Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Badgers and bridges

I found myself in Woodford Halse earlier today and, with an hour on my hands, I strolled out along the Farndon Road. At the edge of the village, beside the road, lay a freshly-dead badger, Meles meles. I assumed it had died only a few hours ago as I could detect no odour of decomposition, but the same could not be said of flies. Lucilia species can apparently pick up the scent from over 6 kilometres.

Badger corpses are sadly common beside our roads (although a livestock
farmer might not share this sentiment). Woodford Halse, 12 October, 2016

Several had detected the faint scent and were already investigating the corpse. All were members of the Calliphoridae, i.e.  the family of insects commonly known as blowflies. I netted a few for examination and, predictably, all were females. They were seeking a suitable site for egg laying and I only found two species, Calliphora vomitoria and Lucilia caesar.

Greenbottles (Lucilia species) on the badger corpse. Woodford Halse,
Northants. 12 October, 2016
As all lovers of TV series involving forensic work will know, blowflies tend to visit carcases in a fairly well-understood sequence. A useful little book on the subject was written by the late Zakaria Erzinclioglu (or Doctor Zak as he was known).

My copy of this book is now fairly well-thumbed but I still need to dip into it now and then. He quotes research which shows that Calliphora vomitoria has a preference for larger corpses and a badger certainly comes into that category. Calliphora species will lay eggs on carcases in direct sunlight but seem to prefer those in shady positions; with Lucilia species the situation is reversed.

In the roadside hedgerow Hops, Humulus lupulus, were common. It is a plant found over most of Britain but, although a native plant, it is probably an escape in many places. It is a member of the Cannabiaceae and is thus closely related to Cannabis, Cannabis sativa.

Hops, Humulus lupulus, were common in the hedgerows. Woodford Halse,
12 October, 2016
Hops are invariably associated with brewing, not for a cannabis-like effect but to impart a bitter flavour. The cone-like female inflorescences are also widely used, like lavender, in pillows to induce sleep.

Hops have cone-like female inflorescences. Woodford Halse,
12 October, 2016
I pushed on to a point where a bridge crosses the road. This once carried the Stratford upon Avon and South Midlands Junction Railway line and at this point it was roughly midway between the stations of Moreton Pinkney and Byfield. There is no public right-of-way but a steep track tempted me to scramble up to the line. Looking back over the bridge parapet I could see the road I had just left.

Looking down from the old S.M.J. Railway line. Woodford Halse,
12 October 2016
In truth the climb was hardly worth it. A faint track could be followed for a few yards but it soon disappeared into undergrowth. Clearly only a fool would attempt to follow it, so...

No public right-of-way exists along the old track.
I progressed for some 25 yards before the vegetation became impenetrable and I was forced to retrace my steps. As I said, it wasn't worth the effort.

In places it became impassable
All I noted were a few berries of Woody Nightshade, aka Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, and a tatty plant of Nipplewort, Lapsana communis, so called because the closed flower buds resemble nipples and thus, in accordance with Doctrine of Signatures, the plant was used in the treatment of breast problems such as ulcers.
The mildly poisonous Woody Nightshade was present.
Woodford Halse, 12 October, 2016

This is occasionally a weed of cultivated ground, but in my experience it is quite easily eradicated. If the flowers resemble those of a lettuce (Lactuca species) it is because the plants are closely related. I slithered my way back down the bank and returned to the village.
Nipplewort was one of the few plants in flower.
Woodford Halse, 12 October, 2016

I consoled myself with the thought that it was a bit of much needed fresh air and exercise.



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