Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Crown Imperials and Snake Heads

For more years than I care to remember I have loved Crown Imperials, Fritillaria imperialis, whether in the amber or the lemon-yellow form. But I can't grow them. I have tried on numerous occasions but they sulk and, year by year, diminish and disappear. What makes it particularly galling is the fact that beside The Twistle, here in Byfield, someone has thrown away some plants  - the yellow form - and they flourish beneath a hawthorn hedge at the roadside!

Crown Imperials in a Byfield garden,
29 April, 2013
Perhaps I make too much fuss of my specimens for here, in a benignly neglected border in a Byfield garden, they form a splendid clump, increasing year by year. 

The genus consists of about 100 species, all confined to the Northern Hemisphere, with one species native to Britain. Our Snake's Head Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris, is a plant of damp meadows and, although its range has much diminished it may still be found by the thousand in a few protected places. (76,400 plants were counted recently at Iffley Meadows, Oxford - the highest number there since records began.) It may  once have been native to Northamptonshire and Druce, in his 1929 flora of the county, gives four sites for the species, including Purston, near Brackley. It is now extinct in the county. True, a colony exists in damp grassland at the edge of Pitsford Reservoir but it is likely to have been planted. With the usual purple chequered form white specimens sometimes occur.
Fritillaries in a Byfield garden, 30 April, 2013

Most people growing Fritillaries will, in recent years, have been troubled by Lily Beetles. These insects, with the startlingly imaginative name of Lilioceris lilii, were first reported in Britain in Surrey, in 1939. They remained restricted to a small area until the 1980's when, for no obvious reason, they suddenly began to expand their range to become a serious pest. So far I have seen none this year so, hopefully, the harsh winter will have been a setback for them. Time will tell.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Oxford Ragwort

On a grey chilly day, punctuated by the occasional shower, I visited Banbury. As usual, more in hope than expectation, I had my camera with me...just in case.

Not surprisingly, insects were few and far between but a hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax, did pose obligingly on a leaf at the edge of the Tesco car park. This species is one of the bee-mimicking flies resembling, in this case, a honey bee. It is a common and widespread species and will often be noticed hovering, just a little above head-height, over a woodland path.

Hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax. Banbury, 27 April, 2013
I was pleased to see some plants of Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus, in full flower near to the B & Q Store, providing a splash of bright colour on this chilly day. The plant has a curious history. 
Oxford Ragwort. Banbury, 27 April, 2013

The species was introduced to Oxford Botanic Gardens towards the end of the 18th century and by 1794 was reported growing on nearby walls. From there it seems to have colonised railway tracks, its fruits being carried - like its relative the Dandelion - on feathery parachutes, doubtless being swept along in the wake of passing trains. The plant grows wild on, among other places, the slopes of Mount Etna and it may have found the ash and ballast of the railway tracks not unlike the volcanic slopes of Etna. Steadily the plant spread along the rail network and by 1916 had arrived in Northamptonshire, being recorded beside the track at Kings Sutton. Spread has continued to this day although much of Scotland remains uncolonised and records are few from central Wales, but over England it is now very common. 

With at least five insect species feeding on the stems and foliage, and many insects visiting the flowers for nectar, the plant is of considerable ecological interest; I will be keeping an eye on specimens in Byfield.

Thursday, 25 April 2013


We take Dandelions for granted and yet they merit consideration for their many interesting features. 

Basic floras simply refer to Taraxacum officinalis but this glosses over a far more complex situation. Because of the unusual way in which they are pollinated  (a self-pollinating system known as apomixis) a huge number of so-called microspecies have arisen, with 226 of these being known from Britain. Seventeen of the microspecies have been recorded from Northamptonshire but, as far as I am aware, little work on Dandelions has been done in our county for over fifty years.
Dandelions on a grassy verge.
Byfield, 25 April, 2013

As children we would use the fluffy heads to tell the time, blowing away the fruits with their feathery pappus and counting as we did so. Sometimes I would take a bunch of the flowers into the house, to be mildly scolded by my grandmother who called them "wet-the-beds". John Clare was far more earthy, calling them "piss-a-beds". These old names refer to the diuretic qualities of the plant. (There are at least two references in the King James Bible to "he who pisseth against the wall" so clearly the day-to-day usage of the p word has changed.) The stems bleed white latex when broken and my fingers would be stained brown by this fluid after telling the time.

