Saturday, 6 January 2018

Brighter Lime Tree Avenue

As we stagger into 2018, it is time to give Lime Tree Avenue a good trim. This time I was working in a group with Brighter Uckfield.  As always, they are doing the town proud and there was a great turn out.  This is just as well. Since last February, when we last did the work, there had been plenty of growth.

The trees that make up the avenue are hybrids between Large-leaved and Small-Leaved Limes.  They are prone to producing "epicormic growths" (suckers), which both:
  • drain energy from the main trunk
  • produce a mini forest at ground level. 
This is why they must be trimmed off.  The photos below show a before and after.

Before and After - epicormic growths (suckers) have been removed.
That was one of the easier trees. I just had to clip over it with stout shears and the job was done.  Some are trickier though.

Stripping away leaf litter to get at older suckers.
The last tree I did had got sneaky. Over the years leaf litter had built up round the suckers, which - hidden from the attentions of volunteers - had grown thick and dense. I had to rake out years of composted leaf litter and then cut off as many stems as I could, one-by-one.

Fungi - about 7 inches across - Jan 2018
Although it was winter there were plenty of signs of life. Lime leaves rot very quickly and make an excellent mulch - although we appreciate it more on the earth than the path! This process relies on fungi and there was a big one near the trees.

White-lipped Snails with their "doors" closed - Jan 2018
While raking the leaf litter from between the suckers, I found several White-lipped Snails. They are small (about 1/2 inch) and are coloured either brown and white or amber. At the moment, the shells are closed with a little white door to keep them safe until they are ready to emerge. In our garden, they are eaten by Thrushes - but I haven't seen a Thrush in the Avenue yet.

Lime Tree Avenue is important to Uckfield for a number of reasons.  It is a real connection with the past. These wonderful old trees are one of the few remaining connections with Uckfield House. If you look on the Memories of Uckfield Facebook group (login required), you will see many stories concerning local people's experiences of Lime Tree Avenue.

Lime Tree Avenue acts as a "vertical nature reserve" that provides a home and food for many creatures. While we were working, we saw Robins, Dunnocks (Hedge Sparrows) and others, almost at ground level. How many others must there be in those tall trees?

Cow Parsley - 30 December 2017
It's not just birds. As I walk up and down the Avenue and through the connected Twittens on the way to and from the town I have encountered a variety of flowers.  When, just a few days ago, I did a New Year Plant Hunt, I found a Cow Parsley already in flower. Soon there will be Primroses, and a view of the whole Avenue frothing white with Cow Parsley is one of Uckfield's most beautiful sights.

Honeybee on Alexanders in Lime Tree Avenue - April 2015
Where there are flowers, there are pollinators.  While passing through the Avenue, I often see bees and hoverflies (bee mimics that are also pollinators) working their way round the flowers.

Ivy Bee - September 2015
There will be other sorts of bees too. Ivy flowers late in the season and supports pollinators in the autumn after other flowers have faded away. It also supports its own special bee - appropriately called the Ivy bee.

Beautiful Demoiselle - May 2017
One day, when walking back from the town I found a Beautiful Demoiselle. She may look dainty and pretty but if you are a small flying creature, she is a fearsome predator who hunts on the wing.

Frog and Primroses - Feb 2016
There are habitats for other creatures too. On one of the work days, we found a frog, which Martyn carefully put in a safe place.

As well as providing a home and restaurant for all sorts of creatures, Lime Tree Avenue is a highway - a "wildlife corridor" that enables insects, birds and other animals to get from one green space to another.  If a food source runs low in one place they can use a wildlife corridor to travel to another and live to munch another day. I particularly enjoy seeing wildlife in our Manor Park garden and I'm sure I would see less if we didn't have wildlife corridors such as Lime Tree Avenue, the Railway and the River Uck nearby.

Postscript

Tiny creatures from the leaf litter - 6 Jan 2018.
While I was scrabbling round in the composted leaf litter, I found and photographed a strange looking little creature about 1.5 cm long. It was only a snap with my phone, so I wasn't hopeful of getting an ID.  However I posted it in the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe Facebook group in the hope of getting some ideas.

