Sun Rising Roll of Remembrance 2019

Roll of Remembrance

At our Roll of Remembrance, the names of every person laid to rest here at Sun Rising, or remembered with a tree or plaque, are read aloud.  It’s a beautiful and moving event, affirming that each individual is still held in our thoughts.  For us at Sun Rising, importantly, this includes not just those graves that are regularly visited, but those with family who live too far away, or those with no remaining family or friends.  We care for each grave equally, and at the Roll we say their names aloud.

Sun Rising Roll of Remembrance 2019

Sun Rising Roll of Remembrance 2019

This year we had over a thousand names to read, which we did in three 20 – 30 minute sessions, with four of us reading.  It would have been wonderful if we’d had a glorious sunny day, but it was wet, grey and blowy, so the number who came to hear was fairly low.  However, everyone knew how important this rain is – the ground only just beginning to soften after so little rain for the last year.  

And of course, it being Sun Rising, we had a wonderful refreshments stall with myriad cakes, traybakes and muffins.  What about these cupcakes, handmade for the occasion?  Just wonderful.  The refreshments stall raised over £500 for The Friends of Sun Rising, helping secure the long-term care of the natural burial ground and nature reserve.  Thank you so much to all our marvellous volunteers.

Cupcakes made for Sun Rising Roll of Remembrance 2019

Cupcakes made for Sun Rising Roll of Remembrance 2019

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.

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.  

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.

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 … 

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.