The Roundhouse Roof

This is a photograph that says so much about Sun Rising at the moment … The wildflower meadow cut and baled, with pockets left long for wildlife to hide away in, and that golden autumnal light against the darkness of stormy skies.

The Roundhouse Before Tiling

The Roundhouse Before the Tiles

After twelve years of striving to keep the green roof going on the roundhouse, we have decided to let it go.  The wet years were too wet for the sedum, the dry years too dry for the moss, and in between the birds were able to pull it apart, taking the felt underneath as nesting material.  This photograph shows the green sedum mats removed, the roof newly lined and fresh batons in place.  The next step is tacking in each and every one of the very many cedar shingles – two nails for shingle.

Local builder, Jon Williams, who is doing the work, is doing a wonderful job.  It’s not a bad place to work: now and then I watch him pausing to grin at the hares playing, the clouds shaping the skies over the hills, or just to breathe in the peace.

It should be finished by the end of this week.  The reddish colour of the wood tiles, which beautifully glow in the autumn colours, will soften and darken over the winter.  We hope you like it.

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Feeding the Horses (and Donkeys)

As mentioned in the previous blog, hay cut and baled in the summer is usually used for winter fodder for farm livestock.  At Sun Rising, our hay is taken to the local horse rescue centre, Redwings at Oxhill.  This feels very much in keeping with our ethics.

Cut late in the season, it’s rich with wildflower seedheads, and so much better for animals than hay made solely with grasses.  Where it’s a bit too chewy for the horses at Redwings, we’re told, the donkeys are more than happy to polish it off.

With another year’s haymaking over, we’d like to give a big thank you to Michael who has kindly cut the hay for the last few years, using his wonderful old tractor (with Ben, the dog).  And thanks to Chris and Jamie, our gravediggers, who helped take the hay up to Redwings.  As we donate the hay, instead of selling it, these kind folk have equally given their time without charging.  Thanks too to Tom, Helen, and all at Redwings for their valuable work.

Jamie, Tom, David and Chris, with our Bales at Redwings

Jamie, Tom, David and Chris, with our Bales at Redwings

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Haymaking

There’s nothing like a warm September day for haymaking.  If we could do it the old-fashioned way, we would – with scythes, haycocks and plenty of cider!  We get pretty close, in that a good amount is cut bit by bit, patch by patch, ensuring wildlife has a chance to move out of the way.  Then the main meadow is cut with an old tractor, rowed and baled, this work being done by local farmer Michael Gibbs, to whom we are enormously grateful!

Wildflower Meadow Mown and Baled

Wildflower Meadow Mown and Baled

This year, although the meadow went to seed a good few weeks’ earlier than usual, we were able to leave the mowing later than we usually do.  In part, this was because the lack of rain meant the dried vegetation remained standing, where rain and wind would have flattened it, making it look untidy.  In part, however, it was a determination to leave it as long as we could, allowing the wildlife, mammals, birds, butterflies, moths and other insects, to make the most of it before it was cut.

For the benefit of these little creatures, it may seem better not to cut at all.  However, managing a wildflower meadow means that it is essential to mow, and remove the ‘arisings’ (the cut vegetation, the hay).  Where they are left to fall, matt and mulch into the ground, they gradually improve the fertility of the soil.  Because the wildflowers we are striving to nurture prefer a poor soil, leaving it unmown would mean fewer flowers, and fewer species of flowers, each year.

A ‘meadow’ is defined as grassland that it is cut once a year, traditionally the hay being used as winter fodder for livestock.  After the mowing, those animals (usually cows) would be put onto the land to graze the late summer and autumn grasses, and taken off between November and February depending on weather and soil.  From spring onwards, the meadow would be left to grow another crop of hay to be mown in August.

Our hay bales are indeed used as winter fodder, but not for farm livestock – they are taken off to Redwings horse rescue sanctuary at Oxhill.  More of that in my next post …

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Golden Rainbow

A golden glow on the fields, for me, so clearly identifies both the British countryside and the time of year. The last few days have felt like autumn, for the first time this year – the hedgerows are bright with rose hips, may haws, sloes on the blackthorn, and blackberries on the bramble.  The first leaves are turning, and thankfully, gloriously, we have had some rain.  Not enough for the soil to ease and soften, but enough for rainbows and a whisper of hope.