Between them LS and DA suggested that the white larva was a beetle - probably Staphylinae (Rove beetle) or may be carabinae.  DA had spotted something else. Just above the beetle, by its legs, there are some tiny snails. She thinks these are probably Pupilla sp. (Chrysalis Snails) or Vertigo species. You might think that these are babies but this type of snail is just very, very small.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 - Adding New Species to my List

I like to record the wild plants and insects that I encounter using tools such as iRecord.  This year I recorded approximately 350 species of which nearly 100 were new to my lists.  This compares well with last year's 290 (with about 80 new).  This post is going to focus on the species that are new to my lists this year.  I have seen some of these before but this is the first time I've recorded them.

Some of the new entries are the result of me working in Leatherhead where I explored a new riverside habitat but many were much closer to home. Two species that I saw in both Leatherhead and Uckfield were the Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) and Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens).

Female Beautiful Demoiselle - near Lime Tree Avenue - May
Uckfield's Banded Demoiselles were rather camera shy but I did get some photos of the Leatherhead ones. The two males below were part of a group (over 16) that roosted overnight in a clump of strappy leaves near the river. There must be similar roosts near the Uck. Has anyone seen one?

Male Banded Demoiselles - Leatherhead - June
My recorded year started with more humble species. I did the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt, which meant that I needed to hunt out any wild or naturalised plant that was in flower. The plants that are most likely to be blooming are the hardy, versatile weeds that grow in supermarket car parks, industrial estates etc. A new one for me was Annual Mercury (Mercurialis annua).

Annual Mercury - Bellbrook Industrial Estate - January
This year, I paid a number of visits to Holy Cross churchyard to identify the plants there for the Sussex Botanical Recording Society churchyard survey.  While I was investigating the plants I found a number of species of both plants and insects that I had not encountered before.  The Girdled Mining bee (Andrena labiata) is "scarce" and relies on "unimproved" grassland - i.e. grassland that has not been fertilised etc. Our old churchyards often have this type of ancient grass.

Girdled Mining Bee - Holy Cross Churchyard - April 2017
Cockspur (Echinochloa crus-galli) - Holy Cross Churchyard - August 2017
In early June, I did a Bioblitz of our garden. This means finding as many different species of wild plants and animals as possible. I found over a dozen that were new to me including:

Cantharis livida - No-mow zone - June 
Rhopalus subrufus - Flower bed - June
Selimus vittatus with her egg case - Oak tree - June
One of the highlights of the year was joining the Uckfield Local Nature Reserves Supporters Group. We went on a number of bird song/bug walks and a fungi hunt. I also did a little exploring of my own.  I am fairly familiar with Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and found a few new bugs and beasties including:

Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens) - Hempstead Meadows LNR - August
Notostira elongata - Hempstead Meadows LNR - August
West Park LNR is less familiar and enjoyed exploring it with the group. In November, we went on a fungi hunt and found a good variety of fungi. Beware that I got in a bit of a muddle trying to identify them and it will be a while before they are verified. They included:

Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) - West Park LNR - November
Witches' Butter (Exidia glandulosa) - West Park LNR - November

It's not all about surveys and special expeditions. I saw the Beautiful Demoiselle on the way to the town. Mum showed me this dear little 10-spot ladybird (Adalia decempunctata) that she found while gardening.

10-spot ladybird - Found in our own garden.
This Large Garden bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) bumbled into a patch of garden I was sorting out, sending me scurrying into the house for my camera.

Large Garden Bumblebee - my gardening is constantly interrupted by bees!
In Uckfield, we are lucky that we have plenty of green spaces and paths that we can follow as we go about our daily lives. I've been amazed at just how many creatures and wildflowers I see by looking out while going about my day-to-day shopping trips etc. If you ever see a woman in a red beret peering into her phone, it could be me recording wildlife on the run.

New Year Plant Hunt 2018 - Uckfield

For a number of years, the Botanical Society of the British and Ireland have been running a New Year Plant Hunt. The idea is to go out on the weekend of the New Year and spend a maximum of 3 hours hunting for wild flowers in bloom. If you are reading this on or before the New Year bank holiday, you can still take part. I also did the flower hunt:
  • 2015 - 21 species of which 2 were naturalised garden plants that had 'jumped the fence'
  • 2016 - 34 species of which 4 were naturalised
  • 2017 - 23 species of which 2 were naturalised
So how did I do this year? We've had some awful weather with a hard frost following and being followed by heavy rain. When I did my survey on the 30th of December, I feared that all my wild flowers would be mush. The day was dull but warm and dry. There was even a little sunshine just before noon.

I started with a straggle of Gorse in our own hedge.

Starting the New Year Plant Hunt with Gorse  - Manor Park, Uckfield
Just before crossing Browns Lane, I checked one of the clumps of bushes at the top of the Dene. No flowers but two bright little Robins flitting amongst the stems.

As usual, I found a good selection of flowers around Tesco Express and the other shops. These included many humble little "weeds" such as Shepherd's Purse, Annual Meadow Grass, Groundsel, Chickweed, Ivy-leaved Toadflax and Petty Spurge. Often they don't look like much but they provide seeds for hungry birds and nectar and pollen for insects.

Next I threaded through some of the Manor Park Estate's twittens, which yielded a Narrow-Leaved Hawks'-beard. In the shelter of the magnificent old Lime Trees of Lime Tree Avenue, I found a dear little Cow Parsley.

Cow Parsley - Lime Tree Avenue
In Southview Drive, I made straight for the big clump of Ivy on the corner of Beeches Close. As I approached, a group of cheeky House Sparrows flew out. There were several Ivy flowers in full bloom.

Ivy Flowers - Manor Park
When I got to the top of the town, I was in for a delightful surprise. I had seen buttercups in bloom just after Christmas Day but I was surprised to find them still flowering.  Also they turned out to be the charming Meadow Buttercup rather than the thuggish creeping one.  

Meadow Buttercup - top of the town
Thank you for the help with identification by:
  • BSBI Botany: Is the flower stalk groovy? Creeping and Bulbous are but flower stalk in Meadow B. should be ungrooved." I checked and it was smooth.
  • Brian Laney: With that tall flower spike and that lobeing to the upper stem leaves your id for meadow buttercup is spot on!
I also found Red Clover and Common Ragwort.  On the other side of the road, the old walls yielded the usual Wall Bellflower and Yellow Corydalis.

Surprisingly Holy Cross churchyard didn't yield much but there was a fine spread of fungi and a cheeky female blackbird dogging my footsteps. 
Fungi in Holy Cross Churchyard
At the foot of a hedge between the car park and Belmont Road, I found a Smooth Sow Thistle and a plant I had never seen before.
Ramping Fumitory in the feet of a hedge.
As I walked along Bellmont Road, I paused to watch a Wren feeding. We were both startled by a fat Grey Squirrel running along the fence.

Hazel Catkins near the Doctors' Surgery
I followed the little path that connects Belmont Road with the Doctors' Surgery and was amazed to see a lone hazel bush covered in catkins. There were none on those nearby. I was surprised because knew that there were none on the bushes by the river, which are usually the first to blossom.  As I was photographing it, Sandra, from the local nature reserves group, passed by and told me that the ones in the West Park Local Nature Reserve, a little further along the path were blooming too.  As I checked the rest of the path, a man asked me what I was doing. I explained about the flower hunt and we chatted about the spring bulbs that we were looking forward to seeing in our gardens.

Next, Bellbrook Industial Estate. Last year, this was one of my best sites. There wasn't so much this year but I did manage to add Common Mouse-ear and Red Dead Nettle to my list.  Then it was time to stop the clock for a break in the Station Pub. This gave me a chance to check my lists and see what was missing.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

A welcome break at The Station.
I also dropped into the supermarket to pick up some shopping - they had a fine display of flowers.
Supermarket Flowers

I just had to ask ...
WendyTagg: These don"t count  right? #NewYearPlantHunt
BSBIBotany: No they don't count, nor do the grapes that went into your glass of wine, nice try though ;-) #NewYearPlantHunt

I realised that I hadn't checked the hedge by the allotments - in 2016 I found Hawthorn in blossom and I wanted to see if had come out again. It hadn't but tiny blue Speedwell flowers were peeping out from the foot of the hedge.

