Path through Growing Woodland

Going to Seed

There comes a point in life when age creeps up and very few of us can maintain the elegance of younger years. As I look over the wildflower meadow now, into the woodland and along the hedgerows, it is clear that summer’s glory is now behind us. The meadow is going to seed and starting to look rather tatty. The dark green leaves on the trees are starting to lose their lustre. The paths, enjoying the mixture of sunshine and showers, are still lush and growing, but elsewhere the grasses are drying and falling. It’s all past its best and autumn is on the way.  I can relate to that very well …

Path through Growing Woodland

Path through Growing Woodland and Drying Grasses

This week the serious end-of-season clearing will begin.  The new wildflower meadow, between the roundhouse track and the pond, will be cut.  Although not everything has gone to seed, important for our timing is the need to cut the creeping thistle.  What has established well this year will come back next year.  Once the meadow has been cut, we’ll see the patches that remain bare, not having recovered from last summer’s extensive drought: we’ll reseed where it seems sensible.

The established wildflower meadow, together with areas of grassland, will be cut over the coming few weeks, in between the still-welcome bursts of rain.  Before we know it, September’s golden sunsets will be with us, with ripening apples and blackberries.  For now, though, in the midst of nature’s late summer tattiness, we continue to celebrate each little butterfly and hoverfly, dancing silently over the drying seedheads.

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Rosy-striped Knot-horn (Oncocera semirubella) at Sun Rising

Our Little Rare Rosy

Throughout the year, our wonderful moth-ers (as opposed to mothers) come to run surveys at Sun Rising.  During the summer months, that is every month, the last one being at the end of July.  Everyone will be aware that there are far fewer moths than there used to be in this world, so every little whisper of good news that emerges from one of our surveys is well worth shouting out about.

Two moth species were found at Sun Rising that have never before been recorded in our little square of England!  The Pyrausta nigrata has a common name of the wavy-barred sable.  It’s a beautiful little moth, dark chocolate brown with tan flecks and a white wave across the wings, and we suspect it has been drawn to the site by the growing patches of wild marjoram.

Rosy-striped Knot-horn (Oncocera semirubella) at Sun Rising

Rosy-striped Knot-horn (Oncocera semirubella) at Sun Rising

Oncocera semirubella is an even more important find: the rosy-striped knot-horn moth, this is an exquisite pink and gold moth which feeds on birdsfoot trefoil and clovers.  This one is a Notable B species on a national level, which means it is really rather rare throughout the country.  We’re very happy to have it!  The photograph above was taken by one of our fabulous moth-ers, Peter Beasley.  Thank you, Peter!  It’s an exciting find and worth celebrating.

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Lammas Meadow Flowers

Lammas Meadow

The first of the cereal crops are now beginning to be brought in around us.  Before long, the vast combine harvesters will be humming through the day and night.  The barley is almost ready, and some fields are already cut to stubble and dotted with huge round bales.   It is Lammastide – the festival when our ancestors celebrated the first loaf of the new harvest.

Harvest is reflected here at the natural burial ground and nature reserve: the high point of summer has now passed.  Over the past three weeks, we have been topping the grasses in new woodland burial areas where they were tall and thick, but most grasses have now dropped their seed and are naturally beginning to die back.  The same is true of the midsummer flowering plants, the oxeye daisies, vetches and trefoils, all of which are mostly gone to seed.  Later flowers, the knapweeds, betony, meadow vetchling and field scabious are still in flower, drawing in sunshine and rain amidst the browning meadow.  There are pockets of wild basil, lady’s bedstraw and the last of the roses are blooming.  In the newly developing meadow, the white and pink yarrow is vitalised with splashes of the last annuals – blue cornflowers, bright yellow corn marigolds and scarlet poppies.

Lammas Meadow Flowers

Lammas Meadow Flowers

In the growing woodland, the guelder rose is starting to fruit, with rich deep orange berries.  Provoked too by the lack of rain over the last 15 months, the first leaves of the viburnums, cherries and birches are beginning to turn.  On wet days, with heavy cloud, we can almost begin to feel autumn coming.  But not yet!  We aim not to cut the meadow for another month, allowing all the wildflowers to go to seed, by which time it will look wonderfully tatty!

As July slips into August, it is a softer, slower time than the hectic growth of high summer, yet it can also be heavy and chaotic in places.  These are days when perhaps we must find extra patience with ourselves, and with others.  It’s a time to pause, watch the butterflies, and just let life be a little messy.

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Wildflower Meadow at Sun Rising, with a view to the Roundhouse

Our Wonderful Green Flag

Once again, we are really pleased to be able to announce that we have been awarded a prestigious Green Flag.  This means that Sun Rising has been judged as one of the best ‘green spaces’ in the country, with the highest environmental standards.

Wildflower Meadow at Sun Rising, with a view to the Roundhouse

Wildflower Meadow at Sun Rising, with a view to the Roundhouse

We first won an award in 2015, and this year our scores are once again extremely high.  The Green Flag Awards have a meticulous process, exploring the whole management system of a site.  Two experienced judges go through the management plan, maintenance strategies, and ideas for the future.  They look at sustainability and measures to protect and improve the environment.  They are keen to discover the visitor experience, access, health and safety, and opportunities for volunteers.

