Our house is situated on high ground at the end of a 300 yard drive on the west side of Gay Street, Pulborough, West Sussex, about a mile north of the junction with Stream Lane. It is very rural and we are surrounded by open farm land on all sides. The house stood in gardens and an orchard of about one and half acres when we bought it in 1996, and in 2002 we bought an additional one and half acres of the large 20 acre field our neigtbour owns to the south and west of us.
The field for the meadow was part of the additional land we had purchased in 2002. The additional land was in the shape of the letter L on the south and west sides of our property with the top part of the L pointing north and running along the west side of our existing back garden, and the base of the L to the south of the garden. After we bought the land I had it fenced with conventional stock-proof fencing on the south and west sides. It was already fenced on the east side where it bordered another large field used for animal grazing belonging to another neighbour.
We had used part part of the additional land to extend our existing back garden southwards by about 50 feet to form four rose beds, and had divided this from the remaining part of the land to the south with rustic fencing and shrubs to create a one acre field to the south of our new enlarged garden and another, a little over half an acre, to the west of our original garden.
Whereas I had kept the grass in the new west field regularly cut, but leaving it long enough between cuttings to allow the wild flowers naturally growing there to grow and bloom, we hadn’t done anything with the new south field and by 2011 it looked rather unsightly, having grown into a thick mat of grass interspersed with brambles and various self-grown saplings. It is this field we were going to turn into the wild-flower meadow.
The field is roughly in the shape of a rectangle with the longer sides running east-west. It slopes gradually to the south and the soil is clay beneath 12-15 inches or so of topsoil. In future we decided we would refer to the new west field as the top meadow and the wild-flower meadow as just the meadow.
Google Earth picture of Highcroft Farmhouse showing original and additonal land and the layout of the wild-flower meadow.
The field on 10 March 2011 before work began.
Following a visit to the South of England Show at Ardingly in 2010, June and I decided to turn the bottom one acre field to the south of our property into a wild-flower meadow to encourage wild-life, especially butterflies and moths. We had both been brought up in the country, had retained an interest in nature during our working lives and now, in retirement, found ourselves in the position of being able to do something to help nature conservation and have our own little piece of the Sussex countryside to enjoy.
My particular interest within nature has always been butterflies. This started when I was eight years old and Clive Stace, an older boy living close to me in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, got me interested in them. Clive had a good collection of butterflies that he had caught, mounted and displayed in a cabinet, which was the way things were done in the 1950s, but would be very much frowned upon today in view of the decline of many species of butterflies.
Clive was also interested in wild-flowers and went on to lecture on botany at Manchester University and become Professor of Plant Taxonomy at Leicester University, President of the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and the author of several books, including New Flora of the British Isles that is regarded as the standard work on the identification of the wild vascular plants of the British Isles. Clive also retained his interest in butterflies and in June 2016 sighted the Chequered Skipper (in Scotland) to complete a personal sighting of every species of British Isles butterfly.
The plan was to turn the field into a wild-flower meadow and add a small spinney and a pond and bridge, using only native trees, flowers and grasses. There were to be pathways of just grass winding through and around the edge of the meadow, just wide enough to mow with my garden tractor (about 40 inches wide).
Thanks to the Internet, researching the creation of a wild-flower meadow was made relatively easy and several good websites were found that described the process. These sites proved to be essential reading as we quickly discovered that there is a lot more to creating a wild-flower meadow than just sowing the seed! The first thing we found, and probably the most important, is that wild flowers prefer poor soil to flourish, without any fertiliser or nutrients, just the opposite to what we had been doing in our flower and vegetable gardens!
That summer we arranged for several specialist meadow landscape gardeners to visit and give advice on how the meadow should be created and quote for the work to be done. We eventually decided to use a local agricultural contractor, Gregory Gladwin of Nutbourne Vineyards, Pulborough for the heavy land work and preparation, and Kevin Plummer of KP Garden Design & Landscapes, Shoreham, West Sussex to build the pond and bridge and prepare and sow the seed.
Work started at the beginning of March 2011 when Gregory cut the field as short as possible after I had removed most of the brambles and saplings I deliberately left a taller goat willow and a couple of small Oak and Silver Birch saplings on the west side of the field that had self-sown there, to form the basis of the spinney. The cut grass (thatch) was cleared and burnt and Gregory returned a few days later to plough the whole field. The field was then left to dry out for two months until the middle of May when Gregory returned and power harrowed it to break up and smooth out the clods of earth left by the ploughing.
The first cut on 10 March 2011.
Ploughing on 15 March 2011.
Harrowing on 18 May 2011
The pond was to be located in the top part of the meadow, nearest to the house, so we could see it from our south facing lounge. We designed it of an irregular shape, about 50 x 30 feet overall, about 18 inches deep with some sloping and some vertical sides. The sloping sides were to enable wild-life easy access to the water. There was to be an eight feet circular island in the centre and a 16 feet hand-railed Japanese style bridge to give access to it.
Kevin, and his assistant started work on 25 May using a mini-digger to dig the hole for the pond and disperse the soil around the surrounding ground to maintain a level aspect. The bridge was built on site and lifted into a position such that we could see it from the lounge of our house, and three days later the pond was filled with water - it took four days to fill!
I was amazed to find that within 24 hours of starting to fill the pond, various water insects were already occupying it, and within several days it was teeming with different forms of water wild-life. Where had they come from and how had they got to the pond so quickly after we started to fill it, I wondered? I laid meadow turfs on the island and around the edge of the pond to keep the edge of the liner in place and added rocks and a few logs to try and create a natural appearance.
