14 March 2013

The benefits of insulation

We are all aware of the benefits of insulation to help keep out the winter cold. This week’s late snow and cruel easterly winds were a stark reminder to try and shut out the draughts from our homes and only venture out in lots of layers! 

Up at Winks Meadow, high up on the Claylands of Suffolk, the easterly winds cut across the former Metfield airfield and there is seemingly very little shelter. 

However, on a day of sub-zero temperatures, fleeting sunny spells and with much of the meadow covered in snow, I was amazed to see grassland spiders running about amongst the tussocks of grass. 

Snow does of course act as an insulating blanket, creating slightly warmer conditions beneath - but I think the secret of this early activity of the spiders was the undulating micro-landscape of the grassland. A series of miniature hills and valleys created by the tussocks and rosettes of the grasses and broad leaved herbs – forming a sheltered network of lee-sides, tunnels and cavities where the spiders could carry on despite the freezing conditions above. Definitely a case for keeping their heads well below the snowy parapet!
Seeing the spiders in the meadow on a day like this really highlighted the importance of micro-topography and structure of grassland, the benefits of extensive grazing and always leaving some ‘raggety’ bits as refuge and shelter to enable wildlife to get through the winter.

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