Plant Identification Course

Jenner Hall Presentation

Our course started with a welcome from our Cricklade Court Leet Town Crier Eric. We were delighted to have David Gowing as our tutor. David is the Professor of Botany at the Open University and director of the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. He has carried out research on North Meadow for 30 years.

Floodplain Meadows

David had prepared a fascinating presentation for us covering many aspects of floodplains with his deep insight into how they work and why this creates such  species rich plant communities. We were surprised to learn floodplain meadow soil stores huge amounts of carbon. One hectare of floodplain meadow stores 100 tons of carbon in the top 100mm of soil. David explained that research had shown we need to value the role of floodplains much more. Floodplains compare very favourably with peat bogs and woodland which receive  so much attention. This has led to tree planting on floodplains which actually releases carbon!

 

Many floodplain meadow plants are deep rooted as the above diagram shows (see explanation). His presentation generated many questions which David answered very fully with yet more new and interesting information.

North Meadow
Discussing the drainage channel

After a very enjoyable morning we set of to North Meadow to have our lunch, stopping on the way to discuss the plant communities in the central drainage channel.

Plant Identification

Next we looked at some of the plants characteristic of a floodplain meadow which are found on North Meadow.

 

We then headed to one of the most species rich areas of North Meadow and after splitting into groups attempted to identify as many plant species as possible with occasional help from David. We found the grasses challenging!

Recording a Quadrat
Examining our 1m by 1m quadrats

Soil Structure

David using an augur to obtain a soil sample

David explained the importance of soil structure in the morning session and used his augur to show us a soil core sample. We looked at the composition of the soil to a depth of about 80cm down to the gravel aquifer layer.

We headed back along the opposite side of the meadow. On the way we stopped to look at one of the dipwells used to monitor the water depth on the meadow at 6 hour intervals. Dipwells provide important data used to model meadow hydrology for the many research projects carried out by the Floodplain Meadows Partnership.

Meadow Restoration

Our final stop was in Priors Ham a restoration meadow adjacent to North meadow. David and Anita explained the restoration process which has been informed by David’s work. Much of this advice is available in the Floodplain Meadows Technical Handbook.

We ended our fantastic content filled day back at the Jenner Hall. We must thank David for such a brilliant course which everyone really enjoyed as can be seen from some of the many positive feedback comments below:

Well organised, friendly atmosphere – an excellent introduction to floodplain meadows. Has helped me to appreciate my local context and do more to support it. Thank you very much!

It was a really well structured day with context set by the talk , a lovely walk plus lots of helpful instruction in plant identification.

All very interesting. Not just plant identification but why the plants grew where they did.

 

Damselfly Identification Course

Damselfly Course
Jenner Hall Course Room

Our Damselfly Identification course started with a welcome by the Cricklade Town Crier and Court Leet member Eric. Sue Rees-Evans our tutor for the course then outlined the programme for the day to a full house of 12 attendees. The weather was very hot at 29 deg C with a thunderstorm forecast for the afternoon at the end of our field trip to North Meadow NNR.

Fortunately our room at the Jenner Hall was nice and cool. Sue explained the species of Damselflies and Dragonflies found in the UK using some stunning close up photographs. We then focused on the Damselflies we were likely to see and the key features used to identify them.

Emperor Dragonfly Female Egg Laying
Emperor Dragonfly Female Egg Laying © Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0

Sue followed this with some very helpful exercises using photographs to practice our newly discovered identification skills.

After a nice packed lunch siting in the shade around the Jenner Hall we set off for North Meadow. Surprisingly as we approached the meadow entrance we were delighted to see an Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) ovipositing (egg laying) in Little Kent Close.

Field Trip to North Meadow NNR

We headed into North Meadow to find a shady place for our base out of the hot sun. On the way we saw some more Emperor Dragonflies which is the largest dragonfly in the UK with a wingspan of 10cm. Several course members also saw a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly (Libellula quadrimaculata).

Inspecting Damselflies
Inspecting Damselflies
Black-tailed Skimmer Female
Black-tailed Skimmer Female

In the shade of some willows we closely inspected male and female Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) and some of the many Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum).

Red-eyed damselfly (Erythromma najas)

Sue explained how to carefully net and hold these beautiful insects without damaging them. As we headed back along the River Churn, in a stretch of open water with some lily pads, we noticed several Red-eyed damselfly (Erythromma najas). The bright red eyes are amazing.

After about two and half hours, with the sky darkening, we headed back to the Jenner Hall. Luckily the thunderstorm started just as we arrived.

Heading back through Priors Ham

Our day concluded with a session on sources of identification information such as Sue’s website Shropshire Dragonflies and how to submit records using iRecord.

We must thank Sue for such a brilliant course which everyone really enjoyed as can be seen from some of the many positive feedback comments below:

Thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Delighted to be given a copy of Britain’s Dragonflies. Course tutor never less than enthusiastic and engaging, in short one of the best courses I have attended.”

