Skip navigation

Wildlife Garden blog

3 Posts tagged with the roy_vickery tag
0

Greetings from a garden full of Spring promise! After an absence of several weeks, I recently left winter dormancy behind and have been welcomed by the optimism of spring from the Garden.

 

The productive work carried out by Larissa, Naomi and our wonderful volunteers these past few weeks is evident from the signs of coppicing, pollarding, pruning and propagating, as well as thinning out some of our most determined umbellifers - cow parsley, hogweed and ground elder.

 

New Image coppiced alder (Custom).JPG

Coppiced alder (Alnus glutinosa)

© Derek Adams

 

1 DSC_0825  sue jjfoxglove (Custom).JPG

Seed propagation in preparation for our Spring Wildlife Event on Saturday 5 April

© Sue Snell


And the garden itself has a surprise around every corner. On the ground in the coppiced woodland habitat and beneath the mature lime, the daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are in bloom.

 

2. .WLG_06032014-108 daffodils (Custom).JPGThe first of our native daffodils was recorded on 25 February nine days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

There's a fair sprinkling of primroses (Primula vulgaris) in flower, with many more buds yet to open.

 

3. WLG_06032014-058  primroses 6_3_14 (Custom).JPGPrimroses at the edge of woodland - first flower recorded on 18 February; just a couple of days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

A deeper shade of yellow is offered by the fluffy heads of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) which brighten up the hedge banks.

 

New Image better coltsfoot (Custom).JPG

Coltsfoot, a plant typical of waste areas but welcome in our garden

© Derek Adams

 

Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) along the path provides nectar for early flying insects, and other shades of pink include the occasional red campion (Silene dioica) and herb robert (Geranium robertianum).

 

New Image red campion (Custom).JPG

Red campion thrives in our Wildlife garden -  at least one plant can be seen in flower throughout the year

© Derek Adams

 

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) is in flower between hedge and pond and dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) is increasing its territory beneath silver birch and ash. We'll be contributing our first flower and animal sightings to the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar.

 

WLG_06032014-036 dog's mercury (Custom).JPG

Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) - first flower this year was recorded on 13th January

© Jonathan Jackson

 

But what is most striking is the volume of bird song this week! After crossing the threshold of the Garden the traffic noise of Cromwell Road melts away and a symphony takes over inlcuding the medodic song of blackbirds and robins, rich trills and 'Tshews' from a flock of greenfinches, a medley of calls from blue, great and long-tailed tits, the occasional sound from our moorhen couple, and more.

 

There are flashes of red and yellow from goldfinches, and blue and yellow as blue tits whirr across our pathways. Territories are being established, courtship is in progress - and in some cases nesting material is already being transported to niches within ivy-clad trees:

 

WLG_06032014-073 blackbird _ ivy berries (Custom).JPG

A female blackbird was observed building a nest in ivy this week but here the male is feeding up on ivy berries

The supply of rowan berries referred to in recent blogs is finally exhausted!

© Jonathan Jackson


And to nest boxes, and the eaves of our garden shed:

 

DSC_0674 (Custom).JPGA wren started building here this week, the site was then taken over by a robin and now is currently vacant...

© Larissa Cooper

 

 

But not to hedges where there is too little camouflage just yet:

 

DSC_0399 catkins (Custom).JPGCatkins amongst the bare branches of one of our laid hedges

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Hazel catkins broke hedge dormancy in early January and now white flowers appear on the bare branches of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

 

WLG_06032014-103 Prunus spinosa (Custom).JPG

Our first blackthorn flowers opened on 18 February

© Jonathan Jackson

 

This is our earliest flowering native shrub in the Wildlife Garden (and elsewhere). Clouds of white blossom are already visible in hedges in the countryside. One of the many country sayings relating to Blackthorn is that its flowering is said to coincide with a cold spell - but not this week. More blackthorn country sayings and uses can be found on Roy Vickery's website of Plantlore.

 

Blackthorn is a spikier relative of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) - and an excellent hedge companion, quick growing and providing good nest sites amongst a network of spiny branches and thorns. And, in autumn, sloes are food for berry-eating birds.

 

But this shrub and hedgerow plant is beneficial to many other species: providing nectar for early flying insects such as the tree bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum), first sighted in the garden this year on 15 February; and buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) observed on 6 March.

 

It's one of the larval food plants for many beautiful moth species including sloe midget (Phyllonorycter spinicolella), tufted button (Acleris cristana), clouded silver (Lomographa temerata) and the brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata), all of which have been recorded here. You can read more about moth recording in the Wildlife Garden, by Lepidopterist Martin Honey in the Spring issue of evolve - the Museum's quarterly magazine.

 

Wildlife Garden 2013-08-07 IMG_6972 (Custom).JPG

Brimstone Moth - this particular specimen was caught in our light trap on 6 August and released the following morning

© Florin Feneru

 

This week also we were shown the concept plans for the redesign of the Museum grounds, some of which included some surprising suggestions for the Wildlife Garden - you can read about this competition at Malcolm Reading Consultants.

 

Its been a fine Spring week but March is a capricious month and country sayings about the blackthorn weather may yet ring true.

 

New Image coltsfoot flower (Custom).JPG

Coltsfoot (again)

© Derek Adams

 

In the meantime we intend to hold on to our Spring optimism in the Museum's Wildlife Garden and continue to promote and conserve biodiversity here in the heart of London.

0

Last month we were fortunate to have two students from the Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries Programme (YGMG), Ayana Porteous-Simpson and Carrie Roberts, spend two weeks helping us in the Garden including the surveying and comparing two of our hedges. They learnt several things along the way as they explain below.

 

 

"After a whirlwind introduction on the 19 August, we began our two week internship at the Wildlife Garden. We were greeted not only by Larrissa, Caroline, Naomi and volunteers, but also by Bee, Bella and Honey, the resident sheep we helped look after for the following two weeks. Our efforts were concentrated mainly on hedgerows, and the comparison of which of the two made a better habitat for wildlife.

 

1 edit.JPG

'Good morning' from Honey the sheep.


Almost immediately after starting our internship here, it became clear that identifying plants would be an important and large part of our project. Our second hedge has many different kinds of plant species. Identifying them was no easy task, but with the help of Caroline we knew several woody plants by the end of the week. To help gain a picture of the background of hedgerows, Caroline enlisted the help of Roy Vickery who spoke to us about the history of English plants such as hawthorn and holly.

 

Roy for c and i (Custom).JPG

Roy grasping the nettle.

 

One of our first afternoons at the Garden was spent with Museum lepidopterist, Alessandro Giusti, who sorted the moths from the light trap that we helped to set up the night before. Though initially apprehensive, we developed a new found appreciation of the moths, which we realised weren’t scary at all, but quite cute!

 

2.JPG

Poplar hawk moth.

 

Our next challenge was the dreaded spider counting. Tom Thomas, a fellow of The British Naturalists Association, knowing much more about spiders than we did, took us sweep-netting around the garden in search of our eight-legged enemies.

 

3.JPG
Searching for spiders with Tom Thomas ...

 

4.JPG

... around the ponds ...

 

5.JPG
... and in the yew hedge ...

 

After looking at them under a microscope we found, much in the same way as the moths, they were in fact far more interesting creatures than we expected.

 

6.JPG

... and then close up!

 

To learn more about the kinds of fauna that live in the hedgerows, we used three different methods of animal catching. The first, (pitfall trapping), helped us look at some of the invertebrates that lived in the hedgerows. We had a hard time identifying them, but we learnt again just how the Wildlife Garden attracts all kinds of insects and other invertebrates.

 

7.JPG

Identifying some of our findings from the pitfall traps.


7b.JPG

 

Sadly, our humane mammal traps did not present us with the same array of wildlife, and though we managed to catch a few mice, they escaped before we could examine them. Squirrels, attracted by the seed we lay out for the mice, seemed to work against us as they broke into the traps and stole the food.

