Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm.

 

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How do you get to the Bug farm? Why,follow the dung beetles of course.

 

Day 22 wasn’t too wild and outdoorsy but it was very exciting! We were rather privileged to attend the official launch of one of Pembrokeshire’s newest and most innovative attractions, Dr Sarah Beynon’s Bug Farm. F happens to be related (in typical convoluted, Pembrokeshire fashion!) to Dr Beynon, so we were thrilled to be invited along.

Dr Sarah Beynon, (photo from cloud9management.co.uk )

Dr Beynon is an entomologist, TV presenter and insect farmer (quite a CV!).She is a fantastic ambassador for entomology, and an inspirational role model for girls (and boys) wanting to break into the world of science. Her enthusiasm for all things entomological is infectious. I have only met her in person once before this event, but even then could see how passionate she is about her subject. We took C and JoJo along for a visit a few months ago, and had the opportunity to see how Sarah can engage even the smallest child with Science. She took time to show C a hissing cockroach and managed to explain this wonderful, curious creature to her in simple terms. Making learning fun and accessible for all is something I feel strongly about, and it is definitely an ethos that the Bug farm shares.

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The website describes the bug farm as a ‘farm with a difference’. It is set within 100 acres of amazing Pembrokeshire countryside, with the city of St.Davids very close by. A lot has changed at the site since our last trip. The indoor play barn is now open, which is a very sensible addition to any child friendly Pembrokeshire ‘attraction’ . C thoroughly enjoyed balancing and running, and admiring the rather life like giant spiders    and beetles. that adorn the walls.

The walled garden is up and growing! The new bug museum is also open, full of interesting facts and displays.

There is also a bug farm trail around the site, which aims to show adults and children how farming can coexist with wildlife. For the culinary adventurer there is also the on site ‘Grub Kitchen’. Its all in the name, the kitchen’s fare is mainly based around entomophagy, although there are some non insect based options for the squeamish (including Lemonade scones!)

 The food looks and smells amazing. I haven’t had the chance to sample any of Andy’s (Sarah’s partner and head chef) cooking yet but i’m dying to give the’bug burger’ a go! The ‘Bombay Bug mix’ has also caught my eye. I love, love love Bombay mix, so figure this might be a gentle introduction into edible insects! The speeches and ribbon cutting ceremony started at 3pm. By this point C and JoJo were getting a wee bit tired and squirmy. I was concerned we might disturb proceedings, so we hid in the Tropical Insect Zoo for a bit!

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We missed the ribbon cutting but it was nice being able to explore the exhibits in peace. I love the displays, they are very clever and easily visible to little ones thanks to the handy steps!

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C and JoJo had a great time, with their noses pressed up against the glass tanks. C’s particular favourite was the scorpion exhibit. There is a button for a UV light, which makes the scorpion glow (if she obliges and doesn’t hide!). This is rather cool to see.

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C also likes the heated floor, she nearly fell asleep on it the first time we came!! There isn’t much information up around the insect enclosures, just Latin and common names on chalk boards. This is due to the fact that there are normally guided tours in this area. I still think it might be a nice idea to provide a leaflet with little take home facts and messages. I’m a sucker for info sheets, I think it’s just my inner ‘collector’ coming out!

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The collection also includes a gorgeous Rainbow Stag  beetle, a leaf cutter ant population all the way from Trinidad which is fascinating to watch as well as Stick insects.I officially heart stick insects. I used to have one as a Zoology student. It was called Nigel (yes, I do name all insects Nigel or Steve), and it used to travel around in a match box whenever I made return trips home to Ireland (On the plane. Note I now know this is probably not a good thing.)

We had a fab time and it was lucky that the sun shone down for the whole afternoon, showing Pembrokeshire off in its best light. If you ever happen to find yourself in this neck of the woods, I highly recommend a trip to the Bug Farm. I know a lot of people are down here at some point of 30 days wild, go and get up close and personal with some insects!

Day 21-A feast for the senses, part 2.

 

I love soup. I could wax lyrical about its good points for days. There is something particular delicious to be found in a steaming bowl of soup accompanied by crusty bread and maybe ‘un petit Morceau’ of cheese. There was a period during my student days when all I could afford was the ingredients for homemade lentil soup.

Nettle soup is something I’ve been wanting to try for ages, but have never found the time to do it. That’s the great thing I’m discovering about 30 Days Wild, it gives me an incentive to find time to spend in nature, doing things I love and enjoy. Seeing as the recent deluges and warm weather have blessed us with a bumper crop of nettles, I decided that tonight I would be dining on foraged goods.

I used this recipe from the Wildlife trust, which was very straight forward. One slight problem-no rubber gloves. I overcame this by wearing two pairs of latex gloves, which worked a treat. Then I set to work turning this

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Into this.

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C and JoJo were excused from tonight culinary experiment. Whilst they tucked in to pizza, I savoured my soup. It was delicious, if a little leafy! The nettles do taste similar to spinach, but with a less metallic flavour. It also smelled wonderful! I think a touch of garlic would have added something to the recipe, and I omitted the butter from my version. This recipe makes about 4 servings (big bowls, could stretch it to 6 if portion size is smaller). Next time I’m going to make a farmhouse loaf to accompany it.Give it a go and let me know what you think!

Day 20-Osprey cam.

This morning I had Ospreys in my kitchen. Ok, ok , it was on a webcam, but it was still pretty cool.

 Today started off as another bleak rainy grey day. Hunkered down in the kitchen with my morning coffee I wondered how I was going to fit something wild in without getting absolutely soaked. Fortunately my random act of wildness cards held the answer: Watch a wild webcam (Peek at Osprey, Peregrines and other wildlife).

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Nest photo 1

 

I decided to take the card literally (as baby brain and sleep deprivation make independent thought tricky) and typed ‘Osprey’ into the search engine. The first webcam that popped up was the Scottish wildlife trusts camera on the loch of the lowes. I opened up the website and settled back to finish the rest of my cuppa. My kitchen filled with the sound of wind blowing gently through the boughs of the Scots pines on my screen. The sound of birdsong mingled with the occasional noisy goose honk from the lake below. I counted 3 large, dappled chicks, spread eagled in the nest. A large adult stood guard over the snoozing chicks, crest feathers ruffling in the breeze. I sat and watched in amazement. I couldn’t quite believe that ,thanks to the wonders of modern technology,  I was able to watch live feed streamed from a camera pointed at an eyrie hundreds of miles away in Scotland. In my opinion, this is what the internet is made for!

nestAfter 10 minutes the chicks suddenly sprang to life. There was lots of wing stretching and preening as the chicks woke, and wobbled around the nest. Shortly after I was excited to see the other adult bird return, to a chorus of cheeps and shrieks. I could have sat there all day, but unfortunately I had lots of boring chores to get through before C came home from nursery.

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Nest photo 2

 

 

In the meantime I have managed to learn about the family in whose nest I was a ‘fly on the wall’, thanks to the rather informative blog running alongside the webcam. Loch of the Lowes has been home to Osprey since 1969. The female on this nest, known by the rather catchy LF15, is a relative newcomer who arrived in 2015. LF15 replaced ‘Lady’, who had nested on the Loch for the last 24 years, but didn’t return from North Africa this breeding season. The Average lifespan of an Osprey is 10 years, and Lady was estimated to be 28! She had clocked up an impressive 129,000 flight miles and successfully fledged 50 chicks in her lifetime. LF15 now has her own brood of 3,  . Her mate, LM12 is also new, with an unknown history.

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I couldn’t distinguish between th adults well enough to work out which bird was which. Apparently female osprey are 20% bigger than males, and have a ‘necklace’ of brown feathers on their chest.

I did check back  later this evening. One parent was still on guard, resting on one footing with the other leg tucked up under its body. The chicks were all asleep; the camera quality was so good I could count their breathes. Suddenly the adult started ducking and twisting its head at something off camera. It let out a rapid high pitched ‘chee chee’ call-a warning or a welcoming call? I wasn’t sure. I waited a while in case the other adult arrived back in the nest with dinner, but nothing more happened and the adult settled back to resting.

 I’m definitely going to have to tune back in to this webcams again.It was a refreshing change to my usual Monday night of channel hopping, trying to find something semi decent to watch.From now on i’ll be watching ‘Osprey Cam’!

 Nest photos are stills taken from the live feed of the Scottish wildlife trust’s Loch of the Lowes Webcam

Day 18 – Red kite brings delight.

Red Kites are a frequent sight in the skies over Pembrokeshire. I have often stopped when out on my calls as a vet to watch one gliding over the fields. They often visit our farm, especially after the grass is cut at silage time. I guess it could be easy to become blasé about them but my years of city dwelling mean I get super excited over anything that isn’t a sparrow.

When F said we could go to the Red Kite centre, I felt like Christmas had come early. We had to get there by 3pm, which is when daily feeding occurs.A variety of meat is put out (Today’s menu included a rack of beef ribs!)which attracts buzzards, crow, ravens and magpies as well as the Red kites.   As per usual it was a bit of a battle to get everyone washed, dressed, fed and into the car, along with packing a picnic, baby changing bag, my camera and binoculars. We finally crammed everything in and set off.

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The centre is a 2 hour road trip away, so I had plenty of time to read up on the biology and conservation history of Red Kites, or to give them their ‘proper’ name, Milvus milvus. They belong to the Accipitridae family, along with Hawks and Raptors. A distinctive forked tail along with their red and grey plumage can help identify them. The bulk of their diet is formed from carrion and worms , but they can act opportunistically to take rodents and small birds. Breeding begins at 2, with both the male and female sharing nest building duties. I found it amusing that pairs will decorate the nest with found objects (including plastic bags, underwear and toys!) before eggs are laid. It reminds me of the ‘nesting’ phase I went through with both of my pregnancies, although my nursery decorations tend to come from Mothercare! It takes around 32 days for each egg to hatch, and as they are laid over a few days there is a slight age gap between the siblings. For the first fortnight females stay on the nest, with all food being provided by the male (human fathers take note, this is a GOOD move to win brownie points!). Once the birds fledge, they stick around for a short period before setting off for a while. They return home as adults, ready for breeding.

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I was also intrigued to learn that genetic studies have shown all welsh birds to be descended from a single female. There is a slight variation in genes noted between Northern and Southern populations, the divide running along the Towy valley. This shows that the birds have chosen to remain sedentary and breed where born.

Just outside Carmarthen I spotted a solitary Red kite hovering over a field. “Great, you’ve seen one, now we can go home” exclaimed F, gleefully. I glared at him from the passenger seat, and turned Radio 4 on to drown out his silliness. The countryside whizzed past as we journeyed east, the landscape gradually changing from relatively flat, green fields to rolling hills, green forests and eventually the moor covered mountains on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. By the time we reached Llandovery I was literally bouncing in my seat with excitement. F took a short cut, then missed our turning. “It’s fine” I said, through gritted teeth” We’ve still got 45 minutes to find it before feeding starts”. “Hmmph”replied F. This did not inspire confidence.

Fortunately the centre is well sign posted and it didn’t take us long to find it. We pulled up in the car park, and I got JoJo  settled into her sling. C was quite enthusiastic, as she got to carry the ‘noculars’.

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There were already kites gathering overhead as we walked up the lane to the hide. Twisting and turning they rode the thermals, whistling and mewing to each other noisily. I nearly fell over, tipping my head back to get a better view of their acrobatics. Not a good idea to lean backwards when carrying a 22lb baby on your hip!

This was the closest I have ever been to a Red kite. I could count the number of feathers on their beautifully forked tails, and see their golden irises glinting in the sunlight. We hadn’t even got to the hide yet, I was grinning with anticipation. Without a doubt, this was the most red kites I had ever seen.Once in, we settled the girls on the lowest bench overlooking the feeding area. I glanced around at the information posters  and my heart sunk “Children must be kept sat down and quiet during feeding.If they make too much noise, they will have to leave.””Shhhhh!” I’d stupidly left the bag full of distractions in the car, and C was already getting a bit antsy. How were we going to keep them still and quiet? I had a brainwave and managed  to keep C happy by building a ‘den’ with the sling. JoJo was happily gurgling at the 2 swallows that had built their  nest in the hide.

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I breathed a sigh of relief and got back to birdwatching. I counted 10 red kites perched in an oak tree about 150 yards away, and another dozen soaring over the sheep field next door. I stuck my head out of the hide and looked up. The sky above was thick with red-brown birds.

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About 20 juveniles, distinguished by their lighter plumage, mixed with fully grown adults. The odd buzzard hovered amongst them. Then it was time. Food was carried out onto the small field directly in front of us. Kites came in from every side, folding their wings behind them as they stooped to the ground. Chunks of meat were grabbed in curved talons and carried off to be devoured. Scuffles broke out occasionally, with birds tackling each other mid air. Meat was dropped, snatched, scooped back up then dropped again. Those of us in the hide jumped out of our skin as a huge piece of beef landed on the tin roof. I think I must have whispered ‘ this is amazing’ twenty times in the hour we were there.

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My bird watching reverie was broken by a distinctive aroma coming from about JoJo’s person. Uh -oh! Time to go. We made our exit as quietly as possible and headed back down the lane. From the car park I could still see the kites gliding around over the hills and fields of sheep. In the distance a shepherd on a quad bike gathered in his flock.

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A feast for the senses (Part 1).

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Sight: Sensory bottles are great fun..They are essentially baby and toddler friendly snow globes. I have only become acquainted with them since having children, but I think more adults need them in their lives too. All you need is an empty plastic bottle, a lid, some interesting items (shiny is good, glitter is better) and water. Today we made a ‘wildflower’ version containing Herb Robert, Daisy, Buttercup, Cow Parsley, Clover, Fuchsia and Rose petals. You can hot glue the lid in place if you are worried about little fingers prising it off. I tend not to but they are only played with under supervision.The bottle is very hypnotic to watch, and quite soothing. JoJo was instantly mesmerised.Tip the bottle upside down and the flowers dance their way to the surface. Whirl it gently and a mini tornado spins them to the top, a confused riot of colour.Hours of entertainment, and that’s just for me!DSC_0046.JPG

Touch: After dinner we went out in the garden without shoes. There is something very grounding (pun intended) about walking barefoot over the earth. Taking shoes and socks off always makes me feel more connected with Nature. I tend to go barefoot alot at home, if it is really muddy I  wear flip flops. At the moment JoJo isn’t in need of shoes as she is still in baby slug mode. C wears wellies outdoors so it was a novel experience for her to be allowed out without anything on her feet. The newly mown lawn was stubbly and tickled our feet. I could feel rough earth underneath, the odd sharp stone pricking at my foot. C liked scrunching her toes into the grass.

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Sensory nature box for babies and toddlers: Pine cones, rose petals, Jackdaw and Swan feather, Magnolia leaf, Cow parsley, Fern, Snail shell.

 

We also created a sensory box. Over the past couple of weeks I have been picking up bits and pieces that I thought were suitable. To make it in the box the items must be ‘interesting’ in terms of texture, shape, colour or smell. Above all they must be safe if they accidentally find their way into little inquisitive mouths. C enjoyed pulling things out, naming them, describing textures and colours. JoJo preferred to spend her time pulling up the grass! The box has been put on the new ‘nature table’ in the kitchen, next to Nigel and Steve’s wormery. The girls can explore it whenever they want, and we plan on adding new finds too.

