Nature Notes – July 2018

The internet is well named. Being a net, it is full of holes, through which fell last month’s Nature Notes. Apologies to any regular readers.

The churchyard in Sweffling is one of our most important and interesting habitats. In spring there was a fine show of flowers which I hope people noticed. Although not in themselves spectacular (such as the Orchids at Cransford), many of these are plants which are found no-where else in the parish. As in many other villages, the vegetation of the churchyard probably goes back to the Middle Ages and beyond, and represents a habitat (in our case short ancient grassland on a sandy soil) which has now disappeared in the rest of our local countryside. Other grassland, apart from a few roadside verges, has been improved by fertilisation, and the introduction of more productive grasses for the benefit of grazing or haymaking, and most of the original flora lost. I consider that such a site, apart from its obvious function as a churchyard, has an enormous value, and should be treasured and maintained.

The trouble with this is that the area may sometimes look untidy and unmanaged. By now, in July, the churchyard has lost most of its earlier spring flowers, (which I hope to talk about next spring) and is mostly dominated by the grasses. There are still interesting plants to be found, such as Ox-eye Daisies and the delicate yellow Ladies’ Bedstraw, but leaving it completely uncut would be to the detriment of the plants for next year. Hence the occasional mowing that the PCC go in for. There will be a cut in mid-July, followed by another in early winter so that the site is tidy and the vegetation short for next spring. Apologies to all the neighbours for the noise, especially of strimmers! By cutting to this schedule while avoiding excessive ‘manicuring’ we hope to have the best of both worlds.

Not only many of our native plants benefit. A number of butterflies whose caterpillars feed on grasses; Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Ringlet will be seen here. Other butterflies such as Common Blue (Bird’s Foot Trefoil) and Small Copper (wild Sorrel) also find their food plants here.

It’s Dragonfly time again around the pond, with several of the bright blue or red Damselfies appearing first, followed by a common Dragonfly, the pale blue Broad Bodied Chaser.

On warm days as early as May I watched some of these emerging from the larvae which climb out of the water up the stem of a Rush. The back of the larva case splits open, and the adult Dragonfly pulls itself out, wings and all. At first it is limp and helpless, with straggly wings, but gradually the body fills out and the wings expand. This takes a few hours, but then the fully formed insect can fly, lacking only the final colour which takes a couple of days to develop. The largest and most spectacular Dragonfly of all, the Emperor, which is a brilliant electric blue, is also here. Although normally associated with larger ponds and lakes, it does sometimes find a home around garden ponds.

Geoffrey Abbott