Monday, 13 July 2015

West Hill Farm Estate

12 July. I set off a little after 9 am for a visit, arranged by John Showers, to West Hill Farm Estate, aka - justified or not - West Hill Manor Estate, situated not far from the village of Welford. It had rained overnight and the skies were still rather threatening as I drove a zig-zag course north-east to arrive a little before ten o'clock. Kevin Rowley was already there and I was followed by John Showers and Graham Warnes.

The terrain looked promising: the estate is situated on the dip-slope of the Hemplow Hills and a short walk would have taken us to the quickly-dropping scarp slope. These hills are well-wooded, probably being too steep for arable farming, and I was hoping to have a decent look there. There are stands too of conifers, forming a habitat much neglected by me. Unfortunately the weather had other plans for us!

We set out with the weather still dry and were soon strolling through a patch of attractive meadow land with a rich (though presumably sown) flora. 

Marble Galls on oak. West Hill Farm Estate,
nr Welford, Northants.  12 July, 2015

Saplings, largely of oak, had been planted but already, though only a metre or so high, they were bearing Marble Galls. These extremely common structures are the work of a wasp, Andricus kollari. Oddly enough the NBN Gateway maps show huge regions empty of these insects, but of course these gaps simply represent areas where records have not been made or submitted.

We all found great numbers of insects in this meadow but tempting woodland with, we were assured, wet areas were looming before us.

Sloe Bug. Dolycoris baccarum on hogweed.  West Hill
Farm Estate.  12 July, 2015

The other members of the party forged ahead but I lingered a little, looking at the flat umbels of Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium. The insect visitors included this Sloe Bug, Dolycoris baccarum but, I am pleased to say, no Harlequin Ladybirds.

Eriothris rufomaculata on hogweed. West Hill Farm
Estate, nr Welford, Northants.  12 July, 2015

The very common tachinid fly Eriothrix rufomaculata was there too, the reddish sides of its abdomen just about discernible in this photograph. There is a distinct gap between the compound eyes, showing it to be a female.

Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca. West Hill Farm
Estate. 12 July, 2015

In this area large clumps of Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, were flourishing and attracting considerable numbers of bumble bees. People stroll around their gardens, seeing bees working at their lupins, hebes and so on wondering, 'Where is the problem?' It is true that a few species of bumble bee are flourishing: Bombus terrestris, Bombus lapidarius, Bombus pascuorum  - all appear to be doing well, and yet in my lifetime two species, Bombus cullamanus and Bombus subterraneus, have become extinct in Britain and are only being reintroduced via painstaking programs involving imported bees. Yet others are in serious decline. The creation or management of hay meadows is vitally important.

I pressed on to the woodland edge, only to find that many of the larger trees were exotics. This does not mean that they lacked interest but the number of insect species associated with them is limited.

Galls caused by the mite, Aceria cephaloneaWest Hill 
Farm Estate, nr Welford, Northants. 12 July, 2015

Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, is bit of an exception.  Perhaps, as Ted Green has argued, it is a British native (British Wildlife, Vol 16, Number 3, p. 184). It certainly has a wide range of invertebrates associated with it. Galls, such as Aceria cephalonea (pictured) are exceedingly common and usually, as in this case, caused by a mite.

Large Yellow Underwing Moth, Noctua pronuba. West
Hill Farm Estate. 12 July, 2015
I was working my way along the woodland margin, examining blackthorn bushes, when the heavens opened.  It didn't just rain, it sheeted down. I dived into the woods where I obtained some shelter beneath broad-leaved trees, I wasn't the only one sheltering there for, on a sycamore leaf, was a Large Yellow Underwing, Noctua pronuba. These are common moths and the word Noctua gives its name to a large family, the Noctuidae.

Many of the trees in this area were Horse Chestnuts, Aesculus hippocastanum. Until fairly recently these trees were virtually devoid of wildlife. A few mosses and lichens would cling to the trunk and branches and birds would nest in the crown. Then came the Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner, Cameraria ohridella. We are all familiar with the disfiguring effects of its depredations, but not everyone is aware of its many parasitoids. About twenty-five other insects are associated with this leaf-miner (British Wildlife, Vol 22, Number 5. p.305), so, with this in mind, I gathered a few leaves to see what, in the fullness of time, will emerge.

A slight lull in the rain allowed me to dash back to the car, with the other three recorders following a little later; we were all drenched. So our visit was curtailed but the area is an interesting one and further recording would probably be very worthwhile.

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