Least Favourite Wild Animals


The Adder 

The Adder is possibly one of the public’s least favourite wild animals yet it has an important role in our local ecology. Maybe its reputation as Britain’s only venomous snake does not help but cases of humans being bitten are few and far between, less than one case a year over the last hundred years and most of these occur when people pick the snakes up. Between 1950 and 1972 there was only one death from an adder bite in England and Wales compared with 61 who died from bee or wasp stings.

There should be records of them in the parish but there are none on the Aderyn database. Despite that there are several anecdotal reports of them, so if you do come across one locally, do get in touch with the Wildlife Group preferably with a photograph and details of the location. The snake is quite easy to identify with its characteristic zig-zag pattern, the female brown and the male black. You are more likely to come across a grass snake which is much larger and completely harmless. They have been seen at the Watercress Beds and the Elizabethan Orchard.

Like so much of our wildlife, adders are in decline. Much of this is down to habitat loss and disturbance by people and dogs. They are also predated on often by pheasants which frequently kill slowworms as well. Larger birds of prey, like Buzzards, are likely to be a threat. The future for this unique species does appear bleak.

 



 

Ladybirds


Ladybirds 

Many of you will have noticed large numbers of ladybirds congregating on the outside of houses. These come in many different colours and patterns but they are most likely to be the one species, the Harlequin Ladybird, which, as its name suggests, has a variegated colouring.

The one in the photo is plain orange but they come with spots, blotches and stripes – some even have 19 spots. An Asian species which first arrived in Britain in 2004, they have spread rapidly and are believed to out-compete our native species. Introduced into North America it is known as the Halloween Bug where it invades houses and is now the commonest species.

 



 

What, No Acorns? 


What, No Acorns? 

Have you noticed the lack of acorns this year? Robert Reader got in touch as he had noticed they were few and far between combined with large amounts of the husks of conkers lying around. So, what are the squirrels up to?

Last year, 2020, was a ‘mast’ year for acorns. ‘Mast’ derives from the Old English ‘maest’ which simply means the nuts of forest trees which have accumulated on the ground. We tend to use mast to mean years when there are a lot of them and this applied last year all over Britain. This year, the reverse applies and whether you are in Glamorgan, Somerset or Yorkshire people are reporting few if any acorns. Interestingly the Knopper Gall which distorts growing acorns and can often be found scattered on the pavement underneath the School oaks, are not to be found. The reasons behind mast years are varied including the weather but also may be linked to ensuring the continuation of the oaks by producing a bumper crop, many of which are buried by squirrels, birds and rodents. These are then followed by lean years which keeps the populations of small animals under control.

So with a shortage of acorns this year for the squirrels to bury are they turning to conkers? Well, yes and no. Conkers contains a poison which squirrels can detect if they try to eat them but this will not prevent their hoarding instincts from kicking in. So wherever you find loads of conker shells but no conkers you can assume that the squirrels have been carrying off the conkers and burying them. The net result will be loads of Horse Chestnut saplings next year!. More recently Sweet Chestnuts have been falling and the squirrels are losing no time in gathering these up. Grange Park is a good spot to see them in action.

A few things to look out for at the moment. Every garden seems to be festooned with spider webs, most of which will be the Garden Spider which can be quite a chunky size. And the Harlequin Ladybird is everywhere. These come in different patterns but they are larger than our familiar 7-spot Ladybird. They also move into houses and can be found in any gaps around doors and windows where they can gain access and spend the winter. Also check out the flowering Ivy which is all over the place in Wenvoe. If you see what looks like a wasp but has a hairy back it is probably the Ivy Bee which only arrived in Britain in 2001 so has made a good job of spreading around the country.

 



 

Hemiptera. or “Bugs” to You


“Bugs”


Some people call all insects bugs but ‘true’ bugs are of the order Hemiptera. All of these have piercing mouthparts designed for sucking juices from plants or animals. So, the following are not bugs – Ladybirds, beetles, earwigs, crickets, grasshoppers etc. There are 1,830 species of bug in Britain compared with just 59 resident species of butterfly.

Anyone with a garden with live plants, shrubs or trees will have bugs in them. Some are less than welcome such as aphids, but most bugs are harmless and often quite colourful. And they do have some wonderful names such Shieldbugs, Leatherbugs and Firebugs. There are Stiltbugs and Lacebugs – not to mention Bedbugs although hopefully you will not have encountered those! The Assassin Bugs hunt Bed bugs, Silverfish, Harvestmen and spiders. In the water you might find Pondskaters, Backswimmers and Water Boatmen. Then there are Froghoppers, Lacehoppers and Leafhoppers. Some have descriptive common names such as Stinkbugs and Squashbugs.

The Parent Shieldbug protects its offspring by sitting over the eggs before they hatch and then guarding the young nymphs. The photo shows a couple of Dock Bugs which could be found in large numbers down at the Watercress Beds in September. The Red-legged Shieldbug seems to have done well in Wenvoe this year and is often associated with Apple, Birch and Hawthorn.

