John Clare, the poet, knew what he was talking about when describing his nineteenth century rural world, although even then he was concerned about the changes taking place. I wonder what he would have made of the present ‘lockdown’ and the restrictions that have been placed on all of us. Jubilee Wood has remained open for those of us allowed our daily dose of exercise, and provides both peace and space to relax in as well as a source of fascination for those of us interested in the natural world. The plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals that occupy the wood are carrying on as normal, in fact they’re no doubt benefitting from the reduction of air pollution and noise.
It’s been officially the driest May since records began in 1896 and perhaps we should now be thankful for the wettest February in 150 years, as the trees are still looking healthy and hedges have been flowering well, and the pond is staying at a decent level. With the total rainfall in England just 17 % of the average for May and the UK having its sunniest Spring since 1929 the weather has actually been worth talking about.
Water plays host to some amazing creatures and visiting the pond is always a highlight for us on our walks around the Wood, and the dragonflies and damselflies have been prolific there over the last few weeks. It’s interesting that these ‘Jurassic visitors’ which have been around for millions of years, don’t live for very long, not much more than a year and that’s assuming they don’t get eaten by predators either as an egg, a nymph or an adult. They’ve certainly adapted well to all the changes they’ve encountered. The common blue damselfly is also seen on a daily basis at the pond, and can be identified by its beautiful bright blue colour, small thin shape and its similar shaped pairs of wings. They also hold their wings closed when at rest and their flight is much less purposeful and weaker than the stronger and bigger dragonflies which will often engage in territorial combat on the wing. The wing muscles of dragonflies are attached directly to the wings rather than the thorax allowing them to move each wing independently, which means they can hover like a helicopter, fly backwards and perform hairpin bends at extreme speed…….no wonder they’ve survived for so long.
Dragonflies are a great indicator of water quality , as they only choose clean environments with plenty of oxygen in the water to breed in, and looking at the clear water in the pond and the welcoming mixture of plants it maintains, you can see why it’s such a popular place for them.
Keeping the water clean by scavenging on detritus and decaying organic matter is a job for another inhabitant of the pond, the freshwater snail. There are more than 30 kinds in Britain and our snails in Jubilee Wood pond can sometimes be seen floating upside down on the surface of the water while taking in air through the opening of their lungs on the underside of their body, performing a sinuous dance as they move around. The sex lives of the pond snails is fascinating for those who are interested in such things and a link to more information will follow at the end of this blog as this author doesn’t quite feel up to the task at the moment…..perhaps ‘lockdown’ is having more effect than I thought!
Common and widespread in Britain, this brown bug with a body the shape of a boat can be seen in our pond, swimming with its long oar like legs and coming up for air at the water’s surface. The various species of boatmen are difficult to tell apart from each other but all are herbivorous, eating algae and detritus within the pond. During warm weather the adults may even take flight so watch out for them over the next few days.
The wood has a new and very attractive addition…..a sheep hurdle made from one of the young Ash trees in the wood. Michael has made a beautiful job of it and you can see it on the left in the top corner of the wood if you walk clockwise from the entrance. He’s hoping to do a workshop on making them once the present restrictions are no longer in place so check out the website at the bottom of the blog if you want to do some research. Thanks to Michael for this information and for actually doing the work in this sweltering heat when most of us just want to collapse in the shade.
Michael has also managed to keep the grass pathways tidy, aided by the acquisition of an old ride on mower which allows for selective height cutting in different areas. The hot weather has slowed down the growth of the grass and an abundance of rabbits try to help him as much as possible. Unfortunately they seem to be getting their energy from vegetables being grown on the adjacent allotments but at least they’re sharing them with the Muntjacs.
Some images of the Wood in May 2020
Hopefully, the next few weeks will be more comfortable for many as our exercise time increases and meeting with loved ones becomes a possibility, although restricted by social distancing. The Jubilee Wood is always there for a quiet walk and chance to recharge the batteries so I hope you’ll be able to enjoy it, but if you haven’t been able to, here are some reminders…..
pondexpert.co.uk Pond Snails in Your Pond