30 Days Wild – Day 14 – It’s Not Just Grass!

A day off catching up with domestic tasks, so wildlife watching was largely restricted to the garden. The mini-meadow is looking very fine at present, it may only be 5m by 4m, but it is packed with flowers and has  a very good structure. The term “structure” in relations to grasslands means the variation in height and the layering of the vegetation. A well structured grassland will have vegetation at every level. In mine the lowest level is occupied by lesser stitchwort, mouse-eared hawkweed, cowslip, bugle, bird’s-foot trefoil and white clover. Slightly higher is the yellow rattle, creeping buttercup, dandelion, ribwort plantain, red clover and bloody cranesbill.  Higher still are the ox-eye daisy, hawkbits, field scabious, perforated St John’s wort, meadow buttercup and corky-fruited water-dropwort. The top layer is mostly taken by knapweed. There are several different grass species and a number of other herbs dotted about. 

This structure allows insects to move about all through the area at every level and light can get through to the ground. This is the opposite of an intensive grassland where the objective is a dense even grass sward, these may be fields, but they are really high yield grass crops, with high biomass and low biodiversity. Traditional forage crops were hay, and repeated cropping tended to increase biodiversity and and reduce the biomass. It is easy to see why farmers seeking lots of forage would move to an intensive model, but the result has been a 97% loss of herb rich grasslands in the UK in a lifetime.

“Views over green fields” might be trumpeted by estate agents or implicit in the idea of the “Green Belt”, but green fields are ones that have lost their biodiversity. Similarly green lawns, verges and civic areas are ones that have had their diversity and wildlife stripped away. It is easy to see why agricultural grasslands have been “improved” to increase their productivity, these are businesses seeking to make a profit. Despite this most of the best remaining herb-rich grasslands are on farms and farmers are at the forefront of improving the situation.

So why are local authorities and corporate owners of mown grasslands so set on removing their variety has always been a mystery to me. Many years ago I worked at a Country Park and took to leaving the banks and other areas not walked on to be cut just once a year, mowing the rest as paths and patches around picnic tables. Pretty soon we had meadow brown, common blue and marbled white flying between the picnic places. However I soon got complaints, not from the site users, but from councillors and others who declared it “untidy”, I did not give up but as soon as I moved on they restored the old regime.

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My mini-meadow, it really is not difficult to have diverse wildlife friendly spaces rather than dewilded grass.

Some land uses demand regular mowing, but it should not be the default approach, we should expect habitats to be managed to maximise their environmental value. Wildlife lives everywhere, given the chance and should do so, we should expect land managers to be properly discharging their responsibility for the land they manage and to be looking to increase biodiversity, not mowing, or worse still, spraying it to oblivion.

meadow brown

Meadow brown in the meadow, hiding from the wind

Bombus lucorum

Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee on ox-eye daisy

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30 Days Wild – Day 25 – The Heat is On

When I checked the moth trap in my garden I was surprised to find 2 leopard moth! In some years I don’t see any at all and this year we have had them a few times at Blashford and now two at home on the same day.

leopard moth male

leopard moth male

When they are disturbed they don’t fly, but adopt a strange curled posture, at the same time the abdomen is lengthened, the effect is rather odd. Although it does not look like  a wasp or anything obviously threatening it does look like something you would think twice about picking up, which I guess is the idea.

leopard mopth male curled

leopard moth male curled

I was at Fishlake for the morning waiting for a delivery meaning that I did not get to Blashford until the afternoon. It was very hot and lots of the insects had taken cover in the shade. Out on the hot shingle beside Ibsley Water I spotted two half grown little ringed plover chicks, running about very energetically, hopefully they will fledge and join the two others that have already become independent.

Out on Ivy Lake the common tern chicks were less keen on the heat and were standing around panting, however they are growing well and I expect the first ones will be flying in a few days.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It is looking very dry now, much of the grass is yellow or pale brown, but most of the meadow perennials are deep rooted and still look more or less okay. A lot of the earlier flowering species are  going to seed now. Looked at closely the seeds of meadow buttercup look rather like a Medieval mace.

meadow buttercup seedhead

meadow buttercup seedhead

Although they do not look as though they would be very good at it, I assume the hooks aid dispersal by getting caught on animal fur, or maybe botanist’s socks.

30 Days Wild – Day 9 – A Migrant Arrival

Another day spent largely in the garden doing various odd jobs. Just being outside means you cannot avoid wildlife, it was not particularly sunny, but warm enough to bring out lots of bees. I have some purple toadflax in the border and it is a great favourite as a nectar source for wool carder bee.

wool carder bee

wool carder bee (male)

This is the only species of this genus, Anthidium, in the UK, they are very distinctive and quite common in gardens. They get their name because the females make the nest cells by collecting fibres from woolly leaved plants such as lamb’s ear.

I grow a lot of plants because they are good nectar sources for insects and one of the best is Cephalaria gigantea a type of giant pale yellow scabious that can get up to 2m tall. Today these flowers scored with a painted lady, judging by the battered wings a migrant, probably hatched in the Mediterranean area somewhere.

painted lady

painted lady

They will breed here with the larvae feeding on thistles and emerging as adults in early autumn, these will then make a return migration southwards. This southward autumn movement had been speculated about, but unlike red admirals which can be seen heading south in late summer, painted ladies just seemed to disappear. It turns out they do head south, but mostly at high altitude, which is why we don’t see them.

Heading back inside I found a robberfly on the back door of the conservatory, I liberated it but managed to get one picture just before it flew off.

robberfly

Dioctria baumhaueri, A robberfly

They are predators, catching other flies and even small wasps in flight. They have large eyes to spot their prey and typically sit on exposed open perches, waiting to dart out and catch any suitable passing insect.

At this time of year conservatories can catch huge numbers insects, they act very like interception traps, especially with the doors open. I always leave several high windows open to give them the maximum chance of escape, ideally open rooflights if you have them.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

Perhaps unsurprisingly meadow buttercup, which really is the typical buttercup found in meadows. It has much taller flower stems than the more familiar creeping buttercup and more finely divided leaves.

meadow buttercup

meadow buttercup

I found I had one plant in my first year of managing the lawn as a meadow, but a single cut a year seems to really favour it and now there are a good few plants. In the picture you can see the brilliant yellow flowers and the extra shiny area towards the centre which acts as a mini solar reflector and increases the temperature of the flower’s centre. On the right you can see a seed head, a mass of seeds each with a tiny hook.

Back at Blashford Lakes tomorrow, I suspect I will be cutting path edges for at least part of the day, I hope it is not too warm.