August 2021

August is proving to be an exciting time – so many insects and spiders. We found a lovely meadow grasshopper near the car park. Other insects seen this month included hoverflies, including the wasp mimic.

1629298078243 This striking dragonfly is the southern hawker. We see this species frequently as it is an inquisitive species, often flying up to an observer.  We often see them hawking (hunting) along the footpaths. We also see the common darter hanging around the car park and benches. They rest in patches of sunlight, often returning soon after to the same patch if scared away.

The most common orb web spider in the UK is the garden orb. We have a lot of them here and they spin spiral webs which look so beautiful in the early morning encased in dew. They are often seen sat in the middle of their web waiting to feel the vibrations of a struggling insect in the sticky threads of its web – its next meal. We also saw the nursery web spider (the female can often be seen carrying her1629976820422 large white egg sac under the front of her body, held firmly in her fangs.) She builds a silk, tent-like web to protect the young when they hatch. The common candy-striped spider is very attractive with its red stripes. These spiders guards a ball of eggs covered in a vivid blue silk.

August is a good month for butterflies and moths. We had several sightings of meadow brown, green-veined white, small tortoiseshell, large white, speckled wood, peacock, red admiral, small copper, silver washed fritillary and small white. We often disturb moths when we are doing bramble clearing. Species seen this month include yellow shell, garden carpet, mother of pearl, small 1629976820430magpie, sharp-angled carpet and the angle shade. We have a lot of ragwort plants which we allow to flower as it is a late species and excellent for insects. The cinnabar moth lava is particularly fond of ragwort but we have never seen any here on our ragwort, despite the moth itself being seen in the nearby village. So, this month we introduced five cinnabar moth caterpillars onto one plant. We hope we will get this moth species next year. Ragwort is classed as a harmful weed and so should be controlled. For this reason, once it starts to seed it is hand pulled to avoid the species spreading to neighbouring farmland.

There is an abundant crop of crab apples. We planted several of this species with the main planting in 2012 and now they will be a good source of food over the winter for birds and other creatures. Birds seen and heard this month include siskins, redstarts, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, jays, buzzards, robins and a tawny owl.1629298078212

Whilst we were clearing blackthorn and bramble from one area, we came across many earth balls which looked different to the usual ones we find on our farm but earth balls can vary. Earth balls are not edible and are poisonous, apparently being responsible for most of the mushroom poisonings each year in the UK as they can be mistaken for puff balls. Cut across they display a black interior.

1629976820443Michelle, Phil and their young son Fergus scythed the wildflower meadow for us. They are scything experts and run courses on how to scythe, as well as supplying all the necessary equipment (https://www.scythecymru.co.uk). We are currently trying to reduce the fertility to encourage more wildflowers. A soil high in nutrients makes it difficult for plants to compete with grasses. By cutting and removing the hay the fertility is reduced. They found a young palmate newt in the grass and we found a young frog when we were stacking and removing the hay from the meadow. We also found some interesting fungi, including the orange moss agaric and the deceiver.

We are erecting shed in the second burial field. The sturdy structure is being made from timber cut from the farm (frame and cladding) and recycled steel sheets for the roof. We will use stones from the farm to create a bottom plinth. The frame is now up and it is waiting to be clad and roofed.

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Alt-y-garreg is a 20-acre nature reserve created in 2010 from four fields that had been improved pasture. There are areas of new woodland (over eighteen thousand trees of eighteen native species), wildflower meadows, scrub and ancient hedgerows. Two of the fields are now a natural burial site. The area is teeming with wildlife.

July 2021

It is July and the blackcurrents and redcurrents we planted a few years ago (mainly for the birds) are abundant and ripening as are the hawthorn and rowan berries. This year there is a very good crop of red currants.  This month we have been regularly hearing and seeing chiff chaffs, goldcrests, willow tits, blackbirds, great tits, blue tits and jays.

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This delicate lacewing has lava that devours aphids and other pests such as mealybugs, thrips and juvenile whiteflies in massive numbers – so a very useful insect.

 

We have seen many ‘oak apples’ on the young oaks. Their purpose is to be a nursery for the gall wasp, Biorhiza pallida, that causes growths, or ‘galls’, on the oaks. Galls are formed when the female wasp lays her egg onto an oak leaf or into the bark of the tree. Inside the gall, there are a number of chambers, each housing a larva which eats its way out. Adults emerge in June and July

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Meadow grasshopper are abundant now. They can be found in damp, unimproved pastures and meadows and are here throughout the summer. Males can often be seen rubbing their legs against their wings to create their distinct chirping, ‘rrrrr’ song for the females. Grasshoppers go through a series of moults and each time shed their exoskeletons as they grow. Adults start appearing in June and they feed on the plants and grass. After pairs mate the female lays her eggs in the soil in a pod, ready to hatch the following spring.

