"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, 21 August 2018

Recent Reading

Some recent reading.............

Earth to Earth is a delightful and charming book and one I will read again and again. The author writes of wildlife to be found in churchyards and the book has beautiful illustrations and photos accompanied by quotations. This is a book to treasure.

I have mentioned before how much I love Richard Fortey's geology books - his latest offering is about a wood he bought in the Chilterns. Delightfully written it is full of the wildlife he finds, history and geology.Highly recommended.

I do have a copy of the Bee "bible" but

I wanted a book that concentrates just on Bumble Bees. This is an excellent guide - already I am finding it easier to distinguish between true bumble bees and cuckoo bumbles! Highly recommended if you are interested in bumble bees and identifying them.

When I started to re-read the first few of the "Jamie" books by Diana Gabaldon I had forgotten how long they were! This one is 1059 pages and it has taken me a couple of months to finish it inbetween reading other books. I will have a break before continuing with the series but I think the remainder are books I haven't read before.

The Stranger from the Sea is another book I have read before. The Poldark books are very enjoyable and easy reading. Rather than waiting for the next tv series to start I think I will continue re-reading the series.

Warning- comment below on the Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths may contain a few spoilers if you are intending to read the book.

I treated myself to the latest Ruth Galloway book for the holiday and it does not disappoint although the shock ending makes me wonder what will happen between Ruth and Nelson even if Nelson's wife's baby isn't his. Sorry I hope I am not giving away too many spoilers. I believe the next in the series is due out soon - not sure how long it will take before I give in and buy it!

Leaving books I have knitted Timothy a new jumper :)

Golden Rod is still flowering profusely in the garden and still attracting butterflies, hoverflies and bees galore.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Butterfly Walk at a Wildlife Friendly Farm

Last weekend we returned, after an absence of a few years, to the annual Butterfly Walk at Wild Hollowfields, Worcestershire.

I cannot praise this farm enough every single one of its 250 acres is farmed in a way that is sympathetic to wildlife and various historic features. A wild flower meadow has been created using local seed and a wet meadow containing plants of botanical interest has been allowed to regenerate naturally. Hedges are managed on a rotational basis to take account of the requirements of various butterfly species particularly the rare Brown Hairstreak. Scrapes have been created to encourage wading birds such as Snipe, Curlew and Lapwing. The farm is regularly surveyed and has recorded 80 species of bird. Wide field margins (as you will see from some of the photos) are sown with wild flower seed mixes which include Knapweed, Birds-foot Trefoil and Horseshoe Vetch.

After meeting other people attending the organised walk, being shown a Poplar Hawkmoth trapped the previous night, and being offered coffee and biscuits we set off on the walk.

(Sorry the butterfly photos are not brilliant - I am finding it difficult to get macro shots of butterflies with the Panasonic Lumix unless I can get really close - which as we all know is often difficult with insects!.Sadly my son decided not to take the Canon bridge camera so I hadn't even got his photos to fall back on.)

We saw the first of many "whites" near the entrance to the farm and then the very second butterfly we saw as we turned into the lane was the rare Brown Hairstreak.

Brown Hairstreaks (Theola betulae) also known as Ash Brownies are the largest species of Hairstreak in Britain. Unfortunately, long term trends show the species is undergoing a severe decline. One of the main reasons for this is the unsympathetic farming practice of removal and flailing of blackthorn in hedgerows which destroys the overwintering eggs of this butterfly. (I hasten to add this does not occur at Wild Hollowfields).

Brown Hairstreak are a UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) Priority Species. There is just one generation a year with adults emerging in late July/early August. They live in colonies that tend to breed in the same localities year after year. The occur in habitats where Blackthorn, the main larval food plant, is abundant. Adults will take nectar from blackberry flowers, Devil's Bit Scabious, Hemp Agrimony, Hogweed and Ragwort and the adults will also feed on honeydew and sap. Eggs, which resemble tiny sea urchins, are laid on the bark of Blackthorn usually in a fork in the branch in sheltered areas exposed to sunlight. Larvae undergo a partial development and then over-winter in the eggs which makes them vulnerable to hedge trimming as the eggs are laid on the youngest growth. Caterpillars emerge from the eggs in Spring and following the first moult they will hide in the day in a silk pad on the underside of the leaf only emerging at night to feed. They pupate amongst leaf litter or the base of a plant after the third moult.

It was such a thrill to see this beautiful and charismatic butterfly.

Sloes on the abundant Blackthorn as we walked along the lane.

This Ash is believed to be the "master" tree where adults congregate in the canopy to mate and feed on aphid honeydew.

We then walked through fields with wide wild flower strips which were full of insects.

Many butterflies were seen - here a Brown Argus

The search for butterflies continues.

Common Blue

Speckled Wood

Elderberries are ripening in the hedgerows.

I saw several of these unusual plants but I am not sure of the species.

Small Copper

Grasshopper - we saw dozens of these.

Another Small Copper on Common Fleabane

Common Blue - this would have made a lovely photograph if only I could have got closer!