Attempts have been made to use this latex for rubber production, with Russian scientists investigating Taraxacum kok-saghyz (usually referred to as TKS) - work which has been continued by German, Dutch and American researchers. Yields of up to 200 kg of rubber per hectare were reported from Russia and research continues.

The word "dandelion" is generally accepted as coming from the French "dente-de-lion" - lion's tooth and is thought to refer to the jagged leaf edges. 

John Clare wrote:

               And Dandelions like to suns will bloom
               Aside some bank or hillock low.

                                                        Clare's Village Minstrel, 185, 1821

... and I am pleased to see them blooming still, beside the A361, in their hundreds.
Dandelion beside the A361 in Byfield.
25 April, 2013

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Pasque Flowers

Northamptonshire is not noted for its wild flowers. In fact statistics suggest that it has lost a greater proportion of its flowers than any other English county. Nevertheless it does have its treasures, none greater than the Pasque Flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris, which flowers  in its thousands at Barnack Hills and Holes Reserve.

I grow the Pasque Flower in my own garden and about four years ago I noticed that one of my plants had about double the usual number of "petals". There are normally five of these structures which, like its relative the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), are really sepals which have taken on the form and job of true petals. (Such structures are often called "tepals".) The original form is, to my mind, more attractive but annoyingly all my normal Pasque Flowers have disappeared, leaving only this variant.
Pasque Flowers, Pulsatilla vulgaris, with extra
tepals. My garden in Byfield, 24 April, 2013

So, what about the name? The word pasch is a Scottish word - now obsolete - for Easter, and the Pasque Flower does indeed bloom at about this time. It may also come from the French passefleur, again with links to Easter, and yet dictionaries tend to use words like "perhaps" and "possibly" when providing a definition.  I find that George Claridge Druce, in his "Flora of Northamptonshire", published in 1929, uses the word pascual to describe (on page cxl) plants "of pastures and grassy commons" - precisely the habitat of the wild Pasque Flower. I have been unable to find the word in either my Chambers' Dictionary nor in standard on-line dictionaries. I did however find it defined in the Merriam-Webster "extra" dictionary of rarely-used words and so surprised were the compilers that they enquired as to where I had found the word. Their definition was "related to or growing in pastures". It is odd how a simple thought can lead one down an overgrown path. So, to return to my original thought, does "Pasque" really derive from this obscure and obsolete meaning? 

Until about 1970 The Pasque Flower was regarded as a species of Anemone (as Anemone pulsatilla). The fruit has a long and feathery appendage and in this respect resembles many Clematis species. All the genera mentioned - Caltha, Anemone, Pulsatilla and Clematis are included in the the odd and diverse Buttercup Family, giving rise to much debate among botanists, and it seems possible that the family may eventually be broken up.

Pottering around the garden

Today has probably been the finest of the year so far, with wall-to-wall sunshine and genuinely warm conditions. I gave Chris a nasty turn by appearing in a short-sleeved shirt.

Our one plant of Hacquetia epipactis has come through the winter unscathed. This odd yet dainty member of the Carrot Family appears to have green petals, but these structures are in fact bracts. Although it is a native of woodlands in Central Europe, it does well as a rock garden plant and I wouldn't be without it.

Hacquetia epipactis in our garden at Byfield, 23 April, 2013

A Skimmia, Skimmia japonica, was in bloom at the far end of the garden and, unlike the Hacquetia, was attracting a few bees together with some flies. I have never been very fond of Skimmias although I do acknowledge that they have many virtues, being tough, floriferous and good for attracting insects. And yet they are...dull. However, they did much to raise themselves in my esteem today when a rather nice hoverfly paid a visit. It was a very smart male Eristalis intricarius. Males can generally be recognised because their eyes are holoptic, i.e. they meet in the middle,
The hoverfly Eristalis intricarius on Skimmia.
 Byfield, 23 April, 2013
This fairly common species is a bumble bee mimic - and a very good one. In fact it is quite variable and therefore can be said to mimic several bumble bee species. A genuine bumble bee also put in a visit. It was a worker Red-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius. It seemed to be behaving rather oddly and on looking closely I could see that it was carrying a dozen or so mites. They were positioned at the rear of the thorax, and the bee kept trying to dislodge them by combing them with its legs - with little or no success.
Red-tailed Bumble Bee on Primula denticulata.
Byfield, 23 April, 2013
A second species of Eristalis was present; this was Eristalis pertinax. Again it is a mimic, but this very common species resembles a honey bee rather than a bumble bee. It was a male, hovering just above  head-height, darting off every few seconds to intercept a rival - or to check if the intruder was a female.

Despite the very pleasant conditions there were fewer flies around than I would  have expected - a legacy of our very cold winter? - and the only other specimen I secured was one of the Cluster Flies, Pollenia angustigena (see blog for 18 April).

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


Visiting friends in Lower Boddington yesterday I took the opportunity to photograph their wonderful Magnolia. It was a specimen of (probably) Magnolia stellata and its pink-tinged petals suggested that it was the variety "Rosea". The reason I am slightly doubtful is the fact that the species seldom exceeds 3 metres in height; at something nearer 4 metres, this was a very fine example.
Maagnolia stellata flowers. Lower Boddington.
22 April, 2013
Magnolia stellata(?). Lower Boddington, Northants
22 April, 2013

I would have looked in vain for bees visiting the flowers. Magnolias are particularly ancient trees, with fossil evidence showing that they were around in the Cretaceous period, 125 million years ago. Bees were not to appear for another 25 million years so no Magnolias have evolved nectar. The flowers are pollinated but the task is performed by beetles, content to feed on the pollen.

Lovely though Magnolias are, with Magnolia soulangiana being deservedly popular, I have a slight preference for their close relatives, Liriodendrons. In his story, "The Gold Bug", Edgar Allan Poe features an "enormously tall tulip-tree". He was referring to Liriodendron tulipifera, one of only two species in this genus. Poe's species is a native of the U.S.A; the other species, Liriodendron chinense is found - as you will have surmised - in China. This peculiar distribution reflects a time when the earth's land-masses did not occupy their present positions. A lovely specimen of Liriodendron tulipifera stood, until recently, in Byfield, at the junction of Bell Lane and Westhorpe Lane, but has unfortunately been felled. In fairness it has to be said that this species can become very large and the specimen could have become a problem.

An unusual Magnolia species on sale at a
Daventry garden centre. 26 April, 2013

Monday, 22 April 2013

Late April Miscellany

The weather forecast had indicated warm and sunny weather today so, in chilly conditions under a grey sky, I set out for the Pocket Park. A single plant of Anemone blanda was in flower on a bank overlooking the cricket pitch. This species, from South-east Europe is reasonably hardy and should persist in this spot. 
Anemone blanda at Byfield. 22 April, 2013
Sweet Violet, Viola odorata.
Byfield 22 April, 2013
Only a few feet away grew a swathe of Sweet Violets, Viola odorata. This species is best known in its  original violet colour but around Byfield the white variant is more common. The sweet scent is a good means of identification but the purple spur, particularly clear on white specimens, is also diagnostic.

Sweet Violet showing the purple spur  (on the right).
Byfield, 22 April, 2013

Purple Dead-nettles may sometimes flower throughout the winter, perhaps hoping to entice the odd bumble bee, but this winter has been particularly hard and they gave up the struggle. However, they are now back in bloom and there are bumble bees around to reward their effort. This annual is always assumed to be native to Britain but I have nagging doubts; I have never seen it in anything other than a cultivated or disturbed habitat. Druce, in his "Flora of Northamptonshire"(1923) also appears to have had his suspicions, describing it as "native or denizen". He uses the word denizen to indicate a plant which might be unable to survive without the help of man.
Purple Dead-nettle Lamium purpureum
Byfield Pocket Park 22 April, 2013
So, there were a few plants in flower but nothing unexpected. A bramble leaf mined by the Golden Pygmy Moth Stigmella aurella and the trunk of an Ash Tree bearing Cramp Balls were all familiar and yet reassuring. The winter had done its worst but things were recovering; we were back on track.

Mining of a bramble leaf by the micro-moth
Stigmella aurella. Byfield Pocket Park  22 April, 2013
Cramp Balls. The  fungus, Daldinia concentrica
on the trunk of an Ash tree
Byfield  22 April, 2013

Angle Shades and Harlequins

Back to routine garden work today. The very cold spring has caused damage to many plants including Rose of Sharon, Hypericum calycinum. This plant, a type of St John's Wort, is a native of Turkey. Winters there can be very cold of course and so the plant will suffer no long-term damage. I'll give it a good haircut and new shoots will rapidly develop.
Rose of Sharon badly scorched by the cold spring
 weather. Byfield, 21,April, 2013

Angle Shades caterpillar. Byfield, 21 April, 2013
The St Johns's Worts form an interesting group of plants with about ten or eleven species native to Britain. Some are very rare but Perforate St John's Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is widespread and occurs in our Pocket Park. The Rose of Sharon is often found semi-naturalised on waste ground as a throw-out from gardens. This species rarely produces seed so any of these escapees will have grown from pieces of rooted stem.

