Many thanks to Andrew Martin, the CMG chaiman, for the following report on several events he’s been to recently…
July 1st was National Meadows Day. A laudable idea, but one that inevitably requires decisions on which of the events being held simultaneously in our area to attend, and which to miss. There was the open day at Pencraig Goch, (Ruth Watkin’s farm), also an open day at Gelli Uchaf, (Julian and Fiona Wormald’s smallholding), and another event at Dinefwr, Llandeilo. Having enjoyed the excellent guided tour of part of the National Nature Reserve at Carmel this time last year, it was good to read that our guide, Dr. Lizzie Wilberforce of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, would be returning to conduct a group round the rest of the reserve which we didn’t get to last year. (Small Heath butterfly…) This reserve includes areas either side of the A476 between Gorslas and Carmel village, and it contains a mosaic of woodland and grassland (both semi-improved and unimproved, and both neutral and calcareous), and the industrial past is evident from two large quarries and several lime kilns. More details of the reserve can be found here:
The following day (2nd July) brought about a return to Carmel, this time for a Bumblebee event led by Sinead Lynch of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust who, some readers may remember, gave a very good talk on Bumblebees at our Spring meeting at Pumsaint Hall. This was an opportunity to catch some bumblebees from flowers and get a good enough look at them to enable identification to species. They were then released without harm. (Any ideas on this bumblebee?)
Bumblebees, at least the common species, of which there are 7 that can be seen anywhere in SW Wales, are mostly not too difficult to identify. There are also some rarer species and the cuckoo bumblebees which complicate things somewhat. But, as a former bumblebee researcher, I would like to warn would-be bumblebee spotters to beware of learning to identify them using their common names. The English names may seem more cuddly, user-friendly and helpfully descriptive than the scary academic sounding Latin names, but they are very misleading. For example, the first bee we caught, on a bramble flower, was a buff-tailed bumblebee, the accepted common name for Bombus terrestris. It had a white tail, not a buff tail, only queens have a buff tail, workers and males have white tails. We also caught a white-tailed bumblebee, the usual common name for B. lucorum. Like the buff tailed, it has a white tail, but only people like Sinead who are a lot more expert than me can distinguish terrestris from lucorum workers without a dead or anaesthetised specimen and a microscope. We caught several of the early bumblebee, B. pratorum. But it’s not called the early bumblebee because you are likely to see it earlier in the day, or the year, than the others, it’s because it finishes its life cycle earlier than some other species so it might fit in another generation during the same year. It has a red tail, but so does the red-tailed bumblebee B. lapidarius. We also caught a garden bumblebee, B. hortorum; at the time we were about 3/4 mile from the nearest garden and there is no evidence that they are more associated with gardens than any other species. It also has a white tail. We caught a few cuckoo bees, B. sylvestris, also with a largely white tail. Their common name is the forest cuckoo bee despite it having no particular association with forests.
There have been potentially valuable accounts of the natural history of bumblebees written in the past which are actually now useless because common local names (they vary with location) were used, and there is now no way of knowing to which species they referred. All UK bumblebees, including the cuckoo bees, are now in the same genus Bombus, only the species names are different. So rather than trying to learn apparently descriptive names which aren’t, it’s actually much easier to learn the single-word species names, like terrestris, lucorum, lapidarius, pratorum, pascuorum, hortorum, hypnorum. There, seven species, and seven unambiguous, not misleading, names.
(Fox and Cubs and ?? Cat’s Ear??)
Yet another visit to Carmel (the Village Hall as well as the reserve) the following Friday (8th July) for a course on identifying yellow Asteraceae. These are the hawkweeds, hawk’s beards, cats ears, hawkbits etc. that strike terror into most semi-skilled field botanists as they are very difficult to identify (unless you know how…..) and have common names just as unhelpful as those of bumblebees. The course was run by Dr Tim Rich, of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and who was Head of Vascular Plants at the National Museum of Wales and now runs his own botanical consultancy. He has a special interest in yellow Asteraceae, and he named a new species of hawkweed discovered on the Brecon Beacons in 2004 in honour of Sir David Attenborough whose TV documentaries inspired Tim to become an ecologist:
Tim gave us all copies of his own design of key, which uses characters of various parts of the plant (not only the flowers) to narrow down the possibilities step by step, and also lists which species we are likely to find here in West Wales. After learning how to recognise and examine the relevant characters needed for the key, we spent time working though the many specimens Tim provided, and then tried our luck out on the reserve. A very interesting and rewarding day, during which I decided that my favourite species of yellow Asteraceae is Tragopogon pratensis, because (i) it is the only one which has grass-like leaves (and is therefore easy to identify), and (ii) because goats, unlike hawks, have beards:
I can report a very enjoyable National Meadows Day here at Gelli Uchaf. After a very gloomy week of grey skies leading up to it, the morning fortunately dawned with the clouds retreating to the East. The weather turned out to be lovely, and we had a yard full of vehicles for both the morning and afternoon slots, with a great mix of people. A couple of CMG members, four professional gardeners who are interested in wild flower meadows and their management, and visitors coming from as far afield as Swansea, Sennybridge, Stroud and Manchester. My impression is that the meadow flowers here are about 2 weeks ahead of previous years, but there was still much to see, including dragonflies in the lower meadow and pond area…(Male Keeled Skimmer and Four-spotted Chaser…)The Ragged Robin was nearly over in the lower meadow, but replaced by masses of Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil and Marsh Bedstraw …
As is often the case, everyone not only enjoyed the day but also contributed to an exchange of information, experiences ad ideas to the benefit of all. Since we also opened our garden for the National Garden Scheme to all the visitors, we were also delighted that so many came and we were able to raise additional funds for the charities supported by the NGS to make it our busiest ever year in the scheme.And Fiona even managed to take a few photos of the afternoon group as well as supplying tea and cakes to all our visitors too! Thanks to everyone who came and contributed to it being such a successful event.
Thanks for reading, and remember I’m always happy to receive any suitable articles or photos to include as blog posts. Please send them to me…
Julian Wormald… firstname.lastname@example.org