Somerset Wildlife Trust

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August: Nature takes a break

 15th Sep 2016

Roll up, roll up to the second of my blog entries, covering a month that, which finished before I really noticed it had started.

I have however managed to admire the heady days that the end of summer brings, mainly because the summer has not, for once, been raining all over them. I’ve been able to admire the butterflies punting themselves delicately through the air, the bees gently nudging their way into the last flowers of the season, and the dragonflies darting around to gracefully sever with surgical precision the heads of anything foolish enough to buzz into their territory. 

The days have been rather haphazard this month, with long days of really hard work being something of a rarity. It seems that when you manage grassland, this is a time of year for checking things have been done, ensuring livestock has been moved into the right places, wondering if you still have time to cut those thistles before they go into senescence:

Senescence: Noun - the condition or process of deterioration with age

See, without this traineeship, that’s probably not a word I’d ever have used. Now, I can drop it into conversation with impunity.

August is hay cutting season. The time of year when, for hundreds of years, some people celebrate the reaping of a successful harvest by eating a lot, getting drunk and falling over. I must stress that this is not part of the working year for serious conservationists. We cut the meadows to help disperse the seeds of the wildflowers and reduce harmful species. This is definitely a good thing.
What is less good, is that after a month of learning wildflower species, they’ve all been very selfish and died on me. Somehow I need to find a way to maintain that knowledge over winter and through spring, until the next time I have to identify a restharrow, or spend a lot of time looking at thyme.

But I digress. My original point was that I’ve been checking a lot of sites for effective management, and doing a lot of brushcutting on grassland slopes. This involved a lot of walking up and down the slope to rake the cut vegetation. Up and down, up and down, more often than the lift in the world’s tallest hotel. So now many of the sites are bare, with limited plants to identify. We did however encounter Common Cow Wheat at Wellington Castle Fields, which David Northcote-Wright, the Trust’s Senior Reserves Manger – West Somerset and Blackdowns, assures me is the first time he’s seen it there.

Phil Aug 1
Cow Wheat, with perfect focus on the leaves…

Luckily, before the plants went into senescence (see?), I had a day out with the excellent Somerset Botany Group, who gave me a great deal of advice regarding plant ID. Grasses are still a mystery to me, but I picked up much useful advice that now graces my notebook in illegible writing. I look forward to attempting to read these notes again next year.

I’ve also been involved in a couple of community activities, namely the circus of glitter that was Taunton Flower Show (I had to attend a serious RSPB event the next day with glittery shoes), and got families thinking about planting wildlflowers in their garden and identifying butterflies. I was also involved in a pond dipping session at the Trust's Catcott Reserve where I helped introduce a very small group to the wonders of aquatic pondlife - that a dragonfly nymph could have been in there for up to three years, and when it turns into an adult dragonfly, its eyes will contain up to 28000 lenses!’). Personally, watching a Water Boatman come to the surface to trap air for its next dive reminds me how perfectly developed nature often is.

Today brought my first sighting of a small Copper Butterfly, which I got within centimetres of, then took out a camera, causing it to have an inevitable bout of restlessness. So the reader will have to imagine its lovely speckly orangeyness.

I think that’s about it for me this month. At the time of writing I’m sat in front of a desk fan but there’s no sign yet of the pleasant chill that heralds the onset of autumn and the reawakening of the bird activity (they’ve been moulting and skulking this month).  I did see a few hobbys zipping past the hillsides of Gilling Down and Dundon Beacon though. What a sight!

See you next time, for the next entry in the adventure diary…