I think it is fair to say that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and many local residents have sought solace in what the Green has to offer; whether it is enjoying the views across to the cathedral, having a paddle in the brook, or trying to identify some of the birds and plants. However, like most, we have still had our problems, including an increase in litter and a degradation of some of the meadowland habitat, due to an increase in footfall.
Hopefully 2021 will bring better times and the Trust wishes all of its supporters a Happy New Year and we hope that the composite image of “A year on Pipe Green”" brings back some enjoyable memories.
It never ceases to amaze me that if you look carefully enough, there is always something new or a bit unusual to see on the Green. This happened to me a few days ago when I spotted this lovely little bird warming itself in the sun. What is it? Well, it is a redpoll, which is a small brownish finch (about the size of a sparrow), that has a red patch on the top of its head (you can just see the red patch in the photo). They are quite rare on the Green, so I was very excited to see and photograph this one! Now, for those of you that know a bit about birds, you will also know that there are two types of redpolls (common and lesser) which look very similar and are quite difficult to tell apart! However, based on its size, I think this is a common redpoll - but I stand to be corrected!!
I love it when the fallen leaves are covered in frost and glisten in the morning sun. However, apart from looking lovely, the frost is also important in helping to break down the leaves. Often the skin on the leaves is too tough for the bacteria and fungi to start the decay process, but the ice crystals of the frost, cause the cells to rupture. This in turn now allows the microbes and fungi to penetrate into the leaf, which in turn softens them, so the earthworms can now bury them and release all the goodness into the soil. Amazing!
Finally, you can’t beat a robin to brighten up your day - he obligingly sat on a branch having his photo taken, before dropping down to the ground in search of some food at the bottom of the hedgerow. I could have stood and watched for hours!
Autumn is well and truly on us and this year not only are the trees giving a lovely display of colour, but the oak trees are producing a bumper harvest of acorns. This is most noticeable if you go into Leomansley woods, where the ground, underneath the oak trees, is absolutely carpeted with acorns. Anyone who watched Autumnwatch this week, will know that when this happens, it is known as a mast year. It occurs every 5 - 10 years, although why and how it happens is still not fully understood. The jays are certainly happy with the extra acorns and are quite active - so keep an eye out for them.
Well Autumn would not be Autumn, without the fungi and this year there are a good number growing on the Green. There are the more obvious parasol and fly agaric mushrooms, but nestling amongst the grass and mosses, are the beautiful waxcap fungi - my favourite! You do have to look for these as they can be quite small, but as everybody knows, size isn't everything!
Finally, I love this view looking towards the Abnall's lane gate entrance … I wonder what lies beyond?!
Whilst writing this with Storm Alex doing its worst, it is good to remember that September was a glorious month, with lots of warm sunshine and a hint of cooler weather later on in the month. To me, a classic image of early Autumn is the bright red berries of the hawthorn. The bushes seem to be laden with berries this year, which give then a gorgeous red glow in the sunshine.
If you go through the football field gate, you may notice that there is a sweet smell and quite a lot of insects buzzing around. This is because the ivy is now flowering and is loved by all sorts of invertebrates, including butterflies, hoverflies, wasps and bees. There is in fact a special bee, known as the ivy bee that I have mentioned before, and which I am still trying to get a photograph of - I just need to be patient! Instead you can enjoy this non-ivy bee feeding on the sweet nectar!
There have been a few parasol mushrooms appearing, but not the normal numbers that we normally see, but I suspect the drier weather has delayed their fruiting. Mushrooms fascinate me and there is a lot more to them than meets the eye: in the soil they have a huge network of filaments, called mycelium, which provide all the nutrients for the fungus as well as being incredibly important in decomposing material and improving the condition of the soil. What is really amazing is that this network can extend for enormous distances (even kilometres!)
I don't quite know where August went and now the Green is certainly giving us hints that Autumn is just around the corner! Not least is this lovely purple-coloured Devil's bit scabious, which flowers late August/September. We are lucky that there are some quite big clumps growing on the damper side of the Green and it is a very important nectar source for the bees and butterflies at this time of year. I just love their bobbing purple heads!