 

 

 

Day 15- #2minutebeachclean

DSC_0013Do you ever have days when it seems like the sea is calling to you? Sometimes I can feel the waves pulling me to the beach. On days when my head is mush and the darkness is creeping in I find the crash of surf on the shore incredibly calming. I will go in rain, wind, sun, even at night, if I feel the need to. The ability to drop everything and head to the beach has become harder with two small children in tow, but I still follow that feeling when I am able.

Today we had an hours gap in our schedule so I decided to answer the shorelines siren call. We headed off along the stretch of the A487 that curls around the coast between Haverfordwest and St. Davids.This is one of my favourite bits of road. It has some amazing views, my favourite being the descent to Newgale beach.

 

The tide was going out, exposing a wide strip of golden sand. Some paddle boarders were in the turquoise waters, along with a handful of surfers. Dog walkers  strolled along the beach with their furry charges cavorting and bounding around them. Newgale is the kind of place that absorbs people. There always seems to be plenty of room, no matter how full the car park is.

It isn’t the most accessible beach as it is bordered by a pebble bank. I left the buggy in the car and carried JoJo in her wrap, making the short journey to the sand alot easier.

Once on the sand I picked out a good spot and settled down to eat lunch. JoJo had other ideas .She promptly sprawled out and started shovelling sand into her mouth, pausing every now and then to sit up and grin and squeal with glee.

Whilst she was busy playing, I decided to do a 2 minute beach clean. On first glances, Newhall didn’t strike me as messy. Once I actively started looking it soon became clear that there was ALOT of man made waste lying in amongst the rocks, seaweed and sand.Without moving more than a few feet from where JoJo sat I managed to pick up enough litter to spell out the first words of my challenge. Most of it was pieces of polystyrene, fishing wire and bits of coloured plastic.

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We sat for a few minutes and soaked up the sunshine. I tried to be in the moment as much as possible, feeling the grains of sand slipping under my toes and listening to the gentle ebb and flow of the tide. Soon JoJo had had enough and it was time to move on. We headed on to pick up C. from nursery, bringing our ‘finds’ to recycle and dispose of appropriately.

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Day 13-B is for ….

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Tree bumblebee

Bumble bee! C has learnt the alphabet off by heart, back to front and probably sideways too. She loves finding words for each letter, and Bee is obviously the go to insect for B!

Since planting the patio ‘Pollinator Cafe’ I have become more aware of the presence of Bumblebees in our garden .I will confess I have needed a bit of help from the BBCT to decipher which species is which. The beautiful amethyst and white flowers of the Centaurea are visited most days by busy little ‘Bombus hypnorum‘ , or Tree bumblebees. The other pollinator friendly plants seem to be less favoured at present.Perhaps it isn’t the right time for their nectar just yet?!

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Bombus hypnorum

The foxgloves on the hedgerow behind the ‘meadow’ have just bloomed. I love Digitalis, it reminds me of Beatrix Potter tales and my childhood running wild in Ireland. The Garden bumblebees  (Bombus hortorum) seem to love it even more. These specimens are rather large, so much so that the other day I thought their was a bird or rodent moving in amongst the foxgloves. I went in for a closer look and was surprised to discover the commotion was being caused by this chap.

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Bombus hortorum.

I spent a good half an hour staring at the foxgloves, marvelling at the different adaptations that they have evolved to ensure pollination occurs. To start with, the purple colour of the petals acts as a beacon to any passing bees.The wide opening of the flower itself is a perfect landing spot with the spotty pattern acting as  natural ‘runway markers’,directing the bee onto the nectar. The bell shaped flower is a tight fit for the bee, and the foxgloves reproductive organs are suspended above the entrance. This is a clever mechanism for ensuring pollen brushes off from the stamen onto the bee.Pollen carried from other plants is also rubbed off the bee as it passes the stigma.The little translucent fronds within the entrance of each flower are guard hairs. They act as a mechanism to keep out small insects, which could hit the nectar without touching any pollen- all reward without any work!

