I’m playing catch up today for 30 Days Wild as I’m a week behind on my blog posts. I’ve still been doing wild things every day despite being busy with the school holidays fast approaching; this time next week I’ll be visiting my family in Northumberland!
I received my Plantlife magazine in the post, it’s always great to get some good reading delivered regularly and I spent some time reading up on British meadows and the brilliant success of the Coronation Meadows project. We’re lucky to have one of the Coronation Meadows here on Mull, at Treshnish Farm owned and managed brilliant by the Charringtons. The meadow is incredible and only enhanced by the spectacular views over Hebridean waters and the Treshnish Isles. We’ve lost 97% of our meadows since the 1930’s – a statistic I’ve heard so many times now I forget how scarily serious it is. Our land management has changed drastically and for all the wrong reasons and our diverse, species supporting meadows have gone. It isn’t just the flowers, but everything from insects up in the food web. The work Plantlife are doing to reserve this trend is worth my membership, with other large nature conservation organisations losing my contribution recently – they’ve lost their voice.
The weather was due to turn this afternoon, so we decided to head out to a local patch this morning. Loch Torr is a local Forestry Commission site with a diverse range of habitats, including a small freshwater loch, we often cover the tracks within the forest and have had a great variety of sightings. Today though, we chose to walk along the lower shore of the loch on nearby farmland to check some good spots for reptiles and amphibians – did pretty well.
We had common lizard and slowworm on the reptile side of things. No adders today, although we’ve had some great sightings this year so far. We also noticed plenty of wildflowers on the walk, including the first bog asphodel of the year, fragrant and heath spotted orchid, heath bedstraw, birds-foot trefoil, heath milkwort and slender St John’s wort.
We then found three individual common toads hidden away in cool, quiet places. Toads are great – always had a soft spot for them, their pupil is fascinating! Incredibly they are known to live for a very long time, captive toads have even reached the age of 50! We also spotted a common frog, showing their behavioural differences clearly – the toads were relatively calm and reluctant to move (maybe they know they taste bad), whilst the frog was off in a very large hop to find better shelter. We submit all our reptile and amphibian sightings to Record Pool, even the “common” species!
Today I fancied stopping on the route home to enjoy the view and sunshine, as I pulled into an old quarry parking space above Loch na Keal a bright blue butterfly caught my eye and I was engrossed for an hour, metres from the road, but completely enthralled by the busy array of insect life on the verge and hillside. Two male common blue butterflies were regularly disputing their patches and only occasionally settling down among the wildflowers. Wild thyme, fragrant orchids and birds-foot trefoil meant the land was a riot of colour, the latter is an important food plant for the common blue.
Common blue on trefoil
Common blue male
In the same area, but higher up the hill larger orange and black butterflies were rampaging above the bracken, rarely landing. They were large though and I guessed at dark-green fritillary. I stalked the butterflies as best I could to catch a few ID shots and confirm my thoughts, but they never settled for long.
Meadow brown was also spotted, along with another smaller fritillary – this one didn’t settle once in my view so I can’t say for sure, but it’s most likely to be small-pearl bordered fritillary. Dragonflies were also on the wing and I enjoyed my first golden-ringed of the year. Grasshoppers were in full flow, the ground almost vibrated with their sounds and bees were enjoying the nearby foxgloves.
I’ll submit all of my butterfly records to my local recorder, as I do for my moth trapping records and this all helps inform conservation of the species. Surprisingly Mull is extremely under-recorded for many species, excepting eagles and otters, so do send in records to the appropriate conservation body.
Today at school we spent the afternoon completing another Wildlife Action Award activity. We went out in the rain to snap photos of the wildflowers in the school garden to later ID. We found lots around the edges of the garden (the areas the council aren’t so against) and checked some flowers out up close with hand lenses. We found foxgloves, self-heal, red campion, tutsan, cuckoo flower, stickyjacks, daisies, bramble, flag iris and more. The children looked up information and the gaelic names for the species before drawing and labelling some of their favourites. We chatted about Charles Darwin and ensured our curiosity was up to his standards whilst enjoying the sound of lapwing and skylark overhead. It’s important that children appreciate our native wildflowers and learn some of their names, after many common species names were removed from the English dictionary!
On Monday I stopped to take a snap of these amazing foxgloves on my drive home from work. The road verges are looking brilliant at the moment although Argyll and Bute council are doing their best to keep the wildlife to a minimum by strimming and clearing huge areas, with no apparent relation to road visibility. Not to mention some locals who mow “their”road verge as well as their garden.
Despite this though, many of the roadsides are thriving and you can clearly see the abundance of wildlife making the most of it. Yesterday I saw fledgling goldfinch feeding on flower heads and the foxgloves were vibrating with insect life.
We have a patch of garden that isn’t managed or mown and the flowers are looking great right now. The daisies and buttercups are everywhere, proving brilliant food for insects and birds. They also look stunning – much nicer than a tightly mown green lawn! It feels great under bare feet too, bringing back lovely childhood memories of barefoot days.
Today I joined Ewan of Nature Scotland on a wildlife and photography workshop, along with a lovely family and we had a brilliant day on the isle. I really enjoy macro photography and immersed myself among the smaller species we find – you can never fail to find something interesting once you start looking closely.
I have a soft spot for creatures with shells, including limpets, hermit crabs and snails. Unfortunately for me, we don’t seem to see the number of garden snails I did as a kid but I was in my element today at Aros Castle – snails everywhere! They’re a great animal to connect with; every child should feel the movement of a snail on their hand and feel thrilled when it sneaks out its stalked eyes.
We should also be amazed at our incredible plant life. Did you know we have our very own carnivorous plant species? The thought conjures images of tropical rain forests but go no further! Behold, the stunning detail and evolution we can see in round-leaved sundew. This tiny bog loving plant is covered in attractive sticky glues and acids – any enticed insect won’t be leaving any time soon. These extra meals supplement the plant’s nutrients, added help when growing in nutrient poor areas.
We don’t just have the one carnivorous species though. Butterwort is another species found in boggy habitats, often right next to sundew. This insectivorous plant secretes a sticky fluid, attracting and snaring insects into it’s leaves.
This evening I wandered into the garden with my camera to enjoy the incredible variety of wildflowers on my doorstep. Bugle, yellow pimpernel, water avens, yellow archangel, red campion, bluebells, tormentil and birdsfoot-trefoil are all looking stunning right now, to name just a few. Wild strawberries, germander speedwell, buttercups and daisies are all to be spotted, creating a riot of colour.
We are so inclined to keep our gardens mown and tidy but the stunning array of wildflowers along with the insect and birdlife they attract should be much more welcome. To my eye, the natural growth of nature looks much more appealing than a tightly mown lawn. Recently I’ve noticed bullfinches and siskins feeding on the flower heads among the grasses – they wouldn’t be there if we’d cut all of their food away – no such thing as a weed! Lock the mower away and let the plants go wild!