Fitting the pond liner.
Filling the pond.
Building the bridge.
Laying the turf.
Digging the pond.
The finished pond.
In June we planted the native form of Water Lily, Water Crowfoot, Water Mint, Water Hyacinth, and some oxgynate plants in the pond together with some water rushes we were given by a neighbour from his wild-life pond. Around the edge of the pond we planted Brooklime, Celandine, Water Forget-me-not, Purple Loosestriffe, Creeping Jenny, Gipsy Wort, Bog Arum, Water Avens and Wild Iris.
We planted and staked a weeping Willow tree (salix sepulcralis chrysocoma), about six feet tall, on the east side of the pond with the intention that some of its branches and leaves would eventually hang over the water and provide shade from the sun.e pond we planted Brooklime, Celandine, Water Forget-me-not, Purple Loosestriffe, Creeping Jenny, Gipsy Wort, Bog Arum, Water Avens and Wild Iris.
(Click on a picture to enlarge it.)
The logs shown in the photograph on the left by the weeping Willow were stacked into a pile to provide a home for invertebrates and next to it a ‘wild-life motel’ was constructed from some old pallets and filled with logs, rocks, slate and anything else that could provide shelter and a home for other forms of wild-life.
I found the design for the ‘motel’ on the Internet. It had been designed for the BBC for a wild-life display the Corporation had made at a national exhibition in Birmingham a few years before.
The finished pond.
On the west edge of the meadow a small Silver Birch (betula) and a small Goat Willow (salix caprea) tree that had grown wild, had been deliberately left with the intention of adding a few more trees to create a small spinney. Our American friends did not know the word spinney or what it meant. Wikipedia describes it as “a small copse or wood, especially planted as a shelter for game birds”. Our spinney was not just intended as a shelter for game birds (pheasants being the only game bird we have seen here), but a shelter for any bird and any other form of wild life.
Spinney tree delivery 28 June 2011.
The spinney on 8 July 2011, walnut tree in foreground
We decided to create the spinney with Silver Birch trees (betula pendula) to add to the one already growing there. Five potted Silver Birch trees (about eight feet tall) were purchased from a local garden centre with the intention of planting them close enough to each other to eventually grow together and create a small wooded and sheltered area (a spinney). It was intended to sow different wild-flower seed beneath the trees (wild flowers that prefer shade) and different native bulbs around the base of each tree. A potted Walnut tree was also purchased from the garden centre but this wasn’t to be part of the spinney, although it was to be planted close to it. The trees were planted at the beginning of July 2011, before the seed was sown, and each was staked and watered regularly. The wild-flower seed and bulbs were sown and planted beneath the trees in October.
A bespoke rustic wooden seat was positioned on the edge of the spinney (to provide a resting place whilst walking around the meadow) and a similar seat positioned at the top of the meadow facing south across the pond and meadow. Bases for the two seats were created using paving slabs cemented into position.
The wild-flower seed was to be sown at the beginning of October with the intention it germinate the following spring. This appeared to be the favourite option, the alternative being to sow in the late spring to germinate the same year. We decided not to risk this and have the seeds dry out if we had a long dry summer. Whereas I was able to keep the new trees in the spinney well watered, I would not have been able to keep the whole meadow watered!
After Gregory power harrowed the meadow, weeds started appearing in the soil and were killed off with Round Up. I had to do this several times during the summer to keep the meadow weed free ready for seed sowing, and to make the job easier I purchased a 20 litre back-pack sprayer.
In the middle of August I hired a walk-behind rotavator to turn the top nine inches of soil in the field and then raked it by hand to remove the larger stones to create a fine grain soil suitable for seed sowing. I then used small canes and string to mark where the paths were to be. The meadow is roughly rectangular and there was to be a path around the east, south and west sides (it bordered the end of our garden on the north side), and another in a winding loop from the east side of the pond, through the centre of the meadow, past the edge of the spinney and back to the other side of the pond, with access points from the northeast, southeast and southwest corners of the perimeter path.
I bought the seed from Naturescape British Wild Flowers of Langar, Nottinghamshire, selecting their Long Season Meadow Mixture (NV5) and their Grasses Mixture (NV) suitable for clay soil, in the proportion of 80% grass and 20% flower seed. I mixed this with some additonal seed of flowers particularly attractive to butterflies. I also bought their Hedgerow Mix seeds and a selection of native bulbs (Bluebell, Lesser Celandine, Wild Daffodil, Star of Bethlehem and Wood Anenome) to plant under the trees in the spinney, and plain native grass seed for the paths.
Kevin returned on 3 October and sowed all the seed, and we waited for spring for it to germinate.
Late in the summer, and as a bit of an afterthought, we decided to build a native hedge around the south and west sides of the meadow that bordered our neighbour’s large 20 acre field that the additonal land had once been part of. We thought the hedge would act as a backdrop to the meadow, hopefully encourage some hedgerow type wild-life in addition to more meadow wild-life, and deter the deer that frequent the area from entering the meadow (and eating the flowers, etc in our garden!).
Again, the Internet was researched to learn about creating wild-life native hedges, and the preferred option was to plant bare-root saplings in January. We decided to plant the saplings 18 inches apart in a double standard row formation, 12 inches between the rows. The total length of the two sides of the meadow is 386 feet, plus an additional 60 feet to extend the hedge on the west side alongside the top meadow. That meant we needed 600 saplings!
I bought bare-root 60-90cms saplings from Mill Farm Trees of Bury Mill Farm, Bury, West Sussex selecting their Mixed Native Farm Hedging plants (Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Dog-rose, Hazel and Spindle). I added some Wayfarer and extra Blackthorn (to encourage the Brown Hairstreak butterfly, that I had never seen). In hindsight I should also have added some Buckthorn to attract the Brimstone butterfly but now, five years later, I have a few small gaps in the hedge that I will fill with Buckthorn.
I also purchased 600 canes and spiral rabbit guards. Soon after we bought the additonal land in 2002, I had tried to make the whole area to the south and west of our house ‘rabbit proof’, to prevent the rabbits eating the shrubs and plants in our garden. This was done by attaching wire netting to the existing fences and burying the bottom nine inches in the ground to stop the rabbits burrowing underneath it. This had been successful with just the occasional rabbit being seen in the ‘restricted area’ through a break in the wire netting, but they had not established any burrows or colonies in the area. Despite this, I wanted to make sure our new hedge saplings would be safe, hence the rabbit guards! (After three years, when the saplings became established, I removed the guards and sold them on eBay to a man in Hampshire who was creating a large wood.)
The 600 saplings were delivered at the beginning of January 2012 and on the 11th, Kevin returned with his mini-digger and for the next two days we worked together to plant them. While Kevin dug a 12 inch wide trench around the south and west sides of the meadow, and planted the bare-root saplings in a double row, I backfilled the trench and inserted the canes and rabbit guards.
I then bought a further quantity of the Hedgerow Mix seed from Naturescape British Wild Flowers and sowed it on 10 April around the base of the saplings, that by then were starting to sprout new shoots (and convincing us they were still alive because when we planted the bare-root plants in January, they looked dead!) and hoping 2012 wouldn’t be a long dry summer and the seed dry out. It wasn’t and soon the seed started to germinate and grow and the new shoots on the saplings The amount of new foliage increased during the summer and by August we could see the basis of a young hedge beginning to form.
Rotavator to prepare for seed sowing.
Hedge planting 11 January 2012.
Hedge planting with rabbit guards.
West boundary hedge (looking north) on 29 May 2012.
West boundary hedge (looking south) on 10 August 2012.
2012 - the first summer
In March 2012 enough of the grass seed in the meadow had germinated to turn the meadow green and by the middle of May it had turned blue and green from the Borage, the first of the flower seed to blossom on 11 May. The first Cornflower blossomed on 13 May and this added to the blue. At the end of May the colour of the meadow slowly changed to red, white and blue as more Cornflower blossomed to take over from the dying Borage, the first Poppy (red) bloomed on 21 May and the first Ox-eye Daisy (white) on 29 May. By the beginning of June the meadow was a mass of red, white and blue.
The plants we had planted in and around the pond had also started growing. The Lesser Celandine (yellow) had bloomed in April, the first Wild Iris (blue) on 23 May and the first Water Lily (white) on 27 May.
The water insects that started occupying the water within 24 hours of filling it in 2011, and those that followed in the next few days, had by this time taken up permanent residence in the pond. I really tested my photography skills in trying to photograph the water insects to help me identify them, and these are some of the pictures of insects on the surface taken that first summer.
Northeast corner of the meadow (looking west) on 26 March 2012.
Southwest corner of the meadow (looking northeast) on 11 May 2011 with Borage starting to bloom.
Northwest corner of the meadow (looking southeast) on 10 June 2012
Northeast corner of the meadow (looking west) on
29 May 2012.
And these insects on the right were under the water near the bottom of the pond.
An unidentified insect.
Water Beetle behind a newt.
Completed hedge planting on west boundary (looking north).
Damsel and Dragonflies starting frequenting the pond in May and provided us with hours of entertainment as we watched them flitting across and round the pond. Their different colours are quite stunning and one day I will try and identify the different species.
In August I spotted the first Toad in the pond, a large brown one, popping his head out of the water by a rock at the edge.
On 20 April we had our first Mallard ducks, a male and a female, visit the pond, and on 30 April I discovered their nest in some ivy on the top of a seven feet gate pillar close to our house. I was able to see if the female was sitting on the nest from an upstairs bedroom window and the first time she was absent I checked the nest and saw five eggs; when I checked again two days later this had increased to six.
Male and Female Mallard 20 April 2012
Nest with five eggs 30 April 2012.
Nest with six eggs 2 May 2012.
Female Mallard sitting on nest 1 May 2012.
I didn’t go near the nest again as I didn’t want to disturb it and on 18 May - disaster! As I walked out of our conservatory close to the nest I saw some broken eggs on the patio and no female on the nest. Realising something had attacked the nest, I checked and saw all the eggs had gone and the nest had been ransacked. I doubt a fox was responsible, due to the nest being high off the ground and difficult to reach, and my main suspect is another bird, probably a Magpie or a Jay who frequent our property, who had spotted the eggs when flying over the nest when the female Mallard was absent. A week later the male and female Mallard were back on the pond, apparantly none the worse for their ordeal, or perhaps they were a different pair?
The year 2012 was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and in June the whole country was celebrating it with the colours red, white and blue. The meadow was red, white and blue from the three dominant blooming flowers (Poppy, Ox-eye daisey and Cornflower) and it drew much attention from walkers using the public footpath that runs around the outside of the south and west sides of the meadow. On several occasions when I was working in the meadow, walkers congratulated me on my forward planning for the Jubilee, but I didn’t let on it had happened by pure luck!
The northeast corner of the meadow (looking southwest) on 18 June 2012.
Close-up showing the red, white and blue of the Poppy, Cornflower and Ox-eye Daisy.
The meadow was predominantly white at the beginning of July from the Ox-eye daisy and Hogweed, although there was still a little red and blue from late flowering Poppies and Cornflowers. At the end of July, the grass started turning brown, and at the beginning of August the meadow, still mainly white from the Hogweed and a few late blooming Ox-eye daisies, was now mixed with brown instead of green.
The mostly white meadow on 10 August 2012
(looking west from the northest corner).
The trees in the spinney sprouted new shoots and growth in the spring and by August 2012 were beginning to look well established.
The spinney on 10 August 2012 showing one of the two bespoke rustic seats.
At the start of the summer I had started a spreadsheet to record the first sighting of each butterfly species I saw in the meadow and in our garden (see the Butterflies web-page), and another to record the first bloom of each wild-flower. I intended to maintain the spreadsheets annually to enable comparisons to be made between one year and another and also against the weather conditions of each year. From 2014 I was able to do this with the data compiled from my own personal weather station, Gay Street Weather (see the Weather web-page).
I saw 20 different species of butterfly in the meadow and our garden that first summer, made up of most of the common species one would expect to see here, and on 9 August a Silver-washed Fritillary, that I had never seen before, feeding on one of the Buddlia bushes I had planted along the western edge of the top natural meadow to attract butterflies.
Because of my life-long interest in butterflies, I had also had a passing interest in moths but had never studied them in detail. On 24 May I saw, what I first thought was a butterfly, flying in the meadow. At first I thought it was a Chequered Skipper but as this butterfly is almost extinct and only found in one or two colonies in west Scotland, I knew it couldn’t be that. When the moth landed on some grass, I managed to photograph it and later identified it as a Mother Shipton, one of the 133 day-time macro flying moths in Great Britain.
The sighting of the Mother Shipton sparked an intention to learn more about moths in the hope that I might see more of the day-time flyers in the meadow, but the only other one I saw that first summer was a Cinnebar feeding on a rogue Yellow Ragwort (the larva feeding plant) growing in the meadow.
Mother Shipton moth.
Like most people, I knew that moths were attracted to light at night and I remember my childhood friend Clive Stace telling me that people who caught and collected moths often used a specially designed moth trap fitted with an ultra-violet bulb to catch them. I had often wondered why moths were attracted to light and during my new learning about them, I was very surprised to discover that despite the great advances in science and technology in recent years, nobody knows! Several theories have been submitted over the years but all have holes in them and the only fact that scientists do agree on is that nobody knows the answer for sure!
In addition to the flowers previously mentioned the following flowers also bloomed in the meadow that first summer: Bulbous and Meadow Buttercup (yellow), Common Sorrel (brown), Common Vetch (purple), Dandelion (yellow), Red Campion (red), Red Clover (red), White Clover (white), Red Deadnettle (red), Scarlet Pimpernel (orange), Shepherd’s Purse (white), Sun Spurge (green), Chickweed (white), White campion white), Wild Pansy (violet) and Yellow Rattle (yellow).
By the beginning of September everything in the meadow had turned brown and it was therefore time to cut it for the first time.
Opinions vary as to the best time of the year to cut a wild-flower meadow, but everyone agrees it should be cut at least once each year. We had sown ‘long season’ seed in the hope that flowers would continue to bloom for later in the summer and had therefore decided that the September would be the best time to cut it. By that time the flower heads should have seeded and dropped their seed for the following year’s plants. Whatever time of the year a wild-flower meadow is cut, opinion is agreed that the cut grass and flowers should be raked and removed to prevent nutrients going back into the soil.
Our neighbour immediately to the north of us is Ian Cobb, who runs a 22 acre horse farm, Kilbrannon Stud. He has a farm tractor with various attachments, including a grass cutter to keep his fields in good shape for the horses. I arranged with Ian for him to cut our meadow, which he did on 21 September. Over the next few days, I hand-raked the meadow to remove the cut grass and flowers and burnt them on a bonfire. I then went over the meadow with my garden tractor to cut the odd piece Ian’s tractor had missed.
The following year, 2013 was rather disappointing in that the Borage didn’t flower in the quantity it had in 2012 and the Poppy and Cornflower did not bloom at all, causing the field to be a mass of white in June from mainly the Ox-eye Daisy. Other flowers bloomed but they were mostly shorter than the Ox-eye Daisy and could only be seen when walking close to, or through, the meadow. I then discovered that Poppy and Cornflower seeds need turned or ploughed soil to germinate and although I could not do that to the meadow, I could sow more seed, which I did on 3 October 2013 after I had cut the meadow.
The meadow before cutting in mid-September 2012 (looking north from the southwest corner).
Ian’s farm tractor and grass cutting attachment.
Ian systematically cutting the meadow for the first time on 21 September 2012.
Raking up and burning the cut grass.
The finished meadow on 22 November 2012
(looking northwest from the southeast corner).
White Plume moth.
2013 was a better year from the butterfly viewpoint (and the best of the five year period 2012-2016) with 22 different species sighted, two more than 2012. This number included all the species I had seen in 2012, except the Small Heath, plus Clouded Yellow, Large Skipper and Ringlet that I hadn’t seen in 2012. The first sighting of the Silver-washed Fritillary was on 9 August, exactly the same day as the first sighting in 2012, causing me to wonder if this species has some form of built-in calendar!