I’ve had a really enjoyable day and learned a lot. I’m keen to put the knowledge gained into practice

A very enjoyable informative day. I learned a huge amount about damselflies and feel much more confident in identifying them. Excellent organisation, warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Aftermath Grazing

Aftermath Grazing on North Meadow

Aftermath grazing is a vital part of managing North Meadow National Nature Reserve. North Meadow is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rare species rich grassland. It is also the main research site for the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. Over the last 50 years 97% of this rare grassland habitat has been lost to agricultural improvement.

For hundreds of years the site has been managed as Lammas Land. This means growing a hay crop from mid-February to July followed by aftermath grazing.

Installing Electric Fencing

This year we started grazing with 55 cattle on 3rd September. Court members install 2.5km of electric fencing to prevent the cattle from escaping into adjacent fields or damaging the rivers,

Cow Drinking at a Pasture Pump
North Meadow, Pasture Pumps

To provide water we install 8 pasture pumps which draw water from the river Churn.

Court members check the fences daily. If the fence is turned off for any reason, such as a flat battery or electrical short, the animals can become tangled in the wire causing nasty leg injuries.

Why is Grazing Important?

Grazing cattle recycle the nutrients back into the soil. They create small areas of bare ground which allow seeds to germinate and keep vigorous grasses in check, allowing the rare wildflowers to flourish. Aftermath grazing maintains a rich plant species diversity of up to 40 species per square metre.

Cow pat covered in Yellow Dungflies

The cow pats are essential for many invertebrates. Many species of insect can be found in or on cattle dung and these in turn provide food for birds, badgers, foxes and bats.

Natural England have provided a fuller explanation of the merits of conservation grazing in this leaflet.

Duration of Aftermath Grazing

We try to graze for a minimum of 6 weeks with the cattle, during the window of time between hay cut and the onset of winter flooding. This year we are planning to graze for about 10 weeks. Up to 15 horses will be on until December weather permitting.

Grazing is progressing well this year and we can look forward to seeing a beautiful species rich meadow next year.

Moth and Butterfly Course 2022

Inspecting Saturday Morning Moth Traps

We were delighted to welcome back David Brown to run our 2 day moth and butterfly course last weekend. The course started with the inspection of moth traps run during Friday night. The taps where placed in 7 locations around Cricklade including on North Meadow.

Our inspection revealed a total of 64 moth species. This included two of the largest moths the Poplar Hawkmoth and Elephant Hawkmoth. Many of the moths are stunningly colourful and beautifully marked such as the Burnished Brass and the Spectacle. Others resemble butterflies such as the Treble Brown Spot or hide by looking like a twig such as the Buff Tip.

Field Trip to North Meadow

Small Eggar Larva Web

After lunch we headed to North Meadow to look for butterflies. We were pleased to find 7 species and  watched a mating display of Small Tortoiseshell over some nettles.

Most were familiar farmland butterflies. The meadow was looking amazing in the warm sunny weather. A highlight was the discovery of a larva web of the rare Small Eggar moth.

Inspecting Sunday Morning Moth Traps

On Sunday we started the morning by inspecting 3 moth traps from Saturday night. We found a further 12 species raising our total to 76 moth species. They included a Privet Hawkmoth, a Small Elephant Hawkmoth and a rare Small Seraphim.

Field Trip to Edge Common

Small Blue

We climbed aboard the minibus and headed to Edge Common for lunch overlooking Stroud valley. During our walk around edge we added Small Blue and Small Heath to our butterfly species list, Five Spot Burnet moth , Six Spot Burnet moth Larva and Rivulet were added to our day flying moth total.

Field Trip to Daneway Banks

Daneway Banks
Daneway Banks

On to the Gloucester Wildlife Trust Reserve and location of a Large Blue re- introduction after this butterfly  went extinct in the UK in the 1970s. After much searching one of our members had a brief sighting of two Large Blues. Small Copper and Marbled White were added to our butterfly total.

Marbled White
Marbled White

We must thank our tutor David for his vast knowledge and boundless enthusiasm for making our weekend so enjoyable. We found a total of 80 moth species and 12 butterfly species.

Feedback

We had some lovely comments on our feedback forms here are a couple of examples:

“Thank you for all of the organisation that has gone into making this such an enjoyable and valuable event. It is hugely appreciated and has contributed enormously to my learning”

“Just a big thank you to David, Anita and John for such a wonderful event. It was GREAT!!”

Lovely group size, organisation super, opportunity to ask questions and learn. Thank you, I will be looking to see what other courses I can register for”

Bumblebee Identification Course

Our Bumblebee Identification Course yesterday was a great success. The Heritage Lottery sponsored our course which allowed us to invite Dr Richard Comont Science Officer for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to run the day for us.

