September Nature Notes.

Wander into the countryside and you can easily spot birds and wildflowers. Even if you cannot see the birds you can often hear them calling despite being hidden in trees and undergrowth. But how many mammals will you see? Deer are not yet seen around Wenvoe but you might spot the odd fox or badger. Evidence of moles comes with the molehills often visible in early Spring before the vegetation gets too tall. And if you venture out on a warm summer evening you will see bats whether in the centre of the village or out in the countryside. But what about the many small mammals that we know are out there – the voles, mice and shrews? Not only do we not know how they are faring locally but even nationally there is very little information on how well or badly they are doing.

We do know that the UK has lost 500 native species of wildlife in the last 200 years including the extinction of 12% of our land mammals. Hedgehogs are down in the last 40 years from 30 million to 1.5 million. To our children and their grand-children Mrs Tiggy Winkle and Ratty (the water vole in Wind in the Willows) will be as remote as the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood (officially Britain's last wolf was killed in 1680). Here is a quote from the Act for Wildlife website:

‘Conservation must start at home in our back gardens, parks, cities and open spaces. The wildlife we have in the UK is fascinating and diverse and it is our heritage and responsibility’.

So what about our small furry friend in the photo? It is a field vole found alive and well on the Upper Orchid Field. They favour tussocky grasslands and orchards. One of the reasons the grass on the Community Orchard has been allowed to become tussocky is to encourage them and we know that they are establishing themselves there although whether there are 2, 10 or 100 we really do not know. Hopefully one day someone with the necessary survey skills will be able to give us a clue.


It has been a pretty good year for Bluebells and we are well blessed in the parish for the number of woods that are carpeted with them. With over half of the world's population of Bluebells being in the UK it is vital that we look after them but they are under threat from a number of directions. In the past many woods were stripped of bluebells by people selling them on to gardeners although with the current legal penalties on uprooting the bulbs this may have diminished recently. Then there is development either by removing woodland or planting it with conifers as bluebells struggle under the permanent shade of evergreens. However, possibly the major threat is from the Spanish Bluebell which is very commonly planted in Wenvoe.

The two species, ours and the Spanish hybridise easily and the resulting plant is no longer our native bluebell. The two do not have to be growing close together – all it needs is a pollinating insect to fly from one to the other for hybridisation to occur. As we are surrounded by woods with bluebells all of these are at risk from the Iberian interlopers which are well within a short bee flight. So how do you tell them apart?

The native Bluebell is curved at the top and the flowers tend to grow on one side of the stem. The Spanish Bluebell is bigger and more vigorous (which is why gardeners like them) and the flowers grow on all sides of the upright stem. Our native species has a distinct, sweetish scent; the Spanish virtually no smell and the leaves are much broader. The native Bluebell tends to be a much deeper blue colour. Is it an issue?

A survey by Plantlife found that one in six woods in Britain now contains hybrid plants. What can you do to help matters? If you have Spanish Bluebells the only thing you can do is to get rid of them and that does not mean driving out and throwing them out of the car window. That is precisely how so many clumps are appearing by the roadside. They can go out with the green waste collected by the Council as the heat in the composting process effectively kills the bulb and seed. And why not plant the native bluebell? They can be readily obtained online from reputable suppliers and can be bought as bulbs from Garden Centres.

The Wildlife Group has planted quite a few in the orchards that have been bought locally and experience has been that it is better to plant bulbs in late Summer and Autumn than potgrown plants in the Spring as the latter seem to be particularly favoured by small mammals who love to dig them up.  

The Marble Gall

Quite common on Oak Trees in and around Wenvoe is the gall shown in the photo known as the Marble Gall. It can be found on the Community Orchard, the Welsh Orchard and the Upper Orchid Field.

It is often confused with the Oak Apple but these are uncommon in this part of the world. The marble gall is caused by an insect which lays an egg on the Oak and the ‘marble’ which soon grows provides a living space for the young larva. Most of the galls at this time of year will have a small, neat hole in the side through which the young insect has escaped.

Galls have a surprisingly important role to play in our written records as they were used to make the ink which most of our important documents were written in for over 1,000 years. From the 5th century through to the 19th and even into the 20th century, tannin was extracted from galls and mixed with other chemicals to produce the ink used in key documents such as the Magna Carta and American Declaration of Independence. Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Victor Hugo also used it.

The charter on the left-hand wall as you enter the Bear Hotel in Cowbridge would probably have used Gall Ink. Articles on Gall Ink often feature the Marble Gall but therein lies a problem as that gall was only introduced to Britain in the 18th century and it needs the presence of another type of oak, the Turkey Oak, which is not native and has only been around for last 200-300 years to complete its life cycle.

It would be interesting to know if before the 1700s British Gall Ink used other types of galls or whether European Galls were imported and used to make the ink. If you think you know, why not drop a line to Whats On.