17 June 2014

Tall 'tails' from the meadows

The month of June sees the hay meadow grasses all racing into bloom. Walks through the meadows are accompanied by clouds of pollen being carried on the breeze. My dog  Ellie's face is lightly dusted pink and yellow with  pollen and grass anthers and we both frequently sneeze.

Many of  grasses have English names that reflect both their habitat and appearance . 'Hay' grasses often include 'meadow' in the name such as meadow barley, smooth meadow grass and  meadow fescue. Sweet vernal grass, reflects it early flowering and the sweet taste and scent it contributes to hay. Some  reflect their resemblance to other farm crops and farm animals  such as false oat grass, yellow oat grass and cock's foot (right). Yellow oat grass catches the light 'illuminating' parts of the meadow just as gold-leaf illuminates manuscripts.

Other grass are named after tails various. Meadow foxtail  (below left) acquires the two tone rusty colour and white tip of a fox's tail as it flowers.

Small cat's tail (right) does indeed look like a cat's tail  - though whether small
 refers to the size of the cat, tail or grass is open to debate!

Crested dog's tail (below centre) resembles the tail of a dog, but again I'm not sure which is crested - the dog or the grass? Ellie's tail is much closer in appearance to the meadow foxtail and if she ever goes exploring in  this grass her her tail is well camouflaged.

7 June 2014

A ragged rascal

When I was a child my granny taught me the tongue twister  -
'A round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran' and I am always reminded of this when the 'ragged robin' flowers in the meadows -  its  flowers almost appearing to be  'running' through the meadows.

Found in the damper areas of  meadows, marshes and fens, this distinct flower is a member of the Caryophyllaceae (Campion) family which includes red and white campion, the catchflies , the chickweeds and the stitchworts. It is the only one on the family that has these raggerty deep cut petals and is unmistakable when in bloom. Flowering at the same time as the meadow buttercup, its spiky pink  flowers contrast  dramatically with yellow haze of  buttercups -  so can be easily spotted, almost appearing to  be suspended above the meadow on its very delicate stems.

A taste of honey

It is well known that our bees are in trouble and in decline - so I was delighted to be contacted by a local beekeeper about having beehives at one of our meadows. Our herb-rich meadows are a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees so having bee hives seemed an obvious way to help and encourage bees.

For the first season the hives remained unoccupied - but then it was a very wet summer. However, last year the beekeeper introduced a swarm to one hive and this was quickly followed by the other hive being adopted unaided - so we have full occupation.

It is a joy to see the hives in action and there is no doubt there is plenty of flowers for the bees to visit and this year we were rewarded by being given the first fresh honeycomb by the beekeeper. I have not yet started my honey but I am sure it will be suffused with buttercups, green-winged orchids and red clover.

We are very grateful to Neil Page who is the beekeeper -  both for the honey, but more importantly for establishing bees at the meadows and regularly visiting to make sure they are still doing well. Having bees at the meadows seems somehow to make the meadows complete and is a great reward and motivation for maintaining the meadows in good condition for wildlife.