Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Emeralds and Sapphires

'In Emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue and white; like Sapphire, pearl and rich embroidery'

Shakespeare had it right when he compared flowers to precious stones.  The Bluebells here around our estate have finally burst into life with a tidal wave of deep violet blue that has flooded through our woodlands.  Dotted here and there with the glint of a golden Celandine and the sparkle of a star like Stitchwort, the wild flowers are really putting on a show.
I took this photo of our wood land alongside the Hamble Estuary, one of our best sites for Bluebells.

Even though the photo was taken on my phone, you still get a taste for the visual spectacle here.
Bluebells are one of our most iconic woodland flowers and we have half the world's population here in the UK, but they are under threat from their Spanish cousin.  Spanish Bluebells are a garden planted flower that have escaped out into the countryside where they cross pollinate with English Bluebells and so pose a risk to the genetics of the English species.  You will now find both Spanish and the hybrid of Spanish and English Bluebells present in the countryside alongside our native Bluebells.  Spanish Bluebells tend to be in more open areas, have flowers all the way round the stem and not carry a scent.
English Bluebells are found in wooded, shady areas, have flowers that hang off one side of the stem which droops over in a curve and the sweet smell of them is unmistakeable.  English Bluebells can also be white, but if you see a pink one then it is likely a hybrid crossbreed.

You can watch the clip from ITV Meridian that contains me talking to the weather man about Bluebells by following this link: 

In amongst the Bluebells I spotted something that looked more like lumps of coal than a precious stone.  It turned out to be a wealth of King Alfred Cakes, the fungus that grows predominantly on dead Ash trees.  These fungi are fantastic at holding an ember and can be used to light fires.  Once they are dried out, if you break one open the inner part of the fungi can be lit and will be very slow burning like a charcoal ember.  Once it is lit and glowing, you can put it in amongst tinder (like straw or twigs) and get a fire started.  I demonstrated this at my bushcraft event in February, and both children and parents had a great time puffing and blowing on their King Alfred Cake in a ball of straw - it got a bit competitive in the end, seeing who could get a flame first!

This dead Ash was covered in Cakes.

From Sapphire woodlands to Emeralds in the Heather - let me show you a fantastic creature I was lucky enough to come across the other weekend on a sandy, heathland site in Hampshire.

This was the dominant male basking.  See how he flattens his body to absorb the maximum amount of heat across a surface area.
 It is prime mating season for the Sand lizard and whilst exploring this site I saw at least 7 fine Emerald coloured males, all basking on their own little sunny patch of moss.  In one patch of heather I saw 3 different males and then I also got lucky and managed to spot a female lurking under some heather - closely followed by the dominant of the 3 males who proceeded to woo her.  However, he seemed slightly at a loss as to what he was meant to do as he would get as far as scenting the female and biting her tail but in all the time I was watching he couldn't seem to figure out the next bit - she got so bored that whilst she was patiently standing there, she took the opportunity to catch a small invertebrate snack that passed within reach.  There was something very amusing about watching the glazed eyed female chewing away in a resigned manner whilst the male was wandering around her and leaning his chin on her back in a slightly baffled way.
After about half an hour I left them to it - hopefully he figured it out....