Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Meadows and Butterflies


This year the vegetation is so tall that we can't see across the meadow in places. Everything is so lush and there's going to be a bumper crop of hay. Now you might think that's a good thing, but it means there is far more hay about than anyone could use.You can't give it way, never mind sell it.

Ranger Matt Hall is responsible for our hay-making, not just at Paxton Pits, but also several smaller sites. In the past we have been able to get the hay cut for us by farmers if we let them keep the hay, but not this year. We will have to pay to get some sites done, but we will keep our meadow for ourselves.

If the weather is dry the meadow will be cut by Matt in the first week of August. This might seem late to you but we do this deliberately so that as many flowers possible get time to set seed. In addition, we leave a broad margin uncut to allow the really late flowers and taller grasses to flourish. The uncut areas make a great refuge for all the bugs and beasties that are made homeless by the mower.

Apart from the flowers themselves, meadows are really important for insects. I have no idea how many species can be found in our meadow, but I bet you could find at least 14 types of butterfly for a start. At the moment we have a lot of ringlets about, many of them looking pretty battered by now as they have been on the wing for a month or so. The smaller skippers almost glow in comparison.

Some of the smaller meadow butterflies are a bit harder to see, but well worth looking for. My favourite is the brown Argus, which is almost the same as a common blue butterfly, but with no blue! Small coppers are always dazzling if you are lucky enough to spot one.

Other butterflies prefer woodland edges and the borders of the meadow provide habitat for gatekeepers, large skippers and speckled woods.

Large skipper
As we enter August, I look forward to finding some of our late summer migrants. Several of the larger butterfly species set out from Africa in spring. They may move northward with each new generation as they breed in Italy, Spain and France, but some seem to get here in one go. I saw a few tatty looking painted ladies in May, for example.

I recently found a hummingbird hawkmoth off the reserve so I hope we see them here soon. Clouded yellows are never very common in England but most years we get a few in August, usually in the wetter edge of the meadow.