After walking for a couple of hours and seeing a super selection of butterfly species we went back to the farmhouse for scones, cream and jam :)

Many thanks to the very knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic GC who led the walk and also to the lovely owners of Wild Hollowfields for their wonderful hospitality and determination to look after wildlife on the farm. It was so lovely to meet you all again. I appreciate that not every farm will qualify for Higher Level Stewardship but it is so encouraging and uplifting to have the privilege of being able to walk around a farm like this and see how sympathetic management can encourage wildlife and increase biodiversity.

There was an interesting article in a recent edition of "The Comma" (the West Midland Butterfly Conservation magazine) which documented the amazing spread in range of the Brown Hairstreak in Worcestershire.

This species was only re-discovered during the winter of 1969-70 by the late Jack Green who spotted eggs in a hedgerow in the Grafton Wood area. This was the first record of Brown Hairstreak in Worcestershire in 79 years. In Jack Green's book on Worcestershire butterflies published in 1982 he gives records of the species in three 10 km OS grid squares although exact locations were not given.

Most records of the butterfly refer to the discovery of eggs during the winter as it is a very elusive butterfly rarely coming down to ground level and most of its time is spent in the canopy. It is, therefore, easily overlooked and possibly under-recorded. 30 years ago the butterfly was still only recorded in the Grafton Wood area.

Following the setting up of stewardship schemes on farms in the area which included the protection of blackthorn hedgerows from flailing along with rotational management of hedges, the Brown Hairstreak slowly started to spread its range away from Grafton Wood.

By 1996 it had been recorded in five separate 1 km squares and by 1997 it had been recorded in ten 1 km squares. There has been a steady annual increase in range and by the time of the 2016/17 winter it had been recorded in 215 squares which is a phenomenal success story. It is difficult to gauge the reasons for this spread but farm stewardship schemes will have helped and it is also possible that climate change may have contributed. The species may have been under-recorded in the past.

Current knowledge of its distribution is due to a small group of volunteers who turn out weekly in all weathers during the winter to conduct egg searches in Worcestershire hedgerows.

On the way home we stopped off at the picturesque village of Feckenham to buy the papers.

Just a few better!!!! photos from our visit to the farm in 2014.

Small Copper


Common Blue


Brown Argus


Common Blue


*:D - Photos taken by my son in 2014 with the Canon SX50 bridge camera

We were lucky enough to see a Brown Hairstreak on this walk too but sadly not on the walk in 2015.

Taken by me with the Olympus e420 dslr with 70-300 lens

Reference: Article in the Spring 2018 edition of "The Comma" the Regional magazine for West Midland Butterfly Conservation entitled "Streaking Ahead - a Worcestershire Success Story" by Simon Primrose, pages 4-5.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

National Herb Centre and Nature Trails

Last Saturday D and I went on a trip to the National Herb Centre near Banbury. The Centre was established in 1997 by Peter Turner with the aim of providing a place where people could see, enjoy and learn about herbs. In the past research projects into herbs have been undertaken. (Many Thanks to Ron who recently brought the Centre to my attention and showed me enough photos to make me want to visit).

Swallows nesting at the entrance.



The centre sells plants, garden ornaments and gifts and there are also gardens and nature trails to explore and a bistro.

Again it was another very hot day so we decided to explore the gardens and and nature trails first.

There are lovely views and the buddleias were covered in butterflies.

This border which was full of flowering Tansies and what I think was Wild Marjoram had dozens of butterflies flitting about.

Common Blue I think (there is a very similar species called Brown Argus). I did at this stage think of doing a Big Butterfly Count but to be honest there were just too many Whites flying about to id as well as the problems of differentiating between Common Blue and Brown Argus so I abandoned the idea.

There were six small specimen gardens containing herbs to give you ideas of what you can grow at home.

Path down to the valley and nature trails.

The path was lined with Wild Marjoram and I have never seen so many Common Blues in one place before - there were dozens of them.


Common Blue



Other butterflies seen on the walk included Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Comma, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral.

There were lots of thistles and teasels on the walk which will be good for Goldfinches.

I had forgotten to pick up a map of the nature trails from the shop so we made up our own circular walk.

Blackberries and

Elderberries ripening already.

The views over the Oxfordshire countryside were lovely.

After a couple of hours we finally returned to the garden centre.

Tomato Soup with a cheese scone and

half a piece of Carrot Cake were the late lunch we had in the bistro. The food was delicious.

We had a look round the garden centre and came home with some herbs and a stone statue.

I will certainly be visiting again and next time will remember a map of the nature trails because I think there is woodland to explore too.

We bought home a few blackberries and

here are the herbs now planted in pots.

Some years ago when we were on holiday near Lyme Regis in West Dorset my son and I fell in love with a stone statue of a Gate Keeper at a cottage next to the one we were staying in. So when we spotted a very similar one (made in Devon) at the Herb Centre we just had to buy it.

A few more new fairy ornaments I have placed round the garden.

*D Photos taken by D with the Canon SX50HS bridge camera

The rest of the photos taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera