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A green and pleasant land?

Posted: Monday 27th April 2015 by A-sense-of-nature

A sense of nature – a wildlife blog by Kieron Huston

I was halfway round a walk recently, between Matlock and Bonsall, when I realised I had not heard a single singing skylark. The fields stretching away in front and behind me should have been suitable, but I had heard nothing. The fields I had walked through, with the exception of a steeper scrubby ridge, were all intensively managed improved pastures and very much devoid of any plants of interest. No flowers, not even dandelions and no hum and whirr of insects either. No plants, no insects, no skylarks….

O.K it is April so too early for most insects, but as I walked on I reached a well stocked garden nursery with row upon row of spring flowers and here finally were insects; mining bees, hoverflies and bumblebees and a small tortoiseshell butterfly. It was small, it was artificial, but it was also at that point in time an oasis for both the insects and me.


Common Carder Bee by Kieron Huston
















Common carder bee Bombus pascuorum foraging on aubretia


I also noted that there were no mole hills in any of the fields I passed. Now this might have something to do with the local mole catcher who is certainly active (we found a mole gibbet a few miles away last year), but it might also be a reflection on the soil depth or perhaps the availability of worms? I’m not sure, but check out Roy Dennis at xxx for further thoughts on moles and what they do for us.

Thinking about moles reminds me that I recently met the National Flea Recorder. He told me that our largest flea is the mole flea a staggering 4mm in diameter. Catching them is a bit like trying to tie down jumping beans. Well perhaps not quite that bad, but you get the picture. Oh and pictures of the mole flea are rather hard to come by so next time you’re out and about why not just imagine a grumpy mole with a very large flea on its back somewhere beneath your feet (N.B. these mole fleas are not restricted to moles, but also occur on other small mammals – though thankfully not cats).

I did find some flowers on the walk mostly along the steep scrubby limestone ridge where small pockets of woodland and some more interesting grassland were to be found. Wood anemones occurred in clusters across the open ground of the higher slopes with some bluebells too – a ghost wood. Their flowers nodded delicately towards the valley below where the appearance of the Peak Rail steam train suddenly made the whole scene feel like a miniature model.


Anemone Nemorosa by Kieron Huston














Anemone nemorosa


In a nearby wood wreathed in garlic leaves, anemones and bluebell I did at last found bumblebees foraging acrobatically amidst the suspended flowers of bluebells and then later along a narrow brook on the flowers of a willow. Here at least a small plant rich marsh survives managed within a Higher Level Stewardship agreement.

Most walks have memorable wildlife moments, especially if you take an interest in the plants, birds and insects. But so often these days the absence of things, like the skylarks or flower rich grassland, becomes part of the experience and not in a good way. This is not a happy situation for any of us.


Bee by Kieron Huston














Buff/white-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris lucorum foraging on willow near Bonsall.


Early Bumblebee on a Bluebell by Kieron Huston




















Early bumblebee Bombus pratorum feeding on a bluebell


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