Saturday, 8 October 2011

Clathrus ruber - science fiction?

Sometimes the natural world throws up sometime totally off the wall and I think that this is the case with Clathrus ruber, a fungus related to the more "normal" Stinkhorns although it bears no similarity in appearance to them.

More like a mockup of a brightly-coloured geodesic dome for use in Dr Who!

My photos were taken this week, in of all places Banstead High Street where it has been appearing roughly at this time each year for at least the past three years on what was originally a pile of wood chippings. I never seem able to capture a perfect mature specimen, the one in the upper picture is starting to autodigest and the other has only just burst out of its"eggskin".

Like Stinkhorns it has a fetid smell and attracts flies as confirmed by the second picture.

Looking it up I find it is a native of the Meditteranean but has been spreading northwards in Europe!Definitely an oddball!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Harvest time in Banstead

Tis the "season of mellow fruitfulness" * in north Surrey (and time for my irregular farming rant!) a season we associate with the golden browns of sun-ripened crops!

On Canon’s Farm, to the south of Banstead, the cereal crop was harvested quite a while ago but now it is the turn of the largest crop this year, Flax.

Back in April the fields were prepared for sowing in the traditional way (!), wipe out by spraying with systemic weed killer followed by light cultivation rather than ploughing and then seed drilling. Sadly this included the fields that had been under set aside for many years, these were not even cultivated but the seed drilled directly into the blasted soil.

With our unusually dry early summer, there was considerable variation in germination across the fields and in places the crop is rather sparse compared to some years.

A stroll over the fields two weeks ago showed the tell-tale tractor tracks that indicated that soon it would be harvest time. The fields had again been sprayed with total weed killer, presumably to enable uniform ripening of the seed by ensuring all plants were dead! Within 48h green had disappeared now all is a uniform brown no doubt the crop will be cut in the next few days.

As a townie I know little of good agricultural practice and no doubt those readers with a more rural bent and knowledge will tell me this is the way it is always done. Furthermore that agriculture is a business and this makes it most profitable. However that does not stop my blood from boiling when I see this going on.

Canon’s Farm has been put on the blogging map by Steve Gale and David Campbell as an area that provides excellent birding. However over the past twenty years I have walked the area and seen the demise of most common farmland birds as breeding species in the area, surely at least in part the result of intensive farming causing a lack of a consistent supply of food, seed and insect.

Even without the usual applications of insecticide, fungicide, fertilizer and selective weed killer that cereals get, the use of two applications of total weed killer just five months apart virtually guarantees a reduction in floral diversity that is frightening. Of course this is inevitably followed by a collateral reduction in invertebrates, birds, etc., etc.

I would be less disturbed if the use of chemicals was carried out in a careful manner calculated to minimize the impact, e.g. by the use of buffer zones around the edges of fields etc. Certainly in Banstead this doesn’t happen. The picture on the right shows how much care was taken during the recent attack to ensure spray does not reach the adjacent hedgerow!

I accept that farmers must use the most efficient means possible because they are in business but agriculture as an industry is the only one for which there is little or no policing of pollution from the processes used. A massive amount of chemicals ranging from fertilizers to insecticides are applied to our countryside, the only control being financial. Not only do they casue damage at the point of application but many if not most drain into water courses etc. This is should surely be unacceptable!

Just to add insult to injury and show how much they care, what do they do with the empty containers? Throw them into Banstead woods of course (a SSSI)! The picture on the left shows one they did last year!

* Apologies to Keats

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Banstead Countryside Day 2011!!!

This year has passed me by! Few posts on the blog, few trips out and not even the chance to follow many blogs or forums! Hopefully however that is about to change and I shall have more time to catch up and indulge.

First job however is to prepare our (BCC) presentation for the Banstead Countryside Day to be held this coming Sunday 11th September and starting at 11.00. This event is organised by the inexhaustible staff and volunteers of the DCMP (Downland and Countryside Management Project) and it truly celebrates the countryside with special focus on the local area.

The Conservators have had a stall since it started, it has got better and better each year and I can guarantee a great day out for everyone. Over the years it has grown but not been commercialised and it remains a local event. It truly celebrates Banstead Countryside.

It costs nothing for entry although I think programmes are for sale (which of course you should buy), for a whole days entertainment that has to be great value.

See you there. Even better come up and have a chat at the Conservators stall!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Butterfly (Lesser) bonanza

A day out with friends in the New Forest yesterday turned into an unexpected orchidfest. The supposed reason for the visit was to see if, in this early season Wild Gladiolus was out, it wasn't! However at the same time we managed to get some pictures of the white variant of the purple form of Early Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza pulchella, although I must admit because of the the problem of photographing white flowers in bright sunshine they were not exactly brilliant. It seemed then that the job was done and socialising was called for!

However on the way to the pub we decided to drop in at a site for Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Platanthera bifolia, just in case there were a few in flower.

There weren't, there were thousands! Scattered over a large area heath growing amongst Ling and Bracken, they were a spectacular sight especially where in places they were also with Heath Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata. Lesser Butterfly is not a species I see very often and so for this year when our local orchids have taken such a hammering it was especially satisfying to see.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Powder-blue alien!

Work and holidays means I have not had much time to get out and about locally recently and so not had anything to write about.

However that changed yesterday whilst gardening when I happened to spot this little aphid on a leaf! I think it is the craziest thing I have seen in years.

At first I thought it was dead and had been infected with a fungal parasite but once I had got the camera, it naturally started walking away and it took me a while to get a picture. Apparently one of the wings is damaged and I still suspect it has some disease. A quick Google for woolly aphids did not come up with any of this colour and believe me the colour is right.

So: is there anyone out there who knows what it is? If not I will have to post it on the Natural History site, perhaps I'll do that anyway.

I did and it is Phyllaphis fagii (Beech Aphid). Apparently quite common, I shall have to look more closely at the aphids!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Barberry blog

Back to Botany!

The picture below is of the inflorescence from a plant of Common Barberry (
Berberis vulgaris) growing on Park Downs, Banstead. It is a species I had never seen before and is regarded as an archaeophyte in Britain, a long-established alien. It is not particulary common.

Although the individual flowers are small (~1cm diameter) they are rather attractive with the large club-shaped stigma.

On Park Downs it has an interesting/amusing history. A number of plants had been known to be present over many years and it is said that when voluntary conservation work started about 20 years ago they were given the task of clearing scrub to give these plants a bit more space because they were being shaded out. The only trouble was that they didn't appear to be able to separate this species from more common chalk scrub plants and when they finished work they had cleared the lot, Barberry and all. This story is apparently true and it was assumed that the plant was lost from the site.

However last year Roger Hawkins found this individual growing in deep shade that, despite being about 2m tall and having plenty of flower, would be diffcult to find unless you knew where it was. Nice to know at least one survives!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


I am happy to be able to say that the massive campaign I ran on this blog (NOT!!!!) has been successful! (click here)

Seriously, it is great news that the SESWC have decided not to attempt to cross the Heath. It is rather appropriate that the BBC used a Skylark to illustrate their
coverage . A walk over the Heath the other day showed a considerable number of this iconic species taking up territories in areas that would have been reduced to a building site for a year and permanently scarred therefter.

A victory for common sense and a defeat for short-term thinking!

I have learnt a lot over the past few months including some new things about the Heath and its inhabitants. Perhaps I will now have a bit of time to blog about them!