“…Long days, bright summer clothes and luxuriant plant life.”

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July, our seventh and warmest month was named after the famous Roman general, Julius Caesar.

For lovers of the big outdoors, July is a favoured month, associated with summer holidays, long days, bright summer clothes and luxuriant plant life.

July can also claim to be a time for fragrant flowers.  And at Lydiard Park, visitors are likely to experience the scent of honeysuckle walking in the woodland in the evening.  Walking around our lakes will provide the delicious aroma provided by the creamy white blooms of meadowsweet, which flower this time of year.

Also lingering near our hedgerows may provide a chance to sample the perfume of the pink blooms of wild rose or ‘dog rose’. Also known as briar, dog rose is scientifically labelled as Rosa canina.  The simple beauty of the five petals, with every shade from pure white to deep pink, has the advantage that its petals do not wilt and curl as the complex cultivated rose blooms do.  The wild rose has long been associated with everlasting love in folklore and literature.  And with the arrival of the colder darker months, the wild rose will provide in the place of every bloom of summer a vivid scarlet ‘hip’, or seed case.  These liven up our hedgerows in winter, and during WWII provided vitamin C in the form of rose hip syrup. Other uses include a source of ‘itchy powder’ for school boys to dispense down other children’s necks!  Wildlife, such as birds and mice use the hips as a food source.

Also at Lydiard Park, on the side of the paths on the western edge of the estate, visitors may spot the Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) with its creamy yellow blooms which are at their best in July. The hips of the Burnet rose provide round globes coloured a dark purple in hedgerows later in the year.

Two other plants that are to be seen in July, often at the water’s edge are the teasel and burdock, both with a prickly character.  The teasel is noticeable for its architecture, with the big round seed heads that are a favourite for flower arranging when dried.  It is also used traditionally to raise the nap on cloth, which utilises the spine like bracts to ‘tease’ the cloth.  You are bound to come across one in the Park, if so, make a point of looking at the cup like formation where the leaves merge with the stem.  These often hold rainwater with added dead insects.  There are suggestions that teasel may be a carnivorous plant because of this feature.

Burdock is another tall plant (up to 2 metres) that also has clinging seed heads (burrs) which utilise animals to distribute their seeds.  But in practice it is often wool garments and dogs coats that fulfil this function at the Park!   Interestingly the burdock taproot is edible, mainly in Japan and China, but has many herbal applications in the west. And lastly burdock provided the inspiration for the invention of Velcro. Seek one out and admire the attractive form, purple flowers and large leaves up to 2 feet long.

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Image: Peacock Butterfly, CC courtesy of Tony Hisgett on Flickr.

 

July sees insect life at its peak.  Butterflies are at their best on sunny days, which allow for nectar production, which is the sole source of food for butterflies. There is a good chance that a visit on a sunny July day will give the chance to spot; red admirals, painted ladies, tortoiseshells, large and small whites and peacocks. The peacock butterfly, with its ‘bird eye’ on its wings, shows the pleasing side of stinging nettles, as the adults lay olive green eggs on the underside of nettle leaves.  These hatch into black caterpillars, which look quite scary with spines and white dots on the black body.  This caterpillar turns into an unusual chrysalis which possesses metallic markings.

Sunny days also provide a good chance to spot the iridescent colours displayed by dragonflies and damselflies near our lakes at Lydiard.  It is worth taking time to observe dragonflies hunting insects over and around the lakes.  With incredible skill they predate other small insects, and can achieve flight speeds of 50mph!  There are some 30 species in the U.K. Although as a dragonfly nymph they can live and feed under water for about 2 to 3 years, their winged adult form lives from 7 months to little more than a month.  So there is no need to seek tropical climes to see such brightly coloured insects, when they can be seen at Lydiard Park this month.

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Image: Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) male juvenile, CC courtesy of CharlesJSharp on Wikimedia Commons.

 

Another insect delight in July is the crickets and grasshoppers chorus in the undergrowth.  This is a personal favourite of mine, taking me back to all the past camping holidays over the years.

The next Lydiard Park Warden event is pond dipping on Friday 18th August, running from 11am to midday and from 1pm to 2pm. This will allow our younger visitors (ideal for 5s and over) to use nets and identification charts to learn first hand about the mini–beasts that live beneath the surface of the lake. This is a bookable event (01793 465270) and costs £3 per child.

So there is plenty to see and do at Lydiard Park in the month of July, and ponder the thought that, “being close to nature enhances our lives”.

Mark Eborn.

 

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Lydiard Park Warden’s Blog for June 2017

June, the sixth month, with the Summer Solstice on the 21st, is the month of long days of bright sunlight, imparting strong vibrant colours from the landscape and the brightness of summer clothes.