Whilst weeding out some Forget-me-nots I disturbed a bright green caterpillar. It was the larva of the Angle Shades, Phlogophora meticulosa, a very attractive and common moth. Some species of caterpillar can be difficult to rear but the Angles Shades is among the easiest, not least because it will feed on a wide range of plants, although it would be sensible to use the plant on which it was found. I also disturbed a Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis. This is a very variable insect but I found one of its commonest forms - 'spectabilis'. The Two-spot Ladybird has a melanic form which looks very similar but the Harlequin Ladybird is larger, generally about 6mm in length.
Harlequin Ladybird. Byfield, 21 April, 2013, 
This beetle, about which much has been written, was first recorded in Britain in 2004. It will feed voraciously on aphids - good news for the gardener - but unfortunately will also eat the larvae of other ladybirds - very bad news. In fact it seems prepared to eat any small insect it finds and it is not surprising that its arrival and subsequent spread caused alarm. In 2011 my observations suggested it was the commonest species of ladybird in Byfield!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

More work in the Pocket Park

The weather has not be conducive to much outdoor work so far this spring so today's fine weather was very welcome. A team of six: Emma and David Marsh, Lynda and Damien Moran, my wife Chris and I, gathered in the Pocket Park to continue the job of creating an area supporting native plants, putting in plugs of Cowslips, Devil's Bit Scabious, Ragged Robin and Chicory and a number of other species.

Hard at it! L to R: Dave, Emma, Chris and Lynda
Stigmatogaster subterranea at Byfield Pocket Park
21 April, 2013
The soil still contained roots of Stinging Nettles, Brambles and Rosebay Willow Herb and we removed these as we went along. Bits of root will have been missed so we'll need to be vigilant over forthcoming weeks. The stony ground is free-draining and was rather dry so, although I had been keeping an eye open for earthworms, only a few came to my attention. I did, however, find several specimens of the Western Yellow Centipede Stigmatogaster subterranea. This soil-dwelling species, with about 80 pairs of legs, is very common and I had already recorded from the Pocket Park. It feeds on small soil organisms and will apparently tackle caterpillars. It was a very lively specimen and a good photograph proved to be tricky. We normally put in a couple of hours work but we did overtime today, anxious to get all the plants in, but there was time for a well-earned break.
Coffee up!  L to R. Lynda, Damien, Chris (behind
Emma) and Dave. 20 April, 2013 

An Elm, of a strain believed to be resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, has also been planted nearby and we will be anxious to see how it fares. Emma has made a check of our Ash trees for signs of Chalara attack but so far they appear to be clear. So, for all sorts of reasons, the next few weeks should be very interesting.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Primrose

I spotted a primrose in the Pocket Park today. It brings the total number of vascular plants recorded there to 123.

In a situation like a disused railway station - which is what the pocket park is - there is always a chance that a plant has escaped from cultivation, but it looks perfectly natural here.

Primrose Primula vulgaris Byfield Pocket Park
18 April, 2013 
In my childhood everyone was familiar with the primrose but, in an increasingly urbanised environment this seems no longer to be the case. Nevertheless the species is in no danger and its flowers should be enjoyed by generations to come.

Pretty though the flowers are - and lauded by so many poets (inevitably including John Clare) - it was once more valued for other reasons. In the early days of medicine it was widely used as a remedy for gout, "muscular rheumatism" and as a vermifuge, while the roots are said to be "a strong and safe emetic" (Clapham, Tutin and Warburg, 'Flora of the British Isles' 2nd edition, p.631). 

Linnaeus called it Primula acaulis. At first this may appear odd, for "acaulis" means "stemless", and yet it is correct, for the leaves are not borne on a stem but form a rosette at ground level. The flower is born on a scape or pedicel, and botanists are careful not to use the word stem in this situation. For reasons which I haven't investigated, Linnaeus' specific name is no longer used and today the Primrose is Primula vulgaris. 

On a very windy day...

Today's weather, though quite sunny, has been dominated by a very blustery wind. Only a fool would attempt to catch flies in such conditions, so I gathered my sweep net and set out for the pocket park.

