I would just like to thank everyone for their invaluable support this year and to wish everyone a happy New Year and a joyful 2019!
I thought it would be fun to look back over the year and highlight some of the interesting events of 2018. The year started off pretty normally, with some lovely sunny days in January and the snowdrops just starting to appear. However, we were confronted with some much colder weather in February, which was compounded by the "Beast from the East" in early March. Whilst the snow made the Green look rather lovely, it was certainly bitterly cold and put a hold on Spring! However, the wildlife soon recovered and April saw the spring flowers appearing, including the gorgeous windflower and by May the orange-tip butterflies could be seen feeding from the cuckoo flowers. The orchids put on a lovely display in June, but then the dry weather took hold and the Green stopped being green and instead, turned dry and brown! Fortunately the cattle were able to cope with the hot weather and by late August they were all looking a lot happier as the the rain had started and the grass returned to being green. The devil's bit scabious looked beautiful in September and due to the mild weather in October, the cattle were able to stay on the Green, a bit longer than usual. The Autumn colours were stunning in November and December saw the return of some of the intriguing star jelly (see Jan/2013 monthly post).
It has been a fairly quiet November, with the everything getting ready for winter. The trees this year have put on a rather spectacular display of autumn colours, ranging from the intense coppery colour of the beech trees to the more yellow of the birch and hawthorn. This can be quite dramatic, when the sun comes out against a dark sky and the sun glints off the cathedral spires.
There is still quite a large number of hawthorn berries on the bushes on the edge of the Green and they look quite stunning, when contrasted against the yellow of the lichen. Hawthorn berries are an important food source, not only for our resident blackbirds and thrushes, but also for the winter migrants like the redwing, who come from Scandinavia. They cleverly avoid the harsh Scandinavian winter by flying to the more temperate UK winter - not that it always feels that warm here either, but then I am not a redwing!
Normally in October, the waxcap fungi are putting on a beautiful display but sadly this year, apart from a few parrot waxcaps (in photo), hardly any have appeared. After a bit of a search on social media, I soon realise that we are not the only ones suffering from a lack of waxcaps and this seems to be a nationwide phenomenon; one which Natural England are monitoring. I assume it is due to the dry summer, but I only hope that next Autumn will be a bumper year!
Whilst there may not be many waxcaps about, there are a lot of ladybirds! They can be found on the bramble, in sheltered and sunny spots. Something I didn't appreciate is that there are 46 ladybird species in the UK, of which 23 are readily identifiable as ladybirds (It is amazing what you learn!). I think (but am not certain) that the one's on the bramble are Harlequin ladybirds. These are an invasive species and are outcompeting some of our native ladybirds.
A sign of Autumn (apart from the leaves changing colour) are the ripening fruits of the trees and hedgerows. Whilst the hawthorn has bright red berries, the ash tree has the slightly less conspicuous seed heads, known as keys, which turn from green to brown in the Autumn. Seemingly, these fruits are sought after by wild food foragers; not only can the seeds in the keys be eaten, but the whole key can be pickled and used as a replacement for capers or olives. Hmm, not sure on this one - think I will give it a miss!
Autumn has well and truly arrived and not only are the leaves starting to change colour, but the hedgerows are crammed full of hawthorn berries. It is definitely a bumper crop this year, which is good news if you are a blackbird or a thrush. Hopefully there will be lots of food for these birds, when the cold weather arrives...brrrr!
Image courtesy of Wildlife Kate
The Autumn mornings are particularly peaceful on the Green and Wildlife Kate was lucky enough to take this fabulous photo to this young heron, who looking for some breakfast in the brook. I wonder if it was frogs or minnows on the menu?!
There is a pungent sweet smell near the football field gate at the moment and this is due to the ivy staring to flower. The insects and butterflies love it and feed voraciously on the sweet nectar. Here are a couple of wasps having a good feed. I am still on the look out for the ivy bee and I think I might have seen one! I just need to go back with my camera and hope it is still there!
Thank goodness that the Green is finally becoming greener! With the recent rain, the grasses have started to grow, which is a most welcome sight and something that the cattle are definitely appreciating. This got me wondering, how do grasses survive 4 weeks without any rain and are then able to bounce back and start growing? This led to a fascinating couple of hours on the internet. In brief, grasses, whilst they look dead and brown are in fact dormant. They are unable to photosynthesise but they are still alive and can readily regrow after rain. Factors such as deep root systems and having carbohydrate reserves (which can fuel growth), all help grasses to survive the conditions we saw this summer. I just find nature quite amazing!
