Nature Notes May 2021

Engineers at Work – May 2021

“Spending time with nature offers us all precious breathing space away from the stresses and strains of modern life. It enables us to experience joy and wonder, to slow down and to appreciate the wildlife that lives side-by-side with us.”
Sir David Attenborough, Butterfly Conservation President


When Charles Darwin was asked to pick what he thought was the most important animal in the world he chose the earthworm He thought that it was the most significant animal on earth and called it nature’s plough which means that maybe we, as gardeners and farmers, don’t have to worry about digging the soil since it causes so much disturbance to the soil and life within it which is in itself a complete ecosystem.

About half the living things in the world live in the soil but until recently it has been rather disregarded, taken for granted and is often referred to as dirt or mud. it is its own world with all kinds of amazing and strange relationships between plant roots and algae bacteria, nematodes, weevils, protozoa, fungi and a host of others that we have not yet understood.

Soils are also a massive carbon store containing more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals.

Although oceans store most of the earth’s carbon, soils contain approximately 75% of the carbon pool on land. Therefore, soils play a major role in maintaining a balanced global carbon cycle so it is very important to respect the soil rather than degrade it. In the next 2 nature notes I hope to show how we can use our soils in a better way using earthworms as our mentors.

Shearing time as early as possible

Flystrike can be s fatal condition in sheep. When it comes to blowfly strike the aim should really be to prevent it from happening in the first place. It affects all ages of sheep and is caused when blowflies in this case greenbottle, bluebottle and blackbottle flies lay their eggs on the fleece of a sheep. They will be attracted by the odour of decomposing matter such as wounds and soiled fleece especially around the rump and sometimes the shoulders… Each female lays upto 250 eggs that hatch after the very short time of 12 hours. The subsequent maggots burrow down through the wool and eat the flesh of the sheep. It is very horrifying to see. A sheep can virtually be eaten alive because the maggots are very hard to see within the thick winter fleece. I always hope that I can have my sheep sheared as early as possible before blowflies are about. This year they were sheared on April 4th. Very early. The weather was cold but they have a good shelter bedded down with straw and plenty of herbal hay to eat.

Not so long ago sheep had to be dipped. They had to be fully submersed twice within a minute so that any insect pests would be killed. It was a horrible and dangerous experience for both sheep and dippers because highly dangerous chemicals (to the environment & humans) were used. Now there are much better and easier ways of preventing the problem usually by spraying the fleece around the rump and shoulders and along the spine every 8 weeks or so depending on the brand used.

The spray is a bright colour so that it can be easily seen.

All is well for another year.

It’s a Blackthorn Winter

The blackthorn is the very first of our native shrubs to flower. Its star like white flowers blossom well before its leaves burst open when, in fact, the plant looks quite dead. Many confuse the blackthorn with hawthorn but hawthorn flowers do not come out until its leaves are fully open and is therefore much later to flower. When I was a child the farmers and country people in general referred to a ‘blackthorn winter’ for it was frequently bitterly cold when the blackthorn flowers came out usually after a false spring. William Cobbett writing over 150 years ago said ‘It is a remarkable fact that there is always, that is every year of our lives a spell of cold and angry weather just at the time this hardy little tree is in bloom. The country people call it the Black Thorn winter and thus it has been called I dare say by all the inhabitants of this island from generation to generation for a thousand years’ and so it is this year.

The thorn itself is long piercing and unforgiving and has a reputation for puncturing tyres and the feet of sheep and cattle. It is always wise to wear robust gloves when cutting back blackthorn. It is likely to be an extremely effective but invasive hedge.

Book Recommendation

My Garden World by Monty Don

This is simply a book to sit down, relax and enjoy because Monty describes everything that is going on in his garden month by month and these are mostly things that the reader can recognise and say ‘oh yes I’ve seen that too.’ Usually he adds some extra detail that is new to the gardener and of course has beautiful pictures including the wonderful Nigel and now Nell and Pattie.

A quote from Monty Don.
‘All our gardens, streets and patches of sky are part of our own perception of the world. If, in our own modest back yards, we can help preserve and treasure our natural world, then we will make this planet a better place- not just for ourselves but for every living creature.’

The beginnings of the meadow

By the end of March the sheep have been banned from the meadow much to their disgust. Once they have stopped grazing meadow plants begin to make headway and the first hopeful signs of a meadow full of wildflowers and grasses begin to appear. One of the first that is obvious to recognise is this orchid.

What is this? Answer at the end if you need it Its leaves look quite exotic bit it is only a common spotted orchid but even so there seem to be many in the smaller meadow. In 1985 when I arrived here I could only count 3 such orchids but last year there were too many to count so that is pleasing and looks to be repeated this year.

End Pieces

Swallows seem to be arriving late this year. I spotted a swallow on April 25th. all on its own so I assume that it was waiting for others to arrive after their massive journey of flight.

Zest for life

On September 13th.2020 this willow was pollarded. It grows along footpath 51 which leads to and from the A368 and Sandmead Road. It is a good route for Sandford students to take to and from Churchill Academy.

By April 22nd.2021 the willow had already burst back into new life.

Answer. It is the inside of a tulip another single flower that is advertising its pollen and nectar to insects.

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