Last Saturday we made our third visit to Fancott Meadows, a Coronation Meadow which is managed by the BCN Wildlife Trust. This time we went along with our local Wildlife Trust group led by Graham Bellamy. The forecast was rain and I had packed my camera into a waterproof bag, as we arrived in the carpark I realised I had left the bag and camera on the kitchen counter top at home.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the photos I took on my phone were so appalling it meant we had to visit again late Tuesday afternoon, the sun shone and some of the Butterflies we had hoped to see on the grey overcast Saturday morning were now enjoying the sunshine and flitting through the meadows.
Fancott was bought by the Trust in 2007 from a local retiring farmer, horses had been grazing these fields, now Red Poll cattle and Hebridean Sheep are brought on at specific times to graze the meadows, we are told this is a more sympathetic way to manage the meadows both for plants and the wildlife. The old method of cutting the meadows would have removed the invertebrates habitat in one fell swoop.
But for our cool summer, the Black Knapweed would usually be in flower by now. Cuckoo spit is the secretion of Froghopper nymphs, nothing to do with the bird. The nymphs live inside the “spit” until ready to fledge as the Froghopper insect.
There were swathes of Yellow Rattle – Rhinanthus minor which produce tiny seeds that rattle around in the papery brown calyx, hence the common name. Its a hemiparasite, its roots grow into the roots of its neighbours, usually grasses taking their nutrients.
The meadows are divided into two, with wooden gates and traditional hedging forming the boundaries. The second is a flood plain meadow and supports Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, as its edging towards invasive the Trust are monitoring its spread, if allowed to take over, other plants of interest would be crowded out. In flower and en-masse its quite a sight, right now its a little drab. The plant was used as a flavouring in Mead, hence its common name.
There were Orchids, Heath, Common and a Frog Orchid, not a looker but a rarity.
Our native Marsh Thistle distinguished by their cluster heads were the tallest plants towering above the other meadow plants and can reach up to 200cms tall.
Ragged Robin is nectar rich we waited a while for one of the Bees to land, but they seemed to prefer the Marsh Thistle on Tuesday.
As we neared the end of our walk through the meadows we saw a small patch of Corn cleavers they have declined dramatically in the last 60 years, modern agricultural methods have done for it and this little plant is now very rare and classified as critically endangered.
The Wildlife Trusts are made up of 47 individual Trusts, collectively their mission is dedicated to protect and preserve wildlife and wild places. Lobbying the government to improve weak legislation and encouraging volunteers to be active and engage with our natural world. Our local Flitvale group are a lovely bunch of folk, sharing knowledge and their company, with some wonderful speakers and walk leaders, often for the cost of £1.00.
Last year we were to early to see Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis in flower, its a glorious sight. What a tragedy that so many of these wonderful meadows have been lost, once these would have been a common sight and now they are a rarity.
Record sighting on http://www.naturescalendar.org.uk
Tina Huckabee hosts a monthly Wildlife meme on the first Wednesday of each month on her lovely My Gardener Says blog. I took part for the first time in January and am just as happy to be able to take part again, this time looking back at the wildlife visiting our garden in February. A month of mixed temperatures, with cold snow, heavy rain and howling winds and then some sunny days rising up to 11c. A wide range of birds, some regulars, some occasional visitors and for the first time a female Black Cap dropped by too, plus a few displaying some unusual behaviour.
Running at a right angle to our east facing dining room window is an enormous Hydrangea petiolaris, its a tough woody, shade tolerant climber that provides shelter and foraging opportunities for many birds. In the colder months we add fat blocks impregnated with mealworms and crushed insects to the bare branches. The smaller Starling is a juvenile, its colouring will change and the bird will grow darker feathers. Both birds will lose their spots as they moult and develop darker sleeker feathers in preparation for finding a mate and the breeding season. Starlings regularly nest in a small gap between our barge boards and roof tiles, but to see a whole flock, we travel further east to the Fens between November and February to watch the murmurations.
Groups of Starlings meet up before dusk, its thought the reason for these gatherings is safety in numbers, predators such as sparrow hawks would find picking off individual birds difficult, to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas. Watching a murmuration is an exciting event, many thousands of birds, swirling, soaring and finally as dark descends dropping down from the sky to roost.
