Monday, 30 March 2009

Violets are Blue?????

Like Daffodils, see previous entry, Violets (Viola species) presage spring but unlike Daffodils I cannot get enough of them. Around Banstead it has been a good year for the various species but special mention must go to Park Downs where there is a spectacular display of Hairy Violet (V.hirta) this year.

It is there every year but the numbers and effect vary depending on the level of rabbit grazing. This year is a great year because of the large number of rabbits that have managed to reduce part of the Downs to a sward that a bowling green groundsman would be proud of (although not flat if you know what I mean!). The plants remain firmly tucked into the other vegetation until it seems, the very last minute and then they throw up their flower stems, the rabbits do not seem to relish the flowers at all and so the overall effect from a distance is of a blue haze across the side of the south-facing slope, the picture at the bottom does not do them justice.

Normally Hairy Violet tends to have flowers that are closer to blue than purple (?violet?) of other species, a fact immediately observable in the field but not so easy to see from photos because getting typical colours of these shades is heavily dependent of the ambient light. Unlike Sweet Violet (V.odorata) Hairy Violet is rarely found in white although paler blue versions are freely available.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Devil daffodils

I must confess that Daffodils make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up for very different reasons.

In Britain they are evocative of Spring, when they come into full flower it usually coincides with those wonderful first sunny but cold days of early spring such as we have had for the past few days in Surrey. Unfortunately there are no native daffodils (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus) that I know of in this area and so locally the experience has to be gained from those rather more gaudy cultivars and therein lies the rub.

I like some Daffodils (or more generally Narcissus species) in their right place, to me that means either in their natural habitat in which case we are talking about species which are predominantly southern European, or in gardens where cultivars are more commonly grown than species.

Unfortunately, we seem to suffer (in my opinion) from a surfeit of Daffodils elsewhere in places they do not belong!! Firstly, the mass planting on roadside verges, roundabouts or any other convenient grassy area mostly sponsored by local authorities. Rather than use delicate Narcissus species including the native species, the vast majority of plantings involve obnoxious cultivars that have as much subtlety as a brick wall. Why???

Ridiculous - discarded Daffodils on Park Downs, Banstead

Secondly and more importantly, Daffodils present visible evidence of the laziness and anti-social behaviour of "fly tippers" who regard plants as disposable and throw them out with gay abandon, usually apparently from cars. The roads across the downland in Banstead have many clumps of various Narcissi that on the whole only occur within about 5 metres of the carriageway, i.e. throwing distance. AND, it is not just Daffodils, other rubbish includes forms of Crocus, flowering Hyacinth and other sundry bulbous species.

Sublime - Narcissus serotinus growing in southern Spain. Chosen perversely to represent the genus because it is an autumn-flowering species!!

Now some people respond to my rants by suggesting that they brighten up the countryside as if the countryside is there purely for their entertainment and amusement. I grant you that apart from offending my eye around here they do little damage to habitat, at least so far. To me however it is what they represent in the form of the total lack of respect that people have for the countryside that is so galling.

Finally however the other night the television news carried a snippet about some poor guy in Gloucestershire who spends his time digging up alien Daffodils because of fears that they may pollinate populations of the native species, I can't help feeling he is fighting a losing battle.

From conversations with many over the years, I realise that I am in a minority of one so I hope I haven't offended anyone with these views!!!

Friday, 13 March 2009

New links

You may have noticed I have added a few new links recently that have botanical content.

Kingsdowner presents an excellent commentary of all types of wildlife and habitat in Kent and has some great photography too. A constant reminder of the reasons to keep on going back to Kent.

Of particular interest to me are the two Greek ones covering orchids and other botanical interest. They are reminders that spring starts early in the Mediterranean and that I would rather be out there walking in the sun than here writing blogs! They also illustrate the spectacular richness of the Greek flora, for example, Crete, an island only about 160 miles long and forty miles wide has more native plant species than the British Isles and the region around Mt Olympus in the north of the mainland has even more. If only all those summer tourists knew what they were missing! Photograph of Cyclamen cretica for no other reason than I like it!

They also set me thinking that since I found them by a very roundabout way and I do not read or speak a word of Greek (although I know all the letters!!) there may be other foreign language (especially European) botanical blogs out there. If I find any I will probably have to treat them likes comics, look at the pictures and not read the words but if they are anything like the two Greek examples already found they will be well worth it.

Last but certainly not least, I have just added a new blog, Plants of Skye, Raasay and the Small Isles, admittedly it covers an area a long way from south-east England and so I am unlikely to get there very often but it is the genuine article, a botany blog written by a botanist.

Defoliation begins!

Haven't had much to write about recently but a walk with the dog today changed that!

South of Banstead is mostly open space with chalk downland (Chipstead Downs), ancient mixed woodland (Banstead Woods) and a large area of arable farmland stretching to Kingswood. My stroll today covered a little bit of each; in the woods the Bluebell leaves (Endymion non-scriptus) are coming on apace; on the downs the violets (Viola species) are just beginning to flower and rabbits permitting, there will be a spectacular display of Cowslips (Primula veris) in a few weeks time. All was looking great.

Then towards the end of my walk as I came out onto a footpath along the side of a field, there it was - a very large tractor with two even larger booms to either side spraying the field right up to the very edge. Last year the field carried a cereal crop and herbicide spraying was so successful that just before harvest the only weeds in the crop were a few distorted Burdock and sundry small patches of a few other stunted species, highly efficient farming! Over the winter the spilled wheat seeds have sprouted and I assume the spraying today was of herbicide to kill all plants prior to ploughing or direct drilling for a non-cereal crop.

Ten years ago the area carried a good population of breeding "farmland" birds including Yellowhammers, Linnets etc, even Reed Buntings. Now, today there are few although the past two winters have seen good sized flocks of winter finches especially Chaffinches and Bramblings.

Modern agriculture has created mini-deserts devoid of wildflowers and their associated insect fauna hence the birds are lost. In this area the cereal is alternated with cash crops such as beans or Flax and there the crop is even sprayed before harvest so killing all those plant species that survived that season because of the lack of selective herbicide use.

I realise farms are businesses but I can't help feeling we have gone too far. I know there are plenty of farms out there that seek to enhance wildlife habitat but there are far too many who just ignore it. Hopefully things might change before it is too late but don't hold your breath.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Home extension

The title is not an excuse for not posting for a while (hadn't got anything to say!) but more a description of the local badger activity over the past week or so.

About five years ago, badgers established a new sett close to houses in Banstead, it was a modest three-entrance abode set amongst scrub that involved digging into the chalk and the associated earthworks were quite something. For a couple of years nothing changed and then an extra entrance was provided. Evidence of their everyday activities was obvious with many tracks strewn with bedding material leading to the sett. Now and again when I walked the dog in the morning I would be lucky enough to get a fleeting glance of one of the occupants.

During the recent snow there was not much activity and they didn't start changing bedding for almost a week after it had cleared, presumably when the dead grass and moss that they use had dried out. Then last week they got the builders in, so far two new entrances have been created and two more have been started. Amazingly one of the new ones (see photo) is right in the middle of a path used regularly by dog walkers but they (the badgers) have not let that deter them they are still putting the finishing touches to it and walkers will have to detour. Presumably the family group is growing and they need extra space, quite a lot judging by the chalk they are shifting.