - February 2020

When I was a child in the heart of Rutland (the UK's smallest county) the farmers of my village (at least 6) often referred to the month of February as:

February fill dyke

Be it black or be it white

I have tried to find out where this saying comes from but have had little luck so I wonder whether any reader has any information about it and whether it is a country wide saying or specific to the East Midlands?

Love is in the air in February! Listen out for birds singing and look out for spring flowers.

Here are a few sightings to look out for in February

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  • Drumming great spotted woodpeckers. Listen out for great spotted woodpeckers drumming on trees or telegraph poles to announce their presence in the woods. ...
  • Grey herons and heronries for example at Westhay. ...
  • Great crested grebes especially on the Westhay Nature Reserve in Somerset.. ...
  • Frog spawn. ...
  • Toads. ...
  • Hazel flowers. These are very tiny and bright red flowers that catch pollen from nearby catkins. ...
  • Catkins for example of alder , willow and especially hazel
  • Primroses and later sweet violets with their delicate scent
  • Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnnalis.' A beautiful small tree that flowers from late winter and into the spring.

image006.jpg - 7.6 KBFemale
image004.jpg - 7 KBGreat spotted woodpecker. Male

Drumming great spotted woodpeckers
Listen out for great spotted woodpeckers drumming on trees and telegraph poles to announce their presence, establish their territory and to attract a partner.

Their sharp bill is powered by strong neck muscles and their brain is protected from all the drumming by a special type of bone that absorbs the stress.

Male great spotted woodpeckers have red feathers at the nape of their necks while females have no red on their heads at all.

image010.jpg - 7.8 KBThrum eyed
image008.jpg - 6.6 KBPin-eyed
There are many species of primrose but the one referred to here is the common native primrose (primula vulgaris) Primroses are just beginning to flower from their clumps or rosettes of fresh green leaves

In the wild, primroses are colonising plants that gradually spread from their original clump. By dividing the clumps, gardeners can take advantage of this tendency to spread to get new plants for free. They will grow in sun or shade though they prefer dappled shade and in the wild often grow at the foot of hedgerows or in woodlands .They put up with dry or damp soil but not waterlogged.

Primroses are unusual in that they have 2 apparently identical but slightly different types of flower. Look carefully at the centre of the flower. One, the pin eyed, has a kind of green disc (the stigma) at its centre whilst the other called the thrum-eyed has a cluster of yellow anthers which conceal the stigma beneath.

Friend or Foe Quiz?
Gardeners increasingly are trying to attract beneficial insects into the garden for pest control or pollination, but at the same time try to avoid too many pests.

Group the creatures listed below into their correct categories to test whether you know your friends from your enemies in your garden. Note that some creatures may fit into more than one group.

Lacewing, Butterfly, Blackfly, Ground beetle, Wasp, Parasitic wasp, Lady bird, Slug, Solitary bee, Honey bee, Caterpillar, Hoverfly, Bumblebee, Thrip, Scale, Centipede.

  1. Pollination
  2. Pest controllers
  3. Enemies

Answers at the end.

Book Recommendation
The Robin: A Biography by Stephen Moss.

image012.jpg - 6.6 KB In 2015 in a nationwide ballot more than 200,000 people chose the robin as Britain's national bird. It won 34% of the vote beating the barn owl, which came second with 12 per cent, and the blackbird in third with 11 per cent.

Therefore this is a book about Britain's favourite bird perhaps because it is ever present throughout the year and embedded in our culture. Apparently there are more than 6 million breeding pairs.

In twelve, chapters, local natural history expert Stephen Moss observes the robin's brief but glorious life during one year. The robin is an animal of contrasts; a born survivor, so pretty in feather and song, but fiercely territorial. This is a bird given to courage, its modest stature belying its ability to defend its territory. Surprisingly robins only live for a year or two at the most so the robin that we tend to think of as 'ours' is likely not to be though it may be a son or daughter or an interloper that has won in a battle for territory.

When scanning various reviews of the book the Times said "There is a serious message here The more we learn about our favourite bird, the more we realise how much we don't know. This gulf is evidence of how we have become distanced from the natural world in general.'

End Piece
I found this quote from Roger Deakin in his book 'Notes from Walnut Tree Barn.'

'My house was once an acorn.'

Answers to Friend or Foe Quiz
Pollinators. Wasp(also a pest controller), solitary bee, bumblebee, butterfly, honey bee, hoverfly (also a pest controller)

Pest controllers. Lacewing, ladybird, ground beetle, parasitic wasp, centipede.

Enemies. Blackfly, caterpillar (not all), scale, slug, thrip.

More Bits and Pieces - January 2020

image003.jpg - 55.5 KB image001.jpg - 41.7 KB On November 20th I took the photograph on the left of a cotoneaster in the garden that was covered in berries and thought it would be interesting to see how long the berries would last and which birds might enjoy them. The photograph on the right shows the result. It was taken on December 1st when most of the berries had been stripped away except some of the lower ones. The berries were eaten exclusively by blackbirds and the most I saw at a time on the bush was 3 whether or not they were the same ones I do not know. They certainly squabbled about their entitlement to the food. Therefore the berries were mostly eaten within 10 days. The weather was relatively mild and perhaps during colder weather the berries would disappear more quickly.

Why does honey vary in colour and flavour?
Honey straight from a hive can vary in colour from very dark to almost colourless and its flavour ranges from subtly mild and creamy to distinctively powerful. Usually light coloured honey is milder to the taste whilst darker honey has a much stronger and lasting taste. This variation depends entirely on the source of nectar that the bees have found. For example honey based on Robinia (false acacia) is very pale in colour and delicate in taste. Conversely heather honey is very dark and powerful to the taste. Beekeepers often move their hives to heather growing areas so that bees can collect the nectar from the heather flowers so that beekeepers can then extract this premium honey. Once the flowering period is over the hives are returned to their usual home.
image010.jpg - 7.3 KBTemporary home for hives on heather moorland
image008.png - 7.5 KB image005.jpg - 41.8 KB Although bees frequent the flowers in our garden they also extract a lot of nectar from trees. For example an expert told me that the honey from the bees at my home comes mainly from sycamore. There is a large mature sycamore tree in the garden.

Farming Today on Radio 4
Today (December 27th.) this programme was devoted to planting trees on a very large scale in order to offset global warming to some degree. However there was a huge sting in the tail - the tree guards that are necessary to protect young trees from predation by deer, rabbits, squirrels, hares and even voles. Mostly they are made of plastic and once the trees have reached a certain maturity the guards are no longer needed and must be disposed of thus adding to the problem of how to deal with plastic waste.

image012.jpg - 7.7 KBClearly the guards also look unattractive for a few years. And in many cases the guards naturally split and are left in situ.
image014.jpg - 10.6 KBUsed tree guards dumped
image016.jpg - 7.3 KBBiodegradable tree guards

In response to the growing need to reduce the use of plastics, it is necessary to find an alternative to the plastic guards and to produce ones that are biodegradable. There are biodegradable guards available . The ones that I use are called Tree Biodegradable (100%) Spiral Guards but there are others on the market and as the demand increases more are becoming available,

The Woodland Trust ( says this:

image018.jpg - 10.8 KB 'If you're looking to plant lots of trees, we have the trees, grants and funding schemes to help. From 30 trees to 300,000, our expert advisers can help you put the right trees in the right place to achieve your goals.'


'Our MOREwoods and MOREhedges schemes are ideal for anyone planting on a large scale. You may be eligible for financial support.'

Book recommendation
The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben. This is a sequel to the author's first book The Hidden Life of Trees (reviewed in Nature Notes in December 2017) We tend to think that we are the only living things able to experience feelings intensely and consciously.( not if you are an animal lover I would say) This book explores what might actually be going on inside an animal's head.)More and more researchers are discovering that animals experience many of the emotions common to humans. This in turn gives us cause for concern about animal welfare in an intensive farming system.

End Pieces
image020.jpg - 47.8 KB I have never seen this before or perhaps I had not noticed. These teasels had been left for goldfinches to seek out the many seeds contained within the head - which they do with enthusiasm and in preference to the niger seeds provided in a feeder However though the actual plant was still in the soil some seeds had germinated within the teasel head. I assume that they are living on food within the seed and I wonder how long the seedlings will survive. image022.jpg - 46.5 KB Perhaps some will fall to the ground, establish roots and grow on to full size plants?

New Signs
I noticed these new and very clear signs on walk 66a which is on the path leading from Quarry Road towards Lyncombe Lodge. They look attractive but stand out very clearly for a dog walker to see and hopefully act upon. They are produced by Farm Watch with the support of Avon and Somerset Police.

Survival - December 2019

Survival Nature Notes December 2019 Last month I told you about 3 baby hedgehogs (hoglets) that my friends had found in their garden. There is a happy ending to this story in that they were all caught and taken to Secret World (2 of them) and the last one to Prickles in Cheddar. After a few weeks Secret World rang to say that the hedgehogs were ready for collection since they had reached a suitable weight for withstanding the winter months in hibernation. In fact on arrival my friend was told that they had changed their minds but they provided 2 bags of food for when they would be ready!

A hedgehog should weigh around 600 grams before going into hibernation to ensure that it has a good body fat resource to see it through the long sleep. Hedgehogs much smaller than this will still try to hibernate, but if the body fat is too low, it will not survive and would not wake up again.

It is therefore important that they have enough fat reserves to survive hibernation. Generally a hedgehog may lose one third of its body weight during hibernation and that is why a minimum weight of 600g is needed to survive the winter.

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Berries for survival
I have noticed that birds have started to take berries from the hedgerows and particularly those of the cotoneaster. Usually I find that once started these berries disappear very rapidly so they must be a favourite. Here are photos of two Cotoneasters in my garden and I thought that I would monitor them to see how long it takes to finish all the berries. The photo was taken on November 19th.

Most animals go into hibernation in autumn. It's the most efficient way of surviving winter. Rather than searching for food (of which there's very little), they shut down and sit it out. True hibernation involves slowing down the heart and breathing rates, and dropping body temperature, but most enter a state of 'torpor', where body temperature falls only slightly. They wake periodically and bring their body temperature back to normal, before returning to sleep. It's not fully understood why they do this, but it may explain occasional hedgehog or bat sightings in winter.

Those hibernating in your garden in winter include hedgehogs, amphibians, reptiles and insects - particularly bumblebees, butterflies and wasps. Some insects hibernate as adults, such as peacock, brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies. Others hibernate as larvae or pupae. Whatever the species, it has evolved its own method to survive the cold months, into spring.

Usually it is unusual to see wildlife hibernating but that's the point - it's safer for wildlife to stay hidden. They might have buried themselves deep in the soil or compost bin, snuggled into ornamental grass or folded their wings beneath a piece of bark or shed roof- and so it is important not to disturb them so best to delay tidying up until the spring.

How to protect hibernating wildlife
  1. Before lighting bonfires (if absolutely necessary) check for any creatures sheltering in them.
  2. If you accidentally dig up a bumblebee, don't re-bury it. Place it somewhere cool and dry, such as on a pile of leaves.
  3. If you disturb a slow-worm, place it on your compost heap, covering it lightly with material.
  4. If you wake a butterfly, catch it in a shoe box and take it to your shed. It will be fine there, but remember to release it in spring.
  5. If you spot a moving hedgehog, offer it water and food (chicken flavour, cat or dog food will do) and leave it. It will soon settle down somewhere or see Nature Notes November 2019 if the hedgehog seems to be in distress.

Tawny Owls
image005.jpg - 22 KB Tawny Owls are beginning to strengthen their territories and endeavouring to find a mate if they do not already have one so it is quite common to hear them calling at this time of year- late autumn until March They will produce young early in the year in late February.

The tawny owl is an owl the size of a woodpigeon. It has a rounded body and head, with a ring of dark feathers around its face surrounding the dark eyes. Tawny owls in the UK are mainly reddish brown above and paler underneath. It is a widespread breeding species in England, Wales and Scotland but not found in Ireland. Birds are mainly residents with established pairs probably never leaving their territories. Young birds disperse from breeding grounds in autumn. Their diet consists of small mammals and rodents, small birds, frogs, fish, insects and worms. They are nocturnal so that they are seldom seen during daylight hours but their call can be heard from twilight and throughout the night.

Tawny Owls can make a variety of calls but the most familiar are their "kee-wick"and"hoot"sounds. The hooting or "twoo" sound is usually made by the male and is a territorial call. You can sometimes hear a female responding to a male's "twoo" call with a sharp "kee-wick". Together this duet produces the classic "twit twoo" sound which we associate with these owls.

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As with so much of our wildlife tawny owls are decreasing in numbers but the reasons for this are poorly understood but the same problems occur again and again such as changes in woodland management, increasing urbanisation and/or the influence of climate change on small mammal abundance could be factors, but more research is required.

However, the following conservation measures could be of some help, not just for Tawny Owls but for a number of other species as well;

  • Mature trees should be nurtured and maintained. Standing dead wood should be left where safe to do so.
  • Allow standard trees to mature within hedgerows rather than flailing or laying them
  • Plant more trees! -term when prey-rich rough grassland habitat initially develops between the trees, and in the long-term once mature.
  • Create new ponds especially near to woodlands to encourage amphibians, invertebrates and small birds.
  • Erect Tawny Owl boxes in areas where there is a shortage of mature trees.

There are many types of box to be found on

Take Action for Insects
image012.jpg - 11.4 KB We all depend on insects!

All of the UK Wildlife Trusts are taking serious action to try to halt the worldwide decline of insects. Here is a small part of what they say. For much more information try the following web site- Once there be specific and type in Take Action for Insects

'We are witnessing the largest extinction event on earth since the dinosaurs'

Take Action for Insects and help tackle this crisis.

Insects are dying out up to 8 times faster than larger animals and 41% of insect species face extinction.

This is a grave cause for concern - it impacts on us as well as all wildlife. Insects pollinate three quarters of our food crops, as well as being the main food source for many birds, small mammals and fish.

Loss of their habitat and overuse of pesticides are two of the major causes of this looming catastrophe. However, the good news is that it's not too late to act. Insect populations can recover, and we know what needs to be done to save them.

By working together we can change the future of insects, starting now, you can help by taking our pledge to take two simple actions in your home or outside space that will make a difference.

Two actions that will make a real difference

1. STOP killing insects by reducing your use of harmful chemicals at home

2. START to create bug hubs (sometimes called bug hotels) in your garden - see

Please help by making a pledge to Take Action for Insects today. When you sign up we will provide you with two free Action Guides to help you go chemical free in your garden and to make your garden a haven for wildlife.

Why should we care?

Without insects many birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and fish would die out as they would have nothing to eat.

87% of all plant species require animal pollination, most of it delivered by insects - that is pretty much all of them except grasses and conifers.

In addition, 3 out of 4 of all the crops that we grow require pollination by insects.

Only by working together can we address the causes of insect loss, halt and reverse them, and secure a sustainable future for insect life and for ourselves.

Together, we can stop this looming catastrophe and create an environment that is rich in nature for the benefit of wildlife and people.

Make a difference today...

The new Environment Act calls for the creation of Nature Recovery Networks to be enshrined in law so that nature has more wild spaces that are bigger and better connected. By making 'bug hubs' in your garden to attract insects, your wild patch will become part of the bigger picture - a connected natural world where all wildlife can thrive. Watch our Wilder Future short film with Sir David Attenborough explaining the importance of Nature Recovery Networks.'

Book Recommendation
Blue Planet II by James Honeyborne and Mark Brownlow with a foreword by Sir David Attenborough.

Blue Planet II recently won the NTAs (National Television Awards) special Impact Award. Sir David Attenborough accepted the award for the series' awareness-raising over plastic pollution. The final episode of the BBC's Blue Planet II has been widely heralded as a key moment sparking the war on plastics. Furthermore new research has shown that an incredible 88% of people who watched the programme have since changed their behaviour as a result. Half of these people said they had "drastically changed" their behaviour towards plastics of all kinds.

End Piece
Fieldfares and Redwings returned to my garden for a brief stay last week that is mid November. They were quick to find fallen apples and some still on the trees. I wonder how these rather truculent birds find apples. Do the same birds come back year after year . They do guard 'their' trees vociferously and fiercely or do they spot apples from the air?

Happy Christmas to all and hopefully a good gardening year for wildlife and especially for insects and their dependants!

Earwigs in the Orchard - November 2019

image001.jpg - 7.4 KBTowards the end of the apple picking season I often find earwigs squeezed between 2 closely growing fruits. Maybe that is the place they have chosen for the winter.
Despite popular belief, and its name (from the Old English for 'ear beetle'), earwigs will not crawl into your ear while you sleep! - It much prefers a nice log or stone pile! It feeds on organic matter, recycling important nutrients.

These long, glossy brown insects can be recognised by the characteristic pincers at the hind end of their body. Although there are about 2,000 known species worldwide, only four are native to the UK - this is the most common.

Earwigs are generally nocturnal, and seek out dark cracks and crevices such as log or stone piles to rest during the day. They are mainly vegetarian scavengers, but will eat carrion and other insects.

Although they have wings, earwigs are usually reluctant to fly. Unlike most insects, a female earwig is a good mother. She lays 30-50 eggs and protects them through the winter. When they hatch, she feeds and tends the nymphs until they are able to fend for themselves.

Many people especially gardeners think of earwigs as pests and a quick search on the Internet confirms this because there are dozens of articles on how to 'control' (ie. kill) earwigs. Earwigs, in fact, are extremely beneficial insects for the garden since they are predators of many genuine insect pests, aphids being a favourite!

image002.jpg - 50.9 KBWhite, blue, pink and black berries in the autumn sun
Experimental exclusion of earwigs from apple trees (Goulson 2016) which can be done by putting a band of sticky 'tanglefoot' glue around the trunk to stop the earwigs from climbing up resulted in an increase of the woolly aphid population by more than 3 times that found on control trees with earwigs. Earwigs have been estimated to eat as many aphids each year in apple orchards as could be killed by 3 rounds of spraying with insecticides. They are also voracious predators of other insect pests. Given that each spray may cost £60 per hectare and that there are 14.5 thousand hectares of commercial apple orchards in the UK that makes the tiny earwig potentially worth about £2.6 million to the economy each year and that is just for apples but it would be very hard to find an earwig in a commercial orchard.

Clerodendrum trees
Last month Clerodendrum trees were in full flower wafting their powerful scent throughout the garden. Now it is the turn of the equally magnificent berries which change in colour as they mature going from white through blue to pink, red and finally black.

Why do leaves change colour in the autumn?
image004.jpg - 39.6 KBA young oak in its autumn colours along the footpath to Sandford Woods
This is another complex work of nature with lots of questions still being asked. Basically our broadleaved trees stop making food by photosynthesis in the Autumn and winter so they no longer need to produce chlorophyll (which gives leaves their green colour) and is very expensive for a tree to make so they are broken down and may be reabsorbed. Trees no longer need their leaves for making food and so these are eventually also discarded. The green colour drains away and waste products that have accumulated over the year are revealed. These bright colours are due to 2 main types of chemical. The yellows and oranges are produced by carotenoids. These are present throughout the year and have a role to play in capturing light and protection from antioxidents. The reds come from anthocyanins which do not play a direct part in photosynthesis. There is only one deciduous native conifer tree - the larch and this tree also loses its leaves after they too have changed colour.

Wildlife in November
November is a significant month for wildlife. For mammals, amphibians and birds, there's less invertebrate food around, as snails, caterpillars and other creatures hunker down for winter. This means they spend more energy looking for food, just when they need it the most.

Hedgehogs have been fattening up ahead of going into hibernation - they need to be large enough to survive several months without food, so leaving meat-based cat or dog food out for them can make all the difference. My friend found a dead hedgehog that had been run over whilst trying to cross the A368 at Churchill. He was sad but thought little more about it until that evening when his wife saw 3 baby hedgehogs apparently alone and so they assumed it was their mother that had been run over. They managed to catch one youngster and took it to Secret World where it is surviving well. The next night they managed to catch a second hedgehog that was taken to Prickles, the hedgehog rescue centre in Cheddar. The third was much more elusive but just as they had almost given up hope it showed up on the lawn, was captured and also taken to Prickles. If you find a hedgehog needing help this is what to do.

Emergency. Please ring 07806 744 772

If you come across a hedgehog that is:

  • squealing
  • a hoglet out in the day
  • Injured or bleeding
  • Gasping for air
  • Caught up in netting
  • Appears to be having a fit
  • Out in the day

Birds don't hibernate, so need to consume enough calories per day to survive each night. Most reptiles will already have entered hibernation, while frogs, toads and newts will be well on their way. Some species of bee and butterfly may still be on the wing, emerging on sunny days to feed from late-summer flowers. Providing food is therefore a key October job.

image006.jpg - 7 KB Elsewhere in the garden we should be creating habitats for hibernating wildlife, and leaving areas alone to avoid disturbing anything. Think of your garden as not belonging to you for the next few months - take a back seat and leave the tidying until spring. The wildlife needs it now.

Book Recommendation
Life Cycles of British and Irish Butterflies by Peter Eeles

Quote from the Introduction 'Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you' Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864.

Peter Eeles describes, in detail, the fascinating life cycles of the 59 butterfly species that are residents or regular migrants to Britain and Ireland. The descriptions are detailed but not too scientific for the enthusiast. The author gives details and high quality photos not only of the adult but also the egg, caterpillar and chrysalis of each species so that it is then easy to make sure that in your garden you have introduced not only butterfly plants but plants and shelter for the other stages of growth.

End Piece
image008.jpg - 47 KB I keep seeing this regular imprint on flag stones particularly but I do not know how it gets there. I am assuming a snail or slug but does anyone know please?

Bits and Pieces - October 2019

Is this a mast year?
image001.jpg - 56.1 KBBeech at Sandford Church also having a mast year
Mast is the word used to describe the fruit of woodland trees such as acorns and beech seeds. A mast year is when the trees that produce these fruits have a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than they normally would. Trees such as oak and beech fluctuate massively from year to year with regard to the amount of fruit they produce. Some years no fruit will be seen and other years an exceptional crop is observed.

I have 2 beech trees. When we arrived here 35 years ago they were just at the sapling stage but now they are quite mature and this year they have produced thousands of beech nuts. For several weeks now there has been a 'clink clink' sound near the beeches. It took some time to realise at these were beech nuts falling onto the corrugated shed nearby and then rolling onto the ground below.

It is not clear why there are mast years but there are ideas. One of the major theories amongst scientists for this behaviour is predator satiation. Many animals including mammals and birds feed on beech nuts including deer, foxes, mice, nuthatches, and jays. The trees in effect may hold back for a few years to keep these populations low. Then during a mast year more food is produced than these frugivores (fruit eaters) can possibly consume, ensuring that some seeds will germinate. This has a major evolutionary advantage for the tree; producing seeds is costly work and therefore it needs to be ensured that some of their fruit will survive and grow. Producing fruit in a mast year does stunt growth of the tree but as this only occurs every five to ten years it's a worthwhile pay off to ensure the production of more saplings. Mast years are not just one off events occurring with one specific tree - the vast majority of woodland trees across the UK will have a major crop that same year. image005.jpg - 18.4 KB
image003.jpg - 46.5 KBBeech mast already used by squirrels I think although I can see 2 overlooked nuts. Might they germinate?

So how do trees seemingly miles apart communicate with one another? This is another of nature's mysteries; However, it is thought that it is probably to do with the weather. The right combination of temperature and rainfall in the spring is thought to trigger this response.

Back to feathers
image007.gif - 7.2 KB I have found out that feathers are very complex and also that there are 4 types of feather and not 6 as I thought when I picked up feathers from my moulting geese.

Feathers are needed for flight, insulation and courtship displays. They are made from keratin, the same protein found in hair and nails.

Feather anatomy Feathers have a central shaft. The smooth, base, which extends under the skin into the feather follicle, is called the calamus or quill. The portion above the skin, from which the smaller barbs or branches extend, is termed the rachis. On each side of the rachis there is a set of filaments, called barbs which come off at approximately a 45degree angle. This portion of the feather that has barbs is called the vane. In the larger feathers, these barbs have two sets of microscopic filaments called barbules. Barbules from one barb cross the adjacent barbs at a 90degree angle. Barbules, in turn, have hooklets, which hook the barbules together, like a zipper, forming a tight, smooth surface. These maintain the shape of the feather. Without these strong linkages, the feather would not be able to withstand the air resistance during flight. The barbs or hooklets may become separated from each other; if this occurs, the bird can reattach them while preening. At the base of the feathers, there are often barbs that are not hooked together. These are called downy barbs. ill was the original writing tool and most children still like to collect and use them for drawing especially if you have some real ink. Quink ink was the name.

image008.jpg - 31.9 KBFeathers on display. Geese spend much of the day washing
image010.jpg - 28.8 KBAnd preening also takes up several hours a day to keep feathers in top condition. Susie the goose needs to be supple!
Aphids are tiny creatures but they are very annoying and tend to send many gardeners to a spray that will kill them. There are many such products lined up in rows in garden centres but beware! Once on the spraying trail has started it will be nearly impossible to give up because the very spray that kills aphids is usually non specific and kills the aphids beneficial predators as well Therefore the aphid is free to carry on reproducing more and more and more unless spraying continues. Aphids can reproduce far more rapidly than their predators.

There are many kinds of aphid with very particular tastes. Each of the many aphid species has its own life cycle, but there are some features uniting nearly all of them. One feature most species share is that they are incredibly prolific. Wingless adult female aphids can produce 50 to 100 offspring. A newly born aphid becomes a reproducing adult within about a week and then can produce up to 5 offspring per day for up to 30 days! The French naturalist Reaumur during the late eighteenth century calculated that if all the descendants of a single aphid survived during the summer and were arranged into a French military formation, four abreast, their line would extend for 27,950 miles, which exceeds the circumference of the earth at the equator!

An even more amazing feature of life cycles of most aphid species is that reproduction during at least part of its life cycle can be accomplished without the help of male aphids! Babies have no fathers. Young are born from females without the benefit of sexual reproduction, in a process known as parthenogenesis. When mother aphids reproduce parthenogenetically, instead of laying eggs they give birth directly to smaller editions of cycle

In spring an egg hatches, producing a wingless female aphid which soon begins parthenogenetically producing new wingless females. Generation after generation of wingless females survive one another until hot weather comes or maybe the plant on which they are living dies.

Late in the year when it's time to move back to the plant species on which the aphid overwinters, finally some aphids develop into males as well as females. Sexual reproduction then takes place and when the mated females return to the winter plant-host they lay fertilized eggs. Then next spring the females hatch from the eggs and the cycle begins again, with no males in sight.

There are many predators of aphids but none can reproduce in anything like the speed of their prey

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For example this ladybird has laid her eggs within an aphid colony so that larval food is right at hand. The larvae are in jeopardy in 2 ways one the gardener might tidy up and dispose of the 'dead' host plant or the gardener may choose to spray so killing future ladybirds and some but not all aphids. The aphids can now reproduce even more rapidly. More spray is needed.

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This hoverfly eats only nectar but her larvae are carnivorous so she also has laid her eggs within a colony of aphids. If the aphids are sprayed the hoverfly larvae die too and so the aphids have even more freedom to proliferate and hoverflies, vital pollinators, decline in numbers.

image021.jpg - 12.9 KB Ladybirds and hoverflies can only produce one or two broods a year so they cannot possibly reproduce at the same rate as their aphid prey. Perhaps this one of the reasons why we are losing so many of our pollinators.

Book recommendation
Underland: A deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane. This is the winner of the Wainwright Golden Book Prize 2019

Another tour de force by Robert Macfarlane. This time he investigates by personal adventure and huge amounts of research about what exactly is going on beneath our feet. The happenings are amazing sometimes beyond belief and sometimes unsettling. The first chapter is about the Mendip caves particularly Aveline's Hole which is to be seen alongside the Burrington Coombe road on the east side. Here is a quote:

'Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose and that which we love and wish to save...'

End piece
Robot bees are on their way!
Apparently robot bees are on their way

Seeds - September 2019

A Quiz about Seeds
Can you name these 12 seed heads belonging to wild rather than garden plants. Where possible the flower is included to help identification. The answers are set out just after the book recommendation. Although there is currently a great emphasis on flowers for pollinators seeds are equally important to ensure future generations of the plant. Seeds are also vitally important as food for birds, invertebrates, insects and small mammals. Therefore it is important not to cut back all flowers once they have 'died.'

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The Garden Tiger Moth
image027.jpg - 14.8 KB image025.jpg - 29.1 KB The Garden Tiger Moth is apparently a common moth of meadows and gardens though this is the first time that I have ever seen one! This one was sun bathing on the kitchen window. And has been flying around now for a couple of weeks. You can just see parts of the orange hind wings. If disturbed the moth displays these orange hind wings with blue-black spots and can produce a clear yellow fluid from two ducts just behind the head to deter predators.

image031.jpg - 10.2 KBTiger Moth eggs on the underside of leaves
image029.jpg - 11.6 KBTiger Moth caterpillar or Woolly Bear
The caterpillar eats a wide variety of herbaceous plants, including nettles (yet again!) broad-leaved dock), water dock, dandelions, burdocks, hounds tongue and many other garden plants.
They overwinter as a caterpillar and hatch in the spring.

Tiger moths are decreasing in numbers partly because of tidying gardens for the winter, cutting back hedges and the general degrading and /or actual loss of habitats

Book Recommendation
image033.jpg - 9.9 KB The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet by Dave Goulson

Dave Goulson is now the Professor of Biological Science at the University of Sussex. He has developed his own garden so that he can observe wildlife in detail. His aim is to show that in any garden no matter its size there is plenty of life - worms, woodlice, centipedes, flies, silverfish, wasps, beetles, earwigs, mice, shrews and much much more quietly living within just a few paces of us. No need to go on a safari! He explains how our lives and ultimately the fate of humankind are inextricably intertwined with the wildlife around us. The author argues that gardens could become places where we can reconnect with nature and rediscover where food comes from.

Just as an aside he gives details about the average Cox apple orchard in the UK. The data comes from DEFRA not a body likely to exaggerate. Each orchard received these sprays: 13 of fungicides, 2 of herbicides, 5 of plant regulators, 1 of urea and 5 of insecticides. No wonder sprays need to be repeated since there would be no natural predators left. His answer to protect our health is either to grow our own (you can now buy miniature fruit trees that will grow in pots) or try to afford some organically grown fruit even though it may have some blemishes.

This is a highly recommended book fun to read and very informative.

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Answers to the Seed quiz
1. Hogweed. 2. Geum. 3. Teasel 4. Buttercup. 5. Goosegrass. 5. Self heal. 7. Jack-by-the-hedge. 8. Dandelion. 9. Thistle. 10. Sow thistle. 11. Cuckoo pint. 12. Knapweed.


This is just a selection of feathers dropped, from their annual moult, by my domestic geese. I think that there are at least 6 types. All have a specific and different function from flight feathers (the largest) to the tiny down ones. I intend to find out more for the October nature notes.

Finding Food - August 2019

Who's enjoying these cones?
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image005.jpg - 35 KBSquirrels tend to split the nut neatly in half. Apparently it takes about 20 seconds to gain access to the nut
Grey squirrels gnaw at the cones (from an old family Christmas tree) and leave the characteristic 'cores' behind plus piles of stripped scales under conifer trees. They are also enjoying hazel nuts at the moment and eat them when they are still green so leaving little chance for humans to enjoy them as well! Most of the local paths are littered with left overs'

Flying Ants
image007.jpg - 11.4 KBSwarm of flying ants. (not my picture)
Every summer, there is a day in the UK when thousands of flying ants suddenly emerge from their. underground nests - a phenomenon known as Flying Ant Day. The day changes each year but it usually happens in July and is triggered by the right temperature conditions. Actually there is more than one day. The flying ant period can last a few weeks but usually builds up to a specific day when millions of flying ants come out at the same time all over the country.

The reason for these swarms is when male and female ants sprout wings and venture out of their nests on a "nuptial flight", seeking ants from other colonies to mate with.

According to the Society of Biology , nuptial flight is an important phase in the reproduction of the ant species. During the flight, virgin queens mate with males and then land to start a new colony.

The flying ants we see are almost certainly the familiar black garden variety. Their nests have a single queen and typically around 5,000 workers, although there can be as many as 15,000. (very similar to a bee colony)

image009.jpg - 45.8 KB The ants we see throughout most of the year are workers, collecting food for the colony. Workers are all female and will be alive as adults for about a month. The flying ants we see though once a year are males and young queens and it is one task of the workers to encourage the flying ants to climb up something so that they can take off with their unaccustomed wings.

Once the queen has mated she will lose her wings and wander around in search of a suitable place to start a new colony. If the queen manages to secure a nest she can live for over 10 years spending most of her time in the nest laying more and more eggs. New queens, however, will have to leave to mate and found a colony of their own. Each year I have an 'ant day' in my kitchen but it does not last long and there doesn't seem to be a need to use any of the many methods of killing the ants suggested by Google. They are not at all dangerous just a very temporary nuisance. My way is to empty the vacuum cleaner bag, hoover them up and then empty them on the lawn near bushes. It may have to be done several times but then that's it for another year.

This year I happened to be in my garage when I saw thousands of ants emerging from a hole where the water supply comes in. It was a dramatic sight. The winged ants are clear to see and the workers are there too shepherding the winged ants on their way. You can just see them.

The 'nuptial flight' is why ants fly. Ants mate during flight, so males and young queens both have wings. If you look carefully at flying ants you will see that some are much larger. These are the queens. The large numbers of flying ants which appear in a short space of time increase the chance of reproduction: there is a very high chance a queen will encounter a male from another nest.

Arum maculatum.
image013.jpg - 39.4 KB image011.jpg - 9 KB For once it is useful to use the Latin name for this plant since it has so many local names a few of which are listed below. I usually call them cuckoo pints.

The cuckoo pint (pronounced to rhyme with mint rather than with pint) is a woodland plant which grows in most parts of the UK - also in gardens. It his shiny green leaves with purple spots but its most recognisable feature is the 'hood' which surrounds its flowers. The flowers grow on a long thin 'spadix' and the 'hood' (or spathe) surrounds them and forms a trap for flies. The spadix itself produces an odour which has been likened to the smell of poo and this attracts flies. Once inside the hood they are coated with pollen which, after they escape, they spread to other cuckoo pints.

We are increasingly encouraged to plant flowers for bees and other pollinating insects. They are usually sweet smelling from the nectar hidden at the base of the petals. However not all insects are looking for sweet smells and the Cuckoo Pint provides for insects that like a more robust fragrance.

The cuckoo pint's flowers (which appear in spring) are not much to look at but the berries, which the flowers develop into, are bright orange (see above) and a colourful addition to a woodland scene. They are, however, poisonous. The leaves are poisonous too and can make the tongue and throat swell, causing breathing difficulties.

The cuckoo pint has more than 90 other names. Its scientific title is Arum maculatum which means poisonous speckled but its folk names are much more creative. Here's a list of a few:

  • Friar's cowl
  • Adam and eve
  • Lords and ladies
  • Wake robin
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  • Cows and bulls
  • Adder's root
  • Devils and angels
  • Snake's head
  • Tender ear

These foul smelling plants attract beetles and all sorts of flies such as blowflies and midges. (ideal food for bats) They are generally known as carrion or corpse plants because they may small of rotting flesh. Other garden carrion plants include the stately Crown Imperial Fritillary, the pineapple lily (Eucomis) and the stinking iris. (Iris foetidissima) The latter is the yellow iris that likes to grow by ponds or in other damp ground.

Book recommendation
Still Water. The deep Life of the Pond by John Lewis- Stempel

I really thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is the third book that the author has written about his farm in Herefordshire starting with Meadowland and then The Running Hare. He is so observant and puts into words what the reader had not quire realised what they had noticed themselves. He is particularly fond of Scitty , the moorhen who has stayed on the pond for many years and is not a migrant. He writes in a poetic but concise way and includes nature observations about ponds from other writers especially John Clare.

Summer - July 2019

The mullein moth
The mullein moth which is quite drab to look at but well camouflaged on twigs lays its eggs on verbascum, buddleia and figwort at the end of spring. Now! Shortly after, from late spring to midsummer, the stunning caterpillars demolish the foliage (see below). Bad infestations can actually strip a plant. They then hide in the soil to pupate inside a very tough cocoon just below the soil's surface. They may not emerge from the cocoon for several years and then they begin the cycle again.

image001.jpg - 6.7 KBThe Mullein Moth
image004.jpg - 47.8 KBAn unmolested mullein plant
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The Cornus or Dogwood family
image006.jpg - 48.7 KBCornus 'Norman Hadden.'
This is stepping into garden territory but if you were thinking of planting a small tree this would be an attractive choice. Many of the Cornus family are native shrubs and trees but this is a cultivated variety that likes alkaline soils. It does not grow too tall but in spring is covered in these beautiful 4 petalled flowers that have the added bonus of turning pink as they fade away. The flowers are then replaced by red berries rather like those of a Strawberry Tree.

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The Common Spotted Orchid
When we first came to Hillview I remember being excited to discover five of these orchids but now, 30 years on, they are too numerous to count. I began to wonder how this proliferation could have happened since I seldom see insects on the plant that could pollinate it. The magazine British Wildlife Volume 10 helped with an explanation but even then there are still unanswered questions.

image014.jpg - 49.8 KB image016.jpg - 40.4 KB This orchid has a very unusual but very successful strategy for dispersal. Their seeds are minute, like dust. Apparently, loosely packed you could get upwards of 45 000 seeds in a level teaspoon. They are shaped like a spindle. The seed is also very simple consisting of an embryo and a small amount of protein. The rest is air. (80%) There are no food stores and no rudimentary root, shoot or seed leaf. It is like a tiny balloon that can float in the air. Since the seed is so low in needs the plant can afford to produce an abundance of seeds for example 0ne capsule can contain 5 000 seeds and the whole plant produces about 90 000 seeds.

The orchid mainly depends on wind for dispersal and it has to live on fungi until large enough to produce its first leaf. When the conditions are right the fungus grows a very fine thread called a hypha which penetrates the orchid seed, and its embryo, through which it passes nutrients to enable the orchid to grow. The seed must therefore land close enough to a suitable fungal partner and then it can only germinate in the dark. Therefore it has to be trampled or washed below the soil's surface. Quite a feat of survival.

Now is the time for poppies. It seems a very good year for them and most are self sown in unexpected places They love to self seed and there is a huge variety of colours, shapes and sizes. It is very easy to collect your own seeds. Just wait until the little holes at the base of the 'frill' open shake the head into a paper bag or envelope (not plastic) and thousands of seeds will tumble out. They will keep until the following spring or you can scatter them immediately. It may be an idea to poppy seed swap? Don't forget to label the seeds with date, colour, double, single etc.

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Book Recommendation
image023.jpg - 13 KB Rewild Yourself 25 spellbinding ways to make nature more visible by Simon Barnes

Simon Barnes. is an English journalist. He was Chief Sports Writer of The Times until 2014, and also wrote a wildlife opinion column in the Saturday edition of the same newspaper. He has also written three novels.

It is a little book of activism. Its quietness and seemingly small ambition, is the key to its charm and, hopefully, to its power.

Rewild Yourself seems to be a bit of a riposte to the current trend of rewilding large tracts of land for which you do need money and influence (see nature notes May 2019 Wilding by Isabella Tree) Not many people can afford to devote their whole farm to wildness instead of crops though it is wonderful to see and for biodiversity and conservation. The book is written in Barnes's typical matey, unthreatening and humorous tone, in which he never shows off his knowledge, vocabulary, or journalistic skills. Instead, he writes as an uncle would to his nieces or nephews, encouraging them to enjoy his love of the outdoors and all the beasts and birds it contains.

Though readers from as young as eight or nine would enjoy it, this is not a children's book. It does, however, appeal to the child in us and to the wild in us too. That is his point. He prefaces each very short chapter with a quote, often from C S Lewis's Narnia novels or Harry Potter, but sometimes straying into more adult territory, such as James Joyce's Ulysses, Barnes sets out to show us that nature is all around us, if only we would notice. In other words we need to rewild ourselves too. The premise behind the book is simple: "Now you don't see it, now you do." If you listen to Barnes, it suggests, you'll discover a world of creatures within hand's reach that you never even knew were there and soon, you'll feel part of their world too.

End Piece
Have you ever picked a walnut leaf? Try it. Just rub it between your fingers and then inhale! Quite a surprise and treat.

The Wild Service Tree - June 2019

image001.jpg - 41.8 KB image003.jpg - 28.8 KB The wild service tree tree is relatively small and rare. It is native to Britain and other parts of Europe. It prefers clay and/or lime based soil so it does well in our area. I bought mine from Chew Valley Trees. The leaves are very distinctive being lobed -3 or 4 unequal lobes and quite similar to the maple family. In the autumn they turn to a rich coppery red. Flowers form in clusters in late spring and are insect pollinated.

The flowers provide pollen and nectar for insects, while the berries are eaten by birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of the moths Bucculatrix bechsteinella and Phyllonorycter mespilella.

It is the fruits that are called chequers. They are said to taste like dates and were given to children as sweets. They can be made into an alcoholic drink or to flavour other alcoholic drinks such as whisky. It may have influenced the naming of 'chequers inns', although it is unclear which came first - the name of the fruit or the inns.

Chequers is the sixteenth century country retreat of the Prime Minister and is in Oxfordshire. Where its name comes from is not really known but there is one suggestion that it is named after the Wild Service trees that grow in the extensive grounds.

What is cuckoo spit?
image007.jpg - 34.7 KB image005.jpg - 53.8 KB Cuckoo spit is the temporary home of a very common insect called the froghopper. In the froth is an immature or nymph stage froghopper. They feed on the sap of their plant host but rarely cause any damage to the plant. Their food is wide ranging including grasses, herbs, vegetables and trees.

Adult insects are small, measuring only about half an inch long but they are great jumpers. They have very strong leg muscles and can jump up to 27 inches enabling t them to escape predators and to move from plant to plant.

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Froghopper nymphs are vulnerable to predators and to drying out so they produce and cover themselves with 'spit'. This is actually undigested plant sap mixed with an abdominal excretion exuded from the anus. Air is introduced to the mixture from the abdominal gland causing it to froth.

Nymphs hatch from overwintered eggs in spring and feed on plants for about 2 months, moulting several times before becoming an adult. Then they leave their frothy protection. Newly emerged adults mate and move long distances to find more host plants. In autumn, before they die, females lay eggs on plants to hatch the following spring.

Lady birds
This month I have been trying to find out more about ladybirds and have been surprised by the answers. The interest was sparked whilst walking along the path that runs east-west along the southern edge of Helen's and Somerville Road. In fact to and from the playground (with the pirate's ship!) Nettles border the path in most places and on 2 consecutive days I saw many, many solitary ladybirds on them and there was a huge number.

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image013.jpg - 20.7 KB7 spot ladybird with its larva
First there are 46 species of ladybird resident in Britain - only 26 of which look like the classic round, spotty ladybird familiar from the children's books and not all are red. There are just 5 common ones found in a garden the main one being the 7 spot ladybird popular with gardeners and farmers since it eats aphids.

On the nettles was a variety of ladybirds but it was difficult to give the idea of numbers because they were alone on individual leaves.

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image017.jpg - 14 KBHarlequin ladybird
The Harlequin was introduced from Asia to North America in the 1980s to control aphids that were feeding on crops. The main reason Harlequin ladybirds pose a threat to our native ladybirds is that they have such voracious appetites that they easily out-compete native ladybirds for food. They are hard to identify because they can be red, orange or mainly black. They can have anything from0-19 spots as well.

Here are some differences:
  • Harlequins are larger 6-8 centimetres and the body is much rounder.
  • The legs of Harlequins are an orange-brown colour
  • The hind rim of the underside is quite orange red.
  • Harlequins have a triangular white patch on their heads.
  • Harlequins have two white spots on their thorax.

Identification seems very hard to me as there are so many variables. I'll need to find an expert!

Then I read this on the Natural History web site ( so who knows!

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The 'dangers' of harlequins
Harlequins have attracted negative publicity since they were introduced in Britain 2004, but in reality they are nothing to worry about.

They are known to reproduce quickly, gather in large swarms and compete with native ladybirds for aphids. They have shown signs of cannibalism, consuming the larvae and eggs of other ladybirds. But disease and predators are bringing the population under control.

Book Recommendation
The Seabird's Cry by Adam Nicolson. I chose this book because it was Waterstone's book of the month for April and also I have read another book by Adam Nicolson (Sea Room) which was absorbing and different. This one is both a labour of love and the result of a lifetime of study. It is told in ten chapters each of which tells of a different sea bird. Implied all the time is a love of a birds and our responsibility and need to conserve them and most importantly the coastal areas that are their home. The illustrations by Kate Boxer enhance the written word hugely.