So, look out for the ‘true’ bugs and unless they are aphids encourage them to flourish and they will repay you by keeping down some of the garden pests that might not be so welcome.

 



 

The Upper Orchid Field

 


The Upper Orchid Field


Last month we discussed Meadows – how important they are and yet how they are fast disappearing. This month we shall give some background on the Upper Orchid Field and how we got to where we are today. The history of the Upper Orchid Field beyond around 15 years ago is unknown although if anyone has any information or memories about it please get in touch with the Wildlife Group. At that stage it was known as the Sledging Field and on the odd occasion that snow still falls it is great that people can use it for that purpose. The field was purchased by the Vale of Glamorgan Council at the time they purchased Whitehall Quarry for landfill along with some other adjacent fields. The Public Right of Way along the bottom of the field has been used, probably for centuries as an important link between Twyn yr Odyn and Wenvoe. A decade ago some who walked along the path noticed that the field was becoming increasingly overgrown and at this point most of the slope was covered in Ash trees. Left to its own devices it would have become woodland.

It was suggested that an approach be made to VoGC to take over maintenance of the field and with a sympathetic response from the Council the Wildlife Group was started. In 2013 a formal licence was agreed. This licence stated that the Council would cut the field and the Wildlife Group would help with recording wildlife, creating and maintaining paths, and helping to restore the meadow. A few years later the Council indicated that they could no longer afford to cut the field and this role was taken over by WWG. Currently a contractor cuts the hay meadow annually and the costs are shared between WWG and the Community Council.

Over the last 10 years noticeboards and benches have been installed, new paths and accesses created; bird and bat boxes put up and trees planted around the periphery. Over 400 species have been recorded and the meadow is designated a SINC – a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. This does not give legal protection but it means this designation should be considered in any land use planning decision. However no-one should be under any illusion that the site is safe from development or take-over by a third party. The site has received 8 Green Flag awards and numerous other certificates and accolades. Not least it is enjoyed daily by a large number of walkers, joggers, dog-walkers and other visitors.

Other than the shared cost of the annual cut referred to earlier WWG receive no financial or technical support in looking after the field and rely wholly on volunteers, a significant proportion coming from

outside the Parish including Dinas Powys, Radyr, Penarth and Cardiff. This year the Working Party have made inroads into the steady spread of brambles on the edges and hopefully the annual cut will help to consolidate this progress. Wildflower seed will also be harvested this year and used to create new meadows elsewhere in the Vale of Glamorgan. There is always masses of work to be done so if you can spare the odd moment to help out, do contact the Wildlife Group and help to ensure that we continue to get the benefit of this local treasure.

 



 

National Meadows Week

National Meadows Week


We celebrated National Meadows Week in July with a ‘walk and talk’ around the Upper Orchid Field. We are fortunate to have this facility on our doorstep and it is well used by visitors, dog-walkers and joggers whilst providing a haven for wildlife. The UK has lost around 97% of its wildflower meadows in the last 100 years and there are few remaining examples around Cardiff and the Vale.

So, what is a ‘meadow’? It is an open area with herbaceous and other non-woody plants and from which a hay crop is taken every year. It is not grazed by livestock. Fields which are grazed are referred to as ‘pasture’. The vast majority of the non-arable fields in Wenvoe are pasture, mainly grass and with minimal biodiversity.

Hay meadows are an important element in mankind’s cultural and social evolution. Finding food for livestock over Winter was never easy but once we had developed the tools like sickles to be able to take a hay crop, cattle, sheep and goats could be kept in enclosures during the coldest months and fed the stored hay. And so, we had haystacks, hayricks and barns.

The hay meadows attracted plants that would grow happily in grass, would set seed and then be cut in the Autumn for storage. These flower varieties are very different from the weeds of arable (ploughed) fields like Poppies, Corncockle and Cornflower. In contrast on the Upper Orchid Field you will find Primroses, Cowslips, Knapweeds, Agrimony and, of course, Orchids, along with over 100 varieties of herbs and grasses.

This range of species is ideal for our threatened bees and other pollinators and the disappearance of our meadows is one of the reasons for the decline of our insects – a crisis which we are warned about daily by scientists. Meadows also act as a carbon sink – another topical issue. In next month’s issue we shall say a bit more about the Upper Orchid Field – who owns it, what its status is and what the Wildlife Group are doing to preserve it. In the meantime, enjoy the field and its flowers and trees. On our walk we found Bee Orchids – a wonderful but easily overlooked little plant. What can you find?

The Upper Orchid Field

 



 

Dragons and Damsels

Dragonflies and Damselflies


From warmer days in May onwards you could find Dragonflies in your garden. Whilst it helps if you have a pond, they can fly some distance so most gardens will receive a visit. Dragonflies are bigger insects and usually rest with their wings stretched out at 90 degrees to their body. Damselflies are much daintier and mainly rest with their wings alongside their bodies.

