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July 2013

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Meadow Brown, Sheila Sims
Meadow Brown, Sheila Sims

The summer months are wonderful for observing insects and grassland is home to many species. If you go on a mini-beast safari make sure you stick to designated footpaths and be careful if there are cattle grazing. Every year people are attacked by cows and there is usually a common factor involved in these incidents – a dog.

Before cattle and dogs were domesticated, when they were wild animals, dogs hunted and cows were food and these instincts are still present. Even a well-controlled dog on a lead will be seen by cows as a predator, especially if they have calves. The cattle may look calm and far away on the other side of the field but, believe me, they can run very fast when they feel threatened. Enjoy the pasture but leave your dog at home.

Among the beetles, spiders, moths and flies that live in the grass, is summer’s favourite – the grasshopper. There are many species and most tend to be active on sunny days when we will hear the males ‘singing’ to attract females. They don’t actually have voices but make the sound by rubbing their hind legs against their wings, creating that familiar buzzing sound. Each of the species has a different ‘song’ ensuring that they get the attention of the right lady.

All four cathedral Peregrine chicks have survived and are flying, now, learning to hunt. These birds take their prey, usually pigeons in Norwich, in the air. Because they drop on to the victim at such a great speed, to attempt a kill on the ground would almost certainly result in self–injury, so pedestrian pigeons are quite safe.

Spoonbills have arrived from Europe to nest at Holkham Nature Reserve again this year. These large white birds, with spatula shaped ends to their bills, are relatives of the Ibis and are becoming regular visitors to Norfolk in the summer.

The Sand Running spider, one of Britain’s rarest, has been found in the sand dunes at Titchwell Marsh. It is superbly camouflaged to look like grains of sand, so you need sharp eyes to spot it.

Growing up, Sheila Sims
Growing up, Sheila Sims

Fox cubs are growing up and have started learning to catch their own food. Family groups are often seen at this time of year as the young acquire hunting skills by following the adults.

We’ve been invaded! Japanese Knotweed is everywhere and is now found in many places in Norfolk. It was imported from Asia in the nineteenth century as an ornamental plant and did she show off! It has spread all over the country. It is highly invasive, pushing out native plants, grows to 3 metres (nearly 10 feet) tall and will tolerate a great range of soil types and temperatures. It has the strength of Superman and can push its way through concrete, tarmac and brick walls causing significant structural damage. I once opened a garage that had not been in use for a while and was confronted by a forest of this incredible plant, growing through the concrete floor! A couple of years ago it became a big problem in the churchyard at Aylsham and spread to neighbouring gardens.

Japanese Knotweed Sheila Sims
Japanese Knotweed, Sheila Sims

We only have the female plant in Britain and as it requires a male, to produce the pollen for fertilisation, it does not reproduce by seed. It can be pollinated by the Giant Knotweed, to which it is related, but this has to be fairly close by and rarely happens. It sometimes cross-breeds with another relative, the Russian Vine, present in many of our gardens, but the resultant plants are sterile. So how does it get round this problem? It reproduces with creeping, underground, root-like stems (rhizomes) from which new shoots grow. The rhizomes will spread up to 7 metres (nearly 23 feet) from the mother plant and can be two metres (over 6 feet) deep.

Japanese Knotweed is on the government wanted list of ‘criminal plants’ and the death sentence is on its head. It is neglectful to let it survive on your land and should be eradicated. However, leave one little bit of rhizome and she’s off again!

Its persistence is amazing and (please don’t tell anyone) I secretly admire this Asian invader – it is determined not to be beaten!

Activities this month include:
• Dragonfly walks at Upton Fen.
• Magical moths at Cley.
• Children’s wildlife watch at Hickling.
Details at Norfolk Wildlife Trust or ring     01603 625540.
• Spoonbill viewing at Holkham. Ring 013128 713111.
• Wroxham Barns have a camera focussed on a Swallow’s nest and you can watch the chicks on a screen at the Junior Farm.

© Sheila Sims 2013