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Thursday 29 July 2010

Wed 28th July 2010 - Mill Copse, Yarmouth.

A slightly unusual time of the year for us to visit Mill Copse, again helping the rangers Richard and Nick. Two major tasks - the first was to spread eight tons (and yes we did finish it all!) of limestone chippings along the rides, and rake it all out neatly. This was done in areas which are usually muddy in the winter and have deep ruts in them; the chippings help to fill in the ruts and improve the access for all users of the copse when it gets wet and muddy. The second was in an area where hazel slips had been planted in around 2004, and are thriving very nicely; however, the understorey of nettles and brambles has grown up and is starting to swamp the fledging hazel trees, so this was all cleared to help them grow bigger.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

The wildlife in this week’s images are a bit small - many apologies but trying to get grasshoppers and butterflies to pose nicely is always a bit of a challenge! The first find was Meadow Brown (Maniola Jurtina), a common and familiar butterfly of rough grassy places, overgrown road verges, waste ground, woodland glades, heaths, downlands and gardens. It is on the wing from early June to mid-September, and they eat smooth meadow grass and various other meadow species. The male’s upper side is dark brown with a single black eye-spot surrounded by orange; the female larger and brighter has the orange extending into the hind wing. Eggs are laid among grasses, and the caterpillars are green and covered in fine white hairs; they feed by day when young, hibernate through winter, and feed again by night the following spring.

The second find was a Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus Parallelus) - they usually have very short wings, which makes them unable to fly, although long winged individuals capable of flight do occur sporadically especially in hot summers. Their colouring is varied usually some shade of green but often brown, while females can even be a plum or purple colour. Its song is a burst of 10-15 irregular chirrups, lasting a few seconds and repeated at intervals. It is a grasshopper mainly of long grass whose eggs are laid in summer in the soil, hatching the following April. They become adults in late June, and usually survive until about October depending on the weather.

This week the text and some of the photographs are from Carrie - the others from Eddie. Many thanks to both of them for making this blog page possible.

Terry's Photo Gallery.

And....finally....a big thanks to Terry for the stunning wildlife shots above.

Friday 23 July 2010

Wed 21 July 2010 - Brading Station & Roman Villa.

An unusual situation for the Green Gym this week - working on two different sites at the same time! Group No 1 was at Brading Roman Villa, removing the dreaded ragwort from the fields surrounding the Villa. Group No 2 was at Brading Station, working in the area at the front of the newly re-opened signal box. The plan is to use the space to build a model railway, so our task was to clear the area of the thick, fairly short vegetation, which included digging out several extremely largely buddleia and bramble roots.

Carrie’s History Lesson

Brading Station was opened to the public in 1864 and put to good use for many years by hundreds of commuters; the signal box opened in 1882 along with the branch to Bembridge, and still contains its original 30 lever Stevens and Sons frame; although several boxes were originally built to this design, it is now the oldest signal box on the Island. In 1953 the Brading-St Helens-Bembridge line was closed, but Brading remained open as part of the Shanklin-Ryde line. Electrification greatly affected Brading, causing a change of rolling stock, the removal of the second track between Brading and Sandown and, importantly, the closure of the signal box. In 1966, former London tube trains replaced the steam trains that worked the line meaning there was little use for Brading Station, and it was threatened with demolition. Much hard work by Brading Town Council and Brading Town Trust eventually saved the building, which was given Grade II listed status. The Town Council initiated a Gateways project, which aimed to completely restore the building to its former Victorian glory, including the eastern platform, its buildings and signal box. The work has now been completed, with a fenced and paved pathway to the signal box now in place; it also received an IW Conservation Design Award in 2009.

Terry's Photo Gallery. many pictures this week...! Many thanks to all who have contributed - Carrie for the text and some pictures of the station work - the others from the station are from Eddie. The photo shoot at the end is from Terry.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Wed 14th July 2010 - Firestone Copse.

Our venue this week was at Firestone Copse, continuing the work started a few weeks ago. Our tasks this week were to cut back vegetation overhanging some of the pathways, and put some pipes into ditches to improve the water flow. Having put the pipes into the ditches, we then barrowed limestone chippings to cover the pipes and make the access better; some of our fitter members discovered some old pipes that had been buried, so dug these out with mattocks so they could be re-used - phew! The remainder of the couple of tons of chippings were used to improve one of the pathways. Firestone Copse itself is owned and managed by the Forest Commission, and is notable for its wide-ranging tree species from Oak to soaring spires of Grand Fir. In summer the rich grassy rides are particularly good places to see the many butterflies found here such as White and Red Admirals, Marbled Whites, Small Tortoiseshells, Gatekeepers and Fritillaries.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

This week’s find was the fruit of the beech tree (Fagus Sylvatica). Recent evidence suggests it did not arrive in England until about 4,000BC, and could have been an early introduction by Stone Age man, who used the nuts for food. It is a large tree that can reach 160ft tall, and has a typical lifespan of 150 to 200 years. It has a smooth silver-grey coloured bark, with shiny oval leaves that have a subtle wavy edge. In autumn the leaf colours change to beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red-brown. The seeds have a prickly case which contains two nuts known as “mast”, which fall in September and October. These are an important food for birds, rodents and in the past also people, although they are slightly toxic to man if eaten in large quantities due to the tannins they contain. In 19th century England the nuts were pressed to obtain oil used for cooking and in lamps, and also ground to make flour which could be eaten after the tannins were leached out.

