A glorious spring day and a fly past by an early Brimstone butterfly welcomed the first event of the year. David and Nick joining with ten members of Peterborough Conservation Volunteers (PCV) to clear some of the small scrub along the boundary between compartments 1 and 4 to the west of the wooded area. The reported regular presence of a local concentration of Green Hairstreak butterflies saved us from a major battle with two large bramble patches and to work around the larger hawthorn bushes present in the area. That still left enough smaller scrub mainly ash, hawthorn, blackthorn and of course turkey oak to clear. The friendly welcome and regular cups of tea provided by PCV made the morning pass very quickly. Late excitement from a brief excursion by the fire into the surrounding dead grasses and a discussion on the identification of violets, prompted by a local patch that was in full bloom, ensured lunch was as interesting as the rest of the day. Many thanks to Anne and John (PCV) for leading the task and keeping everyone safe and the rest of the PCV team for their practical help in maintaining the reserve.
The first event for the Friends of Barnack Hills and Holes in 2015 will be a practical task held on Sunday March 22nd. We will be joining with the Peterborough Conservation Volunteers who will be on site continuing to clear scrub and help keep the reserve in good condition to support the flora and butterflies that we can enjoy throughout the spring and summer. Please feel free to join us for as long or as little time as you can. Please let me know by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org if you are thinking of attending so I can provide any updates . David
The first Annual General Meeting of the Friends will be on 6th November 2014 at 7.30pm, Barnack Village Hall.
The AGM will be followed by a short talk from Chris Gardiner of Natural England, “The Ups and Downs of Hills and Holes”. He will tell us all about managing a National Nature Reserve, which should be very interesting and relevant.
Light refreshments will be available to welcome you to the meeting. We will also have a display of photographs and reports and statistics from the reserve.
At the AGM the current Steering Committee will step down, and it will be up to the members to vote for officers and committee members. While some of the original committee are happy to stand for re-election, we do have a vacancy for Secretary at present. Please consider whether you would be willing to join the committee in any capacity; you are welcome to contact me for more information. I need nominations (you can nominate yourself!) as soon as possible please.
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The traditional bank holiday weather has me thinking about this years fine display of butterflies and flowers on the Hills and Holes. At least my perception is the flowers were more prolific than usual and the butterflies earlier and more numerous. Perhaps the mild winter had made a contribution but was it that unusual? So I have “dug out” from the internet the weather records from Wittering (only a mile or so from the reserve as the crow flies) and discovered that since the accessible records began in July 1996 it had been one of the mildest winters (along with 2007).
Particularly unique and perhaps significant for the over wintering insects there was no single day when the average temperature recorded was below 0 degrees celsius.
Spring has also been one of the warmest, again notable for its absence of any really cold days.
It will be interesting to see if the results of the butterfly and other surveys support my ad hoc observations and if we really have seen the benefits of a mild winter and warm spring last through the summer. For the information of those who took part in a very wet Man Orchid count it could have been worse. The rain fall on the 24th May (10.92mm) was only the fourth heaviest of the year (perhaps made to feel worse by the19.05mm that fell on 22nd May but not as bad as the 23.88mm on 10th August. With the 12.95mm that came down on 20th July these are the only four days so far this year to have reached double figures local to the reserve. Now I have the data please let me know if you have any specific questions on the historic weather.
We have something a little different for you this time! On Wednesday 6th August there will be a great opportunity to participate in looking after our nature reserve. Ragwort is a pernicious weed which spreads very easily and can be a danger to animals, so we will spend time pulling up as much as possible and getting rid of it (at least for this year!). We will be working alongside our Summer Warden and also local Wildlife Trust volunteers, and if you think you don’t know what Ragwort looks like, someone will be very happy to show you.
Meet at 10 am in the car park on Wittering Road. The plan is to be finished by 3pm at the latest. Please wear sensible clothing – long trousers, long sleeves, suitable shoes or boots, a sunhat and don’t forget waterproofs just in case. You will need gardening gloves as well. Bring a packed lunch and plenty to drink.
Even if you can only spare an hour, this would still be helpful, so do come along and join the team.
Things you may not know about the ragwort
1. Ecological Importance (source Wikipedia)
In the UK, where the plant is native, Ragwort provides a home and food source to at least 77 insect species. Thirty of these species of invertebrate use Ragwort exclusively as their food source and there are another 22 species where Ragwort forms a significant part of their diet.
Furthermore, English Nature identify a further 117 species who use Ragwort as a nectar source whilst travelling between feeding and breeding sites, or between metapopulations. These consist mainly of solitary bees, hoverflies, moths, and butterflies such as the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).
