Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category


The Downs are beautiful at any time of year, even in deepest winter when grey skies and bitter winds make them seem grim and inhospitable. I’m not sure it ever gets better than August though, when wildflowers carpet the steep slopes and everything is climaxing in one last great show before the Autumn days draw in. The buzzing, whirring and fluttering of hoverflies, bees and butterflies is intense as they load up on pollen and nectar and the smells so rich you can end up feeling as euphoric as the insects appear to be.

The peacock butterfly is always a favourite of mine, let’s face it, there’s not many creatures so flamboyant on our humble Isle. And the Blues so soft and ethereal, it almost brings a tear to my eye to watch them.


Peacock butterfly on Ragwort


Small White on Common Knapweed


Common Blue (underside) on Ragwort


Common Blue on Ragwort


Gatekeeper Butterfly

How gorgeous are these emerald hued beetles? They appeared to be in heaven, caressing each other and the thistle flower with their spindly legs. The rose chafer or Cetonia aurata, is not a rare beetle but it still takes the breath away.


Rose Chafer on Creeping Thistle


Creeping thistle is very common and has the most wonderful earthy honied scent. A small handful of the flower heads in hot water make a delicious tea. When they finish flowering the seeds are equally beautiful, catching in the wind with their silken threads.


Creeping Thistle Seed Heads

Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) is another common wildflower, though somewhat confusingly it is no relation to either hemp or agrimony. It is little used today but in the past it was an important medicinal herb used for treating fevers and cleansing the blood. It has been found to contain potentially toxic alkaloids so would not be appropriate for ongoing treatment or in large doses which, in any case, may cause vomiting. It is a wonderful plant for butterflies, bees, moths and other insects.


Hemp Agrimony. (Notice the hawthorn berries ripening in the background… not long now!)


Hemp Agrimony with Canadian Goldenrod


Hemp agrimony, Canadian Goldenrod, Rosebay Willowherb, Hawthorn and Wild Clematis.

This goldenrod is not the native variety (Solidago virguarea) but the Canadian (Solidago canadensis) which was originally grown in gardens but is now not uncommon as a wildflower here in the South. It is very striking with a delicious heady fragrance which results in it being surrounded by clouds of happy insects.


Canadian Goldenrod in full sun!


Harvesting the wonderful mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) was one of the reasons for this morning’s walk. Mugwort is a fantastic medicinal herb that deserves much more than a quick summary but (among its many other uses) it is well loved for its affinity for the female reproductive system and its use as a digestive tonic. It is also steeped in folklore and myth and has long been used to promote lucid dreaming. Considered sacred to the Goddess Artemis, from whom it gets its Latin name, it is associated with the moon and all things magical.


Our Lady Mugwort


Yarrow is surely one of the most useful herbs we have, being helpful for a wide array of ailments. You can read more about it in my post here. They are mostly white with the odd pink one scattered in.


Pink Yarrow

Classic wildflowers of chalky soils like the Downs include the graceful wild mignonette and agrimony. Agrimony (Agrimonia Eupatoria) is such a beautiful and cheerful herb, most commonly used for treating diarrhoea in children due to its gentle astringency. Also used for healing sore throats, toning the bladder and gut and healing wounds, it is member of the Rose family.


Wild Mignonette



Small scabious doesn’t have the most glamourous name but it is so beautiful it can just about get away with it! Perhaps the other flowers named it to prevent it becoming arrogant? I expect there is a story in there somewhere. The seed head alone is a work of art that only Mother Nature would be capable of.

Small Scabious

Small Scabious


Scabious seedhead – Incredible!

Greater knapweed and rosebay willow herb are also important wildlife species and red bartsia is an attractive wildflower that is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.


Greater Knapweed


Red Bartsia


Spires of Rosebay Willowherb

Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot is another beautiful yet common wild flower. The name is said to come from the small red flower that is sometime seen in the centre of the head and relates to a story that Queen Anne, consort to James I, pricked her finger and stained the centre of her lace red with a drop of her blood.


Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot with visiting Green Lacewing

Another of its common names is ‘birds nest’ after the stunning seed heads that form after it has finished flowering.


Wild Carrot seed head


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Bestiarum Vocabulum

I recently spent a couple of days at a British wildlife sanctuary and got to see a host of wonderful creatures, from those I know well, to those like the stoat that I have never seen before, to those which have practically disappeared from our shores like the beautiful red squirrel.

