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.
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 her 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 magpie, 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.
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.
Michelle, 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.
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.