Of course, there are always ways we can do better.  The wildflower meadow in the photo is still in development, the butterfly stones are being created, and infrastructure improvements are ongoing.  If you have any suggestions, we are always keen to hear!

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Path Mown Through Grassland

Caring for the Grassland

In the countryside around us, the harvest has begun: meadows are now being cut, the long grasses strewn, turned to dry in the sunshine, then rowed and gathered into great big bales.  You can sometimes hear the whirring of the bale-wrappers as they cover the large bales in plastic for haylage.  Although the machinery is bigger, the process quicker and no longer labour-intensive, cutting the meadow for hay that will feed livestock through the winter is a practice that’s been going on for many thousands of years.

For the first 12 years at Sun Rising, we had an arrangement with a couple of local farmers: at some point between mid June and mid July they would come in and cut the main area of grass beyond the burial areas.  However, as we have developed new wildflower meadow, planted more woodland, put in tracks, set the standing stones and so on, gradually we’ve been taking land away from that hay crop, and this year we are beginning a different way of managing the site – without farming.

Path Mown Through Grassland

Path Mown through the Grassland to Tyr’s Stone

The grasses in the midst of Sun Rising, still uncut, are now taller than they’ve been for decades, perhaps even centuries.  And they are truly beautiful!  Many are hard to identify until they flower and seed, but if you walk along one of the paths now you’ll find a good number of species: the dusky pink Yorkshire fog, the tall and tatty false oat grass, the fanned-out crested dogstail, the long-awned meadow barley, the soft heads of meadow foxtail, the deep blushes of red fescue, the delicate sprays of common bent, the stiff stalks of perennial ryegrass, the slim green fingers of timothy … Of course, there are buttercups in there too, and the occasional patch of creeping thistle.  Grassland hasn’t the rich diversity of the wildflower meadow, but it is still a really valuable habitat that, if cut in June or July for hay, is effectively destroyed.

From hereon the grass at Sun Rising will be managed in cycles, small areas cut every 3 – 4 years and late in the summer. This will give the grassland birds, like the skylark, an extended season to breed more successfully.  It’ll give moths and butterflies, like the rustic shoulder-knot, common wainscot, and meadow brown, a chance to complete their breeding cycle in safety and peace.  It’ll give the wildlife generally a much larger area within which to forage, rest, hide and play.  We’ll keep you informed about the changes over the course of the year, and let you know the results as the seasons flow on.

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Yellow Rattle and Poppies in Betty's Meadow

The Summering Meadow

With sunshine and showers, our areas of established wildflower meadow here at Sun Rising are now growing fast.  With half a dozen identifiable grasses, and more coming through, the yellow rattle is also at its height.  This little plant is crucial for meadows like ours: being semi-parasitic, Rhinanthus minor actually weakens the grasses.  In earlier times, it was a serious pest for farmers, reducing their hay crops significantly, but for us it is a blessing.  Taking some strength out of the grasses, it gives more space for the wildflowers we are looking to encourage.  This year, the yellow rattle is doing beautifully in the meadow.  After such a dry year, the grasses are not overwhelming, and it’s found its place. 

You’ll see more poppies (Papaver rhoeas) in the meadow this year too.  These are a most peculiar plant – however often we (or families) sow seed, it nearly always fails.  In some years, I can sow half a pound of seed and just a few will reluctantly germinate in the stony tracks.  This year, there are a few patches that have come through.  As an arable weed, poppies require disturbed ground to germinate, so where they’ve been sown on new graves they are unlikely to come back next year.  They give a lovely bright colour at this time of year, when the meadow is otherwise mainly green and yellow.

Yellow Rattle and Poppies in Betty's Meadow

Yellow Rattle and Poppies in Betty’s Meadow

Look a little closer, and you’ll see the pink of the common vetch, and the deep red of the flower buds of the birdsfoot trefoil.  There have been brimstone and orangetip butterflies, peacocks, small tortoiseshells, small whites and small coppers, for a while; this week we spotted the first common blues.  In another week or so, the oxeye daisies will burst into flower, then the scabious, knapweeds, vetchlings and cranesbills.  It’s a wonderful time of emergence.  Even when the grey skies (and still very much needed rains) are leaving a dreary pall over the day, there’ll plenty to lift the soul.

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Andrena haemorrhoa

The Coming and Going of Bees

Many visitors will have noticed that our honeybee hives are no longer at Sun Rising.  It was a difficult decision but a mixture of weather and the abundance of oilseed rape crops locally was making the normally happy bees rather tetchy.  Then a handful of people were stung, so we have had them taken offsite.  There is always a balancing with bee hives in places where there is public access, and the balance just slightly tipped.

Although we’re sorry to have no honeybees, we do have a huge variety of wild bees, all busy getting on with the job of pollenating the flowers and topping up on energy for their own benefits.  There are bumblebees, mining bees, carder bees and many more.  This one is an orange-tailed early mining bee, Andrena Haemorrhoa, covered in dandelion pollen.  They are only seen through spring and early summer, being the first of the mining bees to emerge from its underground nest. 

