Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Hovis and the Ivy

Do bear with me...

I had another week off work (such luxury!) and made the most of the patchy sunshine through a few nice walks locally.

The first started at the lovely Queens Head pub in Broadchalke in Cranborne Chase- Terry Pratchett's favourite - and headed in a loop down along the lane to Middleton Down Wiltshire Wildlife Trust reserve and up to the Ox Drove. Although not the best time of year to see the amazing wildflowers of chalk downland, it is the season for late butterflies and devil's bit scabious. On this very peaceful walk, the scabious in particular was beautiful - we spotted the best display on the footpath down from the Ox Drove on our return journey, descending Knighton Hill (182m high) steeply via some ancient Mediaeval strip lynchetts (terracing for farming). Although the swifts have departed back to Africa, we still had swallows and house martins to accompany us through the insect-rich fields.

The next day we headed west to Shaftesbury for a nice potter around (including the site where the 1970s Hovis ad was filmed!!)before calling in at Old Wardour Castle on our return. This ruined site is run by English Heritage, but you can get pretty good views from the brilliant network of footpaths in the area. We followed a roughly two hour loop via New Wardour Castle (1800s mansion now owned by Jasper Conran!), featuring more swallows and house martins, babbling springs and ancient woodland. We passed an extremely ancient, gnarly old sweet chestnut, hollowed out but still clinging on to life, with a magnificent view across the countryside.

Finally, we squeezed the good yomp to Old Sarum on Sunday morning - again, more swallows (when will they leave?) but also, most notably, an incredible swarm of ivy bees. They were emerging from the bare earth on the steep footpath on the hill back to the flat - they weren't there on the way down but clearly it had sufficiently warmed up to trigger them to emerge. Having done a bit of research, it's clear that Salisbury is a bit of a hotspot for this solitary bee, which was only described as a new species in 1993 and only found in the UK in 2001. There is no 'queen' here - the males emerge from their burrows - where they have spent the year as pupae - about a month before the females. This means they then pounce on them when they do emerge in late August/September, and is what we were seeing - quite incredible! Each female lay a few eggs in their burrows and feed the grubs on ivy pollen and nectar. As ivy is a late flowering species, that's why they emerge now. That's evolution for you!

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