Without doubt the most common of those species that are totally reliant on Ragwort for their survival is the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae). The Cinnabar is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Species, its status described ascommon and widespread but rapidly declining. Which gives yet more evidence of Ragwort’s important role in maintaining the country’s biodiversity and a vitally important component of the native flora.
It is the unofficial national flower of the Isle of Man and, though controlled in the farmland areas, on the hills it is tolerated. The local Manx name for it is the cushag.
Josephine „Cushag‟ Kermode (1852–1937)
Now, the Cushag, we know,
Must never grow,
Where the farmer’s work is done.
But along the rills,
In the heart of the hills,
The Cushag may shine like the sun.
Where the golden flowers,
Have fairy powers,
To gladden our hearts with their grace.
And in Vannin Veg Veen,
In the valleys green,
The Cushags have still a place
3. Poison (Wikipedia)
Ragwort contains many different alkaloids, making it poisonous to certain animals.
Ragwort is of concern to people who keep horses and cattle. In areas of the world where ragwort is a native plant, such as Britain and continental Europe, documented cases of proven poisoning are rare. Animals may also resort to the consumption of ragwort when there is shortage of food. In rare cases they can even become addicted to it. Sheep and goats suffer the same process of liver destruction but at a reduced rate to horses and pigs
“Friends” Event Sunday 27th July
Our next event for you all is a butterfly and moth day on Sunday 27th July. Weather permitting, moths will be trapped overnight for us to see in the morning, and if the sun shines there should be plenty of butterflies to see. Please meet at 10 am in the car park on Wittering Road, Barnack – no need to book. Just a reminder – please remember to bring suitable footwear, the Hills and Holes can be difficult terrain and sandals are not advised. Hope to see lots of you there!
This is for members only but if you would like to come along please join the Friends of Barnack Hills and Holes. It’s only £5 pa and you can join on the day.
A GLOWING REPORT
At 10.30 on a damp night in late June, people in Barnack may have wondered at a mysterious glow on the Hills and Holes. It came from the light of a dozen torches held by a group of Friends of Barnack Hills and Holes, led by Chris Gardiner, from Natural England. They had come to find a more fascinating light – that of our native glow-worm.
The glow-worm, Lampyris noctiluca, is not a worm but a brown beetle up to 25 mm long. It glows at all stages of its life (egg, larva, pupa and adult) but it is only the wingless female that glows strongly. The light-producing organ is on the underside of the tip of the abdomen and contains a layer of the chemical ’luciferin’, backed by a reflector of minute crystals. Luciferin glows with a cold, greenish light when combined with oxygen, and the glow-worm is able to turn the light on and off, possibly by regulating the supply of oxygen. The sedentary female glow-worm lights up strongly for a few weeks in summer, to attract sharp-eyed, winged males. As well as attracting a mate, the glow is a warning to predators: glow-worms taste bad and can cause vomiting. Adult glow-worms rarely feed, so after mating the female turns out her light, lay eggs and dies.
The eggs hatch into larvae after a few weeks and remain as larvae for one or two further summers. The larvae are greyish-brown, with yellow triangular markings on their sides. They are predators, feeding on small snails and slugs, which they grab with their jaws, inject with digestives juice and ingest as a mush. It is no coincidence that limestone grassland, which supports large populations of snails, is a favourite habitat of the glow-worm, although the insect can also be found on road verges, along hedgerows and in gardens. The decline in glow-worm populations in the last half century is linked with the loss of much of Britain’s chalk and limestone grassland. Another problem for glow-worms is competition from street lights and other light sources, which disrupts mating behaviour by attracting males away from the glow of the females.
Although the weather was not ideal, the Friends did find glow-worms that night in June. The glow was unmistakable, pin-point sharp and surprisingly bright. Once the rain started in earnest the reflection from the raindrops on the grass caused confusion, so the party called it a night, feeling well satisfied with the outcome of the expedition.
Man Orchid Count – Saturday 24th May
A hardy group of 14 friends surveyed the south-west compartment for man orchids on a very wet Saturday morning. Completing three traverses of this area of the reserve spread out in a line we managed to count and record the location of 161 man orchid flowering spikes. A significant increase in numbers on surveys in recent years but still significantly less than the peak recorded in the 1980’s. The survey only covered one sector of the reserve and casual walks along the main paths in the north west compartment can also find man orchids in flower. The previous post shows what we were looking for and the orchids are still flowering and can be seen on the reserve with a little care and time to hunt out the green/brown spikes from the green/brown vegetation! If the sunshines it is an added benefit as the butterflies will also be out, they were notably far more sensible than us and avoided a soaking!