Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Roses by other names

The roses in TSM seem to be growing very vigorously this year and flowering cannot now be all that far away, though maybe not for a year or two.

We have two species of wild rose in TSM, the field rose (Rosa arvensis) at the top and one of the dog-roses.  The latter has been there since the early days  of the project and is one of the canina aggregate.

2014-04-18 12.37.38

2014-04-18 12.33.19

A carder bee was busy on the bugle flowers.

2014-04-18 12.30.37

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Purple with rage

Some of the leaf stems on the ragwort rosettes are an enchanting purple colour. I wonder why: it does not seem to have much evolutionary advantage and might well attract the attention of pests and predators.

2014-04-14 ragwort stems

Marsh bird's-foot trefoil seems more abundant this year (maybe the wet winter?). There is figwort here and there and many black bryony seedlings that never seem to come to anything.

The ground to the north now has more of a woodland appearance with dead leaves, sticks and withered stalks and the grass very sparse. There was a buff-tailed bumble bee on the bugle flowers today, the third bumble bee species in the last three days.

There are some fine new shoots on the rose which I transplanted from elsewhere in TSM on 1 November 2004. Maybe I shall see it flower and be able to determine it to species level rather than Rosa canina agg.

I am always surprised at how quickly new leaves on trees and shrubs are attacked, though at this time of year it is usually impossible to find the culprits.  The hornbeam leaf below has a neat hole, but it 2014-04-14 16.29.27is the only damaged one I can find on the whole plant which probably has several hundred leaves.  It is near the top too which indicates that almost certainly the leaf-chomper had to climb a long way for this insignificant meal.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Oak first

“If the oak comes out before the ash there’ll be a splash.”  Well, we’ll see but the oak is decidedly in advance of the ash in TSM and seemingly elsewhere in our local countryside.

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The tall birch has already flowered and is shedding its catkins on the ground.

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Insect life is still sparse but today I saw a common carder bee on 2014-04-12 16.44.03the bugle flowers and not far away this little moth RĂ©aumur’s longhorn (Adela reaumurella) was resting on a leaf of the same plant.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The return of spring

The bugles are flowering already - quite early, often they do not start until late April or early May - and the broad-buckler fern is unfolding. Most of the trees are now in leaf, even the oak and the ashes, and I discovered another small hornbeam just outside the western border of TSM.  Flies were warming themselves in the sunshine on leaves and trunks and a beetle ran rapidly along the now mossy cherry-plum log.

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A queen white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum sensu lato) buzzed about around the logs and bricks of North Wall and the forget-me-not. This bee is, apparently, now defined as a complex of three species B. lucorum, B. cryptarum and B. magnus which cannot be reliably distinguished from each other except by DNA analysis. The new systems of defining species that are now emerging make life difficult for the field naturalist without complicated laboratory facilities and the flora and fauna of the world is becoming a more complex phenomenon than we thought it was. Nevertheless, I still want to be able to talk and write about white-tailed bumble bees without having to explain what I mean in terms of genetics and phylogeny.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Knapweed ichneumon wasp

2013-08-20 11.34.10I recently caught this ichneumon wasp laying eggs into larvae concealed inside the flower stems and upper stalks of knapweed, Centaurea nigra, in Emthree. 

The wasp draws its ovipositor from its sheath (the black sting-like projection to the rear of its abdomen) then curls it under its body to pierce the plant tissue with great delicacy and skill.  Somehow, of course, it is able to detect the presence of the larvae in which its own larvae will live, probably in this case picture-winged flies (Tephritidae).

Identifying an ichneumon such as this is difficult without catching it, and not easy even if one does.  What I will try to do in this instance is to collect some of the flower heads and stalks and see if I can breed out both parasitoid and hosts.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A new harvestman

I found the harvestman Leiobunum rotundum perched halfway up the stem of the white marsh thistle in Emthree the other day.

2013-09-01 11.01.03 2013-09-01 10.59.26 Quite a widespread species in Britain but possibly declining.  I have seen it once before in our garden (1997).

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Great white thistle

One of the several marsh thistles (Cirsium palustre) in Emthree has grown to nearly three metres tall and has white rather than purple flowers.  There certainly seems to be no lack of fertility in the soil, though unless it is in the rainfall, I do not understand where it comes from.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Meter on BBC TV's The One Show

Recently the TV cameras descended on the Square Meter to film a short piece on the project for The One Show.


It was broadcast on Monday, 24 June and is available on iPlayer here:


The Metre piece starts 10 minutes into the show.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Steinkellner's flat-body

Yesterday I found a small moth resting on the trunk of the larger birch tree in the Metre itself.  It turned out to be the Oecophorid Semioscopis steinkellneriana, Steinkellner's flat-body.

20130529 (4) Metre Semioscopis steinkellneriana

This species has larvae that feed on blackthorn and rowan (neither of which grow in the Square Metre), so its choice of a birch trunk seems purely fortuitous.  It is not very well camouflaged either.

On the sallow next to the birch I spotted a small, black sawfly caterpillar feeding alone.