I often think that if we had never seen a fox or a badger before, we would think it every bit as fantastical as the unicorn or the dragon, it is only that we forget so easily to appreciate that which is common and, therefore, no longer novel.

Foxes, as with many intelligent predators, have long been persecuted in this country and there is still the threat of a badger cull hanging over us, though the vast majority of evidence shows it will do no good at all in halting bovine TB. If this is a topic close to your heart you can find out more about the coalition to stop the cull and sign a petition here.

In the meantime I wanted to pay homage to the beauty of British wildlife by sharing some of my photos from the two days. In the animal world, just as with plants, there is no end to the variety and creativity of Mother Nature.

The Red Squirrel

Badger antics

Sinuous otter, as at home in the water as on land.

Checking out what’s happening on the bank!

Red Deer

Water Vole

The Tiny Harvest Mouse

The Barn Owl

The Tawny Owl

Last but not least, my very favourite of creatures, the much maligned, wonderfully intelligent, greatly social and all round fantastic Mister Fox.

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My vision for our small garden is that it will not only provide food and medicine for us but also be a haven for wildlife and other creatures.

The bees have been very happy here this year and I have seen many fat bumblebees and hoverflies hanging off the hyssop and monardas.

Lavender is nearly over now but every last flower is being made use of. The Apothecaries Rose was also a favourite when it was in flower.

There’s been a whole host of caterpillars, mostly fat and green, and some interesting spiders too. So it was with all these little residents in mind that I decided to add an insect hotel to the quietest area of the garden.

Ok, compared to some grand affairs this is more of an insect caravan but its a start and will hopefully provide a bit of shelter for a few needy wayfarers. If you have space you can make a very large, 5 star affair by stacking pallets full of different materials on top of each other but, if like me, you garden is more ‘bijou’ then you can make more of a boutique bug residence with a wooden box or old drawer filled with pine cones, straw, moss, hollow bamboo canes for solitary bees, bits of wood with holes drilled into them and other such items. Tuck it away into a quiet corner and you’ll be encouraging bio-diversity even in a tiny garden.

There has also been a number of butterflies like this beautiful Comma resting on the echinacea and this poor raggedy old Red Admiral on the nettles. Up on the Downs behind our house I also saw this lovely Chalkhill Blue.

The keen observer will spot other wild beasts lurking amongst the flowers.

We have also been joined recently by four new additions in the form of some highly spirited rescued ex-battery farm chickens. They live in the back garden, well away from my prized salad crops, and have settled into life outside a cage very quickly. We got them through The British Hen Welfare Trust which is a great charity and well worth supporting. They were in a sorry state when they came to us, straight from the battery farm that morning, but already their feathers are growing and they are gaining confidence by the day. For anyone who has hens or is interested in keeping them I would recommend reading this great article by Kym Murden on The Herbarium which gives lots of tips for herbs to grow around your chooks and other natural health tips. Ours are currently enjoying garlic and nettle tincture in their water, nettle seeds in their feed, lavender in their bedroom and rose petals in their nest box. They are as friendly as can be and make it their mission to sneak into the house whenever the opportunity arises.

Here is Primrose stretching out her wing for the very first time.

Violet and Clover discover they have a taste for my once lush Mizuna.

They have earned their keep by helping with the weeding. Not a scrap of ground elder remains now.

Honeysuckle and Clover check to see whether they’ve been busted sneaking in.

Finally, whilst on the subject of birds, bugs and beasts, I would like to urge you all to take a few moments to sign one (or all) of the petitions against the proposed badger cull that the government hopes to enforce next year. As badgers are known TB carriers, the government is hoping that their mass slaughter will halt its spread amongst cattle. Most of the available scientific evidence shows that this is not the case and implies that the cull may in fact make matters worse as it did in Ireland. The problem is due to poor farming practices not badgers and the only pro- badger cull arguments I have read are financially motivated as farmers do not want to lose money from their herds. Healthy animals are much less likely to be infected so all resources should be put into better farming practices not into killing one of our most treasured wild species. The plan is for 70% of badgers to be slaughtered. It breaks my heart that this is even a possibility.

You can read more about the issue in this Q and A document from The Badger Trust.

And if you feel strongly about the issue too there are petitions available to sign on the following sites:

38 degrees here.

The League Against Cruel Sports here.

Save Me here.

And you can reply to the consultation by following the guidelines here:

(N.B. The final image of the badgers is from google images, source unknown, all other photos are my own.)

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