Fun with Kids during Lockdown – #1 Spring Flowers

We are all finding ourselves in uncertain times, and if you’re at home with the children right now, you may be looking for ideas to keep them entertained. I am going to write a series of articles covering different gardening and nature related activities you can do with your children, whether in the garden or on on your allowed walk for exercise as well as some from the comfort of your home. Going outside in nature lowers stress levels and is wonderful for mental health, which is perhaps even more important now than ever before.

This first piece takes a look at some different spring flowers to spot when you’re out. You can adapt it depending on the ages of your children, for example, for younger ones you could talk about the different colours and shapes of the flowers as well as opening up the idea of seasons as these are all spring flowers. Older children could perhaps press one or two, or draw them for an art project, even labelling the parts of each different flower.

As part of her home education my eldest Lily has put together a handy spotter sheet with some of these flowers (and more) which you can print off and take with you on your walks You can find this at the bottom of the page. If you use it we’d love to see your photos – tag us on Instagram or Facebook at @larissasgarden, or @LarissaCoop on Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

Forget-me-nots

#1 – Forget me not

These delicate blue flowers are found all over right now, from gardens to meadows.


Cuckoo flower – Cardamine pratensis

#2 Cuckoo flower (or Lady’s smock)

This flower can be found in damper areas and is the larval food plant for the orange tip butterfly (which also likes garlic mustard Allaria petiolata).


Violets

#3 Violets

There are a few different species of violets in the UK including dog violets Viola canina and sweet violets Viola oderata. Look closely at woodland floors and hedge banks to find this purple beauties.


Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

#4 Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot flowers appear before the large leaves do. Similar in appearance to dandelions, these flowers have a distinct scaly stem. In traditional medicines, coltsfoot is used to treat chronic coughing.


Cowslip – Primula veris

# 5 Cowslip

Cowslips like to grow in sunny spots and are often found in meadows. These bright yellow flowers are loved by springtime pollinators.


Gorse – Ulex europeaus

# 6 Gorse

These bright yellow flowers are found on the prickly gorse bushes which are abundant on healthlands and areas with acidic soils. If you smell the flowers they have a slight coconut scent to them. Bees love them too!

Bluebells – Hyacynthoides non-scripta

# 7 Bluebells

A common plant in ancient woodlands at springtime, often carpeting the forest floor. Due to hybridisation with garden varieties our native bluebells are in decline. Are the bluebells you’ve seen native ones? Use this handy guide to find out.


Primroses – Primula vulgaris

# 8 Primrose

These flowers can be found in woodlands and hedge banks or where these habitats once existed. They are loved by early springtime pollinators such as this male hairy-footed-flower bee.


Red campion – Silene diocia

# 10 Silene diocia

Red campions are able to thrive in shady areas such as woodlands, but can be found almost anywhere. They are prolific seeders and are sometimes overlooked because they are common, but I think they are one of our best wildflowers, and pollinators agree too!


Wild garlic – Alium ursinum

# 10 Wild garlic

These members of the onion family are seen on woodland floors. They spread well so often carpet the patch they grow in. Loved by pollinators, wild garlic is also favoured by foragers. All parts of the plant are edible, however if you are foraging, it is illegal to uproot a wildflower, so take only the leaves. It’s a good rule of thumb to only take what you will use and to ensure you leave much more behind that you take.Wild garlic can be used in cooking for flavour, or makes a delicious pesto!


Feel free to download & share! Made by Lily

PDF version below

Spring Flowers Poster

Please ensure that you adhere to the guidelines on social distancing if you are venturing out for daily exercise. If this information changes, please follow the updated guidelines.

The Species Recovery Trust

The Species Recovery Trust is a charitable organisation headed up by Dominic Price, the Trust’s director, working to the primary aim to ‘remove 50 species from the edge of extinction in the UK by the year 2050’. The team at the Species Recovery Trust does this alongside volunteers by combining scientific knowledge and effective conservation practices. The species targeted are a mix of both plants and animals and include some of the rarest in the UK. These include invertebrates such as Cicindela campestris – Green Tiger Beetle, Erotides cosnardi – Cosnard’s Net-winged Beetle and Hagenella clathrata – Window-winged Caddis Fly as well as these plants: Carex depauperata – Starved Wood-sedge, Gentianella campestris – Field Gentian and Lycopodiella inundata– Marsh Clubmoss. Head over to their website to find out more about the important work they are carrying out.

As well as being super-awesome species protectors, the Trust also offers a range of ecological training courses aimed at people wanting to develop their skills in  identification and ecological practices. I have been lucky to have attended a few courses with Dominic including the winter tree identification and grasses identification courses held within the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden, and can highly recommend these to anyone who is able to sign up to one (some of the courses are already fully booked).

One of the other fantastic resources offered by The Species Recovery Trust are their two field guides. Both are excellent guides to have with you when out on a survey. You can preview a sample of the grass ID book here. The grass ID book comes out with me on every field trip and is a wonderful compliment to the somewhat more picture-less (and heavier!) Stace. The descriptions are very clear and concise without using too much complicated terminology so it’s also perfect for beginners as well as seasoned botanists too. You can purchase both books in their shop.

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My own copy of the Grass Identification book. It’s ace!

I’d like to thank Dominic for a kind donation of Wildflower Seeds which will be available as freebies at the Royal Norfolk Show next week. To come and get yours, head over to the new horticultural area to  find the pollinator garden and come and say hello!

Finally, here’s a link to a quick video showing you how to identify some British grasses, give it a go! It’s not as daunting as you might think!

 

x Larissa

The Species Recovery Trust is a charitable organisation. If you’d like to support them with their work, I’m sure any donations would be greatly appreciated. You can find out more on how to support them over on their website here.

Easton College Nature Reserve

Yesterday I spent the day doing one of the things that makes me happiest; wandering around looking at and recording plants. This time I was at the Easton and Otley College open day at the Easton Campus, just outside of Norwich. The college boasts a 245 acre farm and within this farmland there is a real gem (which even some of the college tutors haven’t visited) – the Water Meadows, situated along the river Yare. This is where I was, alongside other naturalists, ex-students and tutors Jerry, Anna and Nick.

Arriving at the Water Meadows, Nick gave some of us a tour around the site so we were aware of the boundaries and where we could wander and record. We headed towards the river and then west towards a fallen (non-native) Poplar tree. On the way we looked under the reptile refuge and saw three wonderful grass snakes. Just a little further on, the meadow was abundant with southern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa including one monster specimen! There were also a few early marsh orchids Dactylorhiza incarnata too but these were almost over, but I have never seen such a density.

 

 

The Water Meadows run adjacent to the river and seem to be largely comprised of four areas, separated by ditches of open water. Some patches were clearly more diverse than others. The meadows are used for grazing highland cattle by the college and some areas have been enhanced with nitrates for the grazing, although this was a while ago now and the flora does seem to be recovering well.

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The next four hours were spent surveying the plants within the meadows. In total I recorded 79 flowering plant species and I am confident this is nowhere near a complete list, with many more species yet to be found. What I did notice is that for an area which has been largely neglected, and at times, mistreated with nitrate enhancement, the diversity of plants is certainly comparable to any other nature reserve. In fact, the list reminded me of a similar survey carried out on an FSC training course in Slapton Ley – a National Nature Reserve on the South Coast. Notable plant species included masses of common valerian Valeriana officinalis  and meadow rue Thalictrum flavum and of course the plant which probably has the best scientific name ever – brooklime Veronica becabunga. Say it, go on – ‘bec-a-bun-ga’. Beautiful! 


I tried to record other non-plant species that I could as I went around, which included four butterfly species: small white, meadow brown, red admiral and a skipper which skipped away before we could ID it. There were also common carder bees Bombus pascorum and white tailed bumble bees Bombus lucorum, red-headed cardinal beetles Pyrochroa serraticornis and garden chafers Phyllopertha horticola, a rove beetle, likely Bolitobius sp. and numerous hoverflies which flew before I could photograph them. There were also numerous odonata including a few Norfolk Hawkers Aeshna isoceles and masses of banded demoiselles Calopteryx splendens by the river. These are just the invertebrates which I spotted and I am far from being an expert. I am sure the real experts managed to record many more.

One of the downsides of studying ecology based subjects is that the academic year runs from Sept- June with the latter months usually reserved for exams or putting together final projects. However, the key time of the year to learn about plants is during the flowering season – which for an area like the water meadows, the best months will be June- August. (Because of this, I have never seen the meadows looking so wonderful having only ever visited in Winter!).

