Wednesday 31 July 2019

The Great British Countryside

Much as I adore living here in Crete with its wall-to-wall sunshine there is something to be said for rain; it does make things green. So come with me if you will, down Simonscales Lane, for a walk in the great British countryside. Notice the difference between the hedgerow on the left and the one on the right. There are far more woody species on the left indicating that it is probably the original field boundary with just a footpath this side. You can estimate the age of a hedgerow by counting the number of woody shrubs in a 100ft stretch and multiplying by 100. This makes the original boundary over 600 years old, whereas the footpath was probably upgraded to a track and the second hedgerow planted within the last 200 years. Besides the woody shrubs there are plenty of herbaceous plants such as Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) and Crosswort (Cruciata laevipes). These are providing food for the local insects as we can see from this Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) sipping nectar from a Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Highly poisonous to us humans but we're made differently to butterflies.

At the end of the track a stile takes us onto a footpath alongside the river Cocker as it wends its way towards the town. A bit of a botanists dream along this stretch. We have Bistortia (Bistortia officianalis) who's leaves are used to make Dock Pudding over in Yorkshire; Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis) which you should never bring indoors or use in a May Day garland for fear of upsetting the fairies; some knapweed (Centaurea sp.) which clued-up farmers allow to grow wild as they persuade beetles away from their crops; and some Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) which was such a popular plant for making tea (as well as being considered to be good for gout) that it was nearly eradicated from London in the eighteenth century.

We'll leave the river now and indulge in a bit of bug hunting. Every child's favourite, the 7 spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), is here and so too, the Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), one of about 19 species in the UK and three hundred around the world; nestling in this buttercup in various attitudes of repose we have some Marsh Marigold Moths (Micropterix calthella) and finally a rather finely marked Snipe Fly (Rhagio scolopaceus) which we'll leave alone as many snipe flies are bloodsuckers and they can inflict a rather painful bite. 

Heading into the woods and pausing to say hello to a rabbit on our way I see we have a much nicer tempered fly on the fence. This is a Noon Fly (they like to sunbathe in the middle of the day) and they are nectar feeders and have no interest in biting us. Just as well really as, when they're not sunbathing they spend most of their time on cow pats where they both mate and lay their eggs. They also make a mockery of the saying 'breed like flies'. The female Noon Fly lays only five eggs in her lifetime, each in a separate cow pat. Thus spake Wikipedia but unfortunately with no citation. I like to check my facts thoroughly before passing them on to you but after half an hour's searching I cannot verify that this fact is true. Can any dipterologist out there confirm or deny?

I love the great diversity of broad leaved trees in England. We have trees in Crete of course but they're mainly olive and pine with the occasional Plane and Oak thrown in. This one for instance, standing there as though posing for a Liz Black Dowding painting, is a Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastrum). Supplier of conkers for playground games, they have medicinal qualities and were also collected in great quantites during the first world war to be used in the production of rifle cartridges. The conkers provided the starch to ferment the Clostridium bacterium to produce the acetone to make the solvent to manufacture the cordite that propelled the bullets from British rifles up until the 1950s. Sounds like an idea for a cumulative song like The Court of King Caractacus, doesn't it?

Anyhow, that about wraps it up for Cumbria. Next week we start on our journey back to Crete by rail and sea. Don't forget your passports.

Crete Nature Catch-up

Steve's Books well, just the one at the moment but I have now completed all of the adult critters for 'The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies' as well as the terrestrial juveniles. Just the aquatic juveniles to go and it will be ready for proofreading.

Not Just For Twisted Women by Steve Daniels 

A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
Kindle Edition 1.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent).

Click on the links to the right to buy or preview

Paperback Edition 4.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent)..
Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books

Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


  1. That's a couple of months ago at least to have orange tips on view!


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