A couple of flies were taking shelter in the trumpets of daffodils. One was the very common muscid (i.e related to the House Fly) Eudasyphora cyanella; the other was a species of cluster fly, Pollenia angustigena. Cluster Flies are slightly larger than house flies and are recognised by golden hairs on the upper side of the thorax, often quite clear to the naked eye. The commonest species is generally Pollenia rudis but P. angustigena has proved to be at least as common hereabouts. The golden hairs tend to rub off after a time but my specimen had a liberal coating of them and so had probably only recently emerged from its pupa.

Almost inevitably a Common Dung Fly Scatophaga stercoraria was seen, sitting on a dandelion and minding its own business. 

Common Dung Fly Scatophaga stercoraria on Dandelion.
Byfield Pocket Park 17 April, 2013

In the adjacent graveyard a blowfly was basking in strong sunshine. Once again it was a very familiar species, Calliphora vicina. Showing no consideration for photographers it had chosen to pose on a quartz-rich granite even though more helpful surfaces were available.

The blowfly Calliphora vicina on a granite headstone
adjacent to Byfield Pocket Park. 17 April, 2013

Not a great haul, but the weather was quite exhilarating so I didn't regard the time as wasted. On arriving home I found a large bumble bee on a window ledge. It was tempting to believe that it had come into the house to shelter from the wind, but of course it had merely taken a wrong turning. It was probably a Buff-tailed Bumble Bee Bombus terrestris but this species is very difficult to distinguish from Bombus lucorum without putting it under a microscope - or at least using a good hand lens. This would probably lead to its death, so I opened the window and freed it.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Green Shieldbug

Shieldbugs make excellent subjects for study: there are not too many species in Britain; all are easy - or fairly easy - to recognise and there are some very good guide books available. I generally make use of Roger Hawkins' excellent book, "The Shieldbugs of Surrey" which, despite its title, covers all species likely to found in Britain. This morning I saw a roadside specimen which could cause confusion among newcomers to the subject.

Green Shieldbug, Palomina prasina.
Byfield,, 16 April, 2013

The Green Shieldbug is, as you would, expect, bright green in colour. However, this species, which overwinters under dead leaves etc, assumes a cryptic coloration for this period of hibernation. In these brown colours it is presumably less conspicuous to hungry birds. For the summer months (when it feeds on unripe berries) it reverts to an equally cryptic leaf-green. Even if a bird were to find this potential meal it would be unlikely to eat the insect for on the side of the body, a little behind the head, it bears a pair of glands which secrete a foul-smelling fluid. Anyone who clumsily handles one of these bugs will soon become aware of the pong! 

Shieldbugs are true bugs, by which is meant insects with mouthparts modified to form a tube, used rather like a drinking straw.  Most bugs, such as aphids, consume plant juices but many, including the human bed bug Cimex lectularius, obtain their food by feeding on animal fluids. I have recorded the Green Shieldbug from Byfield Pocket Park along with 45 other bug species but this number could be at least doubled with diligent searching - yet another job for this summer.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Horse Blobs and Bee-flies

I was delighted to find, earlier today, that Horse Blobs are now in flower. Before there is too much confusion I should make it clear that I am referring to the Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. It has a host of common names: Kingcups, Water Blobs, Water Bubbles and - the name used by my grandmother - Molly Blobs.
Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. Byfield, 15 April, 2013
Marsh Marigold, Byfield.  15 April, 2013

It is frequent around Northamptonshire although, as a result of land drainage, has now been lost from many of its former locations. Certainly it was far more common in the time of John Clare and he makes a number of references to it. For example:

                       Here 'neath the shelving banks' retreat
                       The Horse Blob swells its golden ball.

                                                      Village Minstrel, 1821

No botanical knowledge is required to recognise that the Pilewort, or Lesser Celandine is closely related to the Marsh Marigold. I have written about the Pilewort in an earlier blog (29 January, 2013) but at that time the plant was not in flower; it now blazes from grassy banks all around the village. Both are members of the Buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae, but the Marsh Marigold is placed in a separate genus, partly because it has no petals; what appear to be petals are modified sepals, which have taken on the role of attracting insects.
Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria. Byfield, 15 April 2013

A little later on in the afternoon Chris drew my attention to an insect clinging to some washing on the line. It seemed to be in a torpid state and I was able to get a good look at it. It was a Dark-edged Bee-fly, Bombylius major. Despite being rather bee-like in appearance it is a true fly, having two wings (whereas bees have four) and belongs to a group of flies known as the Larger Brachycera. It is one of the harbingers of spring and is often to be found hovering in front of a flower and inserting its long proboscis (clearly seen in my photograph) into the bloom to obtain nectar. The grubs are parasites of certain bees. In my garden it frequently visits primulas such as Primula denticulata.