Now, there are always a lot of red berries around in the early Autumn, of which most are hawthorn and dog rose and are loved by the birds. However, there is another red berry that you might not be so keen to eat and this is the berry of the bittersweet, or woody nightshade. Despite its name, it should not be confused with its more well known cousin, the deadly nightshade, but surprisingly, bittersweet belongs to the same family as the potato! The bright red berries of bittersweet contain a chemical called solanine, which, if ingested, can lead to vomiting and convulsions - so best to leave it well alone!
Finally, just to get you in to an autumnal mood, is this small delicate mushroom, just nestling in the grass....
Normally I associate butterflies with flitting daintily from flower to flower, but this is not always the case. Butterflies also like to "mud puddle" and here is a small white butterfly doing exactly that! This behaviour is more prevalent in males where they land on the mud and suck up nutrients which can include sodium and some amino acids. These are transferred to the female during mating which help in the survival of the eggs. Nature never ceases to fascinate me!
Another rather strange thing that caught my eye, was this white marsh thistle. Normally marsh thistle flowers are a lovely deep purple colour, but occasionally you get white ones. However, if you look closely, you can see that there are still purple tips at the end of the flower, which intrigues the biologist in me. Why is it only the tips that are producing the purple colour..??
The cattle have well and truly settled down on the Green and everyone has commented on how lovely and chilled out they are. As ususal, they are doing a great job in grazing the Green and on a more poetical note are a true symbol of a summer meadow.
Whilst June has been a challenging month, regarding some antisocial behaviour incidents, I wanted to focus this post on the many positives that the Green has to offer. Regular visitors to the Green will know that the cattle were turned out in the middle of June and have now settled in nicely and are starting to munch their way through the sward. They are a very laid back lot and there is one with grey ears, who really likes his head being scratched!
The butterflies are also putting on a good show at the moment with many meadow brown, small tortoiseshell and comma species flitting on the bramble and amongst the grasses and the thistle. They love the brambles on the edge of the Green and so that is always a good place to start to look for them. Here is a lovely comma butterfly, with its ragged wing edges, feeding on the bramble.
Whilst the orchids have put on a lovely display this year, there are now coming to an end and starting to set seed. However, the sward is still looking lovely and one of the plants flowering at the moment is the small but delightful selfheal. This is a creeping herb (same family as mint) and is found pretty much all over the Green. It is an important nectar source for insects and as the name suggests has a rich history in herbal medicine. Amongst other things it was used for treating wounds and also for sore throats, mouth ulcers and internal bleeding - so quite a useful plant to have about!
Despite the incredibly dry weather we have had in May, the orchids are managing to put on a stunning display. There are a couple of areas where they are growing and some of these must have at least 100 plants flowering. These are southern marsh orchids, which may (or may not) be hybridised with common spotted orchids, and they are gorgeous! The dry weather has, however, taken its toll on the grass, which is looking rather brown and sad. Because of this, we have delayed putting the cattle on the Green for a couple of weeks and hope that we get a bit of rain to help revive the grass.Image courtesy of Graham Burrows
At the beginning of the month, we were lucky enough to have a grasshopper warbler visit the Green and it looked like he was trying to set up a territory. These are notoriously difficult birds to see as they skulk around at the bottom of bushes and reed beds. This one, however was sitting on a bramble and singing its head off! They have an amazing reeling call, which does sound ... well like a grasshopper! Unfortunately it decided not to stay and was only around for about a week - maybe it will be back next year. This amazing photo was sent to me by Graham Burrows, who spent a few days on the Green photographing it.
Finally, you might be forgiven to think that this is speedwell, but in fact it is a plant called brooklime. Whilst it belongs to the same family as speedwell, it lives in a very different habitat and can be found in the wet part of the Green. The flower is very similar to speedwell, but the leaves are much more fleshy and round. Seemingly, the leaves are edible, but quite bitter. Think I will give it a miss!
Whilst the sunshine and dry weather in April, was a welcome relief, it has meant that the grasses are taking a while to start growing and as a result the sward is a lot shorter than it should be for this time of year. Nevertheless, the buttercups are starting to come through along with some of the sweet vernal grass and hopefully the pignut will be flowering soon.
