This month, and during July and August, the Yellow flag iris is in flower. This plant likes to have wet feet and Norfolk provides ideal conditions where it grows on lake and river edges and on marshland. It reproduces itself with creeping underground stems, called rhizomes, which form roots and shoots. Also, the seeds float allowing the plant to colonise other banks either across the lake or pond, or downstream in a river. The flower is thought to have inspired the fleur-de-lis symbol found in heraldry and on scouts’ badges. An uplifting sight to see a marshy field full of these beautiful flowers and bees and other pollinating insects think so too.
Another yellow flower we can find this month is Silverweed, so called because the very attractive ferny leaves, which are present throughout the year, are covered in silvery hairs, particularly on the underside. This little plant grows in a variety of habitats, spreading easily by means of tendrils which produce roots and plantlets. Before potatoes arrived from the Americas, the starchy roots of Silverweed were eaten and have been found in the stomachs of preserved prehistoric men. Although the wild root is small and really doesn’t seem worth the trouble of preparing, the cultivation of these plants produced larger roots which provided carbohydrate in the diet and were grown as late as the nineteenth century. The plant had many medicinal uses and Roman soldiers, who did a lot of marching, are reputed to have used the leaves as padding in their shoes to absorb sweat and prevent sore feet.
A plant which is not a favourite, especially when it grows in our flower and veggie beds, is the Nettle. It is difficult to eradicate having a powerful root system and defends itself in a way with which I’m sure we are all familiar. The fact that these plants evolved to develop those stinging leaves means that grazing animals avoid them but there are animals which thrive on them. The larvae of butterflies such as Red admirals, Commas, Small tortoiseshells and Peacocks, all feed on nettles.
Peacock caterpillars, like those of the Small tortoiseshell, start off in a communal web near the top of the plant and as they mature they venture out alone to find a fresh nettle. The black, spiky caterpillar is easily recognisable as is the beautiful butterfly it eventually becomes. Aphids also like feeding on nettles and they will attract ladybirds; a single one can eat 50 to 60 aphids in a day. So, as you can see, nettles are not all bad and if you can leave a patch somewhere in your garden it will benefit a lot of wildlife and reduce the amount of aphids on your other plants. You may even want to try nettles yourself; the young leaves are very like spinach and make good soup.
Many nestlings will be fledging this month and as I’ve mentioned before, those that you see in your garden looking lonely and abandoned are almost certainly not; their parents will be close by and working hard to feed them. They are very vulnerable at this time and may become victims of predators but it is still best to leave them alone and let nature do what nature does.
One predator that may take birds is the Kestrel, especially in an urban situation where small mammals are not as plentiful as they are in the countryside. This falcon is a small bird with pointed wings and a long tail. The male has a reddish, black-spotted back with a blue-grey head and tail; the female is larger with overall brown colouring, black-spotted wings and back and a streaky breast. Kestrels are often seen hovering over roadside verges where they will be looking for prey. Voles make up the main part of their diet but they also take shrews, mice and young rats. Worms and insects are eaten and can be seen from an impressive height; Kestrels, like other raptors, have extraordinary eyesight. A fascinating fact is that they can see wee! They actually track a small mammal by its urine. Like dogs, these animals mark their territory with their urine and faeces and the urine absorbs ultraviolet light; this is visible to Kestrels because, as with many birds, they can see this type of light and will follow the trail while hovering in the sky, until they find the animal responsible. A well-earned dinner! They have also learnt to watch the progress of farm machines, especially during harvest time, which disturb small animals. Kestrels nest in holes in trees and buildings, ledges on cliffs and sometimes use old crows’ nests; they may use the same nest site year after year. 3 – 6 eggs are laid in April or May and are incubated by the female alone but the male does his bit by supplying her with food. Once the eggs have hatched in May or June he will continue to bring food for his mate and chicks. In the early days the female stays with the chicks and will only leave them to hunt if there is a shortage of food. After the chicks have fledged, they all look very much like females at this stage, the parents will continue to feed them. At first they will return to the nest site to roost and will stay together for most of the summer.
Not all animals that are active during the summer are quite so welcome. Ticks, which are not insects but arachnids and related to spiders, are clinging to plants waiting for a meal to pass by and this could be you or your dog or cat. They can detect a potential source of food by vibration, the exhaled carbon dioxide and body heat of the animal and some are aware of shadows. They feed on the blood of birds, mammals and reptiles and there are many different types of ticks in Britain. They all have a particular host on which they prefer to feed but they are very much ‘any port in a storm’ animals and most will attach themselves to anything living and mobile. The one most likely to be found on yourself or your dog is the sheep (or deer) tick and it seems that there are more about, now, than in previous years. The main worry is not the bite itself, you won’t feel that happening because the tick’s saliva contains a local anaesthetic to enable it to pierce the skin without detection. The problem is that ticks carry several diseases which they pick up from animals upon which they have previously fed. Some are potentially serious and one that is on the increase, is Lyme disease. This is often difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can be the same as in many other illnesses and may take some time after the bite to manifest themselves. Sometimes, though, within a week of being bitten, a circular rash will appear around the site if Lyme disease is present; this, of course, won’t be quite so obvious on your dog as it will on yourself. A tick has four stages in its life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult. Once the egg hatches into the tiny lava, which has only six legs, it then has to feed. This can take several days depending on the species, after which it will drop off the host and in a while develop into the nymph. It now has eight legs and feeds again before turning into the adult which also will be looking for a meal. When walking in likely habitats, it is best to wear clothes that cover vulnerable sites and to use a tick repellent; there are also preparations for dogs which contain this. If you find one that has become attached don’t pull it off because you are likely to leave the tenacious mouth parts behind and the site can become infected. There are special hooks designed for easy tick removal and these are available from your vet or pet shop.
Things to do in June:
- Badger evening – wildlifetoursandeducation.co.uk or
- Evening water trail & supper – Hickling Broad.
- Butterfly walk – Hickling Broad.
- Birds & brunch – Cley Marshes.
www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.
- Wild families – A family outing at Titchwell Marsh. firstname.lastname@example.org or 01485 211974.
© Sheila Sims 2017. Email: email@example.com