Friday, 23 August 2013

Local Shorelife

A fantastic day on the shoreline in Brightlingsea on Saturday.. a large crowd of nature lovers, comprising lively pre-schoolers, mums, dads, scouts, BNA members and other interested folk, descended on the Hard in anticipation of a marine and shoreline wildlife walk with enthusiastic and engaging local expert and BNA chairman Roger Tabor.

And what a walk it was! Beginning with a full scale, hands-on crabbing experience, the day continued with a squelch-tastic marine mud session examining sea-weed and worms while hearing about the astonishing private life of the slipper limpet. Continuing along the front, we paused at the beach to examine a jellyfish at close quarters, before taking a well-earned break for lunch at  Bateman's Tower where youngsters who had come a cropper in the mud rejoined the group sporting clean trousers.

Fortified with bacon butties and ice cream, a small core of die-hard beginner naturalists set off along the sea wall with Roger for the afternoon session. Walking along the footpath with sea to one side and ancient grazing marsh to the other, the sun smiled on us and we photographed small copper and gatekeeper butterflies amongst the wildflowers. Meanwhile, the children listened with wrapt attention as Roger explained to them how Wild Carrot attracts insects and showed them seeds of the dock plant through a hand lens.

And the grand finale? A semi-dignified scramble down onto the saltmarsh to look at plants including samphire, sea lavender, sea beet and sea blight and, perhaps most importantly, learn how to use sea purslane as a guide for where (not!) to put your feet. A satisfyingly fitting end to what was a most incredible and memorable day.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wood Avens

Wood Avens (Geum urbanum), also known commonly as Herb Bennet, has been used medicinally since Roman times. It is named 'geum' from the Greek 'geno' meaning to yield an agreeable fragrance - the freshly dug roots having a clove-like scent and another of this plant's names is 'Clove Root'.

These aromatic roots were thought to protect against evil and poisons in medieval times, when the plant was worn as an amulet to ward off evil spirits and venomous beasts. It was known as 'Herb Benedict', a name given to antidote herbs owing to a story in the life of St Benedict. Its trefoil leaf symbolising the Holy Trinity and its five golden petals the five wounds of Christ, it appears as a decorative feature in medieval architecture, too.

The leaves used to be added to salads and soups, used for flavouring ale and to fragrance linen, preserving it from moths. The roots boiled in wine were used as a cordial against the plague and Culpeper considered it good for diseases of the chest or breath, or for the stitch.

The infusion may be helpful taken at the start of chills or catarrh and the herb is still used in modern herbal medicine: internally to treat diarrhoea, gastro-intestinal infections, bowel disease, uterine haemorrhage or intermittent fever and externally for haemorrhoids, vaginal discharge and inflammation of the mouth, gums and throat.

An astringent, antiseptic herb which reduces inflammation, checks bleeding and discharges, lowers fever and acts as a tonic for the digestive system.

Flowers May to October. Collect the flowering plant in July or August. Harvest by cutting plants as flowering begins (dry for infusions) or lift roots in the spring (use fresh or dry for decoctions). Roots lifted on the 25th March from dry soil are traditionally the most fragrant and they must be dried carefully then sliced and powdered to best retain their properties.

PLEASE NOTE: These notes on the history and use of herbs have been compiled for general interest and are not intended as medical advice, for which you should consult a professional herbalist.

'A Modern Herbal' Mrs M. Grieve FRHS ed. Mrs C. F. Leyel (1973)
‘Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe’ Dieter Podlech (1987)
'RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses' Deni Brown (2002)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


At last, success! A photo of a dragonfly .. maybe not a great photo, but its a start. I think this must be a Common Darter, although the male should be red/orange and the female duller. This one was such a bright yellow.. but the closest match I can find is for an immature male Common Darter. I know you can barely see it, but be happy for me!

Much more exciting, however, were the ones that got away.. a glorious hot sunny afternoon at Arlesford and I was treated to a display of aerial combat and acrobatics! Several very large dragonflies soaring and hunting on the wing .. I was able to watch for a good while and was rewarded with with the occasional 'fly-past' when they came within inches of my head. Quite beautiful to watch.. and then, only a few feet away from me, a mid-air collision. Two large dragonflies flewstraight into one another creating a loud electrical-sounding buzz. Left me with lots of questions and a huge desire to find out more about them.

So many butterflies today that they just fluttered into you .. just a little shot of another type to add to our record this summer, Meadow Brown (I think!)

Friday, 5 July 2013


Me and the little'un had to super-sneak out into the garden in our pyjamas to photograph this one this morning!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Allotment Spots

I don't think I showed you these... I wasn't supposed to be spotting, I was down at the allotment to work! But it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and this green-veined white butterfly caught my eye. Maybe it mistook the chive flower for the knapweed that it seems to be sitting on in the identification photos!

And seconds later something truly amazing .. amongst a pile of wood leaning against a shed was something so bright orangey-red as to seem almost fluorescent, a most un-'natural'-looking colour, a big thing. I watched it .. it looked like a flying strawberry! I followed it as it flew hither and thither, hoping it might settle so I could see what it was. Eventually it did .. a moth, a good size one, but just a drab brown colour with its wings folded.

I managed to get this snap on my phone camera before it was off again, but I needn't have worried as it stayed around the area. I turned to get on with some work when there in the grass before me was another one! And as I bent to look, the first one 'buzzed' into me .. the pair of them set off busily fluttering about each other and away.

You can see the kind of fluorescent orange underparts in the photo, and the big furry body. When I looked it up I identified it as a Ruby Tiger Moth, which are apparently common. But to me they were unexpected, exotic and exciting.. as well as a good excuse to sit in the grass in the sunshine rather than dig!

Friday, 7 June 2013


Well we had a go in the garden at the weekend.. I'm still looking up and trying to identify many of the things we found, which is great because I'm learning all the time. The little one loved it, and his determined bug-hunting meant that we were able to identify three different types of woodlouse in our patch, including this rosy-coloured one.. I have to admit that before the BioBlitz a woodlouse was a woodlouse, as far as I was concerned!

A really noticeable thing was that we didn't find a single ladybird. Our garden is usually full of them. I've looked again this week, and have only found one or two tiny creamy-coloured harlequins, no red ones at all.

However, we were blessed with a large red damselfly, basking on a rose leaf in the mid-day sunshine:

And as well as white and blue butterflies, we found this tiny daytime flying moth:

I think it must be pyrasta aurata.. during the week I have noticed masses of them: numbers of them fly up as I walk amongst the plants in my herb garden, and now I know why! They feed on mints, marjoram and lemon balm, so I have provided them with pretty much a perfect place to set up shop.