2013 was also a better year for day flying moths. Whereas I didn’t see a Cinnebar that I had seen in 2012, I did see a Mother Shipton again, plus a Large Yellow Underwing, Shaded Broad Bar, Silver Y, Six Spot Burnet, White Plume and an agriphila tristella. I wondered at first if the White Plume I sighted on 22 June was a moth because it wasn’t like anything I had seen before, but discovered there is a family of several different species of Plume.
The Willow tree we planted next to the pond had by now become well established, so much so that on 21 July I noticed something had been eating some of the leaves. Closer examination revealed several caterpillars of the Puss Moth that feed on Willow leaves. The caterpillar is very colourful and has quite an unusual shape.
Although we had Mallards regularly visit the pond from time to time in the spring, we were not aware of any of them nesting close by. All the same pond life that had appeared in 2012 was again present this summer and, in addition, on 26 July I saw a Smooth Newt, swimming on the surface and looking very much at home.
Caterpillar of the Puss Moth on the Willow tree.
During the summer of 2013 I changed the cutting attachment of my garden tractor from a standard cutter to a mulch type cutter as this was better for cutting longer grass like that in the meadow. I wanted to be able to cut the meadow myself rather than have to rely on Ian as I had done in 2012. The disadvantage of the mulch cutter was that it was not as good at collecting the cut grass as the standard cutter, but this didn’t matter as Ian’s cutter did not collect the grass anyway.
By the middle of September, everything growing in the meadow had turned brown and it was time to cut it again. The new attachment on the tractor worked fine but, unlike Ian who had cut the grass short enough in one sweep, I had to go over it a second time (at right angles to the first cut). The cut grass was again left a few days to dry and then raked up and burnt.
Before cutting on 25 September 2013
(looking northeast from southwest clrner).
Refuelling while cutting (looking southeast showing.bespoke seat on edge of spinney).
The grass and flowers had grown very tall.
(looking northwest from southeast corner)
Raking up and burning.
Finished meadow on 2 Octoberr 2012
(looking northwest from southeast corner).
Within two years the spinney had grown considerably and was beginning to take shape. The picture on the right shows the spinney on 13 May 2013. The bulbs planted beneath each of the Silver Birch trees flowered in March and April, and the Bluebells were beginning to make a nice showing beneath the southwest tree in the spinney, hopefully in time they will form a pretty blue carpet every May.
The hedge continued to grow and the Dog-rose blossomed for the first time (turning into green Rose Hips in August and red in the autumn) together with blossom from the Hawthorn and Wayfaring Tree. The Hawthorn blossom turned to pretty red berries in the autumn and the Wayfaring Tree first turned to green berries in July, red in August and finally to black in the autumn. There was also some blossom from the Blackthorn that, although being identical to Hawthorn blossom, makes it appearance before the new leaves appear, unlike Hawthorn that does not blossom until after the new leaves have appeared.
The spinney on 19 May 2013.
Native Bluebells beneath one of the Silver Birch trees in the spinney on 13 May 2013.
Wayfaring Tree red fruit.
A rather disappointing year in that the Cornflower and Poppy seed I had sown the previous October didn’t germinate, and I reluctantly accepted the seed really did need turned or ploughed ground to germinate, and I would not try again. In June the meadow was a repeat of 2013 in that it was a mass of white from the Ox-eye daisy but very little Borage again. The Hogweed started blossoming at the end of June adding to the white of the Ox-eye Daisy.
The Pampas Grass by the Koi pond where the Mallards nested in 2014.
Mrs Mallard with her ten ducklings on 21 June 2014.
Wayfaring Tree black fruit.
Green Rose |Hips.
Red Rose |Hips.
The butterfly count for 2014 was 20, the same as the first year of 2012 and two down on 2013, but it did include my first Brown Hairstreak, seen resting on Blackthorn in the southern boundary hedge on 18 August. I was very pleased with this sighting for two reasons: it was the first time I had ever seen a Brown Hairstreak and attracting this species had been the sole reason I had added extra Blackthorn saplings when the hedge was planted in January 2012.
On the left the southern boundary hedge (looking east) on 14 May 2014 and the same shot on 18 May.
What a difference a few weeks make! On the left is the meadow (looking northeast from the southwest corner) on 18 May 2014 and right, the same shot on 6 June.
I didn’t see a Large Skipper, Ringlet, Silver-washed Fritillary or a Small Copper that I had sighted the previous year.
The day-time moth count for 2014 was also down on the previous year, but only by one from seven to six. I again saw a Large Yellow Underwing, Mother Shipton and Six Spot Burnet that I had seen in 2013, and three new species: Brown House-moth, Burnet Companion and Common Nettle-tap.
The hedge continued to grow and this year the Spindle and Blackthorn blossomed in addition to the Dog-rose, Hawthorn and Wayfaring Tree that had blossomed the previous year. The blossom of the Spindle is a rather unattractive yellowish colour but the very attractive red berries in the autumn more than make up for this.
Mallards again visited the pond regularly in the spring and by accident, when trimming the edge of a small Koi pond close to the house, I disturbed a female Mallard who had made her nest inside a large Pampas Grass on the edge of the pond (on the right in the photograph). The thickness of the grass prevented me from seeing when she was sitting on the nest and so I was unable to see how many eggs were there. The pond is about 150 feet from the meadow pond.