Primula denticulata in my garden, Byfield.
 16 April 2013
On checking an old tree stump a short 
distance away I found a second specimen, with a 7-spot Ladybird enjoying the same sheltered spot. 
7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata in my garden.
Byfield 16 April, 2013
A second Dark-edged Bee-fly Bombylius major
16 April, 2013

Monday, 15 April 2013

Back to Earth

   After a few days in the French city of Avignon it was back to the reality of Byfield, with temperatures of around 27 degrees being replaced by distinctly chillier conditions! As this blog is intended to focus on the Byfield area I will only dwell briefly on our break in Provence. 

Barleya robertiana above Nimes

The flowers of the limestone hills above the Rhone valley were lovely, with the Giant Orchid, Barleya robertiana, being common in grassy placesThis is an early-flowering species and is generally over by the time most holidaymakers arrive in the area. It was sometimes accompanied by the more delicate Sombre Bee Orchid, Ophrys fusca. (Apologies for the poor photograph.)

Ophrys fusca near Avignon

                                            These orchids are almost impossible to grow and are best enjoyed in the wild. Not only is it difficult to recreate the conditions - thin, gritty, summer-baked soil - but the correct  mycorrhizal fungus generally needs to be present to support the root system (although it has to be said that recent research in Italy casts doubt on these previous assumptions).    

Also present, sometimes in large numbers, was the yellow-flowered Iris lutescens. This can flourish in cultivation if its rhizomes get a good summer baking.

                                                    Iris lutescens above Avignon                       

In some places, on the sun-warmed rocks, there were hundreds of specimens of the bug, Lygaeus saxatilis. As "saxatilis" means "of rocks" they were clearly in an ideal habitat. Many pairs were mating.
Lygaeus saxatilis above Villeneuve les Avignon. 

Viburnum tinus, Church Street, Byfield
14 April, 2013

      The familiar garden shrub Laurustinus, Viburnum tinus, is native to Provence and grows prolifically around Avignon, being seen every day on our rambles. It was somehow fitting therefore that, on a stroll around Byfield a day after returning, I should see this shrub flowering in Church Street; I had come full circle.  

(Ever since my youth - and for a century or so before that - Viburnum has been placed in the Honeysuckle Family, Caprifoliaceae. As a consequence of genetic research this genus, together with Elder and a few other shrubs, has been reassigned to the Adoxaceae Family. And I now find that Mistletoe, Viscum album - prolific in central France has been removed from the Loranthaceae Family and placed in the Sandalwood Family, Santalaceae. I'm getting too old to cope with all these changes!)

Monday, 1 April 2013

Work in Byfield Pocket Park

The idea of a pocket park in Byfield dates back to 1963, with work starting soon after. Over the years the park has evolved, with the planting of trees, the creation of footpaths and so on. But like any similar site there have been problems, and constant maintenance is necessary. For this reason a working group, led by Emma Marsh and aided and abetted by her husband David. has been formed.

Our main current task involves the clearing of invasive weeds, primarily nettles and brambles, from an area earmarked for the planting of native wildflowers. The weeds are being removed from the site to decompose elsewhere, with the object of reducing the soil fertility and so discouraging the growth of rank vegetation. It might be thought that rich, fertile soil would be desirable  but this would encourage tall, strong-growing plants to flourish, crowding out smaller, less robust species.
Emma and Dave clearing weeds

The weather has not been our friend but progress is being made and the second photograph shows the ground largely cleared - although the brambles and nettles, given a chance, will re-assert themselves.
We're almost there! Chris and Dave at work
30 March, 2013

Soil quality and fertility can, to some 
extent, be judged by the earthworms present. The value of earthworms is generally acknowledged but the species present are not often recorded. For this reason I kept an eye on any worms revealed. One of the commonest earthworms hereabouts is the Green Worm, Allobophora chlorotica, but none was revealed. However several specimens of Common Earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris, were turned up by our spades and trowels. I will continue to record earthworms from the site. The ground is very stony and there is little that can be done about this, but it does give a very free-draining soil and suits us very well.
Common Earthworm Lumbricus terrestris at Byfield
Pocket Park, 30 March, 2013