Whilst Joe Beale and Wildlife Garden bird recorder Florin Feneru were focussing on birds, as reported in our previous blog, it was also a good time to take stock of other species we’ve seen. They may not be visible during the early part of the year, but were very much in evidence in the warmer months of 2017 and hopefully will soon reappear – in between the heavy rain showers and cold spells…
As we work through the Wildlife Garden on seasonal tasks – completing the clearance and shredding the huge numbers of London plane tree leaves, coppicing and hedge-laying – there are always plenty of wildlife distractions to remind us of the value of this urban oasis. Wildlife gardener/Ecologist Joe Beale describes recent avian activity in the garden:
‘As the autumn progressed, flying insects and flowers naturally become harder to find and birds replaced them as the most noticeable feature of the Wildlife Garden.
At this time of year we start to prepare for our annual pond-clearing tasks which include pulling out some of the reeds along the pond margins and thinning water-lilies – all to maintain our open water pond habitats.
In the meantime, volunteers Miles Äijälä, Rohit Bangay and Frances Dismore give an account of a very different pond activity in April this year:
The warm, sunny days that alternate with the frequent, damp weather days this month release a burst of colourful insect activity for visitors to observe amongst the variety of habitats and flowering plants in the Museum’s garden. Joe Beale, who has recently joined the team, tells us more.
Late summer is a lively time in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. On sunny days you may catch sight of some of our most impressive and colourful insects. Dragonflies that use the garden include the stunning green-striped southern hawker (Aeshna cyanaea), the impressive migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) and the imperious Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator).
They may buzz you to investigate, but tend to power up and down without stopping like little fighter planes, as they hunt flying insects around the meadow, hedgerows and ponds.
While our visitors are being enchanted by large numbers of six-spot burnet moths on chalk downland and adjoining habitats in the Museum’s wildlife garden, less conspicuous species such as the Essex skipper butterfly (Thymelicus lineola) and garden grass veneer moth (Chrysoteuchia culmella) have been spotted flying low amongst meadow grasses and herbs. All three species rely on grasses at one or other stage of their life cycle.
Frances Dismore tells us more about the importance of grasses: Last summer, on donning the Museum wildlife garden volunteers’ T-shirt with the words “talk to me” emblazoned on the back, I hadn’t anticipated the number of discussions about grasses I’d have with young visitors to the garden. I attribute this to the sheep. Children would stop to ask their names and our conversations inevitably turned to the evident relish the sheep took in grazing the chalk hill and meadows.
Sheep graze the chalk downland and meadow habitats in the garden
Sheep graze the chalk downland and meadow habitats in the garden
I would proffer the speculation that it was an especially charmed existence to have a job guzzling grass seven hours a day and suggested that surely the children would agree since they themselves probably tucked into a heaped plate of grasses every day of the week.
The meadow plants, red clover and meadow buttercup, mentioned at the end of our previous blog, are just some of the colourful species in our meadows and on hedgebanks at this time of year. Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) have not only livened up our grassland habitats for us and our visitors, but they also attract and benefit bees, butterflies, beetles and flies.
Wildlife gardener and ecologist, Larissa Cooper explains:
This weekend, 17 and 18 June, is Open Garden Squares Weekend where you will be able to visit different gardens around London, many of which are not usually open to the public. The Museum’s Wildlife Garden will be taking part with activities and displays on offer for all; and this year we’ll be taking a closer look at the UK’s pollinators. Whilst we’re busily getting ready for this event, here’s a post for you all about some of the lesser-known pollinators, and some tips on how you can make your own garden pollinator friendly.
At this time of year, we find a ‘first flower’ of the season almost every day. Last week, a guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) I had been watching closely in one of the hedges came into flower (nearly a month earlier than last year) and on the bank below it a columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) came into flower joining greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) wood millet (Milium effusum) and red campion (Silene dioica).
Just a couple of months ago when these plants were not even in bud we were completing our winter coppicing and hedge-laying programme. Coppicing continues on rotation. Some of the coppiced hazel is used for stakes and binders for hedges as illustrated below.
A few weeks ago as the hours of daylight were gradually lengthening, we were cheered by signs of spring growth through the decomposing leaf litter. The leaf tips of Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), have been pushing up since the end of December, as well as the smaller spikes of bluebell leaves. First flowers are late this year, compared to the past few years. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) flowered on 2 February, 11 days later than last year, and daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) appeared on 20 February – 17 days later than last year.
With few flowers in sight we have carried out surveys of common fungi and the distribution of these common species throughout the garden. Fungi forays are generally associated with autumn – the most productive months for larger fungi such as mushrooms and toadstools. However there are many attractive species present through all seasons and a search early in the new year can be rewarding.
As the daylight hours gradually lengthen, the Wildlife Garden is becoming greener by the day, and ever noisier as the spring chorus of our resident blackbirds, robins, wrens, finches and tits fills the air. The woodland floor is bursting into life with different shaped buds breaking open daily – greater stitchwort today, yellow archangel, wild garlic and wood sorrel earlier this week.
But the current star of the show is the primrose – the first woodland plant of the year, now blooming profusely throughout our different habitats. Museum Botanist, Fred Rumsey, tells us more about this beautiful plant…