Rainbow over Tysoe Hill

Rainbow over Tysoe Hill

This is a panorama taken of Tysoe Hill, just next to Sun Rising Hill, between delicious bursts of torrential sweet rain.

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Grasses and Seedheads

Visitors to Sun Rising who have been coming for some years will notice that we’ve not yet cut the wildflower meadow, despite it having now gone to seed.  There are areas of wild grasses, too, that in previous years would have been cut by now.   Indeed, it is around this time that we’d be holding a volunteer day, inviting you to help with raking up the hay …

This year, in the drought, everything has gone to seed early.  As a result, the seeds are generally smaller and there are fewer of them.  That’s a serious problem to the great multitude of little creatures who depend on the oily protein-rich harvest of the meadow, not least to build up fat reserves so as to survive the coming winter.  It’s one reason we are loathe to cut it before we need to: there is a great deal of life still depending on it.

Wildflowers and Grasses in Seed

Wildflowers and Grasses in Seed

Another reason is that, actually, without the heavy rains that would weigh it down, causing the stems to fall and mat, it still looks really beautiful.  In this photo you can see the edges between predominantly pale-golden grasses and the darker swathes of wildflowers.  With the trees in the dark green, late summer leaves, even grey days are lifted by the gentleness of the meadow.

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Blues and Yellows

Apart from the occasional oxeye daisy, devilsbit scabious or knapweed, most of the wildflowers at Sun Rising have now gone to seed.  With the scorching heat of the dry summer months, this has happened a good few weeks earlier than in previous years.  Although we are gently beginning some harvest clearing, strimming areas of tall grasses, fescues and bents, that have started to fall and look tatty, the meadow is still so full of life we are loathe to cut and bale it yet.  On a still day, if you spend a few minutes, you’ll see butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, spiders, wasps, all still busy in the thick vegetation of the meadow – which may be very dry at its tips, but is still damp in the dark depths at soil-level.

Male and Female Common Blue Butterflies on Birdsfoot Trefoil

Male (left) and Female (right) Common Blue Butterflies on Birdsfoot Trefoil

Where we have cut, or where grasses have fallen, there is new growth too.  You’ll see scabious, knapweeds, oxeye daisies, coming through with fresh new growth, inspired by the few days of rain we have just had.  And, most importantly for the common blue butterfly, there are still patches of flowering birdsfoot trefoil.  If you watch carefully, you’ll see these little blue butterflies mating and laying eggs on this their favourite plant.  It is a wonderful sight, offering the hope of a multitude of fresh new blues emerging from their little green cocoons next spring …

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Beauty and Controversy

Ragwort is a plant that has its supporters and its opponents.  It is true that it’s poisonous, as are many wild plants, and like many poisonous plants it has a bad taste, so animals tend to avoid it.  The problems arise if it’s mown, ending up in hay used as fodder for cattle and horses.

Ragwort is also a wonderful plant for butterflies, moths, bees, and other pollinators.  Flowering later in the season, when many other plants have gone to seed, it is a really valuable source of food for insects.  The ragwort at Sun Rising is covered with butterflies at the moment – yesterday I saw common blues, commas, gatekeepers, various whites and small coppers (shown here) in good numbers, all dancing over the ragwort and pausing to feed.  As well as butterflies, there were many different kinds of bees, hoverflies and other flies. There is one moth, the cinnabar, that prefers the common ragwort to any other plant.  If you look closely, you’ll find its black and yellow caterpillars on the plants now; it’ll pupate in the autumn, the beautiful black and red adults emerging in May.

Common Ragwort, Small Copper and Various Flies

Common Ragwort, Small Copper and Various Flies

Yes, we do have ragwort at Sun Rising.  From June until the end of the season in October we map where it is growing, so that when the meadow is cut we can remove any that would otherwise end up in hay used for fodder.

