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
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
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
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
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!
Good News on The Tree Planting.
For once there is a little bit of good local news on the tree planting front although the overall position for the UK remains dire. Despite the importance of trees for carbon capture, climate change and biodiversity, despite the impressive commitments and bold targets from all the UK governments whatever their political persuasion, the actual delivery of new trees in the ground can only be described as lamentable. Take the example of Wales where the Welsh Government’s target is to plant 2,000 hectares of trees every year. Achievement in 2019/2020? 80 hectares – just 4% of its target. So where is the good news?
Tree-planting on any scale in the parish of Wenvoe and St Lythans has been very limited and with road-widening, housing development and cutting down of trees by individual householders, we have probably had a net loss of tree cover every year. The last significant tree planting was at the Jubilee Wood by the Vale of Glamorgan Council around 9 years ago of 5.5 acres (2.2 hectares) and how many of you know where that is? But now, walkers on the public footpath from near the corner of Walston Road to Whitehall Farm can glimpse the tree-planting that has been carried out by Cemex as part of the quarry restoration plans. This involves 2,530 trees and 1,100 shrubs – a significant number by any standards. There is a lot more potential good news in the scheme including the variety of trees planted including Cherry, Aspen and Rowan and the planting of woodland and pond margin plants. Whilst there is no public access to the site at the moment, it is assumed that either Cemex or the Vale of Glamorgan Council who own the site will be arranging both access and information when the site is secure and ready in the future.
Meanwhile the Wildlife Group continue to plants trees as they have for 13 years now. 28 fruit trees donated by Keep Wales Tidy were planted last month in Wenvoe, St Lythans and Twyn yr Odyn. New varieties are being planted on the Upper Orchid Field. These include Black Poplar, described by the Woodland Trust as ‘imposing, elegant and rare’. Once widespread in the UK it is now isolated with Somerset being the nearest county with established numbers. It is the food plant for many moth caterpillars including the Figure of Eight, Poplar Hawk and Wood Leopard moths. Bees and other pollinators take advantage of the early pollen in the catkins and birds enjoy eating the seeds – see photo. Ideally the tree flourishes best in damp conditions so we may well need to supplement our generous rainfall with dousings of extra water in dry periods.
The Quarry and the Upper Orchid Field will be complementary, particularly as they are next to each other. The Quarry will have a large number of trees but fewer species – 11 on present plans. The Upper Orchid Field will have fewer trees but more species with 30 planned for this year. It will be interesting to compare the biodiversity on the two sites as the trees become established
Otters Seen in the Middle of Cowbridge
The news that Otters had been seen in the middle of Cowbridge where the River Thaw flows under the main street was a reminder that this mammal is making a bit of a come-back. We have yet to get a confirmed record of it in the parish – ideally a photo – but there is no reason why they should not be seen here. After all they have been spotted in Porthkerry Park, Fonmon Estate, Rhoose Point, Cosmeston, Lavernock and Llantwit Beach. They are well-established in the River Thaw and many of the watercourses in the Goldsland Farm area flow into the Thaw. So if you do come across one, please take a photo and contact the Wildlife Group.
Known variously as the Eurasian Otter, European Otter or Common Otter, this species was driven to near-extinction by hunting, pesticides and loss of habitat. It is a large member of the weasel family weighing up to 12 kgs and measuring up to a metre in length. In contrast, the Mink (which have similarities in appearance) is only around 1.5 kgs and about the same size as a ferret. Otters are a priority species and fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is amazing to think that whilst they were on the brink of extinction in the 1950s it was not until 1978 that hunting them was banned
An otter’s home is a ‘holt’ and the collective noun for a group of them could be a ‘romp’, ‘lodge’, ‘bevy’ or ‘family’. Whilst most people would love to see an otter, not everyone welcomes their return. Owners of fish farms and managed fisheries can suffer significant losses to their stocks but in a good example of working together a consortium of interested parties have been issued with licences allowing them to trap otters in certain circumstances before returning them to the wild in a different location. Project Otter has been launched in the Vale of Glamorgan to try to establish how they are doing so if you would like to participate by doing some surveying, get in touch with the Wildlife Group who can pass on contact details. Full training will be given.
RSPB BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH 29-31St January 2021
Many readers will already know about the Big Garden Birdwatch and many will have taken part previously. It is free and easy to take part. Here are the basic things you need to know. If you require more information or need a guide to garden birds go to rspb.org.uk/birdwatch. It’s a great activity whether you live alone or within a family and you can even do the birdwatch if you are house-bound.
Pick a time;- You can choose any hour between 29 and 31 January.
Tell RSPB what you see:- Count the birds that land in your garden or park, or on your balcony. Ignore any birds that are still in flight. To avoid double-counting just record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time – not a running total. e.g. if you see one starling back and forwards that counts as one. If you see 2 together then that counts as two etc.
Submit your results:- Online: You can submit your results online at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch from 29 January until 19 February. By post: If you’d rather send your results by post, you can download a submission form. Please post your results to RSPB before 15 February. Every count is important so, if you don’t see anything, please submit your result. Finding out which birds don’t visit your garden or park is as important as understanding those which do.
Private Gardens In The UK
Private gardens in the UK cover an area bigger than all the Nature Reserves combined, estimated at over 10 million acres. Just as our countryside and woodland is shrinking, so is the amount of garden space which wildlife can use as more gardens become wholly or partially paved over or covered with decking, replaced with artificial grass or sheds and offices. This is the season for New Year resolutions so please take some time to think about how you and the family impact on your environment. Anyone can feed the birds or leave a little patch of lawn or flower-bed to go a bit wild. Will hedgehogs become an animal that our children only read about in books? In the last 20 years numbers have declined by 30% in urban areas and 50% in rural ones and this on top of massive declines in the 20th century. But there are several things you can do to help, such as by creating small gaps in your fence to allow them to move from garden to garden. Try planting pollinator-friendly plants, shrubs and trees – for more on this visit the Bee Loud Glade near the Goldsland Orchard. And what about a pond?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
They do not have to be large. The one in the picture cost 97p with a black bucket popped into a hole. It includes two plants, Purple Loosestrife and Marsh Marigold (Kingcups). In the summer it was full of Rat-tailed Maggots which may sound awful but are the larvae of the attractive Hoverfly, the Drone Fly. So, why not make a difference yourself.