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Looking at foxgloves and thinking about the detail has been one of the unexpected treasures of my 30 days wild.

Day 12 -A trip to A&E

This post is going to be a short one! Today did not go according to plan. First the car wouldn’t start, then JoJo had to have her clothes changed 3 times before lunch (Don’t ask!) and to top it off nicely (bad things always come in 3s) F collapsed. One minute he was passing me the baby, the next he was on the floor. Cue an afternoon full of Doctor’s waiting rooms, referral to A&E and mad dashes to pack an overnight bag. All was pretty jovial and jokey (I thought it was ‘man flu’) until they mentioned possible meningitis or heart attack. Great. My veterinary training led me to believe it was highly unlikely to be either of these, but a little part of me niggled with worry. We spent almost 24 hours playing a waiting game before he finally got the all clear.

The only wildness I managed to squeeze into the hospital stay was reading. I very rarely go anywhere without my kindle and this was one time that I was very glad of the distraction it offered. I had recently downloaded  “Foxes unearthed” by Lucy Jones, and had been saving it. However it didn’t take long before I realised staring at a blank wall whilst trying not to think about the possible scenarios that could pan out was not working well. Out came the kindle and I got stuck in.

Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain (Hardback)

Despite being bone tired, I was soon enthralled. The book deals with all angles of  the human-fox relationship. It weaves its way between fact and fiction to try and  discover what our attitude towards one of the largest UK predator means.

I loved the first couple of chapters, especially the references to folk tales.The book acknowledges all the different responses or relationships a reader might have with a fox, whether good or bad. Like the author I sit on a fence between two dichotomous views. On one side are my own childhood memories of ‘The animals of Farthingwood’ as well as actual encounters with real life creatures. On the other side sits my ‘in-laws’ farming background and intimate relationship with hunting.

I haven’t managed to get much further into the book yet, much to my dismay. Time so far has been spent catching up on chores and sleep. I look forward to finishing the book and will post an update when I do!

Day 11-Can you smell fox?

Sorry to disappoint, this blog is not about Vulpes vulpes.It is about flowers.I have mentioned my rudimentary wildflower identification skills before. My scant knowledge isn’t from lack of trying. I have lots of ‘fond’ childhood memories of asking my exasperated Mother for the nth time ‘what is this ?’, whilst holding up some sort of hedgerow plant between my grubby fingers. Despite being told what they were, usually prefaced with ‘how many times have I told you?’ it never seemed to stick. Seeing as I now have my own kids to exasperate me, I figured it was time to try and commit some names to memory.

Off I trundled to the ‘meadow patch’. Within minutes I had a handful of flowers and armed with my new bible , I settled down on the patio to figure out what they were.

Wild Flowers by Colour

The book is a treasure in itself. The illustrations are beautiful, and each drawing is accompanied by a short written description. Add in the fact that the plants are categorised by colour and I can see why Michael Palin dubbed it a book for ‘the curious non expert.’

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My modest collection contained

Pink specimens:

  • Herb Robert. This is possibly my favourite. The flowers are neat, pink and unassuming. The stalk is blushed red. The best bit is the smell, a woody, earthy, musky, unmistakeably foxy tang.
  • Red Campion. Tall stemmed with bilobed pink petals.
  • Shiny Crane’s bill. This looks alot like Herb Robert, but has red tinged leaves and lacks the foxy odour.

Blue specimen:

  • Speedwell. There are lots of types of Speedwell. Lots and lots. They all belong to the Figwort family. I scrutinised the various entries and settled upon mine being the ‘common field Speedwell’.

Yellow specimen

  • Buttercup. Again the book informed me that there are several types of buttercup. These are distinguishable by their petals, stems and fruit. Mine appeared to be most like the ‘Small flowered buttercup’

White specimen

  • Cow parsley. The only one I didn’t need to check. 1 out of 6 isn’t bad, right?!