Common Field Speedwell - under the allotment hedge.
Time was running short, so I walked home as quickly as I could, picking up a few stragglers along the way.  My own garden gave me a lovely surprise. The sun had warmed tightly closed buds, which had made little suns of their own.

Lesser Celendine - garden.

The Science Bit

Where?

Location: Uckfield, East Sussex.  Start point: TQ478219

What was missing?

Primroses, Violets and Hawthorn. It seems that fewer spring flowers have been tempted into bloom early.

26 Wild Plants Flowering on 30 December 2017

Scientific name Common name New in 2018?
Anthriscus sylvestris Cow Parsley  
Bellis perennis Daisy  
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd's Purse  
Cardamine hirsuta Hairy Bittercress  
Cerastium fontanum Common Mouseear  
Corylus avellana Hazel  
Crepis tectorum Narrow-leaved Hawk's-beard New in 2018
Cymbalaria Muralis Ivy-leaved Toadflax  
Erigeron canadensis Canadian Fleabane New in 2018
Euphorbia peplus Petty Spurge  
Fumaria muralis Ramping Fumitory New in 2018
Hedera helix  Ivy  
Lamium purpureum Red Dead-nettle  
Poa annua  Annual Meadow Grass  
Ranunculus acris Meadow buttercup New in 2018
Ranunculus ficaria Lesser Celendine  
Senecio jacobaea Common Ragwort New in 2018
Senecio vulgaris  Groundsel  
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sow-thistle  
Stellaria media Common Chickweed  
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion  
Trifolium pratense Red Clover New in 2018
Ulex europaeus Gorse  
Urtica dioica Common nettle  
Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell  

3 Naturalised Plants Flowering on 30 December 2017

Scientific name common name New in 2018?
Bergenia cordifolia  Elephants ears  
Campanula portenschlagiana  Wall Bellflower  
Corydalis lutea Yellow Corydalis  


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Planting Hedges at Uckfield's Sussex Horse Rescue Trust

On Friday the 22nd of December, I helped to create a hedge at the Sussex Horse Rescue Trust in Uckfield.  This was organised by the Sussex Flow Initiative (SFI).  Their web site explains:

SFI works with landowners, local people and others to investigate, promote and create natural features designed to slow and store water in the landscape and to help reduce flood peaks. 

The organiser, Matt, explained that the hedges would also help to link two areas of ancient woodland:

  • The Woodland Trust's Views (Williams) Wood, between Manor Park Estate and Buxted Park.
  • Hempstead Wood, the opposite side of the railway line to the Horse Rescue.
The hedges will provide a Wildlife Corridor across the grazing.
This will help provide a "Wildlife Corridor" that enables birds, insects and other creatures to move between the two areas of woodland and other wildlife-friendly areas.  Other wildlife corridors nearby are:


  • The railway, which has plenty of vegetation on the linesides - including trees, primroses and ferns in the cutting near the new hedges
  • The river Uck
  • Hempstead Lane, whose shaggy hedges provide great habitats and at the feet of which I have found glow worms.
The information provided by the Horse Rescue people explains:

Hedging provides food in the form of berries and foliage for birds, small mammals and insects, and offers wind protection, which cuts down wind speed across the land, and helps prevent erosion. Hedgerows support invertebrates that control pests and pollinate crops. They also store carbon, help produce oxygen and capture harmful particulates.

"My" bit of hedge.
I planted a total of about 40 hedge plants covering 8 metres and comprising:

  • hawthorn
  • dogwood
  • hazel
  • wild rose.

We were using a "Slot Planting" method in which we used the shovel to prise open a slot. Then we inserted the bare roots, taking care to ensure that the roots are sitting naturally - not curling up, and then pushed the soil back. We added bamboo canes and plastic deer guards. The latter are a necessary precaution as a herd of Fallow Deer frequent the area. I saw deer slots on the way up and they have visited our garden on the nearby Manor Park estate.