‘Flaming’ June sees numerous blooms in the Park and wider countryside.   Around the small lake the large blooms of yellow flag irises line the banks, and clumps of nettles are now showing white flowers, providing nectar for many insects.  On agricultural land around the Park, crops push up rapidly.

22. Lydiard Park Copyright Jane Gifford 2007

In the hedgerows creamy white umbels of elderflower stand out at a distance, joined by smaller creamy white petals of dogwood, produced in clusters. After pollination by insects, the flowers develop into small black berries sometimes called ‘dogberries’.or ‘snake berries’.  In the evenings, whilst the scent of honeysuckle drifts from our woodlands, bats flit and twist in their timeless air war with insects. Dog roses of delicate pale pink appear as their gaudy cousins in our gardens also flower.  Hogweed and hedge parsley slow in their rapid growth and put out white blooms in the pattern of all umbelifers.

In Lydiard’s Walled Garden the growth is now lush and full of colour.  Foxgloves and peonies are at their best and the cardoons demonstrate their ability to rapidly grow into large spectacular plants.  Sheltered from strong breezes and noises moderated by the four walls, this restored Georgian garden is a great place to sit and relax away from the frenetic world.

10. Lydiard Park Summer Garden Copyright Jane Gifford 2007 (002)

House martins, swifts and swallows are all enjoying the glut of insect life, after an intercontinental journey to partake of this feast.  When weather conditions dictate, these birds feed low down near the surface of our lakes, demonstrating their amazing acrobatic skills.  A pleasure to watch in the Park.

Also on the wing on sunny days are the beautiful butterflies seen in summer.  With the sun out a good deal in June, look out for tortoiseshells, red admirals, peacocks and painted ladies.  When the sun is out the flowers produce nectar, which is the sole sustenance of these colourful insects.

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And finally, still on the wing, but dealing with the largest member of the waterfowl family, the mute swan.  Lydiard Park’s own swan pair, who I like to think of as the Viscount and Viscountess, who have been with us since 2009, prepared to raise a family this season as normal.  I first spotted the new brood of five cygnets on the large lake on Tuesday 2nd May.  Although I was told that the previous day there were seven.

However, over a couple of weeks the number of cygnets went down, one by one, until none were left.  Wardens were perturbed, as this had not happened before.  This concern was echoed by the visiting public.  We suggest the cygnets were predated by herring gulls or a fox, although this had not been witnessed. Then adding to our worry, only one swan was to be seen, with many visitors asking what had happened.  It turned out it was the female (pen) missing.

But I am pleased to give the good news.  On Sunday June 18th Wardens discovered the pen sitting on a new nest on the north side of the island in the small lake.  She is sitting on an unknown number of eggs.  This is great news.  And when the baby cygnets hatch, Wardens will have to do all possible to protect this second brood.

Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden

May is the month of flowers

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I write this blog on May Day Bank Holiday.  I think I can safely say that for Wardens, visitors and wildlife alike, May is a welcome milepost in the year outdoors.

May is the month of flowers, and also that of maximum bird song, as birds declare their territory. May sees the return of the late to arrive summer migrants; house martins, swallows and swifts being the last to arrive.

Although appearing in late April, May blossom is now widely out in the Park and the surrounding countryside.  May blossom is widespread in our landscape because many of our fields are enclosed by hedgerows that are mostly composed of Hawthorn trees.  The thorny nature of these trees makes for a stock proof hedge, and are otherwise known as white thorn, quickthorn, or to science as Crataegus monogyna.

May blossom has a distinctive scent, cinnamon like to some, although it is likened to the smell of death to others.  The flowers are pollinated by midges and other small flies; of which there are plenty, as hawthorn supports some 300 species of insects.  The preponderance of Hawthorn in the landscape means that on any journey through the countryside in May, one is treated to an abundance of white ribbons of May blossom in every view.

The ground flora in May delights us with those plants that fit their lifecycle into the part of the year where the tree canopy has not yet formed. Lydiard Park has areas of Ramsons, (Allium ursinum), often known as wild garlic. Walking in areas where they grow releases a strong smell of garlic.  Ramsons have pure white flowers, which appear lit in half light, thereby attracting pollinating insects.

Also growing from a bulb and completing its life cycle before the trees reach full leaf is the ‘Pride of the Woods’ or bluebell. Lydiard Park has sizable patches of bluebells in its wooded areas; the far side of the larger lake seems most dense. The U.K. has some of the best examples of bluebell woods in the World.  They have flourished in the past centuries due to the woodland management technique of coppicing.  This involves the cutting down to the ground of the trees growth, to a coppice stool (stump) every 7 to 11 years, which regularly lets light down on to the woodland floor and increases the vigour of the understory.  Bluebells pack their growth and flowering into the early spring slot before the canopy of the woodland forms and casts shade on the ground.

