Tangled – A Pembrokeshire hedgerow

Sunny days in a Pembrokeshire summer are as rare as Hen’s teeth. This July seems to have been a particularly grey and soggy one, with the humans on the farm spending a good deal of time huddled indoors. Some days our wildlife spotting has been limited to the content of David Attenborough repeats and watching real life bedraggled blue tits and sodden sparrows fight over the bird feeder in front of the living room window.

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The ‘tangle’ before.

When the sun actually deigns to shine down on us, we tend to make the most of it. This particular afternoon we were just commencing our third walk of the day when my ears picked up a distant distinctive mechanical whine travelling along the road towards us. Living in the countryside, where traffic passes infrequently, you get used to the sounds that different vehicles make. I knew this could only be one thing- a ‘Hedge topper’.  A little black car shot past us, driving far too fast for country lanes, only to have to slam the brakes on as the tractor and hedge trimmer crested the brow of the hill.

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My heart sank. Just minutes before we had marvelled at the number of snails living all along the roadside. There were hundreds of them, wedged into the crooks of the dried cowslip, or balanced precariously on thin grass stalks.

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On first glance, or when whizzing past in a car, the hedgerows appear as a blur of green. Nothing stands out, until you slow down, stop and look. Along our roadside stretch, hawthorn, sycamore and ash trees make up the spine of the hedge. Rambling Bramble weaves itself around these, with various grasses, dog rose, bracken and ferns adding to the chaos. Bees (I counted 3 species in 5 minutes) bumble about the pale pink blossoms, the flowery sentinels of a bountiful Autumn Blackberry harvest.

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At ground level, speedwell and vetch poke out , the occasional Birds foot trefoil too.

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Clumps of Ragwort add more gold to the green.

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As we walked along a sickly sweet perfume wafted down from the peach blushed, cream and golden honeysuckle blossoms that crown the hedge, one of my favourite summer scents.  DSC_1066__1469082839_31887

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Along by the farm garden these ruby red ‘wild’ escapees caught our eye.

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We spotted some Pink Campion that were still in flower . A Myrid bug was perched atop one, waving its antennae as we passed by.

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Grypocoris stysi

All along the roadside  pungent Cow Parsnip was in full bloom, its frothy blooms attracting flies and insects galore.

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On some plants the flower heads were tied together with a tangle of gossamer threads. Peeling these apart revealed a little black headed caterpillar of the Parsnip moth. It emerged from its hide away, flip flopping  its body about in a rather disgruntled fashion.

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Within seconds all of this flora and fauna had been obliterated. Shredded. Chomped and spat back out by the churning, gobbling blades of the trimmer. I rushed out to survey the hedges once the tractor had passed. The cutting had been confined to the tangle of grasses and plants making up the verge, and the actual ‘hedgerow’ itself had been left virtually unscathed. The ‘roadside maintenance’ had caused a bit of devastation, with the snail population taking a definite hit. The caterpillars too had disappeared. I managed to rescue a few of those from the mangled remains of the Cow Parsnip plants along the edges of the tarmac.

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Now the ‘clean up’ of vegetation had finished, the rubbish caught up amongst the plants was much clearer to see. I followed a trail of Crisp packets, coffee cups, beer bottles, take away cartons and coffee cups back towards the farm house. All flung out of passing vehicle windows, discarded without a backward glance. Pretty disgusting.

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Despite my bemoaning the ‘evil’ hedge topper, I can understand the need to keep the verges cut back. When spring and summer vegetation crowds in towards the centre of roads barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, visibility becomes much poorer. I just wish I’d had the chance to collect and transport some of the snails and caterpillars beforehand!

Seashore detritus.

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Crash of wave upon the shore,

Lift shell to ear and hear sea roar

Warm wind gust out from far inland ,

Whipping, whirling, grains of sand.

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Gulls scream loud, wheel and cry,

Soar like Icarus up on high.

