Monday, 08 August 2022

Nature will thrive if we just leave it alone, even at side of busy road

Nature will thrive if we just leave it alone, even at side of busy road

WE have a small alder tree that we rescued. It is now growing temporarily in an earthenware pot on one of our garden tables.

We notice that although it is shooting up, many of its leaves are being eaten. Rosemary identifies the culprit, an alder sawfly (Eriocampa ovata). The larvae are white with little dark dots on their flanks.

I remove them as I want the little, effervescent tree to survive before we plant it at the end of the garden along with our other rescued trees, including large-leaved limes and field maples.

That should make the garden complete, a haven for insects and hence birds.

The seeds and nutlets that we gather from our excursions are all thriving, with flowering plants popping up everywhere and ferns spreading despite “help” from our cheeky cats.

It is all rather marvellous and we hope they will all spread.

The biennial foxgloves are quite superb right now. Their seed will set naturally and in two years’ time we will have many more.

I’m also very pleased to witness the return of swifts (Apus apus) to our skies. I love their shrieking as they fly with unbelievable deftness. Forget trapeze artists, these birds can spin on a sixpence. They’ve lots to eat above our wild, inviting plot.

I shall be investing in some swift boxes in the hope of helping one of our most wonderful migrant birds. I cannot imagine a world without them as I’ve watched them with awe since childhood.

Elsewhere in the garden water figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) has appeared. I’ve no idea how we acquired it.

Over breakfast, we read in a national newspaper that a roundabout in Oxford has been mown despite an 11-year-old old writing to the local council asking it not to do this as the land is home to pyramidal and bee orchids.

Well, guess what? The lovely plants were slaughtered. Shame on the council. What is the purpose of destroying valuable wildlife?

Readers may recall that Rosemary had a letter published in the Henley Standard a few weeks ago in which she pointed out the contrasting policies of Reading borough and South Oxfordshire district councils’ policies on roadside verge maintenance, with pictures to illustrate it.

As you drive towards Henley from Caversham and passing the “Oxfordshire” sign, flowers abound with rafts of common poppy, common mallow, oxeye daisy, lady’s bedstraw and ribbed melilot. But on the Berkshire side there is nothing.

Rosemary is averse to hot weather, so we decide to stay under leaf cover and return to Kingwood Common, this time to explore a part of the woodland that we were prevented from accessing previously. The large colony of broad-leaved helleborines are still latent but promise to burst into flower soon.

I love the subtle differences in the shape of flowers and leaves that vary from group to group even over small distances.

As we head towards the depths of the old coppice with snappy twigs underfoot, we are overtaken by some “ramblers” going as quickly as they can. They can’t be taking anything in, so what’s the point?

Scanning the forest floor, I note some fallen leaves and fruits of a lone whitebeam (Sorbus aria), which is young and sturdy, a welcome addition to this interesting woodland.

As we stroll in peace, there are dips and turns, paths leading left and right.

Bracken provides dense cover for nesting birds. It smells good and looks handsome.

Heading back to the car we stop off to see what is growing at the disused salt dump close by.

Apart from a small mound of road salt, now covered in flowers, the solid base is cracking up.

Plants have taken advantage of the gaps, including downy birch (Betula pubescens), common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), spring cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana) and vervain (Verbena officinalis).

This visit reminds me of a poem called Leisure by the Welsh writer William Henry Davies (1871-1940), who spent a lot of his life as a tramp.

On our return home, we dig out copy of the piece, which Davies wrote in 1911.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

That sums up my feelings perfectly.

Later, we drive to Henley to do some shopping. As the passenger, I am able to admire all the lovely wildflowers at the side of the road along the way. Today it is quite exceptional.

As we pass through Shiplake Cross (having passed some “executive” houses being built and the planned site of a “retirement home”), we stop at temporary traffic lights and spot some beauties on both sides of the road.

There are the bright yellow flowers of ribbed melilot (Melilotus officinalis), a standout plant that I associate with abandoned railway sidings near Swindon. It is a member of the pea family and most attractive.

We spot many clumps of common mallow (Malva sylvestris) with purple-veined pink petals, rafts of yellow lady’s bedstraw and patches of the white umbels of hemlock.

Oxeye daisies sway in the slight breeze and common red poppies brighten up the display.

There is much more here but we have to move on and the road is so busy that it’s not possible to investigate on foot.

I hope the verges are not cut for a long while so these flowers can shed seeds to provide another beautiful display next summer.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

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