A few visitors ask why we don’t just pull it out when we see it.  The reality is that ragwort roots very deeply and when pulled it’s easy to break the roots, effectively increasing the number of plants.  To reduce or remove it, it’s more effective to leave it to die back after it’s gone to seed and, when the soil is moist, dig it out using an appropriate tool like a ragfork.  Seeds may be shed, but they more easily germinate on disturbed ground, for example, where livestock hooves leave holes in the turf.  It seldom germinates in areas already thick with vegetation, so at Sun Rising you’ll see it on the edges of our undisturbed meadow.

Please note, too, that uprooting any wildflower is illegal – unless it is on your own land or you’re authorised to do so – including ragwort.  And don’t worry: we are keeping a close watch on our ragwort, not only to ensure that it is under control, but also to enjoy the glorious wildlife that so clearly needs and appreciates it.

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The 2018 Big Butterfly Count

Butterfly Conservation’s annual survey of our nation’s butterflies has just begun …

Gatekeeper at Sun Rising

Gatekeeper at Sun Rising

Running from 20 July to 12 August, this is an opportunity for everyone to get involved, learning about butterflies, identifying butterflies, and counting butterflies.  It doesn’t take long to download the chart or get the app, then spend just 15 minutes watching butterflies, making a note of every one that you see.

Check out Nick Baker’s YouTube video or go straight to the Big Butterfly Count website.

You can do the survey as many times as you like, and the times when you see no butterflies are as important to record as those when you see plenty.  It all goes to help the charity know how to help conserve our beautiful and ecologically important butterflies.

You can do it in your own garden, local park, at Sun Rising or another favourite spot … What a great excuse to take time out of a busy life, a busy mind, in a busy world, and simply watch the butterflies.

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Flower Miles

For some years the media have been talking about ‘food miles’, encouraging us to buy food that has been locally grown, locally produced, locally made.  It’s a good way of reducing carbon emissions and other ways that we consume and pollute our beautiful planet.   Eating locally and seasonally available food means no hothouses too.  It’s time to think the same way about flowers …

Jacqui Franklin, an artisan florist with 20 years experience, has started growing her own flowers just up the hill from Sun Rising.  As well as supplying florists further afield, Jacqui’s flowers are available at Tysoe Post Office.  For families who would like to lay a few cut flowers on a new grave or by a memorial plaque here at Sun Rising, on those special occasions, this is wonderfully local …

Growing Beds at Hope and Glory Flowers

Growing Beds at Hope and Glory Flowers

Under the name Hope and Glory Flowers, Jacqui is working with husband Alan, whose landscaping business ProGardens has helped us out at Sun Rising with end-of-season mowing for the last few years. Jacqui can be reached on hopeandgloryflowerco@gmail.com.  Hope and Glory are part of Flowers from the Farm, a national movement supporting small British flower growers, reducing ‘flower miles’ and the carbon footprint of the cut flower industry.

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The Wealth of the Meadow

A wildflower meadow is difficult to photograph, but up close, in detail, it is just wonderful – it never ceases to fill me with wonder.  The areas of established wildflower meadow at Sun Rising are now at moving through their richest few weeks.  Some of the early flowers are still there, such as the buttercups and common spotted orchids, and the later flowers are now beginning to bloom, the knapweeds, bedstraws, mallows and betony.  And of course, every meadow has its grasses, and the variety here is a delight.

A Pocket of Betty's Meadow

A Pocket of Betty’s Meadow

When counting species, we usually mark out a square meter or some similar standard measure.  Here’s a square of Betty’s Meadow: I didn’t take this picture particularly to show the biodiversity, I simply loved the mix of texture between the smooth white of the oxeye daisies and the greeny-white blur of the hedge bedstraw.  But how many species can we see here, as well as the oxeye daisies and hedge bedstraw?

There is common knapweed, greater knapweed, at least one type of buttercup, birdsfoot trefoil and/or meadow vetchling, common sorrel, crested dogstail, timothy, meadow barley, false oat grass, yorkshire fog, at least one kind of meadowgrass, and I know (but can’t see clearly) there is grass vetchling, red and white clover, not to mention the butterflies, moths, bees, hoverflies and other tiny flies, all the froghoppers, caspid bugs, beetles, ladybirds, meadow ants and spiders … And underneath it all, the field voles and mice, scurrying about filling their bellies with the ripening seeds.

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