The hedgerows are now full of ripening hawthorn berries, and are giving a reddish hue to the hedgerows. Apart from being an important food for blackbirds and redwings, I have recently discovered that they can also be added to gin to make hawthorn gin. I have already got some damson gin on the go for Christmas, but I might try this as well! Sorry blackbirds ....!
There is still a lot of willow herb on the wet side of the Green. Whilst this is a nectar source for invertebrates, we do not want it to spread too much and dominate the smaller plants (like the marsh pennywort). We have been trying to pull some of it out over the summer, but there is still a lot there! If anyone feels like a "green gym" moment, then please feel free to burn off some calories and pull some of it up (it comes out very easily). We will not be having a work party on the 2nd September, but instead it will be on Sunday 16th September, from 9.00 - 11.00, where we may tackle some more of the willow herb.
It certainly is a relief to get some rain this weekend! I have never seen the Green looking so brown and dry, but despite the heatwave, the cattle seem to be coping. Whilst the grass has turned crispy brown, it is still edible, even though it probably tastes like dried Weetabix! There are also greener things to eat on the wet side, including iris leaves, which seem to be a favourite at the moment!
The marsh thistle is now flowering and it's seeds providing an excellent food source for the seed-eating birds. The goldfinch in particular, love the thistle seeds and flocks of about 20 or so goldfinch can often be seen feeding on the thistle heads. Other exciting bird news, is that the Grasshopper Warbler is back and being quite noisy. You may remember that we had one (if not a pair) last year on the Green. In fact the first time I heard it this year, I wasn't sure if it was a warbling grasshopper or a grasshopper warbler!
We have also had some maintenance work done this month. The bridge has been fixed, so the cattle (and humans!) can now safely walk over, without any of the planks breaking. We have also had the fence along the Maple Hayes boundary repaired and this will prevent the cattle from trespassing onto their land. At the end of the month, we were visited by the Heart of England in Bloom judges, as part of the Lichfield in Bloom entry. The judges made a short drive onto the Green and hopefully appreciated what the Green has to offer.
Well, the cattle certainly know how to keep cool in this hot weather! Whilst it is lovely to have some sunshine, the lack of rain has meant the grassland area of the Green has dried up at an alarming rate. Not only is the dry grass a worrying fire hazard, but it also means that there is a lot less food available for the cattle. Fortunately, there is still some grazing available on the margins of Leomansley Brook and on the damper side of the Green. Hopefully we will get some rain in the near future!
June has been a very busy month. Not only did we have our evening walk with Lichfield Discovered (very enjoyable it was too!), but Staffordshire Wildlife Trust spent two mornings this month surveying the plant life of the Green. I was lucky enough to tag along and it was very interesting learning about some of the less obvious plant species of the Green (hairy sedges and the difference between red fescue and sheep's fescue!). We did find some more bee orchids, which brings the grand total this year to 3! Whilst that is a bit disappointing, it was encouraging to know that the survey recorded just under 60 plant species on the grassland side of the Green, and 72 species on the wet side. There will be some overlap of some of the species, but even so it means that we have in the region of 100 plant species growing on the Green - a great result!
Many butterflies can also been seen flitting around the Green at the moment. In particular, there are quite a number of small white butterflies and some of these can be seen congregating on the side of the muddy pools (provided your dog doesn't disturb them before you get to the puddles!) This behaviour is know as mud puddling and the mud is though to be an important source of salts, especially sodium. Seemingly butterflies loose a lot of sodium during reproduction, and so this mud puddling is important way for them to increase their sodium levels. They can also feed on dung and carrion to get their nutrients - haven't seen any on the cow pats - but I will keep a look out!
What a difference a month makes! In early May, the grass was just starting to grow and by the end of the month it was 2 foot high! The Green is now teeming with insect and bird life and the plants are putting on a spectacular display, not least the orchids. There seem to be more than ever flowering and they are really looking lovely.
One of the species of orchids flowering at the moment is the common spotted orchid, and you can really appreciate the detail of the individual flowers on the spike by this close up photo. The three distinct and quite pointed lobes on the bottom petal of the flower is characteristic of the common spotted orchid and can be used to distinguish them from other orchid species. They are exquisite though aren't they?
