Sunday, December 05, 2010

A second 2010 snowfall

Everything looks flattened after some of the heaviest and earliest snowfall for many years. We had about 1ft (30 cm) of snow on 1st and 2nd December with a lowest temperature in the garden of -9⁰ C, but on the night of 3/4 December there was a rapid thaw and today nearly all the snow has gone.

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A highlight on this visit to Emthree was the larger of the two birches with its bright brown trunk shining in the winter light. The bramble hedge has been flattened by the weight of snow for the second time this year and, if this is a regular occurrence, it will be a significant factor in the ultimate shape of the hedge.

There are still a few snow patches and, curiously, I found the plastic lid of what looks like a food mixer flask floating like a round white moon or a small flying saucer in the middle of Midsummer Pond. It is remarkable how ponds attract rubbish and maybe this was dropped in there by an animal.

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We are quick to blame irresponsible people for dumping stuff in ponds, but maybe there are other explanations ...

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Back again

1 September 2010 A return to Emthree after a long period of neglect – what a religious might call a spell of spiritual dryness. Partly my motivation has returned after reading a passage in Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God (see below) and partly because it was a wonderful sunny September day after a spell of indifferent weather.

20100901 Metre & South View 006 Most of the summer favourites are still in flower though looking tired: smooth hawksbeard, ragwort, self-heal, herb-robert, square-stalked and perforated St. Johnswort, red campion (sic), marsh thistle, knapweed, cat’s-ear and fleabane.

The pond is full, the medlars are ripening.

Later I did a little micro-management: cutting aggressive brambles and some grass; allowing a little more sunshine to reach the yellow ants’ nest. The wild rose is doing well but the sallow has sad yellow leaves caused by some microfungus.

A cloud like a skeleton of a prehistoric fish lies in the blue sky to the south among the sounds of aircraft.

Anyway, here is the passage from Karen Armstrong:

... the cult of ‘sacred geography’, [is] one of the oldest and most universal religious ideas. Certain places that stood out in some way to the norm – like the labyrinthine caverns of the Dordogne – seemed to speak of something else. The sacred place was one of the earliest and most ubiquitous symbols of the divine. It was a sacred ‘centre’ that brought heaven and earth together and where the divine potency seemed particularly effective.

It reminds me of what I wrote on 23 November 2003: “There are several Metre3s: the one I observe nearly every day, the one that modifies my view of other places, and the one I imagine to be there when I am not. There is also, I like to believe, a second Metre3 in another world and maybe beyond that a third where everything is the same but magically different – a half-glimpsed, half-understood possibility.”   As Archie Hill wrote in The Second Meadow (1982):

I often asked myself who had passed through the gate leading into the Second Meadow — the great thinkers and poets, painters and music-makers? Yes, these must have passed through.

Who then had passed into the Third if it be there — and surely it must be there? Christ, Plato, Beethoven? The few precious people who had stood upon great mountain peaks above all others, those rare geniuses who were linked together but separated by the distance of centuries?

Yes, I thought, these above all had at least passed into the Second Meadow, and perhaps into the Third. New, uncluttered mental and spiritual pastures.. . voyagers of the universe within...

I shall never get there but, like Archie Hill or St Paul seeing through a glass darkly, I might get an inkling of an understanding with the help of Emthree.

2 September 2010 What I thought was a slime mould turned out to be a seaworn flint buried in North Wall.

The wrinkled ants were swarming by the doll’s head – quite late I thought.

A short-legged harvestman fell on me from somewhere and I put it safely on a ragwort flower head.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010


The cold weather that has been going on for so long it has depressed almost to nil the number of insects I find as I go about the garden.  Today, despite the still lying snow, I decided to take a tussock of cock's-foot grass from Emthree and see what I could find in it and to alleviate my invertebrate withdrawal symptoms

Metre tussock 017Tussocking is a time-honoured technique for finding invertebrates especially during the colder, wetter months.

The method is simple: the tussock is cut off just below ground (I find a bread knife with a serrated edge is best for this), put in a bag and brought to some place where it can be examined (the dining room table is often quite handy).

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This excision leaves a hole of course, but this might fill up with interesting things in due time.  Or you may even find something in it - I found a mauve plastic clothes peg, a survivor from the days when a washing line passed over the area.

Once indoors the tussock is teased out and shaken in a garden sieve over a white sheet like a tea towel.  Any insects that fall through the mesh onto the white can then be pootered up.

