Friday, 24 April 2015

A new obsession

So, following on from my initial encounter with oil beetles at Woodhenge the other week, and the latest article in BBC Wildlife about them, I further consolidated my interest in them through yet another encounter at Martin Down NNR!

I had set out to explore the little patch of the reserve known as Kitt's Grave - it lies across the Blandford road from the main carpark, and consists of a Roman Road, tumuli, patches of chalk grassland, scrub and ancient woodland. With spring very much in the air, I thought it was time to check out what was going on over in this area.

It gets its name from the supposed grave of someone (presumably called Kitt) that was buried on the very point of the woodland, which marks the county boundaries of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. It's leased by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and managed by Natural England. Management consists of rotation scrub clearance to open up glades for invertebrates and flowers, and the temperature difference is quite noticeable in these microhabitats.

Cowslips were in evidence in the glades, with flowering blackthorn and gorse forming colourful walls alongside all of the paths, some being crossed by oil beetles, shining spectacularly in the sun. They really are beautiful and just so unusual, and coupled with their lifecycle and population declines, I felt quite privileged to see them.

Entering the woodland of ancient old beeches and hazel coppice, the dog's mercury formed carpets of lush green. I've mentioned how it's often overlooked in the past - here, it was almost like it was trying to attract attention! Here and there in patches, other flowers were starting to show off - wood anemone, the diminutive moscatel, dog violet and the first flowers of ramsons and bluebells.

I'll hopefully be back soon to check on the cowslip spectacle on the main part of the reserve, and then it will be peak bluebell time, where I'll head off to the usual haunt of Garston Wood. Trying to fit all of this in around my painting is difficult but a must!

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