The month had started with a return to cold snowy weather, a steady stream of birds kept us entertained. The female sparrow was finally joined by a male and increasing numbers of Long tailed Tits came into the garden. This little bird is joyful to watch. The BTO (British Ornithological Trust) reports the success of this little bird and numbers have increased tenfold in recent years, although a very harsh winter could see numbers reduce again.
We encourage as much as we can to visit as a garden is pretty soulless without wildlife and the local pheasants have been interesting to watch as they come in looking for seed dropped from the feeders. They are bred nearby for shooting. The season runs from October 1st to February 1st. Foxes eventually take a lot of those not shot, a neighbour reported 12 in his garden last week, we have 4 hopping in and out, a male and 3 females. They are especially partial to a burnt orange primroses……
Last week we watched as the male decided to try and knock seed from the nyger and mixed seed tubes onto the ground. Where there’s a will there’s a way! This unusual behaviour has been reported to the BTO by other bird watchers too. The large black bird on the right is a Jackdaw, they roost with Carrion Crows and Rooks in the nearby woods, making a terrific din.
On February 16th, we went to a talk by our local Wildlife Trust group on macro moths. We learnt so much, including that one brood of Blue Tit chicks can eat up to 15,000 moth caterpillars. Other birds such as Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds also include moths as a food source. The Butterfly Conservation group estimate our Blue Tit population needs 35 billion caterpillars a year. There are 2,500 species of moths in the UK and most can be found in gardens, one small urban garden may be home to 100 species of Moths. As well as being a food source for other insects, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, shrews, hedgehogs, bats and birds, they are also a garden pollinator as they feed on plant nectar.
However moths are in decline and the loss has a direct effect on the birds, bats and mammals who depend on them for food. Moth habitat loss is due to intensive farming, changing woodland management and urbanisation. Chemical and light pollution are also reported as having significant effects.
This February we have been visited regularly by a male chaffinch, he will like many other birds be pairing up in the Spring. I read that its the female chaffinch who builds the nest, a neat cup shaped nest in the fork of a tree or tall bush made of lichen and spiders webs and inner layers of moss and grass with a lining of tiny rootlets and feathers and when ready will lay 4 – 5 eggs between late April and June. I haven’t seen her in our garden yet but I hope we do and hope she finds a suitable place to build her nest.
It was national nest box week in February and with the increased loss of suitable natural sites, a nest box put up now may still help garden birds to find a home to lay their eggs. The RSPB has a handy guide should you fancy making a nest box yourself. We have a nest box up with a 25mm entrance hole the suitable size for a Blue Tit, Marsh Tit or Coal Tit.
Please take a look at the other folk taking part in Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday.
Happy Wildlife watching!
The nearby river is lined with Willows and to escape the snowstorm of Willow pollen raining down in my own garden last Sunday, we made a visit to Fancott Meadow, managed by the wildlife trust and now designated as a Coronation Meadow
In 2012 Plantlife published a report Our Vanishing Flora highlighting the desperately sad statistic that in 75 years 97% of our meadows have been lost. 97% which means a miniscule 3% were left. Prince Charles the patron of Plantlife galvanised into action and to celebrate the Queens coronation set about organising the Coronation Meadows project, 60 meadows for 60 years of the Queens reign were identified across the UK at least one for each county.
With a threefold task, firstly to celebrate our rare surviving meadows, secondly to create new meadows with seed gathered from designated Coronation meadows and thirdly to encourage the public to discover and nominate new meadows known as Peoples Meadows.
Fancott meadow, an ancient meadow in Bedfordshire is reached by a public footpath tucked away behind a pub. Archie, always ready for a good walk came too. A few Hebridean sheep now graze the meadows, so Archie was soon back on a lead.
We had previously visited last July when there were lots of Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria in full flower thriving in the damper areas but just beginning to form buds in late May.
It was too early for Ragged Robin and Great Burnet – Sanguisorba officinalis and we had missed the Cowslips and Adders tongue fern, but lots of Clovers, Vetch, Birds Foot Trefoils and early Meadowsweet amongst the Buttercups and we easily spotted Yellow Rattle which is a semi parasitic grassland annual, this little gem weakens tough grass growth, helping other wildflowers to thrive. I bought some seed earlier this year with a little project of my own in mind.
I am joining in with Gail at ClayandLimestone who hosts the Wildflower Wednesday meme on the the last Wednesday of each month. Please take a look there are lots of other Wildflower posts to enjoy and share.