End piece
I always look forward to the arrival of the swallow family back to the UK after their arduous migration from Africa. It is also highly dangerous because in several countries it is considered a sport to shoot these birds as they fly overhead. This year the arrival of the local 'Sandford' swallows was very late and I did not see the first 2 at Byeways until May 15th. which was almost one month later than last year. However when I researched this the RSPB said that swallows had arrived earlier this year because of favourable weather so our swallows must just have had some kind of setback.

image027.jpg - 35.9 KB image025.jpg - 6.8 KB image023.jpg - 21.9 KB Here is one. 'She' looked very bedraggled and her tail seemed to be missing. Compared to the other swallow with her she was also very tiny and looked exhausted. Their flight had probably taken about 6 weeks depending on their starting and finishing point. They always return to their same 'home' which must be very tough if they arrive to find that their home has been converted to a new house or been generally sealed up for insulation purposes. Do they need the same laws that apply to bats so that they have access to their traditional homes?

The meadow has its familiar brownish hue. It is supplied by sweet vernal grass which is the grass that gives hay its sweet fragrance. It used to be the 'chewing grass' because of its vanilla like flavour. Later yellow will be the predominant colour and then red/pink.

Brassicas - May 2019

Brassicas include cabbages! However there are many more plants both wild and cultivated that belong to this family sometimes also known as the mustard family and there is a variety of wild life that depends on that family. All the plants in this group are known as crucifers because they all have 4 petals arranged in the shape of a cross such as the Cardamine pratensis shown below. They also have 4 stamens. They like to grow in damp meadows and are coming into flower in early to mid April -about the time that cuckoos should arrive.

image001.jpg - 28.9 KBColloquial terms for this plant are many including Cuckoo Flower and Lady's Smock
image003.jpg - 54.5 KBHonesty
image005.jpg - 35.8 KBGarlic mustard or Jack by the hedge
Pratensis by the way is the Latin word for meadow.

Using a table in his Flora Britannica Richard Mabey shows how the first full blooming of the cuckoo flower is a remarkably accurate predictor of the first hearing of the cuckoo.

Other wild and garden plants that are members of the Brassica family include garlic mustard and honesty. All of these are flowering now which coincides extraordinarily with the presence of the orange tip butterfly in our gardens. It is surprising how the timing of available food plants and the activity of insects coincide. Such partnerships have evolved together over eons of time.

image009.jpg - 7.5 KBOrange tip female (no orange tip)
image007.jpg - 6.8 KBOrange tip Male
Females lay single, pale, spindle-shaped eggs on the underside of flower buds. These eggs turn deep orange after a few days.

The caterpillars hatch and feed on the developing seed pod. They are green and extremely hard to spot. Orange-tip caterpillars are cannibalistic, liable to eat another of their own species should they meet. Each caterpillar leaves its food plant to overwinter as a chrysalis, probably in bushes and tall vegetation. Adults emerge in April. Adults drink nectar from a variety of plants.

image013.jpg - 30.5 KBLarge white (female)
image011.jpg - 7.7 KBLarge white (male)

Of course there are other less welcome butterflies that like to lay their eggs on cultivated brassicas such as the Large White. This butterfly prefers to lays its eggs on cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli because this is the food plant for its caterpillar. This laying of eggs comes, usually in 2 broods, once in May and later in August. It is a large, strong flying butterfly. The brilliant white wings have black tips to the forewings, extending down the wing edge. Females have two spots on the forewings, which is not present in males. The undersides are a creamy white with two spots.
New Ferns
image015.jpg - 43.6 KB New fern fronds are beginning to push up through the earth. They are known as 'croziers', 'bishops crooks' or 'fiddle heads' though what the furled heads also look like is a horse's head when rearing.

St. Mark's Fly
The St Mark's Fly, or Hawthorn Fly, is a very common, long, shiny, black fly that can be found in large numbers during the spring around woodland edges, fields and wetlands. It hangs in the air over the vegetation, drifting along with its legs dangling underneath it. St Mark's Flies will often land on any objects in their way, including fence posts and people, and are rather sluggish at rest. The larvae live in the soil feeding on roots, grasses and rotting vegetation, and are often found around compost heaps. The adults feed on nectar and are considered to be important pollinators for fruit trees and other plants.

It is so-called because it emerges around St Mark's Day, April 25th. Large numbers of adults can be found in woodland edges, hedgerows, fields and wetlands. They are very active now.

Elm Hedges
All is not lost with the elm for there are still many elm hedges around us and even elm saplings seen particularly along Path 51 in Sandford and along the A 368 Opposite Heal's haulage yard.

Hedgerows of elm have been established from suckers from long-dead trees. The elm is the only plant in the UK that clones itself, so the hedgerow plants, trimmed into knobbly berms, are all identical in every detail. As long as trees are cut back and used for timber before they die from a natural old age, the plant, via its suckers, will live almost indefinitely and, uniquely, in exactly the same cellular format, despite repeated reincarnations. Hedgerow elms, although usually the same age as the huge trees that died in the years following 1973, seem immune to Dutch elm disease, partly because their bark never develops the thickness required (because they are regularly trimmed) for the scolytus beetle (which carries the fungus that causes the disease) to operate in; and partly because the beetle flies and lands at a height above hedges and small trees and then works down.

image017.jpg - 48.9 KBA young elm sapling along Path 51. They usually attain only about 14 feet before succumbing to the disease
Dutch elm disease has a long history. It is Dutch only insofar that it was first identified by scientists in the Netherlands. We know that within a century or two of 4000BC half of Europe's elm disappeared. At the point of its decline, elms covered an eighth of the British Isles. In other words, the tree was phenomenally successful and well adapted, yet it seems likely the disease got it then, as there is evidence of one of the carrier beetles dating back to that time.

The first British case of modern Dutch elm disease was in 1927, and it went on to kill about 10 per cent of the British elm population. But the second epidemic killed 25 million mature elms by 1979.

It seems that the Scolytus beetle can only fly when the temperature is above 24C, which explains why the disease spread so fast in the exceptionally hot springs and summers of 1975 and 1976. It also explains why it has spread rather more slowly in Scotland than the south, although there is a pocket around Brighton and Hove which has been spared the disease by the Downs, and there were some smooth-leaved elms, Ulmus minor, in East Anglia that were not attacked - although they, along with the Wych elm, are also susceptible to the disease.

It's possible that Elm trees are about to make a welcome return to the English countryside thanks to the pains-taking work of one tree expert.

image019.jpg - 14.2 KB Paul King has spent almost a quarter of a century developing a tree that is resistant to Dutch elm disease. He has managed to grow 2000 saplings over 23 years taken as cuttings from a single 200 year old elm that survived the disease. His business is called The Tree Nursery and he is marketing the saplings for £120 each.

Book Recommendation
Wilding - the return of nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree.

This is a quote:' Forced to accept the intensive farming of the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp in West Sussex was driving it close to bankruptcy, in 2000 Isabella and her husband Charlie Burrell took a spectacular leap of faith and handed their 3500 acres back to nature. Their land is now heaving with life. The Knepp project has become a leading light for conservation in the UK.'

End Pieces
Has anyone seen a swallow yet? I haven't.

It's bluebell time in Sandford Woods and they are looking spectacular this year. Well worth a visit.

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Plants that Naturalise - April 2019

Some plants that are gradually disappearing partly because of the loss of their habitats particularly meadowlands lands can be grown quite easily in our gardens and if they are happy they will naturalise and spread in grass such as lawns. The Snake's Head Fritillary is one such plant. It may be best to start the bulbs off in pots to keep track of them and then, once established, transfer them to a location that they like. They like a moist soil in partial shade so they will also grow amongst trees since their flowering period tends to be before the trees come into full leaf. There are several other types of Fritillary so beware others are not likely to naturalise.

image001.jpg - 39.8 KBThe Snake's Head Fritillary
image003.jpg - 22.5 KBIffley Meadows

The nodding, pink-and-purple-chequered flowers of the Snake's-head Fritillary are said to resemble a snake, hence the name. Declining with the loss of our meadows, this delicate plant can be seen in spring. Fritillaries are now classified as vulnerable on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain.

Apparently it was not so long ago that the spring markets of Covent Garden were overflowing with the nodding, pink-and white-chequered blooms of Snake's-head Fritillaries. Handfuls picked from meadows beside the River Thames were taken to London by local children to be sold for a penny or two. But, today, the carpets of is this flower that once straddled our rivers and adorned our wet meadows have become a rare sight.

However at one nature reserve in the heart of Oxford, the Snake's-head Fritillary has made a startling comeback. When the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust took over Iffley Meadows in 1983 there were just 500 plants left, but thanks to careful management, there are now an astounding 42,000 flowers that appear as a pink carpet every April.

image005.jpg - 55.5 KBBulbs 'in the green'
image007.jpg - 55.5 KBCamassia It is a native of eastern USA
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Other bulbs that naturalise are snowdrops and aconites. It is best to buy these 'in the green' rather than as plain bulbs stored in plastic bags as sold in garden centres. Most Garden magazines advertise 'in the green' bulbs now. They are very inexpensive. I recently paid £8 for 100 snowdrops (see above) most of which are likely to come into flower next spring mice permitting. The bulbs are dug from the ground just as they finish flowering but with their seed heads still on. English Bluebells, wood anemones and cyclamen can be purchased in the same way.

Another bulb that naturalises well even in tall grass is the bulb Camassia. It is a tall elegant plant with a flower that is usually blue but sometimes white. These do not need to be 'in the green.'

It is the time to anticipate the flowering of garlic and bluebells in the local woods now. There are already carpets of leaves and the odd bluebell that happens to be in direct sun is already out. It is definitely worth a walk in the woods to see this local but spectacular display of profusion and colour. It is also very worthwhile to make wild garlic pesto which can be made now and it can then be packaged in small parcels and frozen to be used perhaps in the autumn and winter to add zest to stir fries and soups.

What is this?
On my birthday in late March two friends and I were wandering around the sunny garden in the afternoon when we spotted this insect on a Thalia Daffodil (they are late in flowering, white and have a gentle fragrance.)

image011.jpg - 41.4 KB
image013.jpg - 41.5 KBThere is a hint of blue on the wing tip
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It did not move at all and I think that it was unable to fly since we were very close. Since the weather was unusually warm for the time of year I now wonder whether this was a butterfly that had just emerged from its cocoon and was trying to warm itself up ready to fly in search of nectar giving energy. I was able to get very close to the insect as seen above.

image019.jpg - 24.7 KB image017.jpg - 14.1 KB I now wonder whether it was one of the Blue butterflies such as the Common Blue or the Holly Blue. I would be very pleased if a reader could indentify this insect and then let me know please.

Book Recommendation
The Wood The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood by John Lewis-Stempel.

This is the story of how John Lewis-Stempel managed the wood for 4 years and did so in the old ways. The writing is steeped in information but also poetry and folklore. If you enjoyed reading Meadowland: The Secret Life of Farmland or The Running Hare: The Secret Life of an English Field you will certainly enjoy this read.

End Piece
It is time to anticipate the return of the swallow family I wonder whether anybody has spotted them yet. I also hope that, having flown on such a massive journey, their traditional home has not been converted into living accommodation or sealed in the interests of home insulation. I fear that it is rather likely.

Sandford Paths - March 2019

image001.jpg - 34.7 KB I have walked the Sandford paths for over 30 years now and so Ifeel that I know them pretty well.

The village is blessed with many footpaths - 17 main ones. They are recorded on the Winscombe and Sandford Definitive List of Footpaths. A footpath map may be obtained from the parish office in Winscombe (which is a part of the Community Centre.) The advantage too is that many of the paths interlink so that a walk may be extended or shortened as time/energy permits and yet still the walk will be circular and therefore interesting giving a feeling of achievement. As an example my dog, Tip, as she got older chose her own walks. I counted that we had 23 variations even though some of them might have been small!

Most of the paths in this area are reasonably accessible especially since most of the difficult stiles have gradually been replaced by easy access metal gates put up by the Ramblers Association. Many paths with a few exceptions are well cared for though much is done spontaneously by private individuals especially those that run alongside houses. This includes keeping back nettles, brambles, thistles and very long grasses and sometimes putting down chippings to improve muddy areas. The Council (I think) has also laid hard core along parts of some paths but more is needed. On every path there is always wildlife to be seen because all are relatively undisturbed and well established. There is plenty of birdlife especially sweeping and diving swallows from April to September and frequently the mewing sound of soaring buzzards. There are many wildflowers and so also butterflies, bees and other insects. One pleasure is to spot an occasional deer particularly if the youngsters are with their mother.

Of concern though is the recent trend along several paths to remove hedges and to replace them with fences thus removing one of the most valuable wildlife habitats

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Some hedges remain in place and are appreciated by the local bird population not only for food but for nest sites.

Whereas some residents are very considerate and respect their boundaries so that walkers can still enjoy the ambience others use their path boundaries as dumping grounds for brash so submerging wildflowers such as bluebells, wild garlic, campions, mallow and a variety of grasses all nectar rich plants sort after by pollinators. The butterfly and bee population has very noticeably declined in such areas.

image009.jpg - 59.2 KBBefore
image011.jpg - 51.9 KBAfter

image013.jpg - 51.5 KBToday whole branches of a beautiful cherry tree in full flower have been dumped on top
These wild snowdrops in a hedge row are constantly having brash from gardens thrown over them. It takes effort and time to remove it so that these beautiful spring flowers can be enjoyed by all, survive and spread themselves.

In the picture on the right a whole conifer tree has been cut and dumped on the path edge so obliterating any wildlife. Of course in due course it will rot down but not for a long time since the brash is coniferous acidic. In the meantime it is unsightly and gives no joy to the walker. This is just one example. There are many more. I am not sure why the residents fail to use the green bag system supplied by North Somerset Council. It is quite free and easy to use.

image015.jpg - 45.6 KB Here is a more positive sign. This little crocus comes up tear after year right in the middle of the path. Walkers respect it and just walk around. Not now. It has been dug out! Hopefully somebody has 'rescued' it.

image018.jpg - 13.7 KB Green alkanet
This is a wild flower belonging to the Borage family which grows at the foot of hedgerows - a good reason to strim with care. The flower looks similar to the forget-me-not but the flowers are larger and a much more electric blue. It is easy to grow in the garden but there are quite large stands of it along the road that leads to the ski slope. It is a magnet for all sorts of beneficial insects.

There is a very interesting publication called The Landsman which is a free magazine written for farmers, smallholders, country gardeners and rural dwellers in the southwest. I expect that there are many outlets but it is always available in the Farm Shop on the hill leading to Redhill from Sandford. Recently there was an article about The Nature Friendly Farming Network ( and coincidently its passionate leader was talking on the Radio 4 weekly Sunday programme called On Your Farm last Sunday (February 24th.) The downside is it is broadcast at 6.30am!

image021.jpg - 3.8 KB image019.png - 34.7 KB These are comments from the national Chairman Martin Lines

What are your thoughts on how future farming should look to ensure there's space for food and wildlife?

The diversity of the British countryside is an asset that is not only vital to wildlife but is also of great value to the general public. The right support is crucial to the continuation of work done by many farmers and landowners to improve the habitats for wildlife in this country. By working together, we can further enhance and improve our countryside for all to benefit, but we need the right policies and support in place to help us fulfil the potential that farmland has for conservation.

Your reasons for joining the network? I have joined the Nature Friendly Farming Network because I believe that safeguarding the future of our countryside, and the wildlife that resides in it, is imperative. Farmers need the right support to help make this happen.

Nest Boxes
It is too late to celebrate National Nest Box Week I should have included it in the January nature notes but it is not too late - quite - to put up a box. BTO is interested in doing a count of nest boxes so if interested please send such information to the BTO.

Why do nest boxes matter?

British birds are short of nesting holes, and there are plenty of reasons why.

Our gardens, parks and woodland are neater and tidier than they used to be, depriving birds of natural holes to find a home. And to make matters worse there are fewer handy nooks and crannies in modern buildings. The populations of many bird species are down as a result of this housing shortage.

The good news is that everyone can do their bit to help. Your own garden is a good place to start.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) reckons that if all the gardens in Britain were rolled up into one giant plot, it would be a huge area bigger than Suffolk so just imagine how wild birds would benefit if each of those gardens contained a nest box or two with plants and insects to provide food. Nestboxes come in different sizes and shapes to suit different birds. You can find out more by contacting the above website belonging to BTO. For example robins prefer an open fronted box whist sparrows prefer to nest in a terrace.

image023.jpg - 10.2 KBRobin
image025.jpg - 6.7 KBSparrow
image028.jpg - 12.6 KBBlue tit

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Book Recommendation
Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland

In this very readable book Sara Maitland journeys through forests (in the UK) in different seasons. However, most intriguingly she tries to untangle the forest's role as the source of one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms - the fairytale particularly those of the 2 brothers Grimm. Fairy tales Sarah Maitland thinks arose from forests. Many of the stories gathered in the 19th. century are set in woods and populated by forest dwellers be they woodcutters, witches or wolves. Their history is intertwined and so is their future. Both are under threat from our increasingly urban and technologically dominated lives. Each alternate chapter tells one of the Grimms fairy tales but with a more modern twist devised by the author.

End Piece
A joyful sign of spring. Scillas in full bloom in the garden of Angela Morris.

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Ancient Yews - February 2019

Yew trees are our oldest native trees. They may live for thousands of years and then they grow in curious and contorted shapes. Oak trees tend to live for hundreds of year under the right conditions .Unfortunately yew trees are not protected by law and many are being felled currently. One reason is because yews were often planted in church yards but since churches are often being closed down and sold for development yew trees may be sacrificed.

These 3 yews are in fact protected with a TPO (Tree Preservation Order) which may be issued by the district Council. All 3 of these look well looked after and still grow at Yew Tree Farm which is just opposite the Church. In fact there are 64 trees in Sandford with TPOs but there will be more of that next month.

The Fortingall Yew is an ancient European yew (Taxus baccata) in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire, Scotland. Modern estimates by experts have put its age at between 2,000 and 3,000 years. It may be the oldest tree in Britain. Many are hollow and can even be driven through.

Recommended Book
image003.jpg - 17.4 KB image006.jpg - 8.9 KB The Immortal Yew by Tony Hall

Tony Hall is manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He takes the reader on a fascinating journey to the ancient yew trees of Britain and Ireland, exploring their mythology and folklore. He provides profiles of over 75 publicly accessible yews, with details on their appearance, location, folklore and history, all accompanied with photographs of these stunning individuals. Each tree has its own story to tell, from fragmented, sprawling trunks, ones you can sit inside and ancient individuals propped up. Yew trees were planted next to them. This book is a wonderful souvenir and celebration of our native yew trees, perfect to dip in and out of, and provides an excuse to go and visit these living figures of history.

Looking for signs of spring
image009.jpg - 40.1 KBBoth immature and mature hazel catkins are seen here on the leafless tree
image007.jpg - 46.2 KBAlder catkins (male) some of last year's female cones that once held seed can also be seen
This may sound optimistic in February but there are actually quite a few signs once your senses, especially sight and hearing get in tune. Perhaps the most prominent are the catkins of alder and hazel. The alder catkins give the whole tree a wine red, warm glow.

Many immature hazel catkins, again the male ones, have been visible since the late autumn but are now beginning to open and release their pollen. Like the alder, hazel is mainly pollinated by wind and therefore the flowers do not need bright colors or strong scent to attract bees.

Bees find it hard to collect hazel pollen because it consists of individual grains that are not sticky. They need to be separate so that they can be blown by the wind to another tree. Despite male and female parts being on the same tree they cannot self -pollinate. The much smaller female flowers start to appear quite soon now. They are quite hard to spot since they are just a wisp of red or cream peeking out from the tip of a bud. What is seen is just a part of the flower- the styles. They will receive pollen. The rest of the flower is inside the bud and will eventually produce a hazel nut.

image013.jpg - 5.8 KBLarge Emerald moth
image011.jpg - 20.9 KBThe female flower or stigma that catches the pollen grains
Hazel has excellent value for wild life and is well worth planting in the garden.

Hazel leaves provide food for the caterpillars of many moths, including the large emerald, small white wave, barred umber and nut-tree tussock. In managed woodland where hazel is coppiced, the open wildflower-rich habitat supports many species of butterfly, particularly fritillaries. Coppiced hazel also provides shelter for ground-nesting birds such as the nightingale, nightjar, yellowhammer and willow warbler.

The female Large Emerald moth lays her eggs on the leaves of hazel, alder, birch and beech. When the caterpillar first emerges from the egg it is green. However it soon changes to brown so that it is better camouflaged whilst hibernating through the winter. It attaches itself onto a twig or branch and develops little brown lumps on its back so that it looks even more like a twig. Later it makes a cocoon by spinning a silk case around itself and then in spring it transforms itself yet again into the Large Emerald moth.

End Piece
You may be feeling enthusiastic about getting out in the garden again. You may have new plans for planting but remember that though you can't see them many creatures are still hibernating/hiding in secluded places and do not want to be disturbed yet!

Here are some jobs for the New Year that will be appreciated by wildlife too.

  • Hang bird feeders and put out food on the ground and on the bird table
  • Make sure the bird bath is topped up and not frozen.
  • Regularly clean the bird bath and table.
  • Make sure the pond does not freeze over. However recent research ( suggests that a pond that freezes over does not harm wildlife that is already in the pond. They can tolerate very low oxygen levels. It is important to remove snow though so that some light can penetrate. It is also good to break some ice at the edges so that other visitors can find water to drink.
  • Coppice and/or pollard trees such as hazel and goat willow.(see later)
  • There's still time to plant deciduous trees maybe those that produce berries or nuts such as the crab apple.

New Year 2019 - January 2019

First a Happy New Year to everyone!

image002.png - 221.5 KB Hopefully it will also be a much more sustainable year for wildlife and our precious planet in general. By now we have plenty of information about the harm that we humans are doing to the planet and many solutions are put forward but there does not seem much real realisation, recognition and commitment so that we can offset some of the of the effects of the catastrophe that is likely to happen. On a local scale I am sure that everyone could make some kind of compromise in their life to make life more sustainable. Certainly in Nature Notes there will be suggestions to further this urgent cause from the point of view of wildlife and the environment.

One very welcome Christmas gift that I received was from Friends of the Earth. ( It is a Christmas Bee Saver Kit though it can be used all the year round. The kit is very attractively presented and would make an ideal and practical present for other occasions.

Inside there is a packet of 'bee'seeds which will cover 1square meter but they can be planted in much smaller blocks such as window boxes, balconies, or even individual pots plus the garden itself. There is a large variety of species (19) in all including some less thuggish grasses. There are instructions on how to make a bee hotel which is quite simple to make based on a lemonade bottle and a wall chart illustrating when different bee-friendly flowers bloom. It will help you feed bees in the garden throughout the year. Lastly a bee identification guide is provided with 25 different bees to recognise. Luckily bee survival does not depend on recognising each type!

This year my Christmas cards included nearly as many hare pictures as robins. I am not sure whether this was a common trend or just peculiar to me but I do know that hares are suffering a huge decline currently.

image004.jpg - 21.9 KB I was dismayed to read that the wonderful native British hare is very much under threat from the horrific disease that has 'jumped' from rabbits. I found this on the People's Trust for Endangered Species web site.. The disease is Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) or Myxomatosis as we are more likely to know it and it could eradicate large numbers of hares.

Myxomatosis first reached the UK in 1953 after it was introduced as a control measure in Kent, but inadvertently resulted in the deaths of 99 percent of the rabbit population only three years later. So far the disease in hares seems to be confined to the East of England where farmers have found considerable numbers of dead hares.

A spokesman from the Trust says that "It is not thought that hunting has a big effect on the population, but the hare population is not so robust that it would be able to take a really big loss in numbers- the disease in rabbits nearly wiped out their population in the 1950s. Until resistance spread in rabbits it had a major impact on them.

"If a contagious disease agent has spread to hares for the first time then they will not have any resistance, and it could be that a very large proportion -over 90%- of the population will be killed as was in the case of rabbits. The rabbits were gone in a matter of a couple of years.

Dr Bell said: "We need to know what is happening. East Anglia is a really important stronghold for brown hares so it would be disastrous if we lost them. Hares are really up against it so getting good images of the bodies, along with their exact location is crucial for us to rule out or identify possible diseases.

"The People's Trust for Endangered Species estimates there are around 817,500 hares left in the UK, but their numbers have continued to decline over the years.

"If a wild hare or rabbit is found with suspected myxomatosis or RHD if possible it should be confined and taken to the nearest vet. When confining the animal thick gloves should be worn and hands should be washed thoroughly after handling the animal."

The Yew
image006.jpg - 22.5 KB Britain's most ancient trees yews are in danger and we urgently need to protect them. We have the largest collection of ancient Yew trees on earth, including some considered to be among the oldest trees of any kind on the planet. Some are over 5,000 years old. They are incredibly precious and a vital part of our heritage - but we are gradually losing them one by one as they currently have no legal protection.

For thousands of years the yew was considered sacred across the UK. a living connection with our past. There are approximately 157 ancient Yew trees - aged over 2,000 years. They were often associated with churchyards but as the church declines and church land is sold off.yew trees often disappear too.

Currently the only recourse to save special trees is to go through the long and difficult process of getting a Tree Protection Order, which would mean that if the trees were destroyed by a developer, the developer would have to pay a small fine. In parts of Europe, trees of just a few hundred years of age are protected by far greater fines of around 50,000 Euros.

In Sandford we have a number of trees with TPOs on them including 3 yews just opposite the Church. There will be more about these and how you might get involved in their care and protection next month. In the mean time here is a picture of the Fortingall Yew.

This is considered to be the oldest yew in the UK. Estimates of age vary, but it's believed to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.

image008.jpg - 11.1 KB It's set within a churchyard in Perthshire. In 1854 it was reported that funeral processions would pass through the arch formed by the split trunk.

Today the tree is protected by a wall. The trunk is now split into several parts and it no longer looks like one tree but many.

Book recommendation
The secret life of the garden
Chris Beardshaw is a very articulate and inspiring gardener much admired for his garden designs especially at Chelsea. This book really does do what it says in the title He includes basic botany and entomology but in a way that is easy to understand so making it possible to grow better plants whilst encouraging wildlife too. The book is also beautifully illustrated.

Books from 2018
January 2018 Bugs Britannica by Peter Marren & Richard Maybe
February 2018 Chris Packham's Back Garden Nature Reserve
March 2018 Attracting Birds to Your Garden by Stephen Morris & David Cottridge
April 2018 The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young
May 2018 Once upon a time in the West Country by Tony Hawks
June 2018 Trees be Company an Anthology of Poetry edited by Common Ground
July 2018 No, More. Plastic what you can do to make a difference by Martin Dorey
December 2018 Limestone Country by Fiona Sampson

Joined up thinking? Is it possible? - December 2018

Several items concerning wildlife have made disturbing reading recently and not just in the UK though we are one of the worst.

For example WWF explained that their 20 year survey revealed that 60% of wildlife has been lost since 1970. (26/10/2018) not just the large iconic mammals like elephants and tigers but the more common but less appealing ones that we take for granted, if we think at all, particularly insects. Of course without insects there would be no life on earth. There are some success stories which give hope - for example the thriving otters and red kites in the UK.

Concurrently a German survey (reported in the Guardian 10/2017) has shown that 60% of our insects have disappeared since 1970. This should concern us all since we humans depend on wildlife for our food, water, air, building materials, textile, paper not to mention our health and wellbeing.. Yet it is very noticeable that many are woefully ignorant of their natural surroundings and how they work. Time after time on quiz programmes (if they do manage to have a question on natural history) contestants avoid that topic being unable to recognise everyday flowers, birds and trees.

'Bees are critical to food production as a food of all the food we eat is dependent on pollination by insects. It would cost British farmers an estimated £1.8 billion per year to pollinate their crops without bees.'( Daily Mail)

Well done then to The Daily Mail, in this case, for devoting a large chunk of its weekend magazine (17/11/18) to Wildlife in our Gardens, Britain's Best Nature Reserve? Our Gardens. This will bring notice to a much larger section of the British public of the desperate plight of many, many wild creatures that are rapidly losing their natural habitats plus being subject to certain harmful chemicals used in agriculture.

More than18 000 readers responded to a questionnaire set up in June 2018. To create the survey The Wildlife Trusts were asked to come up with a checklist of animals likely to be spotted in gardens in June. There were 55 chosen because they are easy to recognise and represent a good balance of species. The most commonly spotted creature by the way was the blackbird (98%)

There was one standout finding. The survey asked people to list what they saw and, crucially, what animal-friendly features their garden had pond, tree, hedge, compost heap, patch of long grass, brambles and nettles, an undisturbed log pile and fence holes for hedgehogs to trundle through.. The statistics delivered a clear-cut finding- the more of these features there are in your garden, the more wildlife you will see. It's that simple. Again statistics show that every little addition helps. Next year the count will be repeated in June and the results compared with this year. The aim is to create a unique snapshot of the state of our wildlife and help to fight its alarming decline.

image001.jpg - 189.8 KB image003.jpg - 90.5 KB These are the 55 creatures selected to spot.

It has certainly been a spectacular year for autumn colour and I have included below some examples.

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The birch below Betula albosinensis or the Chinese Red Bark Birch has also given a beautiful show of peeling bark with the tender pink new bark beneath. There have been plenty of flowers as well lasting right through November.

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One of the best I think is the shrub Anisodontea which flowers pretty well continuously from May until the first severe frosts.

Photo taken on November 20th. Bees love these welcome late flowers.

Book recommendation
image017.jpg - 7.2 KB This book is a love letter to a rock - limestone. Limestone produces some of the most distinctive, and long-inhabited, landscapes in the world; astonishingly varied, it can also be exceptionally beautiful. The Mendip Hills are mostly made of Carboniferous Limestone though Black Down is Old Red Sandstone.

End Pieces
In my garden the Redwings and Fieldfares returned on November 17th. I was alerted by their very distinctive harsh and repetitive call as they found food, specifically apples. Luckily there are plenty of windfall apples and even some still on the trees. They have come from Scandinavia, Finland or Russia to over winter.

I happened to spot this very unusual moth (?) on a Buddleia in late August. It is a poor picture and I have no idea what it is. Does anyone know? A friend says she saw a similar one in Greece so maybe it is an unusual migrant?

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A happy Christmas and peaceful and hopeful New Year to all.

In Praise of the less popular plants - August 2018

image001.jpg - 11.2 KB This month is the turn of other native plants that are not especially loved to be looked at starting with Common Hogweed, a familiar upright white flower of road verges and hedgerows.

First this plant must not be confused with the invasive non-native species called Giant Hogweed which should most certainly be avoided. Growing to 3 metres tall and incredibly robust that is the plant which, should you get a bit of sap on your skin, reacts with sunlight to cause horrible and long-lasting blistering. It was surprisingly introduced into this country as a garden plant!

Anyway, no, this is about the native and rather ubiquitous Common Hogweed, growing normally to chest height at most, and in flower from high summer right through until autumn. I have also included other members of this cow parsley family which are equally attractive to flying insects.

They are, in fact, in the carrot family, which used to be called the Umbellifers but is now Apiaceae. It includes Cow Parsley, Angelica, Wild Carrot, Chervil and all the Alliums Their flowers are typically are arranged in an umbel, which is like an upside down umbrella. These flowers make an easy landing platform and then the insects can crawl over the many single open flowers that give easy access to pollen and nectar.

So why celebrate Common Hogweed? Well, it just seems to pack in the insects like almost no other plant. There are fewer of the recognisable butterflies and bees but many other smaller flying insects most of whose names I do not know. Many do not even have common vernacular names, just the Latin.

This is Halophilu one of the many hoverflies. Note the humbug stripes on the back (thorax). This is one of the hoverflies whose grubs live in ponds, rather than eating aphids.

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On the right is the Common Red Soldier beetle, also known as the 'Bloodsucker' for its striking red appearance, but it is harmless. It is a beneficial garden insect as the adults eat aphids and nectar whilst the larvae eat other pests particularly slugs and snails. The larvae spend their lifecycle in rotted wood. In the UK there are over 4000 species of beetle so it is a very specialist job to recognise them. The general name for those pictured is the longhorn beetle. Its antennae are often longer than their body.

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These umbellifers also attract flies and there are over 7000 species of these in the UK so this is just a general picture since I have no way of identification but not every fly is a house fly.

Dandelions are richer in both pollen and nectar and they bloom earlier than most other spring flowers. We need to ensure that dandelions aren't treated as mere weeds as their pollen prolongs bees' life. Whilst dandelions flower for most of the year its peak flowering time is from late March to May, when many bees and other pollinators emerge from hibernation. Each flower in fact consists of up to 100 florets, each one packed with nectar and pollen. This early, easily available source of food is a lifesaver for pollinators in spring.

Bumblebees, solitary bees and honeybees all visit dandelions for food, along with hoverflies, beetles, and butterflies such as the peacock and holly blue. Goldfinches and house sparrows eat the seed. Yet most of us gardeners miss out on the spectacle of watching wildlife feast on dandelions, because we wage such a war against them as weeds.

So perhaps we could take a couple of weeks off from mowing the lawn this month, or at least raise the cutting height of the mower? We have, in fact, been forced to!

Self Heal
image011.jpg - 23.8 KB image013.jpg - 16.9 KB During the drought lawns have dried up looking brown and dead but one plant seems to thrive giving the lawn a purple tinge. It is self heal. It may be considered invasive but it attracts bees and other beneficial insects. It also makes excellent ground cover either in sun or partial shade. The plant is also known as Heal All because of its long use as a medicinal herb.

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Common Sorrel is a common, upright plant, often found in grasslands, and along woodland edges and roadside verges. It has slender leaves and attractive flowers that appear in May and June, highlighting the green grasses of meadows with crimson and pink. Its numerous other common names, from 'Sour Ducks' to 'Vinegar Plant', all allude to the fact that its leaves taste extremely tart and dry due to their high levels of oxalic acid.

Traditionally, the juice of Common Sorrel was used to remove stains from linen. It is also the main food plant for the larvae of the Small Copper butterfly

Sepsis Fly
Whilst visiting Weston Hospital this month I have been warned of the Dangers of Sepsis. It gave ways of recognising symptoms and pointed out that we should react very fast if there are reasons for concern. However whilst looking up more about Sepsis I found out that there is a sepsis fly which does not seem at all related to the health worry. Here is the fly.

image019.jpg - 6.6 KB They are commonly called the black scavenger flies or ensign flies. Over 300 species are described worldwide. They are usually found around dung or decaying plant and animal material. Many species resemble ants, having a "waist" and glossy black body. Many Sepsidae have a curious wing-waving habit made more apparent by dark patches at the wing end.

Book Recommendation
What a Plant Knows - a Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz

This is yet another fascinating insight into the life of plants tackling such wonders as 'How does a Venus fly trap know when to snap shut?''Does a tomato plant feel pain when you pluck a fruit from its vine?' 'Do plants respond to music?' This lighter touch is combined with cutting edge research.

End piece
image021.jpg - 13.9 KB Obviously the current shortage of water is having many repercussions on wildlife as well as on our gardens. I hadn't thought of the effect on the nests of birds that use mud. Apparently the mud used by swallows and house martins can dry out so that the nest collapses should they even be able to build one. One way to help is to create a puddle near the nest so that the mud can be strengthened again or even be remade. The RSPB in particular is asking people to provide some mud for these birds since their nests are made from pellets of mud stuck together with water.

Moths and Caterpillars - July 2018

image003.jpg - 36.2 KBHere are the culprits albeit very striking creatures
image001.jpg - 43 KBVerbascum devastated. The small blue flowers are Borage pygmaem
The mullein moth lays its eggs on verbascum, buddleia and figwort at the end of spring. Shortly after, from late spring to midsummer, the caterpillars demolish the foliage. Bad infestations can actually strip a plant as shown here.

After feasting the caterpillars then hide in the soil to pupate ready for next year I expect! I tend to leave mine alone because the sight of so many caterpillars at different stages of their growth is fascinating to watch but the bright yellow and black caterpillars are easy to spot as they crawl across the leaves, and can be picked off by hand if you want to save the plant.

Fifth of Britain's wild mammals 'at high risk of extinction'
These findings were produced after several years' research by the Chair of the Mammal Society at the request of the Government.

At least one in five wild mammals in Britain faces a high risk of extinction within a decade and overall populations are falling, according to the most comprehensive analysis to date.

Most at risk are the Scottish wildcat and the once-widespread black rat, while there is only a single male greater mouse-eared bat left. Also falling in number are hedgehogs, rabbits and water voles. However, some species have thrived since the last national analysis in 1995, including otters, no longer poisoned by pesticides, and deer, which lack a natural predator.

More than half the 58 wild land mammals known to breed in Britain are rodents or bats, and one in eight is an alien species, such as the thriving grey squirrel and mink.

. The most numerous species in Britain is the field vole at 60 million, followed by the mole, at 41 million. However both are easily outnumbered by people, at 64 million, and their livestock, with 44 million sheep and cattle and 181 million chickens.

The main cause of such a decline is the destruction of wild places by roads, buildings and intensive farming, which combine to reduce and fragment habitat. The impact of invasive species and disease are also important, said Prof Fiona Mathews, at the University of Sussex and chair of The Mammal Society, which produced the new report at the request of the government.

"We have almost been sleepwalking," she said. "This is happening on our own doorstep, so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever." Changes to farming subsidies and much better research on effective conservation measures are needed, she said.

The report analysed more than 1.5 million mammal sightings from all over Britain, many by volunteers and citizen scientists. The scientists then added data from more than 500 published studies to produce estimates of population size and range. They also used internationally agreed criteria to produce a red list of the most endangered species.

Some examples. The hedgehog population is just over 500,000, but that is two-thirds lower than in 1995 and results from a combination of factors: loss of hedgerows, pesticides killing their insect food, road deaths and potentially more predation from badgers. The new analysis estimates badger numbers have doubled to more than 550,000 in the last two decades, though about 30,000 were culled in 2017 in an attempt to curb tuberculosis in cattle.

Rabbits are also declining, in part due to a viral haemorrhagic disease that originated in China, but still number 36 million. In contrast, there are just 132,000 water voles - down from one million in 1995 - and their decline makes them critically endangered in Wales and endangered in England. Red squirrels are also endangered in England, as invasive greys force them out with disease and competition for food.

The wild mammals doing well in modern Britain are the carnivores that are no longer persecuted by hunters, such as polecats and pine martens, and wide roaming deer. Otters have bounced back, after the banning of organophosphate pesticides, but still number just 11,000. Pine marten numbers have also grown - to 3,700 - and may increasingly migrate from their Scottish stronghold to England, but the tiny population south of the border means they are classified as critically endangered.

Beavers and wild boar have become established since 1995, but their populations remain small at 168 and 2,600 respectively. "We live in one of the most densely populated countries in Europe," said Mathews.

A 2016 State of Nature report found Britain to be "among the most nature-depleted countries in the world". She said ending farm subsidies that just reward the area of land held would help, and paying attention to wild mammals outside nature reserves.

She said many wild mammals survived in the margins, such as hedgerows, railway embankments and brown field sites: "We need to stop thinking of wildlife as being something that happens somewhere else and we just put a [protected area] ring around it."

Natural England, the government's wildlife body and which commissioned the research, is attempting to bring 20 species of birds, insects and other animals back from the brink using a £4.6m grant from the National Lottery.

It is sad to read this and sometimes it just gets too much. The only thing we can do is to make sure that we do what we can to encourage and conserve wildlife in our own area no matter how small it is - simply to value what is there and to enjoy our own attempts to help wildlife flourish.

'Flying Ant Day.'
image005.jpg - 24.2 KB Every year, just like clockwork a swarm of flying ants exit from a cupboard in my kitchen. It is usually in July but was 2 weeks earlier this year. They respond to bright sunlight, low winds, high humidity and warm temperatures. It is actually a cupboard that is never opened. The owner before me nailed a strip of wood across it and so for 33 years it has remained so! We have often wondered what is inside certainly an ant colony. The swarming lasts for a couple of days but once in the kitchen they are stuck. It is easy to rescue them with a vacuum cleaner. They are sucked into the (empty) dust collector and then they are released outside apparently none the worse for their adventure. Easy and no chemicals. No ant powder is required. Why would I want a colony of dead ants in the cupboard?

'Flying ants' are ants that are sexually mature. They are called alates. They are the reproductives of the colony created by the queen and fed by the workers. When the colony is ready to expand the winged ants get ready to begin the next stage...Mature male and female ants fly out of their colonies with just one purpose - to mate... They all go together as a swarm to keep predators at bay.

Soon after mating the males die. The fertilised female then flies around looking for a suitable nesting site. Once the site has been found she will break off her wings and never fly again. This new queen now starts a new colony. Amazingly she uses her now useless flying muscles as a food source for she is about to lay huge numbers of eggs and so begins a new cycle of life.

Disappearing cherries from Prunus padus - the Bird Cherry
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This is a small tree which is very beautiful when in blossom. It literally hums with bees at flowering time and later the floor will be covered with hundreds of (very small) red berries which gradually disappear quite literally before your very eyes!

Last spring and summer I left my retired WBC bee hive out in the garden hoping that a swarm might move into this very desirable home. None did so I decided to take it apart for the winter and that I would repaint it. Inside, though other activity had been going on. It had been a store for somebody's hoard of cherry stones for the winter.

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All the stones had been cracked open in a particular way and further research ascertained that the cherry stones had been stored and eaten by wood mice. A small hole is gnawed generally at one end and the kernel is scraped out by its incisor teeth. Maybe there was a nest there too since there are a few pieces of tattered plastic scavenged from somewhere. download.png - 2.9 KB

Book Recommendation
No. More. Plastic. - what you can do to make a difference by Martin Dorey.

All the solutions take just 2 minutes to think about and possibly implement. For example since Blue Planet II the author's milkman has reported an 80% rise in business. Milk delivery is an easy choice. The milk arrives in a glass bottle. These can then be washed and reused. Just leave it out for the milkman to take away and he will replace it with another one. In Britain we consume 3,408,580,000 plastic containers just for milk so such a simple change would make an enormous difference. Dairy Crest is the company that delivers locally. The milkman Alco delivers fruit juice in glass bottles.

Feeding Times - June 2018

There seems to be quite divided opinion on whether or not garden birds need us to continue feeding them during the summer months. This is the advice given by the RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.)

'Although winter feeding benefits birds most, food shortages can occur at any time of the year. By feeding all year round, you'll give them a better chance to survive food shortages whenever they may occur and if this happens during the breeding season, extra food on your bird table can make a big difference to the survival of young.'

Although birds time their breeding period to take advantage of the availability of natural foods: earthworms in the case of blackbirds and song thrushes, and caterpillars in the case of tits and chaffinches things can go wrong, It is now known that if the weather turns cold or wet during spring or summer, severe shortage of insect food can occur, and if the weather is exceptionally dry, earthworms will be unavailable to ground feeding birds because of the hard soil.

I have been providing food on my bird tables all through the breeding season and there seems to have been more bird visitors now than in the winter. I did read somewhere that adult birds can quickly grab 'easy' food from feeders for themselves so that they can give more time to finding insects/worms for their youngsters. This is certainly what I have seen. On Springwatch (see more later) a camera in a nesting box showed that a pair of bluetits was trying to feed 11 babies so any help would be acceptable I should think.

News from the Somerset Wildlife Trust
So far 43,628 people of all ages have decided to 'Go Wild' every day in June this year. It is certainly worth exploring the web site below to find out about a wealth of activities suitable for all ages and groups.

Are you wild enough?

30 Days Wild - the Wildlife Trust's challenge to get people connecting with nature every day in June - is back! We want to encourage and inspire you to throw a random act of wildness into your day every day for the whole month of June. It could be anything from star gazing, eating your lunch outside on the grass instead of at your desk, building a bug house or enjoying birdsong in a meadow - your acts of wildness are completely up to you. Put a bit of wild back into your life and make a lasting connection to nature for your own health and wellbeing and sign up to 30 Days Wild today at and receive a pack full of inspiration for you, your friends and family to go wild!

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Bitterns are one of the success stories in Somerset thanks to the work of the Somerset Wildlife Trust. Once there were none but now more and more are finding a welcome in some of the reserves so may be a visit would be in order and whilst there it is almost certain that you will spot otters too. The Somerset Trust's bittern count recorded 11 booming male bitterns on the Westhay Moor, Westhay Heath and Catcott Nature reserves - the highest number since surveying began at these sites. This brings the total to50 bittern for the whole of the Avalon Marshes. This suggests that very careful land and water management is beginning to pay huge dividends especially for these iconic birds. All of these reserves are easily located by using the Trust's web site. All 3 are near Glastonbury which is itself an interesting place to visit.

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image006.jpg - 39.6 KB This is one of the loveliest hedgerows in Sandford I think mainly because it is not cut annually but instead has been allowed to reach its true and natural height and then it can flower and produce its fruits that are called haws. These are a food of choice for many of our song birds and of course the flowers attract many, many pollinating insects. Sadly many of us cut our hedges annually so that there are never flowers or fruit. This is a great loss of opportunity for helping our ever declining wildlife. This year has been a great year for hawthorn blossom. There is a smaller hawthorn that can be planted in the garden. It is called Crataegus' Paul's Scarlet.' Here is an example of the blossom that comes out slightly later than the native hawthorn.

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Book recommendation
Trees be Company. An Anthology of Poetry. This is edited by Angela King and Susan Clifford for Common Ground and includes over 170 poems celebrating trees and woods and man's longstanding and vital relationship with them. Some poets are well known including Blake, Tennyson and Wordsworth but there are less familiar ones too with 20th.century poets such as Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Andrew Motion and Wendell Berry.

Springwatch begins on May 28th. every evening for 3 weeks on BBC 2 at 8pm. This year it is based at the Sherborne Park Estate in the Cotswolds which is owned by the National Trust and therefore open to the public. Sherborne Park has an abundance of animals from deer and badgers to otters and osprey and the presenters will be keeping a very watchful eye on them for the benefit of viewers plus close up pictures of birds and their nested throughout Gloucestershire. Other presenters will be going further afield right up to the Shetland islands in fact where it may be possible to see killer whales.

End piece
The swallows at Walden Acres near the ski slope finally started to build their nest at their usual site in the garage. They arrived looking very ragged on May 24th. by which time other swallows in the village had already produced one brood of youngsters. I wonder what traumas they had to experience on their long journey from the southern hemisphere but at least they made it and their familiar chatter is back as they swoop in and out of the garage.

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A Local Rookery - May 2018

Crows and rooks can look very much the same but there is an old saying that helps to tell the difference between the two.

'If there's more than one crow they are rooks. If there is only one rook it's a crow.' or 'A crow in a crowd is a rook. A rook on its own is a crow.'

For more information about the crow family see Nature Notes for November 2014.

Rookeries are very noisy places and very busy. This one can be seen when travelling along the A368 on the opposite side of the road to the ski slope entrance.

Interestingly "rookery" is also a colloquial English term given in the 18th and 19th centuries to a city slum occupied by poor people and frequently also by criminals and prostitutes. Such areas were overcrowded, with low-quality housing and little or no sanitation.

Rooks use the same nest year after year, which is quite unusual among birds. They start nesting in January or early February. The basic structure is woven from twigs which are usually torn off living trees with their strong beaks. Apparently they hardly ever use fallen twigs. The first eggs will be laid in late February or early March and there are usually between three and five of them. They will be incubated for 16 to 18 days and both parents feed the young, which fledge and leave the nest on the 32nd or 33rd day.

There are many different types of bee but I am using bumblebee as a very general term (because I do not know the names of many I am sorry to say) for more information use

Often in the garden very early in the year large bumble bees will be spotted. They are always on their own and they are all females. In fact they are queen bees. Their lifecycle begins in spring, when rising temperatures awaken a queen bumblebee that has been hibernating alone in the soil. The queen will have spent the entire winter underground, using up reserves of energy stored as fat in her body. When she first emerges, she feeds on flowers, drinking nectar to gain energy. She will then begin to search for a suitable nest site. Frequent nesting sites include holes in the ground, tussocky grass, bird boxes and under garden sheds.

image005.jpg - 59.6 KBInside the nest with different stages of development
image003.jpg - 26.7 KBFinding a nest site

Once she has chosen her nest, the queen will begin to collect pollen from flowers, to bring back to the nest. She forms a mound of pollen and wax (which she secretes from her body) and lays her first brood of eggs. She also collects nectar which she stores in a pot-shaped structure made of wax which is positioned in front of her mound. The queen keeps the eggs warm by sitting on her wax 'nest' and shivering her muscles to keep warm. Sipping from the nectar-pot gives her enough energy to incubate the eggs for several days until little white grub-like larvae emerge. These larvae are fed on pollen and nectar which the queen goes back-and-forth to collect from nearby flowers. Once they have eaten enough, after about two weeks, they spin a cocoon, inside which they develop into adult bees.

By early summer the first brood of offspring have hatched. They are all 'worker' females, and will carry out work inside and outside of the nest. Some will guard or clean the nest, while others will forage for nectar and pollen from flowers. Some of the nectar will be consumed by the working bees, but much of it will be brought back to the colony to feed to other workers and the next batch of offspring. From this point on, the queen will not leave the nest. Instead, she will remain inside, laying more eggs and ordering her workers around.

By the late summer the nests begin producing offspring which are not workers. New queens (females) and males are produced in order to allow the colony to reproduce. The male bees leave the nest and do not normally return. They do not collect pollen and spend their time feeding on nectar from flowers and trying to mate. New queens leave the nest and mate soon after. Mating behaviour varies between species but typically involves several males competing in one way or another. Most males never mate.

Once mated, new queens feed heavily on pollen and nectar, storing the energy as fat inside their bodies. This fat will be used to provide energy during a long hibernation. The old queen and her nest will naturally come to an end as summer turns into autumn. Only the new queens survive until the following spring, by hibernating underground. Thus the cycle is complete but ready to start all over again.

I notice that the bees are working late into the evening and early in the morning -as early as 7.45am. on a dry day. A favourite tree seems to be the bird cherry which in mid April produces thousands of flowers so that collecting is made much easier and therefore much less energy is expended. Standing under the tree there is a continuous kind of reassuring hum of many bees.

image009.jpg - 58.9 KBAnother favourite is comfrey and it is very easy to create a comfrey bed but it does need to be contained!
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The Flock of Jacob Sheep
Last month I wrote that it would be good to follow the progress of the Jacob flock of sheep owned by Pete and Charlotte. Just a reminder. Here is a part of the flock and this is the sheep that was chosen to watch.

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She had quads! And here they are!

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image017.jpg - 54.5 KBTriplets with their ever watchful mum

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This looks like a picture of contentment and indeed it is for a while and this is a very good but exhausted mother. However it would be difficult for any sheep to bring up 4 lambs successfully so Pete chose the 2 strongest ones and they found a new home at Court Farm in Banwell where they would be bottle fed and enjoyed by the many children and adults who visit the farm. At least they all survived. However that was not the end. Three more sets of quads were born and once again some of the lambs were found new homes and mothers. This was an exceptional year for there were also 6 sets of triplets! This is very unusual and it is hard to find an explanation so if anyone has any ideas please let me know.

One sheep , the oldest one of all did not lamb with the rest but waited for another 3 weeks which means that Pete had to check her progress at least 4 times every day including and especially during the night. She finally lambed successfully last Friday morning, April 27th. However the mother was very weak after lambing and she has been unable to stand for 2 days. Once again modern medicines and careful tending gradually brought her back to better health. She is a very canny ewe with tremendous maternal instincts. She would lie on her side so that her lamb was able to suck especially to get the first milk containing the vital colostrum which contains antibodies that help the new born fight disease.

So now instead of 14 sheep there are many more lambs running about quite literally in gangs having a great time climbing on mounds such as their mother or grassy banks.

They return to their mother when she gives her unique call known only to her lamb and the lambs will return just in case there is a possible threatened danger or some refreshment. Another lambing time is over with its attendant worries, sleepless nights and joys. Will Pete do this all over again next year? I expect so. It's a joy to see so much new life.

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Book recommendation
Once upon a Time in the West Country by Tony Hawks.

Tony Hawks is embarking on his greatest adventure yet - moving from city life in London to deepest Devon.

Comedian and born and bred townie, Tony Hawks is not afraid of a challenge - or indeed a good bet. He's hitchhiked round Ireland with a fridge and taken on the Moldovan football team at tennis, one by one. Now the time has come for his greatest gamble yet - turning his back on comfortable city life to move to the wilds of the West Country.

With his partner Fran in tow and their first child on the way, he embraces the rituals of village life with often absurd and hilarious results, introducing us to an ensemble of eclectic characters along the way. One minute he's taking part in a calamitous tractor run, the next he's chairing a village meeting, but of course he still finds time for one last solo adventure before fatherhood arrives - cycling coast to coast with a mini pig called Titch.

End note
Swallows seem to be very late arriving this year but I did see 4 perching on a telephone line when walking on the lane to the ski slope. This was on April 11th. but I have not seen them since then and they certainly haven't even started to nest at Walden Acres yet.

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April and anticipation of spring to come - April 2018

I thought that this Google cartoon was rather amusing and appropriate since so many sheep are about to lamb or have already done so.

There is a flock of Jacob sheep on my regular dog walk ready to lamb from March 26th. onwards and so I thought that it would be interesring to watch their progree through Nature Notes. Here is part of the flock of 14.

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I think that we will keep an eye on this in particular since she has easily recognisable markings. The actual origins of these sheep are not known. However, documentation throughout history indicates that the spotted or pied sheep may have originated in what is now Syria some three thousand years ago. Pictorial evidence traces movement of these sheep through North Africa, Sicily, Spain and on to England. Their wool is beautiful to weave as evidenced by this rug made from the sheep that I used to keep on the farm at Churchill Academy School.

image009.jpg - 40.2 KB The daffodil out now and facing bouts of snow is inextricably linked to Wales - with the plant having been worn as the national flower for the best part of a century. The daffodil was introduced as an emblem of Wales in the 19th century and popularised by Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The flower, which is often worn on St David's Day, is also commercially grown in mid Wales.

This flower may well hold the key to future antibacterial, antiparasitic and anti-cancer treatments and they have already provided a compound used in an Alzheimer's disease drug .This compound is an alkaloid called galantamine. Scientists at Bangor University are now trying to isolate more disease fighting compounds from this favourite bulb. The team is looking at compounds from a common variety of the classic yellow daffodil sold in supermarkets. Apparently there is a reliable variety that produces the major compound of interest. ''What we're trying to do is to take the waste from our commercial partner's galantamine production and to actually get something from the waste rather than throwing it away."

Daffodils and other plants insert chemicals into their leaves, bulbs and stalks that are off putting to grazing animals and harmful microbes.It is even more fascinating that these chemicals are not put into any part of the flower possibly so that pollinating insects are not poisoned and therefore the plant is ensured of pollination and so new plant production and continuation of the species.

image011.jpg - 25.4 KBJust arrived? The first of the swallows to arrive at Walden Acres in Sandford
Check-in time for Swallows and other hirondelles
One of the most anticipated arrivals in the naturalist's - and non-naturalist's - calendar is the flash of steely blue across a farmyard that heralds the first swallow of spring.

Swallows, or barn swallows to give them their full name, spend the European winter in South Africa where millions feed on flying insects and roost in tall grass crops or reed beds. (a reminder of our starling murmurations?) Their journey northwards entails a trip of up to 10,000km through the length of the African continent, including an epic flight across the searing Sahara Desert.

Not all will survive, but those that do have an astonishing ability to pinpoint the place where they nested the previous summer. Some return to the exact spot where they last bred or were born and many will home in on the general area to within a 20km radius.

image013.jpg - 10.2 KB As soon as male swallows arrive, they sing from wires to attract females, who are impressed by the length of the male's long tail streamers; the longer the streamers the fitter and more experienced the male.

Willows on Fire
At this time of year certain willows glow in the sun and against dull, grey skies. Their branches turn a bright orangey red colour signifying that they are about to burst into leaf. There is a group of such willows growing in the Veterinary College grounds at Lower Langford which immediately stand out as you drive along the village road before turning left to Wrington. I think that these trees are Salix alba There is a particular variety called Salix alba 'Britzensis' or the scarlet willow. It grows as a medium size tree but is more often coppiced to intensify the red stems which are very stunning.

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Book Recommendation
The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young. This is a soothing book to read but it isn't new. It came out first in 2003, when it was published by a small farming press. But then an editor at Faber noticed that Alan Bennett had praised it in his diary ("it alters the way one looks at the world", he wrote in an entry on 24 August 2006), with the result that it has now been republished. Its author, Rosamund Young, lives and works at Kite's Nest, an organic farm on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment.

She continues her parents' tradition of treating animals as individuals with varied personalities, rather than as identical members of herds., It is mainly a collection of anecdotes about the many beasts she has hand-reared down the years mostly cattle though there are a few stories about sheep and chickens. This book may change the way you see a field of cows...

End Piece
The RHS has issued the top 10 pests and diseases for 2017. These are based on the calls for advice from members. The list has now been published for 22 years. I notice that slugs and snails have been demoted.

1 Box tree caterpillar 1 Honey fungus
2 Fuchsia gall mite 2 Phytophthora root rots
3 Vine weevil 3 Rusts
4 Slugs and snails 4 Powdery mildews
5 Alder leaf beetle 5 Box blight
6 Viburnum beetle 6 Volutella blight of box
7 Tortrix moth 7 Leaf spot and canker of Prunus
=8 Glasshouse mealybug    8 Verticillium wilt
=8 Pear blister mite 9 Blossom wilt of fruit trees
10 Woolly aphid 10 Kerria twig and leaf blight

Holes in Wood - March 2018

image001.jpg - 11.8 KBGreat spotted woodpeckers. Female on the left, male on the right.
Just about blackbird-sized with striking black-and-white feathers the Great Spotted Woodpecker has a very distinctive bouncing flight and spends most of its time clinging to tree trunks and branches, often trying to hide on the side away from the observer. Its presence is often announced by its loud call or by its distinctive spring 'drumming' display which is just beginning now. The male has a distinctive red patch on the back of the head. The female does not have this patch of red colouring at all but both have red feathers on the lower belly beneath the tail. Young birds have a red crown.

Insects, seeds and nuts are the main diet but they will happily tuck in at feeders containing peanuts, sunflower seeds and fat, and sometimes peck at apples in search of grubs inside. In late spring, adult woodpeckers often bring their offspring to feeders.

Leaving dead trees standing where they are will mean a supply of wood-boring grubs and other bugs, which are the principal food source of this woodpecker.

National Nest Box Week
image007.jpg - 8.1 KB image005.png - 79.4 KB image003.jpg - 52.8 KB I find that I am too late for this event but it can still be a reminder to put up a nest box. NNBW takes place each year from 14-21 February, and after more than 19 years it is now an established part of the ornithological calendar. It is organised by the BTO (The British Trust for Ornithology at However it is not too late to put up a box because I believe that by the time you read this we will have had a spell of very cold weather and birds may have delayed their building.

NNBW aims to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife.

Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are 'tidied' and old houses are repaired. A more than familiar story! Taking part in NNBW gives the chance to contribute to bird conservation whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your nest box.

Taking part in NNBW gives the chance to contribute to bird conservation whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your nest box.

It is good to be aware that great spotted woodpeckers will sometimes attack nest boxes containing eggs and chicks and they also enjoy honey stolen from bee hives! You can help prevent this by fitting a metal hole surround. There are others who try to enter nest boxes as well and so it is wise to secure them if the box is wooden. One of the main invaders, of course, is the squirrel.

There are many companies from whom to purchase nest boxes and protectors but the one that works with BTO is Jacobi Jayne. This company is currently offering spring deals.

The Official National Nest Box Woodcrete Nest Boxes are a high quality nest box. They have a 25 year guarantee against rot, weather and natural damage. In my experience birds select these over other nest boxes. Perhaps they feel safer .The boxes are made from a tough and durable mix of sawdust, concrete and clay. They also provide birds and again in my experience mice (!) with a warm and weatherproof winter shelter. An additional advantage is that predators cannot enlarge the entrance hole.

Providing nesting material for birds
image011.jpg - 35.2 KB image009.jpg - 37 KB Once spring has arrived and birds are building their nests they will be searching for lining materials. You can help by providing natural fibres and plant material in your garden. Useful materials include dead grasses, moss and lichens. Straw is relatively easy to source as well. Fluffy seed heads such as pampas grass may also be used.

Birds like colour and design. On emptying my various nest boxes it seems that this colourful material was a must. Where it came from I do not know but it was certainly much sought after.

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Other birds prefer animal fibre. They may use pet hairs which can then be left outside after grooming or sheep's wool. These can be collected and pushed inside used net bags such as those that satumas or onions come in. Then hang them in a conspicuous place and it is surprising how little time it takes for birds to find them so saving time and energy. Chaffinches and long-tailed tits use cobwebs to help glue their nests together, so leave your resident garden spiders in peace.

Spread materials around the garden especially in sheltered spots as some birds such as house sparrows only gather materials within a few metres of their nest.

A muddy puddle is valuable to house martins, swallows thrushes and blackbirds for nest securing.

image019.jpg - 7.9 KB image017.jpg - 16.7 KB Once again though the best way to help birds is to leave hedges, ivy and shrubs unpruned in spring to provide ideal undisturbed and secluded nesting sites.

Final Word
Some females are hard to please. The Wren's nest is a beautiful and delicate dome construction consisting of moss, plant material, lichen, leaves and feathers located in a hollow or crevice in a tree, wall, bank or rock face. Other locations include behind climbing plants such as ivy, plus nest boxes will sometimes be used. The male builds the main structure but the female then lines it with feathers. The male may have to build several nests before the female chooses the right one.
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Book Recommendation
This book has loads of practical suggestions on feeding birds and providing opportunities for nesting and bathing. The reader is taken through the steps of planning a bird-friendly garden covering aspects such as pool construction, suitable plants, provision of nesting sites and food, pest control and garden maintenance. It is beautifully illustrated and so attractive to browse.

Encounters - February 2018

image001.jpg - 53.3 KB Early in January I thought that I saw a movement along the floor out of the corner of my eye. I watched and sure enough there was a little mouse scuttling about seemingly taking no notice of me whatsoever. I immediately found the humane trap, baited it with some cheese and within 30 minutes the mouse was trapped. This wasn't what I expected. It had large ears and eyes and a warm brown coat. Wood mice were at large. At around midnight I released the mouse into the barn where I hoped that it would find comfort amongst the hay and straw.

The next night exactly the same thing happened and I returned to the barn with the mouse. This happened 12 times. I began to suspect that this was either the same mouse or there were perhaps 2 of them. I took them further and further away even across the main road but still it/they returned and seemed quite happy with me and the house. Finally I read that wood mice can find their way 'home' from up to a half a mile away. The last time I released them was 3 weeks ago near the ski slope at the foot of a hedge that also had a grassy verge and they have not come back. I did feel a pang of regret and I hope that they have found a new good home with plenty of food especially insects.

Have you seen a butterfly flying yet this year even if it's only February?
If you have already seen a butterfly flying in the UK this year it is likely to be one of the species that overwinter as an adult. These butterflies will emerge on warmer days to search for nectar.

A Red Admiral was spotted on New Year's Day in two counties and has been reported widely across the south of England since. The Peacock was also out-and-about on 1 January. Reports of the Brimstone and Comma came in this week, which leaves just the Small Tortoiseshell to be seen. This begs the question. Do these early butterflies find nectar and how much energy must they expend to find some. Do they survive?

Butterfly Conservation ( are keen to receive records of the first butterflies seen especially where they were spotted. Never disturb a dormant butterfly though.

image009.jpg - 45.1 KB image003.jpg - 40.9 KB This was the forlorn sight in my spare room one morning in mid January. A friend had been staying and I expect that the warm room confused it and so it awoke. This is a peacock.butterfly. I turned off the radiator, closed the door but returned much later and this is what had happened.

The butterfly had neatly folded itself between the curtain folds but now I cannot close the curtains! A small price to pay for such a beautiful guest!

Best advice is to leave the butterfly alone if possible and for as long as possible while it resettles. Never pick it up by the wings if it has to be moved

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Have you seen a collared dove recently?
Collared doves until last Autumn were plentiful in my garden though they often fell prey to sparrow hawks since they are not very nimble birds. I have not seen a single collared dove this year and I wondered why? On the other hand woodpigeons are even more plentiful and I thought that they may be in competition with each other in some way. I looked on the BTO website and this is what I found.

Woodpigeons have increased by nearly two-thirds in the latest decade possibly because of changing practices in farming. The change from spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals and the introduction of oilseed rape have led to green foods being available all the year round leading to improved overwinter survival for the pigeon and a longer breeding season. This increase in Woodpigeons has been reflected in the results of the BTO's Garden BirdWatch, and it is now one of the most commonly reported birds in the UK's gardens.

The Collared Dove population, on the other hand, has been falling throughout the country since 2005. One reason for this could be the increasing Woodpigeon numbers perhaps because the 2 birds compete for the same food and habitats.

image012.jpg - 20.7 KB There is another reason as well. Around the same time as the decline started, trichomonosis, a disease that only affects birds, spread from pigeons and doves to Greenfinches and smaller birds. It is thought the Collared doves are more susceptible to the disease than Woodpigeons.

For more information on this, or how to take part in the BTO's Garden BirdWatch, email telephone 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Book Recommendation
Back Garden Nature Reserve by Chris Packham. I chose this book since Chris has presented 3 very personal and often poignant programmes on the television recently and if you have not seen them they are well worth watching. He certainly does not shy away from the truth and he makes the reader/listener think.

This guide reveals how to attract wildlife to your garden, and encourage it to stay there! It is written in a light-hearted and informative way. This book encourages gardeners to rethink their gardening choices to benefit the country's native wildlife.

The most striking thing about this book is the stunning photographs and there are useful identification guides plus 'make your own' projects. The guide will certainly encourage interest in the natural world actually on the doorstep both to children and adults whatever the size of your garden or even if it is a couple of window boxes.

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Bare Bones - January 2018

At this time of the year when deciduous trees have finally shed all their leaves their silhouettes stand out starkly against the winter sky especially on cloudless blue sky days. Can you recognise these trees just from the outline of their bare branches? Answers at the foot of page.

Deciduous trees do quite literally hibernate during the colder months leaving just their bare bones. Sometimes as early as July larger trees start to close down. By the autumn they have taken energy stores from their leaves and have stored them in the trunk and in the root system. These are valuable resources that have required much energy to produce from the tree and that is why they must be stored ready for the spring reawakening. Next the tree breaks down the chlorophyll into its component parts and these are also stored ready for reuse. Thus the green colour of the leaf is taken away just leaving the browns and rusts and sometimes reds which were always there.
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These are mostly carotenes. Lastly the tree excretes any waste products that it does not need into the leaves and then it finally grows a layer of cells that seal off all connection of the leaves with the branches. At that point even a light breeze will remove the leaves from the tree and deposit them on the ground to be decomposed over the colder period. At last the tree can rest to recuperate from the activity of the previous season and build up for the activities starting in spring.

'The wood wide web'
New research in ecology, botany and zoology is very much concentrating on what is actually going on under the surface. Much astonishing information is coming from universities in Germany, Britain and California.

Apparently hidden under our feet is an information superhighway that allows plants to communicate and to help each other out. The web is made of fungi.

It's a network of fungi that interlinks individual plants. This helps to transfer information from one plant to another and speeds up interactions between a large, diverse population of individuals. It allows individuals who may be widely separated to communicate and help each other out so that, for example, one tree in a garden may well be linked to a shrub or another tree so that they may communicate in a mutually beneficial way.

image009.jpg - 50.1 KBThe mycelium of a fungus spreading through soil
Mushrooms are perhaps the most familiar part of a fungus to us. Most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. We now know that these threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants.

The more we learn about these underground networks, the more our ideas about plants have to change. They aren't just sitting there quietly growing. By linking to the fungal network they can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information - or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network.

Around 90% of land plants are in mutually-beneficial relationships with fungi. The 19th-century German biologist Albert Bernard Frank coined the word "mycorrhiza" to describe these partnerships, in which the fungus colonises the roots of the plant.

I found most of this information from the book recommended in November 2017 The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben although there is a mass of information on the internet as well.

In this plant/ fungi relationship, plants provide fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates. In exchange, the fungi help the plants suck up water, and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from the soil via their mycelia. Since the 1960s, it has been clear that mycorrhizae help individual plants to grow.

Therefore it seems that plants are not really individuals. It is thought that large trees can help out smaller, younger ones using the fungal network. For example if a seedling is short of food the donor tree can provide more carbon.

Back to the Garden
Our gardens too are probably stripped back to the bare bones and it may now be the time to think what sort of garden we want. I tend to go back always to the idea of attracting as much wildlife into the garden as possible since gardeners have the ideal opportunity to do this. The RHS magazine called The Garden has been doing a survey called Plants for Bugs which looks at plant dwelling invertebrates. It complements the first study which focused on pollinators. The bugs are divided into 4 main groups: image011.jpg - 13.6 KB

  • Detrivores that feed on dead material eg. woodlice and springtails
  • Herbivores that feed on living plants (not so good?!)
  • Omnivores that feed on plants and animals eg. earwigs and harvestmen
  • Predators that eat other animals. They include ladybirds and many other beetles, wasps and spiders.

The main finding of great use to gardeners is the more plant cover the better so put in plenty of plants and let them grow to fill the space available. More on this next month.

Book recommendation
Bugs Britannica by Peter Marren and Richard Maybe

This is not a biological guide book but a beautifully illustrated cultural one where British bugs are seen through the eyes of not just naturalists but also writers, musicians, artists and photographers. There are 3 other books in this series Flora Britannica, Birds Britannica and Fauna Britannica. The authors also asked people to offer their own observations and anecdotes on the topic.

Answers to tree outlines. A Alder. B. Silver birch. C. Oak. D. Willow

Insects - the mainstay of many other creatures - December 2017

Somerset Wildlife Trust Launches 'Saving Somerset's Bats' Appeal 9th Oct 2017
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£30,000 to be raised to secure the future of one of our county's ecological superheroes

Quote from Somerset Wildlife Trust. 'To support its on the ground efforts to secure the future of the county's bats, Somerset Wildlife Trust is pleased to launch Saving Somerset's Bats - an urgent appeal to raise £30,000 to strengthen habitats in three key areas in the county which support important bat populations - in particular several rarer species that we stand to lose in Somerset entirely unless action is taken now. The Trust is asking wildlife lovers across the county and beyond to swoop into action and help ensure Somerset remains a thriving stronghold for UK Bats.'

In Somerset we are fortunate in that 16 of the 17 breeding species of UK bats do breed in Somerset. This is because of the diversity of habitats that we have together with a rich variety of food sources. However back to a familiar theme, changes in our land uses over the past few decades such as housing development, more intensive agriculture and changes to farming practices have inevitably led to habitat loss, fragmentation and the destruction of roosts and hence pressure on the life of bats.

Bats are great indicators of the state of our environment. They are top predators of nocturnal insect life - making them experts at natural pest control - and they are very sensitive to changes in land use practices.

As mentioned in the November Nature Notes there are things that individuals can do in order to attract insects to our gardens. Once insects have become established then other creatures such as bats and birds will be able to thrive

Here is a quick list of ways to help

  1. Do your research.
  2. Be generous with hiding places. ...
  3. Provide water just to sip - maybe just a shallow dish or a deeper bowl with stones inside as landing places...
  4. Make a border with nectar rich plants...
  5. It is possible to buy beneficial insects on line or from catalogues such as Garden Organic or Marshalls......
  6. Don't get rid of all weeds or cut back plants that have finished flowering.
  7. Stop spraying pesticides.

Redwings and Fieldfares
image004.jpg - 7.1 KB image002.jpg - 27.4 KB I noticed that these migratory birds were back in the garden on November 15th. Luckily there are still plenty of apples for them to feed on both on the ground plus many that are still on the trees.

Only a few isolated instances of nesting have been recorded in Britain. There is a major migration westward in winter and almost all wintering areas are in countries with an Atlantic coastline. Most that winter in Britain and Ireland are from Scandinavia, Finland or northwest Russia, but some might be from very much further east, even Siberia The very first Fieldfares often arrive in mid August but the big arrivals begin generally around the end of September. However, I have never seen them before late October in my garden.

I have never seen a waxwing but I would certainly like to. I wonder whether any readers have been lucky enough to spot one? It is a plump bird, slightly smaller than a starling with a prominent crest. It is reddish-brown with a black throat, a small black mask round its eye, yellow and white in the wings and a yellow-tipped tail. It does not breed in the UK, but is a winter visitor, in some years in larger numbers, called irruptions, When the population on its breeding grounds gets too big for the food available they migrate arriving on the east side of the UK from Scandinavia and Russia and so that is the most likely place to find them However, they move westwards in search of food which consists mainly of berries - hawthorn, rowan and cotoneaster (so why do we keep on and on cutting our hedges annually so that there are no flowers or fruits?)

Did you Know?
Avon and Somerset Police have wildlife crime officers who will investigate a wide range of wildlife offences. They provide advice and support to police officers throughout the county. Examples of wildlife crime include:

  • Hare coursing or hunting
  • Fox hunting
  • Deer poaching
  • Fish poaching
  • Badger persecution such as baiting, snaring, shooting and sett disturbance
  • Bat persecution
  • Egg collecting
  • Persecution of birds of prey by poisoning, trapping, shooting, nest disturbance and theft of chicks
  • Non registration of certain birds and animals that require licensing through DEFRA/ Animal Health if kept in captivity or sold

How to report wildlife crime
If you are concerned about wildlife crime in your area or have any information that may be helpful to Wildlife Crime Officers, please call 101 or visit a police station.

Book recommendations
Some of us may well be looking for presents and so I have included the list of recommended books for this year. I have read them all and each one is equally enjoyable, inspiring - (not all gloom and doom!) but there are constant reminders of how changes for the benefit of wildlife and the countryside might be made.

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  • January 2017 Tweet of the Day by Brett Westward & Stephen Moss
  • February 2017 Wildwood by Roger Deakin.
  • March 2017. Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey.
  • April 2017 Rainbow Dust by Peter Marren
  • May 2017 The Morville Hours and the Morville Year by Dr. Katherine Swift
  • June 2017 The Spirit of the Hedgerow by Jo Dunbar
  • July 2017 My Garden and other Animals by Mike Dilger.
  • August 2017 List of short listed books for the Alfred Wainwright Prize
  • September 2017 Garden Wildlife by Michael Chinery.
  • October 2017 A natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright
  • November 2017 The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy
  • December 2017 The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. (see below)

In The Hidden Life of Trees Peter Wohlleben makes the case that the forest is a social network. He draws on the latest scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in his woodland. His newest book is called The Hidden Life of Animals which is very timely since currently there is much discussion and research around the question of sentience.

image008.jpg - 8.3 KB Currently there are petitions on line calling on the government not to drop laws which recognise that animals can think, feel, and suffer pain. It does seem to be working. The petitions have made headlines and forced the Environment Minister, Michael Gove, to respond. He says the government will now look at other ways to recognise animal sentience in UK law. One such petition is

End piece
How extraordinary! Evolution In our own gardens and at a very fast rate too! British Great Tits have developed longer beaks than their continental cousins according to research carried out by UK and Dutch universities. Scientists think this is because we spend twice as much on bird feeding than other Europeans and the beaks of Britain's birds have adapted to extract food from feeders.

Creatures that make the World Go Round - November 2017

image001.jpg - 24.9 KB Flying insects caught in a malaise trap, used by entomologists to collect samples
It's well known that wildlife and its habitats are in decline at both a national and international level. In the UK well-monitored groups such as butterflies and birds have been steadily decreasing in numbers since detailed recording began in the 1970s and probably long before that. Farmland species are suffering the most marked decline. For example UK farmland bird numbers have fallen by 51% since 1970 according to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

Unfortunately there is no such population data for the majority of species, most of which are invertebrates ie. Insects, spiders and so on. These creatures account for two thirds of life on earth and are responsible with plants for life on earth.

For most groups such as hoverflies, dragonflies, lacewings, bees and wasps there is no systematic recording and little is known about their numbers. This is worrying for these creatures make the world work. They are at the base of the food chain for many birds and mammals. They pollinate, control pests, and recycle dung and dead leaves and much more. The biologist E.O.Wilson said 'if all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into CHAOS.'

There is, in fact, an alarming new study from Germany indicating that things are very wrong indeed in the insect world. Entomologists have been trapping insects on nature reserves across Germany for the last 27 years. Their results are striking. Overall the data show that the biomass of flying insects has dropped by 80% in25 years. Since land use patterns are similar to those in UK there may well be similar patterns here and elsewhere in the world.

The Guardian Newspaper (October 17th.2017.) recorded this in a more dramatic way:

Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers.

It's taken a long time to recognise this loss for two reasons: one cultural, one scientific. Firstly, we generally do not care for insects (bees and butterflies excepted). Even wildlife lovers are fixed on vertebrates, on creatures with fur and feather and especially the "charismatic megafauna", and in the population as a whole there is even less sympathy for the fate of the little things that creep and crawl; our default reaction is a shudder. Fewer bugs in the world? Many would cheer.

image003.jpg - 29.3 KB Secondly, for the overwhelming majority of insect species, as mentioned, there is no monitoring or measurement of numbers taking place. It is a practical impossibility. In the UK alone there are about 24,500 insect species - about 1,800 species of bugs, 4,000 species of beetles, 7,000 species of flies and another 7,000 species of bees, wasps and ants - and most are unknown to all but a few specialists. So their vast and catastrophic decline, at last perceptible, has crept up on us; and when first we began to perceive it, it was not through statistics, but through anecdote.

The earliest anecdotal impression of decline was through what is sometimes termed the windscreen phenomenon: especially in the summer, when any long car journey would result in a car windscreen that was insect-spattered. Now this just does not happen. The book recommendation highlights this happening.

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Provado Ultimate Bug Killer

"Contact and systemic action insecticide; offering a broad spectrum of pest control. Suitable for use on all outdoor ornamental plants, selected vegetables, fruit trees and bushes."


  • Up to 6 weeks control of a wide range of pests.
  • Rapid action and long-lasting protection.
  • Use outdoors and indoors.
  • Use on flowers and a wide range of edibles. (!)
The cause of the huge decline is still unclear but the destruction of wild areas and the widespread use of systematic insecticides are the most likely factors. These chemicals are persistent, highly toxic and are frequent contaminants of streams, soils, wildflowers and hedgerow plants especially in arable areas.

Whatever the causes there will be precious insect life left in a decade or two from now. Wildflowers will set no seed, birds and bats will starve, dung will not be recycled and pests will run amok. Hopefully, this is a wakeup call to us all but then I notice that this product is on general sale in garden centres. There are whole shelves devoted to these products. Just read what it says and all for £5 or so.

Part of this problem and its solution is up to individuals those who love our countryside and who love to garden and ways that can help to welcome insects and other invertebrates will feature in the December issue of Nature Notes.

image007.jpg - 60.5 KB For many years rabbits set up a warren in my garden. They had at least 8 holes and they played such havoc with the garden that I had to fence off 3 of the borders because they seemed to enjoy almost every plant. Then suddenly they disappeared and I was able to remove the netting and plant shrubs on the actual mound that was once the warren.

However last week I realised that they were back! Old holes had been excavated and the soil thrown out onto the grass. Some of the shrubs have been undermined their root systems utterly disturbed. I decided to do some research on wild rabbits about their life styles and why they should disappear and later reappear.

Most wild rabbits live for less than one year. This really surprised me.

Rabbits can live almost anywhere they are able to dig burrows. Rabbits, being sociable animals, live in groups or colonies, in burrow systems known as warrens. The warren can be 3 meters in depth and cover a large area with many entrances.

The warren is dug with interconnecting tunnels running off in all directions containing living quarters, nesting areas, bolt runs and emergency exits.

Usually a dominant doe within the colony will fight other does for the best nesting site. Dominant rabbits are the most successful at breeding. Dominant bucks run up and down boundary lines marking their territory by depositing droppings, scratching out shallow scrapes or rubbing their chin in the ground, marking their area with scent from their glands.

Subordinate or lesser ranking rabbits do not establish a territory and will be warned off if they venture into the territory of a dominant rabbit. They do, however, mix happily with other subordinate rabbits.

Rabbits are mainly nocturnal. Much of the day is spent underground, resting and passing soft, dark droppings which are eaten to extract more nourishment from them. The rabbits then produce hard, pellet-like droppings above ground. This keeps living areas free of droppings.

image009.jpg - 4.3 KB The rabbit has many predators so it has to be ever alert for danger. These predators include foxes, badgers, stoats, weasels, cats and people. To defend themselves rabbits have a very wide field of vision and can naturally see over a very wide area. If a rabbit spots danger it will thump the ground with its hind foot to warn others. The flash of white from under its tail also acts as an alarm signal. There is also the ever present threat of the horrendous man made disease of myxomatosis which is a virus spread by rabbit fleas and other insects. The rabbit dies slowly in great pain and distress.

To compensate for such a high mortality rate rabbits have a very rapid reproductive system. In one year a doe can have more that 20 offspring (kits). She can start breeding when only a few months old and the breeding season can last for 9 months.

The doe will build her nest in a separate burrow in the warren, called a 'stop'. The 'stop' can be a separately dug burrow, which may eventually become starting point of a new community. The doe's nest will consist of grass, hay or straw lined with the doe's own plucked fur and each doe keeps within her own territory in the warren.

Baby rabbits are blind, deaf and furless at birth with the mother visiting them for just a few minutes each day to suckle them. She seals the nest chamber with soil to conserve heat and safeguard against enemies. By the 8th day, the young rabbits are covered with fur and two days later their eyes open. By the 16th day, they will be moving out of the burrow and starting to eat solid food. By day 30 they will be weaned, independent and their mother will already have mated and be expecting another litter.

image010.jpg - 12.2 KB The Somerset Wildlife Trust is putting a huge effort into helping bats at the moment and I include this as a taster but there will be more next month especially on recording what you see.

Book Recommendation
The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy.

I have cheated here by largely using a book review in the Independent simply because it says what I would like to say but in a better way.

This is a book about loss - and about joy, and about wonder, and about hope. There's a lot about the loss of nature over the last few decades and the author mixes this with memories of personal loss. A love of nature can be a support and strength during one's life.

And it's a book about wonder. The loss of nature matters, at least in part, because we lose the opportunity to have 'Wow!' moments where we see things that we couldn't have imagined and that are so beautiful.

And it's a book about hope, because Michael McCarthy offers the hope that if only we loved nature more, and faced up to that love, and acted on that love, then we wouldn't make such a mess of the world we live in, and it would be a better place.

Galls - October 2017

Galls are the bizarre lumps, bumps and growths that develop on different parts of plants after being invaded by an organism of some sort. There is a huge variety of galls. Galls have a range of causers, including viruses, fungi, bacteria, insects and mites, and they appear on more than half of all plant families. The study of plant galls is called cecidology, and yet while these weird structures have intrigued humans for millennia, there is still much that is unknown about them. However inside the gall is a fascinating microscopic habitat.

Usually the gall causer in some way attacks or penetrates the plant's growing tissues and causes the host to reorganise its cells to develop an abnormal growth. The chemistry behind this is not fully understood, although it is thought to be due to complex interactions between hormones and other chemicals. Galls have such recognisable forms that the causer can often be easily identified from the growth alone.

The gall itself provides its inhabitant with any combination of food, shelter and protection from predators. It is a parasitic relationship, in that the invader benefits, while the host may be harmed (although in many cases, no obvious harm is apparent, and the plant continues to thrive). Some galls are open - the gall-inducer causes the leaf to roll and then breeds within the shelter of this 'tent'. Open galls are typically caused by invertebrates with piercing mouthparts, such as aphids and mites. Other galls are closed, that is, the larva of the creature, often a wasp or beetle, develops within a fully enclosed structure.

This subject is very complex so here is an introduction to the galls on 2 native plants - the oak and the dog rose.

image001.jpg - 37.6 KBAn oak apple that will gradually turn brown with age and the development of tannins. Later there will be a small hole from which the adult new inhabitants emerge
Oaks and wasps
The real gall specialists include gall midges, gall flies and gall wasps. Perhaps one of the most familiar galls is the oak apple, caused by a tiny wasp (Biorhiza pallida). There are actually hundreds of species of oak gall wasps - or cynipids as they are known - and they cause a fantastic variety of galls on oaks. A single oak tree may support many thousands of galls. Each cynipid species creates its own unique and outlandish structure: some resemble cotton wool or marbles, pineapples or tiny UFOs! Their life histories and interactions with other species are no less fascinating than the structures themselves. I have taken the following information from Plantlife. It gives a general picture of how some galls develop.

'As there are so many cynipids, and they have been relatively well studied, it is worth paying them some closer attention. The process begins when the female wasp lays her egg in some part of the tree depending on the species of wasp and the stage in its life-cycle, the egg may be laid in any number of parts of the tree, for example the leaf bud, catkin or even the roots. Either the eggs or the larvae themselves then exude special chemicals (with some non-cynipids, the adult does this herself while laying the eggs), which begin to have strange effects on the tree, deforming and stimulating cell growth to create the perfect microhabitat for the wasp grub. A chamber (or multiple chambers) develops for the larva or larvae to grow in. Remarkably, the larva is able to stimulate the plant to direct more nutrients, such as proteins and sugars, to the cells immediately surrounding the moist chamber. The grub thus has a ready supply of food to speed it towards maturity. The outer layer of the gall has particularly high concentrations of tannins. These tannins give a very tough outer surface to protect the grubs from predators such as fungi and other wasps. They cannot protect attack from woodpeckers, great tits or field mice though.'

Oak Apple Day
image009.jpg - 35.5 KB image007.jpg - 31.6 KB image005.jpg - 35.5 KB image003.jpg - 37.6 KB Originally the nature of galls was not understood and unsurprisingly a good deal of folklore and superstion have built around them. Some galls were thouht to foretell the future. For example the herbalist John Gerard (1542-1612) records prophesies of oak apples. If the oak apple contained an ant there would be grain aplenty: if a white worm a plagueof beasts and cattle: if a spider pestilence amongst men. In England May 29th. became Oak Apple Day, which commemorates the restoration of Charles II to the throne on May 29th. 1660. Porches of houses, lych gates of churches, pub doors and sometimes horses and later trains were decorated with oak branches.

This date was also known as Shick-Shack day. Shick-shack is a term of abuse. On this day people wore a sprig of oak with an oak apple in their buttonhole or hat or carried in the hand. This showed loyalty to the monarch Charles II who hid in an oak tree after the Battle of Worcester.If an oak sprig was not worn, punishments followed with minor variations in different parts of the country You might be whipped around the hands and face,kicked, punched or sworn at or drenched with water or pelted with eggs. Or you were 'nettled' (whipped with nettles) This tradition continued into the twentieth century at least until the 1930s. The oak sprigs had to be removed at midday,when all punishments stopped.

One day I studied an oak tree after finding out more about galls and found the examples above. I do not know anything at all about them and would love any feedback please. image011.jpg - 35.6 KB

The Dog Rose
Robin's Pincushion (also known as the 'Bedeguar Gall') is a gall caused by the larvae of a tiny gall wasp, Dipoloepis rosae. It is widespread and common, and can be found developing on the stems of wild roses during late summer, acquiring its reddish colour as it matures in autumn. The gall contains a number of chambers in which the grubs develop from the eggs laid by the wasp. They take food from the host plant but cause it no real harm. The galls are fully developed during August and the insects overwinter inside the galls as pupae. The grubs, like small white maggots, inside the gall feed on the host plant throughout the winter and emerge in spring as adults. The adults reproduce asexually and only a tiny number are male.

image015.jpg - 11.7 KB image013.jpg - 13.7 KB Sloes are the fruits of the blackthorn which are currently in their prime. The blackthorn is the earliest native hedgerow tree to flower and is so very popular with bees. They are easy to recognise because their mass of frothy white flowers are always out before the leaves unlike the hawthorn with which it is sometimes confused. The fruits have a beautiful purple glow but their looks belie them for their taste is very bitter. Many people like to make sloe gin but I came across another recipe which is also delicious I think. It is called Minted Crab Apple and Sloe jelly and the recipe is below. My neighbour says that it goes well with roasted lamb.

Minted Crab Apple and Sloe Jelly

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  • 1 litre of water
  • About 1 kg. crab apples (fallers are fine)
  • 100gms. Sloes or more according to taste
  • Handful of mint
  • Sugar
Wash and slice the apples roughly together with the sloes (also cut a little to break the skin.) Add these to the water in a large pan and bring to the boil. Then simmer for about 30 minutes or until the fruit is very tender and the water a deep pink colour. Strain the fruit through muslin into a measuring dish or jug. Measure the amount of juice collected and then add sugar at the rate of 450gms to 1 pint of juice approximately. I tend to use less sugar than the recipe says. Dissolve the sugar gently over a low heat and then add the mint. Bring to the boil and remove the mint with a slotted spoon after 5 minutes. Continue to boil hard until setting point is reached. This is quite quick taking 15-20 minutes. Pour into warm jars and label.

Book recommendation
A Natural History of the Hedgerow and ditches, dykes and dry stone walls by John Wright

This can be used as a reference - dipped into for specific information but it is much more than that for the author discusses the natural and cultural history of the hedgerow. It is richly illustrated in colour throughout.

End piece
image019.jpg - 42.9 KB image021.jpg - 44.3 KB image023.jpg - 42.5 KB One day 1 I found this broken egg shall - maybe a pigeon's egg? On day 2 it had been taken over by a slug. I thought that it was perhaps thinking like a snail and planned a new home but on day 3 the slug had gone leaving , I assume, only its faeces behind. I suppose that it had been feeding on the last remains of food in the egg and perhaps some of the shall though to me it seemed completely empty. Once again it seems that in nature nothing goes to waste - a lesson for us all.

Prize Winner - September 2017

image001.jpg - 12.4 KB John Lewis-Stempel's 'Where Poppies Blow - The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War' was the winner of the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize, which celebrates the best books about nature and UK travel and was discussed in the Nature Notes for July 2017. This is a fitting winner because 2017 is the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele. Where Poppies Blow offers a fresh and unique take on the experiences of British soldiers in the First World War.

Where Poppies Blow is the story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them. John-Lewis Stempel suggests that this relationship was of profound importance, because it helps to explain why the soldiers fought, and how they found the will to go on. Above all, nature healed, and despite the bullets and blood it inspired men to endure. Including poems, extracts from letters, field notes and diary entries, this book provides an extremely vivid picture of life on the Western Front as seen through the relationship between man and nature.

Where Poppies Blow brings together John Lewis-Stempel's two loves, nature and military history, and provides a new study of the soldiers' experience of the First World War. Testament to his position as one of the UK's greatest nature writers, this is the second time John has won the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. Meadowland, his study of a field in Herefordshire, won in 2015, and he had two books on this year's shortlist.

Silver birch
image002.jpg - 5.3 KBThe silver birch seed is tiny. It has 2 wings to enable 'flying' but the span is only 2-3 millimetres
Silver Birch trees are now beginning to release many, many thousands of seeds from their catkins. They seem to get everywhere because they are so light and so can easily be picked up and blown by the wind. They also germinate very successfully and seedlings grow in unexpected places including in flower pots used by other plants. I tend to collect them, pot them up and hope that during the course of the year somebody would like a newly grown tree. They usually do.

Silver birch provides food and habitat for more than 300 insect species - the leaves attract aphids, providing food for ladybirds and other species further up the food chain, and are also a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the angle-shades, buff tip, pebble hook-tip, and Kentish glory. Birch trees are particularly associated with specific fungi including fly agaric, woolly milk cap, birch milk cap, birch brittlegill, birch knight, chanterelle and the birch polypore (razor strop).

Woodpeckers and other hole-nesting birds often nest in the trunk, while the seeds are eaten by goldfinches, siskins, greenfinches and members of the tit family.

I have left a dead silver birch standing in the orchard. It doesn't look great and people ask why it is there. It is in fact home to quite a lot of wildlife. Most of the moths with such quaint names (as above) and the fungi( also above) I do not recognise but nut hatches and tree creepers search the brittle and broken bark for insects. New fungi are just beginning to emerge from the birch now as seen at the top right.

image006.jpg - 55.2 KBHere the fungi from last year are beginning to disintegrate but new ones are replacing them
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This fungus is the Birch polypore or razor strop. It begins pure white in colour and globular but gradually turns into shades of brown and into a bracket shape. It is very strong and can be used as a shelf!

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Blackberry time
Now's the time to start picking blackberries and there are many ways to use them apart from just eating them straight from the hedge.

Here are some fascinating facts about this favourite fruit.

  1. The devil ruins blackberries after Michaelmas.(September 29th.) My mother was a firm believer in this one! One of the most famous English folk stories states that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas Day as the devil has urinated on them, angry after he fell from Heaven onto a blackberry bush. The legend has some truth as wetter and cooler weather in late October often allows the fruit to spoil, but it should not be taken literally - blackberries picked in late October can still be very tasty!

  2. Batology is the scientific study of blackberries. Yes it is.

  3. Blackberry Truces were called in the Civil War to pick blackberries
  4. During the Civil War, blackberry tea made from the leaves was said to be the best cure for dysentery. Temporary truces were declared throughout the conflict to allow both Union and Confederate soldiers to forage for blackberries. It was not completely successful however, as outbreaks of dysentery still plagued the soldiers throughout the war.

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  5. Eating blackberries makes you look younger!
  6. This one is not a myth - blackberries are rich in anti-oxidants that promote the healthy tightening of tissue, making your skin less likely to sag or wrinkle!

  7. Blackberries have been used as hair dye.
  8. Nicholas Culpeper, an English herbalist from the 1600s, recommended the blackberry leaf to be used as hair dye. He advised that the leaves were to be boiled in a lye solution in order to "maketh the hair black".

  9. Their purple colour is said to represent Christ's blood
  10. Tradition also claims that the blackberry's deep purple colour represents Christ's blood and the crown of thorns was made of brambles.

  11. Bramble branches can cure hernias and boils.
  12. According to English folklore, passing under the archway formed by a bramble branch can cure hernias, ruptures, pimples and boils. This has also been used as a remedy for "downer" cows, cows that for whatever reason are unable to stand.

Blackberry recipes
Use up a glut of blackberries with these easy recipes some taken from the magazine 'Country File.'

image012.jpg - 17.9 KB Blackberry and apple sorbet

Using golden syrup instead of granulated sugar gives a softer texture to this smooth, fruity sorbet.

  • 1kg cooking apples (about 3 large ones)
  • 450g blackberries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 125g golden syrup


Peel, core and chop the apples and drop them into a saucepan, along with the blackberries and lemon juice. Weigh in the syrup, set over a low heat and allow to cook until the fruit is really smooth and then use a blender to puree the fruit. Pass the puree through a medium-fine sieve to remove the pips. Set the puree aside to go completely cold - spreading out into a shallow tray will speed the process along considerably. Once the puree is cold, scoop it into a deep-sided tub and put it in the freezer. After an hour in the freezer, remove the tub and pulse the semi-liquid sorbet with a blender to break up the ice crystals. Return to the freezer for a further hour, then repeat step 2. The sorbet will eventually take around six hours, or even overnight, to freeze. If you have time, repeat blend once or twice more before finally leaving well alone to freeze solid. Simply put, the more you whizz it up as it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals will become, and the smoother and silkier the final sorbet will be.
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Blackberry coulis

Made into a syrupy coulis, blackberries are perfect with ice cream or pancakes. .

  • 250g blackberries
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1/2tsp vanilla extract


Place the blackberries in a pan with the caster sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer until the fruit is soft. Then stir in the vanilla extract. Let it cool a little then strain through a sieve to remove the seeds. You can serve it warm or chilled and it freezes well.

Blackberry vinegar

image016.jpg - 12 KB Forget balsamic vinegar - make something equally useful and extremely cheaply with blackberries. Blackberry vinegar is great in salad dressings or used as a cordial to treat colds. .


  • 450g blackberries
  • White wine vinegar
  • Sugar


Steep the blackberries in just enough white wine vinegar to cover them. Cover the bowl. After about four days, strain the blackberries and liquid through a sieve or muslin. Place the resulting liquid in a pan and add 225g sugar to every 275ml of liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Cool, then bottle.

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Book Recommendation
Garden Wildlife of Britain and Europe by Michael Chinery. This is one of the Collins Nature Guide Series. It is not a daunting book since only relatively common species are included and each entry has a very clear photograph and description. It is divided into 4 sections -vertebrates, insects, other invertebrates and plants. It is also light and small enough to carry in a knapsack.

Nature Writing - August 2017

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The gatekeeper
This is a butterfly only recently seen in the meadow at Hillview though it is a common butterfly. I have probably simply missed it.

image003.jpg - 9.1 KBGatekeeper caterpillar
image005.jpg - 11.9 KBPoa or annual Meadow Grass
The Gate keeper also known as the Hedge Brown is a golden butterfly so it is easy to spot. Fresh adults start to emerge in midsummer. It is a brown butterfly very similar to the Meadow Brown and the Wall Brown.

The primary caterpillar food plants are meadow grasses particularly Bents, Fescues and Poa though Couch Grass is also used. The larva overwinters within the grass and starts to eat again in spring.

Beech Trees
image007.jpg - 18 KB image009.jpg - 5.9 KB This is one of the 2 magnificent beech trees growing in All Saints Churchyard in Sandford. They are both very imposing and I think life enhancing giving a sense of wonder at their sheer size and beauty in all seasons.

Beech trees are recognisable by their smooth grey bark. This one grows along the lower footpath in Sandford Woods and it is possible to see an arrow that somebody has carved into the trunk. In the spring their leaves are very tactile feeling silky and smooth and they are a beautiful lime green colour whilst in autumn they turn to a coppery brown and some of these leaves will hang on until the following spring.

image013.jpg - 46.5 KB image011.jpg - 22.8 KB The nuts of beech are known as mast but they don't form proper nuts every year. Beeches have what is known as mast years when they produce thousands of ripe, fleshy and tasty nuts usually 2 in each shell and then may not set any more for anything up to 5 or 10 years afterwards. It looks as if it is going to be a mast year in Sandford this year. I took this photo in the churchyard on July 30th 2017 so it will be interesting to see when this happens again.

Of course a good mast year is a good food year for others such as squirrels, mice, voles and birds.

Book Recommendation(s)
image015.jpg - 10.1 KBAlfred Wainwright 'the man who hated publicity.'
For the last 4 years The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize has been awarded to celebrate the best books about nature, the outdoors and UK travel. The judges are looking for the book which most successfully reflects the ethos of the renowned nature writer Alfred Wainwright. His 7 volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells is the standard reference work to the 214 fells of the Lake District. He died in 1991.

Anyway here is the list with the prize to be announced on August 3rd.
  1. Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting
  2. The Otter's Tale by Simon Cooper
  3. The Nature of Autumn byJim Crumbly
  4. Foxes Unearthed : A story of Love and Loathing byLucy Jones
  5. The Running Hare by JohnLewis-Stempel
  6. Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel
  7. A Sky Full of Birds by MattMerritt
  8. Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss
  9. Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
  10. Love, Madness, Fishing by Dexter Petley
  11. The January Man by Christopher Somerville
  12. The Wild Otter by Clover Stroud

Somerset Wildlife Trust
This is a message from the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

image018.jpg - 3.7 KB 'Summer is here, and the heat is on to find activities that keep everyone in the family happy! If you are looking to keep the kids out of mischief, extend your knowledge of local wildlife or want an opportunity to discover one of our reserves, please take a look at our packed schedule of events.' There are a huge number of activities many of them local. To find out more look on the Trust's web site which is

One that especially interests me is the Porpoise Watch on Saturday 12th. August from 10.30 until 1.30. The location is on the web site.

End piece
If you enjoy listening to live music and a cream tea both together come to Hillview, Greenhill Lane, Sandford BS255PE on Sunday, August 6th. between 2pm. and 5pm. There will also be plants for sale and all proceeds go to the Children's Hospice at Wraxall. It is also your chance to meet goslings, chicks and sheep!

Kestrel - July 2017

image001.jpg - 9.8 KBPicture from BBC Wildlife Magazine
The kestrel is a small, chestnut brown bird of prey that may be seen hovering over grassland though I have not seen one for several years until last week when I spotted one hovering over the meadow but it quickly became aware of me and disappeared. There was one a few years ago that seemed to have its territory along Hilliers Lane but again I have not seen that for many years.

Barry Hines who died in 2016 wrote a stunning book called 'Kestrel for a Knave' which was subsequently made into the film Kes.

The male (or tercel) kestrel has black-spotted chestnut brown upperparts, and a blue-grey head and tail. The tail has a single black bar at the tip. Underneath, the breast and belly are buff coloured with black spots. The female (or falcon) is darker than the male and the back, mantle and wings all have black barring. The tail has black barring along its length. The creamy under parts are more heavily streaked in black than the male. Occasionally, the head and tail may be tinged with grey.

Kestrels feed on small mammals, such as voles, shrews and mice, birds as large as starlings, and invertebrates, such as beetles, grasshoppers and worms. In gardens, they will take meat scraps.

In addition to having exceptionally good eyesight, kestrels can also see ultra-violet light. This is useful in locating voles because they leave a trail of urine wherever they go and the urine glows in ultra-violet light.

Kestrels had suffered from the effects of pesticides, but appeared to have recovered by the mid-1970s. Since then the population has declined up to 30% in farmland areas, especially in western Britain and the population may now be as low as 30 000 pairs. This latest decline may be related to agricultural intensification that means that small mammal populations have fallen owing to the loss of their habitat in wide field margins.

Kestrels are on the amber list of birds meaning that they are of medium conservation concern.

From this to this in a couple of days
image005.jpg - 50.8 KB image003.jpg - 13.2 KB This plant is a Verbascum (or more commonly known as mullein.) now totally destroyed.

It has been devoured by the caterpillars below which are unsurprisingly called mullein caterpillars but they also enjoy figwort and buddleia. Though highly conspicuous their bright colours worn would-be predators of possible danger.

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image009.jpg - 16.9 KBThe mullein moth

I watched these caterpillars munch their way to the top of the plant and during that time they grew very quickly. Apparently to achieve this growth they need to shed and regrow their skins several times. I did not actually see this happening but there was a lot of detritus at the foot of the plant. Then suddenly the caterpillars disappeared. I had no idea how, or when so I had to find out the answer which is that after the final moult the caterpillar will pupate. In this stage the caterpillar goes underground (the plant was growing through tarmac so it had to travel!) Under the ground it spins itself into a silk cocoon and may remain in situ for up to 5 years before emerging as an adult - the moth itself in April and May.

Book Recommendation
My Garden and other Animals by Mike Dilger
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This book is fun to read (I have read it twice already) and is obviously written by a patient and meticulous observer who is also extremely knowledgeable and caring about wildlife in all its aspects. He is the wildlife presenter on the BBC One Show. He and his partner bought a house in the Chew Valley which was quite unkempt and their challenge was to change it into a wildlife garden in one year. The book explains just how it was done including mistakes and how the future hopefully will unfold in that garden. He keeps very careful records of what he sees and I certainly think that I need to be more thorough about that.

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Any answers?
I photographed this delicate creature in the meadow last week but I have no idea what it is called. I have assumed it is a moth a day flying one but maybe not. If anyone has the answer please would you let me know? The lines on the wings are a very pale green.

The meadow at Hill view has totally changed its character in 2017 but I have no idea why. There were nearly 200 molehills throughout the field during the winter and this may have turned up new soil with perhaps different minerals brought to the surface. There were many more tall grasses and many more orchids. I could count over 100 (last year about 40) the biggest difference though is the spread of yellow rattle which paradoxically is supposed to suppress the vigour of grasses and most noticeable the reduction of knapweed. There is still a fair amount in the top half of the field but virtually none in the lower northern end.

Brown Argus - June 2017

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This dramatic looking butterfly could be a newcomer to the meadow field although I might simply have missed it in previous years. I do not know. I sent this photograph to Helena Crouch who is a Somerset ecologist and she recognised it as a Brown Argus though sometimes they can be confused with the female Common Blue. This species occurs in small, compact colonies, and is not a great wanderer, only travelling a couple of hundred metres, at most, from where it emerged. There is likely to be a second brood so the butterfly is likely to around throughout most of August. Apparently it is responding well to climate changes and its caterpillars are eating a greater variety of host plants most of which are members of the Geranium family particularly the cut- leaved Cranes-bill and Meadow Crane's -bill. It is the caterpillars that over winter.

A welcome new arrival in the meadow
image007.jpg - 34.9 KB The brown, purse-like calyxes (containing the sepals) of Yellow-rattle give this plant its common name - brush through a wildflower meadow at the height of summer and you'll hear the tiny seeds rattling in their pods. This annual plant thrives in grasslands, living a semi-parasitic life by feeding off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses. For this reason, it was once seen as an indicator of poor grassland by farmers and a pest because it could reduce hay yields by as much as 50%. It is now often used to turn improved grassland back to meadow because it feeds off the vigorous grasses, eventually allowing more delicate species to push their way through as well as wild flowers. It is astonishing how fast these plants spread. I had not seen it in the meadow here at Hillview until last year- just one small colony. This year they are everywhere! How they got here though remains a mystery.

Yellow rattle germinates from late February to early March, flowers in June, and sets seed in July. At the end of each growing season as the annual yellow rattle plants die away they leave behind gaps into which new wild flowers can establish. As a result, wild flower seed sown into an existing sward will establish more readily in areas where yellow rattle already does well. New yellow rattle seed can only be sown in the autumn and even then germination can be slow and unpredictable maybe taking 2 to 3 years. If anybody would like to walk through/ photograph the meadow here you would be very welcome. The best time is in June, July and the early part of August. Please telephone 01934 852426 or e-mail It is also possible to cut a swathe of the meadow and transfer it to a new area.

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Cuckoo spit
For the first time this morning I noticed large amounts of cuckoo spit on the stems of long grasses and plantains. Apparently the name has nothing to do with the cuckoo bird except that they appear at about the same time.

It is in fact the work of the Froghopper nymph. Each blob contains a white insect nymph up to 4-6mm long. It lives on young leaves whilst the adult feeds on sap. No real harm is usually done to the plant.

image015.jpg - 24.2 KBAdult (not my photos!)
image013.jpg - 10.5 KBFroghopper nynph

The Froghopper is a sap-sucking insect that, when it is young, protects itself from predators by creating a protective shield using bubbles from the sap it has extracted from the plant or grass it is attached to.

Adult Froghoppers are small, brown insects that can jump great distances when threatened. They hold their wings together like a tent over their body.

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Book Recommendation
The Spirit of the Hedgerow by Jo Dunbar This is a gem of a book that I found only last week in Glastonbury. The shop sells second hand books and new ones and the owner specialises in books concerned with ecology. Not only does Jo Dunbar illustrate how hedgerow herbs are currently used (she is a western medical herbalist) but she acknowledges the deep, often hidden traditions stretching back over thousands of years. You feel that this is someone who really knows what she is talking about- that is the healing power of nature in general and plants in particular.

image020.jpg - 11.1 KB image018.jpg - 14.2 KB This (left) is the borage that I am most used to growing in the garden. However, last Sunday I spent a very pleasant afternoon walking around the garden at Watcombe in Winscombe. It was open as part of the National Garden Scheme. It is magnificent and full of treasures both plants and structures. The plant sale was my first port of call and here I found a variety of borage that I had not come across before and here it is (right) Borago pygmae or bell flowered borage or sometimes slender borage.

Forthcoming election
Here is a letter from Simon Nash, Chief Executive of the Somerset Wildlife Trust. Ir was sent to all members and because it is so important I am passing it on.

      Nature can't vote, but will you vote for nature

You know how unique, beautiful and precious our natural heritage is in Somerset. We have wonderful moors, a stunning coastline, rolling farmland, picturesque towns and villages with the added jewels of the unique wetlands in the Levels and Moors, Exmoor National Park and four Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

And you will also know that we have an upcoming General Election on Thursday 8th June. I'm passionate about securing a positive deal for the UK's wildlife during the BREXIT negotiations and following our departure from the European Union. And in a recent YouGov poll, 80% people said they wanted stronger laws to protect our wildlife - so we know you care too.

This election is particularly crucial to Somerset's wildlife because, as you are keenly aware, decisions made during the process of leaving the EU could have substantial impacts on the strong protections Somerset currently enjoys. Agriculture and fisheries policies - currently developed at EU level - have also for many years provided a source of funding for farming that protects wildlife.

This election brings us an enormous opportunity to craft new domestic policies that could lead to a thriving countryside where farming and conservation work seamlessly together, and ensure that we continue to have an environment that is brilliant for wildlife and people.

Somerset Wildlife Trust wrote to all the candidates in Somerset asking what they will do for nature if elected on 8th June and in particular we asked for.

  • A 'blue belt' of marine protected areas in UK seas including our Somerset coast.
  • Action to ensure we are the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it.
  • New farming policies, where taxpayer's money is invested in ways to deliver multiple benefits, including nature, healthy soils, clean water, climate change, natural flood management, and beautiful landscapes.

Whether you attend a hustings, meet your candidates on the doorstep or contact them by letter, email or social media post, I would urge you to do the same, keeping in mind all that is special in Somerset.

This is fundamental to the well-being and prosperity of our own and future generations.

Please join us in holding our politicians to account.

Remember, Nature can't vote but you can vote for nature.

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Simon Nash, Chief Executive, Somerset Wildlife Trust

Take a walk in the Woods - May 2017

image003.jpg - 161.6 KBBluebells 'in the green.'
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Sandford Woods are just alight with swathes of electric blue bluebells at the moment and it is pleasing to see many walkers coming especially to enjoy them. Joining them now are acres of wild garlic just in flower. The bluebells send out a delicious refreshing and slightly sweet perfume especially in the early morning and well the small of garlic is well known. It is so tempting to take many photographs but they often fail to capture the deep blue colour and the essence of the woods at bluebell time. It seems to be better to take the photos when it is shady.

There is divived opinion about growing the very prolific Spanish bluebell in our gardens simply because they do spread so fast and hybridise with native bluebells very easily. It is a question of deciding whether or not you want to encourage Spanish bluebells or perhaps discard them and replace them with the native ones. These are usually advertised for sale in gardening magazines in late spring and like snowdrops they are sold 'in the green' that is with their leaves still attached rather than simply bulbs (which do not tend to grow well) Neither do snowdrop bulbs in packets on the whole. - always exceptions though!

image007.jpg - 135.9 KBSpanish Bluebell
image005.jpg - 85.5 KBEnglish Bluebell
So that you are able to recognise the difference between the 2 types here are some tips.

The main differences between a Spanish bluebell and an English bluebell are:

  • On the Spanish flower, the bells are all round the stem, not just on one side which gives the English bluebell its drooping stature.
  • The leaves are wider and bigger.
  • The petals of each bell open wider and flare at the ends rather than curl.
  • The bells are slimmer on the English bluebell.
  • The stamen is blue on the Spanish version, and yellow on the English one.
  • The English bluebell is a deeper blue than the Spanish one, which is a delicate shade of pale blue.
  • The English bluebell is stronger scented.
  • The Spanish bluebell is taller.
  • The Spanish bluebell can tolerate sunshine and happily grows in open spaces, whereas the English bluebell prefers at least partial shade and is never found growing in open spaces.
  • Spanish bluebell flowers lift their heads towards the sun. English bluebells never do.

Many gardens have a Spanish and English bluebell cross, which has some of the characteristics of each plant.

Swallows are back!
image011.jpg - 24 KB image009.jpg - 22.1 KB It always seems that summer is on the way once the members of the swallow family are back.

These 2 swallows were together today, April 19th. I think that they are now partners and during the next few weeks I hope to follow their progress and keep readers informed. These 2, well I am not sure whether it is the same two but I expect that they are family members anyway always return to Walden Acres where they have made a home in the garage for many years.

image015.jpg - 26.1 KBComplete
image013.jpg - 34.9 KBThe beginnings of a nest made from mud and straw
I wonder whether the male is on the post and the female on the wire? I thought this because the males tend to arrive earlier and he looks in better condition than the female . She did look very tired but is better now and they have started to repair their nest from last year. Their nestd are made from mud and I expect that mud is quite hard to find during this dry spell. However these two were resourceful and managed to collect some damp earth where a car had recently been washed.

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Book recommendaton
There are 2 this month 'The Morville Hours' and'The Morville Year' both by Dr.Katherine Swift. They are magical books especially the first one. I cannot do better than Nigel Slater who says 'I love the richness of Katherine's prose, the flashes of her family storythat are scattered through and the deliciously written text. I have read it twice (so have I ). Katherine Swift created this garden over a period or 20 years at the Dower House at Morville, Shropshire. The book is full of surprises, acute detail and also a journey of self exploration. The garden is open for visitors but it is best to get the actual times from the web site.

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There seem to be quite a number of very large wasps around at the moment. They are, in fact, queen wasps. The wasp's year starts in spring. As the days start to warm up the queen wasps come out from hibernation. At this time of year there are no active wasp nests just queens which will begin to look for a suitable site to build their new nests. Once the queen has chosen a nest location (in a loft, shed or hole in the ground etc) she will start stripping wood from fence panels and shed walls (you can often see little white lines on shed walls and fences in the summer. This is a sign of a wasp nest nearby). The material collected for nesting is chewed, shredded and mixed with saliva and wax to make a paste material which is then used to construct a splendid the nest. The queen wasp's food source will be nectar as for bees but she will take insects to feed the larvae as well.

Emerging Everything - April 2017

image001.jpg - 29.7 KB It is hard to keep up with the onset of spring now that it has started. Every day something new is in bud, leaf or flower. Bumblebees and even honey bees are out searching for food plus some of the first butterflies are emerging too. Brimstones are early spring butterflies since they have probably overwintered in a sheltered spot such as amongst ivy leaves and they then respond quickly to rising temperatures and increasing sunshine.

The picture below shows clearly that the wing membranes contain a network of veins. There are, in fact 2 membranes and the veins help to support them keeping them rigid and together. They also carry oxygen and nourishment. Amazingly the pattern of veins is different for every genus of butterfly and is one of the main criteria used to classify butterflies.

How to rescue an exhausted bee
Sometimes and especially in early spring when there are few nectar giving flowers about bees simply run out of energy and are unable to get back to their home. I found such a bee on an upstairs window sill yesterday. It did not move when I touched it.

image003.jpg - 5.3 KB A simple solution of sugar and water helps revive exhausted bees. To create energy drink to revive tired bees the RSPB suggests mixing two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and placing the mix on a plate or spoon. Do not add any more water otherwise the bee could drown. Place the bee on the plate or spoon, where it will have a little drink, hopefully helping it to gather the energy to fly again. It did work. I could actually watch the bee drinking slowly at first and then faster and faster until it was back to life and ready for flight. This took about 15 minutes.

You can also add the same quantity of water and sugar to a small container, such as a shallow dish and leave it amongst a patch of flowers in your garden or window box, so that bees can have a drink on the go before they get to the exhaustion stage.

Don't be tempted to offer tired bees honey - in most cases the honey isn't suitable as a lot of honey is imported and may not always be right for native British bees. Only ever offer white granulated sugar - never Demerara, or any artificial or diet sweeteners.

Help from Lottery Fund
image005.jpg - 47.6 KBThe ladybird spider now found in only 8 sites in the Dorset Heathlands
The Lottery Fund is to donate £4.6million to help save initially 20 endangered bugs, bees, butterflies and plants. Little-known and exotically named insects such as the bearded false darkling beetle, the ladybird spider and the royal splinter cranefly, as well as plants including the prostrate perennial knawel and interrupted brome are among the 20 endangered species being targeted for action.

A further 200 threatened species will also be helped by the funding from the National Lottery, including pine martens, large garden bumblebees, lesser butterfly orchids and hedgehogs.

The money will support the "Back from the Brink" initiative to bring together leading charities and conservation bodies in the first countrywide coordinated effort to safeguard species from extinction and deliver conservation measures across England.

The scheme aims to boost conservation efforts in 150 key habitats and landscapes, and recruit and teach more than 5,500 volunteers the skills they need to study, identify and look after threatened species.

Projects include restoring Dorset heathland, bringing back locally extinct plants in agricultural land, creating a network of grasslands in the Cotswolds, managing the Sefton dunes in Merseyside to help species recover, conserving Breckland grass heaths in Norfolk and restoring and managing Northamptonshire's Rockingham Forest sites.

image007.jpg - 8.8 KB As part of the programme, wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation will reintroduce the chequered skipper butterfly that became extinct in England in 1975, to Rockingham Forest, near Corby. The butterfly was once found in a strip of woodland and grassland from Oxfordshire to Lincolnshire, but died out in England as a result of the decline in coppicing in woodland which led to its preferred habitat of woodland rides becoming overgrown. Next spring, Butterfly Conservation will collect 30 to 50 adult butterflies from healthy populations in Belgium and release them into a secret site in Rockingham, with the hope of more introductions in the future.

It is interesting to read that bugs, beetles, ants, spiders and other invertebrates make up the majority of species on the brink of extinction. We tend mostly to hear about the threats to much larger species but without these smaller species all wildlife is under threat.

Coincidentally the Spring Report of the Somerset Trust's Gardening for Wildlife concentrates on the above comments. Under the heading 'Why do I Garden for Wildlife? 'the answer is. 'It is easy. It seems to me that all wildlife eats what is smaller than themselves so all I have to do is concentrate my efforts on the smallest wildlife.'

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Book Recommendation
The lovely jacket is by Carry Akroyd -(highlighted in December 2016 nature notes) a slightly different style from her usual, but no less perfectly beautiful for that.

Rainbow Dust by Peter Marren - Three centuries of delight in British butterflies but also of sorrow in what we are losing... The title refers to the scales that cover a butterfly's wings. If you've ever handled a butterfly, you probably noticed the powdery residue left behind on your fingers. A butterfly's wings are covered with scales, which may rub off on your fingers when you touch them. That's the powder you see on your fingers and the dust will often be colourful depending on the species.

Has anybody seen the first swallows arriving yet? I haven't seen any so far but I am sure that it won't be long before we see these welcome migrants back once again.

House a Dormouse - March 2017

image001.jpg - 9.8 KB Dormice are nocturnal rodents that sleep a lot! It's this sleepy nature that has given them their name, as it comes from the French word "dormir" meaning to sleep. Their tails are furry with endearing brown eyes and they weigh only as much as two £1 coins. This sleepy nature of the dormouse was portrayed by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Here he is at the Mad Hatters tea party.

Dormice spend most of their lives asleep in fact from late October to May when new food becomes available - maybe leaf buds or insects. In Autumn they fatten up on hazel nuts but this is a problem because grey squirrels often use them before the dormouse has a chance. Then it is time to hibernate again usually under the ground.

Hazel dormice are now one of Britain's most endangered species. Over the last century they've become extinct in almost half the counties where they used to thrive. Road building has broken up much of the dormouse habitat that existed across the UK. Loss of the brambles and hedgerows in which dormice nest and feed means that they have died out in most Midland and Northern counties. We must act now if we are to prevent them from dying out altogether in southern Britain and Wales... image003.jpg - 14.1 KB

This is a quote from the House a Dormouse web site

'With house a dormouse, you'll be helping keep dormice safe from extinction. We run national monitoring of over 24,000 dormouse houses throughout the UK, and in areas where dormice have become extinct, we reintroduce captive-bred dormice to start new populations.(this has mixed success)

Placing dormouse boxes in woodlands with a limited range of natural nesting sites has been shown to boost local populations - that is why we are asking you to help us protect dormice by housing a dormouse.'

The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species is also an interesting site ( to find out more.

Angela's garden
image005.jpg - 26.5 KB image009.jpg - 22.7 KB How's this for a spectacular spring show?

image011.jpg - 9.1 KBThe flowers are really deep blue
image007.jpg - 28.4 KB These beautiful flowers are Scillas. They spread further and further afield each year just one plant at first and then the next year a few more and so on so creating huge drifts I have no idea why they have such a liking for this particular garden. Their colour is a dazzling blue though my camera has not done their colour justice. Scillas are perennial bulbs that thrive in woodlands and damp meadows. They belong to the same family as hyacinths. As with all bulbs leave the leaves for at last 6 weeks after flowering is over. (Don't be tempted to mow the grass either!) The leaves make food by photosynthesis and then store that food in the bulbs ready for next year's growth and flowering. Bulbs, though small, need to be planted at least 4 inches deep in autumn. Propagation can also be done by digging up a plant and removing the off sets that grow from the main bulb.

They also grow quite easily from seed when they are fresh. They should be potted in ordinary compost and left where they will undergo cold conditions. Flowering will take several years so be patient.

Primroses are just beginning to flower now.
The primrose is the prima rosa, first flower of the year. (not sure about this. What about snowdrops and hellebores and crocuses?) Next time you come across a clump of flowering primroses take a closer look at them. They actually have 2 different types of flowers which look almost identical. One type is called the 'pin-eyed' and the other the 'thrum-eyed'.

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image015.jpg - 6.4 KBPin-eyed flower
Note the female stigma protrudes above the male anthers which can just be seen at the base of the flower tube.
image017.jpg - 8.3 KB Thrum-eyed flower
The male anthers are clearly visible, the stigma is beneath them, half way up the flower tube

Garden Wildlife - Winners and Losers
In October 2016 over 2500 Gardeners' World readers took part in the magazine's annual garden wildlife survey. There are some depressing results but the good news is that 74% of the respondents were taking steps to encourage wildlife into their plot (2% up on 2015).

  • Sadly though sightings of all birds were down from 2015 and 21%of readers didn't see any of the 21 garden birds on the RSPB red list including sparrows and starlings.
  • Peacock butterflies took the biggest dip in numbers but the red admiral seemed to do much better.
  • Fewer ladybirds were spotted.

image019.jpg - 9.9 KB Interestingly £92.88 is the sum that on average readers spent on feeding birds in 2016. Steve Bond at sandford Animal Feeds told me that some people spend that in a fortnight so there are some fortunate birds around.

Book recommendation
This is a book to dip into again and again - a real treasure.

It is not just a botanical flora but a cultural one as well - an account of the role of wild plants in social life, arts, customs and landscape. Much information has been supplied by the people themselves over a period of 5 years. People from all parts of Britain have been encouraged to record and celebrate the cultural aspects of their local flora and to send their memories and anecdotes, observations and regional knowledge to Flora Britannica. It has then been written in an engaging way by the outstanding naturalist Richard Mabey.

There is of course a section on primroses, a very long one. 'We used to pick very large amounts of primroses. Our lady at the Big House used to take them up to a London hospital. My mother packed the flowers in forest moss, having made the flowers into neat bunches'

'a more formal celebration is Primrose Day on April 19th. when primrose flowers are placed on Disraeli's statue in front of Westminster Abbey and also on his grave at Hughenden in Buckinghamshire. They were the politician's favourite flower. Queen Victoria regularly sent him bunches from Osborne and Windsor.'

First Signs of Spring? - February 2017

image001.jpg - 41.8 KBAlder catkins (male) some of last year's female cones that once held seed can also be seen
Looking for signs of spring
This may sound optimistic in mid January but there are actually quite a few signs once your senses, especially sight and hearing get in tune. Perhaps the most prominent are the catkins of alder and hazel. The alder catkins give the whole tree a wine red, warm glow.

Many immature hazel catkins, again the male ones, have been visible since the late autumn but are now beginning to open and release their pollen. Like the alder, hazel is mainly pollinated by wind and therefore the flowers do not need bright colors or strong scent to attract bees.

Bees find it hard to collect hazel pollen because it consists of individual grains that are not sticky. They need to be separate so that they can be blown by the wind to another tree. Despite male and female parts being on the same tree they cannot self -pollinate. The much smaller female flowers start to appear quite soon now. They are quite hard to spot since they are just a wisp of red or cream peeking out from the tip of a bud. What is seen is just a part of the flower- the styles. They will receive pollen. The rest of the flower is inside the bud and will eventually produce a hazel nut.

image005.jpg - 21.9 KBBoth immature and mature hazel catkins are seen here on the leafless tree
image003.jpg - 37 KBThe female flower or stigma that catches the pollen grains
Hazel has excellent value for wild life and is well worth planting in the garden.

Hazel leaves provide food for the caterpillars of many moths, including the large emerald, small white wave, barred umber and nut-tree tussock. In managed woodland where hazel is coppiced, the open wildflower-rich habitat supports many species of butterfly, particularly fritillaries. Coppiced hazel also provides shelter for ground-nesting birds such as the nightingale, nightjar, yellowhammer and willow warbler.

image007.jpg - 10.5 KBLarge Emerald moth

The female Large Emerald moth lays her eggs on the leaves of hazel, alder, birch and beech. When the caterpillar first emerges from the egg it is green. However it soon changes to brown so that it is better camouflaged whilst hibernating through the winter. It attaches itself onto a twig or branch and develops little brown lumps on its back so that it looks even more like a twig. Later it makes a cocoon by spinning a silk case around itself and then in spring it transforms itself yet again into the Large Emerald moth.

Hazel nuts are one of the main food sources of the Hazel Dormouse but more of that next month.

Hazel wood can be twisted or knotted, and as such it historically had many uses. These included thatching spars, net stakes, water divining sticks, hurdles and furniture. Hazel was also valued for its nuts, or 'cobs'.

Today, hazel coppice has become an important management strategy in the conservation of woodland habitats for wildlife. The resulting timber is used in many ways, and is becoming increasingly popular as pea sticks and bean poles, used by gardeners. Traditionally and now revived hazel and often cherry are used to make crooks especially for shepherds and thumb sticks.

image013.jpg - 13.9 KBI'm bored. Can't we just get on with all the work that has to be done?
image011.jpg - 25.5 KBAnother use for the crook apart from catching fast moving sheep. This one is used for pulling down branches in order to pick apples
image010.jpg - 31 KBThis thumb stick was made for me by Ronald Cleeves a true man of the woods in the 1970s and is still going strong. The fork fits comfortably into the gap between thumb and forefinger - just right for walking in the woods today.
image015.jpg - 7.8 KBTawny owl (not my picture)

Tawny owls are noticeably more vociferous through January. They are strongly territorial birds and call to establish breeding territories in preparation for spring. Their call is one of the best known of all the birds in the UK. It is a sound that never fails to stop me dead in my tracks hoping to hear it again. The hooting conjures up mystery and intrigue. It can be ever so slightly spooky so it is no surprise that any crime thriller set in rural Britain uses this sound bite to add atmosphere. The tawny owl is nocturnal so it is usually heard calling at night, but much less often seen in the daytime. You may see one only if you disturb it inadvertently from its roost site in woodland up against a tree trunk or among ivy. Look for pellets below roosting places.

It was Shakespeare who first gave us the classic interpretation of the tawny owl's call 'tuwhit, tu-whoo' in 'Love's Labour's Lost' but is that just folklore? However, it's a mistake to think of this as one bird's call. It takes two to 'tuwhit, tu-whoo!' The male answers with a hooting 'tu-whoo' in response to a female's sharper 'tuwhit'. Of course the two calls don't always perfectly follow one another but sometimes they do. Tawny owls make other sounds as well and the country term for the bird was the screech owl because they do indeed sometimes screech and shriek. In fact they have quite a variety of sounds when communicating with each other.

For the last 6 or 7 years a pair of mallard ducks has arrived at the goose pond in my garden in early spring. This year they arrived very early, in fact on January 17th. and here they are in fine feather. They will visit most days now and grow in confidence so if there is not food available the drake will come to demand it. The female is much more shy but she is well looked after by the drake. They disappear for large parts of the day and eventually will return with ducklings. After their autumn moult they fly away and I am left wondering whether they will return again the next spring. I wonder whether they are the same pair each time but they do seem to know their way around.

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Update on the Asian Hornet from the National Bee Unit
It is also a request for heightened vigilance. (see also Nature Notes November 2016.)

Asian hornets are voracious predators of honey bees and other beneficial insects. They were found in the UK in September 2016 at Tetbury and later in Somerset. The Asian hornet can spread very rapidly and with spring fast approaching it is time to keep a watch. In spring surviving queens begin a small primary nest often in a sheltered location such as in the eaves of a roof or in a garden shed. Here they raise their first clutch of workers who take over the queen's foraging tasks... As the nest grows some hornets move out to establish a secondary nest where there is more space to expand. These nests get very large and are likely to be high up in the tree canopy close to a food source such as apiaries. It is a good time to look for nests now when the trees are devoid of leaves. Should you spot a suspect Asian hornet or nest contact the Non Native Species Secretariat straight away giving as much information as possible including if possible an image but do not put yourself in any danger of getting stung.

image022.jpg - 20.6 KB It is possible to trap Asian hornets in the spring by using either commercial traps which are available off the shelf or a home-made model egg. By using the National Bee Unit's monitoring trap see or just Google Beebase for further information.

Book Recommendation
Wildwood. A Journey through Trees by Roger Deakin. This is a real gem of a book if you have not already read it! I'll say no more.

Roger Deakin a true naturalist at his home that he shared with many animals and birds including swallows in the chimney. He died in 2006 but if you like this book he wrote another called Waterlog.

Miscellany - January 2017

During the last few weeks the ravens that have made their home in some very tall evergreens in my neighbour's garden have been very vociferous. There are aerial battles going on between the ravens and the local jackdaws that thoroughly dislike their presence.

image001.jpg - 10.9 KB'The Guardians of the Tower.'
Ravens don't mate until they are about three and even then they must have established their own territory before nesting. New couples form in the winter (now) and will stay together for life. Yesterday I was lucky enough to see two ravens performing spectacular acrobatics, soaring, gliding and tumbling together. Their flight of dives and rolls is their way of getting to know each other. The nest is built, in this case, high in the tree top and consists of sticks, moss and bark. The chicks are incubated by the female but are fed by both parents. The parents stay with the chicks for 6 months after they have fledged. The adults are well able to defend their young from predators because of their size and very large brain. Apparently ravens have been known to drop rocks on would-be predators to scare them away from the nest. After this initial care the youngsters must establish their own territory- perhaps in the quarry in Sandford or maybe that is 'full' and that is why there are ravens next door. Ravens are long lived birds and can live 10 to 14 years in the wild and upto 40 years in captivity.

'if the ravens leave the Tower (of London) the Kingdom will fall.'

The legend says that if the 6 resident ravens that live at the Tower go away the Tower and the kingdom will fall. This legend began in the reign of Charles II (1630-1685) who decreed that the ravens be protected. There are 7 residents currently - one spare because despite having one wing clipped some do go missing or have to be sacked. Raven George was dismissed for eating TV aerials and Raven Grog decided to escape in 1981 after 21 years of service. He was last seen on the roof of a London pub. They have a Raven Master to look after them and are registered as 'soldiers' of the Kingdom.

Mistletoe. (Viscum album)
image002.jpg - 14.8 KBApple trees are the preferred host for mistletoe
image003.jpg - 20.6 KB Now that it is nearly time to take down Christmas decorations in fact on Twelfth Night it may be a time to try to propagate mistletoe. This is not easy and expect a high rate of failure so plant plenty. Use fresh ripe berries. Make a small nick in the bark of an apple, poplar or possibly hawthorn tree. These are the preferred hosts for mistletoe though nobody knows why. Have the flap of the bark facing upwards and then squidge the berry and its seed into the space between the bark and the wood. The only thing to do then is to hope for the best! Preferably you should plant really fresh berries which means waiting until March or April.

The Tenbury Mistletoe Festival takes place annually in December in Tenbury Wells Worcestershire. The mistletoe plant is very important to the people of Tenbury and has been associated with this area of the UK for centuries. For a month before Christmas part of the market is given over totally to mistletoe and holly sales and smallholders bring in bundles to be auctioned to wholesale greengrocers from the Midlands and beyond.

image005.jpg - 13.6 KBThe Mistle Thrush
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Most of our mistletoe however is imported from Northern France especially from poplars in Picardy and the apple orchards of Normandy and Brittany.

image006.jpg - 13.7 KBWheatear
Is the mistle thrush linked to mistletoe in any way? Yes it may be. Found in open woods, parks, hedges and cultivated land the mistle thrush feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates, seeds and berries. Its favourite fruit are the berries of mistletoe, holly and yew. Mistletoe is the favoured one when it is available and this is reflected in the thrush's English and scientific names. (Turdus viscivorus) The plant itself which is a partial parasite benefits from its seeds being excreted by the thrush (or rubbed off) onto branches where they can germinate. In winter a thrush will vigorously defend clumps of mistletoe or a holly tree as a food reserve for when times are hard.

Book Recommendation
'Tweet of the Day' by Brett Westward and Stephen Moss. 'Tweet of the Day' happens every day at 5.58 on Radio 4. It highlights a different bird daily and gives a brief but very succinct picture of its characteristics. Often it is presented by Sir David Attenborough. Following the programme's success a book has been produced which follows a similar format highlighting specific birds each month but much more detail is given.

The illustrations (see example at right) stand out. They are by Carrie Ackroyd a painter and printmaker who belongs to the Society of Wildlife Artists and lives in rural Northamptonshire.

Quick Quiz
Can you recognize these berries?

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A Happy and Peaceful Year to Everyone!

Answers to Berry Quiz. A, Mistletoe. B.Holly.C.Yew. D.Ivy. E.Cotoneaster. F. Rowan.

Volcanoes at Weston-super-Mare? - December 2016

image001.jpg - 24.7 KB Middle Hope leading to Sand Point. Swallow Cliff is to the right (north.) There is a track down to the shore. Sand Bay is to the left(south) and Sand Point straight ahead.

The area to the north of Weston-super-Mare is a fascinating geological location. Surprisingly this was once an area of intense volcanic activity and there is still evidence of that today. Underwater volcanoes during the Carboniferous period (about 350 million years ago) sometimes buried life forms and preserved them in the rocks as fossils. They are now exposed on the foreshore and cliff at Middle Hope, Swallow Cliff and Sand Bay. Well-preserved corals, bryozoans, algae, bivalves and brachiopods can be found quite easily.

