Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Green light means GO!

Green! Shades of green, lime green, emerald green, moss green are everywhere, dappled in the sunlight.  This is the time of year when you look around and suddenly see the change from dormancy into life.  In an almost blink-and-you-miss-it timeframe, the brown, grey dead looking winter landscape has exploded with colour as all the hedgerows, tree’s and fields pop their swollen buds and burst into leaf.  Field upon field of Rapeseed stretch away to the horizon, like a golden yellow cloak and wild flowers such as Wood Anemone, Celandine and of course Bluebell are decorating our woodland floors with a beautiful display of colour and scent.  I always think Wood Anemones’ look like hundreds of tiny stars scattered across the ground flora, whilst Celandines resemble bright, glowing suns.  And then of course, we have the Bluebell, another fantastic indicator of ancient woodland (ancient woodland being defined as woodland that has existed on a site since AD1600 or before) and one of our most recognised wild flowers.  Both our Mottisfont estate and our stretch of woodland at Curbridge Nature Reserve, on the River Hamble, produce stunning Bluebell displays, and this year has been no exception.  Wild flowers that are considered ancient woodland indicators are considered so for several reasons, including the fact that they are slow colonisers and therefore if they are present, then their seedbank must have been present for a long time, and also that they are generally only found in woodland.

Starry Wood Anemones

And glowing sun-like Celandines

As I stood on top of Stockbridge hill fort a few weeks ago, looking down across the site I also noticed that it was a perfect time to distinguish two of our main thorn species.  Whilst I can ID Hawthorn and Blackthorn both from a winter twig and in leaf, some people may not.  That day, in early April, the site was a patchwork of white blossom covered bushes and lime green ones; the Blackthorn, which flowers before the leaves bud, was displaying its blossom, whilst the Hawthorn, which produces leaves before flowers, was bursting with green buds.  It made for a very pretty sight – so if you are ever unsure if a bush is Blackthorn or Hawthorn, wait until early April and see if it produces flowers or leaves first.  Failing that, you could also prick yourself on a thorn from the bush and if it goes septic, it is likely Blackthorn, as it has a tendency to infect wounds via a fungus found under its bark that causes the body to react to it – but I would not recommend this as a way of getting an ID….

See the two different bushes? White blossomed Blackthorn and Green leaved Hawthorn...

Talking of Stockbridge, of course I have to update you on the butterflies that are popping out, with every passing week.  The last couple of weeks of warm sunny weather have produced this year’s fresh crop of early emerging species; I have seen Grizzled Skippers fighting with each other on my butterfly transect, Small and Large Whites fluttering by trying to confuse themselves with female Orange tips and even the first Holly Blues are adding a welcome splash of azure to the show.
Grizzled Skipper

 But, best of all, best of ALL, is the evidence emerging that our clearance work we undertook by the Down, in conjunction with the Butterfly Conservation Trust, has come up a triumph:  Duke of Burgundies and Pearl Bordered Fritillaries have been dancing and mating on the site already, spotted by myself and several other keen butterfly enthusiasts – how my heart warmed to see a shiny, perfect, Pearl Bordered Fritillary, basking in the sun in our cleared area.  I was delighted with such success so early on in the season and can only again thank our volunteers who helped with the work, and the BCT who helped fund further works.
A beauty of a Pearl Bordered, taking in a bit of shade

The Handsome Duke of Burgundy.

From Stockbridge, let us fly back to Hamble, where I have carried out a couple of guided walks for staff and volunteers over the last week.  These were a great success with everyone very enthusiastic and complimentary about the site – most people had not been to Hamble before as it is our furthest out site, a good 45 minutes from Mottisfont, and therefore often overlooked by people who do not realise it exists.  However, if you do make an effort to find it, you are rewarded by the rich stretch of ancient woodland with its displays of wild flowers.  The Bluebells here are fabulous, and along with the other ground flora, Fairy Clocks and the Fairy Tree, the whole woodland has a mystical air about it.  Solomon ’s seal, Dogs Mercury, Wild Garlic and Jack by the Hedge, all were out in force showing themselves off to the visitors – I took some of the Wild Garlic leaves home to make oil and pesto out of, and to add to meals.  The downside was that it has stunk my truck out so completely, that I can still smell garlic in there today and, no doubt, for ever more…

As I took the group out onto Hard Field, the field at the end of the woodland which I have started having cut for hay late each year in  order to encourage a wild flower meadow, they were dazzled by a huge cloud of pinkish white flowers in the middle of the meadow; Ladies Smock.  Also known as the fairy flower (another hint at Hamble’s fairy woodland) and the Cuckoo flower, as it flowers around the time you first hear the Cuckoo’s call, it is also one of the egg laying plants of the Orange tip butterfly.  I had everyone peering under the flowers to try and spot an orange tip egg but all we found were St Marks Flies, which were droning around hanging their long black legs down, in honour of the following day which was their name day.  The presence of such a large area of Ladies Smock made me feel that our late hay cut had done a good job in removing dominant vegetation and allowing a wider diversity of species to come through – I shall be interested to see what the rest of the summer brings in terms of flora, to this meadow.   

Peering under a Ladies Smock....

To find an Orange Tip egg - see it?

Walking back through the woodland, getting tantalising glimpses of the estuary, we also found a group of Wild Service trees that I knew to exist on site, but hadn’t yet located.  Once a common tree found often along track ways and old roads (hence its nickname of wayfaring tree), it is now fairly rare and found predominantly in ancient woodland and hedges.  This and the added combination of huge Ash and Field Maple stools that stand on the boundary banks like guardians of this ancient place all, once again, point to a woodland that has been present here for hundreds of years, a silent sentry,  watching the endless rising and falling of the estuary tide.


No comments:

Post a Comment