Wednesday, 1 August 2018

No Green Revolution

I would like to report that recent rainfall has led to an explosion of insect activity. Well, if it has it passed me by, for a visit to Foxhill Farm led to the finding of an average figure for new records - with one exception.

In the north-east of Matt's land lies a small pond. Or in theory it does. In fact weeks of searingly hot weather it has dried up completely but the downpours of recent days have at least made the site damp and the reed-mace seem happy enough.
Reed Mace is flourishing despite the drought. Foxhill Farm,
1 August, 2018

When I strolled through it a number of moths took to the wing. Lepidoptera are not an Order to which I have ever paid much attention, ranking some way down the list after rugby football, left-wing politics, classical music and spiders/flies - though not necessarily in that order.

Of several moths I got only a fleeting glimpse but a few were, I hope, correctly identified.
One very common moth, but new for Foxhill Farm, was the Blood-vein, Timandra comae.

The Blood-vein was common on long grass. Foxhill Farm.
1 August, 2018
Certainly the larval food plants of docks and sorrel are plentiful enough and indeed there were several specimens of this pretty moth on the wing. Seemingly more numerous were Straw Dot moths, Rivula sericealis, but it may simply be that these undistinguished little insects (easily mistaken for a micro-moth) are easily disturbed.
Straw Dots are never colourful but  this was a particularly
anaemic-looking specimen. Foxhill Farm, 1 August, 2018

I was pleased to note that Matt's haymaking team have left broad strips of land untouched at the field margins, giving wildlife a safe haven.

A strip of three metres or so has been left around the field edges - good
news for wildlife enthusiasts. Foxhill Farm, Badby. 1 August, 2018
Grasshoppers are among the insects to benefit and Diminutive Policemen Small Coppers were also doing well, particularly on Creeping Thistle and Ragwort.
Small Coppers were very common, here on Ragwort.
Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants. 1 August, 2018
Also on Creeping Thistle I found three Sloe Bugs, Dolycoris baccarum. As I have mentioned before, they are by no means confined to sloes and occur on a range of plants. Their black and white antennae help to make them distinctive.

This Sloe Bug sat in my sweep-net and refused to budge until shaken
vigorously. Foxhill Farm. 1 August, 2018
A fairly young but rather fine beech tree grows in the hedgerow along this north-eastern border. I don't think I have ever seen a beech as heavily laden before with its fruit, each of which consist of a prickly cupule containing triquetrous nuts. They are small but tasty and as kids we would eagerly eat them by the score. In Germany the leaves are - or were - made into an alcoholic drink, beech-leaf noyau (see below). By all accounts it has quite a kick.

If rugged oaks are a symbol of masculinity the elegant beech seems to be rather more feminine and at one time a fine specimen would be referred to as a 'Queen beech'. It is to some extent a thermophilous species and for a long time regarded as doubtfully native but its pollen has been found in Hampshire dated at 8000 B.P. and so it is as British as H.P. Sauce (now, come to think of it, made in the Netherlands!). Its cream-coloured timber can sometimes have black lines weaving through it, a consequence of infection by a fungus - probably a hoof fungus. This is particularly valued by wood-turners (a situation perhaps paralleled by the 'noble rot' of wine). One old name for beech was 'bok', and it is possible that slices of beech wood, inscribed with runes or graffiti, were the first 'boks' or books. But I will need a lot of convincing on this point.

The branches were heavy with the fruit, each a cupule containing three-sided
nuts. Very tasty too. Foxhill Farm, 2018

Back to the nuts... They, together with acorns, were valued as pannage for pigs and they are still utilised in this way in the New Forest. Many other creatures will feast on the nuts, particularly bramblings, flocks of which will sometimes gather for the bounty. When bears were still wild in Britain they too will have tucked in.

The leaves have a slightly leathery texture and often cling on long after
other trees have shed their foliage.
Despite my opening comments about lack of insects, I had an interesting haul to be sorted later. I also had a two-mile walk as I was without the car so, striding out to the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh I headed for home.

Adele Nozedar (Nozedar, 2012) offers this recipe:

Beech-leaf Noyau

For every 70cl bottle of gin you will need

                            400g of fresh young beech leaves with the stems stripped off
                            225g granulated white sugar
                            300ml water
                            200ml cognac

Put the gin and the leaves into a large, sterilised glass jar, seal and leave for three weeks.
After the three weeks strain the gin from the leaves. Boil the sugar in the water. Allow to cool and then mix together with the strained gin and the brandy. You can then decant the mixture into attractive bottles and store.


No, I don't think I'll bother either.



Nozedar, A.  (2012) The Hedgerow Handbook  Square Peg Books, London

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