Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Borough Hill, Daventry

It may seem strange, but for over a year now I have lived within a mile of Daventry's Borough Hill yet in that time have failed to pay it a visit. True, I have been there, but that one and only occasion was over twenty years ago. Time to put things right.

For Sunday, 16 August, John Showers arranged a visit for local dipterists to do a survey of the hill top - albeit one that could only scratch the surface metaphorically speaking - but it was a chance to study the flies in an unjustly neglected part of Northamptonshire. John was joined by Graham Warnes, Brian Harding, Kevin Rowley and me.
John (left) and Brian discuss a point. Borough Hill,
Daventry. 16 August, 2015

The hill itself is 199 metres high and is capped with sandstone, giving the soil a distinctly acid nature - of which more later. The slope is very gentle and the group spread out to steadily work our way to the summit.

A Flesh Fly (Sarcophaga species) on Creeping Thistle.
Borough Hill, Daventry. 16 August, 2015
At this time of the year most of the grasses were sere and many forbs* were well past their best. Fortunately Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvensis, was still flowering in some abundance and frequent among their visitors were Flesh Flies of the Sarcophagidae family. I took several specimens of these flies, aiming mainly for males, as these I find easier to identify. The fields were well endowed with dog faeces, perhaps a reason for the presence of so many Flesh Flies.

A slightly tattered Common Blue nectaring on Common
Ragwort. Borough Hill, Daventry.  16 August, 2015

Common Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, was abundant and very welcome to many insects even though it may be cursed by horse owners. To some botanists the plant is now known as Jacobaea vulgaris but this new name has not been universally accepted. Be that as it may, this Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, was more concerned with nectar than nomenclature.

Harebells are a fairly reliable indicator of neutral to
acid soils. Borough Hill, Daventry. 16 August, 2015
Evidence of the acid soil was becoming more evident and patches of Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, were appearing. The limitations of my camera give the flowers a washed-out appearance, but they were of a lovely blue coloration. The specific name of rotundifolia can be a puzzle, since the the 'round leaves' are by no means apparent. The name refers to the young rounded leaves at the base of the stem; these have usually disappeared by flowering time.

Why bother with 'Latin' names? Well, this species provides a good argument for them: in Scotland this little plant is called a bluebell; in England a bluebell is a quite different and unrelated plant; in the U.S.A. the term 'bluebell' is applied, it seems, to several different species. All very confusing yet, if we speak of Campanula rotundifolia everyone is clear as to the species in question.

The occasional foxglove was still in flower.
Borough Hill, Daventry. 16 August, 2015

The Harebell (let's stick with the vernacular name for a moment) is a reliable indicator of neutral to acid soils. The Foxglove is a little less reliable but seems at its happiest in slightly acid conditions. On Borough Hill a few flowers lingered on, usually on plants which had been damaged earlier on, causing a delay in the flowering.

But in general the leaves were beginning to wither and the seed capsules were dry and brown. The slightest jolt sent hundreds of the tiny seeds tumbling to the ground.

The foxgloves were growing in, or on the edge of, a ditch and this habitat provided a congenial home for Elder, Ragwort and, in particular, Gorse, Ulex europaeus. This latter species also favours acid conditions but will tolerate more alkaline land if the ground is well-drained. Here it had largely ceased flowering and the foliage was brown. The species is, however, well- known for producing flowers at almost any time of the year.

Ditches date back to the time when a Bronze
age hill-fort occupied the site. Borough Hill,
Daventry. 16 August, 2015

The ditch was both long and obvious, forming part of the remains of a Bronze Age hill-fort. (The hill was also the site of a Roman villa and many pictures and references to this can be found via the Internet.)

The rather unexciting flowers of Common Hemp-nettle.
Borough Hill, Daventry. 16 August, 2015
By this time I had long lost contact with my companions but had gathered a good haul of insects. I began my return to the car park pausing here and there. I was momentarily puzzled when I examined a clump of stinging nettles and noticed that some Common Hemp-nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit was also present. Oddly enough, though this is a widespread weed, it seems a long time since I saw a specimen. Though called Hemp-nettle it is neither related to hemp, Cannabis sativa, or the common Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica.

Antler Moth on Common Ragwort. Borough Hill,
Daventry. 16 August, 2015

In a clump of Common Ragwort nearby, an Antler Moth, Cerapteryx graminis, was at rest, even though this is a species often flying by day. Numbers of this rather infamous moth can sometimes build up to huge peaks, when they have been known to devastate crops - but I only noted the one specimen.

Lady's Bedstraw was in full bloom.
Borough Hill, Daventry. 16 August, 2015

Nearly back at base, I stopped and stooped for a picture of Lady's Bedstraw, Galium verum. It is one of the commonest forbs on Borough Hill yet it is easy to walk past without a second glance at the tiny flowers. A close-up shows that they are indeed rather attractive and, en masse, they can fill the air with a honey fragrance. The plant was once used to stuff mattresses and, when dry, it has a pleasant scent of new-mown hay. Often they filled the mattresses of women about to give birth, perhaps accounting for the common name.

The fine weather had held and the morning had been very enjoyable. The icing on the cake came when I spotted Chris waiting for me in the car park; I had been planning to walk home.

* The word forb is applied to any grassland or meadow perennial other than the grass itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment