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Friday, 13 August 2010

Wed 11th Aug 2010 - Alvestone Mead.

Our visit to Alverstone Mead to do some hay baling was changed, due to the large amount of rain that fell on the Island the day before, so it was too wet. The replacements tasks were to clear a large amount of bracken in the hay field and rake it into piles; the second task was to clear some of the fields from the dreaded ragwort, especially as they are regularly grazed by cattle. The Mead is on the old floodplain of the Eastern Yar River, and the unimproved grassland supports marsh violet, devil’s-bit scabious, tormentil, marsh bird’s-foot trefoil and marsh pennywort. Overwintering birds such as water rail, green sandpiper, common snipe, redshank, grey heron and yellow wagtail use the pasture; and the ditches are home to water voles, palmate newts, frogs, toads and twelve species of dragonfly. There is also an area of ancient woodland which contains dormice, red squirrels and three species of bat.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

Obviously clearing ragwort, we found some caterpillars of the cinnabar moth, with their bright orange body and black transverse bands. The bright colours of both larvae and moths act as a warning sign, so they are seldom eaten by predators. Females lay up to 300 eggs, usually in clusters of 30 to 60, and initially the larvae are pale yellow in colour. They are ravenous feeders sometimes growing up to 30mm, and can strip entire patches of ragwort clean. Very few often survive to the pupae stage, mainly due to consuming the food source prior to reaching maturity; this could be a possible explanation for their tendency to engage in random cannibalistic behaviour, as many will die from starvation. Our second find was Tufted Vetch (Vicia Cracca) - similar to a pea in growth habitat, it has cascading pea-flower shaped purple to violet flowers during its late spring to late summer flowering period. Near August, the flowers drop off and tiny bright green seed pods start to form, the tiny seeds within being ripe when the pods have turned black. It is widely used as a forage crop for cattle, and is also much appreciated by bees and butterflies as a source of nectar.

This week we also had a “Mystery Object” (see image); research has revealed it is one of six sculptures made from Portland stone by local artist Paul Mason for the Yar River Trail in 2001.

Many thanks to Carrie & Terry for the text and pics.

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