Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Bits and bobs around Byfield

A report today confirmed what many of us have long suspected: an article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B showed clear evidence that bumblebees are finding urban situations more favourable than the open countryside, with a greater range of pollen and nectar sources available. This came to mind as I strolled through the village of Byfield earlier today. Sure enough, foxgloves, scabious, marigolds and a range of other garden plants were claiming the attention of bees.
To an old stone wall in Church Street clung mats of English Stonecrop, Sedum anglicum. Not exciting in itself for this is a widespread and common species, given a suitable habitat.
English stonecrop on a wall in Church Street, Byfield.
27 June, 2018
But, holding a cupped hand beneath, I gave the plant a sharp tap and out tumbled a specimen of the Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci. This is well-known as a pest of domestic carpets but here it was in its natural habitat, probably in search of pollen. After mating it may seek out birds' nests in which to lay its eggs. I photographed this tiny (2 mm long) insect but the results were poor and you'll just have to take my word for its presence.
I pushed on to the churchyard where the leaves of Lesser Burdock, Arctium minus, were patterned with the mines of the agromyzid fly, Chromatomyia syngenesiae.
The mazy leaf mines created by the larvae of an agromyzid fly.
Byfield village churchyard. 27 June, 2018
A little further on and the umbels of Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, were being visited by an interesting bee-mimic, Cheilosia illustrata. This is a species of hoverfly (and therefore only has two wings instead of four) with, unusually for the genus, dark patches on its wings. It is particularly associated with hogweed flowers and I only occasionally find it elsewhere. By now, to be honest, I had entered the village pocket park, not exactly an urban habitat. There were bumble bees about but the nectar sources of the village gardens had now largely dried up with hogweed and brambles helping to compensate.

No, not a bee but a hoverfly, Cheilosia illustrata, on Hogweed.
Byfield Pocket Park. 27 June, 2018

The most obvious target for insects was the hogweed and fifty years ago enormous numbers of flies, bees and beetles would have been there with some, particularly the beetles, using the flowers as a dual purpose nectar source cum trysting ground. (Fancy a visit to the hogweed darlin'? Nudge nudge, wink wink!)
A Speckled Wood enjoys the warm sunshine as it basks on a bramble leaf.
Byfield Pocket Park, 27 June, 2018
My own garden has attracted some butterflies, admittedly only commonplace species such as Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Here in the pocket park I saw only Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, although, to be fair, I was only there for a few minutes. The villagers have worked hard, and continue to work hard, on this refuge and it is far richer in species than the surrounding fields where, perhaps significantly, the farmer cultivates the land as closely as possible to the margins, leaving nothing for potential pollinators of his rapeseed crops. We can't expect all land to match the astounding Knebb Farm*, but landowners should regard themselves as stewards, in the privileged position of now being able to reverse decades of destruction. Thank God for those who are joining in the fightback for our wildlife.

* This astonishing farm has been the subject of many wildlife articles and has received much television coverage. Isabella Tree's book, Wilding: the return of Nature to a British Farm makes fascinating reading.

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