There were obviously at least ten eggs in the nest because on 21 June we saw the female with ten ducklings swimming on the meadow pond. Later that day, while working in our barn some 300 feet away from the pond, I heard the chirp of young ducklings coming from behind the barn. I crept round the barn to see the female Mallard walking away from the barn towards the meadow pond with nine of the ducklings in a line behind her. What had happened to the tenth duckling, I wondered, and what had they been doing behind the barn?
A frantic chirp from behind the barn revealed the tenth duckling and I could see it had been caught in some rabbit fencing attached to the back of the barn. The duckling had tried to walk through one of the holes in the fencing and had got its head caught. I carefully managed to free it and walked to the pond where the female and other ducklings were swimming. I lowered it to the water and it quickly swam towards the others as if nothing had happened appearing none the worse for its ordeal.
I felt pleased having done my good deed for the day but still wondered what the ducklings and their mother had been doing behind the barn. The internet provided the answer; evidently when ducklings are very young, it is not uncommon for their mother to walk them to other ponds in the area in search of food, and sometimes back again, walk because they cannot fly at that age. My neighbour has a pond, slightly larger than ours, and our barn is in a direct line between his pond and ours.
The colour of the meadow was quite different, and more interesting, in 2015, initally just yellow in April from the Cowslip, to yellow and purple in May from the Meadow Buttercup, Yellow Rattle, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Ragged Robin, then some white added in June from the Ox-eye Daisy and Hogweed and more purple in July as the Knapweed replaced the Ragged Robin.
This was an average year for butterfly sightings with 21 different species seen, including several Brown Hairstreaks but not until the first one on 8 September, and a Silver-washed Fritillary on 30 July. I didn’ see a Clouded Yellow, Orange Tip or Small Heath that I had seen in 2014.
Although 2015 was an average year for butterfly sightings it was a great year for day-time moths (the best of the five year period) with 20 different species spotted, including 12 I had never seen before. The new species were Angle Shades, Bordered Straw, Broad Blotch Drill (a micro moth), Clouded Border (a migrant from southern Europe), Common Carpet, Grass Rivulet, Hummingbird Hawk, Sandy Carpet, Small China-mark, Yarrow Plume, Yellow Face-bell and Yellow Shell.
During the summer my interest in day-time moths extended to night flying moths. I remember my childhood friend Clive Stace telling me about night-flying moths and how people used an ultra-violet lamp and trap to catch them during the night. Research on the internet quickly revealed that such moth traps are readily available for purchase or they can be built yourself. I decided to do the latter and am slowly writing about it on the Wild Life\Moths web page, where I have also published photographs of some of the moths I caught in it, together with photographs of the day-flying moths seen.
The different colour of the meadow (left) on 28 May 2015 (looking southeast from the northwest corner) due tothe Ragged Robin
The hedge was now beginning to look like a hedge and I trimmed it for the first time in the autumn. We want the hedge to be about five feet tall, not too tall to prevent people looking over it but high (and wide) enough to deter the deer that frequent the adjacent field, from jumping over and eating the flowers and plants in the meadow and garden!
The plants in the pond had now become well established and in the late summer it was necessary to thin some of them out, in particular the Water Lily and pond weed.
Mallards again frequented the pond in the spring and this year nested on the grass island in the middle of the pond. The female Mallard was so quiet and disguised in the grass that I almost trod on her when I walked onto the island one day. In an attempt to prevent foxes and other predators from attacking her, I constructed a wire netting barrier on the bridge to prevent access to the island. This obviously worked because on 16 May she appeared on the pond with nine ducklings. After a couple of weeks they suddenly disappeared; we assumed they moved on to another pond somewhere as we were unable to find any signs of an attack, struggle, etc.
The southern boundary hedge (looking west)
on 25 September 2015.
Looking south across the pond and meadow on 25 September 2015 showing how much the Willow tree (behind the seat) has grown. The South Downs can be seen in the far distance.
The water level in the pond seemed low at times, even after it had been raining, and I wondered if there was a leak in the liner. A close examination of the liner around the water level failed to reveal anything. The land (lawn) between the house and the pond slopes towards the pond and in an attempt to keep the pond topped up, I installed a water diverter on one of the house gutter down pipes and directed the water through a hose to the pond, burying the hose about six inches in the back lawn.
The Silver Birch trees in the spinney were now well established and growning well, but the original two trees were growning even better, and beginning to dwarf the new trees. The picture shows the spinney on 25 September 2015 and in 2016 I may crop the two original trees to a similar height of the five new ones. Also established was the Weeping Willow tree over the pond, so much so that it didn’t now require its stake.
The spinney on 25 September 2015.
Mrs Mallard and her nine ducklings on 16 May 2015.
The plants on the pond continued to grow well and will soon need thinning out again. Despite the installation of the water diverter in 2015, the water level in the pond still seemed lower than what it should be, especially during June which was a very wet month (double the normal rainfall - 103.4mm from 14 rain days against an average of 50mm from eight rain days). Close examination of the liner again failed to reveal any leak but it is something I am going to have to keep a close eye on in the future. The picture shows the pond in the middle of August which, with July, were both very dry months, with less than half the average rain (22.5mm in July against an average of 56mm, and 31.3mm in August against an average of 61.6mm).
Mallards again nested in the area, this time returning to the nest they built in 2014 in the Pampas Grass by the small Koi pond. On 10 June we saw the female and eight ducklings swimming on the Koi pond and later that day watched the female lead her ducklings down to the meadow pond. Two days later we watched as the female led the ducklings on another walk, this time past the back of our barn (where the duckling had got caught in the wire netting in 2014) to our neighbour’s pond. We didn’t see them again.
