Saturday, 28 February 2009


Bank vole(long tailed) at Gelli Aur this morning. My reward for being quiet and standing and staring. He wasn't aware of me at all.

I would like to share with you one of my favourite poems, by W.H. Davies. It is a well-known poem and worthy of keeping in the public eye, especially as so many people are racing here and there and never have a moment for themselves or their families, let alone the natural world about them.


What is 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 and 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 feed, 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.

Friday, 27 February 2009

The first whispers of spring

I took a long walk yesterday in an area we normally visit infrequently, and then usually by car. It is amazing how much more that you notice when you are on foot. I began below the village, exploring a trackway which on the map looped round to the next road across.. In the corner of a field, where the trackway turned right, I was surprised to find ruins with a drift of snowdrops sprinkled over them, and several well-established yew trees keeping all in shadow. Yew trees are usually only associated with churchyards hereabouts, but as I walked along the trackway, I noticed more young yew trees planted in the hedgerows. This is unusual as Yew is deadly to livestock and this is a farming area. These mixed plantings had been double fenced to keep livestock off. I climbed the hill out of the village and past the Big House, with its long driveway, and all around the perimeter were more young yew trees, planted with others, and double fenced. It was easy to see where the land of the Big House ended.

In the hedgerows were the first signs of spring - Celendines with their beautiful lemon-yellow flowers, which open with the day. They have tiny heart-shaped leaves and in country areas, are harbingers of spring, arriving when the Primroses do. In previous years they have been earlier than this, but the cold snap in January and the snow earlier this month, has got spring back on a more even keel again.

There has been a dearth of Sloes on the Blackthorn in recent warm springs, which suggests they may have been encouraged to bloom too early and got caught by late frosts. There is an old saying that when the Blackthorn is in bloom, it is a Blackthorn Winter. This stems from there often being a warmer period at the end of winter - a false spring - and then a sudden cold snap returns. Here is a photo of the blossom, courtesy of Creative Commons.

The Sloe fruit is like a small black plum (it is a wild member of the Prunus - Plum - family) with a blue bloom on it. It is VERY sour, but makes wonderful jam and even better Sloe Gin! Its hedgerow relative the Bullace, is slightly larger and thought to be a cross between Sloe and domesticated plums.

This 'witch's broom' is caused by a viral infection attacking the tree and causing a mass of twiggy growth.

The fruit of the Ivy. The leaves in the background are rather shapeless, unlike those three-cornered ones in the picture of the mossy bank below, which is how ivy normally grows. Likewise, holly leaves tend to lose their prickles when they are higher up in the tree and presumably because they are under less threat from predators!

These are the leaves of the Ribwort Plantain which is very common in grassy places - banks, hedgerows and fields alike. When we were children we would 'fight' with the flower heads of these, which are brown cylinders on the end of the stalk, and by running your hand briskly up the stem you could catapult the head at your 'enemy'.

Ivy leaves, top left, climbing over a mossy bank. Here in Wales there is no shortage of rainfall, and in consequence, plenty of mosses!

Here are the young leaves of Lords and Ladies, or Cuckoo Pint as they are also known. Their 'proper' name is the Wild Arum Lily. When in flower they look like this:

Here is Navelwort, so called becuse of the dimple in the middle of the leaf. They will grow on banks, treestumps and dead branches (as here), and on walls. My children used to pick the leaves and use them for doll's teaparties. Their leaves are prolific in winter, then they flower and put out a creamy stem of flowers (which I shall photograph when they bloom locally) and then they die back in the summer months.

Now today (Friday) since clearing the shallow shelf of my wildlife pond, the first frogspawn has been laid. Photographs tomorrow.

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Ox-eye daisies flowering in God's acre down in the village . . .

This blog has been born of my desire to share my love of the countryside with anyone who is interested. I was fortunate enough to have been born at a time when parents had a knowledge of country things - my parents had both been born in the country but moved to the town. I grew up being able to ask what that bird or this flower was and being told the name and often the country nickname too - I have always called Wagtails 'pollydishwashers' for instance.

I grew up on the outskirts of Southampton, one half of our "garden" was wild, with Damson trees where the Nightingales sang on hot summer nights and a glorious tangle of gorse and broom where we made camps in the summer. Yarrow and Bladder Campion grew at the lawn-edge, and we had a dry stony soil in banks around a triangle of land where my dad grew strawberries. Here lived the lizards and slow-worms. Kids used to come from miles around to try and catch them! I grew up learning how to recognize and handle reptiles. How they would first wee on you in an attempt to get you to let go of them, and if that didn't work, they would drop their tail. I cringe now at the memory of both a common lizard, with its beautiful skin pattern in browns and beiges, and one of the ubiquitous slow-worms, who varied from deep chocolate brown to almost silvery, dropping their tails whilst being held captive by my curiosity.

When I was about six, a neighbour's daughter who was a couple of years older was doing a project for school where you had to identify wild flowers and press them into a scrap book, and thus began my life-long interest in botany. I'm not an expert - I know more than many people, not as much as others, but I continually try and extend my knowledge. I can still recall where I first saw such-and-such - the highlight of my (botanical) life being the first time I saw Viper's Bugloss growing in Dorset (near the village of Kingston in the Purbecks). It was one of the coloured illustrations in my Observer's Book of Wild Flowers which I got when I was 6 or 7 and with its pink and blue flowers it looked so exotic.

I enjoy watching birds and identifying them here in our Welsh garden. We have nothing exotic, but I love to see the Nuthatches and 'Woody Woodpecker' arrive, and I will shortly do a post of our visitors to the nut nets and try and get some photos. Where my camera has not captured something I write about, I shall rely on that marvellous resource Creative Commons Search.

In sharing what little knowledge I have, I should love this to become a resource for parents and children alike, as well as those of you who have an innate interest in the countryside but are living in town, or even in another country. This, I hope, will go some way to replacing the Nature Table we always had in my Junior school and which is now just a dim and distant memory in the education of children.