One plant that has coped with the drier weather is the dandelion! These much maligned plants are an important nectar source for invertebrates and I think they are lovely. Just look at the beauty of the seed head! Seemingly, dandelions have been around for a long time - fossilised seeds have been found in rocks 30 million years old!
I always get a bit apprehensive this time of year as whether or not the adder tongue fern is going to make an appearance. Well, this year, it seems to be doing fine and largish clumps of it are now visible. In fact, now, is the easiest time to see it, as the fronds are a light green and stand out against the short(ish) grass. I recently found out that the adder tongue fern has a total of 1260 chromosomes, compared to 46 in humans! Isn't that amazing?!
On the bird front, the warblers are back in force and it seems as though not only have we got some sedge warblers back on the Green, but also a grasshopper warbler! I will hopefully get some more news on these in the next few weeks.
Despite the coronavirus outbreak, Spring has definitely sprung on the Green and the hedges have been alive with bird song. I haven't been going across to the Green as often as I normally do, but on one of my visits, I was thrilled to hear and then see this lovely robin singing his heart out in the morning sun. It certainly put a smile on my face and demonstrates that nature is indeed so important for making us feel better, in these rather strange times.Image courtesy of Wildlife kate
The clearer and sunnier weather, towards the end of March, was most welcome and thankfully has allowed the mud to start to dry out. It also gave good photography conditions and again, Wildelife kate has caught this beautiful early morning shot from the Green. She has also set up a number of excellent webcams in her garden to monitor all the wildlife that visits. They are amazing and well worth a look - my favourite is the blackbird nest!
Whilst the lesser celandine is flowering well and the wood anemone is just starting to flower, I was rather taken by some of the red dead nettle that grows on some of the boundaries of the Green. Whilst this is a very common plant, it is often over-looked, but a close inspection of its flowers show them to be rather lovely. They are quite small - only about 0.5cm long, but are very delicate and almost look like an orchid flower. They start flowering quite early and are an important nectar source for emerging bumble bees. It certainly pays to stop and look at the small things!
With the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a notable increase in the number of people walking on the Green. Whilst they are most welcome, we would urge everyone to follow the government guidelines in social distancing. In addition, I would urge people to walk on the main paths and so prevent trampling the meadow plants and orchids that are starting to appear.
If I thought January was a wet month, then I hadn't banked on storms Ciara and Dennis doing their bit in February! I don't think I have ever seen the Green so wet, with pools of standing water on parts of the green that are usually pretty dry. The brook is really full and even the little ditch by the football gate is full of water and flowing quite strongly!
A consequence of all the puddles and soft ground, is that a pair of mistle thrushes have been regularly feeding on the ground. I assume they are after earthworms and other invertebrates that have drowned in the numerous puddles that have formed after all the rain. They are beautiful birds and are bigger than a song thrush and are also highly territorial. I recently found out that mistle thrushes are so called as they are very fond of mistletoe berries! You learn something new all the time!
Towards the end of the month the lesser celandine could be seen starting to flower in some of the sheltered borders of the Green. It is always a welcome sight and definitely a harbinger of Spring and warmer and hopefully drier (although not too dry) things to come!
Well January was a rather soggy affair, with some parts of the Green turning a bit muddy and slippery. However, there were a couple of cold frosty mornings, which Wildlife Kate managed to capture, with this stunning photo. I just love the colours and she obviously walks her dogs earlier than I do!
There is quite a bit of evidence that the badgers have been busy on the Green. They have been digging in some of the softer ground, no doubt looking for earthworms and other things to eat. They like the starchy tubers of pignut, and as this area of the Green contains quite a lot of pignut, I suspect the badgers have been having a bit of a feast!
It was also lovely to see some of the hazel catkins starting to appear and at least feels as though spring is on the way. These catkins are quite purple (normally I associate them with being yellow), but according to Monty Don catkins start off purple but turn yellow as they mature. Alternatively, there is a purple hazel, whose catkins remain purple. I am not sure which these are, but I will keep an eye on them and see what happens!