Friday, 18 May 2018

Rolling our sleeves up

The pocket park at Byfield needs more maintenance than Pom Boddington and her team can provide, but we do our best. Chris and I went along this morning to do a couple of hours because, although we no longer live in the village we retain a sort of attachment.
A team of about eight people had assembled to roll their sleeves up and do what they could; this is a slightly larger group than usual but to be honest it was hardly enough.
Rose-bay Willow Herb, Fireweed, call it what you will, is a constant problem. This plant, Chamaenerion (or Chamerion) angustifolium, is a puzzle. In 1930 Druce, in his Flora of Northamptonshire called it 'local' but added 'rapidly expanding its range'. One possibility is that a tiny but significant mutation occurred sometime in the years following World War I, conferring this sudden aggressive trait.  Along with nettles and brambles it has become a pernicious weed and, in one area of the pocket park we have all three of the buggers little rascals.
Rosebay Willow Herb forms a dense stand, but it is wonderfully
colourful in late summer. Byfield Pocket Park. 18 May, 2018
If we could get on top of it other, more delicate plants would stand a chance, but full clearance would probably require a herbicide - and we are trying to avoid that route. As it is only a few species, such as Red Campion, Silene dioica, are robust enough to survive. Be that as it may, plenty of insects visit this particular patch for nectar or to lay their eggs on these plants.
Red Campion flowers are a valuable source of nectar.
Byfield Pocket Park. 18 May, 2018

Busy with spade, trowel and secateurs, I had little chance to look for wildlife but a couple of things came to my attention. We had a mid-morning break for coffee (and Pom's delicious biscuits) beneath an oak tree and on the underside of several of the leaves were spherical galls. They are the work of a cynipid wasp, Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. Similar galls, formed by the same species, are often found on the catkins, looking like succulent berries.

The spherical gall of Neuroterus quercusbaccarum is always on the
underside of the leaf. Byfield Pocket Park. 18 May, 2018
Literally six inches away a very common mirid bug was present. I use the word 'bug' in the proper sense - an insect with mouthparts modified into a structure almost like a drinking straw and used for piercing plant stems or leaves to feed on the sap. (The Bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is making something of a comeback in the UK and is proving more resistant to insecticides, with increased foreign travel has being blamed. In the case of this creature the pabulum is human blood.) However, mirid bugs feed exclusively on plants, and the species in question was the very common and conspicuous Calocoris stysi. So that's ok.
Calocoris stysi is a common, quite variable and colourful bug.
Byfield Pocket Park. 18 May, 2018
Another hour of steady work didn't seem to make great inroads into the weeds and all I felt I'd achieved was getting my forearms nettled. I shouldn't have rolled my sleeves up! Eh bien.


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