Saturday, January 23, 2016

A new beginning?

A return, after a long rest, to the Square Metre, perhaps inspired by this from Paul Harrison's book Elements of Pantheism:
  • When we go to unfamiliar places or landscapes, almost everyone does for a time look at things more closely. But we should be able to look at our garden or local park as naively and attentively as if it were a tropical rainforest or a host of penguins on an iceberg.
Also, perhaps, because I have bought a pair of waterproof, fur-lined boots with cherry red, spat-like tops which makes travelling to and fro easier and more comfortable.

Today was a fine and frosty midday visit with the sun striking through bare winter branches. Emthree looks a bit untidy after a year or so of relative neglect but, of course, it is still there and has been following its own dynamic

A particularly noticeable feature was the large number of fine flat bright green sorrel leaves spread on the ground (see photo above). I think this may be to do with the number of cats that have, as mentioned in May 2015, been active in the area and have seen off all the rabbits and other creatures that might relish a sorrel leaf. Whilst I am not happy about cats in gardens and the wider environment (except for their ratting abilities) the coming year will give me an opportunity to evaluate their effect on Emthree which, I suspect, might be substantial.

It was cold, so I did not do much. But I cut back some of the long whips of bramble which had snaked over the higher branches of the medlar, the ash and other trees and were close to finding a rooting place on the ground. The twigs on the medlar are developing a good crop of lichens as their morbidity increases. I identified a piece of Evernia prunastri on the ground and will have a go at the others when I get a chance. The Key to lichens on twigs from the Natural History Museum should be helpful in this context.

Some of the vegetation to the south west of the medlar was cut back during the summer and this has let more light come in underneath the tree. The gladdon and tutsan are doing well here and there is a number of foxgloves.  In the picture below there are not only gladdon berries but herb bennet, tutsan, ivy, broad buckler fern and common smoothcap moss: a promise of things to come.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Blue May

A return to writing about Emthree after a long gap, though I regularly make visits. It is the time of the Chelsea Flower Show and there is an increasing emphasis on wild gardens using native plants and so forth. Yet a dazzling effect has been produced in Emthree almost entirely by selective weeding and pruning. Almost nothing has been planted.

This spring there is a greater quantity of bugle that ever before and their blue purple spikes are not only good to look at but attractive to bees and other invertebrates. The pale blue of forget-me-nots and deep pink of campions contrast nicely with the bugle and there are other flowers dotted about. White-flowered herb-robert, for example, and sweet vernal-grass.

The trees have all survived the winter well and look very lively in their shiny new spring green and I spotted what appears to be a foxglove plant towards the north east corner of the original square metre. This will be a first for this species if I am right.

Since April Sammy, one of our granddaughters has been living here with her two sons and several cats. The cats are very adept at catching small rodents and rabbits and this will, I think, change the ecology of Emthree, possibly quite substantially (like re-introducing wolves into Yellowstone Park).

As I walked back to the house, I heard the shrill screaming of a flock of swifts above then saw the black-sickle shapes swirling about high in the sky. When so much wildlife is threatened, it is good to see things like this. The cuckoo too has been calling locally.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The eleventh anniversary


It is the eleventh anniversary of what I call 'The Square Metre' project, or 'Emthree' (M3), a small area of garden that I have studied in some detail since 3rd September 2003. I was 65 then and now, as the arithmetic shows, 76. I have changed just as much as M3, but in a different way. I am older and more tired. Bits of me do not work as well as they should, but I manage. M3 is now more of a wood (even an 'ancient wood') than a meadow. There is a silver birch at its heart maybe twelve metres tall and a four metre ash. There are small birches, a sallow, an oak, a hornbeam and a holly. Just outside the square, in what I call the penumbra there are two hazels, some hawthorn, a cotoneaster and other plants sown in droppings from birds perching in the old medlar tree. I have introduced nothing: it all arrives of its own accord. The medlar is on its way out: today it was sporting a fine array of wood-rotting bracket fungi and sulphur tuft toadstools.


In several places I have identified wild privet (right), again bird sown and there are two species of rose - one I have not identified and the field rose (much attacked by leaf-cutter bees) which, despite its name, is supposedly an ancient woodland indicator. Quick aside: a tawny owl was hooting loudly in the wood down the garden at 1 p.m. English tawny owls are thought to be evolving away from the continental varieties and one of the criteria is daytime calling.

Today I can see few flowers other than singletons on stunted ragwort and bugle. The summer is over. The ground is littered with brown and yellow birch leaves, a hogweed has an umbel of pale green seeds and a red campion holds its empty goblets, once full of seed, to the blue September sky.


Monday, June 02, 2014

Early fungi and a new bug

About fifteen fruiting bodies of sulphur tuft toadstools,Hypholoma fasciculare have appeared along the log dividing TSM in half. They are very obvious and have come up quickly and rather early in the year. Hopefully I will be able to collect a few as they decay and breed some insects from them.


I also found a rather beautiful striped oak bug, Rhabdomiris striatellus (= Calocoris quadripunctatus) upside down on a knapweed leaf and quite dead though apparently uninjured (old age perhaps).  Though supposedly quite common, it is the first time I have come across this oak-favouring species, though there are plenty of oaks around the garden and next door.


