Sunday, 27 October 2019

Sloshing through wet fields

So, after several days of what seemed like unremitting rain, today the weather relented. If not particularly warm, it has been sunny and dry - except underfoot.

I paid a long-overdue visit to Foxhill Farm, but even on what are theoretically quick-draining slopes on the side of Fox Hill, I found myself sloshing through wet ground. I played it safe and spent most of my time examining the base of walls adjacent to the farmhouse. The warmth of sun-drenched brickwork was being exploited by many flies, beetles, spiders, harvestmen and - snails.

I spend little time recording these interesting molluscs, but some thirty years ago I spent many hours with the late Gordon Osborn and others seeking out and recording these creatures. Today several species of snail were clinging to the wall. The garden snail, Cornu aspersum (known through most of my life as Helix aspersa) must be far and away the most familiar gastropod in Britain. Although the snail usually appearing in posh restaurants is the Roman Snail, Helix pomatia, our garden snail is perfectly edible (so I am told!). On the farmhouse wall it seemed content - as far as I could judge from its demeanour.

The Common Garden Snail, Cornu aspersa, was probably waiting for
evening. Foxhill Farm, 27 October, 2019
Sharing the wall with the snails were hundreds of specimens of Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirabilis. Although most will not mature until next spring there were some  beautifully marked and impressively large examples. Perhaps they were able to pounce occasionally on an unwary fly.

Nursery Web Spiders were exceedingly common at the base of the
 farm walls. 27 October, 2019

I took a short stroll along an adjacent hedgerow where blackberries were in fruit but not yet ripe. The gathering of blackberries still goes on but from a sort of ritualistic tradition rather than need, and the participants soon realise that the variety is extraordinary: there are early-ripening forms and there are those which take another two months or more to yield; there are large fruits and there are small; some disintegrate at the slightest touch while others remain firm; some are glossy and others are pruinose. 

Some blackberries are sill bearing multitudes of fruit.
Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants. 27 October, 2019
Virtually all may be regarded as Rubus fruticosus but, as I have mentioned before, there are well over a hundred so-called micro-species and these are enthusiastically studied by batologists.

In contrast the Common Gorse, Ulex europaeus, shows little variation. It can famously flower at any time of the year and today a few blooms were on show. Unsurprisingly insect visitors were few and although the occasional wasp put in an appearance none lingered.
Gorse has ignored the unpleasant weather to bear a few flowers.
Foxhill Farm, 27 October, 2019

In late May or thereabouts the smell of coconuts produced by gorse flowers can be very distinctive making it a delight on a walk. However it is not regarded as a delight everywhere for in New Zealand and a number of other countries gorse has become a serious pest. Controls such as the Gorse Mite, Tetranychus lintearius, have been introduced on the advice of agricultural scientists but success has been limited. Incidentally burning is very ineffective because not only do new shoots spring from burnt stumps but seeds seem to germinate more readily after being 'toasted' by fire.

However, although there are dozens of gorse plants on Foxhill Farm they cause no apparent problem and I'm sure Matt Moser is content to leave them.

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