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Toe tip I along the tideline alone ,

leave soft footprints amongst the foam,

Pick amongst the wave washed treasure,

Man made and nature born in equal measure,

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 Sea glass shard, pebbles, rocks,

sponge, anemone, seaweed locks,

Plastic, clam, tangled net,

barnacles ,crab carapace soaking wet,

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Lift up cans, straws, fishing line,

Odds and ends, all are mine.

Claim my prizes from the tide,

Amongst the waves no more to ride.

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Inspired by a #2minutebeachclean along Newgale beach, Pembrokeshire.

If you have 2 minutes to spare whilst on your favourite beach, give it a go! The aim is to pick up as much litter as you can find in the space of just 2 minutes (although if you want to keep going for longer, I don’t think anyone will stop you!). Once you’ve gathered your waste recycle or dispose of it appropriately. Et voila, you have done your bit to help keep our seas and oceans rubbish free! Head to the official beach clean website for tips on what to do and how to stay safe whilst doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#MolluscMonday

The sky over the farm has alternated between various shades of grey for the past few days. Steel grey, iron grey, dove grey, slate grey, ash grey, grey, grey, grey! We have had torrential downpours and thunderstorms interspersed with gusty winds and  fog. Everything underfoot is damp, much to the delight of the molluscs.

I spent most of the morning wandering around the garden, turning over rocks, rooting in bushes and upending empty plant pots in search of snails.

First to be found  was this specimen, lurking behind the potted Centaurea.

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Garden Snail

If I said to you “Imagine a snail” I’m pretty sure the Garden Snail, Helix aspersa, would be amongst the images you conjured up.

These snails are widespread across the UK, often living in close contact with humans. Preferred habitat includes gardens and park where they are able to munch their way through a variety of greenery.Wet daytime conditions can bring them out of their shells, but for the most part they are nocturnal. They move about using a large muscular foot and copious amounts of mucus. A study by the University of Exeter showed how snails can travel the length of an average UK garden in one night, moving at a surprising speedy pace (1 meter/hour). They also discovered that these snails often ‘piggy back’ along other snail trails, allowing them to conserve energy.

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Around the corner, clinging precariously to a shrub, I spotted this Grove snail. This species is also known as the Brown lipped snail, due to the brown band around the aperture .  Grove snails are polymorphic, meaning the colour of the shell can vary. It can be brown,white,cream,yellow or even red, like this individual found adorning the garden gate

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They look awfully similar to another common species, the White lipped snail.The obvious difference in appearance is the colour of the aperture band.

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However, just to make life really complicated, there is a colour morph of the Grove Snail that has a white lip! Identification then falls to dissection and differences in the snails reproductive organs.

Along the top of the old chicken shed, in amongst the straggly tussocks of grass and wandering weeds I found several Strawberry Snails (Trochulus striolatus).

DSC_0954__1468274671_72395These snails have much flatter shells with pronounced ribbing and a ‘belly button’ like hole on the underside (umbilicus)

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At the top of the garden I found this collection of broken shells, discarded on the path that leads to the old Ty Bach. You may have noticed small piles of discarded, shattered shells like this around your patch, a sign that a thrush has feasted. These song birds use stones, or in this case flat slates, to smash shells rendering their contents edible. They tend to return to a particular ‘anvil’ repeatedly, leaving a trail of mangled carapaces in their wake.

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To finish off my #MolluscMonday I marked some of the Garden snail’s on the patio. Hopefully this will give us an insight into the size of the snail population in our garden.

I have always had a soft spot for snails, and my day spent grubbing about into the undergrowth has made me appreciate them even more. Growing up in suburban London, with a postage stamp garden, wildlife was a real novelty. Snails were one thing we had in spades, and we used to study them at ever opportunity.

I know not everyone shares my appreciation of these slimy creatures. The ability to make short work of consuming a vegetable patch has earned them a spot on many Gardener’s ‘Top 10 pest’s’ list. Apart from chomping their way through your prized Hostas, they may also pose a hazard to your pets. They can act as a host for Angiostrongylus vasorum, commonly known as ‘Lungworm’. This parasite can prove deadly for dogs, who come into contact with it when they accidentally (or deliberately, some dogs seem to love the taste!) ingest snails or slugs when out and about. For more information on how to protect your pet, check out the Lungworm Aware campaign.

