One of my schoolteachers used to say that if you could cover 20 daisy flowers in the lawn with one foot, it must be summer. We used to think that her summer always came a good couple of weeks earlier than ours.
There are thousands of plants in the daisy family – the Asteraceae – the name derived from the Latin for star, aster. The flowers have an easily recognisable star shape. Actually, the flower head isn’t a single flower but lots of tiny ones making up the central disc (‘disc florets’) and the surrounding ‘ray florets’ which we think of as petals. This multiplicity of flowers means that daisies are good nectar sources and are consequently attractive to pollinating insects.
The word daisy comes from the Old English of daeges eage, which means day’s eye, referring to the way the flower opens in the morning and closes at night. The symmetrical daisy flower is easy to draw so the daisy wheel is a common apotropaic sign that used to be inscribed onto the walls or beams of buildings to ward off evil (Messums barn, for example) and is now the new logo for the local Stone Daisy Brewery.
The daisy with which we are probably most familiar is the common, lawn or English daisy that we’ve all used for making daisy chains. Some gardeners see the plant as a weed, but others love to see the flowers dotting the lawn. It can grow in wide range of soils, even compacted, and spreads by both seed and underground runners.
Another common species is the much taller ox-eye daisy, often seen in meadows and hedge banks. This is our largest native daisy, a resilient perennial that sheds masses of seeds, it spreads easily and forms impressive stands quite quickly. In contrast to the common daisy, the flowers do not close at night and may glow in the dusk leading some to name it the moon daisy. The flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, and beetles. Both daisy species are used for the petal-picking romance prediction game of ‘loves me; loves me not’.
As well as several other wild daisy species, there are numerous daisy varieties which have been bred for our gardens such as Shasta Daisies, Michaelmas Daisies, and Marguerites. Most are attractive to insects so should not be overlooked because they are ‘just a daisy.’
by Andrew Graham
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park on Sat 3rd June at 10.30am or approximately 1 hour 15 minutes later at the Westhay Moor Reserve BA6 9TX. The car park is at OS ST 456 437, just north of the junction between Westhay Moor Drove and Dagg’s Lane Drove, between the villages of Westhay and Godney.
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear: Approximately 5 km/3 miles on flat gravel paths which may be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain. Good stout shoes should suffice rather than wellingtons. Bring a packed lunch and refreshments.
This Field Trip has limited numbers. There may still be places if you've not yet signed up and want to come. Equally please let us know if you're on the list, but can no longer make the date. We are now using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org for organising lists for events, so please contact us there.
Congratulations to our committee member Debbie Carter, who has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Green category for BBC Radio Wiltshire’s Make a Difference Awards.
As most of our members are aware, Debbie has been a very active and essential committee member for many years, in addition to other nature-related causes in Tisbury and surrounding area she’s dedicated a lot of time, effort and passion. Woodlands Alive organiser, parish council’s tree warden, WWT’s nature reserve warden, water vole surveyor, dormice surveyor… Debbie was conducting a botanical survey near the community field (which she was instrumental in obtaining for the enjoyment of all the residents of Tisbury!) when she received the call from BBC to let her know about her nomination!
So we are very pleased to hear Debbie has been shortlisted. They’ve had more than 200 nominations in total across the eight categories, with finalists being shortlisted by a panel of four, based on anonymous nomination letters. There will be an award ceremony on Saturday 23rd September, where they will be announcing the overall winner for each category. In the meantime, you will be able to hear Debbie’s story, as well as that of other finalists, on interviews BBC Radio Wiltshire will be conducting over the summer.
We wish Debbie all the best for this award and thank her for all she does for nature and all of us who value nature.
by Inés López-Dóriga
Debbie Carter sent in this photograph of a baby treecreeper from the Carters' visit to Stourhead this week. Its camouflage is certainly awe inspiring.
(c) RSPB Swell Wood
A reminder for our upcoming field trip to RSPB Swell Wood Reserve, an ancient woodland west of Curry Rivel off the A378. We will view the heronry as the birds roost for the night and there could be an option of a longer (approximately 1km) walk through the reserve after seeing the heronry, if there is sufficient daylight. No dogs.
Meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 6:30pm or at RSPB Swell Wood Reserve on the A378, Taunton TA3 6PX at approximately 7:30pm
Distance, Difficulty and Footwear - less than 100 metres on a flat path through woodland. Stout shoes should suffice. Torches will be needed, as the return walk will be in twilight. Further details on the heronry are available on the RSPB website.
Umbellifers (Focus - May)
After so much rain in March, as soon as the ground warmed up plant growth was rapid. So now the lanes are bursting with vegetation and flowers. Many roadsides are white with massed clouds of Cow Parsley, also known more flatteringly as Queen Anne’s Lace. In common with other umbellifers, this tall plant has large flat circular flowers made up of many smaller florets. It is extremely common and is found in all sorts of places, particularly along roadside verges. It appears to be particularly suited to this habitat where it starts to dominate other flowers. If, after mowing, the cuttings are left, the ground is enriched, and this combined with fertiliser from adjacent farmland allows strongly growing plants like the Cow Parsley to dominate. Although only a biennial, it produces lots of seed, so can spread easily. On the positive side, the plant’s mass of flowers is attractive to numerous insects including beetles, hoverflies, and butterflies.
Umbellifers are a large group and there are numerous species - good, bad and ugly - to be found in the countryside and garden. Most have white flowers but some are yellow or green while some cultivated varieties for the garden may be purple. Some, such Wild Carrot and Wild Parsley have been domesticated to give us food crops. The former, often found on chalky soils, is a lower growing plant with a collar of wonderful feathery bracts below the flower head. Its root does indeed smell like carrot but while it is far smaller than those we grow for the table, the badgers still like them enough to dig them out of our garden.
Many of our culinary herbs, for example parsley, coriander and fennel are umbellifers as anyone who has had their plants bolt will have noticed. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate Angelica, the stems of which are crystallised for cake and trifle decoration and also provides the flavour for Chartreuse liqueur.
However, the hated Ground Elder is the bane of many a gardener’s life. Although not a large plant, once established its rhizomes spread easily making it hard to eradicate. But there are worse species. The Giant Hogweed, which was introduced from the Caucasus by Victorian plant hunters is particularly nasty. Its sap is phototoxic which means that on contact with it, your skin loses the ability to protect itself from sunlight, resulting in nasty blisters. And then there is Hemlock, most famously associated with the death of Socrates. All parts of this plant are highly toxic but fortunately it has an off-putting odour which keeps animals away and reduces the likelihood of humans thinking it might be edible.
Umbellifers are such a large group, and quite difficult to distinguish without practice and good guidebook, it is better to avoid consuming any of them, just admire the mass of flowers and leave them for the insects to enjoy.
by Andrew Graham
Please note that the list is now closed for this field trip.
On 20th April we had our final evening talk given by Simon Martyn with photos provided by his wife Mandy.
Simon was the European Director of Earthwatch, an International NGO which started out in Boston, USA over 50 years ago but is now worldwide with offices in Australia, UK, India and Japan.
Earthwatch sets up projects both for Wildlife and Archaeology with scientists running the projects, helped by a workforce of volunteers. They carry out research and provide essential statistics to establish conservation schemes for threatened species or habitats as they work alongside local people.
The talk was ‘Glimpses of Wildlife Behaviour’ and was divided into sections.
Firstly, we were shown various habitats and their wildlife such as the much depleted herds of bison in Yellowstone Park, the plains of Africa with the wildebeests and various antelopes, plus the harsh, freezing environment of the Arctic.
Secondly, the emphasis was on territory and, especially during the breeding season. Male lions guarding their prides and fighting off the opposition were illustrated. We saw how Roe and Red deer will also become very aggressive fighting off other bucks and male tigers will kill another male tiger’s cubs in order to mate with the female and pass on his genes. We saw a grisly photo of this. (NB. Badgers also do this, as I can witness).
The effects of climate change were visible in the photos of droughts in Africa, drying up the rivers and water holes, causing many animals to die and causing mayhem at the water points with competing animals.
Thirdly, Simon showed us photos of how many species co-operate with others for the benefit of both. For instance, egrets and finches will hitch rides on buffaloes to eat the ticks and crocodiles will stir up the water and expose the fish for the storks on their backs. In India the Langhur monkeys work as lookouts for the Spotted deer when a tiger is about, shrieking in terror.
Finally, we were treated to humorous photos of various animals and birds in compromising and amusing positions including a harassed mother Brown bear trying to control her three naughty cubs. One was up a tree, another near the river and the third heading up the mountain.
It was an entertaining and illuminating evening with superb photography and a nice change from all things local.
by Debbie Carter
Local wildlife sites - a new page
Andrew Graham has given us a richly detailed recounting of places to visit locally. On the new Local wildlife sites page, reached via the Resources tab on the menu and passing through Wildlife identification and recording, you will find separate sections on local woodlands, water habitats, grasslands and other places of interest.
Rabbits (Focus - April)
Rabbits are renowned as prolific breeders. Females are fertile at 3-8 months old and have a gestation period of around a month. They give birth to a litter of 4-12 kits and may be ready to mate again the next day. This, combined with the fact that they can breed throughout the year, means that in the right conditions, populations can grow rapidly, hence the expression ‘breeding like rabbits’. This proved disastrous when 13 rabbits were introduced into Australia in the 19th century where, in the absence of suitable predators, they spread across the continent in 50 years, devastating crops and the natural environment alike.
Rabbits, originally native to Iberia, spread around the continent in Antiquity and were introduced into the British Isles first by the Romans and then the Normans, as a source of meat and fur. In places, artificially built warrens were looked after by warreners, so landowners had a constant supply. Warren and coney (the old name for rabbits) crop up in numerous place names around the country as a result. Of course, rabbits are perfectly capable of making their own burrows, using their sharp claws to dig into the ground, often under sheltering scrub. From there they will venture out to feed. They have virtually 360% vision, as befits a prey species, and are always on the lookout for threats. Their white tail, or scut, provides a flashing warning sign to others when running for cover.
A sizeable colony can have quite an impact on the grassland in vicinity of the burrows, creating a closely-cropped turf, benefiting mining bees and wasps as well as herbs that cannot compete in a longer sward. Rabbits provide food for a number of species that prey upon them, including stoats, buzzards, polecats and foxes.
When we moved to Tisbury, we were struck by the absence of rabbits in the surrounding countryside. Although rabbit numbers have been increasing each spring, populations keep getting knocked back by autumn, perhaps due to diseases: myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. When the former was first introduced to this country in the 1950s, it wiped out most of the population, since then its impact has reduced but stays active. What impact the dearth of rabbits in this area has on the breeding success of its predators? I am afraid that for the immediate future, the rabbits we are most likely to see locally are the Easter Bunnies on Easter cards (how rabbits became associated with this is an entirely different question!).
P.S. In Weymouth we were encouraged to use the term bunny in deference to Portland superstitions about use of the R word. I hope any readers from Portland have not been too traumatised by this article.
by Andrew Graham
[editor - with apologies for the late upload this month]
Photo: Avocets (Izzy Fry)
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.