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.
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.
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.
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.
At ground level, speedwell and vetch poke out , the occasional Birds foot trefoil too.
Clumps of Ragwort add more gold to the green.
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.
Along by the farm garden these ruby red ‘wild’ escapees caught our eye.
We spotted some Pink Campion that were still in flower . A Myrid bug was perched atop one, waving its antennae as we passed by.
All along the roadside pungent Cow Parsnip was in full bloom, its frothy blooms attracting flies and insects galore.
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.
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.
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.
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!