In the summer I posted about the desire of our local council to build houses on the green spaces around our village. One of those green spaces is a small area on Impington Lane which is between 5-6 acres in area, and a friend of mine who lives adjacent to this unassuming piece of scrub told me there were reptiles on the site which would be evicted if the proposed construction took place.
So with my campaigning hat on I set off very early one Sunday morning to try to capture some photographs of the resident reptilia to promote the argument that this diminutive fragment of green belt should remain unmolested.
Hedge woundwort – Stachys sylvatica
The reptiles were staying under cover but there were wild flowers in abundance along with the accompanying insects. Hedge woundwort, as the name suggests, has medicinal properties and was used to staunch bleeding.
At 6am the sun was rising and it was already warm so damselfies were basking in the early morning sunshine to warm their bodies to enable them to go hunting. I found two species of damselfly:
Common blue damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum
Variable damselfly – Coenagrium pulchellum
(I’m not totally confident of my damselfy identifications so if you spot a mistake please let me know). The undergrowth in the field was waist high in most of it and it was full of these particular flowers:
Carder bumble bee landing to feed
It’s very similar in size and shape to another wild flower called jack-go-to-bed-at-noon which is yellow (Tragopogon pratensis). But all these flowers varied from pale pastel purple to rich dark purple. I don’t know what species these flowers are, or if they’re related to jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, or whether they are wild or escapees from gardens, but they are very pretty and the bees like them.
Fluttering amongst the stems of all the wild flowers were numerous examples of this handsome creature, which I first thought was a butterfly:
Subsequent research revealed that it’s not a butterfly at all, it’s a latticed heath moth, Chiasmia clathrata, and is one the moth species that is active by day in May and June in this part of the UK. They were fiendishly difficult to photograph as they were skittish and hunkered down close to the ground on the stems of the flowers, and any slight gust of wind rendered any photography impossible. But fortunately the wind abated for long enough to get one half decent portrait.
Herb bennet, also known as wood avens, is a very pretty flower which prefers to grow in the shade and was lurking at the edge of the field out of direct sunlight.
Despite all the flora and insectivora, no reptilia put in an appearance on this outing. But in the weeks after my exploration my friend told me of two separate occasions where reptiles ventured into houses which are on the edge of this field, and as luck would have it both times someone managed to photograph the intrepid creatures and were good enough to send copies to me:
Common lizard – Zootoca vivipara
Despite the fact I very rarely see a common lizard they’re the UK’s most common reptile and can be found in most habitats including heathland, woodland, grassland and gardens, from March to October. At my last house a quince bush grew around my front door and I found common lizards in there on a couple of occasions, showing that they can coexist with humans where suitable habitat and a lack of interference prevail.
Grass snake – Natrix natrix – rescued in a sandwich box and restored to the wild
It’s not common to find reptiles in the UK and it’s extremely rare to find them in ones house! So the second invader, which I’m told caused much consternation, was a grass snake. Grass snakes like to frequent damp recesses, they are proficient swimmers and feed mainly on amphibians.
My favourite grass snake story occurred some years ago when another friend of mine lived in Kent and had an enormous back garden with two small lakes in it. On a visit there I was helping declutter the edge of a lake by removing the offending undergrowth with a grass rake. And on shaking the rake to remove a big clump of weed a sizeable bright yellow snake fell off the bottom. I jumped out my skin and may even have uttered an involuntary yell (in fact it was probably more of a squeal), because I reasoned we don’t have big yellow snakes in the UK, and if it’s a foreigner it may well be less benign than Natrix natrix, and be unhappy at this unwanted intrusion. But a somewhat digruntled grass snake uncoiled itself, flipped the right way up and, glided into the lake and swam across to the opposite bank to take cover where the undergrowth was still undisturbed! I’m not sure who was most taken aback, me or the serpent.
Both the reptile species here are listed as priority species by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). So I hope this will be taken into consideration when decisions are being made whether or not to destroy the green lungs of our village!
Best wishes in the ongoing efforts to save this habitat, Finn! Your photos are beautiful as always and hopefully will sway the powers that be.
Thanks for your support Ruth!
Good to see you back in the blogosphere. I haven’t neglected you or my fellow bloggers either, just that I’ve had my head in my Project Management studies and have concentrated my efforts towards my brief newsfeed snippets on Facebook. I’ve printed many a post out of late and will read with interest. How’s your Twitter feed looking of late? I don’t involve myself in that just yet but as I’m delving more into social media, I might head that way too eventually.
Thanks Tony, my posting has been a tad sporadic this year. The Twitter thing is interesting and I’m not fully up to speed with it, but I like the format. Likewise, what are you up to with FB?
Same as you I guess, Finn. I don’t go for the social networks for the friends aspect, in fact I have very few on my user page but my naturestimeline brand page is where I promote my nature conservation efforts. Its kind of like a news feed for now as I suggested in recent posts on my blog.
Hello Tony, I’m with you on that, FB and Twitter can provide excellent connectivity for like minded environmentalists and I reckon that’s the useful and interesting side to social networking.