A current issue with bluebells in the U.K.is the ever-increasing presence of the invasive non-native Spanish bluebell.  The native bluebell is Hyacinthoides non-scripta whilst the Spanish bluebell is Hyacinthoides Hispanica.  The native has dark flowers, and one-sided, nodding flowers, with strongly recurved petals and white pollen and the strong perfume of hyacinths.  Whilst H. hispanica has paler flowers produced on all sides of the upright stem, less recurved petals and blue pollen and lack the strong perfume.  A common situation exist where both are in close proximity they tend to hybridise to a species known as, Hyacinthoides. × massartiana

As I write at the start of May, the bluebells are at their best, so do seek out this beautiful member of the lily family in the Park, displaying its ‘indigo light’ and broadcasting the aroma of hyacinths from a distance.

Other wild flowers that will catch the visitor’s eye this time of year include lacy white blooms (umbels) of the cow parsley. These umbellifers tend to line the edges of small roads and lanes in May.  The folk name for them is, ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’.

Another ubiquitous wild flower to be seen is the common buttercup.  Although its beautiful waxy yellow blooms are attractive, it has little nutritional value to stock.  Additionally has a less attractive side. Its sap is an irritant and poisonous, and can cause blistering of the skin.  Apparently in the past beggars used poultices of crushed buttercups to produce ulcers on their own skin, to elicit sympathy and successful begging.

May sees the wholesale return of insect life.  This resource is sufficient to attract birds from South Africa to enjoy the flush of aerial food.  This month saw the swifts follow the swallows north, as their shrill screaming calls grab ones attention.  Looking up at the bright sky, they show as dark outlines of long sickle shaped wings, weaving and soaring and combing tasty bugs from the air.

May is the time for the emergence of Alderflies, Stoneflies and of course Mayflies.  Our lake becomes a low altitude larder for the Swifts, Swallows and House Martins.  One notable insect to mention is the cockchafer.  This beetle is known as the ‘May bug’, or ‘doodlebug’. This is a large insect which can grow up to 46mm in length.  It tends to make itself known either by its loud buzzing noise as it flies, or alarm as it crashes into lighted windows at night!  Adult cockchafers feed on leaves, but particularly oak leaves.

And of course May sees the return of bees, as they enjoy the nectar of spring flowers.  A notable sight in May is the muffled buzzing as bees visit the rose, pink and white apple blossom, ensuring a good crop of apples later in the year. Do look into Lydiard’s sheltered Walled Garden, to witness the bees busy at work on the many apples trees planted there.

Lydiard’s trees, following the pattern of the surrounding countryside, are all out in leaf, with the exception of the oak, beech and ash.  The oak is showing brown emergent leaves, which will soon turn light green. The horse chestnuts are now at their best.  This spreading tree, originally from the Balkans is festooned with white and pink pyramidal flowers, which remind me of candelabras.  The leaves are a beautiful fresh green at the moment, but inevitably the recent problem of chestnut leaf miner will return later in the year to disfigure the leaves with brown patched areas. Another May delight of the tree world is the lilac.  Lydiard has a number to admire this time of year.

Alongside these natural May events, I should point out on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st May at 11am, Lydiard Park hosts the Race for Life.  Run by Cancer Research UK, this event funds the fight against cancer by way of public sponsorship of the runners who brave the 5K, 10K and Pretty Muddy courses.

After a productive visit to enjoy the various May delights described above, visitors may wish to enjoy well-earned refreshments at our Forest Café, or the more rustic delights of the Coach House Tea Rooms.

Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden

Springtime Sunshine

2. Lydiard Park Copyright Jane Gifford 2007Wardens and visitors delight to see the end of the dormant, dark and cold section of the year, and emerge into the clear springtime sunshine of April.

The return of life to our temperate vegetation coincides with our Christian festival of resurrection, Easter.  Although pre-dating this was the pagan festival celebrating the rebirth of nature with the goddess Eostre.

With Maundy Thursday on 13th of April, the Easter festival celebrations begin.  Schools have started their holidays for two weeks, and Lydiard Park is always a popular venue.

With the above in mind, I should mention the popular annual Great Lydiard Park Easter Egg Trail which this year is on the 16th, which is Easter Sunday.  The trail begins at the Coach House Activity centre, and happens between 10am and 4pm (last admission 3pm), and will cost £4 per child.

