Gatekeeper at Sun Rising

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.

Growing Beds at Hope and Glory Flowers

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.

A Pocket of Betty's Meadow

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.

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar

The Cycles of the Six Spot

This week is National Insect Week – and because some of you still find insects a little creepy (crawly), I thought I’d show you some amazing photographs of the cycle of six spot burnet moth, in the hope that you may be inspired to explore further.

We begin with the lovely little yellow and black caterpillar (or larva), which feeds on the birdsfoot trefoil and clover in our wildflower meadow.  It has been hibernating all winter, so fattens itself, growing bigger, through the month of May:

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar

The caterpillar then creates a cocoon in the meadow, spinning silk from its spinneret, a gland near its mouth:

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar beginning its Pupating Process

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar beginning its Pupating Process

Six Spot Burnet Moth Pupating

Six Spot Burnet Moth Pupating

The cocoon dries and, inside it, the caterpillar becomes a pupa, transforming.  In June, it will emerge from the case in the new form of a beautiful black and red moth:

Six Spot Burnet Pupal Casing

Six Spot Burnet Pupal Casing

OK, that does look a bit creepy – that’s what the moth has left behind. The moth itself is much prettier!

Six Spot Burnet Moth on Knapweed

Six Spot Burnet Moth on Common Knapweed

And apart from feeding on the flowers of the meadow, drinking in the nectar with its long proboscis, what does the moth do? It doesn’t live very long, its main aim simply to start the cycle all over again:

Six Spot Burnet Moths Mating

Six Spot Burnet Moths Mating

The Myddelton Quartet playing in the Roundhouse

A Perfect English Afternoon

There is something idyllic about a sunny English afternoon, the temperature in the early 20s, a soft breeze, mown grass underfoot.  Add a wildflower meadow, birdsong, young trees, butterflies and dragonflies, a cup of tea or cold punch, a slice of home-made cake, and nothing to do for an hour or two …

Our Open Day, graced by the wonderful music of the Myddleton Quartet, was held last Saturday, and we were blessed in so many ways: the weather was lovely, the refreshments stall heavy with delicious fayre, and gentle easy company.  The roses around the roundhouse came into flower so perfect it could almost have been planned.

The Myddelton Quartet playing in the Roundhouse

The Myddleton Quartet playing in the Roundhouse

Thank you to all the volunteers, and the Quartet, who made the day what it was.  Nearly £650 was raised from the refreshments stall, over £550 from the raffle and tombola, and the last of our 2017 honey was snapped up, along with plenty of our new tea towels and increasingly famous ‘bunny badges’ (our Friends’ hare lapel pin).  A very positive day in terms of fundraising for The Friends, a valuable day all round.

The Sun Rising Tea Towel (autumn/winter)

Cakes and Tea Towels

First of all, a big thank you to all who came along to our Cake Sale last weekend.  We raised £180 for The Friends of Sun Rising, and as importantly it was a lovely opportunity to people to meet and talk.  Thanks to all who donated cakes and helped out on the day.

The Sun Rising Tea Towel (autumn/winter)

The Sun Rising Tea Towel (autumn/winter)

As those who came along on Saturday will have found out, our new Sun Rising tea towel is now printed and available to buy.  The beautiful artwork is by Philip Bannister, and it’s all organic cotton.  They are £10 each, with all profit going to The Friends.  If you would like a tea towel or two sent by post, get in touch and I’ll let you know the postage and packing.  We are hoping Philip will do one for us with a spring/summer theme as well …

Tea towels will be on sale at our Open Day on Saturday 9 June, when there’ll be a string quartet playing in the roundhouse between 3 and 5 pm.  Do come along on the day – put it in the diary, and I’ll post more information about it in the coming week!