Bumblebee Identification Course Jenner Hall
Jenner Hall Cricklade

We started the day in the Jenner Hall with two presentations. The first covered bumblebee ecology in which Richard used his incredible depth of knowledge to explain how bumblebee populations have changed in response to habitat changes. Species rich meadows like North Meadow are ideal habitat for bumblebees. The second presentation was a logical and very clear explanation of how to identify the commoner species and split them between queen bees, worker bees and male bees. We also learned about how to send in records using the Bee Walk Scheme.

North Meadow National Nature Reserve

Field Trip

After lunch we walked to North Meadow to see if we could find and identify any of the bumblebees we discussed during the morning. On arriving at the meadow we enjoyed the spectacle of meadow buttercups glowing yellow in the bright sunshine. We soon found some bees on the large patches of flowering red clover.

We attempted to use our newly acquired identification skills and were pleased to find a red tailed cuckoo bumblebee queen. Cuckoo bumblebees are parasitic and  this one takes over the nest of the red tailed bumblebee. It was good to see as they are usually hard to find and are an indicator of a heathy host species population.

Richard Comont

This was quickly followed by queens and workers of the buff tailed and garden bumblebees. We were able inspect them closely in clear specimen pots.

In all we found queens and workers of 5 species only the early bumblebee and tree bumblebee were missing from the species around at this time of year.

Garden Bumblebee Queen

Very satisfied with our relaxing and enjoyable field trip we made our way back to the Jenner Hall for a final cup of tea and chat. We felt we had learned a great deal thanked our tutor Richard for sharing his passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for these fascinating insects.

Recording bumblebees is a very important part of their conservation and quite a few of our 15 course participants are now thinking about taking part in the Bee Walk Scheme.

Feedback

Our feedback on the day was overwhelmingly positive with so many very nice comments about how much everyone had enjoyed the day. Here are some examples.

Time flew by-the sign of a great day. Very knowledgeable and informative tutor, and the guided walk really helped cement our learning

Thank you. Well organised, welcoming, interesting, well pitched, motivating to protect meadow and get involved in conservation

I love how passionate of all of the contributors were about not only the bumblebees but the wildlife and history of Cricklade – You have a real gem here!

 

Fritillary Flowering Almost Finished

Fritillary Flowering Almost Finished
Fritillary Seed Pod
Fritillary Seed Pod

The fritillary flowering almost finished for this year. Most Fritillary flowers  have now been pollinated and are developing seed pods. The main pollinator of the fritillary flowers are queen red tail bumblebee ( Bombus lapidarius).

Over the next few weeks the seed pods will swell and the stem will straighten. Eventually the seed pod will split releasing up to 150 seeds.

The picture above taken today shows a carpet of dandelion seed heads and ribwort plantain flowers. A few fritillary flowers are still visible but largely obscured now by the growing hay crop. Continue reading “Fritillary Flowering Almost Finished”

Spectacular Fritillary Display

Now is a great time to see this year’s spectacular fritillary display. The picture above was taken last Saturday and shows huge numbers of fritillaries in flower.

On a sunny day the meadow will have a purple bloom as the majority of fritillary flowers are purple. There are also white flowers which are the same species and these are less common, about 7% of the total.

Only about 20% of the fritillary plants flower each year. The majority of mainly young plants are non-flowering, some with only a single leaf which resembles a blade of grass. The Floodplain Meadows Partnership who carry out research on North Meadow have produced a leaflet explaining the life cycle of Snakes Head Fritillaries.

Bring your binoculars to get the best view of the display which is even better from a low viewpoint. Please remember to stay on the path. Continue reading “Spectacular Fritillary Display”

Lots of Fritillaries but only a few in flower

There are large numbers of fritillaries and a few have started to flower. They are still very difficult to see as the picture above taken on Friday 29th March shows. Only a about 20% of the fritillary plants in the meadow flower each year.

Vegetative Fritillary Plants
Vegetative Fritillary Plants

The younger plants stay in a vegetative state for several years, even the older plants only flower if the environmental conditions are favourable. The Floodplain Meadows Partnership have produced a leaflet describing the life cycle of the fritillaries . The vegetative plants can easily be mistaken for grass as the adjacent picture shows. They are very easily trampled and damaged at this stage. Continue reading “Lots of Fritillaries but only a few in flower”

The Snakes Head Fritillaries are showing but very difficult to see

The Snakes Head Fritillary season is about to start. There are a small number of flower buds showing but, although there are a large number of fritillary shoots, they are currently very difficult to see. The picture above was taken on Friday 25th March. If you do visit in the next few days do not be tempted to leave the marked paths as you will do considerable damage to the emerging fritillary shoots. Continue reading “The Snakes Head Fritillaries are showing but very difficult to see”