20130529 (7) Metre sawfly

It does not look like the widespread Nematus pavidus as this seems much paler and feeds gregariously on sallow.  I will just have to see if it survives long enough to get a picture of the full grown larva.  It seems quite aggressive, raising its rear half angrily when disturbed and it feeds quite openly, often a mark of distastefulness.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bugle time

Bugle flowers are now coming up to their peak all over Emthree as ‘blue steeples' (an Austrian term for the plant) and it is, as Geoffrey Grigson says in his Englishman’s Flora “A most lovable and inexhaustible little plant.”


These days it seems to feature only rarely in books about herbs and forageables but in the past it had quite a reputation for helping to heal wounds and cure whitlows etc. As Gerard wrote “The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water doth join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth. To be short, it serveth for the same that the Bugle serveth and in the world there are not two better wound herbs as hath been often proved.”

By ‘Prunell’ he means self-heal (Prunella vulgaris).

Bugle also does not seem to welcome many invertebrates. Although the flowers are popular with carder bees and some hover flies, rather few species choose to eat it. Those that do include the larvae of the yellow and black sawfly (Athalia cordata), one micro moth, the aphid Myzus ajugae and the Eriophyid mite Aceria ajugae. I have found all these except the mite in Emthree over the years.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The ash and the ants

A colony of wrinkled ants, Myrmica ruginodis, has appeared under the Lyon Stone.  Much later than usual and normally by this time of year there are several large colonies.

This evening I spotted two individuals that had climbed to the top of the ash tree, now just over a metre tall, and were browsing eagerly on the tiny glandular hairs that cover the new leaf stalks and petioles.


Such attractions are known as 'extra-floral nectaries' (EFNs) as they are not associated with flowers and they occur on quite a wide range of plants (including narrow-leaved vetch in the Square Metre).

The hairs produce a sweet material containing various sugars and other substances and are clearly both tasty and nourishing as far as the ants are concerned.  What advantage the plant gains is not clear, but is has been suggested that the ants discourage other insects and herbivores both of which might damage the plant (I find that unconvincing).

Like others with ash trees I am scrutinising our Metre plant regularly for ash die back disease, but it seems fine so far.  However, as spores of the die back fungus are dispersed from fallen leaf stalks of the tree, ants might well unwittingly transport them from the ground to the most vulnerable parts of the plants.


Note the ant on the left of the above picture of the terminal shoot of our tree.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Where have all the insects gone?

Another example of natural biodiversity.  The south west slope of The Waste, in the penumbra of the Square Metre, I counted 26 different plant species all self-sown and growing happily together.

20130501 Metre SW bank of Waste

There is a yellow meadow ant's nest at the top of the picture and the plastic half bottle in the centre is to try and draw the ants up to ensure they have not deserted.

Insects still seem very scarce and I have not yet found any ants' nests.  Yesterday the first butterfly settled in Emthree - a speckled wood  Today a green longhorn moth, Adela reaumurella, came to rest on a leaf of red campion, its long antennae blowing about in the chilly May wind.

20130502 Metre Adela reaumurella

Yesterday I heard a buzzard mewing its way over Churchland Wood to the east.  Eventually it appeared wheeling over our garden and I had a clear sight of it directly above the large birch tree.  Unless one actually comes and settles in Emthree, this is the nearest I reckon I will come to a buzzard record.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Twenty eight plants but no ants

Mice & Red, the more northerly of the two grasslands in the Square Metre proper, looks rough and untidy after the long winter.  Many fallen leaves and pallid dead grass stalks still lie on its surface.  The birds have been pulling up moss and scraping at the surface layer in pursuit of invertebrates.  They also scatter bits of wood from North Wall on the right of the picture below.

20130429 Metre Mice & Red 1

Nevertheless, many plants are developing and this afternoon I counted 28 species (there are probably a few I overlooked).  Although there were several species of grass, these are no longer dominant as they were in the early years of the project.

This is the list: Ash; Bird’s foot trefoil; Bramble; Broad buckler-fern; Bugle; Creeping bent; False brome grass; Figwort; Forget-me-not; Goosegrass; Hawthorn; Heath speedwell; Herb-robert; Hogweed; Ivy; Marsh thistle; Narrow-leaved vetch; Ragwort; Rough meadow-grass; Self-heal; Smooth tare; Sorrel; Spindle; Sweet vernal grass; Trailing tormentil; White clover; Wild rose; Wood dock.

However, many old friends were not visible - mouse-ear chickweed, for example, and other plants are present only as singletons or in very small numbers.  Insects are also very scarce and I have seen few beetles or spiders and no ants at all though they were once abundant from mid-March.  I wonder if whatever it is that is afflicting bees is also having and effect on ants (also social insects of the Hymenoptera, Aculeata) and other groups.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is it a rowan?

Spotted a small seedling in the south western corner of the project area near the chestnut log seat.  I thought it was hawthorn, but the narrow divided leaf at the rear indicates in might be a rowan, Sorbus aucuparia.  If it is, this will be a first for the project.

20130425 Metre maybe rowan