Blackwater Valley Countryside

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August in the Valley

GatekeeperA hot, dry August might be good for your summer holidays, but  it is bad news for many insects. Butterflies that are active in August, like the Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Gatekeeper (pictured) and Meadow Brown, rely on a rich nectar source from flowers. However in drought conditions this nectar dries up and the butterflies suffer. Cold, wet conditions are just as bad. In recent years there have been few sightings of Small Tortoiseshells, so if you do see any please let us know when and where.

Certain plants are favoured by butterflies. The garden Buddleia is well known for attracting nectaring butterflies. Of our native wildflowers the yellow Fleabane is a great favourite of the Gatekeeper and Small Skippers. Long uncut grass, brambles, nettles and wildflowers that are often considered weeds are essential for these butterflies and in the Valley Hollybush in particular is one site managed especially to encourage butterflies and other insects.

Red Damselflies mating by Bob SmithThis month sees the mass emergence of the many insects, which predatory dragonflies and damselflies feed on. Watch out for them at all the freshwater sites in the Valley like Tongham Pool and Lakeside Nature Reserve, as well as along the River Blackwater itself at sites such as Hawley Meadows and Shepherd Meadows. As well as being feeding sites they are also breeding grounds and you may see territorial males driving rivals away from their ‘patch’, which can often lead to spectacular ‘dog’ fights over the water.  You are more likely to see damselflies mating, because they tend to pair longer than dragonflies. They adopt a ‘wheel’ position where the male grips the female behind the head with his abdomen tip while her body forms a full circle, making contact with the base of his abdomen where the sperm is stored. Seen above are two Red Damselflies mating.

Insects are also a food source for the many bats in the Valley and dusk on a calm August evening is a good time to go bat watching. The best spots are woodland clearings and lakeside edges such as Rowhill Nature Reserve, Lakeside Nature reserve and Horseshoe Lake as well as Hawley Meadows. Many of the male waterfowl will moult their colourful breeding feathers, so for a few weeks at this time of year they will be flightless and look very dull.

Guelder Rose berriesBerries have already started to ripen on Rowan trees and  Elder and Guelder Rose bushes attracting birds such as Thrushes and Blackbird. It’s also worth noting that at this time of year some of the migrant warblers move from their insect-based diets on to energy rich fruit before heading south for the winter.


  Ragwort  >>>

Teasel in flower Chris Kay


  Teasel Time

Cultivated Fuller’s Teasel was used in the textile trade. The spines on the ends of the bracts cUrve back to form small hooks and these
are used to raise the nap in the manufacture of fabrics such as velvet and cashmere.

The Teasel found growing along the Valley is the
 common form and can be found in rough pastures, copses and by roadsides. Growing tall and upright with many branches covered in spiny prickles it’s easy
to spot. At this time of year the dense prickly flowerheads surrounded by curved spiny bracts will be bear tiny pink or white flowers.

In winter Teasels are often more noticeable, particularly along roadsides, as they stand tall and brown. Their seed heads are favoured by Goldfinches.

 There are many descriptive folk names for Teasel, such
as ‘brush and comb’ and ‘Johnny-prick-the-finger’.
But the botanical name Dipsacus derives from the Greek word ‘to thirst’ and refers to the way rainwater collects in the cup-like structures found around the stem by the base of the leaves. Insects sometimes get trapped and drown here and their bodies are broken down by bacteria. I

The Roman names for Teasel Labrum veneris or Lavacrum veneris, Venus’s lips and Venus’s basin, probably refer to these cups.

Teasel was not used much
by herbalists. although the water collected in the stems was considered beneficial
and an ointment produced from the roots was used to cure warts.