 

1626953155252As summer progresses we are now seeing more  butterflies and moths, especially the large skipper (shown here in flight) and meadow browns. Other species seen so far this month include ringlet, cabbage white, speckled wood, red admiral, and peacock. Day flying moths regularly seen include yellow shell and various species of grass veneer.

 

This month we have seen common blue damselfly, blue-tailed damselflies, emperor dragonfly and, on several occasions, the large, and very distinct, golden-ringed dragonfly.

Categories

Alt-y-garreg is a 20-acre nature reserve created in 2010 from four fields that had been improved pasture. There are areas of new woodland (over eighteen thousand trees of eighteen native species), wildflower meadows, scrub and ancient hedgerows. Two of the fields are now a natural burial site. The area is teeming with wildlife.

June 2021

June is when everything seems to grow so quickly. We have mown the paths twice and are clearing dock which has crowded out other wild flowers in some areas. We have also hand pulled a patch of bracken and cut back plants overhanging the paths. During out work we continue to hear a variety of bird song. The willow warbler is getting scarce in some areas but it is still a regular here.

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The yellow rattle is slowly starting to colonise the meadow areas. This is a highly desirable plant for wildflower meadows as it is semi-parasitic feeding off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses, therefore helping to ensure grass does not take over.

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Not as many insects around as previous years. We saw the pretty sawfly, Tenthredo mesomela, with its apple green body and black back. It takes pollen (mainly from buttercup, which is abundant here) and nectar from umbellifers as well as eating small insects.

 

Perhaps the most interesting insect species seen so far this month is the Cave Spider (Meta menardi). This is one of the UK’s largest spiders.

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Several live in the old concrete water tank under the Bargoed Natural Burial sign. They are not rare but as they spend their whole lives in dark places they are rarely seen. They are actually repelled by light. They produce egg sacs that are tear-shaped white pendants hanging from the side or roof of the habitat by a silk thread approximately 20 mm long. The sac (2–3 cm in radius) contains an average of 200/300 eggs.

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Butterfly species seen this month include large skipper, small heath, red admiral, orange tip, specked wood, large and small whites and painted lady. The beautiful Herald moth was disturbed from under the grass whilst digging. Day flying moths seen included the pretty silver ground carpet moth (the most abundant of the moths so far), the tiny Grass Veneer and several Yellow Shells.

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The Broad Bordered Chaser posed well for several photos. The Emperor Dragonfly stayed around for a while but was too fast for the camera. This is one of the UK’s largest dragonflies and described as ‘the bulkiest’. It is usually found near ponds and lakes but there is no body of water here so must have been passing through.

Categories

Alt-y-garreg is a 20-acre nature reserve created in 2010 from four fields that had been improved pasture. There are areas of new woodland (over eighteen thousand trees of eighteen native species), wildflower meadows, scrub and ancient hedgerows. Two of the fields are now a natural burial site. The area is teeming with wildlife.

May 2021

Our visit today was to tend to the hedgerow boundaries of the burial grounds. While the trees are still young the digging up of bramble shoots that snake their way out of the hedgerows and into the immature woodland is necessary to ensure the young trees do not get over-run with bramble. We also remove suckers from blackthorns for the same reason.
While working it was nice to see nature abounding in its many forms and we have decided to document the monthly changes to the flora and fauna of the site. We noted there is an abundance of the very dark St Marks flies drifting in the air, recognisable by their hairy bodies and long legs. They belong to the family Bibionidae, are harmless and do not bite or sting. They only fly for about a week in April and May. During autumn and winter, larvae feed on rotting vegetation which they chew with their strong mouthparts.
There are several areas where the dainty lady’s smock plants (Cardamine pratensis; also known as ‘milkmaid’, ‘cuckoo flower’, ‘May flower’ ‘fairy flower’) are blooming really well this year.

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This plant is actually edible – the leaves have a peppery taste and can be used in salads. We tried a few and they were delicious. These pink flowers attract the tiny orange tip butterfly. The female lays her eggs on this plant. The male is easily identified by his bright orange, wing tip.

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The female has no orange tip on its wings and appears white in flight, similar to the cabbage whites that are also flying at this time of year. Other butterflies we saw today included the speckled wood, a solitary peacock and two holly blues.
The song thrush and mistle thrush were singing while we worked and we also heard willow warblers, blackcaps, robins, common chiffchaffs and blackbirds. The trees are beginning to leaf up. The tiny thyme-leaved speedwell is abundant everywhere and there are many swathes of Germander speedwell that are starting to be visited by the tiny Cocksfoot and Micropterix calthella micro moths. Over the next few weeks there should be hundreds of these on this species and on the buttercups. The hedgerow verges are full of bluebells, red campion, wild garlic, celandine and stitchwort.

Categories

Alt-y-garreg is a 20-acre nature reserve created in 2010 from four fields that had been improved pasture. There are areas of new woodland (over eighteen thousand trees of eighteen native species), wildflower meadows, scrub and ancient hedgerows. Two of the fields are now a natural burial site. The area is teeming with wildlife.