I rearranged it a bit before taking the photo above, but it remained dead.

I have recorded the fungus in TSM before, but not the mirid bug.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Thoughts on the future


I have just finished reading The Ash and the Beech, by Richard Mabey. Mostly the book ranges widely over our human attitudes to woodland over the centuries and our current confliction between 'natural' and 'artificial' (do woods really need to be managed etc.). It made me reflect, of course, on quite what category the Square Metre falls into.

My purpose in constant intervention is, perhaps, to preserve perspective - the short and the longer views, a hole in the Universe. But apart from that what happens, happens: I trim and weed to the minimum necessary to stick to my purpose, but I do not plant or sow anything or introduce fauna.

It is important to me to preserve a sense of ease, of connection to everything else that is there, to let species interact with each other as well as with myself. It is a space to reflect, to meditate, to achieve calm, balance and a sense of proportion in this troubled world. My intercessions are only to achieve and conserve these ends (il fine giustifica i mezzi - falsely attributed to Machiavelli). But there is no end. If I am no longer able to visit, the vegetation will close over and TSM merge back into whatever surroundings the future holds. Like the Hovgaard Ridge microcontinent below the waters of the North Atlantic between Greenland and Spitsbergen, its place in the sun will have gone and it will lie hidden among the many millions of other square metres comprising the surface of the Earth.

And, of course, if the Earth should one day explode into an ever-drifting and dispersing cloud of stardust there will be no co-ordinates to determine where the Square Metre might once have been. There will no longer be any ‘where’.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The picturesque?

I have been reading The Ash and the Beech by Richard Mabey (Vintage Books, London. 2013).

In chapter 3 Mabey explains the importance of John Evelyn in promulgating the idea of planting trees as opposed to natural regeneration. Mabey comments "But as a philosophy, a policy, woodland creation was regarded as faintly eccentric and probably unnecessary. Why waste energy planting trees, when, since the time of the Creation, woods had done it so very successfully themselves?"

DSCN3134 trees

The picture above from the Metre and its immediate surrounds makes this point.  There are 10 trees in the foreground of the picture, though some are difficult to see.  The obvious ones are, from left to right, hornbeam, birch, sallow, birch again and ash.  In addition there are oak, holly, hazel and hawthorn.

All these have appeared of their own accord, unaided by me, though they do, to a certain extent, have to be protected from rabbits.

I am struck too by how much TSM now looks like woodland with its bugle, ferns, lanky grass and, of course, the trees.

There are now several baby common hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna) and they seem to have done particularly well over the last year.

DSCN3136 Hawthorn seedling

Mostly the bugle is doing well too, but some plants are not so vigorous and have their leaves mottled with yellowish.  I suspect this is a virus of some sort.

DSCN3138 bugle virus

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Owls, roses, lichens

At about 4.30 in the afternoon a tawny owl called loudly from the tall incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, maybe 10 metres from TSM. The call was almost piercing and must have carried far. This owl, and maybe its mate, have been hooting since last autumn and could be nesting in Churchland Wood, but today was the closest I have known one.

The new, strong rose shoot that I spotted a short while ago has been bitten off about 15cm above the ground.  I suspect it is a rabbit and its teeth have gone straight through the stalk but it has not eaten any of the shoot: the upper part was still hanging to the stick I used to try and protect it.

20140427 Metre cut rose

I noticed that the lower part of the ash tree, where the bark is several years old, has thin grey lichen growing on it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sallow snow

The air is full of sallow seed-down blowing from the goat willow to the south. It is like the first snow flurry of winter but each downflake hangs slower in the air, drifting among trees and bushes, perpetually agitated by eddies and thermals, carrying minute germs of life to wheresoever they may find a hidden lodging.

The bugle is at its best now and I suspect we have more spikes than in any previous year.  Perhaps it rather likes wet winters.

2014-04-24 17.12.19

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hazel nut horde?

Pleasant, sunny spring weather has brought on the plants and brought out the insects. Today I removed my wire cage exclosure from western Troy Track since it looks very ugly and has failed to produce anything of interest within apart from two hazel seedlings with a third (nibbled) just outside the exclosure. Three seedlings within a few inches of each other indicates that there had been some sort of nut horde buried there. Interesting as the nearest source of hazel nuts is some distance away.

2014-04-23 14.21.31

Using my close focus binoculars I watched a common pill woodlouse, Armadillidium vulgare, questing about in the sunshine to no apparent purpose. There was a rather splendid black beetle, probably a Carabid moving rapidly about among the vegetation and often flying from one place to the other. Twice it climbed about half a metre up the trunk of the sallow at high speed before taking to the wing. I saw the first of the wrinkled ants, Myrmica ruginodis, for the year dragging some kind of booty across Flat Stone. Other insects include a 14-spot ladybird, Propylea quattuordecimpunctata, and the copper hoverfly, Ferdinandea cuprea, both sunning themselves on leaves.

2014-04-23 14.10.362014-04-23 14.27.17

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.

2014-04-11 12.08.24

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

2014-04-12 16.21.46

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.

2014-04-11 11.58.19

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.

2013-08-20 11.35.55