Today's tussock was far from the best I have ever had but it contained two garlic snails Oxychilius alliarius; several Entomobrya nivalis springtails; the bark louse, Lepinotus iniquilinus; two rove beetles, Stenus flavipes and Tachyporus chrysomelinus; two herb hammock spiders, Neriene clathrata;and a woodlouse, Trichoniscus pusillus.

The bark louse, the garlic snail, the spider and the two beetles are new records for Emthree and the only other records of the bark louse in Sussex are from our house and green house here, though I expect it is widespread.

It just goes to show what can be found even under snow (I had to get the snow off the tussock before I could cut it.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow again

For the third time in the last four months we have had heavy snow.  Last night it was mainly east Kent and East Sussex near the coast that was blessed and we woke up this morning to a deep white mantle.

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It is very cold too: an unusually hard winter.  I rather suspect the effect on Emthree will be beneficial rather than the reverse.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Still a cold winter

Now well into February, it has been snowing much of the day and promises to do so much of the night.  Phenology aside, most things seem to be delayed by cold - crocuses, hazel catkins, snowdrops etc are not yet in bloom in our area.

The pictures below were taken on 1 February after a hard frost when a dawn snow shower spread writhing plaits of white powder across the hard ground.

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When there is any amelioration - temperatures up to 5 centigrade or more - there is a scatter of invertebrates.  Winter gnats and midges swarming in the lee of the hedge, the occasional green flash of a leaf-hopper (Empoasca vitis) darting from the cover of the evergreen box.

Midsummer Pond has frozen several times.

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The leaves of heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis) always stand out well after frost.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Campion miner

I noticed today that two or three leaves of the red campion (Silene dioica) had been mined by what turned out to be larvae of the agromyzid fly Amauromyza flavifrons.

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The fly larvae clearly find red campion leaves more palatable than rabbits do as these mammals seem to leave them strictly alone.

This is a new record for Emthree and only the third on the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre's database.  However, I suspect the species is actually quite common in Sussex.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hungry birds

Today I noticed that some of the lichen/moss sward on the top of Butterfly Rock was missing and I found these patches of fairy cup lichen, Cladonia pyxidata, lying higgledy piggledy on the ground.


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Undoubtedly they had been cast aside by hungry birds searching for insect larvae.

It is often written that Cladonia pyxidata is, or was, used as a cure for whooping cough.  This seems to originate with John Lightfoot who wrote in his Flora Scotica (1777) "A decoction of this moss is sometimes given by the vulgar to children to cure the whooping cough but the good effects of it are not supported by proper testimonies.".  However, under the rubric pyxidatus he included what sounds like several different species of Cladonia which he called 'common cup-moss or lichen' (lichens in the 18th century were thought to be kinds of mosses).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Diffugere nives again

20100115 Metre snow 003The snow is melting, the blackbirds are singing again. There was a non-stop pattering of water to the north of Emthree as the snow on top of the garden hedge melted.

The ground is now patterned with snow patches as it thaws. With their irregular curving shapes they create a highly distinctive landscape, but not one that is much admired or loved.

The old wooden pole that the black bryony has climbed for the last six years has broken near its base, perhaps under the weight of snow and Submespilus Pit is full of cold water.

Judging by the evidence below, the birds must have been eating some of the berries.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brambles crushed by snow

The very heavy snowfalls since the 1 January have deposited a considerable weight of material on trees and bushes.

20100112 Metre snow crushed bramble hedge

In the picture above the snow has crushed the bramble hedge along the south of Emthree, reducing it from chest height to knee height.

No doubt it will bounce back to some extent after the thaw, but it will have to grow up to chest height again and its general configuration will be permanently affected.  Ultimately it should be thickened and strengthened.

Snow, if and when it comes, is an important part of the natural dynamic, not only altering the shape of trees and shrubs but often breaking off branches large and small to provides homes on the ground for invertebrates and fungi, and tears and tree-holes above for the species associated with those.

The cold and snow will also, no doubt, reduce numbers of birds and animals with all sorts of poorly understood knock-on consequences.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A hard winter

We had snow before Christmas and it has been lying continuously since New Year's Day.  On most days we have had additional snowfall and it has been blizzarding here on and off all day with more forecast tomorrow and for several more days at leastSedlescombe Killingan snow 004 

This, of course, should be quite beneficial to most wildlife, though the birds in our garden are looking cold and hungry.