If you do not have a pond the best places to see the larger Dragonflies are either the pond in the Community Orchard off Station Road or the Salmon Leaps. One of our largest Dragonflies, the Emperor, can be found on the Salmon Leaps ponds, patrolling up and down and catching smaller insects in mid-air. If you walk through the woods to the Salmon Leaps you might also see two very attractive Damselflies, the Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles.

Dragonflies lay their eggs often under water or near the surface and the larvae can take anything from 2- 3 months to 5 years to mature during which time they are voracious predators eating worms, snails, leeches, tadpoles and even small fish.

 

 

When ready to emerge the larvae climb up vegetation and the adult insects breaks out of the larval skin. You will often see exuvia on these plants which is the remaining skin once the adult has flown off. Dragonflies were one of the first winged insects to evolve and this was around 300 million years ago and some of these were the size of our seagulls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

Feeding The Worms

FEEDING THE WORMS

by Danusha Laméris


Ever since I found out that earth worms have taste buds all over the delicate pink strings of their bodies, I pause dropping apple peels into the compost bin, imagine the dark, writhing ecstasy, the sweetness of apples permeating their pores. I offer beets and parsley, avocado, and melon, the feathery tops of carrots.

I’d always thought theirs a menial life, eyeless and hidden, almost vulgar—though now, it seems, they bear a pleasure so sublime, so decadent, I want to contribute however I can, forgetting, a moment, my place on the menu.

 

 



 

Native Variety Water Lilies

Native Variety Water Lilies


If you are tempted to include a water lily in your pond there is a wide range of colours and types to choose from in the Garden Centres. But what about our native varieties?

One is the White Water Lily which looks just as you would expect a water lily to be. This is a common plant of still or slow-moving ponds, streams and canals but you would need a big pond to accommodate one. The leaves or lily pads can be up to 30cms across and the flowers 20cms – this is the UK’s largest flower. It can grow in water up to 5 metres deep. It has been used medicinally for centuries, including by monks and nuns as an anaphrodisiac.

Then there is the Yellow Water Lily, looking more like a huge Buttercup, and also called Brandy Bottle. Bees enjoy it which is great but, again, you need a very large pond or slow-moving stream for it. A good place to see it is the Glamorganshire canal at Forest Farm, Cardiff

The Fringed Water Lily is another variety and is the plant that the Wildlife Group have included in their newest 750 litre pond. It is native to certain parts of England but not Wales although it is well-established in some ponds, particularly on Gower where you can find it in Broad Pool. It is suitable for smaller ponds but botanically is not actually a member of the water-lily family. It is one of the Bog -Beans which you will also find in the same pond. Available to purchase locally.

 



 

Oak Apple Day

Oak Apple Day


Saturday 29th May is Oak Apple Day so don’t forget to celebrate our wonderful oak trees. Take the time to admire them, give them a hug, write a poem about them or paint or photograph them. If you have children, make sure they can identify an oak with its very distinctive leaves and its acorns. You won’t have to go far to find them as they are in the school playground next to the pavement.

So what is Oak Apple Day all about? When Prince Charles (the Stuart one!), who was eventually to become King Charles II, was being pursued by the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) he hid in an oak tree near Boscobel Hall in Staffordshire. The oak is still there and is known as the Boscobel Oak. Those who supported the restoration of the monarchy would wear a sprig of oak and if you did not you might have your bottom pinched – so, Wenvoe – beware! The day also became known as Pinch-Bum- Day. It is celebrated in many places with processions and the drinking of beer and eating plum pudding. The nearby Battle of St Fagans in 1648 between the Royalists and Parliamentarians was probably the largest battle ever to take place on Welsh soil. There are an estimated 467 pubs in Britain called the Royal Oak, most featuring an Oak Tree, Prince Charles or a Crown and some with Parliamentarians prowling in the vicinity. It is possible that the Royal connections took over a much earlier pagan tradition.

There are two native oaks in Britain. The more common around here is the Pedunculate or English Oak – Quercus robur. Then there is the Sessile Oak – Quercus petraea – which is more frequently found in the North and West of Britain, often on higher ground. To tell them apart, the English Oak has its acorns on stalks, the Sessile Oak has them attached directly to the twig. But, as always, just to make things awkward, the two species do hybridise. An impressive total of 1,455 Sessile Oaks have been planted recently in Whitehall Quarry. There are many types of non-native Oaks planted in our Parks and larger Gardens including the Turkey Oak.

But what is an Oak Apple? It is a gall, that is a malformation in the bud, leaf or twig of a tree caused by tiny wasps or fungi. The common gall on Oak is the Marble Gall – this is hard and looks very much like a Malteser. Many people think these are Oak Apples but they have only appeared in the last couple of hundred years and need Turkey Oaks to be around as part of their life cycle and they were only introduced to Britain in the 1700s. The Oak Apple is much less common and is only very occasionally seen around Wenvoe. It is much larger than the Marble Gall – up to 4 centimetres across and is soft and spongy. One very similar to the one shown in the photo was found near Goldsland Farm. If you come across one, do let the Wildlife Group know as they can then be recorded. In the meantime, celebrate your Oaks and wear your sprig with pride!

 



 

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