 

Lastly, Duncan Sivell who works within the Museum’s Life Sciences department came to help us with sweep netting. Though most of what we found were flies (moth flies, hoverflies, mayflies and midges) and wasps, we also found spiders, and a southern oak bush cricket.

 

sweep net.JPG

Ayana tries to sweep net.


The two weeks we spent in the Wildlife Garden were both challenging and interesting. Though we knew we would be gardening, we had almost no idea how much we would learn on top of it. From watering plants to spending the day examining spiders under a microscope, we had a great time, and appreciate all the patience and work put in by Larissa, Caroline, Naomi and the volunteers to help us."

 

 

9.JPG

"We will miss the sheep too."

 

And we also learnt some useful tips from Ayana and Carrie

Thank you and we miss you two already!

 

If you'd like to come and see the Garden and its hedgerows yourself, we'll be giving 'A Walk on the Wildside' tours between 16.30 and 21.30 as part of this Friday's free Science Uncovered event at the Museum.

 

If you can't make it on Friday, then don't miss our Hedgerow Harvest event and talks on the 6 October.

0

Roy Vickery, botanist and Museum Scientific Associate and longtime ‘friend’ of the Wildlife Garden, has been collecting plant stories for many years. Roy tells us more about mistletoe myths:

 

“Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. described druids in France cutting mistletoe from oak trees in a ritual which involved golden sickles, dressing in white cloaks, slaughtering white bulls.  Because of this, mistletoe was considered to be a pagan plant and banned from churches.”

 

4 LowRes_Mistletoe_close-up_JBRIGGScopyright+(Custom).jpgThe distinctive white berries of mistletoe (Viscum album)

 

But what is the origin of our seasonal fascination for this plant?

 

“Mistletoe was associated with Christmas since the mid-17th Century. By the 19th Century this association was well established, and people who had mistletoe-bearing trees on their land were bothered by people who raided them. In 1876 it was recorded that one Lincolnshire landowner hired 14 'watchers' each year to protect the mistletoe in her park.

 

“Kissing under the mistletoe seems to be a tradition which originated in the British Isles, but it does not appear to be an ancient one. It seems that it developed from the kissing bough which decorated homes in medieval times. This consisted of a bunch of evergreens, or a number of intersecting hoops covered in evergreens, which was hung from the ceiling, and under which people kissed. At sometime, probably in the late 18th or early 19th Century, mistletoe became an important component of these boughs, and eventually, by the mid-19th Century, the other greenery seems to have become of secondary importance, with the mistletoe becoming essential. Certainly, as numerous illustrations show, the association of kissing and mistletoe was well established by Victorian times.

 

“The situation is complicated by the fact that in some areas there were decorations known as 'mistletoe boughs' which appear to be identical to the kissing boughs and contained no mistletoe.

 

“It is sometimes said that a berry should be removed every time anyone kisses under the mistletoe.

 

“There are various beliefs about what should be done with mistletoe once Christmas has passed. In some areas some was kept indoors throughout the year to ensure happiness, love, food and money throughout the year. In other places, Christmas mistletoe was burnt under the pancake pan on Shrove Tuesday.

 

“Mistletoe doesn't seem to have been much used in folk medicine. The only remedy which I've collected is from Somerset, where it was remembered that a vile-tasting tea, made from mistletoe which grew on hawthorn, was used to treat measles. Other people have collected information on mistletoe being used to treat hysteria in Herefordshire and prevent strokes in Essex.”

 

5 mtoe_poplars_roadside_v2_jbriggs+(Custom).jpgMistletoe on poplars bordering a road (Jonathan Briggs)

 

In the meantime we are watching out for the mistletoe plant dispersers. Mistle thrush is a rare visitor to the Wildlife Garden but the blackcap is now more commonly seen - and has been observed in the garden throughout 2012.

 

Posted on behalf of Caroline who is currently on annual leave.