The meadow on 5 June 2016.
Looking south across the pond on 14 August 2016 .
The newly born ducklings on the koi pond on
10 June 2016.
Waddling across land from the Koi pond to the meadow pond.
Safely arrived and swimming on the meadow pond.
I had intended cropping the two largest trees in the spinney this summer but for various reasons, didn’t do it. The hedge continued to grow and will again need trimming in the autumn to help retain its shape and keep it to about five feet high.
Another average year for butterfly sightings with 21 different species seen, the same as in 2015. Brown Hairstreak continued to frequent the Blackthorn in the hedge and the first sighting of it was earlier than the previous two years, on 5 August. No Silver-washed Fritillary, Large Skipper or Small Heath this year, although I did see an Orange Tip and Clouded Yellow that I didn’t see in 2015. The absence of a Small Heath was the second year running (last seen in 2014).
Over the five year period 2012-2016 I have seen a total of 24 different butterfly species made up of 20 in 2012, 22 in 2013 (the best year), 20 in 2014 and 21 in 2015 and 2016. Research by the Sussex Branch of Butterfly Conservation suggests it is highly likely the Brown Argus, Grizzled Skipper, Purple Emperor, Purple Hairstreak and White Admiral could be seen here as they have all been sighted in the immediate surrounding area, although the latter three only in woodland. I did see a solitary White Admiral in our garden several years before we created the meadow.
Although the day-time moth sightings were down on 2015 from 20 to 12, it was still better than the previous three years and included two new species: Diamond Back and Plum Tortrix. In the five year period since 2012 I have seen 25 different species of day-flying moths.
The southern boundary hedge (looking west) on
19 July 2016.
In the spring of 2016 my brother Tim got me interested in birds and suggested I keep a record of the different species I see here each year. Her had been doing this at his house in France, where he had lived with his wife Gill for several years, as he had been a keen bird watcher most of his life. I bought some bird feeders and positioned them on the back lawn close to the house so I could photograph the birds as they fed, together with other birds that came into our garden from time to time. This led to my bird identification skills improving plus a further challenge to my photography skills. I will add pictures of the birds to a bird web-page that I will add to the Wild-life menu on the website in due course.
A few birds only frequent the meadow, or mainly frequent the meadow, and so I have included them here. The Herons very patiently waited by the edge of the meadow pond for some time before deciding there weren’t any fish there, and flying away. Theye was right! When we built the pond in 2011 we thought about stocking it with some native fish. Research about wild-life ponds on the Internet revealed there are two schools of thought about this. Some consider that a wild-life pond isn’t a true wild-life pond unless it is stocked with some native fish. The other school of thought is that a pond with fish does not have as much wild-life in it as one without fish, because the fish eat some of the wild-life! We decided not to stock our pond with fish on the premise that we could always stock it later, but once stocked it would be difficult to remove the fish if we later decided we did not want them because they did indeed eat the wild-life. Five years later we are still happy with our decision although the Heron needed to be convinced of it!
I almost trod on the Yellowhammer while walking through the meadow on 9 June 2016 and it flew up from the ground into one of the trees in the spinney. I later learnt the birds build their nests in tall grass on the ground (just like a meadow) but despite a thorough search where in the area where I had disturbed it, I was unable to find a nest. Perhaps it was in the preliminary stages of building a nest or even just looking where to build one?
The Linnets were part of a large flock that frequented the meadow for several days in the first half of June, often taking refuge in the Willow tree by the pond and the trees in the spinney. Another flock of birds frequented the meadow for several days in the middle of July, mainly on the ground amongst the tall grasses and flowers, but occasionally up in the Willow tree and the spinney trees. I haven’t yet been able to identify them yet but Tim thinks they could be juvenile Goldfinches (without the red and black on the head that the adults have).
When counting birds seen in a particular location, do they have to be on the ground or in a tree or some other construction attached to the ground, or can they be in the air flying over the location? If the latter then I can include the Red Kite seen soaring with several others high in the sky above the meadow on 28 May. They have been regularly spotted this sumnmer in the skies above the Storrington area of West Sussex.
The proverb ‘One Swallow does not make a summer’ (attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle) leads us to believe that summer starts when the first Swallows appear after their long journey northwards from their winter home in South Africa - one of the many wonders of nature. In 2016 this occurred on 12 May, the same date as in 2012. When they do arrive, the Swallows provide us with lots of entertainment as they swoop across the pond, just inches above the water, on hot summer days looking for insects to feed on.
The Canada Goose doesn’t really count as it was in our neighbour’s 20 acre field south of the meadow, which the meadow was once part of, but as it was only about 100 feet from the meadow, I decided to include it, just for interest.
Herons frequent the meadow pond from time to time - the left one on 11 May 2012 and the right on 9 June 2016.
Yellowhammer in one of the trees in the spinney in June 2016.
Some of the flock of Linnets in the spinney trees in June 2016.
Unidentified birds, part of a flock in the top of the Willow tree by the pond in July 2016.
One of two Canada Goose in the field south of the meadow on 26 April 2016.
A Red Kite soaring in the skies above the meadow on 28 May 2016.
A swallow swooping over the meadow pond looking for food.