Andrena haemorrhoa

Orange-tailed Mining Bee on a Dandelion

We’re talking with our beekeeper to look at options with the honeybees.  It’ll be lovely to have them back.  When the oilseed rape has gone, and they’re feeding on the wildflowers, it is possible we’ll have a few hives return.  We’ll let you know.  

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First Oak Leaves

A Soak or a Splash

As the summer approaches, we have very much been hoping for months of warm sunshine and with a good deal more rain than last year.  A visitor yesterday assured me that my hope for rain was in vain: ‘oak before ash, we’re in for a splash, but ash before oak, we’re in for a soak’.  Looking around the growing woodland and hedgerows trees, the oak is now coming into leaf.  It’ll be another week before the ash leaves unfurl.

First Oak Leaves

First Oak Leaves

The young oak leaves are a beautiful olive green, tinged with reddish brown.  They are quite unlike the bright pale yellow of the birch and rose, the crab apple, blackthorn, hawthorn and cherry.  In today’s much welcome rain, they seemed to glow with new life and hope.

The accuracy of the rhyme is statistically pretty random, but like many old wives’ tales it does have some basis in fact.  The oak and ash respond to the spring in very different ways.  The oak comes into leaf according to the rising temperature: with very warm periods in April this year, the oaks are indeed greening first.  The ash, on the other hand, comes into leaf with changing light, longer days and more sunshine; as such, it tends to green at more or less the same time each year.  It is a little slower than it may be this year, perhaps, because of the recent cloudy days.

Either way, the small trees and shrubs that make up the woodland understorey, the hazel, hawthorn and viburnums, have been soaking up the light through their leaves for a good few weeks.  By the time the large trees come fully into leaf, they’ll manage in a little shade.

Of course, many wish for a summer of sunny warm days and mild rainy nights.  For those who have to mow the lawn (or the paths at Sun Rising), such a combination is always a recipe for hard work!  Let’s hope simply for balance, a gentle English summer.

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Dandelions along the Path and Path Edge

St George and the Dandelion

Whatever your thoughts are of the Turkish-born Roman soldier, St George, and his connection with England, there is one thing certain: on and around his saint’s day, 23 April, England is ablaze with dandelions.  And whatever your thoughts are of the humble dandelion, and your frustration with it in your lawn, there’s no doubting the value these sturdy flowers have to our wildlife.

Dandelions along the Path and Path Edge

Dandelions along the Path and Path Edge

At Sun Rising, we are now in the midst of dandelion season.  The beautiful sunshine yellow of the cowslips that cover the meadow has suddenly been paled by the pools of molten gold that are dandelions in full flower.  And while the bees have been enjoying crawling up into the little yellow bell flowers of the cowslips, now they are awash in the pollen of the dandelions.  If you’re careful, you can sit and watch the bees, their legs and faces completely covered in it.  It isn’t just the honey bees: look out for the many bumblebees.  The orange-tailed mining bee is especially common at the moment.

They may look rather abundant, but dandelions seldom compete with the wildflowers we are striving to nurture in the meadows.  Instead, they establish where grasses are poor, and little else is growing.  You’ll find them making the most of paths we’ve mown, little corridors where they have more available sunlight.  If you’re looking in the right direction, you’ll also see that their flowers revealing the lines of the ridge and furrow: on the old ridges, where the grasses are poorer, there being less topsoil and moisture, they flourish.

If you have a tortoise who is particularly fond of them, come and take him/her a handful.  If you’d like to make dandelion wine, you’re welcome to take some too.  But watch out for the bees, and you’ll need to be quick.  It won’t be long before their flowers are over, their ‘clocks’ soft white in the spring light, the little seeds drifting across the grass, reminding us of the quiet passing of time … 

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Path Mown along the Eastern Hedgerow

The Greening

After a long winter of bare trees and grey hedgerows, the greening of our landscape each spring is immeasurably important.  To me, it feels both inevitable and incredible.  Still tired from the winter, I stand bewildered and amazed, but most of all brimming with gratitude, gazing at the young trees as they come into leaf.

Path Mown along the Eastern Hedgerow

Path Mown along the Eastern Hedgerow

At Sun Rising this year, it is the hawthorn and bird cherry, then the silver birch and wild rose, that have come into leaf first, bringing a breath-taking vibrancy to the woodland areas.  The olive green of the wayfaring tree and red tinges of the guelder rose bring additional colours.  The leaf buds of the hazel, wild service and field maple are just starting to unfurl.  

And beneath the trees, and through the meadows, the grass is now growing.  The first paths are now in place that will be mown through the coming months.  Dandelions are scattered along the pathways, bringing a rich greeny-yellow beside the sunshine of the cowslips.  And of the many different types of grass, the first is coming into flower: the meadow foxtails, so aptly named.

Though the winds can still be cold, and we do still desperately need more rain, spring is now very much with us.  You can almost believe again in warm soft summer days …

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