30 Days Wild – Day 24 – Up on the Downs and Down by the Sea

We travelled up to Martin Down in the morning, specifically Kitts Grave the part of the reserve that belongs to the Wildlife Trust. This area of the reserve is a patchwork of chalk grassland and scrub, this type of diverse, herb rich habitat with lots of shelter is preferred by lots of insects, it offers lots of possibilities.

musk thistle with marbled white 2

musk thistle and marbled white

Plants like thistles and knapweeds are very good nectar sources used by lots of insects.

greater knapweed

greater knapweed

The scrub offers both shelter and an additional variety of flowers, bramble being very important and popular. I found the large hoverfly Volucella inflata feeding on a bramble flower.

Volucella inflata

Volucella inflata (female)

As I was photographing it a male flew in and mating took place.

Volucella inflata pair mating

Volucella inflata pair mating

A few years ago when at Old Winchester Hill I found a rare bee-fly, the downland villa Villa cingulata , at the time it was only the second Hampshire record in recent times. It appears it has been spreading as I found several, easily five or more, egg-laying females at Kitts Grave, I am not sure if they are recorded from there before.

Downland Villa

Downland Villa Villa cingulata

We saw a good range of butterflies including very recently emerged silver-washed fritillary and white admiral.

We retired home during the heat of the afternoon so I was briefly in the garden….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One plant I was keen to establish was lady’s bedstraw, it has tiny yellow flowers unlike most of our bedstraws which have white flowers. It grows on dry chalk soils mainly but also turns up on dry sandy areas even in acid areas.

lady's bedstraw

lady’s bedstraw

I seem to have only got one plant to establish but it is spreading to form quiet a significant patch.

Once the day started to cool we ventured down to the coast to Lepe Country Park. Years ago I established another meadow area at this site, although in this case it was from a deep ploughed cereal field, it is now a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) for its wildflower community. Creating grasslands of real wildlife value is relatively easy and gets quick results, helping to redress the massive loss of these habitats. Planting trees is much more popular, despite the fact that it will probably take hundreds of years for them to achieve significant value for wildlife. As anyone who manages open habitat will know trees will colonise and grow quite happily without encouragement. In fact colonising trees are one of the threats to herb-rich grasslands.

However we were on the beach, looking at beach species. Stabilised sand and shingle has its own specialist plants, one of which is sea spurge.

sea spurge

sea spurge

Rather more attractive is the yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

The long pods which give this poppy its name can be seen in this shot.

It was getting late and there were lots of small moths flying about, in the end I managed to get a picture of one, it was a Pyralid moth, quite a common one found in a variety of dry habitats, called Homoeosoma sinuella.

Homoeosoma sinuella

Homoeosoma sinuella

Off the beach an adult gannet was flying about, quite a regular sight in The Solent these days.

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30 Days Wild – Day 24: Wild in the Garden

Gardens are also habitats, domesticated but at the same time with potential to be wild. They are very diverse and cover a large area when totalled together, but they are also dynamic, styles of gardening change over time and with changes of ownership. So however good for wildlife they might become they are individually precarious places for wildlife. An example of this is the change that happened to the garden of my former home, after twenty years something of a wildlife haven with breeding grass snake and slow worm, the new owners filled the pond, laid the whole to grass and fenced it to allow their dogs to roam safely. This is not to say that having a wildlife garden for twenty years was a waste of time. Lots of species will have benefited and most will have spread out to new homes and they will mostly have been species that are good at moving around to have got to my garden in the first place.

The more people that can find space for wildlife in their gardens the more “stepping stone” patches that wildlife can use to move about, potentially connecting populations and reducing local extinctions.

garden meadow

Lady’s bedstraw now flowering in our back garden mini-meadow

Such little patches of grassland will not make a huge difference on their own but when added to other nearby patches in other gardens, on road verges and playing field edges might add up to enough to support populations  of many insects such as this robberfly.

Dioctria baumhaueri

Dioctria baumhaueri with prey

Robberflies are predators, so if the habitat can support a predator it must also be supporting populations of its prey, the presence of predators is a positive sign.

It has been for sometime a mantra of conservationists that  we need a countryside that has habitats that are “Bigger, Better and more Joined-up”. Larger areas will support more species and be more resilient to species loss. It is useful if the patches actually join, so are contiguous, but if not then as close as possible with stepping stones or, better still, corridors between them. Contiguity, or if you prefer continuity of area is important as is continuity in time. Very short-lived bits of habitat will hold fewer species than ancient sites with very little change. Some specialists thrive on change and to do well need bare, new sites, rapidly being ousted by other species once things settle down, but even these species need a continuous supply of new sites, so continuity is still vital to their survival. Looking at habitat in this way, seeking the continuities can allow you to spot where the valuable sites are, even in the absence of wildlife records. It might also suggest what are the key habitats on which to concentrate management for the most positive outcomes.