Towards the end of the month the damselflies started to appear and I was quite pleased to manage to photograph a pair of large red damselflies starting to mate. The male clasps the female's neck and then she is supposed to bend her body round to his reproductive organs and so form a "wheel" shape - except I don't think she is being that cooperative!
Twelve cattle were turned on to the Green at the end of May and have settled in really well. They are a very chilled bunch and are starting to munch their way through the sward (and hopefully leave the orchids alone!). To finish off this post, the Trust and Lichfield Discovered are joining forces on Friday 15th June at 7.30 pm for an evening wildlife and history walk around the Green. This will be followed by a few drinks and snacks (bring your own!) as the sun sets. We will meet at 7.30 pm by the bench alongside Leomansley Brook. It should be fun and hopefully see you there - I might even bring my bat detector along!
After a very cold and for the most part, a rather dreary April, it is a great relief to know that Spring has finally arrived. However, even with the cold weather, the birds have been busy nesting and the spring flowers, emerging, including celandine and wood anemone. The Lady's Smock (or cuckoo flower) has also started flowering and I was lucky to find an orange-tip butterfly (which obligingly stayed still, whilst I photographed it!) feeding on one of the flowers.
Image courtesy of Staffordshire Mammal Group
We were very fortunate, in April, to have Staffordshire Mammal Group visit and undertake a small mammal survey (ie survey for small mammals like mice, voles, shrews etc and not a small survey for mammals....!). Staffordshire Mammal Group are very experienced in conducting such surveys, so it was a great opportunity for us to find out if the Green is providing a suitable habitat for these animals. From the survey, a total of 9 individuals were recorded, including, 6 field mice, 2 common shrew and a field vole. This is great news as these numbers are 50% higher, compared to what would normally be expected from a survey on typical farmland. This means that the Green is providing a suitable habitat for these small, but very important mammals. A huge thank you to Staffordshire Mammal Group for doing the survey and for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. Their Facebook page can be found here. Some of the mammals recorded are shown below. From top left in a clockwise order - field mouse, common shrew, field mouse, field vole.
It looks like a badger(s) has been on the Green this month looking for some food! There isn't a sett on the Green, so this will be a visitor from somewhere. Typically badgers will scrape the ground looking for earthworms and insect larvae. It is also possible that they are after the pignut tubers, which seemingly are quite tasty! I did put my trail camera up to see if I could get any footage. I didn't get anything , but ....
I did get a brief glimpse of a Mr (or Mrs) fox!
There are many signs that spring is on its way,despite the cold weather. This clump of primroses on the edge of the Green, certainly is a welcome sight and puts a smile on my face. That being said, they did look a bit bedraggled after all the rain!
For the first few weeks of February, you might have been forgiven for thinking that spring was around the corner. The birds were singing more loudly, the woodpeckers were drumming and the hazel catkins were starting to flower. A closer inspection of the catkins reveals some interesting details. The yellow catkins are the male flowers, which release the pollen, which in turn, will fertilise the female flower. So where is the female flower? Well, it turns out that the small pink buds that you can see on the twigs will open out and form a very small red flower, which once pollinated, will then go on to form the hazel nut!
I am sure that you will agree that the "beast from the east" certainly made its presence felt last week. For anyone who ventured onto the Green, it was absolutely perishing with a brutally cold wind. However, one result of the strong wind, was that the snow was blown across the Armour Brown plinth and filled in the words, making them much easier to read. Quite effective really.
A welcome visitor to the Green during the cold weather last week, was a little egret! You may remember, that we had one on the Green for about a month, last March. I have no idea if it is the same one, or whether it was just taking advantage of Leomansley Brook, not being frozen. The photo shows a little egret, which I took 10 days ago - not on the Green, but in Dorset! Still, I am sure they all look pretty much the same!
A very quiet start to the year, with some very cold, wet and windy weather. There are some places which have become quite waterlogged and muddy. Hopefully things will start to dry out soon!! That being said, there are definite signs that spring is on its way. A small patch of snowdrops near the back fence are flowering and are always a welcome site. I even heard a greater spotted woodpecker drumming the other day - a sign that the the birds are starting to look for mates and protecting their territory.
I do love the view of the cathedral from the Green and in the winter it is quite easy to make out the "five spires" of Lichfield: three spires from the cathedral and on the right hand side of the photo, the spire of St Mary's and behind that (just visible) is the spire of St Michael's (at Greenhill).