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 …

Cowslips and Hairyfooted Flower Bee

Cowslips a-Buzzing

With warm and sunny days, the early bees can now be seen buzzing around the spring flowers in bloom at Sun Rising.  Up amidst the blackthorn flowers and pussy willow there is the hum of busy bees, and down in the grass, beautiful big queen bees are filling up with energy after a winter’s hibernation.  

The daffodils are past their best now, the primroses a little tatty after the occasional overnight frost, but the cowslips are still emerging.  In a week or so, with some rain and sunshine, the meadow each side of the track to the roundhouse should be bright with their hopeful, little yellow flowers.  And the bees do love them!

My identification may be wrong (I’ll let you know), but I suspect this may be a female hairy-footed flower bee, Anthophora plumipes.  One of our largest solitary bees, bumblebee-sized but not actually a bumble, these bees are not uncommon at this time of year, in gardens and other flower-rich areas.

Cowslips and Hairyfooted Flower Bee

Cowslips and Hairyfooted Flower Bee

Do note, we have a talk on bees by entomologist and author Steven Falk, on Saturday 14 September this year.  Check our Events page, and let us know if  you’d like to come along.

Blue Tit in Blackthorn Blossom

The Blossoming of Trees

The sunshine-yellow of spring flowers is now scattered across the meadow and in the young woodland at Sun Rising – the native ‘lent lily’ daffodils, cowslips, lesser celandine, primroses, and the first dandelion or two.  Big bumblebees and little honeybees are busy exploring, confirming that spring is now truly underway.  

Looking up from ground level, however, we’re now starting to see the first trees coming into blossom.  For a few weeks now, there have been the occasional little white stars of blackthorn flowers in the hedgerow, but now whole trees and sections along the boundary hedge are bright with the blossom and wonderfully humming with insect life.  With field margin hedgerows cut so hard each year by farmers and landowners, we are glad to have areas of blackthorn at Sun Rising that we can leave, allowing the flowers to develop and blossom.  They are such an important early source of food.  Even more delightful, perhaps, are the few blackthorns planted as memorial trees, the older ones of which also now also in flower.  I do hope the families are able to see them.  

Blue Tit in Blackthorn Blossom

Blue Tit in Blackthorn Blossom

As well as blackthorn, the first of the wild cherry trees are also coming into blossom here.  With slightly larger flowers, they are stately, elegant trees compared with the wild strength of the blackthorn.  Having spent some time taking photographs yesterday, I couldn’t decide what to post here: the first wild cherry or the blackthorn.  Then I found this one, above: I’d spent a while watching the blue tits in amongst the flowers, picking off the tiny little insects that are making the most of the sweet nectar.  I wasn’t sure I’d captured any on camera.  With plumage colours heightened for spring’s season of courting, this little one was hippety-hopping through the blossom, snacking and chit-chatting with a couple of companions.  Just beautiful.  

Composted Bark Heap with Volunteers Hard at Work!

Mulching

With the excellent and hugely appreciated hard work of some 25 volunteers, on Sunday some 700 little trees were given their springtime mulching.  In gusts of wild wind, with moments of sleet and hail, as well as very welcome sunshine, large bags of composted bark were brought down from the top car park to where small teams were making perfect ‘doughnuts’ around each tree.  

Composted Bark Heap with Volunteers Hard at Work!

Composted Bark Heap with Volunteers Hard at Work!

The bark has two key functions: it helps to retain moisture in the soil around the tree roots, which is especially important during periods of drought and drying wind, and it helps to suppress the growth of grasses and other plants that would compete with the little tree.  You can see a photo of a mulched tree on our Memorials page.

We only mulch the younger trees.  Once a tree is old enough, there’s not much competing vegetation, and its roots are much deeper down in the soil.

Saplings with their Composted Bark 'Doughnuts' at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve

Saplings with their Composted Bark ‘Doughnuts’

In the process of mulching, some little bulbs and other plants have been covered up – but don’t worry, they’ll find their way up into the light again.  f you have any queries about the mulching, do ask. 

Spring Leaves of the Guelder Rose

The First Leaves

The first of the spring’s new leaves are beginning to show here at Sun Rising.  With periods of unseasonal warmth this year, spring has started early, daffodils and cowslips flowering a few weeks earlier than we would otherwise expect.  Such indications of climate change can be unsettling, but the heart is still lifted by the bright soft greens of the first trees coming into leaf.  Unusually, the guelder rose is one of the first this year – Viburnum opulus.  The one you see here, with the wild English daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and wild primrose (Primula vulgaris) in the background, is an eight year old memorial tree in Peter’s Wood.

Spring Leaves of the Guelder Rose

Spring Leaves of the Guelder Rose

The bird cherries (Prunus padus) are starting to leaf too, as are the first of the hazels (Corylus avellana), with dog rose and honeysuckle leaf buds about to break.

The winds have been ferocious, but most of the trees are doing well.  In many ways the winds test the young saplings, giving them the flexibility to cope with storms as they grow and mature. 

Tarantuala brought by Carl Portman to Sun Rising Nature Talk on Spiders

Spiders and Tapas

Our nature talk on Saturday evening was a great success.  70 people came along to hear the talk on spiders given by Carl Portman – which was a wonderful mixture of fascinating and funny.  Carl brought along a couple of his furry friends, including this beautiful tarantula, but there were also plenty of pointers about spiders we might find at home, and at Sun Rising.  Even those who were nervous of spiders at the start admitted that they were now able to think differently about the little creatures.  Thank you so much, Carl!