I really hope you have success with your campaign, your photographs seem to be screaming out of the screen ‘look how wonderful we are – save us!’. I was going to say that I especially like the moth picture, but then I went back and looked at all the others and realised that I could pick out every one as an individual worthy of special recognition. Your photographs are always such a charming sight and cheer up my day.
Thanks Lorna, that’s one of the nicest comments I’ve had to date. It’s lovely to know that my efforts make you smile 🙂
That purple flower looks suspiciously like a wild salsify flower. If it is, you can add it to your wild food benefits section of your petition. Good luck with your David and Goliath fight, we are with you! Seeing snakes on Serendipity Farm is a bit different to seeing them in your neck of the woods. Ours are all large and highly venomous but unlike mainland snakes they tend to shy away from humans so we just leave them alone and they eventually head off into the bush.
The awesome power of the internet!
Hello Fran, I think you’re right. Salsify is also a Tragopogon species and appears identical to T.pratensis in every way except the colour, which is exactly the same in the pictures I’ve found online. So your comment from right round the other side of the globe has solved my problem. Tremendous!
What species of serpent do you find in your backyard? I’d find that terribly exciting, the good lady less so 🙂
We have king browns, tiger snakes and copper heads…all of them will kill you if they bite you :(. The good thing is that our Tassie tiger snakes are very docile compared to their mainland brethren which will chase you if you disturb them (I know they will, I have had it happen to me!). Here they just slither away. When we first moved here we had lots of plants inside the compound that we built around the house to keep Bezial from straying and we noticed that he had his nose amongst the pots like he was watching something. When we went out to check there was a HUGE tiger snake slithering away amongst the pots!!! EEK! We moved the pots, trimmed the lawn and made sure that the area wasn’t as attractive to snakes (no watering, no snakes). You are welcome about the salsify as I collected it last summer (the seed) to hurl around the property. Some weeds are more equal than others (forgive me for bastardising George Orwell 😉 ) and I would prefer to have edible weeds than those that haven’t got any real use and as we have so many weeds tucked nicely in amongst everything else on our 4 acres I am doing my bit to ensure that my kind of weed gets extra time and a half (gotta stack the odds sometimes 😉 )
Is the copperhead native to Tassie? I thought they were a north American species. (Maybe an ancient settler thought ‘Hmmm, we don’t have quite enough deadly snakes in this country. I know let’s introduce the copperhead too! 😉 ). Are bites common? I guess you have anti-venom to them in case someone gets nibbled.
I read that salsify is good to eat, the roots apparently taste like oyster, hence it’s other name (the oyster plant), the leaves can be eaten like asparagus and the flowers, as well as being very pretty, can be used to decorate salads. I can see why you want to nurture it on Serendipity Farm.
We welcome “useful” weeds here ;). Even the humble thistles can be used as a vegetarian alternative to rennet so you just have to look for the good part about a “weed”. Not entirely sure about the South African boneseed that was introduced though…nothing good about that aside from it will grow in the Sahara…maybe that’s it’s forte? Not many people get bitten by snakes because snakes feel humans approaching and head off to hide. It’s not like they actively want to waste their hunting venom on humans and even when they are cornered they tend to warn a few times before they actually strike and even then its only as a last resort. They oyster plant does have tasty roots and the flower turns into the most magnificent tennis ball sized puffball just like dandelions :). What’s not to love about them?
Absolutely, I think they’re lovely flowers – and the whole plant is edible. I didn’t know that thistles rpovided a vegetarian rennet. I think it’s great that you’re keeping alive all this knowledge of what plants can provide.
It must make life less stressful that your venomous snakes are not aggressssive!
Not aggressive but still venomous so potentially fatal…nothing like dancing on the edge eh? 😉
Do hope you can save the green lungs of your village – can’t you find newts – I thought newts were clinchers when it came to preserving habitats???
Hello Valerie, you’re dead right, as long as they’re great crested newts. But I don’t think there is enough water on the site to provide newt habitat. Sad isn’t it that common sense and keeping somewhere green is no longer enough to sway a decision, there must be some other perceived ‘value’.
Keep up the campaign, unless there’s a very significant number of homeless humans in the area, fight the developers to stop these home developments being built. Anyway, why can’t strips of woodlands be integrated with houses.
You make a good point Vicki, but many folk seem to view town and country as mutually exclusive phenomena.
And the homes they plan to build there are very unlikely to be for homeless people, they’ll be exclusive and very expensive.
I love the names for your wild flowers– “Jack go to bed at noon”! I assume many of the above reptiles are viviparous? Can they produce offspring every year, or does it take two summers to mature the young?
Hello Sue, ‘jack-go-to-bed-at-noon’ is so called because its flowers close up at noon to open up again the following morning. I don’t know what pollinates it but I guess this is carefully timed to conserve it’s nectar for the desired insect. It is a great name 🙂 (Iposted more about it here: https://thenaturephile.com/2012/07/03/more-wild-flowers/).
The common lizard is viviparous but I don’t know what the frequency of their breeding cycle is. I’ll try to find out. The grass snake is an egg layer and will seek out piles of rotting vegetation, including garden compost heaps, to conceal and incubate its clutch. I love to see reptiles, they’re fascinating and I don’t encounter them too often.