January 17, 2022

Late summer flowers make crucial refuelling stops for the insects

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Late summer flowers make crucial refuelling stops for the insects” was written by Graham Long, for The Guardian on Saturday 19th August 2017 04.30 UTC

The New Forest rides, named long before many were gravelled to allow cyclists and others ease of access, cut through the inclosures and plantations, serving as motorways for the many small creatures that abound in these woodlands.

Much of the colour here in earlier months has gone. The golden yellow rays of marsh ragwort, Jacobaea aquatica, a plant quickly distinguished from its prolific commoner relative J vulgaris by its broader florets and leaves with a spade-like end, stand out more radiantly because there is so little competition.

The tiny yellows of tormentil, and wispy strands of vetch, are lost in the straggly grasses. Occasional patches of heather, now beginning to show full colour, decorate bank sides.

Standing tall, looking worse for wear, but still fully functional, are the marsh thistles. Growing at intervals along the rides, these many-branched purple and sometimes white plants, two metres high, are crucial refuelling stops for a host of insects. A sunlit slightly humid day spent noting the species visiting them would produce a substantial list.

Today we have come to Costicles inclosure near Woodlands. As we go through the gate we spot a common darter dragonfly resting on some brambles. Southern hawker dragonflies circle to inspect us. Marmalade hoverflies feast on marsh ragwort, while white-belted, great pied hoverflies (Volucella pellucens) are drinking at almost every thistle we pass.

Pond skaters on Bartley Water, in the New Forest.
Pond skaters on Bartley Water, in the New Forest. Photograph: Graham Long

Butterflies, too, find these flower heads alluring. Large skippers and silver-washed fritillaries drop in to drink while we watch. The nectar supplied seems very satisfying. Settled on one head is a small red and black cinnamon bugCorizus hyoscyami was originally a coastal species but increasingly it’s moving inland and is clearly at home here.

We leave the track, cutting through the pines beneath an incessantly calling fully fledged young buzzard, to follow the path along the bank of Bartley Water.

The stream twists so much that the sun will almost certainly fall on it somewhere during the day. Rafts of pond skaters jostle as they scull against the current to maintain their position in pools of sunlight.

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