Also during the Easter holidays, Lydiard Park is running the ‘Kids for a Quid’ which will allow accompanied children into the House and Walled Garden for only £1. This scheme runs until 23rd April, during Lydiard House opening hours.

April (the word) comes from the Latin for opening of a leaf, which is fitting, and since the Equinox on 20th March (this year) the Sun is north of the equator at noon.  This means the Sun shines at an angle giving more warmth and light.

So in the month of April, Park visitors can delight in observing the hawthorn in the hedges bursting into leaf, along with the white blossom of the accompanying blackthorn.  In the month the cherries also blossom with mainly white, but also sometimes with pink flowers. One can also spot the ‘pussy willow’ blooms on the goat or sallow willow.  These were once used instead of palm leaves to be given to church congregations on Palm Sunday.

With the ground plants, as the daffodils become burnt by the sun into something resembling brown paper, the tulips come into flower.  A visit to Lydiard’s Walled Garden will reap a floral reward.

Wild plants to notice at this time of year are cuckoo flower in our meadows.  Correctly called Cardamine Pratensis the flower is white with violet tints.  No visitors can fail to notice the agricultural fields in the western parkland flushed gold with a profusion of dandelions, although of low value to the farmer, they are a remarkable sight in the bright spring sunshine.

The keen eye can pick out other signature plants of spring at the Park.  There are cowslips to be seen in small groups, and when the sun is out the celandines will be glinting yellow light.  The very keen eye in the Park will be rewarded with the nodding purple flowers of snakes head fritillary.  These emerge from a bulb this time every year.

And as I write (13/04/17) I notice the first clumps of bluebell showing opening blooms, as are the wild garlic or ransoms. This promises a treat to come later in the month.

With flowers, come the first spring butterflies.  Those observed by the Warden Team are orange tip, green hairstreak, brimstone and peacock.  Sunny days will bring these beauties out.

As to bird life, April is an active month, with summer migrants arriving, such as chiffchaff, sand martins and wheatears at the same time as winter migrants are leaving such as waxwings and fieldfares.

But one thing is sure – Lydiard Park is springing back into life!

Mark Eborn – Lydiard Park Warden

Happy New Year

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The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is the two faced god of the doorway. The faces look to the past old year and to the future new year.  As a Warden; a person in an outdoor profession, the two faces of Janus mean two types of winter weather – mild and wet or cold and dry!

January is often termed the ‘cruellest month’, and no festivities or Bank Holidays to bring light relief during the month.

Although the days have been lengthening since the 22nd December, the natural world has short day lengths and the food supply is short in January.

If we are to have snow this year, then it will most likely to fall and stay in January.

With all the extra food and leisure encountered in the festive season, Lydiard Park is the perfect place to go for a walk and build further appetite for remaining festive faire, or just clear that hangover!

But whatever the reason for getting outdoors, there is plenty to observe, even in a dormant season, as regards vegetation, bird and animal life. However, the year in the natural world is a continuously turning wheel of seasons, and January favours our avian friends, who decide that the U.K. is the place to escape the harsher weather to the North of us.  Redwings, waxwings and fieldfares feast on our hedgerow berries, and stonechats on the farmland can be seen, both who have moved in from harsher environments.  Interestingly, at our sister park, Coate Water Country Park there has been sightings of the rare Berwick’s Swan

Many animals are in hibernation at this time of the year. Amphibians, such as toads, newts and frogs are soundly asleep currently.  Animals such as badgers and hedgehogs can break their hibernation to forage for food during mild spells. We have spotted areas of ground disturbed by badgers in cold weather, whilst they search for worms in the soil.

Despite the seasons being a constantly moving circle, it is easy to think that the trees stand still. However, the hazel is all ready with its catkins hanging yellow against the reddish brown of the branches.  In sheltered areas these catkins are shedding male pollen already.  This time of year sees lichens and ferns thriving – try the St Mary’s churchyard and the North side of the dam wall.

On the ground we now have the famous Lydiard display of snowdrops (Galanthus) just showing their tips that precede the first white blooms. Snowdrops are equipped with thickened armoured tips at the end of its leaves, to allow them to push through a frozen ground. Arum lilies (cuckoo pint) are also starting to show their pioneering leaves.  Also if January turns out mild, a few lesser celandines will be showing their golden yellow blooms soon.

At the start of the month the only common birdsong is the robin, however, later in the month the song thrush starts to declare its territory, as will the blackbird and great tits. Also listen out for the greater spotted woodpecker activities, loudly sounding through the woods.

Finally look out for courtship races amongst the Park’s grey squirrels. The female encourages a chase where keen males pursue the female.  Only the fittest males can keep up and be shown to be eligible mates.  This is fun to watch.