Another big thank you to Carrie for the text, pictures and lesson of the week...!

Friday 9 July 2010

Wed 7th July 2010 - Brading Down.

A return visit to Brading Down, but this time on Upper Adgestone, which is designated a “Quiet Road”, and helping the rangers Nick and Richard with a variety of tasks. The first was to continue in the opposite direction from last week, to finish the area designated for ragwort pulling. The path leading down to the road needed some pruning, as did the paths within the Butterfly Walk further along. Work was also required to re-build some new steps down the path to the road, and there was also a ton of limestone chippings ready and waiting to be transported down the quite steep hill by barrow and bucket, to effect repairs to the remainder of the steps. This certainly is a beautiful area for butterflies, moths and wildflowers, and certainly well worth a walk with your camera.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

Lots of finds again this week -

Agrimony (Agrimonia), growing to between 0.5-2m tall with interrupted pinnate leaves and tiny yellow flowers borne on a single (usually unbranched) spike. It has a long history of medicinal uses, including a treatment for eye ailments and a brew to cure diarrhoea and disorders of the gall bladder, liver and kidneys. The Anglo-Saxons made a solution from the leaves and seeds for healing wounds, and this continued through the Middle Ages and beyond in a preparation called “eau d’arquebusade” or “musket shot water”.

Small Scabious (Scabiosa Columbaria) - this chalk and limestone grassland perennial produces a mass of lilac-blue flowers from July to September, in round heads on long stalks. The narrow stem leaves are grey-green, pinnate and downy, with flowerheads developing into a conical fruiting head in autumn. It is attractive to bees, and butterflies such as the Meadow Brown and Small Skipper.

White Melilot (Melilotus Albus), a member of the pea family with small, white, fragrant flowers on stems 3 to 10 feet tall. Its preferred habitat is wastelands and roadsides, with a flowering season of June to November.

Common Restharrow (Onomis Repens) - this robust, native, creeping, hairy perennial has small, pink pea-like flowers in the leaf axils throughout the summer. The root network of restharrow is both dense and tough, and this accounts for its common name. In the days of horse-drawn cultivation, the roots of this plant would, quite literally, ‘arrest’ the progress of the plough. It flowers from June to September, attracting wildlife such as the Common Blue butterfly and Goldfinches.

Six-Spot Burnet(Zygaena Filipendulae) - this is the commonest of Britain’s day-flying Burnet moths, seen from June to August and occupying meadows, woodland clearings and sea-cliffs. It has blackish blue front wings with a metallic shine, and are patterned with the six red round spots that give it its name; hind wings are crimson with a very narrow dark blue/black border. Its antennae, rather unusually for a moth, are club shaped and used for feeling and smelling. All stages in the lifecycle of this moth contain cyanide in their bodies, and their bright colours protect them by warning birds and other predators they are poisonous.

Many thanks to Carrie for all the above - I just hope that I have managed to match all the photographs to the correct text....!

Thursday 1 July 2010

Wed 30th June 2010 - Brading Down.

Yes it’s that time of year again folks, wearing stout gloves and ensuring our arms and legs are well covered for clearing the ragwort! A very hot day on Brading Down, but an excellent turnout of our keen set of volunteers. We have been working on ragwort clearance for some years in this area and our efforts, together with the land management in the form of cattle grazing, is starting to bear fruit in this area of chalk grassland. Recently Natural England undertook a survey of Brading Down, and were extremely impressed with the large numbers of wildflowers and other wildlife such as bees and moths that now colonise this beautiful part of the Island. We saw loads of bees, caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, and several sightings of marbled white butterflies, as well as a huge variety of beautiful pink thistles and other wildflowers. The rangers Richard and Nick very kindly followed us along the down with the trailer so we didn’t have to walk far with our very heavy bags of ragwort, and it was certainly a very full trailer by the time 1.00 o’clock came round.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

Two examples of wildflowers this week, the first being Hedge Bedstraw (Gallium Mollugo) a robust, perennial, scrambling plant, with small white flowers that emerge from the centre of a leaf whorl and stand proudly upright towards the top of the square stems in loose clusters. The slender spear-shaped prickly leaves are arranged in whorls at intervals around the stem, and the tiny autumn fruits are round, black and shiny. As its common name suggests, it is a plant of hedge banks and grassy places, where it can withstand competition from other plants for nutrients and moisture. It is the food plant for a great number of moths, including the elephant hawk-moth and the day-flying hummingbird hawk-moth. The plant was used at one time to curdle milk for making cheese.

Next we have Lesser Stichwort (Stellaria Graminea), the fresh white flowers of which have five deeply-notched petals. The ends of the long stamens are orange tinged, contrasting with the whiteness of the flowers. The sprawling stems of this delicate looking plant are smooth, and the leaves long, narrow and bright green. It is common in hedge banks, waysides and meadows adding colour and structure to a garden hedge bank, especially in conjunction with other native spring flowers such as lesser celandine and bluebell. It starts blooming in late May, but is not plentiful until late June continuing until the end of August; it is also a good nectar source for bees and flies.

Many thanks to Carrie for the text and pictures this week.

Terry's Photo Shoot. The following photographs were taken by Terry - Many thanks for sending them in for inclusion in the blog...!