Wednesday, 30 August 2017

St Giles' Churchyard

Back in 1985 Francis Greenoak published her book God's Acre (not to be confused with Erskine Caldwell's lurid novel God's Little Acre). It took a look at the wildlife of the British churchyard and helped to remind people what vital oases these areas are. Thirty years later and their importance is even greater; they act as a Noah's Ark for many scarce and vanishing species.
Perhaps Francis Greenoak's main concern was the village churchyard but yesterday, while Chris was receiving her regular treatment at Northampton General Hospital, I took a stroll around the churchyard of the nearby St Giles' church, in the heart of Northampton, and it struck me as how important the area is, not just for wildlife but as a temporary escape for shoppers, office workers and the like, who just need somewhere to unwind for perhaps fifteen minutes or so. Today, in warm sunshine, many were doing just that.
I cannot deny that I was there to see what wildlife had found sanctuary and I was both pleased and disappointed. Disappointed in that, although several fine trees stand in the grounds only one, holly, is a British native, considerably limiting the potential for invertebrates in particular.
The leaf miner, Phytomyza ilicis, on holly. St Giles churchyard,
Northampton. 29 August, 2017
Only one organism appeared to be making use of the holly and that was the leaf miner Phytomyza ilicis, an insect so common that I would have been astonished if it had not been there. To be fair the flowers are much visited by insects for pollen and nectar whilst the berries are appreciated by many birds.
In the open country roadside and neglected fields are currently ablaze with common ragwort. Here in the town it's place had been taken by Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus, and its flowers were receiving quite a few visitors, like this hoverfly, Eristalis arbustorum.
Eristalis arbustorum on Oxford Ragwort. St Giles churchyard,
Northampton. 29 August, 2017
Also on the Oxford Ragwort was a plump but rather nondescript caterpillar. I'm no lepidopterist but I've a suspicion that it is the Heart and Dart, Agrotis exclamationis (I ruled out a similar-looking species found on lichens in Patagonia). The black lump on the back is a lump of frass or, to use the correct scientific term, poo.
Heart and Dart? Feeding on Oxford Ragwort in St Giles churchyard,
Northampton. 29 August, 2017
Speaking of frass, a nearby sycamore leaf was displaying a rather distinctive mine. It has been formed by the larva of the Barred Sycamore Pigmy Moth, Stigmella speciosa. The egg hatched in the bottom right hand corner and worked its way towards the top left, the mine widening as the larva grew. It has left a distinct dark line of frass on its journey.
The mine of Barred Sycamore Pigmy Moth on a sycamore leaf.
St Giles churchyard, Northampton. 29 August, 2017

The moth was first found in Britain in 1914 and has slowly spread northwards although it is still scarce in the northern parts of its range.
So, there was more to St Giles churchyard than street pigeons and, with all these eggs on a sycamore leaf, who knows what is yet to come?
Free range eggs on a sycamore leaf. St Giles churchyard, Northampton.
29 August, 2017


No comments:

Post a Comment