Friday, 15 April 2016

Of Primulas (and a Violet)

The past few days of warmth and sun has really kick-started spring on Park Downs. The annual blue carpet of Hairy Violet (Viola hirta) has returned and is better than ever, partially as a response to the sheep-grazing this winter but mostly thanks to the Rabbits grazing!  Hopefully this is also good news for the Dark Green Fritillary butterfly (Argynnis aglaja) that seems to be increasing at this site and for which the Violet a larval food plant.

Also increasing are the Cowslips (Primula veris), right, that are just starting to flower and as long as the rabbits do not start nibbling the flower stems they should be spectacular over the next few weeks. In some areas there are so many plants it is impossible not to tread on them if walking through the grass.  Again they benefit from rabbits grazing the sward and increase prolifically from seed.



The Cowslips are early this year and this means their flowering is overlapping with that of the Primroses (P. vulgaris),left, on the slopes of Park Downs.  These are a recent addition to Park Downs flora presumably from seed originating with plants in Banstead Woods where they are increasing nicely. 

 This coincidence of flower which does not happen every year, holds out the hope that over the next few years we may be lucky enough to get some plants of the hybrid between the two, the False Oxlip (P.x polyantha), right, the flowers of which are usually similar to those of Primrose but held in an a multi-flowered umbel similar to Cowslip.  This picture was taken yesterday in "The Hazels" coppice, in Norbury Park, where there is currently the most spectacular display of Primroses as well as a few plants of False Oxlip.



For completion it should be pointed out that False Oxlip is so-named bacause of it's resemblence to Oxlip, a much rarer species of Primula (P.elatior), found mostly in the woods of East Anglia.  I took the picture on the left in March 2014 in Bradfield Woods, Suffolk.


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Depressing place!

It is the time of year when IF the sun comes out it is warm and the faint green shoots of spring are beginning to break and birds singing. A time to feel good.

However most days I walk across Park Downs and in doing so walk along the side of the adjacent field to the west of the Downs. What a depressing place, it seems to me to symbolise all that is wrong with agriculture and the causes of the decline in wildlife. At the moment the rotten stubble is waiting for this years crop to be sown. 

Last year it had a cereal crop and as is usual was bombarded with insecticide and herbicide through the season. Following harvest there was an explosion of seed germination, mostly spilt wheat and rape but a few wild flowers including Fumitory, Speedwell and Black Bindweed. This is obviously an anathema to the farming fraternity and so out came the herbicide in October/November to destroy the vegetation. Presumably, a total weedkiller was used and it must be effective because since then nothing (below), I mean nothing, has germinated, even the moss is looking very unhealthy. For all the value to wildlife it has, this field may as well be concrete.   You also have to ask if it's effects have last through the winter, what happens to the run-off?  Not much better, the green in the background is a field of winter cereal that is no doubt due it's first dose of chemicals very soon.

As if poison is not enough, this field has not been ploughed for some years.  Prior to planting the soil is lightly tilled (no soil turning) and then the seed drilled.  Without ploughing it means the surface seed bank is not replenished and with time the diversity of the seed bank will decrease until even the longest-lived seeds are dead, then the field will be able to be ploughed and nothing germinate at all.  Now that would save on herbicide!!  No weeds, no insects (no bees), no birds! 

Elsewhere in the blogosphere Canon's Farm regularly features for its birds, perhaps it is not surprrising that it is usually migrants that provide the interest, after all they have to stop somewhere for a rest!  The only saving grace for the breeding birds is that there are a numbers of copses scattered about the farm (used for shooting) and Banstead Woods is next door that can support some birds.

What is sad is that if you do a little research, all this is common knowledge but such is the power of the agricultural and agrichemical industry nothing gets done about it.

Just to provide a little bit of cheer, cornfield weeds are by a lot of people usually taken to mean the obvious Poppies, Cornflowers etc. but to me most are much less obvious plants typified by one of my favourites, Field Pansy (Viola arvensis), with flowers less than an inch high you have to get down to see them but the effort is worth it!.  This picture was taken along the side of this field a few years ago when it was abundant.  Last summer, with improved spray coverage right up to the edge of the fields there were only a few plants scattered along the field.