Thursday, 16 May 2019

More Foxhall Farming

Recently I have been paying a lot of attention to sites such as Byfield Pool and Stefen Hill Pocket Park and the consequence has been a neglect of Foxhill Farm. Today I balanced things up a bit, but my return to the farm brought no spectacular results. For all Matt's hard work the flora and fauna are still limited but he has made a good start and future generations will reap the benefits. 

There are a few orchids at Foxhill Farm but I saw none today and it is still a little early for them. The plants I saw were predictable and perhaps a little mundane - but welcome. Pink campions welcomed me as I stepped through the gate and in damper parts of the meadow cuckooflowers were plentiful.

Pink campions were around gates and along hedgerows. Foxhill Farm,
near Badby, Northants. 16 May, 2019
Rather less commonly seen is Pignut, Conopodium majus, but there were plenty of these around, with their filigree leaves. Like the cuckooflowers this is a species which has declined with the drainage of many old meadows and has probably suffered rather more. Its tuber can be eaten but tends to be six inches or more beneath the surface at the end of a thin, easily-broken root. It was probably the 'fairy potato' dug up by Caliban in 'The Tempest'.

Pignut is still locally common but has suffered a drastic decline.
Foxhill Farm. 16 May, 2019
Yellow Rattle is another plant of old meadows but here the situation is rather different for I am 90% certain that this has been introduced by Matt to his land, the seeds being readily available from specialist dealers. As a hemi-parasite it weakens rank, dominant grasses and gives smaller species a sporting chance. In the Welsh border country it is known as rochlis, the death rattle. (John Lewis-Stempel, 'Meadowland - the Private Life of an English Field'.)

Yellow Rattle seems indispensable in the ecology of good meadowland.
Foxhill Farm. 16 May, 2019
The only other plant I photographed was Germander Speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys. Like other speedwells they were sometimes carried by travellers to provide good luck when setting out on a journey. This species, perhaps the commonest speedwell in meadows, can be recognised by lines of white hairs on opposite sides of the stem.
Germander Speedwell. A brilliant patch of azure in meadows.
Foxhill Farm. 16 May, 2019

I only took my camera to a couple of insects. One was very easily recognisable. Known as the Red-and-Black Froghopper, Cercopis vulnerata looks lather like a large but misshapen ladybird, but as soon as it jumps - which it does very readily to the frustration of a photographer - it becomes clear that it is quite different. It is a type of bug and soon becomes familiar to anyone visiting grasslands in the summer.

Red-and-Black Froghopper - or is it Black-and-Red Froghopper?
Foxhill Farm. 16 May, 2019

The other insect photographed was a caterpillar. Insects have six legs, and yet the the caterpillar appears to have more. Its six 'true' legs are at the front of the body; towards the rear end are four pair of so-called prolegs then finally a pair of claspers.
Brown-line Bright-eye (I think) Foxhill Farm. 16 May, 2019

This caterpillar was on grass and I'm reasonably confidant that it is a Brown-line Bright-eye, Mythimna conigera. Hardly exciting as it must be one of Britain's commonest moths. Its chestnut-coloured cocoon is often dug up by gardeners when weeding.

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