Fossil Hunting
Another surprise. The seas around our now Weston-super-Mare area were once warm, shallow and teeming with corals.

That is why corals are the most common type of fossil to be found along this coast. The most likely ones to be found are cone-like corals (Zaphrentis) which are found in many of the rocks, often in excellent condition. Crinoids can often be found, but these are, in most cases, worn with the inside structure only visible. Bryozoans and fossil algae make beautiful patterns on some of the rocks and brachiopods and bivalves can also be found.

Crinoids are stalked animals that resemble flowers, hence their common name of sea lily. Stem segments like these are especially common in late Palaeozoic rocks but a few species still survive today.

image003.jpg - 17.7 KB image005.jpg - 13.1 KB Crinoid Fossils, The sort of fossil likely to be found at Middle Hope & a stalked crinoid alive today.

Most of the fossils are found in the cliffs and large rocks on the foreshore, and can be seen along much of the coastline at Middle Hope, Swallow Cliff and Sand Point. The fossils are simply lying in the rocks, but, because the rocks are extremely hard, the fossils will often break if you try to extract them. Do not do this though. (see why below) Just by searching through loose rocks on the beach a sharp eyed person is almost sure to find some kind of fossil or part of a fossil.

Middle Hope is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (an SSSI) These locations are protected by law to conserve their special wildlife or geology. They are designated by Natural England. This body is the government's adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect England's nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and for the services they provide.

The SSSI status of Middle Hope means that there are plenty of good fossils to be seen in the rocks, left for everyone to see, photograph and enjoy, but there are restrictions on what can be collected. Only loose fossils that would be washed away and/or damaged by the sea may be collected.

My 2 stepsons spent many hours at Middle Hope grid reference ST324661 and we always found something of interest to bring home and treasure. The coastline itself is stunning with striking panoramic views both across the Channel and inland towards Mendip and the Moors and there are rocky paths to negotiate leading to and from the beach.

image007.jpg - 39 KBPillow lava at Middle Hope which still looks dramatic
image008.jpg - 23.5 KBSwallow Cliff showing how the cliff has receded over millions of years

Up to date local information on Ash Dieback published by the Somerset Trust
Ash dieback is a serious disease of ash trees, caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea. It has already devastated ash woodlands in other parts of northern Europe, and has now found its way to the UK. The fungus infects 60-90% of the trees in its path, causing leaf loss, bark lesions and crown dieback. Young ash trees are killed very rapidly by the disease. Older trees often resist the disease for longer periods but succumb with prolonged exposure. The disease is spread in the leaf litter, and the wind is believed to play a role in transmitting fungal spores.

image0010.jpg - 23.5 KBSymptoms of ash dieback include shrivelled, blackened shoots and saplings with dead tops
We have just had confirmation of 2 new outbreaks and a further 4 unconfirmed outbreaks in 6 of our nature reserves around the Cheddar area. Currently these new outbreaks appear to be confined to ash saplings. We won't be able to assess whether the disease has spread into the larger woodland ash trees until leaves have opened next spring.

On Mendip ash trees make up a very high percentage of woodland tree cover. Heavy losses could result in the effective loss of many woodlands on Mendip, including the woodland flowers, birds and invertebrates and lichens that live in them.

As the infection spreads there are increasing indications that some Ash trees are resistant. It is vitally important that any resistant or unaffected ash trees are identified and protected and SWT will look to identify such trees. These may provide the best hope for the future.

What SWT are doing to try and mitigate the impact of ash dieback:

Where tree planting is required in our woodlands, SWT have been planting a range of alternative tree species to ash that, although they cannot ecologically replace ash, nevertheless provide similar conditions, in terms of light shade of the woodland floor.

Book recommendations
This list is very subjective but here for what it is worth are Malcolm Tait's top 10 wildlife books for Christmas. He writes for the Guardian.

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  1. Nature Cure Richard Mabey
  2. The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling
  3. How to be a Bad Birdwatcher. Simon Barnes.
  4. Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Steve Brooks and Richard Lewington. (or any other such Field Guide.) British Wildlife Publishing Limited.
  5. Birds of Heaven. Peter Matthiessen.
  6. Nature's Numbers. Ian Stewart
  7. The Future of Life. E.O.Wilson.
  8. In Pursuit of Spring. Edward Thomas.
  9. The World's Vanishing Animals. Cyril Littlewood and D.W Ovenden.
  10. The Peregrine. J.A.Baker.

I spotted these 3 adventurers whilst climbing up to the woods last week.They are now old enough to leave their mothers for a considerable time and join together in gangs to explore and enjoy their new world. Can anyone think of a suitable caption please? One obvious one comes to mind.

Another threat to our honey bees - November 2016

image001.jpg - 17 KB The Asian Hornet that kills honey bees has started to invade the UK via France experts have confirmed. Work is under way to find and destroy their nests before they have a chance to establish themselves. Our native European hornets are less destructive.

Defra said it had been anticipating the hornets' arrival "for some years" and had a "well-established protocol in place to eradicate them".

The Asian hornet which is up to 2.5cm (1in) long is now common across Europe after being accidentally introduced to France in 2004 in a shipment of pottery from China.

Nest found in Gloucestershire about the size of a large pumpkin now destroyed our bees have no resistance to them.

What to look out for.

  • Asian hornet queens are up to 3 cm in length; workers up to 25 mm (slightly smaller than the native European hornet.)
  • image005.jpg - 5.4 KBEuropean hornet (Neither drawn to scale)
    image003.jpg - 24.3 KBAsian hornet
  • Entirely dark brown or black velvety body, bordered with a fine yellow band
  • Only one band on the abdomen: 4th abdominal segment almost entirely yellow/orange
  • Legs brown with yellow ends
  • Head black with an orange-yellow face
  • The Asian Hornet ceases activity at dusk unlike the European hornet

If you think you have seen an Asian Hornet take a picture and email it with details of where you saw it and your contact information to - for more information visit the Non-native Species Secretariat website.

Last week 2 bee inspectors visited my garden to look for signs of Asian hornet activity. They are taking this whole thing very seriously indeed and hope to eradicate the insect before it manages to establish itself in the UK.
image009.jpg - 23 KB image007.jpg - 32.7 KB They said that hornet activity is likely to slow down now for the winter but everyone should be very vigilant from next February onwards. Currently look for nests high up in trees - up to 50 feet and especially in conifers. The insects may also visit ivy which is now in flower and may provide much needed pollen and nectar as it does for the honey bee too.

They also put a trap for the hornets which is designed so that honey bees and wasps are not attracted either to its contents or to the entrance hole.

They also found and left a European hornet's huge nest built in an owl box! Terrible picture but the best I could manage.

Do trees sleep at night?
Apparently 'Yes they do!'

'Trees seen resting branches while 'asleep' for the first time.' says the New Scientist magazine (May 2016)

Studies on silver birch in Austria and Finland have shown that they 'rest' their branches at night following circadian rhythms similar to sleep patterns in animals.

Between sunset and sunrise researchers used lasers to record branches drooping by as much as 10cm (4in) most noticeably towards the end of the night. Suggestions for the causes of the drooping are possibly a result of the loss of water pressure in plant cells as they stop photosynthesizing at night or an active 'decision' by the trees to save energy because their need to angle branches higher by day to maximize exposure to sunlight serves no purpose at night. image011.jpg - 9.6 KB

Book recommendation
S.B.Carroll. The Serengeti Rules.

This book is written in a very engaging way and tries to discover how life works! For example. How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savannah, or fish in the ocean? How do our bodies produce the right numbers of cells in our organs and bloodstream? In The Serengeti Rules, award-winning biologist and author Sean Carroll tells the stories of the pioneering scientists who sought the answers to such simple yet profoundly important questions, and shows how their discoveries matter for our health and the health of the planet we depend upon.

One of the most important revelations about the natural world is that everything is regulated. There are rules that regulate the number of molecules in our bodies and rules that determine the numbers of every animal and plant in the wild. There is a common underlying logic to all life. Carroll recounts how our knowledge of the rules and logic of the human body has spurred the finding of revolutionary life-saving medicines and makes the strong case that it is now time to use the Serengeti Rules to heal our ailing planet.

What to See and Do in the Garden
image015.jpg - 12.1 KBBrown mottlegill
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1. A feature of many gardens at this time of year is the fruiting bodies of fungi. The rest is going on under the ground. Increasingly it is being discovered that fungi are a vital part of our ecosystems and the way plants grow. Few British species (apart from honey fungus ) are a danger to plants so if some pop up under trees or on lawns enjoy them as visible indicators of the health of your garden's ecosystem. There are special fungi forays arranged locally so why not join one? Common turf fungi are shaggy ink cap, brown mottlegill and the parasol mushroom. Under trees there may be fly agaric.
image019.jpg - 16.7 KBShaggy ink cap
image018.jpg - 11.2 KBFly agaric. or fairy tale mushroom

2. Rake together fallen leaves into out-of-the-way corners. They form ideal hibernation sites for insects, amphibians and small mammals.
3. If you are pruning trees and shrubs, piles of twigs and branches cut into short lengths to form log piles make valuable wildlife habitat.
4. Leave mature ivy uncut, it is an extremely valuable source of late nectar, followed by black berries for birds.

image021.jpg - 11.2 KBMature ivy with flowers and later berries (ideal for blackbirds later in the year.)

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The State of Nature 2016 - October 2016

The State of Nature Report
The State of Nature report for 2016 was launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation and research organisations at the Royal Society in London on Wednesday, September 14th. It follows on from the first report in 2013 and reveals that:-

  • over half(56%) of UK species studied have declined since 1970
  • more than one in ten(1,199) species of the nearly 8000 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing altogether.

The State of Nature Partnership is led by the RSPB and is made up of 53 organisations comprising conservation charities, biological recording schemes and societies and a small number of research organisations.

image001.jpg - 9.8 KB The report optimistically concludes that it is not too late to save UK nature but we must act now to put nature back where it belongs and that leads on to the book recommendation below!

Book recommendation
The 'Bible' of wildlife gardening written by Chris Baines in 1985 was called 'How to make a Wildlife Garden.' It has now been extensively updated and renamed 'RHS Companion to Wildlife Gardening.' He shows the reader how to transform a garden into a wildlife haven. He sets the garden within the context of broader concerns for wildlife and how we can each do our bit to help safeguard the habitats of our indigenous flora and fauna.

A wide range of habitats is therefore discussed in detail including hedgerows, shrubberies, meadows and ponds. I came to live in my present home in 1985 and this book very much influenced the style of my garden and the choices made and has continued to do so for the last 30 years.

Despite wildlife gardening now being a mainstream issue Chris Baines paints a gloomy picture of the fate of our natural landscape. As a result domestic gardens are more important than ever, covering more land than the combined area of the country's nature reserves. He is passionate in his appeal urging letter writing and membership of local environmental groups.

Nuts in May
image003.jpg - 13.4 KBFresh Kentish cob nuts
It is time for harvesting hazel nuts but I have never managed to get to them before the squirrels and at this time the paths are littered with broken shells and I expect many have been buried as well. They seem to like them green. It is possible to buy a very similar nut called the Cobnut. They are a nut in their own right but still members of the hazel family (Corylus) and are delicious eaten fresh or dried and eaten later in the season. They are sweeter than the hazel and when fresh have a coconut-like flavour. The shells are also easier to break than the hazel just a sharp tap will do. Commercially they are mostly grown in Kent in orchards called plats first set up in Victorian times. In fact the first cobnuts were bred by a Mr. Lambert of Goudhurst in Kent in 1830. There is further confusion because some hazel nuts are called filberts. This seems to be a very ancient name but it seems that the hazel, cobnut and filbert are all from the same Corylus family but are different species though they may have been hybridised over many, many years!

I fell to wondering about the well known nursery rhyme. How come? Nuts are never ripe in May in our country!

Here we go gathering nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Here we go gathering nuts in May,
image004.jpg - 49.2 KBHawthorn in full blossom in May
On a cold and frosty morning.

Once again the origins of the rhyme go far back and there does not seem to be a definitive answer. One explanation is that instead of nuts we should read knots. These were bunches of the May flower or hawthorn gathered for festive occasions.

image006.jpg - 11.7 KBThe pignut is a member of the carrot family

Another source suggests that the rhyme is correct and refers to the pignut. The pignut is the tuber of the plant and since way back has been gathered from the woods and hedgerows. The tuber can be eaten raw and is very tasty something like celery heart crossed with raw hazelnut or sweet chestnut. They may have a spicy aftertaste similar to that of radishes or watercress. Pignuts can also be added to soups and stews to increase carbohydrate content.

Things to do and things to look for in October
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  • Leave a few fallen apples and pears for blackbirds and thrushes and also for overwintering butterflies. If there is a glut of apples try saving some for later in the winter when food becomes scarcer.

  • Collect rainwater by installing a rain diverter and water butt. Rainwater is the best kind of water to top up a pond because it is low in nitrogen which encourages the growth of algae. It is also ideal for watering pots and borders throughout the year plus for use in the greenhouse.
    For example North Somerset Council has this offer. If you buy one converter compost bin or water butt you can buy a second for half price (of the same product). Prices from April 2016 start at £17.98 for a 220 litre compost bin and £24.98 for a 100 litre water butt plus a £5.99 delivery charge.

  • Birds are beginning to return to gardens again now. I am never sure where they have been to bring up their families. Whole flocks (charms) of goldfinches have arrived and are enjoying niger seeds from the feeder or from the seed heads of teasels left over from the summer.
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Green woodpeckers often arrive on the lawn now searching for ants their favourite food. They like to eat the eggs, larvae and adults. They will eat other invertebrates, pine seeds and fruit but only in winter when ants get harder to find. Their call is distinctive like a loud laughing call and that is why it is traditionally known as a 'yaffle.'

End piece
It seems to be a good year for puff balls this year. I found these growing along the path to the south of Somerville Road always a good place for wildlife as mentioned last month. When the puff ball matures it splits open or a perforation develops on the surface through which many, many spores escape- when raindrops land on the ball, via air currents or some other means.

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Looking towards Autumn - September 2016

The gradual change from summer to autumn brings plenty of interest to the wildlife garden.

Many summer migrant animals are beginning to depart such as swallows, swifts and blackcaps whilst some winter migrants start to arrive. Year round residents are turning their attentions to winter preparations, stockpiling food either hidden in select locations, or stored in their own tissues.

Native adult birds are more noticeable this month. They have laid low whist they complete their moult. Birdsong is back to its usual volume and variety. Youngsters are out too exploring their new environment.

image001.jpg - 8.3 KBBullfinch - male
image003.jpg - 8.3 KBBullfinch - female

This year in my garden I have seen more bullfinches than usual. By that I mean just one or two but even so that was a great pleasure and so I tried to find out more about these shy birds. They are woodland birds during the breeding season but in the autumn they venture out of the woods feeding mainly on the seeds of herbaceous plants ( another reason to leave seed heads in the garden not in the green bag) By the onset of winter they return to woods and feed on tree seeds particularly ash. Their call is not so flambuoyant as their plumage being just a single peeping sound. Their white rump can sometimes be seen flying through the trees.

Bullfinches increased in number in the 1950s when they became a huge problem to the fruit industry and many were trapped because of their liking for fruit buds in the spring. A bullfinch can apparently eat 30 buds a minute! Growers had little option but to trap bullfinches during the winter and spring. Many growers in well wooded areas caught more than 1000 birds annually.

Today the UK population is 36% lower than 1967. It is thought, yet again, that this is because of deteriorating habitat quality caused by the intensification of farming and reduced diversity in woodlands.

Therefore the bullfinch is now listed as an 'amber' species of conservation concern. On the plus side there has been an increase in numbers since 2000. The UK's birds are split into 3 categories of conservation importance - red, amber and green. Red is the highest conservation priority with species needing urgent action. Amber is the next most critical followed by green. This list is compiled by NGOs (non government organisations) including the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology.) and the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)

The Shrew
image007.jpg - 8.3 KBA discarded shrew
image006.jpg - 8.3 KBThe pygmy shrew
Britain is home to three species of shrew, two of which are likely to turn up in gardens.

The common shrew is a chocolate brown colour on the back, paler on the flanks and near white on the under-parts, its short fur giving it a velvety appearance. It has a rounded head, tiny ears and a long pointed muzzle, which is constantly twitching and sniffing as the shrew searches for food.

The pygmy shrew is the smallest mammal likely to turn up in a garden. It is less than 2 inches long. The main distinguishing features between the pygmy and common shrews are the former's smaller size, slightly longer tail in relation to body length, and a more domed head.

The shrew is a small insectivorous mammal with tiny eyes and a large nose giving it keen sense of smell. Shrews live life in the fast lane, hectically snuffling through the undergrowth for their prey of invertebrates such as earthworms, beetles, slugs, snails, spiders and chrysalises. Common shrews can be found in most habitats, including gardens, but prefer woodland and grassland. They rarely come out into the open. Active by day and night, they are very territorial and aggressive for their size and can sometimes be heard fighting, their high-pitched squeaks particularly noticeable during the summer. In fact this sound in one of my flower beds last week prompted me to find out more about this tiny creature. Adults may only live for a year, just long enough to have three of four litters of around six young which have been brought up in nests sited under stones, logs or under a shed.

Shrews need large amounts of food to support their very high metabolic rate. A shrew can eat the equivalent of its own body weight in 24 hours. They also need to eat frequently, as they can starve to death in less than a day. So they are active day and night, constantly foraging, and resting for only a couple of hours at a time.

Owls and kestrels will prey on shrews but mammalian predators rarely take them as shrews have scent glands on their flanks, which mammals find distasteful (most birds have no sense of smell). Domestic cats will kill shrews, but not eat them for this reason. That is why you are more likely to come across a dead shrew rather than a live one!

Seed collecting time -again
image009.jpg - 32.4 KB This topic was introduced in October 2015 but here is a reminder.

Seeds do need some oxygen even whilst dormant so it is best to store them in something porous. These wage envelopes are ideal. In this case Bird's Foot Trefoil is being stored. Glass containers are not good and neither is plastic unless storage is only for a short time.

Many seeds can be sown fresh that is as soon as they are dry, Seeds from perennial plants need a period of cold and moisture to stimulate germination. This is called stratification. They need to be left out of doors in their pots if that is how you have chosen to grow them for at least 8 weeks. Beware of squirrels, mice and birds though. It is a good idea to cover the pots with fine mesh wire to outwit these thieves. There are other methods of stratification depending on the type of seed so it is best to research this. Annual and biennial seeds normally do not need stratification.

A plant in flower now that has weather lore attached to it
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This is the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The flowers are a brick red colour and very tiny but conspicuous since they like to grow on open ground such as waste land or arable land where there are open spaces. They also grow on dunes. Most fascinating is that the flowers have been traditionally linked to forecasting the weather and hence its colloquial names of 'old man's weather vane', 'poor man's weather glass', or 'shepherd's weather glass'. The flower opens at 8am.and shuts at 2pm. It also closes its petals if the weather is going to become dull or wet. So have a look to see whether this works.

image013.png - 14.3 KB The NHBS started life as the Natural History Book Service in London in 1985 with a catalogue of around 500 ornithology books.

It is now based on the outskirts of Totnes in Devon and offers the world's largest selection of wildlife, science and conservation books. The book catalogue includes more than 122,000 individual titles, from large and small publishers, in many different languages, and sourced from all over the world.

image015.jpg - 34 KB In 2011 the NHBS acquired Alana Ecology so extending its range of products to include ecology and biodiversity survey equipment.

The company is great on customer service offering advice, large discounts and sales plus personal attention by email or phone. Contacts are, or 01803 865913.

End piece
Not a care in the world.

As I glanced through a gap in the trees whilst walking through the woods today this is what I saw. This is a roe deer stag enjoying the morning sunshine and seemed quite happy to be photographed. What a privilege for me. My steps were even lighter after that!

Not all caterpillars eat cabbages - August 2016

Not all caterpillars eat cabbages!

image003.jpg - 21.1 KB image001.jpg - 16.3 KB In fact only those of the Large White and Small White do so with a passion. These caterpillars are very familiar and recognisable. With so many caterpillars demolishing my cabbage plants I wondered why they did not make a readymade easy to pick feast for birds? I did find an explanation. The caterpillars extract mustard from their food plants which makes them unpalatable to birds. They also exude a mustardy smell which added to their bold colouring warns off predators.

These are quite different caterpillars. I found them in clusters like this on stinging nettles on the path that runs along the south side of Smallway and Somerville Road. image007.jpg - 37.2 KB image005.jpg - 34.6 KBThis footpath is always a haven for wildlife partly because of its southerly aspect but also because it is bordered by gardens that are well tended and grow a large variety of perennials, shrubs and trees. Here are the caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly. She laid about 200 eggs on the growing tip of the nettle which have now hatched into black caterpillars that will devour the nettles en masse should they get a chance. Their life is threatened for they will be eaten by birds. That is why they envelope themselves in a silken tent. As they grow they will escape to other young nettles until it is time to pupate and turn into a butterfly. This process takes about 12 days.These are caterpillars to encourage as already written about in nature notes for May 2014.

More reasons why this path is so favoured by wildlife:

It is relatively quiet especially from traffic.

image011.jpg - 33.5 KB image009.jpg - 42.1 KB There is plenty of cover for wildlife in the form of native trees and shrubs. There are well established stands of bramble, nettles and elder all of which provide food such as nectar, pollen and berries plus breeding sites and shelter for birds, small mammals and invertebrates. There are also hawthorn hedges but they are cut frequently so do not provide flowers or winter berries. During the last week in July there were a large number of Gatekeeper butterflies on the wing and feeding on the brambles.

The Gatekeeper
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On either side there are tall grasses ideal for 'brown' butterflies such as the gatekeeper and meadow brown. Unfortunately it is sad to see that some residents are not only keeping the path open (great!) but also cutting back the grasses to keep the area TIDY. This removes a habitat for the butterflies to lay their eggs ie. on the grass stems about 4 inches from the ground.

A wide variety of wildflowers such as campions, jack by the hedge, primroses, bluebells, wild garlic, herb Robert, vetches, thistles, celandines, buttercups, dandelions, speedwell, willowherb, woundwort, various members of the cow parsley family, ground ivy and clover grow as well.

On the south side of the field are pastures with horses grazing. This attracts many swallows since the horses disturb flying insects the main food of swallows. Sometimes it is quite noisy with their excited chatter especially when their young have started to fly. The youngsters do not have forked tails and so are recognisable.

Electric Blue

image015.jpg - 8.3 KBUnfortunately not my photo though if I had my camera with me I would have had plenty of time to take a picture
image015.jpg - 28.8 KB There suddenly is a glint of electric blue that catches my eye as I walk through the woods. It is a feather from a jay. It is muddy and bedraggled but I pick it up and take it home to dry and it is returned to its pristine condition. This leads me to think of other wildlife that has areas of electric blue and the first to come to mind is a kingfisher.

Kingfishers are one of our most interesting and elusive birds. Their vivid colour though is iridescence, not pigment- the pigment is actually dark brown but interference between different wavelengths of light reflected from different layers of the feathers produces blues, greens and oranges. The feathers on the bird's back can seem blue or green depending on the angle at which they are viewed. I bought my first terraced house in Cheddar simply because I saw a kingfisher flash along the River Yeo which flowed by the back of the house! More recently, when visiting a friend in Puxton a kingfisher landed just feet away from where we were sitting.
image015.jpg - 8.3 KBThe Azure Damselfly
My friends had built an artificial lake when they first moved to the area many years ago and now kingfishers are commonplace!

At the moment darting dragonflies and damselflies can be seen over the meadow but they are very difficult to photograph. They are very, very agile in flight and have keen eyesight which helps them to catch their prey such as midges and mosquitoes. Their appearance in meadows as a flying insect is very short only one to three weeks since they spend most of their lifecycle in water as larvae.

Some birds are still actively feeding their young, so keep feeders well stocked. Top up bird baths too, so they can keep their feathers in good condition.

Things to do and see in August
Young hedgehogs are starting to venture out, so put out food for them. Meat-based cat or dog food is suitable or special hedgehog food.

image023.jpg - 31 KB image021.jpg - 5.1 KB Let your lawn grow a bit longer. It makes a great shelter for many small insects and when the grass sets seed it's a magnet for birds.

Look out for greenfinches. Changing farming practices mean there is less food in the countryside, so they rely increasingly on gardens. They love black sunflower seeds, but also eat other seeds, buds and berries. They prefer conifers and evergreen shrubs for shelter.

Book recommendation
Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland by Marjorie Blamey, Richard Fitter and Alaster Fitter published by A and C Black with the ISBN number 0-7136-5944-0. The review says 'Three lifetimes' study and love of wild flowers -- a joint plan by three old friends to make for their fellow countrymen a better guide to their national flora.'

End piece and I think a masterpiece
This beautiful honeycomb was taken from the bee hive today. It weighs a massive three and a half pounds. The bees have been able to bring in so much nectar that they had to make cells that are bigger than usual (drone cells) and hence heavier frames. They were probably working particularly on blackberry flowers and the flowers of the garden and meadow. It seems terrible to steal the honey that has been such hard work for the bees to make. However the bees have already enough honey in store for the winter but it is important to keep a close eye on these supplies. If we have a spell of bad weather the bees will start to use up their store because they cannot fly.

Wild About Gardens Week - July 2016

The Wild about Gardens week runs from October 24th.-30th. and is organised by the RHS together with The Wildlife Trusts and the Bats Conservation Trust, groups that have already been highlighted in Nature Notes. The theme is supporting bats in gardens.

In Nature Notes I try to keep readers informed about the work of all 3 of these groups and also Butterfly Conservation. However there is a huge amount of information and advice about each group so that it is only possible to dip into their work and hopefully inspire readers to find out more by researching their own special interests.

This was a digression! The Wild about Gardens Week is a long time ahead but it is a good time to get started now by trying to create bat friendly features in the garden. The 'Stars of the Night' web site created by the RHS ( is stunning and definitely worth a look. With it is information about flowers that encourage insects and therefore support bats too since all of our 17 native bats are insect eaters.

The types of plants favourable are grouped below:

  • Members of the daisy family such as the ox-eye daisy and the Michaelmas daisy,
  • Night scented such as night scented stocks and evening primrose.
  • Aquatic such as purple loosestrife and water mint,
  • Trees, shrubs and climbers such as hebes, mountain ash and ivy.
  • Umbelliferous (plants with easy landing platforms) such as fennel, lovage and coriander.
  • Aromatic herbs such as lavender, marjoram, sage and borage.
  • Plants with long pollen tubes that attract larger insects. Such plants would be honeysuckle and verbena bonariensis.

It is worthwhile mentioning that there are over 15 million gardens in the UK, an area larger than all the National Nature Reserves put together so there is huge potential for gardeners to help redress the loss of habitats elsewhere.

There is a competition associated with this initiative called 'Plant a bat feast.' The idea is to photograph your display of pollinator plants when at their best and submit it to the RHS before November 6th. 2016.

image002.jpg - 13.2 KBMy potato crop being systematically devastated by slugs! They must taste good!
SLUGS and less infuriating snails
There is no need to detail the loss of plants (see above) caused by these creatures and yet many of us are loathe to use slug pellets because of the chemicals used in producing them and their possible effect on birds and pets that may be attracted by their bright colours. There are organic slug pellets that seem quite effective. However, recently, maybe rather late, I have come across pellets made from fleeces from sheep.

Wool fibres have very fine scales with small barbs on the tip. These cause wool fibres to felt and matt together. Wool fibres absorb water well and this dampness absorbs some of the slime from the slug's foot. This causes irritation so that the slug moves on to easier feeding. The pellets are organic and biodegradable after 4 to 6 months. Some nutrients are thus added to the soil. I found these pellets in the local garden centre and will use them again.

Many larger slugs such as the large black ones primarily feed on decomposing organic matter such as dead leaves, dung and even dead slugs so cannot be held responsible for the devastation of precious growing plants. In the compost heap they can be a valuable part of the composting process.

image006.jpg - 13.2 KBThe black slug is more a friend to the garden than a foe
image004.jpg - 13.2 KBOnce watered the pellets matt together to make a kind of carpet and hopefully a slug deterrent
image003.jpg - 13.2 KBThe pellets are laid around the plant to a diameter of about 4 inches

By the way for the first time in 10 years slugs and snails did not top the list of pests most complained about to the RHS. They came second to the box tree caterpillar.

Top 10 plant pests in 2015 as published by the RHS

  1. Box tree caterpillar/moth.
  2. Slugs and snails.
  3. Aphid.
  4. Cabbage white butterfly.
  5. Vine weevil.
  6. Cushion scale.(affects camellia, holly, rhododendronsand other evergreen plants)
  7. Lily beetle.
  8. Rosemary beetle.
  9. Fuchsia gall mite.
  10. Woolly aphid.

Book recommendation
image008.jpg - 9.6 KB It is called 'Complete Guide to British Garden Wildlife' by Michael Chinery and is one of the Collins nature guide series. There are extremely clear and easily recognised photographs of all the wildlife included which ranges through birds, mammals, insects and plants including mosses and lichens. The book identifies common wildlife found in gardens so that the amateur reader is not confused with too much detail. It is a photographic record.

Lastly, this photo shows part of a magnificent hawthorn hedge field boundary. Imagine the number of berries that will provide winter food for many many birds. It was taken in Sandford. Can anyone recognise its location and from where it was taken?

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Hedgehogs and their Plight - June 2016

image003.jpg - 11.7 KBHere is the sticker
Image3.png - 188.5 KB Everybody loves hedgehogs but just a minute when was the last time that you saw one?

It seems that we have lost about 30% of our hedgehogs since 2002. Therefore it is the first time since I started writing Nature Notes about 3 years ago that I have not been able to use my own photographs but here is the most famous Mrs.Tiggy-Winkle immortalised in the story written my Beatrice Potter in 1905.

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2016 did in fact run from May 1st. To May 7th. so we will have to look at things retrospectively! The week is organised by The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and occurs every year. Its purpose is to highlight the problems faced by hedgehogs and how they can be helped. The Society also wishes to raise money.

This year's efforts are focussed on STRIMMERS and cutting machines. Every year there are many terrible injuries and deaths caused by garden machines. BHPS is asking people to check areas carefully before using any machines. They have produced a sticker to be placed on machines and are asking Councils and tool hire companies to get in touch and request the free stickers.

As well as checking areas before cutting there are other things that can be done to help.
  • Ensure there is hedgehog access in your garden - a 13cm x 13cm gap in boundary fences and walls.
  • Always move piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it.
  • Ensure netting is kept at a safe height.
  • Check compost heaps before digging the fork in.
  • Stop or reduce the amount of pesticides and poisons used.
  • Cover drains or deep holes.
  • Ensure there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.

Here are a few more ideas of how you can get involved:
  • Contact your local council (01934 888888) or tool hire shop and ask if they will use the free stickers from BHPS on their machines.

Hedgehogs are very active this month, looking for mates and foraging for food at night. Hedgehog and badger food is now available for sale. It is not a good idea to feed hedgehogs with bread and milk, as this is not their natural diet and may give them diarrhoea. Good quality cat or dog food, or raw minced meat mixed with a raw egg make good alternatives. Do also take care to be sensible with slug pellets, and don't use more than is necessary. Use wildlife-friendly brands to avoid any risk to hedgehogs and other garden animals.

There is a hedgehog rescue centre at Cheddar called Prickles that takes in hedgehogs from across Somerset, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and the surrounding Mendip area. The Centre is available 24/7 for emergencies. They also hope that people will adopt some of their rescued hedgehogs that are now back to good health and hopefully able to cope again in the wild.

Please call 07806 744 772 rather than e-mail (which takes longer to access)

Here is a little more information about the hedgehog

Hedgehogs are Western Europe's only spiny mammal. They have around 6,000 closely-packed, hollow, creamy white spines, becoming brown at the base and pure white at the tip. Just behind the point is a dark, chocolate-brown band. On their underside, hedgehogs have coarse, grey-brown fur. By rolling up into a tight ball and erecting their spines, hedgehogs can protect themselves from most natural enemies.

They have a short inconspicuous tail, small ears and relatively long legs, normally hidden under a 'skirt' of long hairs. They are usually thought of as slow animals but they can move up to 40 metres a minute. They are mostly active at night or after heavy rainfall, and use their keen sense of smell to find food and alert them to danger. Between November and the end of March, when food is scarce, hedgehogs hibernate to conserve energy, remaining largely inactive.

Up to seven blind, spineless offspring are usually born between May and August in a nest of leaves and grass. Pure white spines appear soon after birth and are replaced within a few weeks by darker spines that grow through. The young are weaned at about four weeks and become independent shortly afterwards.

Their food consists mainly of beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, slugs, earwigs and millipedes - but also birds' eggs, other invertebrates and carrion.

Badgers are the main predator of hedgehogs because they are the only creatures strong enough to unwind the spiny body to reach the soft underside. However there is controversy about this since badgers and hedgehogs have evolved together and badgers are not great fans of hedgehog food! It seems that changes in our countryside and our 'tidy' ways of gardening are the major culprits and it is certainly possible to change the latter at least!

image007.jpg - 15 KBCommon Pipistrelle. (Not my picture)
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Mammals, reptiles and amphibians
Many garden mammals have given birth to young, and you may spot baby wood mice, shrews or voles, and even fox or badger cubs (most likely in the evenings). Bats start breeding this month, often in eaves, or behind the weatherboarding of south-facing buildings. Why not put up a bat box? Many bat species are garden-friendly, eating the midges and tiny insects that cause annoyance on summer evenings.

Safe roosting sites have disappeared in many places mainly due to the loss of mature trees and the sealing off of houses to improve their insulation.

Bat boxes can be placed on walls though as well as trees and are best placed in areas where you know bats fly. Sheltered positions are more to their liking but they do need a clear flight path. South facing is probably the best direction and as high as possible, but at least 5m (15 feet) from the ground.

Three boxes can be sited on one tree, but make sure they face different directions - north, south-east and south-west are ideal.

image010.jpg - 10.1 KB Bat boxes should never be treated with preservatives, and the wood should be left rough hewn so that the bat can cling to it. The box needs to be rain-proof and draught free. Try to get one which has the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo, ensuring that it is from a sustainable source. For information on buying a bat box for your garden from the RSPB use the web site

Once the bat box is in position it is better to leave it alone. In fact bats and their roosts are fully protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act so it is illegal to disturb them.

There are 17 species of bat in the UK but the most common and the most likely to be seen is the Common Pipistrelle. It weighs only about 5 grams (same as a 20p piece!) Yet in just one night a single Pipistrelle can manage to eat 3000 tiny insects.

Book recommendation
Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis Stempel. To me this is a remarkable book fascinating, full of information and anecdotes with quotes from well known nature writers especially John Clare, Roger Deakin and William Wordsworth. It simply tells the story of the flora and fauna in one field (the meadow) for one year from January to December. In places it is funny but elsewhere it is evocative, sad and poignant. Just one quote: 'a lawn is a meadow in captivity.'

May Day Festival - May 2016

image001.jpg - 17.7 KB May Day, May 1st is an ancient northern hemisphere festival of spring. It is a traditional spring holiday in many cultures and dancing, singing and cakes are usually a part of the celebrations. It is the time of the year when the warmer weather starts and everything comes into life and growth. It is also said to be a time of love and romance. Now May Day is celebrated on the first Monday of the month being one of our Bank Holidays. People all over the world have traditionally celebrated the coming of summer with many different customs that express hope and joy after a long winter. Officially though summer does not start until June 21st which is the summer solstice. This year summer begins at 12.24 am exactly!

When I was at primary school in the early 1950s our teacher (there was only one) Mrs. Gray took May Day very seriously indeed. For weeks before we had to learn the traditional May Day dances and songs which took place near the May Pole or we danced around it weaving coloured ribbons as we danced and sang. Early in the morning we gathered together at school to make the garland itself. This consisted of 2 hoops one fitting inside the other at right angles. It was then decorated with flowers, leaves and ribbons. Hawthorn was particularly important. Another name for it is in fact May.

Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of this day. I wonder whether anybody has? It would be great to hear from you if so and if anybody knows any of the dances and songs. The pole is a tree cut form a local wood with all of its branches stripped. Apparently the cutting of the tree emphasised the villagers' rights to wood from their landlord's forests.

The May Queen had already been chosen but she was actually crowned at the beginning of the celebrations. I think that we took it in turns. There were only 14 pupils in the school! The Queen did not dance but watched the proceedings from her special chair. Usually we were invited to celebrate the time at a prestigious house in the village which was likely to be Glaston House at Glaston in Rutland
image003.jpg - 12.5 KBThe Small Copper butterfly

Why not make a rockery
Butterflies are more active on warm sunny days. This is because they are cold blooded and so cannot regulate their own body temperatures as can mammals and birds. A butterfly that is too cold cannot fly, escape from predators or feed. The weather totally affects their ability to function.

Last year's summer was colder than average and the results from the 2015's UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme revealed the negative impact this had on butterfly numbers. The Small Copper was one of the species that suffered most with numbers down almost a quarter on the previous year. In fact34 of the 57 species studied experienced a decline in 2015. Hopefully it will be a better summer this year. There are, of course, other factors that contribute to the decline especially habitat loss but sunshine is sometimes the boost needed to get a struggling species back on track.

Back to rockeries.. These stony often dry areas provide conditions favoured by both butterflies and moths. Not only do they give butterflies a place to bask in the sun but with some careful planning they can be the place to grow nectar and pollen rich plants.

Here are some suitable plants for rockeries that fit the bill for nectar and general attractiveness.

image005.jpg - 29.2 KBRock rose & its many garden cultivars
image007.jpg - 31.8 KBThyme
image012.jpg - 12.3 KBThrift

image015.jpg - 8.3 KBAubretia
image016.jpg - 15.5 KBSaxifrage
image019.jpg - 9.4 KBAjuga
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The rock garden doesn't have to be elaborate, expensive or even large. Just some well placed stones such as these on the right would be fine.

Book recommendation
In April the President of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, Stephen Moss, published a fascinating book entitled 'Wild Kingdom- Bringing back Britain's Wildlife.' He describes Britain's wildlife today and how it is fighting back. He then argues that we may be beginning to understand that wildlife is not a casual luxury but that it is absolutely essential for our wellbeing both as individuals and as a nation.

The illustrations are by a striking artist Carry Akroyd who works in black and white and also colour. She is a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists. It is well worth while browsing through her work on line. Here are a couple of examples which may whet the appetite.

image021.jpg - 12.7 KB image023.jpg - 19.6 KB image022.jpg - 19.3 KB

image027.jpg - 10 KBBuckthorn
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The Brimstone Butterfly
Brimstone butterflies have been enjoying the sunny days of April

The males are bright yellow and are easily recognised but the females are a pale yellow, almost white. Thus they can be mistaken for the Large White. Brimstones are our longest living butterflies and they overwinter as adults often hidden amongst ivy leaves. Their caterpillars only eat Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn

New Arrivals - April 2016

The Collared Dove
image006.jpg - 14.3 KBPigeon - This is a much bigger bird than the collared dove with different markings especially around the neck
image001.jpg - 24.8 KBCollared Dove
Since the UK's first breeding collared doves were recorded in the mid-1950s, their numbers have sky-rocketed to make them one of the top ten most common garden birds. Their invasion of Europe from Asia began in the mid-20th century and once they'd arrived, farmyards full of fallen grain and plentiful animal feed were the springboard for a rapid population expansion.

What's the difference between a dove and a pigeon?

Technically there is no biological difference between doves and pigeons, but the word "dove" is sometimes applied to the smaller members of the family and "pigeon" to the larger. image003.jpg - 8.9 KB "Dove" is the Old English name of the family and is related to the word "dive", because of the impetuous headlong flight of so many of the family. "Pigeon" is a Norman French word meaning "peeper" and was originally used for young domesticated birds kept and bred for the table - as with many animal names, the old English word was used for the living animal (eg sheep, swine and ox) and the French word for the meat (eg mutton, pork and beef).The pigeon family is one of the most widely distributed bird families, with over 300 species scattered through every continent except Antarctica. They range in size from tiny quail-doves hardly bigger than a sparrow to the majestic Crowned Pigeon which is the size of a large hen. It is surprising to know that the Dodo was a giant flightless pigeon.

Wild Garlic
image010.jpg - 14.6 KBSky loves the aroma too!
image008.jpg - 17.5 KBSandford Woods in the garlic season just carpets and carpets of the aromatic plant
Just now the Sandford Woods are beginning to be carpeted with green well before the deciduous trees burst into leaf. Wild garlic is beginning to push through the woodland floor and will soon produce its distinctive white flowers. As you walk through the woods any brush with the leaves will release a powerful small of garlic. The plant has many other names most commonly ramsons but also buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear's garlic. The Latin name for wild garlic is Allium ursinum so given because brown bears enjoyed eating the garlic's bulbs as do wild boars now and humans as well.

Toad Patrols
image013.jpg - 18.2 KB
image011.jpg - 9.9 KBMigrations last from February to April
Common Toads are very particular about where they breed and often migrate back to their ancestral breeding ponds each year. They follow the same route, regardless of what gets in their way, which sometimes leads to them crossing roads. Where we get this toad vs. traffic scenario, the toads inevitably come off worse. The Toads on Roads project registers these sites as 'migratory crossings' and helps coordinate local Toad Patrols. Patrols can apply to their local council for road warning signs to be installed and actively help the toads across the road. The Toads on Roads project has been running for over twenty years and we know of numerous crossings nationwide. Find out more by going to Froglife at

There are 5 local toad patrols which are set out below.

Patrol (Id number) Miles away Patrol Status  
Winscombe Hill (41)   2 image015Active Patrol Offer to help here
Yatton (37) 3 image017No Patrol Offer to help here
Clevedon (38) 8 image015Active Patrol Offer to help here
Chew Valley (44) 8 image015Active Patrol Offer to help here
Priddy (15) 9 image015Active Patrol Offer to help here

A final word on hedgerows (for now)
Here are a few numbers that may be surprising and make us love our hedgerows even more. It concerns the number of species that potentially could use a hedge for life. It is important to remember that a hedge also includes the floor below hence the vital importance not to strim beneath a hedge.

Trees 30 species are known as hedgerow species and are often native to the British Isles.

Birds At least 65 species nest in a hedge.

Insects 1500 species use hedges for some or all of their life cycle.

Wildflowers 600 species are likely to grow at the foot of a hedge especially those that appreciate shade.

Mammals, reptiles and amphibians over 20 species use the shelter at the foot of a hedge.

Bud Recognition
Each hedgerow tree or shrub has distinctive buds that are recognisable even before the plant is in full leaf or blossom. Here are a few to see if you can recognise them. Answers are at the foot of the page.

image023.jpg - 8.4 KBC
image021.jpg - 4.7 KBB
image019.jpg - 5 KBA
image029.jpg - 12.3 KBF
image027.jpg - 15.8 KBE
image025.jpg - 3.3 KBD

Answers below:

A. Lime B. Oak C. Beech D. Hazel E. Ash F. Blackberry

Time to plant a new hedge? - March 2016

Last month we looked at hedges and their value. Maybe that enthused you enough to want to plant a new hedge for yourself and this is one of the topics to look at for March. March is a good month for new planting if the plants are bare rooted (not in pots) but beyond that it is getting rather late. In fact anytime from September to April is a good planting time.

There is a huge choice of hedging plants but if they are to be a part of a garden especially where space is limited it would be wise to choose plants with good blossom that will later provide wildlife with food such as fruit, berries and nuts and possible nesting sites eventually. Pot grown plants are equally suitable but are sometimes a little more expensive.

image002.jpg - 32.1 KBA newly planted hedge protected by rabbit guards
One of the most popular hedges to plant is one of mixed native trees and shrubs. As a general rule the longer a plant has been living in Britain the more species it will support.

It is usual to start off with small hedge plants called whips which are about a year old and 60cms.(2ft.)high. Larger plants are more expensive and need more care. When the whips arrive they are dormant and so look quite disappointing but they soon respond to their new home. Whips can be bought in bundles of the same species, separately or mixes of several types. There are many places to buy them on line but the nearest place to buy locally is Chew Valley Trees near Chew Magna.

It is essential to prepare the site well so the plants get a good start. Remove any weeds and large stones, dig the area over and incorporate some organic matter. Make sure though that the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.

Plant the whips in a staggered double row with 4 plants to the metre. You can always fill any gaps at a later date. If there is only room for one row plant 30 cms. apart. It is best to protect each whip with a rabbit guard. If there are deer around it may be necessary to fence off the whole area.

Water in very well and give the plants a thick mulch. This will avoid any competition from weeds whilst the hedge is establishing itself.

After Care
Feed annually, top up the mulch and keep the site well watered for at least the first 2 or 3 years.

Autumn is the best time to prune the native hedge when there are no birds nesting. Cutting back hard initially will encourage the hedge to thicken up. However as the hedge gets older if you want flowers, berries and fruits you should only prune every third year since most native hedges flower only on the second years growth so if you cut annually there will be no flowers and therefore little interest for wildlife.

Choosing plants
image004.jpg - 6.5 KBA newly planted hedge that needed strong defences against deer!
image009.jpg - 21.9 KBCommon Privet
This will partly depend on personal choice and the specific conditions at the site but here are some examples. Natural mixed hedges usually comprise Hawthorn and a selection from the following species:

  • Alder Buckthorn
  • Field maple
  • Blackthorn
  • Guelder Rose
  • Crab Apple
  • Hazel
  • Dog Rose
  • Spindle
  • Elder
  • Wayfarer
  • Goat Willow
  • Wild Privet

image007.jpg - 21.9 KBWayfarer Tree
image005.jpg - 21.9 KBGuelder Rose
image012.jpg - 21.9 KBHawthorn 'Paul's Scarlet'

Of course it may not be possible to plant a full scale hedge but actually one just 3 or 4 feet long is fine. Instead the more attractive hedge plants could be planted as individual shrubs. The Guelder Rose(Viburnum opulus) is a good example as is the Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) or the Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantanum)There are also many varieties of Hawthorn (Crataegus)that suit a garden such as 'Paul's Scarlet.'

Moles and their Hills
image014.jpg - 9.6 KB Moles seem to have a penchant for lawns leaving the lovely sward punctuated by numerous mounds of finely tilled soil. For animals only the size of your hand these industrious creatures can dig and move soil really quickly. They can burrow 100 metres in a single night using their short but powerful shovel like front legs.

Moles live underground and are rarely seen alive in daylight. In early spring (now) amorous male moles dig shallow tunnels in search of a mate. Deeper tunnels are used for raising their young - usually 3 or 4 pups born between March and June. Large molehills mark the position of a nest, a line of small molehills marks the direction of a deep tunnel and a continuous line of earth demarks a very shallow tunnel. Outside the breeding season moles are solitary and very territorial. Even if you somehow manage to catch your resident mole another is likely to move in and take advantage of the vacated tunnels.

The mole has a special weapon to help it to find other animals under the ground- an area of bare pink skin on the snout covered in tiny pimples that detect movement and the scents of prey and other moles.

There are some plus points for moles. They eat a variety of soil dwelling pest larvae such as leatherjackets, wireworms and chafer grubs. They also help to aerate soils and improve drainage on heavy soils. Lastly molehill soil is ideal for making compost and topdressing.

It is hard to trap moles. The traditional way is to use metal traps but these are very cruel but there are live-capture traps that are possibly more humane. Moles are not blind though their sight is poor. However, they have an acute sense of hearing and smell. To deter moles try assaulting these senses. Apparently the small of pickled onions is one option or a radio placed in the tunnel may drive them out.

image017.jpg - 7 KBFemale
image015.jpg - 7 KBMale
PS. There are no moles in Ireland!

It's close to swap-over time for blackcaps. In spring our winter blackcaps return to Central Europe and our summer flocks arrive from their wintering grounds. Feeding by gardeners has made a significant difference to their presence.and more and more are staying here for the winter.

Hedges and looking after them - February 2016

image002.jpg - 32.7 KBA mixed native hedge together with interspersed trees
The main point of a hedge that is not a garden hedge is to serve as a stock-proof barrier to stop sheep and cows getting where they shouldn't. However they are much more than that. Compared to, say, barbed wire or a post and rail fence a good hedge affords shelter for livestock, and a precious haven for up to 600 plant species, 1,500 insects, 65 bird species and 20 smaller mammal species (including half of Britain's rarest). It is also likely to look very attractive and to provide food for many organisms including humans.

To do all this, however, a hedge needs to be well managed; thick, bushy, vigorous. Left untended, it will thin out, grow tall and gappy, and eventually turn into a line of trees. It no longer functions as a stock proof barrier. Unfortunately, we pretty much gave up managing hedges after the Second World War - labour costs soared, modern farming meant bigger fields, machinery got larger and needed more space in which to manoeuvre.

So many of our hedges were ripped out - a quarter have disappeared over the past 50 years or they regularly have their tops and sides hacked off with a mechanical trimmer which is a much quicker and therefore cheaper option. As a rough guide it may take 3 men about 10 days to lay 275 metres. It would take a tractor and trimmer about 2 hours!

image004.jpg - 26.3 KBThe hedge has been selected and the brash put to one side ready for shredding
Thankfully, over the past 15 years or so, the destruction has mostly stopped, and more than 100,000 miles of hedgerows in England - nearly half the total - are actively managed under assorted grant-aided agri-environment schemes. In 10 years, some 13,000 miles have been fully restored which means, in most cases, they've been laid.

A properly laid hedge using techniques that date back to Roman times, will - with regularly winter trimming to maintain its strength and structure - last for 50 years. There are over 30 different styles for laying a hedge depending on the region or even the county of the hedge to be laid. Other factors to consider are the climate, local farming practices and the type of trees and shrubs found in each region.

Hedge laying's revival means plenty of work for both the professionals - who can charge up to £220 a day for their expertise - and an enthusiastic band of amateurs, many of whom belong to the National Hedgelaying Society ( which runs a recognised accreditation scheme and organises local and national hedge laying competitions.

From this picture you can see how finely the stem is cut leaving only a very small connection to the roots. The purpose of this cut is to allow 5 or 6 new shoots to grow from the stump so making the hedge thicker and stronger.

image005.jpg - 8.5 KB The whole process at the beginning looks very dramatic and stark. This is a winter task and often the days are gloomy too. A hedge needs to be 10 to 12 feet high before it can be laid. First all the brash must be removed .Then, using a hedge layer's billhook if they're thin enough, or a chainsaw if they're not, or the layer is not a purist)each stem is cut away at, or near ground level. It is now known as a 'pleacher' and is laid towards the horizontal along the course of the hedge facing uphill if there is an incline.

It's vital, that after cutting into each stem and removing its "toe", or stub, the pleacher remains connected firmly to its roots by a section of bark and sapwood, so it will continue to grow. The pleachers must not be laid completely flat, or the sap won't rise. "The precise depth that the stem is cut to and the exact angle that the pleacher is laid are part of the skill. It is usually put at an angle of 45 degrees.

Once laid hazel wood stakes are driven into the ground along the length of the hedge to keep it in place. In the Midland or Bullock style of hedge laying "runners" or "binders" - thinner shoots of freshly-coppiced hazel - are woven between the stakes to give the finished hedge its final strength. Finally, the tops of the stakes are cut off 10cm above the beaten-down runners, at a finished height of 1.4 metres.

image008.jpg - 20.5 KBThe laid hedge with its hazel stakes in place. The brash has been shredded to make a snake pile. (a warm environment for grass snakes hopefully)
image006.jpg - 20.5 KB A Midland style hedge
image012.jpg - 20.5 KB Why not volunteer to learn hedge laying skills? What could be better on a murky damp winter's day?
image014.jpg - 20.5 KBIt takes very little time for the hedge to regenerate. This picture was taken just 2 months after the job was started. Some trees are always left whole and they are usually called song posts since birds such as robins, blackbirds and thrushes like to sing quite up when they are establishing their territories in the spring.

The Somerset Wildlife Trust ( is about to launch a new initiative in which gardeners may well be interested. It is called -
Keeping Watch on Your Own Doorstep
The idea is to look out for what is going on in your garden so that the Trust can keep track of Somerset's wonderful wildlife - both its flora and fauna. The Trust is linking with SERC (the Somerset Environmental Records Centre at The idea is for ordinary members of the public to treat their garden or any nearby open space as a nature reserve which of course it is. The next step is to keep the Trust up to date with WHAT is seen, WHEN it is seen and WHERE. Monitoring and sharing what is happening across the county on a regular basis is an essential precursor to the most effective conservation programmes in the future. More news to follow!

Strange weather
Have you seen strange things happening in your garden possibly as a result of the unseasonably mild weather we have been having until a few days of frost last week? I have noticed that many of the summer garden plants are continuing to flower particularly roses and the perennial wallflower. Glimpses of sunshine have brought out foraging bees and the occasional butterfly. There are violets out in Sandford Wood as well. If you have any such observations please let nature notes readers know.
image015.jpg - 46.1 KBThis Speckled Wood butterfly was seen 2 months earlier than in 2015!

I am a member of the Butterfly Conservation Trust and these are some extracts from their latest newsletter(January 2016)

We Must Do More To Save Butterflies
'It's not such a happy New Year for butterflies as sobering new evidence reveals that many species are facing devastating declines. Thanks to your support we've succeeded in reversing the struggle for some but butterflies and moths need your help more than ever. Why not make wildlife gardening your New Year's plan (a constant theme of Nature Notes)'Have you seen a butterfly yet? Report your first sightings to the Trust at The earliest butterflies are likely to be those that have overwintered somewhere indoors such as the peacock or small tortoiseshell.

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Planting suggestion for January
Witch Hazel is one of the few January flowering shrubs and it will provide nectar when little else is available. The bright yellow star like flowers have a spicy fragrance and add a bit of cheerfulness to the gloomiest of days of winter. They like moist soil conditions but will grow in full sun or partial shade. In fact they are quite tolerant plants but need space to grow.

Dry Stone Walls - January 2016

image003.jpg - 33.3 KB
image002.jpg - 8.6 KBDry stone walls as field boundaries at Charterhouse

Dry stone walls as field boundaries are very much a feature of our local Mendip Hills. They give character to the Hills and are one of the reasons why Mendip is recognised as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.) Apart from acting as boundaries dry stone walls are a marvellous habitat for wildlife. You can try to emulate this in your garden but on a smaller scale of course.

Dry stone walls are built without using mortar and the nooks and a cranny this creates is one of the things that make them valuable for wildlife. As the wall ages and matures, gaps become a bit larger and bigger animals can also use the wall.

In fact, when a new wall is built, the first thing that is likely to happen is for it to become colonised by lichens. Encourage lichens and mosses to colonise a new wall quickly by painting it with, a mixture of yoghurt and manure - the British Lichen Society has further ingredient ideas and also suggests adding a little PVA glue to bind the mixture and make it stick.

Soil accumulates from the decomposing lichen making it possible for plants such as mosses, ferns and pennywort to colonise. This adds more mini-habitats that different animals will find suitable. They can provide shelter for a wide variety of creatures. Even a small patch of moss on the wall can support a variety of invertebrates. The wall itself can hide several different species of woodlice, as well as springtails, beetles, and snails. Spiders lie in wait in the cracks, and various species of bee, ant and butterflies may all use the wall. These in turn provide food for birds and small mammals. A wall is a special place for all sorts of creatures to hide, overwinter and breed.

To enhance the flora of the wall and to provide more wildlife and human interest here are some garden plants that like to grow on or near walls.
  • Aubrietia
  • Rock cress
  • Ivy-leaved toadflax
  • Foxgloves
  • Teasels
  • Primroses
  • Campions
  • Campanula species
  • Wallflower
  • Red Valerian
  • Ferns

Planning a dry stone wall in your garden.
  • Some of us might be lucky and already have dry stone boundaries in our gardens, but for the majority of us, the easiest way of incorporating this habitat into our gardens is as walls around raised beds. If this is not practical, just piling some rocks up together creates a similar environment. For the more ambitious, a dry stone and earth bank might be the answer.
  • The gaps and crevices in a wall can be left to natural colonisation by plants, or given help by introducing small alpines, low-growing herbs such as thymes or perhaps saxifrages and sempervivums.
  • Although many alpine plants have adapted to cope with hot, dry conditions, a wall situated in full sun all day will struggle to provide hospitable conditions for its residents. A north-facing wall might provide a more comfortable home for a wider range of plants and animals.
  • Rocks and stones sourced locally blend better with the surroundings and the local soil.
  • Because the walls act as 'corridors' for wildlife, leave a strip of unmown grass either side to provide more shelter.
  • Build a dry stone and earth bank by piling stones up loosely to form a double-sided wall, leaving a gap in between. Build in layers of soil between the stones and in the centre, but leave gaps so that creatures can get in and out. Cover the top with wider stones, again filling any gaps with soil.
  • On the whole, dry stone walls need little maintenance. Of course they can start to come apart and will then require rebuilding, but this is normally due to outside interference.
  • Look out for trees and shrubs nearby that might damage the wall and keep any stray branches cut back.

Here are some principles for making a really ambitious wall!
  1. For maximum wildlife value ensure that at least some of the wall is in shady, even damp, conditions.
  2. Whatever the size of your wall, have a wider base and taper it as it goes up. This will give added stability.
  3. Start the base off by digging a trench for the first layer of stones.
  4. Start with larger stones at the bottom, and where necessary infill along the base with smaller ones.
  5. Build the wall up on two sides. Lay the stones in layers and in each layer make sure each stone's long side is facing into the wall (rather than along the length of the wall). Stones should touch below and to the side and should be as horizontal as possible.
  6. As you build up the sides, make sure to fill in the middle with smaller rocks.
  7. Finish off with a neat layer of coping stones at the top, making sure that they are in close contact with the wall.

Alternatively learn a new skill! Our local Wildlife Trusts (Somerset or Avon) or organisations like BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) and the Dry Stone Walling Association are the places to go. For example help is always needed on the Mendip Hills to restore walls that have fallen into disrepair.

image007.jpg - 24.8 KBThe satisfaction of a job well done and a wall to last for many years
image005.jpg - 22.5 KBVolunteers at work with expert guidance
Other things to do.
Birds still need shelter throughout the winter. Wash out bird houses using boiling water, (to get rid of mites and other parasites) and wear a dust mask and gloves as a precaution. Once the box is thoroughly dry, add some hay or wood shavings and replace the lid.

Nest boxes don't just get used in spring and birds will shelter in them over winter - often several individuals may roost together for warmth.

image009.jpg - 19.2 KB The long hours of winter darkness mean that foraging time is greatly reduced. Plants are much less productive and colder temperatures are setting in (though not yet!) Therefore food becomes scarce. Any available food source will be exploited and squabbled over. Berries still provide one vital resource for many species but as supplies dwindle animals will be increasingly attracted to the garden to exploit the food laid out to them by people. A well kept garden provides a vital haven for animals at this time of the tear and a wonderful array of species will be your 'reward.'

Here is just one example of how hard a bird can work to ensure its survival over winter. It's the jay.

Studies on how many acorns are hidden during a season have revealed that a single jay can store as many as 5,000 acorns. Jays 'cache' their acorns in many different places but most often in natural holes, under leaf litter and crevices in tree bark.

Furthermore a jay can remember where it left most of its haul and is thought to use visual clues such as nearby features to help guide it to its. Amazingly, a jay can fit up to nine acorns in its gullet at any one time, although on average they transport two or three. Collecting usually starts in September and will carry on until all the available acorns have gone.

Colour Changes in Autumn - December 2015

image001.jpg - 39.4 KB Autumn at Stourhead in Wiltshire has been one of the most spectacular ever this year.
Chlorophyll is the chemical compound responsible for the green colour of most leaves.

Chlorophyll is held within chloroplasts in the cells of leaves and is an essential ingredient for the process of photosynthesis, in which plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars..Plants are the only organisms on earth that can make food for other organisms to consume.

Plants need warm temperatures and sunlight to produce chlorophyll so as autumn begins and the nights draw in, chlorophyll production slows and the existing amounts already in the leaves decompose. As a result, other compounds present in the leaves are more noticeable such as the reds and yellows.

Therefore yellow: carotenoids and flavonoids that are always present in leaves come to the fore in autumn, turning leaves yellow. Similarly red antocyanins already in the leaves become more obvious in autumn giving red and magenta tints.

In your garden

In the garden, perennial plants may be looking bedraggled and dried out, but their hollow stems, branching stalks and curling leaves provide a great source of shelter for many small insects, including ladybirds. Whilst you can save the most architectural plants for striking views throughout winter, if you do cut some down, keep the hollow stems and pile them up in a sheltered spot or add them to a bug hotel.

image003.jpg - 6.1 KB In my garden teasels self seed prolifically and there are several tall and very dead plants outside the kitchen window. Today was cold and windy, raw cold, I would say but I had the pleasure of watching a group of goldfinches searching for seeds within the teasel heads. (see nature notes August 2014.) The collective name for a group of goldfinches is a charm.

There are evocative and intriguing collective descriptions for most of our common bird species and they date mostly for the 15 century. Here are a few examples a bellowing of bullfinches, a building or clamouring of rooks, a congress, conspiracy or unkindness of ravens, pitying of turtle doves, descent of woodpeckers, chime of wrens, a murder, mob or horde of crows, a hermitage of thrushes, a clattering or train of jackdaws and a parliament of owls. For geese there are a variety of terms depending on where they are. Together on land they are a gaggle but on water they are a plump. In flight they are a skein, wedge or nide.

What is a group of robins called though? The BTO's reporting of unusual gatherings of robins in gardens in February 2015 prompted a search for a collective noun for Britain's national bird. Of the 241 suggested nouns that were received round was the most popular with 'breast' a close second. The top ten suggestions were:
  1. Round
  2. Breast
  3. Blush
  4. Rabble
  5. Bobbin
  6. Red
  7. Squabble
  8. Rash
  9. Riot
  10. Reliant
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The Christmas Card pin up

On June 11th.2015 the robin topped a poll of more than 200,000 people to choose the UK's first national bird.

Ornithologist David Lindo - who launched the campaign - said the robin was "entwined into our national psyche" as a "Christmas card pin-up". He now plans to ask the government to officially recognise the robin as the national bird. The red-breasted bird received 34% of votes, followed by the barn owl, which received 12%, and the blackbird, 11%..Not sure whether the Government has made this official yet.

These were the possible reasons given for the choice of a robin. It is:

'Friendly, loyal and endearing yet belligerent and uncompromising to all those who dare extinguish its vitality or threaten its domain, Robins are the avian embodiment of John Bull, Britannia and any other British hero you care to mention.'

Advice from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
At this time of the year put out food and water on a regular basis. Peak feeding times are early morning and early to mid afternoon at the moment so it is best to feed at least twice a day.

Birds require high energy (high fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights and to keep warm. Small birds like blue tits do not lay down a lot of fat - perhaps only enough to get them through one night - and this means that they may be under pressure to find food as soon as day breaks.. Use only good quality food and scraps.

image007.jpg - 20.3 KB Once a feeding routine is established try not to change or forget it since the birds will become used to it and plan their day around it!

There is plenty more specific advice on the RSPB ( web site and the BTO (


Last week whilst wandering around the garden I heard the familiar rather harsh croaking sound of fieldfares and I expect redwings with them. They are always difficult to see but not hear as they fly from place to place within the hedges and trees. However they soon spotted fallen apples in the orchard and were quick to avail themselves of a meal. They have recently arrived from possibly Scandinavia and will stay here until the warmer weather returns in the north. (see nature notes December 2012.)

These birds are belligerent and squabble fiercely with blackbirds particularly who also enjoy apples. It is possible that if your garden is reasonably quiet a fieldfare might well visit if fruit is thrown out. For some reason I have found that birds do not like bananas but why I am unable to say! I just checked this on the RSPB web site and it says that certain birds scoff bananas. Any comments please?

Time for collecting seeds - November 2015

image001.jpg - 10.4 KBRoyal Botanic Gardens
Kew is a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. An internationally important botanical research and education institution, it employs 750 staff and has the largest collection of living plants in the world. It was founded in 1840.
In nature notesfor September 2013 I described how children collected hips for the Government during the war. Just recently I found out that other plants were also collected and that most counties had a County Herb Committee whose members collected medicinal plants during the war years. This is only a very brief summary but to find out more try

Here is a little of the background story. The German occupation of Europe interfered with drug shipments so that by the 1940s there were critical shortages of essential medicines. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew responded to this crisis by organising a scheme for collecting medicinal herbs from the countryside. The Ministry of Health issued detailed instructions about what to collect and how to dry, bundle and deliver the collections.

Among the most important herbs was the foxglove which was and still is used to help certain heart conditions. Other herbs collected were autumn crocus a treatment for gout, valerian as a sedative. Other useful plants included wild thyme (antiseptic), burdock (a diuretic), colt's-foot (a demulcent) and black horehound (a treatment for spasms and worm infections.) As in World War 1 peat moss was harvested from bogs to use as a sterile wound dressing.

The National Tree Seed Project - a Kew Gardens initiative once again
The 5 year UK National Tree seed Project aims to establish a national tree seed collection for long term conservation and to enable research for a better understanding and management of native trees. The project is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and also involves partner organisations including the Forestry Commission, National Trust, Woodland Trust and Wildlife Trusts. Currently the Somerset Wildlife Trust is collecting seed and in due course will provide seed collections to volunteers who would like to grow them on. The seeds will come from 4 species found on the Mendip Nature Reserves. Here they are: wild service tree, small leaved lime, elder and common dogwood.

image003.jpg - 14.6 KBWild Service Tree berries
image005.jpg - 12.5 KBLime seeds
image007.jpg - 33.1 KBElder berries
image009.jpg - 12.5 KBCommon Dogwood berries

Collecting and saving Seeds
It's easy to extract seeds from berries such as the ones shown above. It is important to make sure that the berries are really ripe and soft. If the berries are beginning to drop naturally that is the right time to collect. Autumn and early winter are good times to do this so get started now!

Here's what to do step by step:

  1. Choose a healthy plant such as those above or others might be Holly, Rowan, Whitebeam or Hawthorn. Cut off a generous bunch of berries with secateurs
  2. Squash the berries onto a piece of kitchen towel and clean away all the fleshy bits and skins until the seeds are exposed. Alternatively put the berries in a sieve and wash them under a running tap until the seeds are exposed.
  3. Allow the seeds to dry. Fill pot with gritty loam based compost (John Innes Number 2 is ideal) Spread the seeds evenly over the compost and cover thinly with more compost or vermiculite. Now water them well.
  4. Label the seeds clearly and leave them out of doors perhaps in a cold frame if you have one. Do not let the compost dry out.
    Tip1 If birds or squirrels are likely to steal the seeds make sure that they are covered and firmly fixed with netting or similar but do not exclude the light.
    Tip 2 Germination is not an exact science and patience is needed. Some seeds germinate after a few months others take longer and some do not germinate at all!
  5. Once the first true leaves have formed it is time to plant the seedlings individually in pots. Again do not forget to label each plant.

Every year many of our garden plants particularly annuals set masses of ripe seed. Collecting and saving some of these is an easy way of propagating and a satisfying way of raising your own plants absolutely free.

image013.jpg - 25.3 KB image011.jpg - 19.3 KB For example within this poppy head (technically a pod) there are quite literally thousands and thousands of seeds. They are not yet ready to be collected. When ready holes will appear in the 'collar' near the top of the head. The seeds will be literally exploded through these or you can shake the poppy and collect the seeds in a paper bag or similar yourself.

How to collect seed

  1. Choose a dry, windless day. Select a healthy, pest- and disease-free plant, whose seedpods look as if they're about to split. Cut off the entire seed head.
  2. Invert entire seed head upside-down into a paper bag. Close bag without crushing seed head and label. Place bag in a dry place for the seeds to ripen.
  3. Check the seeds' progress regularly. When most of the seedpods have opened, tip out the contents onto a dry surface and separate seeds from any bits of seed head still attached.
  4. Store the cleaned seed in a small dry envelope, seal and label carefully. Keep in a cool, dry, airy place until ready to be used.

It is a wonderful year for autumn colour this year. Look out especially for the bright yellow leaves of the maple and the crimson red of the Norwegian maple. Spindle berries are ablaze with red as well.

Looking at local Nature Reserves - October 2015

image004.jpg - 10.3 KBParking at the National Trust car park for King's Wood which is on Winscombe Hill
image002.jpg - 24 KBGrid Reference ST.422562
Slader's Leigh is a magical meadow Nature Reserve owned by the Mendip Society since 1986. It is only 1.7 acres in size but is full of interest and has a secret and intimate feel as you enter from Winscombe Hill and look down this small valley. It is edged by tall and mature native hedges on each side as the picture shows.

image006.jpg - 13.8 KBCommon spotted orchid
The reserve has never been ploughed or farmed intensively so it is home to 130 species of flowers of which the Common Spotted Orchid is the most unusual and more than 20 butterflies. In fact it is one of the few remaining unimproved neutral/acid grassland sites in the Vale of Winscombe and is also a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitat.

Naturally the area needs managing and that policy is to encourage the maximum number of species of flora and fauna in 3 habitats - the neutral meadow, woodland edge and the thicket.

To do this the Society uses a regime of grazing and cutting. This sounds simple but there is a lot of work to be done and volunteer help is the main labour force.

Last week I went to watch the meadow being cut with scythes in the traditional way. Scything itself is a skill and there were experts at hand to help those who wanted to learn. The field is cut later than usual so that seeds have a chance to set, fall and then hopefully germinate the following spring with even more flowers and perhaps new species as well.

image012.jpg - 13.8 KBFortunately refreshments are at hand
image006.jpg - 13.8 KBAfter the hard work of cutting the 'grass' it is even harder to rake up all the 'grass' and stack it!
image008.jpg - 13.8 KBAn expert at work - David Tranter who mainly looks after the reserve with h is wife Judith Contact

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It's official!
The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) has set out on a 4 year study called Plants for Bugs. The brief is to find out whether planting native or exotic species of garden plants will enhance gardens as habitats for pollinating insects. This study is taking place at RHS Garden Wisley with the support of the Wildlife Gardening Forum. So far there are 3 key messages for gardeners who want to attract pollinators. They are:

1. Plant a mix of flowering plants from different countries and regions.
2. Emphasis should be given to plants that are native to the UK and the northern hemisphere though exotic plants from the southern hemisphere can be used to extend the season.
3. The more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees, hoverflies and other pollinating insects it will attract and crucially support.

What to look for in October
Late butterflies and dragonflies

image008.jpg - 13.8 KBRed admiral on a rotting apple
image008.jpg - 13.8 KBThe common darter dragonfly (I think!)
Some butterflies and dragonflies may still be on the wing. Look for common darters, an abundant small dragonfly that flies even up to November in the right weather conditions. The male is bright red and the female olive green. Many of the damselfly species are also about as well as various large hawkers. They do fly fast and are hard to photograph but they are also quite obliging when they land nearby to rest or warm in the sun as in the picture. They live on many kinds of flying insects.

Now that some apples are falling it is good to let some lay on the ground to provide energy rich food for late butterflies that may still be flying before they find a place to over winter. The apples are also a welcome meal for birds such as blackbirds.

Berries and Nuts - September 2015

image002.jpg - 18.3 KBHaws a favourite food of birds that are the fruit of the 'May' flowers of springtime
My heart sank yesterday when I heard the unmistakeable sound of a hedge trimmer - my neighbour making his hedge tidy. All the profuse flowering of that hedge in the spring and summer provided nectar and pollen for many insects and birds. All of the resultant fruits and nuts were now about to be simply destroyed so depriving those same insects and birds of their vital food for autumn and winter.

Long ago farmers used not to cut their hedges until November or December or even into the New Year when most of the berries and nuts had been eaten. Without the use of modern machinery harvesting often kept farmers busy well into September.

We are frequently being told that our song birds are disappearing at a frightening pace and one of the main reasons for this must be a lack of food in the autumn and winter because field and garden hedges are cut so early and regularly. We then are persuaded to feed these birds with special bought foods held in special bird feeders. Some birds are forced to rely on human 'kindness' but we are not always able to feed regularly and consistently so that maybe we are not really so kind.

image004.jpg - 18.3 KBThe ground is littered with discarded goose feathers. The larger one is a quill feather
image006.jpg - 18.3 KBGoose just beginning her moult
image008.jpg - 18.3 KBHere are those same feathers growing as the gosling gained maturity last spring. The young downy feathers are being ejected
Many birds are starting to moult now which means that they discard their old feathers which may be worn out and damaged and replace them with brand new ones. Goose quills are still used by calligraphers and for fine drawing in ink. They are now sold by the dozen on Amazon too. The quill comes from the primary wing feathers. The bee keepers that I know come to my house to collect the fallen feathers which they use to brush bees gently away from the comb when they are inspecting their hive.
image009.jpg - 18.3 KBGoose quills made into pens

The old, worn feathers are loosened from their follicles and eventually pushed out by the new feathers growing below - In many species, particularly small, perching birds, the first moult takes place in their first autumn and replaces the juvenile plumage with a 1st-winter plumage. This is often a partial moult with head, body and wing covert feathers only being replaced; for example, the juvenile Goldfinch will acquire its red, black and white head markings.

Moulting is costly, in terms of energy, for birds and so usually takes place when the bird is less stressed, for example, late in the summer after breeding is complete, the weather is still warm and there is still plenty of food to be found. Further, birds do not lose all their feathers at once or they would be cold and unable to fly. The moulting takes place over a period. Larger species take longer to moult than smaller ones, for example, a Tit may moult all its feathers over about 6 weeks, a Herring Gull may take 6 months.

Butterflies again! - August 2015

image003.jpg - 5.1 KBThe 'comma' clearly seen on the underwing (not my photo)
image002.jpg - 9.6 KB The comma used to lay eggs singly on hop plants but since there are now very few village breweries and really no hops the butterfly has had to adapt and like most of our other 'common' butterflies she now lays her eggs on the common nettle usually those that are growing in the shade.

Looking like a tatty Small Tortoiseshell, the Comma is now a familiar sight throughout most of England and Wales and is one of the few species that is bucking the trend by considerably expanding its range. The butterfly gets its name from the only white marking on its underside, which resembles a comma. When resting with wings closed this butterfly has excellent camouflage, the jagged outline of the wings giving the appearance of a withered leaf, making the butterfly inconspicuous when resting on a tree trunk or when hibernating.
image008.jpg - 18.3 KBYorkshire fog
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This golden skipper is often found basking on vegetation, or making short buzzing flights among tall grass stems especially in July and August. This species inhabits rough grassland, where tall grasses grow, and may occur on roadside verges, beside hedgerows, on overgrown downland, in woodland clearings and along woodland rides. The main food plant is Yorkshire-fog, a common grass of the British Isles, although other grasses are also used.

Things to do during the summer

Get involved in the big butterfly count

Similar to the big bird count this is a nationwide survey organised by Butterfly Conservation to help assess the quality of our environment. Full details including an identity chart may be found at Butterflies react very quickly to changes to their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators.

Going to the seaside this summer?

image012.jpg - 11 KBCommon blue feeding on Bird's foot trefoil also showing detail of the underwing
image010.jpg - 15.4 KB Holidaymakers heading to the sea this summer are being asked to look out for common blue butterflies to see if the struggling species is faring better at the coast.

The common blue is widespread across the UK but experts warn it is in decline as more intensive agriculture and lack of woodland management reduces its habitat. Populations of the common blue reached their lowest level on record in 2012 and Butterfly Conservation has teamed up with the National Trust to ask for holiday makers to look out for the species on the coast which provides the habitat needed by the butterfly.

Seaside visitors are being urged to record sightings of the common blue as part of this year's Big Butterfly Count, in which nature lovers spot and record 18 species of common butterflies and two day-flying moths over three weeks of summer.

The main food plant for the common blue caterpillar is the common bird's foot trefoil, a low-growing plant which likes open, warm, sunny conditions and can get easily out-competed by grasses, nettles and brambles, It is easy to grow from seed and plugs can then be added to the edges of lawns..

The common blue needs sunny, flower-rich vegetation, exactly the kind of vegetation that has been pushed out of farmland with intensification and pushed out of woodland with a lack of woodland management which has led to darker, shadier woods.

Aspects of the woods in Sandford - June 2015

First here is an extract from a poem called 'Walks in the Woods' by John Clare
The rustle that the branches make
While giving way to let me through,
The leaves that for a moment shake as out a blackbird hasty flew
Oh, there is stillness in the noise
That brings to quiet many joys.

Yes as the bouncing branches start
And backward hurry to their place,
A rapture rushes at the heart,
A joy comes flushing in the face;
I feel so glad I can't explain
My joy, and on I rush again.
image003.jpg - 39.4 KBA fallen lime that is regenerating near the base of the trunk
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Walking in the woods - well walking anywhere in the countryside can be very therapeutic. Often the rhythm of walking seems to be a time for thinking also and after walking there is usually a general sense of well being.

The most common tree in Sandford Woods is the lime and they often look very interesting and very old. Many of the trees have blown down but lime can regenerate itself very successfully though it is hard to grow from seed because our climate is no longer suitable for germination.

image007.jpg - 30.1 KB image005.jpg - 16 KB An easy path through the woods starts near the ski slope. There is quite a steep descent but once this has been negotiated the route is quite straight forward and spectacular in May when garlic and blue bells are both in full bloom.

In the picture to the right there is a seat mlddle right and to the right there is a closer view. The seat is a memorial and has a plaque which is highlighted below.

The seat is made of oak and the base and arm rests are sweet chestnut.
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There are a few beech trees along the path and at this time of year their leaves are soft and velvety to the touch. When the sun shines through they are spectacular.

image015.jpg - 8.5 KBToothwort
image013.jpg - 33.6 KB Whilst walking in Sandford Woods I came across these curious and rather uncommon plants. They are called Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia )and are very distinctive. There are only 5 plants that I have discovered and they are very close indeed to the footpath so that they can easily be destroyed. However 5 have persisted for 4 years now and I suppose many years before I had noticed them. They are one of the indicators of an ancient woodland.

Herb Paris is known as the 'herb of equality' because all of its parts are considered equal and harmonious. Such symmetry appealed to medieval herbalists and Herb Paris was used in both marriage rituals and to guard against witches.

Its 4 broad oval leaves are set in a cross. Rising from the middle an upright stem bears a flower: a star of four narrow yellow green petals and four green sepals, topped by a dark berry (ovary) and a crown of eight golden stamens. All parts are poisonous.

They are usually found in May and June amongst bluebells and garlic. That is why they are quite hard to see. If anyone comes across any of these flowers I would be pleased to know. A second unusual plant is the Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria)

Toothwort can be found in the spring and though it looks like a plant it has no green at all (chlorophyll) and so it cannot make food for itself. It is a parasite and lives on other plants particularly hazel and alder and sometimes beech and walnut. It apparently gets its name because its flowers resemble rows of teeth. The flowers appear in early spring and after that it disappears and lives under the ground.

image019.jpg - 35.5 KBEntrance to King Mine
image017.jpg - 35.6 KBEntrance to Sandford Levy
The woods are full of holes! Some are man made through mining but others are natural features of limestone rock. Sandford Levy is very close to the seat. It is a horizontal adit 450 metres long running south into the hill. A tight entrance descends into the adit. Inside there is a stretch of paving slabs which are a relic of WW2 when the Home Guard occupied the mine. In 1830, a Mr. Webster, dug into the adit in an effort to find a worthwhile vein of ore. He did find galena (lead) and small veins can still be seen.

An interesting and quite new find is King Mine.

These branches mark the entrance to King Mine! It is very near the footpath at ST4301 5937. Below the 'cover' is a drop of 7.5 metres. This was a mine working but at the shaft's foot is a chamber 6m high, 7metres wide and 15m long. The mine was rediscovered in 2005 by Dave Upperton who named it in honour of his friend, Lt. Tony King who was killed in the 2003 Iraq War. Both of these young men attended Churchill Community School and it was my great pleasure to teach Tony geography.

A new initiative of the Somerset Wildlife Trust
is to challenge anyone to do a Random Act of Wildness every day for the 30 days of June. To find out more visit

One example is to knit to raise awareness of the hedgehog's decline (more next month) The hedgehog is called Rustle and the pattern may be obtained from the web site above. Another example is to find, on June 9th something in nature that is blue or purple. On June 15th stalk a bee to see where it goes and on June 27th visit Taunton Wildlife Week.

Frogs and Toads - May 2015

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image001.jpg - 31.1 KBFrog
What's the difference between a frog and a toad?
Frogs hop but toads walk.

Frogs have smooth, moist skin and long, stripy legs and are likely to be found in damp habitats in the garden.

Toads have warty skin, golden eyes and prefer to crawl rather than hop .If threatened a toad can puff itself up to appear bigger. Toads can tolerate drier habitats than frogs and spend less time in water so where do they
image007.jpg - 13.2 KBToad spawn laid out in strings of 2 or 3 rows
image005.jpg - 9.3 KBMass of frog spawn laid by frogs
spend their time - in nooks and crannies wherever they can find them or in the undergrowth at the foot of hedges (see Nature Notes April 2015) They are creatures of habit and often can be found in the same place but because they tend to be motionless for much of the time and because they blend in well with their surroundings they are quite hard to spot.

Their eggs are quite different too.

A little bit more about toads
Diet. You will see that a toad is a gardener's friend since they like to eat invertebrates such as insects, larvae, spiders, SLUGS and worms. Some more adventurous ones will even eat slow worms, grass snakes and even harvest mice which are swallowed alive. Toads are more active in wet weather.

Toads are solitary except in the breeding season and nocturnal. After hunting they return to rest in a shallow burrow that they have excavated.

Toads hibernate in October that is why log piles are useful. Only occasionally do they hibernate in the mud at the bottom of ponds. They emerge in spring (late March) and migrate to breeding sites.

Buagin is a toxic, foul tasting substance secreted by toads as a defence against predators. Only grass snakes and hedgehogs are immune to this.
Now some more about frogs
Common frogs have short hind legs with webbed feet. They have transparent horizontal eye pupils and transparent inner lids to protect their eyes whilst under water as well as a 'mask' which protects their eyes and eardrums.

Males can be distinguished from females due to hard swellings, called nuptial pads, on their first finger. The nuptial pads are used for gripping females when mating. Males also possess paired vocal sacs, which the females lack.

Frogs cannot swallow, so they 'push' their food down by using their large eyes, this means they must close their eyes to swallow.

Common frogs are largely terrestrial outside the breeding season and can be found in meadows, gardens and woodland. Common frogs hibernate and breed in puddles, ponds, lakes and canals, muddy burrows and can also hibernate in layers of decaying leaves and mud at the bottom of ponds. The fact that they can breathe through their skins allows them to stay underwater for much longer periods of time when they are hibernating.

Adult common frogs will feed on any invertebrate of a suitable size. SNAILS, SLUGS, worms, beetles, woodlice and flies are all flicked into the frogs wide mouth by its long sticky tongue The diets of Common Frogs change significantly throughout their lives, the oldest frogs will feed only on land, younger frogs will also feed in the water. Tadpoles are mostly herbivores, feeding on algae, detritus (bodies of dead organisms) and some plants. They will also eat other animals in small amounts. Common frogs do not feed throughout the breeding season.

Unlike the toad common frogs are active almost all of the year, only hibernating when it gets very cold and the water and earth are frozen. In the British Isles, common frogs typically hibernate from late October to January. They will re-emerge as early as February if conditions are suitable and migrate to bodies of water such as garden ponds. Common frogs hibernate in running waters, muddy burrows and can hibernate in layers of decaying leaves and mud at the bottom of ponds. The fact that they can breathe through their skin allows them to stay underwater for much longer periods of time when they are hibernating. They start spawning in spring. During the mating season the adults congregate in the ponds, where the males compete for females. The courtship ritual involves croaking and a successful male grasps the female under the forelegs. The females, which are generally larger than the males, lay up to 4000 eggs which float in large clusters. The clumps of jelly-like eggs are usually laid around March time. Tadpoles which emerge from the spawn generally take around 12 weeks to develop into tiny froglets. They need water to keep their skin moist so are normally found near water. Toads take 6-8 weeks.

Some threats to frogs and toads
image007.jpg - 13.2 KB image007.jpg - 13.2 KB Many of their usual breeding places are disappearing as ponds are filled in or get polluted because of housing development or intensive farming. Large numbers die on roads especially toads on their way to their breeding sites.

For many reasons it is good to have a garden pond. It is estimated that up to 50% of the UK's frogs live in garden ponds now. However ducks like frogs and so this pair of mallards arrived to see what was on offer. Obviously a successful eating place and so later mother thought she would bring her brood along too.( there were 11!)

Over-collecting of spawn may be another factor in the decline. Spawn should only be collected from garden ponds that are very congested with spawn and it is important to take only a small amount. One clump of spawn may produce 200 tadpoles and in a confined space most would die of starvation or shortage of oxygen. They would in the end eat each other. Never collect from the wild.

Keep tadpoles in a small aquarium tank filled with pond or rain water. Change the water regularly. Tadpoles will eat washed spinach, boiled lettuce or food pellets sold as food for rabbits or hamsters. As soon as the hind legs start to appear the tadpoles need small pieces of raw red meat. The best time to release the froglets is when the hind legs are large but the front legs have not started to appear. They should be released in shallow water (they drown easily) and at the site from which they were taken.

PS. Watch out for your chickens in April, May and June!
image016.jpg - 18.2 KB image014.jpg - 16 KB This is the time of year when foxes have quite large cubs still demanding food from their parents. The foxes are forced to be very brave and they will turn up at all times of day to take a chicken or two. My stepson has now built me a very secure run and although I prefer my hens to be ranging free now is the time to confine them more especially when there is nobody around.

The wire needs to go into the ground for at least 18 inches so that nothing can burrow underneath. After one week badgers ate through the wire which was brand new and so we have put galvanized sheeting all the way round at the base.

Even worse are badgers at this time of year They are especially hungry now because of the dry spell and they cannot find worms and other grubs so they are on the look out for other food. Foxes are opportunists but badgers are demolition experts and can break in to the most sturdy chicken house. To wake up to this sight is devastating and especially to have to open the door to see what has happened inside.

An electric fence seems the only effective answer.

Weapons of mass destruction - April 2015

Just one horrifying picture to show what can happen
Strimmers are one of the biggest killers of wildlife in the garden but often we do not realise the danger so caused. Even worse some creatures are seriously injured so that they are unable to live their normal life and so become easy prey to predators.

Many creatures need to hide away during quiet times and especially during the winter months. In the spring they gradually come to life again. At the same time gardeners get busy too and often like to 'tidy up' around the bottom of hedges and to cut long grass. Out comes the strimmer or the lawn mower which can be equally dangerous.

The species particularly affected are hedgehogs, amphibians, snakes, small mammals such as voles and even birds that nest near the ground.

The key with strimming is to be aware of possible dangers and to take some precautions. Always give yourself time to look out for creatures where you are about to strim especially if you are going to strim or mow in nooks and crannies. It is best to strim at a steady pace so that wildlife has a chance to escape and to complete the task in one go so that creatures do not have a chance to return. If possible leave grass at 4-6 inches which offers creatures a chance to avoid being cut even if you do not see them.

Recently petitions have been on the web to persuade the manufacturers of strimmers and lawnmowers to put clear warning signs on the machines to alert users of such hazards and to include warnings in the handbook which seems sensible and easy to do.

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The magic of garden compost
The question is how does this varied and recognisable mix of organic waste that has been thrown into a compost bin change into the dark, friable soil like compost with no recognisable components that may then be forked back into the garden to provide nutrients for new growth and to give the soil structure so aiding drainage and aeration.

The answer is that there is a whole ecosystem in the bin that is working to break down itscontents. Most of those organisms are invisible to the eye and there are unimaginable numbers of them. There are also bigger organisms that we can see such as fungi and invertebrates including some not so welcome to many such as rats and snakes! (usually grass snakes that are harmless)

image005.jpg - 18.9 KB The life of the compost bin is arranged as a pyramid like this the organic remains being the most important since all the rest rely on them for food. None of the consumers can make their own food.

Tertiary Consumers
(organisms that eat secondary consumers) centipedes, predatory mites, rove beetles, fomicid ants, carabid beetles
Secondary Consumers
(organisms that eat primary consumers)
These are mostly microscopic. springtails, some types of mites, feather-winged beetles nematodes, protozoa, rotifera, soil flatworms
Primary Consumers
(organisms that eat organic residues)
bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, nematodes, some types of mites, snails, slugs, earthworms, millipedes, sowbugs, whiteworms
Organic Residues
leaves, grass clippings, other plant debris, food scraps, cardboard etc. fecal matter and animal bodies including those of soil invertebrates
The Food Chain or Pyramid that is basic to all Life on Earth

The food chain may be on a large scale such as a rainforest or a tiny scale such as a pond or indeed the compost bin. The top of the food chain is always the tertiary consumer.In every case the consumers are totally dependent on plants because they are the only organisms that can make food by photosynthesis.

Here are just a few inhabitants of a healthy compost bin.

image007.jpg - 16.2 KB Worms including Earthworms
Earthworms do the lion's share of the decomposition work among the larger compost organisms. They are constantly tunnelling and feeding on dead plants and decaying insects during the daylight hours. Their tunnelling aerates the compost and enables water, nutrients and oxygen to filter down. As soil or organic matter is passed through an earthworm's digestive system, it is broken up and neutralized by secretions of calcium carbonate from glands near the worm's gizzard. Once in the gizzard, material is finely ground prior to digestion. Digestive intestinal juices rich in hormones, enzymes, and other fermenting substances continue the breakdown process. The matter passes out of the worm's body in the form of casts, which are the richest and finest quality of all compost (humus)

The composting process is dependent on micro-organisms breaking down organic matter into compost. There are many types of microorganisms found in active compost of which the most common are:-

Bacteria- The most numerous of all the microorganisms found in compost. Depending on the phase of composting, different species of bacteria predominate and some can live and work without oxygen.