Crab Apple in Blossom

The Pinks of Nature

When creating and tending a nature reserve, there are surprising gaps in colour.  When it comes to choosing a memorial tree for a woodland burial area, those more used to garden flowers and trees than native species will often ask for a tree with pink blossom, but there are very few.  The native bird cherry and wild cherry are white, as are the service tree, blackthorn and viburnums.  Hawthorn can have a pink tinge, and now and then the wild crab apple …

Crab Apple in Blossom

Crab Apple in Blossom

A wonderful element of the native species trees is that they have such a wide gene pool.  The field maple can be have soft smooth bark or be very ridged and craggy.  The same is true of the crab apple: some are almost thorny with tiny hard fruits, while others are far closer to the domestic apple.  Some have pure white open flowers, and others have smaller pink blooms.  The tree in the photo here is one planted back in 2006, and at nearly 12 years old is, I think you’ll agree, just glorious.  Being in the heart of the growing woodland only adds to its charm, the flower-laden branches reaching through the neighbouring dog rose, oak, cherry and birch.

Cowslips near the Roundhouse

When I Was A Lad

Standing looking out over the wildflower meadow at Sun Rising, when someone says to me, “I’ve not seen a sight like that since I was a lad” or ” … a girl”, I know we’re doing something right.

As the cowslips reach their best – and there are more of them every year – it’s an expression I often hear, and it warms my heart as much as it does the person who says it.  They are usually somewhere over 70, and what they recall is an England before the war, before every scrap of land was ploughed for food and sprayed with chemicals.  We have lost so much of our native wildflower meadow, blinkered attitudes prioritising food production over the health of land and its inhabitants.  Conserving what is left of our ancient meadows is one important task, but creating new meadows of wildflowers is as crucial.

Cowslips near the Roundhouse

Cowslips near the Roundhouse

I’m looking forward to seeing our much larger new area of meadow in a few years’ time.  It’s still bare seeded soil now, but in the seed mix there are cowslips, and when they establish they will be even more brilliant than these.

Native Daffodils in Memorial Woodland

The Place for a Daffodil

Daffodils are a true delight.  In a dreary grey spring, when bright days are uncommon and for the most part there is drizzle, mud underfoot, and damp in the bones, the joy of these golden yellow flowers is enormously appreciated.  They bring sunshine down to earth.  It is no wonder that growers want to create so many varieties, with myriad hues of cream white to vibrant orange.

Native Daffodils in Memorial Woodland

Native Daffodils in Memorial Woodland at Sun Rising

At Sun Rising, the daffodils are all the native Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the Lenten lily, the old wild species.  Or, they should all be – each year we dig up bulbs of cultivars that families have put in, by mistake, or hoping to sneak them in, but for the integrity of the nature reserve can’t be kept.  The Lenten lily is a soft lemon yellow daffodil, with a richer yellow  trumpet. Although they are beautiful in clusters out in the meadow, and indeed they are native to grassland and woodland, somehow I think they always look more at home beneath the trees.  Perhaps it is simply that they look wilder there, amidst strands of last year’s dried grasses and old leaves – they look peaceful and at ease.

Volunteers at the Mulching Day

Caring for Trees

Yesterday we held our spring volunteer day, mulching all the little saplings – both those planted in memory of a loved one, and those planted as part of the nature reserve.  Around 30 lovely people came, full of energy and enthusiasm, with wheelbarrows and buckets, and around 700 little trees were mulched.

Volunteers at the Mulching Day

Volunteers at the Mulching Day

With climate change, while we may grumble at snow and grey skies, actual rainfall has decreased over the last ten years.  Indeed, for the first time at Sun Rising, last summer some of the youngest trees suffered from drought.  The mulch of composted bark will help retain moisture in the soil, while also suppressing some of the grasses and other plants around the base of the trees.  It looks very smart for a while too, especially with the spring flowers coming through – the wild daffodils, primroses and cowslips, and the first lesser celandine.

Saplings Mulched along Eastern Boundary

Saplings Mulched along Eastern Boundary

A big thank you to everyone who came along, and to all who contributed to the refreshments table too.  As one of the volunteers said, the whole place looks very ‘smart and loved’.  It is loved – very much indeed!