Donkeys with the Buxted Park Hotel beyond.
The resident donkeys seemed curious about the comings and goings. When I walked past their field on the way home, they came to see me. The info from the Horse Rescue people explained:

Planting hedgerows directly benefits the horses too - a mixed native hedge can provide a good source of forage for horses, offering variety in their diet. Throughout the summer months, trees and hedges provide a welcome respite from the sun, offering shade and relief from flies, whilst during the winters months, hedging provides invaluable shelter for horses to protect themselves from wind and rain.

Hedges a good in bad weather too. I remember one time, when travelling home by train in lashing rain, horses and ponies were sheltering nose-first in the hedge.

So there are several good reasons for adding a hedge to the grazing fields - and planting this one was a very enjoyable experience.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve - Species

Every time that I visit Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve (run by Uckfield Town Council) I try to record a few of the species that I see. This isn't a proper survey, but it does give me a idea of what is there.  I record in a website/app called iRecord and here are my results for Hempstead Meadows.  Because it works with map squares some of the following records are from areas just outside the reserve - including the Station, which is a surprisingly good spot for birdwatching.

 Amphibians

Common Frog - as tadpoles.

Birds

One of my favourite sightings from this year was a Chiffchaff, seen amongst the brambles in April.

Chiff Chaff

Common name Species
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Swift Apus apus
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Blackbird Turdus merula

 Fish

I've seen sticklebacks several times in the little stream that runs through the reserve. In 2015 I saw a lovely red-bellied male guarding his nest.  I've also heard that eels sometimes move through the reserve.

Flowering Plants

There are all sorts of pretty and interesting flowering plants but one of the most unusual is the Greater Tussock Sedge and one of my favourites, the Meadow Cranesbill.

Greater Tussock Sedge, 14 April 2017

Meadow Cranesbill, photographed in September 2015 but flowers year-after-year.

Common name Species
Ramsons Allium ursinum
Hairy Bitter-cress Cardamine hirsuta
Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis
Greater Tussock-sedge Carex paniculata
Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria
Common Hemp-nettle Galeopsis tetrahit
Meadow Crane's-bill Geranium pratense
Indian Balsam Impatiens glandulifera
Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus
White Dead-nettle Lamium album
Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus
Yellow Loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris
Water Mint Mentha aquatica
Water-Dropwort Oenanthe
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare

Insects

There are, of course, many different types of insect in the reserve.  One of my favourites was this bug.

Notostira elongate - True Bug - 26 August 2017


Common Pond Skater - Another True Bug - 6 June 2015

Common name Species Taxon group
7-spot Ladybird Coccinella septempunctata insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
  Gyrinus substriatus insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
Devil's Coach-horse Ocypus (Ocypus) olens insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
Common Red Soldier Beetle Rhagonycha fulva insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria insect - butterfly
Comma Polygonia c-album insect - butterfly
Common Blue Polyommatus icarus insect - butterfly
Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens insect - dragonfly (Odonata)
Hairy Footed Flower Bee Anthophora (Anthophora) plumipes insect - hymenopteran
Common Carder Bee Bombus (Thoracobombus) pascuorum insect - hymenopteran
Long-winged Cone-head Conocephalus fuscus insect - orthopteran
Dock Bug Coreus marginatus insect - true bug (Hemiptera)
Tortoise Bug Eurygaster testudinaria insect - true bug (Hemiptera)
Common Pondskater Gerris (Gerris) lacustris insect - true bug (Hemiptera)
  Notostira elongata insect - true bug (Hemiptera)
Dark-edged Bee-fly Bombylius major insect - true fly (Diptera)

Common Blues on Birds-Foot-Trefoil - Big Butterfly Count 2017
As well as recording in iRecord, I did a count in Hempstead Meadows for the Big Butterfly Count. I saw Common Blues, Gatekeeper, Large White, Meadow Browns, Red Admiral, Ringlet, Small Copper and Speckled Wood.

Molluscs

Marsh Snail - 25 July 2015.
Finally, a Marsh Snail, which I found when pulling up Balsam in 2015.