How many bacteria are there?

Even a few grams of compost on a teaspoon is estimated to contain up to a billion bacteria cells. No one really knows how many different types there are and only a tiny fraction have been classified. Estimates of the total number of species of bacteria range from about 10 million to a billion. The number of scientifically recognized species of animals is about 1,250,000. There are almost 300,000 recognized species of plants.

Mesophilic bacteria can reproduce every 15 minutes. Doubling at each reproduction (1/2/4/8/16), a population of 8 billion could be present in 13 hours.

Actinobacteria are necessary for breaking down paper products such as newspaper and bark.

Fungi- Molds and Yeast help break down materials that bacteria cannot, especially tough lignin in woody material.

Protozoa- Help consume bacteria, fungi and micro organic particulates.

Rotifers- Rotifers help control populations of bacteria and small protozoans.

Mites are the second most common invertebrate found in compost. They have eight leg-like jointed appendages. Some can be seen with the naked eye and others are microscopic. Some can be seen hitching rides on the back of other faster moving invertebrates such as millipedes and beetles. Some scavenge on leaves, rotten wood, and other organic debris. Some species eat fungi, yet others are predators and feed on nematodes, eggs, insect larvae and other mites and springtails. Some are both free living and parasitic.

image012.jpg - 11.9 KB Springtails are extremely numerous in compost. They are very small wingless insects and can be distinguished by their ability to jump when disturbed. They run in and around the particles in the compost and have a small spring-like structure under the belly that catapults them into the air when the spring catch is triggered. They chew on decomposing plants, pollen, grains, and fungi. They also eat nematodes and droppings of other arthropods and then meticulously clean themselves after feeding.

You may notice a white powder and filaments which are a good sign that the more resistant lignin is being broken down.

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Lastly a word or two about snakes in the compost pile. Firstly they are likely to be grass snakes and therefore completely harmless just looking for a warm place to make a nest, lay eggs and hatch their young.If you do find one in the compost bin just cover it up and leave until late summer when the breeding period is over. All native snakes of Britain are legally protected so they should never be killed. If help is needed it is best to contact

Non-Native Trees in the British Isles - March 2015

In the British Isles we have 22 species of tree that can be called native or indigenous to our country although the term native is not that easy to clearly define. The Woodland Trust ( defines a native tree as one that established itself without human intervention just as the ice was melting after the Ice Age and before the land bridge that linked Britain to Europe was breached by melt waters from the retreating ice.

Stourhead in Wiltshire
These are our native trees:-
  1. Alder
  2. Apple
  3. Ash
  4. Birch
  5. Beech
  6. Box
  7. Cherry
  8. Elm
  9. Hawthorn
  10. Hazel
  11. Hornbeam
  12. Holly
  13. Juniper
  14. Lime
  15. Maple
  16. Oak
  17. Pine (Scots)
  18. Poplar
  19. Rowan and Whitebeam
  20. Service tree
  21. Strawberry tree
  22. Willow
  23. Yew

All of our other trees may be classed as non-native though many have become naturalised and we tend to think of them as British since they are very much a part of our landscape and culture. Plant hunters and plant collectors have been finding and introducing trees into the British Isles for many centuries especially during the Victorian and Edwardian era. In fact over 1000 species were introduced. Common, non-native trees such as the Horse Chestnut, Sycamore and False acacia are more familiar in many towns than several native trees. In London the London Plane which was introduced only in the mid 17th Century has taken its common name from the capital, so widely planted there and familiar is it. Stourhead in Wiltshire is a splendid example of such exotic planting using trees and shrubs from many parts of the world.

Westonbirt Arboretum
In Britain today the average number of different tree species found in recently planted woodland is fewer than 10 (it is even less in ancient and native woodlands), therefore the chances of some new disease or insect predator causing devastation in that woodland is one in 10. Just as a comparison in the Amazonian rainforest the average number of different tree species to each acre is about 100 (in some instances it can rise to 180), so the ratio of potential damage lessens to one in 100.

Tony Russell suggests that we begin to widen the pool of tree species from which we choose and make considerably more use of our non-native trees.

His career with plants and gardens began in 1978 and since then he has had many prestigious jobs. In 1989 he was appointed Head Forester of Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, one of the finest collections of tree and shrubs in the temperate world. His areas of responsibility included development and management of the Arboretum, conservation of its many rare and endangered species and interpretation of the collection and its environmental importance to others. Tony left Westonbirt in 2002 and is now widely regarded as one of Britain's leading authorities on trees and shrubs.

Since 2009 Tony has been garden consultant to the National Trust, where he is helping the Trust establish the first ever complete digital inventory of the plants growing within National Trust gardens.

Some conservationists feel uncomfortable with this approach, preferring to only plant "native" tree species. The problem with this is that we limit ourselves to a relatively small number of species and potentially half of these are already susceptible to disease, predation or climate change. Surely we should at least consider planting species that, while they may not have originated in the British Isles, are known to thrive in our conditions and have the ability to cope with climate change and disease? We do not need to import any of these trees since they can easily be propagated in the British Isles from existing sources.

These are the species that Tony Russell suggests that we plant:-
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  1. Maidenhair tree
  2. Turkish hazel
  3. Deodar cerar
  4. Honey locust
  5. Silver maple
  6. Dawn redwood
  7. Evergreen oak
  8. Wedding cake tree
  9. Judas tree
  10. Liquidamber

Most of this information may be read at

Non-native trees and signs of spring
Spring is a good time to visit Caerhayes Castle in Cornwall to see the magnificent collection of magnolias. (non-native!) Seven Magnolia campbellii are being watched to monitor the arrival of spring. When the trees have 50 flowers in bloom spring will be here! The RHS is now extending this project to cover the whole of the UK. Gardeners are asked to contribute to the online survey with data of where and when they see these trees in flower the results will be shown on the RHS web site at

Nature and Wellbeing Act - February 2015

Several charities are now challenging political parties to 'act for nature' by introducing new laws to restore nature and increase everyone's access to it, not only for nature's sake but also for the contribution it makes to people's health and wellbeing.

The 'Nature and Wellbeing Act' Green Paper - published October 29th. 2014 - sets out compelling evidence which shows just how much people need nature. It offers an ambitious package of measures to turn around the decline in our natural environment and contribute to many of our most pressing social and political objectives.

The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB ( Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ) warn that the health of our economy and communities, education and our own wellbeing are completely linked to the health of the natural world and our quality of life will fail if society doesn't take action for nature.

These charities have joined forces to launch a campaign called Act for Nature, working together as part of a growing movement of people and organisations who wish to see the natural environment recognised for its true value and contribution to our lives.

The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB - which together have more than two million members who want to protect nature - are calling for cross-party agreement on the need for nature and press all parties to include legislation for nature and wellbeing in their manifestos ahead of the General Election in May 2015.

The General Election means political parties are now planning their visions for a brighter future, providing an opportunity for people to ask politicians to recognise how nature is intrinsically at the heart of better places to live in towns and cities as well as across rural landscapes. Ensuring nature thrives and plays a part on all of our lives means decisions must not be based on short-term expediency.

The Green Paper shows our need for nature in every part of our lives:

. The most deprived communities are 10 times less likely to live in the greenest areas.
. Fewer than one in 10 children regularly play in wild places, compared to almost half, a generation ago.

If every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in health care costs.

To actively support this initiative go to

Now onto a completely different topic - tree bark.
Each tree has a bark that is unique to its species and can be recognised just as flowers, seeds, fruits or leaves can. Here are pictures of the bark of some well known British native trees. See if you can recognise them. Answers are at the end of the notes.

The bark does for the tree what the skin does for a human. It's an outer protective layer. The thin layer that is just underneath the bark, the cambium, is the only part of the tree trunk that has living, growing cells. It is what makes the trunk, branches and roots grow thicker over time.The bark protects this layer and protects the tissues that carry nutrients and water to all parts of the tree. A tree can usually survive a certain amount of damage to its bark but not if the damage circles the tree entirely. This is called ring barking. Such damage can be done by machinery especially strimmers and by grazing animals particularly squirrels and deer.
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Grey squirrels damage trees by gnawing at the stem to get to the sweet, sap filled layers (phloem tissue) just beneath the bark. This tissue is responsible for the movement of sugars around the plant. If this gnawing extends around the stem so the tree is 'ringed' ie. a complete circle of bark and underlying tissue is removed, then the movement of sugars around the plant will come to a halt and the tree will die. Removal of any bark and associated tissue will check or restrict the growth of trees.

This bark stripping occurs especially between late April and the end of July. Very young trees or saplings (stem diameter less than 5 cm) are generally not attacked as they cannot support the weight of a squirrel, the main stem of older trees (40 years+) are usually safe as the bark is too thick for the squirrels to strip. The most vulnerable trees are sycamore, beech, oak, sweet chestnut, pine, larch and Norway spruce, aged between 10 and 40 years old; though almost any broadleaved species of tree can be attacked.

Some of the damaged trees will die, some will succumb to fungal infection. Where the fungus enters, the wood will become stained and may rot. In many cases, the stems will be deformed.

Answers to bark recognition: A. Beech B. Oak. C. Scot's Pine. D. Alder. E. Cherry. F. Silver Birch. G. Ash. H. Lime

What can you do differently/better/the same for wildlife in 2015? - January 2015

Jobs for January.
You may be feeling enthusiastic about getting out in the garden again. You may have new plans for planting but remember that though you can't see them many creatures are still hibernating/hiding in secluded places and do not want to be disturbed yet!

Here are some jobs for the New Year that will be appreciated by wildlife too.
  • Hang bird feeders and put out food on the ground and on the bird table
  • Make sure the bird bath is topped up and not frozen.
  • Regularly clean the bird bath and table.
  • Make sure the pond does not freeze over. However recent research ( suggests that a pond that freezes over does not harm wildlife that is already in the pond. They can tolerate very low oxygen levels. It is important to remove snow though so that some light can penetrate. It is also good to break some ice at the edges so that other visitors can find water to drink.
  • Coppice and/or pollard trees such as hazel and goat willow.(see later)
  • There's still time to plant deciduous trees maybe those that produce berries or nuts such as the crab apple.
During 2014 there has been information about various types of wildlife. Here is a summary of what can be done to support different species.

Hedgehogs can emerge from hibernation for a quick food foray during mild spells, before returning to their hiding place when temperatures drop back near freezing. Hedgehog and badger food is now available for sale. It is not a good idea to feed hedgehogs with bread and milk, as this is not their natural diet. Dog food is an alternative. It would be interesting to know whether anyone in the parishes has hedgehogs. I have not seen any for a very long time.

Foxes are usually seen in the garden even more than usual at this time of year, foraging for slugs and beetles and chickens or rummaging in rubbish bins. Sometimes roe deer will leave their woodland habitat and stray into our gardens where they may not always be welcome but I think unstoppable!

The siskin is a finch. It is a resident in all of the UK especially in Scotland and Wales but others arrive here in the Autumn from Europe.
Many birds can be seen in the garden this month - common ones such as blackbirds, thrushes, tits, finches, robins and siskins plus migrant flocks of fieldfares and redwings. ( the first ones arrived in my garden on December 5th 2014.)

Many of the berries, seeds and natural food sources that birds rely on have been exhausted by this stage in the winter. Feeding the birds in your garden therefore becomes even more important. Apples are a particular favourite

There are many models available to feed birds and some are designed to help keep out rats, cats, pigeons and squirrels, or to fit onto walls, windows, windowsills and balconies.

Hanging the bird feeder over a paved or decked area, which can be swept clear of debris regularly, may help to reduce problems with rats if they prove a nuisance.

It is fine to leave chunks of food out on a bird table at this time of year, as there is no risk of over-large pieces being fed to the fledglings, which can cause problems during the breeding season. Robins, starlings and many others will use this resource - fatty titbits like seeds, nuts, cheese, meat scraps and cooking fat will be appreciated. A smashed coconut would do. Stale bread or cake should be soaked in water before putting them out, to make them easier for birds to swallow.

Do not use salted or coated nuts, and only use those sold for human consumption or those labelled with the Birdfood Standards Seal of Approval. Nuts that have been poorly packaged or stored could contain aflatoxin, which is poisonous to birds and humans.

Specialist bird food suppliers often sell live mealworms and fat balls at this time of year. A budget option is to hang pieces of bacon from strings tied to tree branches. Alternatively, you can make your own fat balls by mixing lard with nut, scraps, porridge oats and dried fruit in a ratio of one part fat to two parts dry food. The greater the variety of food that you supply in your garden, the greater variety of birds you will see.

Blackbirds, thrushes, redwings and fieldfares will eat food from the ground - windfalls or rotten fruits from winter supplies are ideal.

Some woodpeckers (the greater and the lesser spotted woodpecker) will use a home-made hanging log feeder. A rotten log, with holes in it filled with suet, can be suspended from a tree branch, to mimic the natural feeding habitat of woodpeckers.

A bird bath can be a vital source of drinking water for birds during the winter. Keep yours topped up, and kept free of ice. Models are now available that attach to windows, walls and sills.

Remember that insects are gardeners' friends as well as foes! They are natural pest controllers, and will keep each other's populations down to manageable levels once your garden has got back into a natural balance.

Bee homes are now widely available. Initial reports suggest that nesting boxes for colony-forming bees (such as bumble and honey bees) are not always effective, but homes for solitary bees (such as mason bees), made from tubes and tunnels in boxes, are more successful. Models with a backing are more successful than those open at both ends. This kind of bee house is easy to make at home. Even a tin can filled with straws will do the job. South-facing positions, hanging at chest height or above, are best. ( see nature notes February 2014) Bees usually colonise these homes in spring, hibernating overwinter to emerge the following spring. The boxes can be left out over winter, or taken down and stored in a safe place to avoid bees being eaten by predators.

All wildlife
image002.jpg - 14.8 KB Put out log and twig piles made from old prunings and felled trees. These provide valuable shelter for wildlife, and can be made into attractive features by planting up with ferns, primroses, or other suitable plants.

Piles of slabs or rockery stones will act as a suitable wildlife habitat, as will old bales of straw, hay or prunings.

Corrugated iron or plastic laid on the soil can provide 'tunnel' hiding places for small reptiles and mammals looking for shelter and warmth.

You may wish to identify a suitable part of the garden to leave untouched as a wildlife area. A small patch behind a shed is perfectly fine if you're worried about it looking untidy. You could plan and dig a wildlife pond before the spring arrives, and the garden gets busier.

Now could be a good time to build a compost heap or a leafmould pen, if you do not have these in your garden already. They will be ready for all the debris produced by the new growing season and provide a safeish and frost free hiding place for insects and amphibians.

A row of willow trees that have been pollarded on the road from Glastonbury to Godney. It looks very drastic but by the spring many new shoots will grow and the tree will be back to normal in no time.
Cornus coppices will provide new coloured stems in the spring and early summer
This month is your last opportunity to coppice trees in your garden. Coppicing is an ancient technique developed to produce regular supplies of wood. It is useful today in small gardens because it limits the size of the tree, turning it into a multi-stemmed shrub. Coppicing provides shelter for wildlife near eye level, and lets more light through to the under-storey plants than would a mature tree. Bulbs and ground cover plants are therefore more likely to flourish under coppiced trees than under large specimens. The young leaves on coppiced trees provide valuable breeding grounds for butterflies (e.g. the pearl-bordered fritillary, which breeds in areas of coppiced hazel).

Pollarding is a similar technique Its function is to stop trees from growing too tall and in the case of shallow rooted willows, to prevent them from toppling over. They are quite shallow rooted and often grow in waterlogged soil close to water courses (rhines in Somerset) A single trunk is usually kept. Many of the ancient lime trees in Sandford Wood have been pollarded in the past..

If you are planting new trees, shrubs and perennials, it is a good idea to mix in some native plants with the more exotic or cultivated specimens. Although many insects will happily feed and breed on a selection of plants (native or otherwise), others are fussier, and prefer natives, particularly when it comes to breeding. A wide diversity of plants will encourage a wide diversity of insects, and this is likely to be the best recipe for a rich mix of mammals, amphibians and birds in the garden.

Owls (mostly) - December 2014

Tawny Owl
Tawny owls are the most common and widespread owl in Britain. They are the ones that emit the characteristic courtship 'twit-twooo' which we all associate with owls. The sound is actually made by two owls, a male and a female. However it is known that tawny owls make up to twelve different sounds as their way of communicating with each other. In the last few weeks they have been make a screeching sound usually in the early evening. This is fact a territorial claim. Each pair of owls is trying to hang on to its traditional territory and thus has to scare off any of its young which by now will be trying to set up their territories. They are being told to move away and make their own lives. This is a very difficult time for the youngsters and they may well die if they are unable to establish their own space.

Typically, tawny owls occupy a favourite perch in broadleaf woodlands, from which they drop on to unsuspecting small mammals, such as voles. The inedible remains are regurgitated in the form of a pellet. Labour is divided between breeding pairs since the female incubates the clutch of eggs, and the male is responsible for feeding the chicks once they hatch...

Pellets are relatively easy to find because they may be dropped from a favourite roosting or feeding post. image005.jpg - 10.7 KB image004.jpg - 5.3 KB As shown above they are sausage shaped objects that contain the indigestible parts of the owl's food. Since they do not pass through the intestine they are different from droppings. They do not smell and are quite dry. They are therefore quite easy to work with and can be broken up to find out what the bird has been eating as the second picture shows. They are made up of things like bones, claws, beaks, insect parts and seed husks. These are often surrounded by softer material such as fur, feathers and vegetable fibre.

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The Barn Owl.
This is actually Albi, a resident of a farm in Wrington.

These 12 facts are taken from the Barn owl Trust web site.
  1. The barn owl was voted Britain's favourite farmland bird by the public in an RSPB poll in July 2007.
  2. Historically, the barn owl was Britain's most common owl species, but today only one farm in about 75 can boast a barn owl nest.
  3. Barn owls screech, not hoot. To hear the cry of the barn owl, and other British owls, visit the Barn Owl Trust website.
  4. The barn owl can fly almost silently.(their bones are hollow) This enables it to hear the slightest sounds made by its rodent prey hidden in deep vegetation while it's flying up to three metres overhead.
  5. The barn owl's heart-shaped face collects sound in the same way as human ears. Its hearing is the most sensitive of any creature tested.
  6. Barn owls are non-territorial. Adults live in overlapping home ranges, each one covering approximately 5,000 hectares. That's a staggering 12,500 acres or 7,100 football pitches!
  7. It's not uncommon for barn owl chicks in the nest to feed each other. This behaviour is incredibly rare in birds.
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  9. In order to live and breed, a pair of barn owls needs to eat around 5,000 prey items a year. These are mainly field voles, wood mice, and common shrews.
  10. Though barn owls are capable of producing three broods of five to seven young each year, most breed only once and produce, on average, only two and a half young. 29 per cent of nests produce no young at all.
  11. 91 per cent of barn owls post-mortemed were found to contain rat poison. Some owls die as a direct result of consuming rodenticides, but most contain sub-lethal doses. The effects of this remain unknown.
  12. In a typical year, around 3,000 juvenile barn owls are killed on Britain's motorways, dual carriageways and other trunk roads. That's about a third of all the young that fledge.
  13. Everyone can help barn owls. Leave a patch of rough grassland to grow wild thus creating habitat for voles, erect a super-safe deep nest box, volunteer for your local barn owl group, switch to non-toxic rodent control and support charities working to conserve the barn owl.

image015.jpg - 25.1 KB image014.jpg - 9.1 KB image011.jpg - 16.5 KB If you would like to help Barn Owls locally the person to contact is Chris Sperring MBE. Here he is! He can be contacted through The Hawk and Owl Trust ( )

The Somerset Wildlife trust is celebrating its 50 year this year and has set up several major projects to celebrate one of which is The Coronation Meadows (see June 2014)

The Trust, with the enthusiasm of Chris, set up The Somerset Barn Owl Project in 2011 with the aim of setting up a Barn Owl nesting box in each of its 335 parishes with the support of local communities. The boxes are all in areas of rough grassland the prime hunting ground for barn owls. This goal has now been achieved and the picture shows the first breeding pair at Puriton.

Conical cells      Smooth slippery cells
Post script (back to bees)
When bees collect nectar, how do they hold onto the flower petals? Scientists at Cambridge University led by Beverley Glover have found that there are small cone-shaped cells on the petals of some flower types that act just like Velcro on the bees' feet so that it is easier to grip whilst collecting nectar. The plants used for the experiment which is ongoing were snapdragons. On other flowers the petals are very slippery and the bees have to use their wings to maintain their position whilst extracting nectar.

Meet the Corvid Family - November 2014

image003.jpg - 6.4 KB image002.jpg - 10.2 KB A few weeks ago I heard a very different bird sound coming from some very tall evergreen trees in my neighbour's garden. After some research I assumed they were ravens. This led me to find out more about them which in turn led me to recognise other members of their family, the Corvidae or Corvids for short. This is rather a large family of mainly black birds which are possibly fairly hard to differentiate - just 'big black birds' Within this family though are ravens, rooks, crows, jackdaws, magpies, choughs, and the exception to the rule the flambuoyant jays.

The Jackdaw is easily recognisable because it has bright blue eyes with a grey nape and shoulders. At this time of year they tend to go round in gangs and may be a nuisance on bird tables and feeders. At night they gather in huge flocks ready to fly en masse to their roosting places. In Sandford they fly in large numbers (reminiscent of starlings) to Sandford Woods. There are often a few late stragglers bringing up the rear.

The jackdaw has a reputation for liking bright shiny objects to adorn its nest and this long poem (not in its entirety) was written by Richard Barham who lived from1788 to1805. It is called the Jackdaw of Rheims. I have left out a few verses at the beginning.

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The Raven
is by far the largest of the Corvisds - as big as a Buzzard. It is completely black and makes a very distinctive deep croaking sound . Most obvious though is its diamond or wedge shaped tail when in flight. It is an intelligent bird of prey which has always been a bird of myths and legends.

Crows and Rooks
are quite hard to recognise but there is an old adage that may help. It is this:
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'A crow in a crowd is a rook but a rook on its own is a crow.' In other words crows are solitary whereas rooks are gregarious.

Crows, rooks and jackdaws join together in the evening to fly to their winter roosts.

Their nests are usually very untidy made of just sticks and twigs high up the canopy of broadleaved trees. Jackdaws tend to have a preference for chimney pots! Rooks tend to establish long lasting and very noisy rookeries and are much more sociable than the crow which builds a solitary nest.

The Chough
image010.jpg - 9.1 KB image009.jpg - 4 KB (pronounced chuff) This is still a crow but with red legs and bill. It is a coastal bird especially in the West of England for example on the Cornish coast. Sadly their population is dwindling and the chough is on the amber list of species red being the most critical and green the least. (see RSPB web site

The Magpie
I expect that we all know this species but just in case!

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The Jay
The smaller picture shows a close up of the stunning blue feathers on the wing. It is sometimes possible to find these lying on the ground when walking through woods. The colour just shines up at you and it is a joy to find one and carefully take it home!.

Bird Brains?! This is a headline and extract from the Guardian in 2010

Clever raven proves that it's no birdbrain

Logic and puzzle-solving come naturally to this highly intelligent scavenger, claim biologists.

Scientists have revealed an unexpected candidate for the title of the world's second smartest creature - the raven. According to a pair of researchers, a bird brain is no longer a sign of stupidity; indeed, it could be a sign of surprising intelligence.

In the latest issue of Scientific American, Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar - scientists based at Vermont University in Canada and St Andrews University in Scotland, respectively - reveal a series of experiments that provides startling backing for the idea that ravens are the brainboxes of the natural world. 'These birds use logic to solve problems and some of their abilities even surpass those of the great apes,' they say.

One startling experiment they outline involved ravens who were allowed to sit on perches from which pieces of meat dangled from string. To get a treat, a raven had to perform a complex series of actions: pull up some of the string, place a loop on the perch and hold it with a claw, then pull up another section of string and hold that loop on the perch. By repeating this process half a dozen times, a raven could reach the end of the string and get the meat.

'Some animals can be taught how to get food this way,' Heinrich said. 'However, I found ravens could perform this complex sequence of actions straight away. I was extremely surprised the first time I saw one of them do this. These birds have never seen string before or encountered meat hanging this way, yet they worked out exactly what they needed to do to get a treat.'

image017.jpg - 22.9 KB Other experiments by biologists have shown that ravens often let other animals do work for them. In the wild, they have been known to make calls that bring wolves and foxes to dead animals so that these large carnivores can break the carcass apart, making meat accessible to the birds.

Such fascinating experiments show that members of the crow family, aren't just among the cleverest birds, they are smarter than most mammals. In fact, their intelligence rivals that of apes - who, along with crows, are able to do tasks that three and four-year-old children have difficulty with.

Aesop had the measure of crows.

In his fable, there was a wise old mother crow who finds a pitcher with only a little water in it. Desperately thirsty, the intelligent bird drops small stones into the container, raising the water level until it is high enough for her to drink.

The story might be 2,500 years old, but the Ancient Greek author clearly understood how the crow's mind works. For when we recreated the experiment in our laboratory in Cambridge, the birds did exactly as Aesop described. Without being taught the details of the task, they picked up stones and dropped them into a tube of water - raising the water level.

Tree Bark and Seeds - October 2014

image002.jpg - 7.5 KB Tree bark has many functions but the part that we mostly see is the outer bark and this is the tree's protection from the outside world. It keeps out rain and stops the tree from losing moisture in dry spells. It also is a good insulator against cold and heat. Finally it wards off insect enemies.

Just behind is the inner bark or phloem. It is a pipeline through which food is passed to all parts of the tree. Beyond that again is the growing part of the tree trunk (cambium). Its job is to produce new bark and new wood. Next is sap wood (xylem) which is the pipeline for passing up water from the ground to all parts of the tree. This is an amazing piece of engineering work and sometimes if you press your ear to the tree trunk you can hear the moving water. Sapwood is new wood. As newer rings of sapwood are made inner parts lose their function and turn into heartwood.

Heartwood is the central pillar of the tree that holds it up. Although it is actually dead it does not rot as long as the outer layers are intact. It is very, very strong and that is the part that is used by us for so many purposes.

Although trees may be recognised by their leaves this is not possible to do in winter for deciduous trees.
However, they may also be recognised by their bark and this time of year by their seeds and fruit. Here are just a few well known examples.

The Cherry
The cherry has very obvious banding and the bark is a rich deep brown. At the moment there are many cherry stones on the groundand they have provided food for manycreatures such as birds, mice and squirrels. Often mice keep a store of cherries under stones or similar.

The Beech
There is an amazing beech tree in the church yard at Sandford Church.
Beech Mast
Beech Mast

This is actually a beech in Sandford Woods. Its bark is grey, solid and very smooth. Somebody once carved an arrow in it. I wonder who and when?

The beech is also producing its seed technically called mast now and this year there has been plenty more food for wildlife.

The kernels inside the outer covering taste very good but they are quite hard to extract. They can also be planted outside now and hope that after a winter chill they will germinate in the spring.

The Oak
image016.jpg - 6.1 KB image013.jpg - 6.5 KB image012.jpg - 12.4 KB This bark is much more grooved and rough and as the tree ages it becomes even more knarled and that it why it provides a habitat for so many creatures. Insects proliferate in the niches within the trunk and these in turn attract birds such as the tree creeper and nuthatch.

The Silver Birch
image020.jpg - 3.7 KB image019.jpg - 5.1 KB image018.jpg - 6 KB This bark is very distinctive and immediately recognisable.. It is one of the first trees to colonise an area because it produces thousands of tiny wind blown seeds which at the moment seem to get everywhere both indoors and outdoors!

The Lime
image024.jpg - 12.4 KB image022.jpg - 14.1 KB The bark is a greyish colour and very rough and broken.

The lime is one of the most common trees in Sandford Woods. Some of them are very old indeed and have real character. Most of them have been pollarded at some time so that their shapes are interesting.

Often whole limbs have broken off leaving holes that are suitable for nesting birds and bats.

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The Ash
Ash bark is smooth grey or a pale grey-brown in young trees. It is thought that that is how ash got its name. In older trees the bark becomes fissured into interwoven ridges and can resemble the bark of Oak However it may be possible to see the buds early on in the winter and these are always black and in opposite pairs.

Post script - Spiders!
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The number of spiders usually increases in the autumn, and the males sometimes venture in to homes in search of a mate. You might find one in your bath tub or on your pillow. But this season is set to be particularly bad for arachnophobes, with the mild weather meaning thriving spiders mainly because it has been a good year for the invertebrates on which spiders feed.

Random Thoughts - September 2014

image003.jpg - 19.2 KB image001.jpg - 10.9 KB The Buddleia is usually recommended as an ideal shrub for attracting butterflies to the garden but there are others such as the Hebe which does seem to attract a larger range of insects. Secondly there are many varieties of Hebe and so if there is room for several in the garden it is possible to extend the flowering season from early spring right into November. Thus there is nectar throughout that time whereas Buddleia has a relatively short flowering season and in my experience the flowers are often almost over before the main insects arrive for food. For example this (right) is Hebe 'Autumn Glory.'

Increasing the stock of meadow plants
The Somerset Trust for Wildlife is asking for volunteers to obtain wildflower seeds from them and then to grow them on into plug plants which can be planted into meadow nature reserves in the spring. The 6 varieties chosen are:-

1. Bird's Foot Trefoil
2. Lady's bedstraw
3. Bluebells
4. Betony
5. Hairy Hawkbit
6. Tormentil

To find out more go to the Somerset Wildlife Trust's Wildflower Gardening at

Meadow Life
The Common Blue
image014.jpg - 7.2 KB This butterfly is common throughout the UK. There are often two broods, with eggs laid in June, then August and September. Common blue caterpillars hibernate and pupate in April and May giving rise to adults in May and June. This year they were flying in July and August.

All blue butterflies are part of a group called the Lycaenids together with the coppers and hairstreaks. They have mostly evolved close relationships with different species of ants. These relationships are mutually beneficial. The butterfly caterpillars develop special glands that secrete an energy rich nectar like substance that attract ants. The ants swarm all over the caterpillars drinking the secretion. To extract the substance they 'milk' the substance from the caterpillars by literally tickling the glands with their antennae. The caterpillars are protected by the ants from potential predators. Ants can swarm, bite or even eat the predators.

Of all the butterflies I think that this is the hardest one to photograph. They fly very fast and do not seem to settle for long possibly because they are aware of the photographer!

Uses for Trees - August 2014

There was a question from a small child that I teach which was 'What is a tree for?' I gave a few answers and then, much later, started to make a list. This is the list which is quite haphazard. I don't know whether anyone can add more?
  1. Produces oxygen for all other creatures to breathe.
  2. Absorbs carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.
  3. This process helps to slow down global warming.
  4. Food for mammals, insects, birds.
  5. Habitats (homes)for many creatures.
  6. Provides shade and shelter.
  7. Sets seeds to regenerate itself.
  8. Roots help to protect soil from erosion.(stabilisation)
  9. To decorate (Christmas trees)
  10. Making artefacts eg pencils.
  11. Extracting gum.
  12. Extracting resins.
  13. Extracting sap as maple syrup and rubber for example.
  14. Climbing.
  15. Making paper.
  16. Making cardboard.
  17. Making furniture.
  18. Providing medicines eg.aspirin.
  19. Making cricket bats.
  20. Building.
  21. Carving and sculpture.
  22. Aesthetic (parks and gardens.)
  23. Memorials to families, friends and pets.
  24. Make coal over many millions of years.
  25. Provide basic fuel especially in poorer parts of the world.
  26. Biomass for producing electricity.
  27. Building boats.
  28. Making rope.
  29. Helps to reduce flooding by take up of water by the root system.
  30. Windbreak especially in horticulture.
  31. Decomposition of the tree adds humus to the soil so providing nutrients for other plants/animals. Recycling.
  32. Adds water vapour to the atmosphere by transpiration. This forms clouds and then rain.
  33. Some trees eg. Alder fix nitrogen from the atmosphere.Makes food by photosynthesis using the chlorophyll in leaves. Only plants can make food.
  34. Bark eg. Cork
  35. Inspiration for artists, poets, musicians and novelists.
Stag Beetle
Oakbug milkcap

The Oak tree - in this case the English oak (Quercus robur) is the most common tree in Britain and can be used as an example. Oak trees support more life than any other of our native trees. They host over 280 species of insect so supplying many British birds with an important food source. In the autumn mammals such as badgers and deer take advantage of the acorns.

The soft leaves break down easily in the autumn to make a rich leaf mould under the tree. This, in turn, supports invertebrates such as the stag beetle plus numerous fungi such as the oakbug milkcap. Holes and crevices in the bark are perfect nesting places for several birds (see Nature Notes for February 2014) Several bat species may also roost in old disused holes or under loose bark and they can feed on the rich supply of insects in the canopy.

A mystery as yet unsolved!
For many years I have stored the grain for my poultry in a black plastic dustbin in the garage (it has no doors). Two years ago a squirrel, I think, realised this and began to gnaw through the plastic. Therefore I decided to store the grain in a galvanised bin with a strong metal lid. However, it did not take long for the intruder to learn how to lift off the lid with a loud clatter and on several mornings I found the guilty party still in the bin but it escaped extremely quickly. Even a strong rubber strap clipping onto the handles did not deter it.

In February I moved the grain to a roll top bin still in the garage and as yet this has been undisturbed. Last Tuesday I left 2 loaves of bread in the old dustbin. Remember it had been empty for 5 months and unopened. The next morning though the bin had been overturned and all of the bread gone. Only 2 very shredded plastic bags were left. This raises several questions. How did the intruder know there was bread in the bin? Does it smell? How did the bin get turned over? I think that a badger is a more likely suspect. How did it realise that just that one night there was food available. Since February the bin had not been disturbed unless the culprit actually replaced the lid each time it checked. Any ideas?

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In July and August teasels are looking magnificent. Their flowers are very unusual since they open in tiers like this.....

The whole plant looks tall and stately in a garden bed.

If you look closely the leaf bracts enclose pockets of water from which insects and even birds like to drink. In the winter they look stunning in frost and snow and of course the seeds are much enjoyed by goldfinches. Teasels2.jpg - 9.1 KB Teasels3.jpg - 8.6 KB

Meadows - July 2014

The Somerset Trust for Wildlife is celebrating its 50th. Anniversary this year and as part of the celebrations the Trust is highlighting some of Somerset's beautiful meadows. Thanks to support from members and friends the Trust is enabled to support some of the best meadows and grasslands in their nature reserves. They also work with landowners and communities to conserve and restore these valuable landscapes that are usually buzzing with insects, butterflies, bees and moths.

It is possible for members of the public to visit the reserves and to enjoy the abundant wildlife that is there.

image001.jpg - 17.7 KB image002.jpg - 17.5 KB Visit a meadow or grassland. (

  • Sunday, July 6th.Ubley Warren nature Reserve.
  • Sunday 13th.July Wild Walk on West Mendip Visit Ubley Warren and Velvet Bottom near Cheddar.
  • Sunday August 17th.Chancellor's Farm near Priddy from14.30-23.00. This is a family day at the Trusts Organic farm.
Betony: easy to grow from seed and has few pests or diseases
Quote from a Trust member:
My favourite wild flower meadow has to be Chancellor's Farm - Somerset Wildlife Trust's only working farm - located in the Mendip hills near Wells. The meadows are truly outstanding, having remained virtually undisturbed from agricultural improvement in their long history. Some 180 flowering species occur here, with new finds spotted all the time. In June at the height of the flowering season, the meadows are bright with the purple of betony.

Many orchid species flourish in the ancient meadows, and in spring, carpets of bluebells cover many areas; a spectacular sight.

image004.jpg - 88 KB The combination of flower-rich meadows in this picturesque rural landscape with old farm buildings, dry stone walls, ponds, tree groups and grazing rare breed cattle has a nostalgic feel, and is a fantastic example of the very special relationship that can be shared by man and beast in partnership with nature.

Chancellor's Farm has a very important role to play in the future of Somerset's meadow landscapes. Last year the reserve gained royal recognition as Somerset's Coronation Meadow, and will be used as a 'source meadow' to provide seed for the restoration of new meadows in the county; helping to secure Somerset's wild flower heritage for the next 60 years. image005.jpg - 14.7 KB

Going back to the Coronation Meadows. This was an initiative set up by Prince Charles in June 1913 as part of the commemorations of the Jubilee year. One meadow still surviving was selected in each county to be nurtured. There were 60 in all and Chancellor's Farm was the one selected by Somerset. Others are being added to redress the fact that 97% of our meadows and grasslands have been destroyed since 1945. The main reason for the huge decline has been the intensification of farming and hence the use of fertilisers on the grass to increase its productivity. Wildflowers like a much poorer soil. The original meadows act as seed banks for future meadows.

It's easy to grow a mini meadow in your own garden even in a container such as this one that was grown in a Belfast sink. All garden centres now sell packets of seeds called Wildflower Mix or Bumblebee Mix. They are usually annuals but the sight of the flowers and insects working together for a month or two is worth just over £1!

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A few examples of the many meadow flowers that are (left to right above): the common orchid, wild carrot, lesser knapweed, bird's foot trefoil, red clover, common vetch, ox eye daisy and meadow cranesbill.

Meadows also give an opportunity to see the 'brown' butterflies rather than the more colourful ones that we are familiar with in our gardens. Here are three.
Brown Argus
Meadow Brown
Speckled Wood
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However there is one bright one - the Common Blue which as its name implies is the most common blue butterfly in the British Isles. It is the male that has the brightest blue colour.

Barn Owls benefit from the restoration of meadows and rough grassland for they use the habitat for hunting down their prey which mainly includes small mammals such as field voles (most important), field mice and shrews. Try watching the barn Owl webcam set up by the Somerset Trust. Boris and Brenda have recently hatched an owlet and you can watch their progress at They use an owl box especially set up for them similar to this one.

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The Honey Bee - June 2014

Bowl shape of the apple blossom
This bee has a full load of pollen to take back to the hive
Now is the time of year when honey bees are working hard to make honey by collecting nectar. Don't forget they are actually making it for themselves and their larvae. We humans are robbers and that is why the beekeeper must feed his/her bees during hard times in order to make good this loss. This would include all the wet and windy days when the bees are unable to fly.

At any time in the height of the summer there will be approximately 60 000 bees in the hive most of which are worker bees who are in fact female. There will also be one queen responsible for egg laying and many male drones that do not have specific jobs except to mate with the queen.

Bees see in ultraviolet light and so the way to the nectar is very clearly highlighted on this dandelion
It is now May as I write these notes and the orchards belonging to Thatchers are looking resplendent with blossom. That is also why local beekeepers keep their hives in the orchard. There is a mutually beneficial relationship whereby the trees are pollinated so that they produce large amounts of fruit and the bees are rewarded with nectar and pollen. This is advertisement and reward.

The apple flower has an open dish shape so that it is easily accessible to the bee. Nectar is found at the base of the petal so on its way down the bee must brush against the stamens which hold pollen. Pollen attaches itself to the bee's furry body and some of this pollen is then trapped onto the sticky stigma of the next flower on which the bee alights and so pollination has been achieved. Pollen is very rich in protein and this is particularly fed to the larvae in the hive and has health benefits for humans too. Many other flowers have this same shape especially those plants that are native to the UK for example blackthorn, hawthorn, pears and plums. The bee brushes excess pollen from its furry body into the pollen basket on its hind leg. It can then be taken back to the colony.

The finished product!

This is a frame of honey. Usually it will weigh about 2 pounds. Each hexagonal cell is filled with honey and then capped with wax. Honey is about 80% sugar but nectar is never this high in sugar so the bees must make up the difference as part of the honey making process. Different flowers produce varying strengths of nectar and the clever and experienced bee can choose the flowers producing the best nectar. For example apple nectar is about 25% sugar but dandelions are 50% so dandelions are the most sought after. The cutter behind the frame cuts the comb into pieces that fill the small plastic containers. More commonly though the honey is extracted centrifugally and poured into traditional honey jars.

A 1lb. (454gms.) jar of honey
Worker bees live for only 4 to 6 weeks in the busy season and for most of that time they stay in the hive doing various tasks such as cleaning the hive, removing dead bees, feeding the young ones, guarding the entrance and maintaining the temperature and humidity of the hive. For the last 4 days they go outside and forage for nectar, pollen, wax and water. They work as a team and each as a specific role to play as seen above.

Swarm.jpg - 12.6 KB The 1lb. jar of honey shown on the right represents:
17 300 foraging trips.
One foraging trip lasts about 25 minutes.
During that time each bee visits about 500 flowers.
Each pound of honey contains nectar from around 8.7 million flowers.
Each pound of honey represents about 7.200 hours of labour.

No wonder there are about 60 000workers in the hive and how true is the saying 'busy as a bee.' We can help by growing more flowers especially those that bloom early and late in the year.

Sometimes at this time of year bees may swarm. That is because there are too many bees in the colony and two queens. The old queen leaves and takes a proportion of the workers with her. The queen is not a strong flyer and so she rests protected by thousands of workers whilst scout bees go in search of a home to set up a new colony. If you come across a swarm it is best to leave it alone but be amazed by it. Then contact a local beekeeper - they are listed in the local directories. They will be happy to remove it which is easier than it looks! Or for more information go to the web site of the British Beekeepers Association at

Holes - May 2014

Holes1.jpg - 14.5 KB Many creatures live in holes that are already there or in ones that they have excavated for themselves. These notes are looking at holes in trees.

It's easy to spot holes in trees, but do you know who lives there? It is possible to identify which hole belongs to which species because they leave tell tale signs. The hole was probably originally made when the tree was injured for example when it was weakened by fungal attack or when a limb was broken off.

Many birds and mammals use holes in trees (or throw out their previous occupants) as a place to breed.

Lesser spotted woodpecker
Green woodpecker

Holes to look out for
  • Woodpeckers generally excavate new holes each year, often in wood weakened by fungal attack. Holes are usually a few metres up, but can be quite close to the ground.
  • Some wood chips can be seen at the base of the tree. It can take two weeks to dig out the nesting chamber.
  • Entrance holes are nearly spherical and just big enough for a woodpecker to slip through - 5.5cm diameter for great spotted woodpecker, 6.5cm-7.5cm for green.
  • Cavities from previous years are used by a wide range of other species; starlings can oust woodpeckers from their holes.

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Treecreepers live in large trees. They make small nests concealed behind loose bark or in crevices. The nest is a loose cup about 7.5 cms. across and made of twigs, roots, moss and grass.

Serotine bat
Noctule bat
Both noctule and serotine bats roost in tree holes, often in old woodpecker holes or natural crevices. The trunk below the hole is darkly stained with droppings and urine. In tight crevices the sides of the hole are greasy where the bat has had to squeeze through.

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Again nuthatches use natural crevices or woodpecker nests. The opening of the hole is reduced in size with mud mixed with saliva. This is very hard when dry.

Tawny owl
Tawny owls usually nest in tree cavities but sometimes use rock crevices or the nests of other birds. The holes are often much larger than the owl.

Great tit
Blue tit
Willow tit
Tits generally use natural holes but some such as willow tits may dig their own in rotten wood. Blue and great tits use holes in trees and walls from ground level upwards. The hole is often only a tiny crack through which the bird squeezes with no obvious sign other than slightly worn bark around the hole.

On a much smaller scale
BumbleBee.jpg - 26.1 KB Flower.jpg - 8.8 KB Hopefully readers have seen bumblebees flying plenty of times this year so far. They are always alone and often flying quite near to the ground. They are all queen bees that have survived the winter under the ground and are now looking for food and a nest site for their new colony.

They are searching for a suitable hole in the ground often one that has been used by another inhabitant possibly a mouse or vole. Luckily then some of the nesting material has been provided. These bees are also very hungry and that is why it is important to grow plants that flower early and provide easily accessible nectar for example primroses, hellebores, crocuses, tulips and bluebells.

The site itself may well be suitable but if there is no food nearby then the site may well be unsuccessful. The queen will need food for herself, food to store and food for her young.

Bumblebee queens find vital nourishment for themselves and their new brood from wild primroses.

In fact bumblebees choose many and varied sites: compost heaps, compost bins, manure heaps,rockeries, bird boxes, thick undergrowth, grassy tussocks, leaf litter, under decking, under sheds, ivy covered walls, hedge banks, squirrel dreys, holes in trees, artificial cavities, and under tree roots. In other words she has to be enterprising and imaginative. Here is yet another reason not to be too tidy especially in the spring of the year which goes against the instinct to 'spring clean'.

Plant a Night Scented Garden - April 2014

buddleia.jpgBuddleia davidii 'White Profusion.'
caryopteris.jpgCaryopteris clandonensis
We are all very familiar with butterflies in our gardens but most of us are less familiar with the moths that frequent a garden. This is odd since there are only 59 species of butterfly that breed in the UK and amazingly over 2400 moth species. Perhaps it is because many but not all moths are nocturnal. In fact few of these moths have common names but are known only by their Latin name. On investigation though, some names are much more imaginative than those of the butterfly. Here are some examples Pale Tussock, Vapourer Moth, Lackey moth, Grey Dagger, Dot moth, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Angle Shades, Old Lady, Silver Y, Brindled Beauty and Heart and Dart.

Therefore flowers that release their scent in the evening are a big draw for moths. They also give us the pleasure of sweet perfume, striking silhouettes and a luminous glow. Most are white, yellow or various shades of blue. With the exceptions of Hebe and Honeysuckle all need to be planted in sunny positions.

honeysuckle.jpgHoneysuckle eg. Lonicera 'Graham Thomas.'
cynara.jpgCynara cardunculus (artichoke)
eryngium.jpgEryngium giganteum 'Silver Ghost.'
verbena.jpgVerbena bonariensis
oenothera.jpgOenothera sp. (Evening Primrose)
nicotiana.jpgNicotiana sylvestris (Tobacco plant)
hebe.jpgHebe 'Great Orme.'
jasminum.jpgJasminum officinale (Jasmine)

Moths and butterflies are very similar in their taxonomy and their lifecycle. Both go through the 4 stages of life - egg, caterpillar, larva and finally the adult. How then is it possible to distinguish between a moth and a butterfly? There are some differences but as usual in nature there are always exceptions to each apparent rule. Here are a few differences.

moth2.jpg - 25.5 KB moth1.jpg - 7.8 KB Most butterflies fly during the day and most moths fly during the night.

The best way to indentify a moth is to look at its antennae. A butterfly's antennae have knobs at the end of their feelers and the ends of a moth's antennae are either feather like or plain.

Most butterflies rest with their held up above their bodies whilst most moths rest with their wings spread out flat.
Mostly butterflies have bright wings and moths dull coloured ones.
Most butterflies have slender, hairless bodies whereas moths have a fat abdomen and furry bodies.
Most moths have a tiny hook or bristle hooking the fore wings and hind wings together. Butterflies do not have this hook.

Some more unusual moths
moth3.jpgWhite plume moth
Here is a case for bindweed. This moth flies in June and July and can often be seen during the day if it is disturbed. Its caterpillars only eat bindweed.

The Hawk-moths
Hawk-moths are large, exotic-looking moths. Of the 17 species of hawk-moth in Britain, only 9 are permanent residents. They are supposedly named after hawks because of their size (the largest has a wingspan of 10cm) and ability to hover. You can recognize the larvae by their characteristic horn at the rear end. They tend to be larger than the average caterpillar, growing up to 10cm in length. Many hawk-moth species found in Britain migrate hundreds of miles from Southern Europe and Northern Africa. They are very strong fliers and can reach speeds of up to 15 miles an hour. Many hawk-moths are named after their main food plant, hence the privet, bedstraw, spurge and convolvulus hawk-moths. They mostly feed on trees and various weeds and are unlikely to be a pest in the garden, although some species will feed on fuchsia. moth4.jpg - 13.1 KB To attract hawk-moth adults into your garden, plant honeysuckle, jasmine, petunia or tobacco plants as a source of nectar.

The picture left is the aptly named Death's Head Hawk-moth for obvious reasons. An enhanced image of it was used on the poster to advertise the film 'The Silence of the Lambs.' They are also extremely cunning for they can mimic the scent of honey bees, enter their hives and steal honey!

To find out more about moths try using this site They deal with moths too. Most local conservation groups hold bat evenings during the summer months. Our local one is the Somerset Wildlife Trust based in Taunton or

Beetles! - March 2014

Beetles2.jpg - 8.9 KB Beetles1.jpg - 33.1 KB Beetles are often viewed as garden pests thanks to the bad habits of some such as the lily beetle, death watch beetle and the viburnum beetle. However, there are many different species and some are very useful pest predators in the garden including ground beetles and rove beetles. Some even eat slugs! . In fact they eat far more pests than that including cutworms, snails, fly maggots and gypsy moth maggots. They chew them with their powerful mouth parts.

Beetles are mainly nocturnal so that we are not always aware of them in the garden. They tend to like dark and damp places in the garden or in woods and at the foot of hedgerows. During the day you may find beetles hiding under stones or within rotting wood. They can run very fast when disturbed!

One of the most endangered species of beetle is the stag horn beetle. The horns are, in fact, modified jaws. The male's jaws are more impressive but the female jaws though smaller are more powerful. Although they look quite ferocious they are quite harmless and are a friend to the gardener.

The stag horn's survival is seriously under threat - the main reason for this being the loss of its habitat. This is an all too familiar theme. Its key habitat is decaying and dead wood and our penchant for 'tidying up 'in gardens, woods and parks means the removal of material vital to the beetles' lifecycle. The eggs are laid underground beside logs or stumps of dead trees. The larvae bury into the decaying wood and spend up to 7 years inside whilst going through various changes until they are ready to emerge as adults. This happens between mid May and late July. The adults live very short lives but some may over winter in compost heaps.

How can we help.?
Leave well alone. Allow wood to rot away slowly. The larvae are in fact decomposers because they are slowly eating the decaying wood.

Beetles5.jpg - 9.3 KB Beetles4.jpg - 10.4 KB Beetles3.jpg - 7.3 KB To be more proactive build a loggery. Insert large logs, 10-50 cms. diameter about 60cms. into the ground. Any hardwood would do especially oak, ash, cherry, apple, sycamore, maple but not coniferous or treated wood. Always leave the bark on the logs.

A rather grand loggery at Kew Gardens! (above centre) It is designed to support all creatures that depend on decaying wood for their survival including the stag horn. Perhaps it's simpler just to place a random pile of logs somewhere in a damp place that is in partial shade! (above right)

BAPS These are Biodiversity Action Plans The UK Biodiversity Action Plan was published in 1994 and was the Government's response to the Convention on Biodiversity held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Action plans try to encourage the welfare of our most threatened species and habitats. The stag horn beetle has its own BAP. North Somerset has its own BAP too set up in 2005 and more information about the species and habitats protected are to be found at

What to look for in February and some practical suggestions for wet days - February 2014

Robin2.jpg - 31.2 KB Robin.jpg - 4.5 KB Robins are beginning to make their presence known. They sing in the winter as well as in the spring to lay claim to their territory which may well be a garden. It is likely that a robin will soon spot a gardener digging and will swoop down to catch an unsuspecting worm or grub. They are especially glad of extra food from humans now that most of the hedgerow berries have been eaten up. With patience they will become quite bold. You can just see the robin at the near end of the log but now it is confident enough to feed from the hand.

Have you got enough evergreens (for shelter) and berries in your garden? If not this is the ideal time to plant a new shrub or tree such as pine, holly, yew, rowan or berberis. If you are feeding birds during the winter rats may become a nuisance. It is easier to hang the feeder over concrete or decking so that debris (some birds are very fussy and selective!) can be swept up more easily.

hellebore.jpg - 7.5 KB On milder days - and having winter flowering perennials and shrubs in your garden -there may be visits from bumblebees. They may be queen bees temporarily emerging from hibernation in search of food, in this case pollen or nectar. Hellebores especially Hellebore orientalis are a favourite because they are flowering now.

Notice how accessible the pollen is for a visiting bee.

If you would like to increase the biodiversity of your garden you could build a bug mansion. Below left is a rather up market one built for the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show. Basically it is just made from a few pallets with a variety if fillings but may be a more simple one would be a good start.

Below centre and right is an example of a bug box for insects. such as spiders, ladybirds, lacewings and bees. The various size holes appeal to different species. it will cost very little to make but will give nature a helping hand provide the perfect habitat for the beneficial insects that are welcome in the garden. It will save them a lot of time, energy and searching for the perfect habitat as well. Always use untreated timber when making such artefacts. Of course these at always available to buy on the internet!

Bug Mansion.jpg - 10.9 KB Bug Box 1.jpg - 10.2 KB Bug Box 2.jpg - 27.1 KB
Those holes already used have been sealed.      

Time for a Spring Clean and thinking about new homes - for birds that is - January 2014

Birdbox1.jpg - 9.6 KB The shortest day has come and gone and we can now look forward to lighter evenings! It is time to anticipate the spring of the year. If you have nest boxes in your garden January is a good time to check whether they were used in 2013 and if so to give them a spring clean. The best way is to remove any nests or unhatched eggs and then scrub the inside with hot water to get rid of parasites. The RSPB ( advise against using insecticides or flea powder. Dry thoroughly and then line with wood chips or a little hay - or just leave it empty for the new residents to choose their own lining. One year 5 or 6 of my boxes were used and all the nest builders chose some very bright wool to weave into their nests as shown below.

Birdbox2.jpg - 16 KB If your nest box is made of wood the entrance hole is a weak point and may be exploited by predators especially squirrels. Similarly wood may also rot and it is worth while checking for weak points often found at the back of the box where water drips down between the box and the tree trunk. If you are erecting a box for the first time or want to put up new ones here are a few guide lines for siting them.

Siting your nest box.
The main priority when siting a box must be to provide a safe and comfortable environment in which birds can nest successfully.

  • Direction. Ensure that the box is sheltered from prevailing wind, rain and strong sun light.
  • Shelter. The front of the nest box should be angled vertically or slightly downwards to stop rain from entering.
  • Birdbox3.jpg - 8.1 KB
  • Height. Small hole boxes (for species such as Blue Tit and Great Tit) are best sited 1-3 metres above the ground on tree trunks or on the side of a shed or wall.Species such as Robin and Spotted Flycatcher which nest in open fronted boxes prefer sites that are hidden from view so attach the box to a wall or fence that has shrubs and creepers growing against it. The height of the box is less important than the amount of cover.
  • Protection. Fitting metal plates around the entrance holecan deter predators.
  • Feeders. Never place a nest box close to bird feeders as high levels of activity of visiting birds may disturb nesting pairs.
  • Timing. Pairs start to look for good nest sites in the latter part of February so a box put up well before that has a good chance of being used.

A company called Jacobi Jayne ( make Woodcrete boxes which are virtually indestructible. They are designed to last a life time (guarantee is for 25 years) They can protect the nesting birds from the worst winds, rain and sweltering summer heat. All my boxes are now like this and they are used year after year. There is a box designed for almost any bird that is likely to visit your garden. Here it is and also in other colours and designs.

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News taken from the Somerset Wildlife December 2013 Newsletter.
Badger Cull Update.
The cull in Somerset has now finished and an independent report on the effectiveness of the cull is to follow. The Wildlife Trusts' President, Simon King is asking members of the public to contact their MPs to ask them to support a motion for a debate on the pilot culls before any further action is taken by the Government.

A Good Year for Fungi - December 2013

Fungi2.jpg - 40.1 KB Fungi1.jpg - 33.5 KB This year there have been many different fungi that appear virtually overnight in Sandford Woods where I walk daily. Most do not have a common name just the world wide recognisable Latin name. A few weeks ago I spotted the one on the right which is rather a gelatinous mass and having never seen it before I hoped that it might be unusual but no my reference book pronounced it as 'frequent on trees' Even so I found pleasure in finding it on a felled lime tree. It is called Ascocoryne saroides I think. It is not considered edible.

Fungi4.jpg - 32 KB Fungi3.jpg - 39 KB This Collared Earth Star is a bit battered. They are at their best in October. The sac has possibly been opened by pressure from rain drops and so the many spores inside have been released and the fungus will rot.

A glut of Medlars.
Medlar2.jpg - 39 KB Medlar1.jpg - 42 KB The medlar tree is quite unusual and this year, as for many other fruit, it was a bumper year. The tree is a member of the rose family.

There has been plenty written about the medlar fruit but all agree that the initial taste is disagreeable. The fruit needs to be 'bletted' before it is properly edible. This is done by allowing the fruits to go very soft and pulpy. The process is speeded up by frost. Once bletted a very tasty jelly may be made which has a rich mahogany colour as shown in the picture.

Medlar4.jpg - 23.5 KB Medlar3.jpg - 34.4 KB To make the jelly wash and clean about a kilo of fruit and cut it roughly into quarters. Add water just to cover them. To ensure enough pectin add half a lemon and a small sliced green apple. Simmer the fruit until it is very soft. Next strain the fruit in the usual way. Just boil the juice and add375 gms.of sugar to each 500mls. of water. Boil the mixture until setting point is reached. Lastly pour into jars, seal them and add a label. The jelly can be used with lamb or tasty cheese.

Surplus apples.
At last! Help has arrived to deal with the prolific supply of Bramley apples. I have used them in every possible way that I can think of and carried loads to friends and neighbours but still more fall. Today though, November 23rd. I heard the familiar 'croaking 'of Fieldfares and now there are regular flocks feeding on the apples throughout the day.

Bugs! - November 2013

Ladybird Lava.jpg - 32.7 KB Ladybird.jpg - 29.3 KB We usually talk about the flu bug or a cold bug but these are the bugs to be found living in our gardens. Often they are very small, go about their lives unnoticed and often have several stages in their life cycle. Many are the food source for our more well known & loved creatures such as birds, bats &hedgehogs whilst others take on the task of pollination and/ or hoovering up the many unwanted bugs that thwart our attempts at growing. The 'goodies' are usually called beneficial insects.

Here is a popular one - the ladybird (adult) and her larva. The eggs were laid within a colony of aphids an immediate food source for the hatching larvae.

The ladybird will lay her eggs on material that we well might clear away in the Autumn just to make things tidy. There is no horticultural reason for cutting back perennials so why not let them stay in your garden for the winter and let yourselves and other creatures enjoy them.

Braconid Wasp.jpg - 36.2 KB The ladybird larva is about 5mm. Long and lives on aphids.

The Braconid wasp
Another gruesome way to find food! The adult female of the species injects its eggs into host insects such as amoth caterpillar. The larvae then feed inside their hosts, which include moth and beetle larvae and aphids. The host dies once the larvae have completed development. Grow nectar plants with small flowers, such as dill, parsley, wild carrot, and yarrow, to bring the wasps to your garden.

Teasel.jpg - 43.4 KB Teasel left over winter. They look attractive when etched by frost, provide egg laying sites for tiny insects & the seeds feed goldfinches.

This is the time of the year to treasure mature ivy and hedges rather than trimming them. Ivy flowers now and is an important food for late butterflies, hoverflies and other insects including the honey bee. Teasel2.jpg - 42.6 KB

Hedges that still have berries or nuts are an attraction to birds and small mammals. So again think before you cut them. It won't be too long before all the berries and nuts have gone.

Think in terms of providing shelter as autumn slides into winter. Log piles or mini-piles of canes, twigs or leaves and even compost will be welcome to invertebrates, amphibians and small mammals including hedgehogs.

Some of the pictures came from the Organic Gardening web site & from this site you can find the top 10 beneficial insects &which plants to grow to attract them to the garden.

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End piece.
When collecting the thousands of seeds from inside this poppy I sadly found an amazing winter shelter. Within the chambers inside the poppy seed head a spider had laid her eggs. She must have used the tiny openings shown above as an access point and tens of tiny spiders were scrambling about now unfortunately disturbed. I did not collect any more seeds that day!

Hedgerow Medicine (including my contribution to the War Effort!) - October 2013

Rose Hips1.jpg - 21.4 KB Dog Rose1.jpg - 17.3 KB
The Dog Rose (Rosa canina)
Rose hips contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In the 1930s research established that rose hips, the fruit of the wild rose (dog rose) had 20 or more times the amount of Vitamin C than imported oranges.

During World War Two oranges were hard to import and so the Ministry of Food asked the nation's school children (me) to collect as many rosehips as possible. Therefore in the autumn our head teacher, Mrs. Gray, took the whole school out at sometime during the week to gather the fruit. The school was a tiny one at Glaston in the UK's smallest county, Rutland. What we didn't know as children was that we were paid 3d per pound for the hips collected. The whole thing was organised by local Women's Institutes throughout the country.
Hedgerow Harvest2.jpg - 25.5 KB
In fact the Government produced the pamphlet shown here to encourage other hedgerow collections as well. You can click on it to see an enlarged version.

By 1945 amounts of 450 tons of rose hips or more had been collected to make into syrup. Rosehip syrup made by Delrosa (still in America) was rationed and provided to mothers for their children throughout the war years and for some time afterwards too. A friend, remembers the joy of seeing and eating her first orange in 1950. There was a note of caution with the Government's official wartime instructions which explained that though the flesh of the hips was good for you the seeds grew short, sharp hairs which were possibly dangerous if ingested However they were excellent 'itching powder! (not the Government's advice)

Traditional Rose Hip Syrup.
Measure the volume of rose hips picked
Pour them into a saucepan with half their volume of water (500mls water to 1 litre of hips)
Boil hips and water for 20 minutes (I have since found out that this actually destroys the Vitamin C content?)
Swallows1.jpg - 22.4 KB Strain through muslin or similar
Now for every 2 cups of juice add 1 cup of sugar
Boil for 10 minutes
Pour when still hot into sterilized jars and label
Take a teaspoon or two daily to prevent colds or more frequently as needed for sore throats and colds.

End piece.
Last Thursday at local garden centre I happened to glance upward into the roof space and saw 4 fledgling swallows. They looked about to fly but wondered whether they would possibly survive if they had to begin their massive migration southwards within the next few weeks. Just hope that the weather is warm and dry enough for them to stock up with the maximum amount of insects they can catch.

Look out for bats - September 2013

bat1.jpg - 64 KB Pipistrelles are minute as can be seen from the picture. No wonder they can fit into the tiniest of spaces! Their length is 3-5 cms.and their weight a mere 3.9 gms. Look out for bats like the pipistrelle which is the most common of our native 17 species. Even so like all the others its population has fallen by a staggering 70 per cent between 1970 and 1993. Now all UK species are protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 and it is illegal to harm them or disturb their roosting sites. If you find bats roosting in or near your home (lucky you!) let Natural England know (0300 060 2065 Bristol or or your local bat group. It is wise to seek advice from them before using sprays in the garden or treating your home with chemicals.

Why the decline?
Pipistrelles and other bat species have declined for many possible reasons, including loss of roost sites, toxic treatments of roof timbers, and loss of suitable feeding sites such as hedgerows, ponds and old grassland. Their decline is also partially attributed to the use of chemicals in agriculture to control insect populations, thus depriving the bats of food.

To help maintain pipistrelle bat populations, you could put up a bat box which will provide roosting and safety for the bats, and you could also encourage twilight and night insects by planting night-scented flowers such as honeysuckles or evening primrose. Bats start to hunt about 20 minutes after sunset or earlier in warm weather. They fly between 17 and 34 feet above the ground but much lower over water.

Where do they live?
Bats occupy a wide range of habitats, including grassland, mature woodlands, farms, parks and gardens - as long as there are suitable structures to roost in. They also need hedgerows and wood edges, or man-made linear features, for their protection and navigation. They often prefer open grassy areas surrounded by trees or bushes near waterways or ponds, which provide a water and food source and roosting areas..

Where to find them in the garden
The two most important aspects of a garden to pipistrelle bats are trees and ponds. Mature trees provide roosting, shelter and safety, and they also play a fundamental role in their life cycle. Pipistrelle bats use trees for roosting sites where they can give birth to their young in a protected and sheltered environment and in winter they can safely hibernate in deep crevices. Tree habitats with their associated shrubbery attract a wide variety of insects which bats prey on.

Waterways and ponds provide bats with the water they need to rehydrate, and also attract midges and other flying insects which congregate in their thousands and provide a ready feast for bats.

Garden features which are associated with pipistrelle bats are old trees and bat boxes, undisturbed roofs and hollow walls that have access points, gaps behind drain pipes and between roof felt and tiles.

Bats hibernate from late November to late March, and this is when they are most likely to be found in buildings and tree holes. In warmer months they may have several daytime and temporary roosts.

What to do if you find a bat during the day?
You may come across a grounded bat out in the daylight. The best thing to do is to contact the Bat Conservation Trust 0845 1300 225 and they will give plenty of advice. In the meantime gently pick up the bat and place it in, say, a shoe box lined with a tea towel or similar. Put the box in a shady semi dark place which still has access to the outside and leave it. Chances are it will have recovered enough by the evening to fly away.

PS. The BBC is showing a programme called Britain's Big Wildlife Revival. It is on BBC 1 on Sunday evenings. It profiles some of Britain's most endangered species such as the Barn Owl and how people might adapt their gardens to make life easier for various species.

The Six Spot Burnet Moth - August 2013

moth2.jpg - 10 KB moth1.jpg - 10.2 KB Not all moths fly at night. Look out for this one during a warm (HOT) summer's day.

The Six-spot Burnet Moth is a moth that flies during the day and can be seen now flying amongst long grasses. It is very conspicuous and very strikingly beautiful. The caterpillars will have already fed on Common Bird's-foot Trefoil.

The adults feed on the nectar of knapweed, thistles and other grassland flowers, and females lay their eggs on the caterpillars' food plants. The caterpillars hatch and feed, hibernating over at least one winter. They emerge the following spring and pupate in a papery cocoon attached to grass stems a good reason not to cut all your grass too short!

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How to identify
The adult Six-spot Burnet Moth is glossy black with red spots on the long, narrow wings. There are six similar species of burnet moth in the UK: this is the only one with six red spots on each forewing; the other common species have five spots. Its wings are luminous and they shine out in different sheens according to the light.

sun1.jpg - 5.5 KB The current hot weather is a mixed blessing for wildlife. On the one hand I have never seen so many bees in my garden. Honeysuckle, catmint, perennial wallflowers and echinops are buzzing. Butterflies, too seem to be visiting more now after 2012, officially the worst year on record for butterfly survival..

However, mammals and birds can suffer in the heat as the water and the food they rely on gets more and more in short supply. In dry conditions worms retreat far down in the soil making them unavailable for predators such as blackbirds, robins, hedgehogs and frogs. Slugs and snails also withdraw to cool, shady spots.

A birdbath that is always topped up with water is always a great help. A shallow dish of water on the ground is also useful especially for creatures such as rabbits, badgers and hedgehogs plus their young. Add a few pebbles to the dish so that insects such as bees can crawl over them and access the water easily. The dish needs to be placed in the shade and where you most often see wildlife. Metal containers are not good since they heat up very fast. Instead use plastic such as ice cream containers or plastic plant pot saucers. If the container is deep ensure that anything that falls in can get out again for example by putting a stone inside as a step. You could also scatter mealworms, seeds and nuts on the ground for birds and mammals or leave out a dish of cat or dog meat. Chicken flavour is best. Avoid leaving out bread and milk for hedgehogs as this dehydrates them even further.

If the hot weather continues for too long as well it might plants in the wild will shrivel and die so that bees and butterflies will find it harder to forage for food. Our gardens can possibly provide a bit of a lifeline for these insects if we water some of our plants to keep them thriving.

Nature's masquerading insects. The Bee Fly. (Bombylius major) - July 2013

BeeFly1.jpg - 15.9 KB Is this a bee? It is actually a fly that has made itself look like a bee. The sure way to tell which is which is to look at the number of wings. Flies have just one set of wings whereas bees have two. This fly has protected itself from other predators by looking fierce like a bee with a very dangerous sting. However this is not a sting at all but a proboscis that delves deep into flowers to find nectar. They are therefore quite harmless to humans.

Bee flies may be harmless to humans but they are not with other insects. Adults fly close to the ground searching for the nests of solitary bees, wasps and beetles. When they find one they hover over the nest entrance and dip their abdomen into the hole where they lay their eggs. That is the end of parental duties for when the larvae hatch they feed on the bee, wasp or beetle larvae. They are parasites.

Summer is a good time to see insects generally. Many only appear at this time of the year so it is possible to see a greater variety than normal. Some insect adults and their larvae rely on different plants for their survival. Other larvae live off smaller invertebrates, including and especially those that are pests to humans such as aphids.

Hoverflies are a good example. Some species of hoverfly lay their eggs on plants that are likely to have aphids on them. Then when the hoverfly larvae hatch they feed voraciously on the aphids. When they become adults they switch food completely and feed off nectar instead. They have very short mouth parts so need open flowers like fennel or members of the daisy family. Hoverflies too are good pollinators. It is easy to see what happens if you try to rid your garden of all aphids by the use of sprays especially the Ultimate Bug Killer which is available in most garden centres!

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An adult hoverfly

Hoverfly larva attacking an aphid

The Natural History Museum has an excellent web site if you would like to know more about insects.

The Roe Deer - June 2013

roe deer 1.jpg - 28.1 KB Our native roe deer is unique in that the doe can delay her fawn's birth until the optimum time that is late May or early June about now in fact. The rutting season is in July or August and that is the only time that the roe comes into season. After the egg has been fertilised it travels to the uterus and stays there for 5 months 'floating'. This unattached embryo controls its own growth in the uterus. At the end of December or early January it is genetically programmed to reactivate from its delayed implantation. The embryo actually sends a message to its mother in the form of a protein. When the mother receives the message she starts a chain effect of hormones which enables the embryo to start its growth very rapidly. After a short period of very fast growth the embryo attaches itself to the inner wall of the uterus making the final link with its mother through the placenta and normal growth follows for 5 more months. Thus it has taken about 10 months for the baby to develop and this is called delayed implantation. This is a very successful strategy. In the autumn the 'floating ' embryos are making little demand on her and so she can build up her reserves to see her through the winter and then in spring she can make up for the loss of reserves ready for the birth in May or June. She is most likely to have twins.

Spot the rump!
roe deer 2.jpg - 44.7 KB A distinctive feature of the roe deer is its white rump common to both the male and female. The picture on the left was taken in Sandford Woods where once deer were very common and it was always possible to sit and watch them with my dogs. Now, however, deer are rarely seen. I assume that they have been culled. Deer are well camouflaged, blending in well with the undergrowth especially in the winter months when their coat is a greyish fawn colour much like the undergrowth. In the summer though, that coat turns to a foxy red colour. Therefore it is best to try to spot the white rump and then fit the body shape around it!

Resist the temptation to rescue an apparently abandoned baby deer!
Kids are born in the May or June. Newly born young can sometimes be seen lying among bracken, brambles or grass. They have not been abandoned but simply left, camouflaged by their spotted coats whilst their mother feeds.

It has little or no scent so if it lies very still it is well protected from predators The doe will be close by and will return to suckle them every 2 or 3 hours day and night..Probably the only thing that prevents her from returning is the human being and/or their dog! roe deer 3.jpg - 110.6 KB

However, parents do get killed on roads or killed by dogs or humans leaving orphaned babies. It is important that these deer are not moved. If in doubt about whether the deer is orphaned seek advice (see below) The young deer will usually start to wander off when mum does not return. If found in an exposed place- not hidden- and at risk say from dog walkers then the baby deer may well have been abandoned. Do not move the deer unless advised to. The success rate of hand rearing is usually low and those that are successfully hand reared do not thrive after re-release into the wild.

I need advice.
The British Deer Society 01425 655434
Secret World Animal Rescue Centre and telephone: 01278 753250

Nettles! They are not to be despised! - May 2013

nettles1.jpg - 13.3 KB Most of us realise that nettles are edible and do you good but we may be reluctant to eat them because they sting! The sting disappears once the nettle is cooked. In fact nettles provide us with iron, vitamins and essential minerals too. Here is a simple recipe to try - nettle soup. It comes from the book 'Wild Food' by Roger Phillips.
Preparing Nettles
Firstly prepare the nettles. Use only young leaves before they flower. Wash and drain them.
Making Nettle Soup
Chop up the potatoes, onion and garlic and sauté them in a 2 litre saucepan with a splash of olive oil and a bit of butter to taste. When the onion starts to soften and the potato is forming a slight crust, drop in the nettles and give them a quick whisk around with a spatula. Then add a litre of boiled water and your stock. Stir it all up and let it bubble for about 12 minutes, or until the potato is soft. Put it through a liquidiser once it has cooled, then return to the pan to warm it when you are ready to serve. To serve, pour the soup into a bowl and add some cream.

Nettle soup freezes well.

Even more important is that most of our favourite butterflies depend on nettles as the only food for their caterpillars. Here they are:-

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The Comma and the peacock

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The Red Admiral and the Small Tortoiseshell

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These butterflies are not very fussy about their food sources. They will enjoy nectar from a wide range of garden flowers. However their caterpillars can be very specific and so it would help to boost their declining numbers if we provided a small nettle patch in a sunny corner of the garden.

The Ash tree ( Fraxinus excelsior) - April 2013

ash tree

Ash die back could become a major worry in our area in 2013. It is caused by a fungus called Chiara fraxinea.

butterfly1 bullfinch The effects on wildlife and our landscape if the disease takes hold will be severe. The ash is a majestic and major hedgerow tree. Its seeds provide food for many small mammals and birds especially the shy but splendid bullfinch. The trees are also important as mating points and a food source for butterflies including the rare brown hairstreak.

On the Mendip ash trees comprise up to 90 per cent of the tree cover in mixed woodlands.

Since the ash is late coming into leaf the generous light encourages many of our iconic spring flowers such as bluebells and primroses. They also host lichens and are a food source for countless insects.

The Somerset Wildlife Trust is planning to take remedial action in order to limit some of these effects. They plan to plant downy or silver birch to replace ash because these trees grow fast and provide reasonable light to the woodland floor. Even so the policy is not to clear fell or burn ash unless they pose a threat to health and safety. Instead the plan is to leave stricken trees in situ so that trees with a natural resistance can be identified and used to propagate new trees in the hope that they will show the same immunity.
So when our spring finally arrives be vigilant and look out for trees that may be suffering and report your findings to the Somerset Wildlife Trust ( giving a clear location - ideally an OS grid reference.

April now and soon the first swallows, house martins and swifts will be arriving so maybe you record a date for the first arrivals?

How you can help bumblebees - March 2013

bumblebee Spring hopefully will soon be arriving and the first bumblebees will be emerging from their underground winter homes. The queens especially will be looking for food. Nectar and pollen are what they are after and this search can use up a huge amount of energy. Early flowers like crocus, hellebores, bluebells and primroses are very welcome but you can supplement this especially if the weather is particularly cold or even worse cold and windy. Make up a solution of 3 parts sugar and 7 parts water. (not an exact science!) Place this in a lemonade bottle top and place it in the shelter amongst some flowering plants, eg. heather.

Try this web site for more tips:

If you should see a bumblebee crawling on the ground and apparently unable to fly just pick it up gently, take it indoors and give it the sugar water. Soon it will gain energy and be able to fly again.

It is vital to provide a succession of flowers all the year round for all flying insects especially early and late in the season. Now is the time to think about suitable plants. Sowing annual and half hardy annuals is a cheap and quick way to supply attractive and nectar rich plants. For example alyssum is a ground cover plant, full of flower over a long period. Others would include cosmos, nicotiana (moths enjoy these).

This is quote from an article by Rebecca Powell, a local wild life gardener:

'Benefits of growing flowers in the veg patch: By growing ranks of flowers among the vegetables you will be doing the insects a favour. They will be drawn in by the sugary nectar and in turn will help pollinate not only the flowers but your vegetables at the same time, so the flowers are a bonus for everyone. Hoverflies and bees in particular are attracted by cosmos, verbena and marigolds, to name just a few flowers, while night flying moths are drawn to nicotianas.
Having both veggies and flowers in the same part of the garden meant it was easy to keep an eye on both in terms of weeding and watering, '

Another excellent web site to get you up with wildlife gardening is :

Taking stock ready for 2013 - February 2013

helebores It's February and it's still wet so nothing much to be done outside in the garden. Now is a good time to reflect on last year and how wildlife had to cope with the huge contrasts of drought early in the year and then heavy rain and winds. Plan your garden to give maximum help to insects as they try to recover from last year's weather. Build nectar rich borders in sheltered sunny places and try to ensure that something is in flower for every season. It's a good time to peruse garden catalogues for the right seeds or plants. Nowadays helpful guidance is given, in the form of symbols, as to the benefit of each plant for wildlife.

For example Hellebores flower very early in the year and because they are single flowered they are very accessible to early flying insects looking for sustenance. They are so easy to grow even in shade and have a very long flowering period.

Hellebore orientalis

fox Many invertebrates are good for our gardens so help them out during the worst weather by giving them shelter in the form of log or stone piles.

Winter is the time of year to hear the rather blood curdling cry of foxes. They will be mating and establishing territory and this is a very vocal affair. Only 53 days after mating cubs will be born so about now the vixen is looking for a suitable place to give birth.

A very interesting web site for finding out more about wildlife is Wild About Gardens produced by the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) at

Starlings - January 2013

I nearly forgot but it's not quite too late to see this amazing sight - a murmuration of starlings. starlings
Watch a flock of starlings form a Murmuration
Every year between Autumn and February, Somerset starlings flock together over the Somerset Levels & Moors to create huge and magnificent starling murmurations. The starlings form into sweeping ball like shapes in their thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands before flying down and roosting in the trees. Although the murmurations can be seen across the Somerset Levels, the best places to see them are at - the National Nature Reserves of Westhay Moor and Shapwick Heath and RSPB Ham Wall. All these sites are within 2 miles of Shapwick which is near Glastonbury.

Highlighting BRERC - January 2013

BRERC horseshoe bat vole-620_1876939b
Calling all nature lovers!
If you've been lucky enough to spot any greater horseshoe bats, water shrews, water voles or otters, any information or photos on these, (and also on other species) the Bristol Environmental Records Centre (BRERC) would very much like to hear from you. They're also keen to have other environmental information.

What BRERC does: BRERC collects species and geological data from anywhere in North Somerset. It aims to collect, collate collate, manage and disseminate environmental data for the 'Avon' area , and relies heavily on the general public sending information to them . If you would like to know more, the website address is .. If you would like to send in some data, a Species Recording Form can be downloaded from the website.

otter water shrews Our local focus: In N. Somerset the Local Biodiversity Action Plans concentrate on these species in particular- the greater horseshoe bat, water shrews, water voles and otters . Data on these would be especially welcome. Habitats such as species rich grassland woodlands, estuaries, streams, and marshes are also highlighted. For specific detail see this web site-

What BRERC data is used for: One of the uses for the data collected is for planning enquiries. Another is when Biodiversity Action Plans ( BAPS) ) are being set up. Our local BAPS are shown on this website:

How you can help: As well as any data on the greater horseshoe bat, water shrews, water voles and otters, BRERC is pleased to receive any data, for example giving details of where there are bluebell woods, swallow nests, bat roosts, venerable trees, unusual plants, and habitats used by toads, newts and so on. On miserable days or evenings (and there are plenty of these!) why not go through your wildlife photos, and send BRERC any you think might be of interest ?

A chance to take part: The Centre is always looking for volunteers to process data, so why not get in touch with them, if this appeals to you.

The Fieldfares are back! - December 2012

fieldfares1 fieldfares1 fieldfares1 Fieldfares begin to arrive in the UK en-masse from the north in the autumn. I heard their familiar harsh clamorous sound during the last week of October in my garden. They, like the redwing, are members of the thrush family their formal name being Turdus pilaris. They tend to move around in flocks unlike our own resident thrush that is more solitary and has a most beautiful song. They have migrated from Scandinavia in search of warmer weather and food especially berries like hawthorn but in summer they will return northwards. About 750,000 arrive in the UK annually. Fieldfares gather in fields especially pastures but if you would like to encourage them to your garden just leave out some fruit. They especially like apples and will compete very belligerently with blackbirds and native thrushes to get their share.

Redwings are our smallest thrush. They also migrate from Scandinavia in the winter but are more shy and are less frequent visitors to gardens unless the weather is very cold but keep a look out all the same.

In my garden the nuthatch is a new and very bossy visitor to the bird feeder. I am not sure why this is. Are they especially hungry this year or have they just realised that there is a much easier food source available? The smaller birds are certainly wary of them so maybe an extra feeder is called for. They too are easily recognised and always feed upside down on the feeder.

More partnerships in Nature. The Oak and the Jay. - November 2012

Jay1 Jay2

Jays are woodland birds so look out for the moulted brilliant turquoise wing feathers as you walk along woodland paths.

I have just been looking at all the oak trees in my lane and the footpaths that join onto it and I have not seen a single acorn. I wonder why? I assume that like our apple and plum trees the flowers were just not pollinated in the spring time. This cannot be because of a lack of bees though or that the bees were unable to fly at the right time. Oak flowers are pollinated by the wind. Perhaps the excessive rain prevented the flight of pollen by the wind?

As usual there will be a knock on effect because jays use acorns as one of their main food sources. In fact they gather them and hide them ready for the winter. An individual jay may collect as many as 5000 acorns. Even better jays may not need their whole store and this may be a significant factor in the regeneration of oak woods because the acorns are able to germinate away from the shade of the parent tree. A jay can carry as many as 5 acorns at a time and tests show that they can actually remember where they have hidden their stores.

Oak1 Apparently the lack of acorns is a widespread problem this year and jays may be forced to migrate to areas where acorns are more plentiful so this will have an effect on the jay population of the new area.

Jays also eat peanuts so more may visit bird tables this year. It will be interesting to see whether this is the case so be prepared to see more of this splendid and rather shy bird and keep up your supply of winter nuts if possible.

It is not unusual for there to be boom and bust years in acorn production and this seems to be the latter. Other creatures are likely to suffer as well.

As a postscript I noticed a dearth of ash keys as well. Have any other readers noticed the same?


Butterflies love a rotting apple

Now that it is officially autumn some of our late butterflies may be looking for food. We are getting used to supplying nectar by growing special flowers for them: at this time of year Asters, Sedums and Caryopteris are especially good. However rotting apples also provide nectar as this Red Admiral has found. Commas, Speckled Woods and Peacocks may also join in.

So as it comes to apple picking time for storing over the winter why not leave a few fallers on the ground now or even throw out one or two if you have some wrinkled ones in your fruit bowl that you will never eat. You will be rewarded by seeing butterflies flocking to the feast! If you take a stroll outside after dark you may also see moths feeding on the fruit.

It doesn't have to be apples. Plums, pears and even banana skins will do.

butterflies2 butterflies3 butterflies4


Just a reminder!
The only food that the caterpillars of our best loved butterflies will eat comes from this plant!
The common nettle.
No nettles no butterflies. It's that straight forward

Some plants to attract birds to the garden (for food)

Most trees will attract birds to the garden. They provide nesting sites, shelter and food such as seeds and berries.
Smaller trees and shrubs.
Apple (Malus)
Berberis (Berberis stenophylla)
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
Elder (Sambucus niger)
Forsythia. (Forsythia spp.)
Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea)
Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
Snowberry (Symphoricarpas spp.)
Spindle. (Euonymus europaeus)
Blackberry (Rubus spp.)
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Pernettyas (Pernettya mascula)
Cherry (Prunus spp.)
Roses (Rosa spp.)
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Dogwood (Cornus spp.)
Fruit bushes eg. Blackcurrant (Ribes)
Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoida)
Privet (Ligustrum vulgare)
Wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana)

Ivy (Hedera spp.)
Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)

Native wild plants and garden annuals and perennials.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Evening primrose (Oenothera bienna)
Groundsel (Senecio vulgare)
Scabious (Scabiosa)
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris)
Thistles (Cirsium spp.)
Meadow-sweet. (Filipendula ulmaria)
Poppy (Papaver spp.)
Verbascum (Verbascum spp.)
Grasses. Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
Nettles (Urtica)

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

It is advisable to check whether the plants that you choose are suited to your needs. For example some berries may be poisonous. Now onwards throughout the autumn is an ideal time to plants trees and shrubs but NOT a good time to trim hedges if they contain berries or nuts. Just wait a little longer until the birds have polished them off!

Take your partners

Or, why the world needs all those plants we might otherwise see as weeds

A focus on the Cinnabar moth, and ragwort, with other members of the Senecio family.
moth ragwort

The Cinnabar moth and its caterpillar.

The Cinnabar moth is named after the ore of mercury, which is red.

Plants and insects have evolved together over millions of years. The cinnabar moth (Tyna jacobaeae) is an example.

The adult moth is quite happy to live on nectar from a variety of plants. However in its earlier stage, the caterpillar, it most certainly is not. The caterpillar will only eat the leaves of plants in the Senecio family and specifically ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).

Here is a dilemma, for ragwort is deadly poisonous to horses, cattle and sheep and should be eradicated from fields where horses, cattle or sheep graze, or if the field is to be used for sileage or hay. It can be equally deadly in hay.

Where then can ragwort grow? If it is eradicated altogether, the Cinnabar moth and 30 other species that depend on the plant will be seriously threatened. The Cinnabar moths and those other species that eat plants in the Senecio family are all part of the all-important chain of feeders, pollinators, and food, without which the natural world cannot survive in balance.

Because priority is given to horses, cattle, sheep, and other domesticated animals, ragwort is not commonly found on cultivated land. That is why ragwort tends only to survive on the verges of roads and motorways and on railway embankments. It is a common plant on derelict land too - all places that tend not to be used by grazing domesticated animals.

This is yet another example of why we need wild places where nature can find its balance. Even a small area of wildplants in your garden, or on the neglected strip of land near your home, has worth and beauty, and will help to keep insects like the cinnabar moth from extinction.

Ivy - a real winner in the garden


Ivy has everything including a bad reputation!
Here are its virtues:

  • Evergreen.
  • Grows in the shade where few other plants grow.
  • Provides shelter for insects which in turn provide food for birds.
  • Provides shelter for small birds such as wrens in cold weather when deciduous trees are bare. A tiny bird can lose one quarter of its body weight in a single cold night.
  • An overwintering place for butterflies such as the Brimstone.
  • Flowers very late in the year - November/December. Therefore provides pollen and nectar for pollinating insects especially honey bees and late flying butterflies. Honey bees store some pollen in their hive as a source of protein for their young in the spring.
  • Berries provide winter feed for thrushes, blackbirds and even redwings and fieldfares. The berries ripen when most other berries have been eaten.
  • Flower buds provide food for Holly Blue butterfly.
  • Useful for Christmas decorations!

No doubt there are evils but maybe we should overlook those! Alternatively allow ivy to grow in just one area of the garden.

Attracting bees to your garden

honeybee2 honeybee3

It may not be possible for most of us to recognise the several hundred bee species that visit our gardens but it may be possible to plant the right flowers to attract many of these bees. Bees and plants evolved together over millions of years and so many plants have adapted to suit particular bees. It is a matter of tongue length - short medium or long. Click here to see the full anatomy of a honey bee.

We depend greatly on bees to pollinate our flowers both in agriculture and in our own gardens. This is because bees visit flowers for pollen and nectar both for themselves and for their young (larvae). Other insect larvae such as hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds are carnivorous feeding on aphids especially. Therefore the adults do not have the laborious energy consuming task of foraging for food for them.

It is all a matter of advertisement and reward. A flower advertises that it has food by the use of colour and scent. Bees search for nectar which is usually hidden at the base of the petals. That is their reward. In return pollen from the ripe stamens falls onto the bee's furry coat. When the bee alights onto the next flower some of the pollen hopefully sticks onto the ripe stigma and so the flower also has a reward - cross pollination.

There are just 6 flower shapes that bees need. They are:

    beeonaster beeonsnowdrop beeonbuddlea
  1. Dish eg. most of the Aster family, brambles, raspberries, mallow, cherry, apple. Bees can scramble all over the flowers, find nectar and pollen easily and so save valuable energy
  2. Bell or funnel eg. bluebells, bellflowers, convolvulus, crocus, snowdrop. The bee has to crawl right inside the flower and so would be of medium size.
  3. Tube eg. Hebe, verbena, heathers, buddleia. The bee needs a long tongue to search out the nectar.
  4. beeonwillow beeonpea beeonsnapdragon
  5. Brush. eg. willows. The stamens are very accessible and exposed so that the pollen is easily transferred.
  6. Flag eg. pea family. In this case the stamens are on the lower petal and so the bee brushes by the pollen as it reaches into the flower.
  7. Gullet eg. foxglove, yellow archangel, sage, snapdragon, woundwort, iris. In these flowers the stamens are on the upper petal so the bee has to brush off the pollen as it pushes its way through.

It is vital to provide plants early and late in the season when it is most difficult for bees to find food. Ivy is an excellent source of pollen for honey bees late in the year. Nectar is sugar and different plants provide it in different strengths and different amounts. Bees can find this out! They prefer nectar with 40 per cent sugar or more. It saves them time and energy. Dandelions are the best with 50 per cent sugar content. Back in the hive bees concentrate the sugar up to 80 per cent - honey to us.