Late August

Mid-way through August we had rain, torrential rain and the persecuting temperatures fell dramatically. This was good news for wildlife and it is always fascinating to observe how quickly nature recovers itself. Within hours the streams were filled with water again and the grass was showing a verdant, fresh green. It is true that most of the wild flowers were over by now and the drought and heat had finished all but the most hardy of the late summer species. Survivors include various members of the thistle family, knapweed, mallow, common fleabane, mayweed and plantain. These plants can endure dry field conditions and tend to live in relatively poor, infertile soils. Plants like the Rayless Mayweed (commonly named the Pineapple Weed ) or the Plantain could be described as the down-trodden flowers of the countryside, overlooked because of their dowdy appearance, they grow on waste ground, the edges of fields and footpaths and people take them for granted. Yet these plants form part of the ecological fabric in otherwise inhospitable habitats and serve insects, for example, when other flowers are not available.

Continue reading

Cobbler’s Brook, August

The first half of August saw temperatures reaching 35 degrees centigrade, weather which had been preceded by a long period of very low rainfall. Farmers across the country were concerned that drought was affecting their crops and the stress on the countryside was visible, with plants wilting and trees losing their leaves prematurely. Locally there was a fire on Holmbury Hill and wild fires were reported on heathland in other areas of Surrey; luckily all of these were contained but the damage to wildlife is clear. Water courses were also suffering and ponds and streams were drying up.

Continue reading

August

It is very still as the hottest temperatures of the year are reached and the long drought continues. The beginning of August is marked by Lammas, Loaf Mass Day celebrating the harvest of the first grain. Bread was brought into the churches to be blessed and thanks offered for the bounty of the earth. The same date is also the Celtic festival of  Lughnassadh, Lugh is the Sun King and God of Light and  August is his sacred month. School children enjoy their summer holiday at this time and later in life many of us nostalgically recall the long, hot days of freedom in the summer-time. Lugh’s beneficence as light-giver is touched with melancholy as his powers lie on the cusp and his influence on the wane. So August is full of signs of nature’s bounty but also hints of the year’s turn are in the air.

Continue reading

Hedgehog Envy

I am envious of people who have hedgehogs visiting their gardens; it is a very long time since we saw one in our garden and despite offering every inducement to them, including a rather cosy hedgehog house and a passageway in our fence, we have drawn a blank. I have a friend who boasts about the variety of birds that visit her garden and I find myself drawn into a fruitless competition with her: ”Red Kites always visit my garden and eat the meat I leave out for them”

Continue reading

High Summer.

The essence of high summer, for me, is to see Swifts skirring the evening sky in search of insects, calling with their ear piercing cry. Parent birds will harvest up to a thousand insects,store these in their crops before feeding them to the hungry youngsters waiting at home. In hot, dry weather they will fly very high and they are said to be the fastest bird on wing in this country. Apparently the Peregrine only exceeds this record when they dive. Swifts arrive in April and leave in August and, like other migrants, travel amazing distances. Ornithologists have fitted geolocators to the birds, revealing that they can fly 800 Kms (500 miles) in a day. These remarkable little birds spend most of their lives flying, only landing when they nest; they even sleep on the wing, having the capacity to shut one half of their brains down into sleep mode, while the other half remains awake.

Continue reading

Holmbury Hill

Sherborne Lane is a footpath leading up to Holmbury Hill which lies north of Ewhurst. The path starts at the edge of the lowland Wealden Clay and soon begins to climb the greensand of  the hills. I cannot find out why this path is given a name, as most are not, and nor can I discover where the name comes from. At first it skirts meadowland bordered by hedgerows, moving in an easterly direction. In the hedgerows the Elder trees are now in bloom, promising a good harvest of berries for amateur wine-makers in the autumn. Country lore tells us that, ‘English summer begins with Elder flowers and ends with Elder berries.’ There are many superstitions associated with the tree and it is believed to have potent magical properties because a tree spirit known as the Elder Mother resides in the plant. Readers of ‘Harry Potter’ will know that the most powerful wand in the realm is made of sambuccas and is called the ‘Elder Wand’. It is truly wonderful how our hedgerows are steeped in history, folk tradition, medicinal remedies and ancient stories: when you walk any path, you are walking in an avenue haunted by the past and it is almost as if our ghostly ancestors walk alongside us.

Continue reading

Bees and bullocks.

Walking in the countryside is not normally regarded as a hazardous pastime; this week my rambles have led to encounters which I would sooner forget. My first adventure took place on the footpath that skirts Bramblehurst Farm and leads to the Ockley Road. I was with Jackie and my daughter Beth, when Beth ahead of me exclaimed, ‘I’m not going in there!’ At first I thought she didn’t want to go through the stinging nettles that have encroached onto the path but then I saw that there were two bullocks standing by the stile. I felt sure that dangerous animals wouldn’t be in a field crossed by a path and so I got over the stile and tried to coax the young bullocks away from the fence. During this both Jackie and Beth were far from happy: nor were the animals, who began scraping their hoofs and lowering their heads. Before I knew it, one of them head butted me into the fence and I beat a hasty, ignominious retreat. Needless to say I didn’t hear the last of it for a while. This encounter reminded me of Stanley Holloway’s famous broadcast of Marriott Edgar’s ‘The Lion and Albert.’ Albert is taken to the zoo, brandishing his stick with its ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle’, after finding, ‘notin’ to laugh at all’ at the seaside. Albert pokes Wallace the lion in his ear:

Continue reading

“Stupid June”

A little unfair but the flurry of growth that marks the spring has died down into quieter times in June. Many of the birds are fledged and the young are  making their own way in the world. My bird-table has became a focus point for downy feathered blue tits, great tits, robins, great spotted woodpeckers, jackdaws, wood pigeons, goldfinch and starlings; a jay has taken to visiting, no doubt availing himself of tasty small bird’s eggs. The moorhens on Larkfield Pond are now nearly as big as their mother and ducklings at Plough Farm are just about able to fend for themselves. The hedgerows are full of the sound of hungry chicks calling and there is constant traffic between nest and forage by the parents. Predators have also been busy, buzzards, no doubt meeting the demands of their own broods, circle ominously high in the skies; foxes and owls add sinister calls to the soundscape of the night.

Continue reading