"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Day Out in Lincolnshire

B's father was based at RAF Scampton for a while during World War 2 and D arranged a surprise trip to the RAF Scampton Heritage Centre for B's birthday.

Scampton airfield was first opened in 1916 and during the 1930's was extended as part of the strategy to deal with the growing threat from Germany. The most famous squadron based at RAF Scampton was of course 617 or the Dambusters. On 21st March, 1943, Wing Commander Guy Gibson arrived at Scampton to form, train and lead a special new squadron flying Lancaster Bombers that would attack 3 dams that provided water and power to the Ruhr Industrial Valley in Germany using the "bouncing bombs" invented by Barnes Wallis. The codename for the operation was "Operation Chastise" and the squadron only had a few weeks to get ready for the raids. The operation was carried out on 17th May, 1943, when the Mohn and Edersee Dams were breached but the Sorpe Dam only sustained minor damage. 133 took part in the mission, 8 crews were lost with 53 being killed and 3 taken prisoner. 80 men survived the operation. Some of you may have watched the 1955 film - "The Dambusters".

After World War 2, Scampton was an important base housing one of the UK's nuclear deterrents and the Blue Steel missile. Today, RAF Scampton is the base for the Red Arrows - the RAF Aerobatic team.

You aren't allowed to take photos of the base itself but we did see where parts of the film were made, the briefing and debriefing building, a listed Water Tower and the building where they make the dye for the Red Arrows' vapour trail.

Personally, I was particularly thrilled with the Red Arrow connection :) They were away displaying at Farnborough last weekend but there were plenty of reminders of the team to see. I've seen the Red Arrows at Farnborough and Cosford Air Shows and they put on a tremendous display.

This is the airfield - I assume little changed since the days of WW2 - although initially the runways were grass rather than concrete.

This is the grave for Guy Gibson's much loved dog and squadron mascot who was run over and killed outside the base on the night of the raid and Gibson asked if ground staff could bury the pet on the grass verge outside his office at midnight when the raids would be taking place.

The museum is located in Hanger 2 which housed the 617 squadron

Guy Gibsons office

The remains of Wing Commander Guy Gibsons's Mosquito plane which crashed in Holland on 19th September 1944 due to engine failure and resulting in the death of WC Gibson.

This plane is known as the "Bridesmaid" - it was originally thought it would be become the plane used by the Red Arrows until it crashed into a car park in RAF Valley during testing.

After the Heritage Centre Visit and tour we visited the pretty little village of Scampton and the church of St John the Baptist.

The churchyard contains the graves of British and Commonwealth servicemen

and the graves of some German pilots whose plane crashed nearby during WW2.

We had lunch at the Dambusters' Inn in the village which is a fairly new pub and didn't exist at the time of the Dambusters. It is however full of WW2 and RAF memorabilia and the food was excellent.

By sheer coincidence there was an excellent programme on BBC 2 on Sunday evening all about Lancaster bombers presented by John Sergeant which was very interesting although it did bring home the sheer horrors of war.

D and B made this model of a Lancaster last year.

The Heritage Centre at RAF Scampton is open to the public but only by appointment.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Moths, Bees, Flowers, A Newt and a City Widlflower Meadow

I've put the moth trap out three times since we came back from holiday and, at long last, moths numbers are building up. Its very hot and humid here at the moment but sadly a lot of torrential rain and thunderstorms are being forecast so I doubt I will be putting it out this weekend. So a few photos of the more interesting species.

Riband Wave (Idaea aversata)

Clay (Mythimna ferrago)

Double Square-spot (Xestia triangulum)

Marbled Beauty (Cryphia domestica)

Bright-line Brown-eye (Lacanobia oleracea)

Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria)

Scalloped Oak (Crocallis elinguaria)

Here in it's pot awaiting release.

Bird's Wing (Dypterygia scabriuscula) I love this unusual looking moth and have only trapped a few in four years. Someone suggested it looked as though it was dressed in a Victorian evening gown and I think that is a really apt description!

Sycamore (Acronicta aceris)

Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor)

New butterflies seen in the garden recently for this first time this year include Green-veined White, Comma and yesterday I was thrilled to see a Skipper on the lavender. Its years since I last saw a Skipper in the garden. Unfortunately I couldn't identify it to species level as it flew over the garden fence before I could get close enough!!

If you live in the UK the yearly Big Butterfly Count run by Butterfly Conservation (in association with Marks and Spencers) starts this weekend. It runs from 19th July to 10th August and all you need to do is watch and record butterflies in your garden or park for 15 minutes and then submit your sightings. Its a great example of Citizen Science and, following its launch in 2010, it has become the world's biggest butterfly survey. It aims to assess the health of our environment as butterflies react rapidly to changes in the environment and are, therefore, excellent biodiversity indicators. The survey will also help track the effects of Climate Change and changes in populations of species.

For more information please visit www.bigbutterflycount.org.

I am really pleased that Leafcutter Bees (one of the Megachile species) are again using one of the bee "hotels" in the garden. These are small solitary bees that nest in holes in plant stems, walls etc. and they "cut-off" pieces of leaf (often roses) to make a cell for their larvas. The larvae will hatch and develop, pupate in the autumn and hibernate over winter. The adults feed on nectar and pollen.

Unfortunately for my leaf cutter bees there is again this year a Cuckoo Bee (one of the Coelyoxis species) (in fact there are 2 indviduals at least this year)lying in wait. They will lay eggs in the cells used by the leaf cutter bees and when they hatch the Cuckoo Bee larva will steal the pollen provided for the leaf cutter bee larva and then kill the leaf cutter young.

Last night when I was watering the tomato plants as it was getting dark a Common Newt emerged from within the grow-bag. Once they have bred the adult newts will have left our garden pond and spend the summer in damp places.

St John's Wort is now flowering in the garden wildflower "meadow".

This flower, together with lesser knapweed, scabious, wild carrot and yarrow, are very popular with insects.

Verbena bonariensis is now starting to flower - I am slowly adding more plants around the garden as this species is very popular with pollinating insects.

The top six flowers for pollinators in my garden at this time of year are: Valerian, Lavender, Buddleia, Verbena bonariensis, Golden Rod and Cosmos. Bees, Butterflies and Hoverflies all seem to love the flowers.

There are lots of lovely grass species appearing in the "nomowzone" but I must admit I find grasses quite a nightmare to identify :(

When I gave B a lift last week to and from the garage to have his car serviced I spotted the most wonderful wildflower meadow on a housing estate in Birmingham. I really couldn't believe my eyes. When I collected my car earlier this week from the same garage I took my camera and stopped off to take a few photos. The meadow is just brimming with corn marigolds, poppies, cornflowers, poppies and ox-eye daisies and there were so many bees and butterflies about. I am so pleased that Councils are at long last starting to plant more wildflowers.

On the way home I also stopped of at a brownfield site I noticed last year. It used to be the site of a pub which was demolished following closure and now the area is being re-colonised by nature. Last year the buddleias there were just full of butterflies but I didn't have my camera with me.

Unfortunately this year, for some reason, there weren't many butterflies about - just one Comma, one Red Admiral and a few whites. So no butterfly photos I am afraid but it is fascinating to see how quickly nature returns to a site.

Blackberries are starting to form. I suspect (and hope) it will be another good year for them this summer :)