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Aberystwyth

Tuesdays are usually our day for spontaneous trips and succumbing to wanderlust. Midweek exploration benefits from quiet roads, beaches free from humans and empty attractions. Heaven!

I had stumbled across Bwlch Nant Yr Ariant the night before, whilst faffing about on the internet. I scrolled through the sites attractions and discovered they had Red kite feeding. That was me sold.

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Aberystwyth is a 2 hour drive away, and allowing for traffic and breaks I figured it would be best to start out early. I was flying solo today so bundled the kids into the car along with a picnic, snacks and birding gear and set off shortly after 8.30am.

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We headed north, cutting across the misty Preseli mountains. As we crested the summit we spotted a herd of wild Welsh mountain ponies grazing close to the road. We drove on, vowels disappearing from the village names (Eglywsyrw…need I say more!) the further North we got. Eventually we made it to our destination, four and a half hours before Kite feeding time! Plenty of time to explore!

We started off in the visitors centre. First stop-the loo.

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By the time we had ‘freshened up’ the café had opened and the smell of breakfast was wafting out from the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on buying anything but C decided otherwise. Whilst my back was turned she had helped herself to a milkshake carton from the fridge, unwrapped the straw  and was settling down at a table to drink it.To be honest, it didn’t take much to twist my arm into buying a coffee and sausage sandwich. The girls enjoyed sitting up at their very own pint sized picnic bench whilst I lounged back and enjoyed the view.

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Over breakfast we were treated to an avian floor show.Siskin, redpoll,sparrow, blue tits and chaffinch flitted back and forth from the evergreens to a massive feeder hanging from a climbing rope.

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Once my mug was drained and sandwiches scoffed we headed to the  adventure playgrounds. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a climbing frame with such an amazing view.

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The girls would quite happily have stayed on the basket swings all day, but I thought we should attempt to have at least a short walk. The most accessible route is the circular Barcud Trail, which leads along the shore of the lake and round to the Bird hide. It is perfect for little legs and buggies, and their are plenty of strategically placed benches along the way.DRAG.jpg

To keep little minds engaged you can take part in the animal trail, and try to spot the wooden animals that are dotted about. Unfortunately some are really quite well hidden, and it wasn’t until I spotted the dragonfly (number 10) that I realised we were going backwards along the route!DSC_0564__1468007935_52989

The wind was whipping over the lake, rippling the surface and sending tiny, choppy waves in to shore. A crested grebe propelled itself solemnly across the water, heading for a patch of reeds on the far side.

DSC_0629__1468008397_10609We followed the gravel path along the shoreline, gently sloping down to enter a stand of conifers.The scent of evergreen resin and pine needles hung heavily in the warm air. Further on it meanders through birch, rowan and oak trees. We traced our steps back along to the hide.We claimed our spot right in line with the feeding area, set out our picnic and played with the bird call ‘machine’.Lunch was eaten in the company of ‘a prince'(according to C, they were due to be married.Such an imagination!)

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Around 2pm the slate grey sky began to fill with kites,their whistles and shrieks bouncing around the valley as they lazily rode the thermals.  By 2.30pm I estimated there were about 100 birds waiting patiently for their meal.

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The 3pm feeding frenzy was spectacular. Birds practically dropped from sky, plummeting down to the patch of green grass to snatch up scraps of meat before shooting out over lake. Some flew low over the water, dragging their talons behind them over the surface Others hassled a gull that had floated a bit too close to the feeding station.

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Once the majority of the meat had been snapped up, the crowds of people dispersed quickly. We wandered back to the playground which was almost level with the Kites that had remained.A young boy  stood beside us and watched, open mouthed as a juvenile kite soared overhead. He stretched his arms up towards the bird as it disappeared over the crest of the hill. ‘Woah, did you see that?’ he exclaimed to nobody in particular.

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By now the girls had had enough. We managed to pick up a handmade Red kite badge as a souvenir (family tradition, its getting quite tricky to find real badges!) from the shop, and started out on the journey home. Soon both children were asleep. I spent the remainder of my trip with Mr Packham, narrating his amazing ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’. Bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 Days Wild- A legacy.

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I can’t remember exactly how I found out about 30Days Wild but I know that I am very glad that I did. This month has passed in a blur of nettle stings and nature trips, bird tables and bioblitzing, growing greens and feeding bees. 30days to cram in as many random acts of nature. We tried our best, and I don’t think we did too badly.

When I look back over the posts I can see how much I have gained from taking part. I’ve changed quite a bit since the first of June. The following list sums up the things this month has given to me.

  1. Happiness – Watching my children enjoy nature.
  2. Purpose– I have something to do every day that takes me out of my ‘Mummy’ role.
  3. Excitement– Checking the camera trap is like opening a Christmas stocking!
  4. Change– In my mindset and my habits (No more channel hopping thanks to Osprey Cam!). We have bird feeders, a home made bird table and a camera trap!
  5. Activity– Movement has increased! I even have a new pair of walking shoes.
  6. Connection– With wonderful like minded people that I may not have met otherwise.
  7. Wider horizons – All sorts of new websites, discussion forums, facebook groups, charities and reading matter have been discovered in the past month.
  8. Creativity – In nature art and writing. Although I have to say the dying was a bit ‘meh’!
  9. Knowledge – I now know how to identify Herb Robert ( Amongst other things).
  10. Reuse – Hello reusable water bottle.
  11. Reduce – Bye bye ‘stand by’, hello ‘off’
  12. Mindfullness – Macro photography is great for this.
  13. Greenery– My patio has a bee café. I have kept the plants alive for 30 days. This is a record.
  14. Memories– A 30 day diary. I have a 5 year diary that I got for Christmas. I failed to get past January.
  15. Art
  16. Perspectivehttps://twitter.com/thisgreyspirit/status/748433369424400384
  17. Hope – Seeing so many people unified over a love of nature has filled me with so much hope.
  18. Resolution – To keep going!
  19. Photography – I have taken so many photos I needed a new memory card.
  20. Maps– After 3 years I now know where the heck F is when he says he is going to the Ox Park!
  21. Peace– The peace of sitting in a 10 acre field watching the Solstice sunset.
  22. Healing – The Dementors have packed up and left.
  23. Birds – Before June, I didn’t know we had Dunnock living in the garden.
  24. Travel – After several years of promising, we made it to the Red Kite Centre.
  25. Houseguests – Nigel and Steve have bred. I’m not sure what to say about that. The ladybird larvae are voracious.
  26. Education– The girls have learned so much this month. C knows what a woodlouse is, can identify garden birds and is learning about the Ladybird life cycle. Not bad for a two year old.
  27. Inspiration – From other bloggers .Ideas from the Facebook group.
  28. Fun – I would probably not have let this happen if it hadn’t been for 30 Days Wild.
  29. Laughter – Watching C pretend to be a Blue tit at least once a day.
  30. Joy– At seeing my first hedgehog on the farm, ever!

What legacy has this year’s 30 days wild left you?

For July our list of wild things to do include:

  • Bat detecting
  • Glow worm hunting
  • Mammal footprint trap
  • Find an orchid
  • Make some wild decorations
  • Build a pond
  • Release my ladybird larvae
  • Camping out
  • Write a wild story.
  • Read more wildlife books
  • Volunteer with the WT
  • Get my study on with the bees.
  • Finally finish listening to ‘Fingers in the sparkle jar’ so I can start listening to the legend that is David Attenborough.

That should keep me going for a bit!

It is clear from reading other blogs and comments on social media that I am not alone in . Lots of acts fitted in around everyday life, squeezed into school runs and lunch breaks. Spending 30 days focusing on nature has had a lasting impact on a lot of people, and for most of the participants the end of the month came to soon. Many of us have pledged to stay wild throughout the year, trying to make it to 365 days wild and beyond. Care to join us?

Credit: The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild team.