I also became interested in bees, due to the different species that visited the meadow and a desire to identify them, and joined the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to help me do this. My new interest in bees helped one of our older grandsons solve a Christmas present problem in 2015 when he gave us a Beepol Lodge, manufactured by Dragonfli Ltd of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk (see <https://www.arkwildlife.co.uk/Item/Wildlife_Habitats~Pollinating_Bees/BBBL/Beepol_ Range.html>). The lodge is intended as a home for bumblebees (as opposed to a hive for honey bees) in which they can build a nest, lay eggs and rear new bees.
The Lodge can be sited on the ground or raised up on a bracket attached to a fence, tree or wall, but should be in a semi-shaded area, ideally which catches the morning sun. It has a plastic trap-door type cover over the entrance hole to prevent the larva of the wax moth, and any other unwanted creatures, from entering the Lodge. The cover allows exiting bees to push it open from the inside and entering bees to open by pushing the lip on two of the corners.
A live colony is needed to activate the Lodge and this can be purchased from Dragonfli Ltd for delivery between April and the end of June. The colony consists of a queen, workers and eggs of the Buff-tailed Bumblebee (species bombus, terrestris and audax). Our live colony arrived on 12 May and after leaving it a while for the bees to settle down, I installed it in the Lodge that we had sited on the ground next to the small Koi pond, and watched with anticipation.
After a short while the first bee emerged from the opening and flew in a small circle around the Lodge and then in ever-increasing circles until it disappeared from sight. This was obviously the, “... map your garden” procedure described in the instructions that came with the colony. The instructions also said the bees would return to the Lodge after about 10-20 minutes with pollen loads on their legs.
More bees followed the first one out of the Lodge and carried out the same procedure before flying off and, sure enough, after about 20 minutes started returning laden with pollen. At first the bees were unsure how to re-enter the Lodge but eventually discovered that by pushing the lip on one of the two corners of the cover, they could gain entry. Thereafter they did this automatically each time they returned to the Lodge.
The live colony is contained in a clear plastic case that fits inside the Lodge, and enables the bees and nest to be seen when the Lodge cover is raised. When it first arrived the nest only occupied a small part of the case but within a short time it covered the whole of the case, indicating everything was working as it should. This was to be expected in view of the close availability of pollen from the flowers in the meadow and our garden.
The Beepol Lodge.
During June we noticed a reduction in the number of bees exiting and entering the Lodge and by the end of the month could not see any. The nest now occupied the whole of the inside of the case but I could not see any bees alive, just two dead ones, and reluctantly came to the conclusion the colony must have come to an end. We will try again next year with a new live colony and hope they last longer.
As one would expect, we have had a number of wasp nests in and around the meadow, mostly in the ground but one in the wild-life ‘motel’ and one in the small mound of earth in the northwest corner of the meadow in August 2013. This was a particularly large nest with many wasps coming and going at its peak.
Beepol Lodge inside. top.
Close-up of the inside of the top of the Beepol Lodge.
The nest at the end of June after the bees vacated the lodge..
The meadow has provided us, our family and friends with a great deal of pleasure and interest since its first year of growth in 2012. It has been of particular interest to our youngest grandson Jenson, born in July 2012 and grown as the meadow has grown. Jenson has developed an interest in insects and bugs, despite his young age, which we like to think has been partly fuelled by his regular vists to the meadow.
Had we not created the meadow, the one acre field would probably have continued growing wild and looking unsightly, particularly for the walkers using the public footpath around the west and south sides, as well as us having to look at it from the house! Although some forms of wild-life would still have frequented the field, there is no doubt the meadow has caused much more to do so.
One of the success stories of the meadow has been the Brown Hairstreak butterfly, the largest of the Hairstreak family. As mentioned previously, I had never seen this species before, mainly due to its rarity (allocated ‘Priority’ by UKBAP [UK Biodiversity Action Plan], ‘Vulnerable’ on the Butterfly Red List for Great Britain and ‘Sale Prohibited’ in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981), and increasing the amount of Blackthorn (the feed plant of the caterpillar) in the boundary hedge to attract it had been the sole reason for doing that. I first sighted the Brown Hairstreak on 18 August 2014 on the Blackthorn in the hedge on the southern boundary, and again on 8 September 2015 and 5 August 2016, again on the Blackthorn but this time in the west boundary hedge. All these sightings have been of the female, who lays her eggs singularly on the Blackthorn in late summer, where they stay all winter, hatching the following May and June. The males are much more difficult to see, spending most of their time high in trees (often Ash) and only coming lower to feed.
Jenson looking for bugs on 15 July 2015 when he was three years old.
And again on 7 June 2016 when he was almost four.
Female Brown Hairstreak on the Blackthorn in the western boundary hedge on 8 September 2015.
Insects mating, 8 June 2016
Wasp nest August 2013.
Two Toads, left on 25 September 2013 and right on 12 June 2014
Discarded Grass Snake skin 27 September 2013.
The meadow has caused me to extend my interest and improve my knowledge within nature from butterflies to moths and other forms of lepidoptery, insects, wild flowers, animals and birds, and also increase my photography skills in trying to photograph them. I bought several books, found some good websites that I regularly visit, and joined Butterfly Conservation and the Sussex Branch of the Conservation, the Sussex Moth Group and the Bee Conservation Trust.
Finally, soon after creating the meadow in 2011 I decided to dedicate it to my wife June. I made a rustic wooden sign to show this, and a post to display it on, by the seat on the north side of the meadow overlooking the pond.
And finally, finally, coming more up to date, a few pictures of the meadow in autumn taken on 31 October 2016.