Spring, it appears, is springing rather early this year. I’ve had daffodils and bowls of hyacinths in the house for a couple of weeks, and violets from the garden joined them a week ago1. But I’m a tad disappointed because people on the insect groups have been reporting bee sightings for a couple of weeks, too, and I have seen not one.
True, there was a bee-fly last week, which nearly flew into me (daft thing was not properly awake, I fear) but I couldn’t photograph it to ID it properly because a) I had no camera with me and b) I had a grand-twin by the hand and we were about to cross a road. So that was a tiny bit disappointing, though it was lovely to see.
However, a couple of days ago, OH and I decided to take Sid to a local nature reserve called Cuckoo’s Hollow, which is small, quite ‘managed’2 and has paved paths for mobility challenged dogs, people in wheelchairs, cyclists, and spouses who do not wish to get their feet muddy.
This was a Bad Decision, because Cuckoo’s Hollow is in the process of being … um … managed.
Not exactly a beauty spot, is it?
There is a project underway to dredge silt from the lake, which has apparently become more and more silted up over the years, with reeds encroaching into the open water. It has to be done because the nature reserve is part of the plan to reduce flood risk for the housing area which surrounds it, and I can’t argue with that. However, they are also digging some of the reed beds out by the roots and they are removing tons of silt which they are dumping here, on the bank.
Now, the reed beds are home to swans, moorhens, coots and ducks and possibly the endangered and protected water vole3. And I am concerned about the fact that they are removing the reeds from their favourite side of the lake, and they are doing it now, when the birds are beginning to court and think about raising their families. It was supposed to be done ‘during the month of February’ to avoid disturbing nesting birds, but the work doesn’t look to be half-way finished to me, and as I said, spring is coming early.
But do you know what the daftest thing is? This reserve is basically a lake, fed by a brook, with a lot of plain old ordinary grass and some belts of trees. There was one relatively small area bordering the lake where a good mix of wildflowers grew: geraniums (blue) and cranesbills (pink), big ox-eye daisies, hawkweeds, foamy white cow’s parsley and other umbellifers, ground ivy, speedwell, thistles and knapweeds, etc. Bees, butterflies, hoverflies and beetles loved them, and so did I. And yes, I said ‘grew’, because that sea of mud up there is exactly where they used to be.
They will have seeded, of course, and some will have very stubborn roots, capable of regeneration, but …
This area is also where they plan to dump the silt they’ve dredged out of the lake to leave it to dry, when it will be harrowed and planted with grass. The silt – I am reliably informed – will be too rich in nutrients for many wildflowers and it could be that grass is the only thing which will grow there. And not only that, the silt is where many hoverfly, dragonfly and damselfly larvae are overwintering, ready to emerge4 in the mid-to-late spring and early summer.
The above pictures of insects in this blog were taken on this little wildflower patch last year. I doubt there’ll be any new ones this coming summer. The first is of Oedemera nobilis, a flower beetle. The second, Bombus vestalis and an Apis mellifera (honeybee) foraging for nectar in the thistles. The third is Osmia caerulescens, a solitary bee, approaching a white clover flower.
This all sounds more disappointing than optimistic, doesn’t it? But nature can surprise us with unexpected regenerative powers, so I’m hopeful that all is not lost. Maybe not this year, but perhaps the year after we will see some beautiful wildflowers and insect activity at Cuckoo’s Hollow? And I found my first hoverfly of the year today! I present to you, Eristalis tenax, feeding on dandelion.
1 I planted a TON of spring bulbs last autumn. I have a lot of crocuses, snowdrops and little daffodils! Yay me! However, the 150 snakeshead fritillaries which I planted have not deigned to show their pretty little heads so far, and of the 50 or so hyacinths I put in, only those I planted in pots have surfaced. I think the mice eat them.
2 ‘Managed’ means that the grass is mown, the trees are coppiced and things like dredging the lake are done. I know, reserves have to be managed. Some are more managed than others.
3 They did not wait for the survey to be done before they began work on the grounds that there are wooden supports for the bank under water and they ‘did not think the voles would be able to nest there’. Seeing as the biggest population of water voles in the UK is at the moment living happily on a deprived housing estate in Glasgow, two miles from the nearest water and under decomposing mattresses, I’d respectfully suggest that they are more adaptable than our local environment chappies think!
4 Or not, as the case may be.