We hope everybody reading this had a Merry Christmas and we wish you all a Happy New Year.

Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden

December is here!

dsc05216With some foreboding we enter the last month of the year, typified by long dark nights and brief days.  December was originally the tenth month of the Roman calendar, hence the Latin ‘Dec.’ December is however, the first month of winter and contains the winter solstice on the 21st, after which ones spirits can be boosted by the lengthening days.  But in our culture, the preparation and preoccupation with our great winter festival of Christmas often means one is conveniently distracted from the low point of the natural world by a profusion of coloured lights and glittering decorations.

Christmas, being primarily to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, or the Nativity, is intimately blended with pre-Christian, pagan traditions. The Roman world celebrated Saturnalia over the Christmas period, which was typified by much feasting, drinking and cross-dressing!  But more relevant to our culture, many of our Christmas traditions come from the pagan solstice festival, known as Yuletide. It is from the Norse and Celtic elements we owe the use of the Christmas tree (Norway Spruce) Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, and other evergreens. Lydiard Park hosts these species, but we are yet to locate any mistletoe.

Fitting in with this long tradition, Lydiard House will be festively adorned with traditional foliage collected from the grounds of Lydiard Park. Lydiard’s Country House Christmas runs from 9th to the 23rd December 2016.

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And if you wish to have a go at natural decorations there is an event at Lydiard on 10th December, entitled, ‘Deck the Halls’. Participants collect the green materials and afterwards produce natural decorations, helped by the Estate and Parkland Team.  This bookable event runs from 10am to 3pm and costs £20, which includes a light lunch, mince pie and a warm drink.

Generally in the countryside, December’s flavour is a bleak time with colour leached from the landscape, although this year the autumn colours were strikingly good and largely stayed on the trees until Storm Angus.  And modern life with its riot of coloured images, merely serve to make December drabber.  But looking at the hedgerows one can spot points of colour, such as the remaining scarlet rose hips, known as heopes in Anglo – Saxon, used in those days as a winter fruit and doubtless helped keeping scurvy at bay. Haws, of a darker red hue persist on the hawthorn trees in our hedgerows. Other red fruits to be seen include the berries on the female Yew trees, in which Lydiard is well represented. Although the hungry birds have been active, some ‘snotty gogs’ or ‘snottle berries’ remain. Please note the seeds within the berries are toxic to humans, although they pass through the bird without problems. Significantly, yew was used to denote a site of pagan worship, with many churches possessing a pre-existing yew tree in the church yard. There are yew specimens whose age predates the birth of Christ. Our yew at Lydiard’s St Mary’s Church is well worth seeking out. It is thought to be some 800 years old, and is a female tree, so in most years bear red berries.

The bright greens of moss and lichens stand out against the bleached ruins of the year’s growth, observable in the Church Yard of St Mary’s. At this low point of the year one may spot the tips of snowdrop bulbs, preparing to reassure us the eventual return of the new season of plant growth.

Although bird song is scarce at Christmas time, do look out for the subject of so many Christmas cards, the robin.  It is easy to spot because it readily comes close to people. It does however sing at this time with a sweet melodious song, which is to denote its territory.

Finally, if you tire of eating and drinking over the holidays, Lydiard can be an excellent place to get some exercise and fresh air, and look out for the natural features pointed out in this blog.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to one and all.

Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden

Snowdrops at Lydiard Park

Snowdrops at Lydiard Park (Jane Gifford)

Snowdrops (Jane Gifford)

Each February the display of snowdrops at Lydiard Park is more spectacular than ever, partly by clumps getting bigger and self-seeding, partly by deliberate dig-and-divide work by staff and volunteers each March.

The snowdrops are in all the woods as you walk around the site, by the lake, on up to Lydiard House, and an especially vivid display in front of the stable buildings where the Coach House Tea Rooms are located. People visit from long distances to marvel at the sheer numbers in every nook and cranny.

Many are the basic, but beautiful, wild variety, while more are a double version. Very rarely, you can find hints of cross-breeding with an unusual variant linked to Lady Diana, a historic character who loved her garden plants in the large Walled Garden beyond the Coach House Tea Rooms. A few specimens of the Lady Diana snowdrop are carefully preserved in a secret location.

But people come simply because they know they can go for long walks along elegant tree-lined paths, and see snowdrops en masse in lots of picture-perfect woodland combinations. Come and see for yourself!

Then come back again in April to see the first displays of wild flowers, the bluebells, the cowslips and then later to spectacular pink displays of red campion and much much more.

John Ball (Gardener)