Tarantuala brought by Carl Portman to Sun Rising Nature Talk on Spiders

One of Carl’s Beautiful Tarantulas

There was a feast of savoury tapas, with Spanish wine and other drinks, for which we are also enormously grateful to the Friends and trustees who contributed.  In total, with the raffle, we raised just under £725 for the Friends.  Thank you to everyone!

Snowdrops in February Sunshine at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve

Our New Website

On 21 February we were proud to publish our new Sun Rising website.  The old site had been designed back in 2006, and although we had regular positive comments about it, the reality was that it was starting to look and feel out of date.  Instead of trying to get a new feel ourselves, we engaged an excellent young web designer called Niki Peach (well, younger than we are!), who listened to our brief and came up with a design that beautifully presents all we do here at Sun Rising.  She made it wonderfully easy for us to share so many more of out photos too.  Thank you, Niki!

Snowdrops in February Sunshine at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve

Snowdrops in February Sunshine

Do have a good look around the site, explore the gallery, and other pages.  If there are hiccoughs, please forgive us – there are a few snitches and glitches that are still being smoothed out.

First Snowdrops of the Year at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve

Snowdrops and Snow

On top of the damp cold, it is the very many tones and hues of grey that are such a wearying aspect of an English winter.  Really, our language should have a dozen words for grey (what about flark, for that heavy grey that looks like rain but isn’t?) …  Being better able to describe its colour may not help us move through it, but catching sight of the first signs of spring certainly does.  Snowdrops are now appearing at Sun Rising.  Little clumps and scattered solitaries, they are coming up on graves, new and old, and in the tatty winter grass.

First Snowdrops of the Year at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve

First Snowdrops of the Year at Sun Rising

Not only are they breaking through cold, if not frozen soil, but our heavy clay is not their preferred ecosystem.  This makes it doubly wonderful to see their quiet white petal heads, not quite opening.

With heavy frost and flurries of snow, last week and this week, some are hidden beneath the white.  Those that come through seem to glow with life, inspiring us to remember that spring is on its way, and colour will return to the landscape once again.

Do be careful in the snow and ice.  We limit the amount of salt we use at Sun Rising – it is so toxic.  Watch for ice underfoot, and for snowdrops too.

Wreaths Dismantled and Sorted, 6 January 2019

New Year Tidy

Laying a wreath on the grave of a loved one at Christmas is a tradition that many families want to share.  It’s a heart-felt gift, a sharing of the festive season, with that special person who won’t physically be present.  It’s one of the little things can help with the experience of loss, easing the pain of this difficult time of year. At Sun Rising we have done what we can to encourage families to lay wreaths that are in keeping with the nature reserve: no glitter and oasis, painted leaves, wires and plastics!  This year florists Jacqui (Hope and Glory Flowers) and Jayne (Vale Garden Flowers) offered beautiful, simple, natural, ethical and wholly biodegradable wreaths for sale, with a proportion of the takings going to The Friends of Sun Rising.

Wreaths Dismantled and Sorted, 6 January 2019

Wreaths Dismantled and Sorted, 6 January 2019

When 6 January arrives each year, it is time to clear them all away.  In the past, this has been a long, cold, disheartening job, with far too much rubbish that we’ve had to send to landfill.  This year, with some welcome helpers (see Jacqui with me in the picture above), we cleared and dismantled over 80 wreaths.  You can see all those frames on the right, made of straw, wood and moss (no wires) which can be re-used.  The bag at the back is all the evergreen and woody material that will go into a brushpile: a habitat onsite that will be used by small mammals and invertebrates.  Some of it will then be burned next autumn.  On the left, the bag is compost: flowers and soft greenery that can go on our compost heap.  The bag at the front is rubbish that has to go to landfill: wreaths constructed of wire, oasis, painted cones, plastic berries and so on.  Let’s see if next year we can reduce it even further! Next job: looking out for the first snowdrops.  There are primroses in flower, peaking out through the tatty winter grass.  It won’t be long.

The Feathered Thorn Moth, photographed at Sun Rising (Alan Prior)

Figure of Eight and Other Amazing Numbers

Our last moth survey for 2018 took place on 20 October, our lovely nocturnal moth-ers staying up half the night trapping, recording and releasing the late season flyers, between cups of hot tea.  With many thanks to Alan Prior and his team, we now have the figures for the year.

Over 13 000 moths have been counted at Sun Rising since Alan began surveying in 2014.  And of those many thousands, there are 473 different species, from the tiny little grass moths to the great big hawkmoths.  Even with such great numbers, though, the news isn’t easy: generally moth numbers are still reducing around the country.  On 20 October, the Figure of Eight was found, an increasingly rare autumn moth, which gives hope that Sun Rising is offering a haven for creatures that are struggling elsewhere.

I know some don’t much like moths – they flutter around in the darkness, seemingly clumsily.  But up close they are an absolute delight.  Who wouldn’t fall for a furry little orange fellow like this, the feathered thorn, photographed at Sun Rising last year … ?

The Feathered Thorn Moth, photographed at Sun Rising (Alan Prior)

The Feathered Thorn Moth, photographed at Sun Rising (Alan Prior)