The water meadows could be utilised far not only around the whole year, but also during the summer. The college could offer short courses in natural history or identification, or use the meadows as a location for school children to discover pond life or invertebrates. Even as a location for Forest Schools. There are so many possibilities and just so much potential.

Though the most important is to firstly recognise what a wonderful resource it is, and quite rightly it deserves the upgraded title of Easton College Nature Reserve.

x Larissa

Put down your phone, take a moment to look.

It’s just a few weeks away from the Royal Norfolk Show and today whilst the children were either at school or nursery I took the opportunity to get away from the office and spend the day outside in the garden, potting up plants ready for the pollinator area at the show.

I moved some strawberries and herbs into some beautiful vintage style crates and began tending to the weeds in front of the house where my vegetables are growing. Just to note, I’m not usually one to call a plant a weed as most ‘weeds’ have a great wildlife value, but these were getting so out of control the potted plants were beginning to be shaded out! – and besides, it was mostly rye grass and creeping buttercup, the latter of which I have plenty of in the wildflower border.

As I was clearing the area around our rather humble tomato plants, casually out of nowhere appeared a ruby-tailed wasp – Chrysis sp. and settled on the wall in front of me. Now this might not sound too exciting, but I’ve been wanting to spot one for years after seeing everyone post their sightings in the Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook group. And there it was. Scouring all the little holes in the brickwork of our country cottage, looking for mason bees to parasitise. Beautiful (in a somewhat morbid way).

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Ruby-tailed wasp  (approx 10mm)

I managed to catch the wasp hoping to get an ID on the exact species, but they are hard to differentiate unless you look under the microscope and I didn’t want to kill this beauty today so I let it go. But it made me curious – what else was in the garden? The sun was shining and it was definitely a good bug-hunting day, so I started looking. There were so many bees visiting the flowers; mason bees, bumble bees, carder bees and those really tiny black bees. There were hoverflies, beetles, other beautiful wasps, butterflies, damselflies.

I had read a Facebook post earlier in the day about nectar robbers and that with some long tubed flowers such as the comfrey below, the bees (especially Bombus terrestris and Bombus lucorum in the UK) would steal nectar from little holes near the nectary as they don’t have tongues long enough to reach down the corolla. They either create the holes  themselves (primary robber) or use holes already there from previous robbers (secondary robber). Sitting watching the bees in our comfrey patch I noticed this exact behaviour and even managed to catch a bee at it on camera below – you can see it’s proboscis poking into the flower! In the top photo you can clearly see the little holes close to the sepals. This method of taking nectar is called robbing because the insect doesn’t come in contact with any of the flower’s reproductive organs and so doesn’t facilitate pollination. They are simply stealing the good stuff without giving anything back to the plant! Cheeky.
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I’m still learning to identify invertebrates, but I’ve definitely caught the entomology bug (pun intended). I was really enjoying sitting in the sunshine, soaking up some much needed vitamin D whilst trying to get as many photos as possible of the insects so I can get an ID later and add the record to iRecord. I lost myself for a good couple of hours without realising and before I knew it it was time to collect the children.

I wont always admit it but I am quite often stuck to my phone. Either from working or socialising, I do forget sometimes that there is a world away from that bright screen. Today I managed to remind myself that some of the best days are missed with a phone in your hand. I’ll be making more of an effort for technology-free days and turn my eyes towards the flowers,  the insects and the world outside. You should too 😉

Here are some of the photos from today… I’ll add the ID of each insect as and when I have it confirmed.

x Larissa x

 

Back after a little break

It’s been nearly two years since I last posted. A lot has happened since then and we are in a new home with new, smaller garden. Instead of being in suburban London, we’re living in rural Norfolk in the Breckland area. We are still lucky enough to be adjacent to a woodland, however the two woodlands couldn’t be more different from each other; the previous woodland was a large ancient woodland whilst the current woodland was recently planted (c. 1950) and is just a couple of acres surrounded by crop fields. There is a meadow adjacent to the property which looks like we may have use of later in the year, and if this comes to fruition, then we plan to acquire some sheep for wool production and grazing! Watch this space.

With this move there is a noticeable change in the wildlife which we are seeing in and near our garden here compared to London, although we have only been here since Autumn last year so we don’t have the best two seasons to go by. There are lots of birds of prey here, including a buzzard which seems to always be around somewhere and a pair of kestrels, not to mention the rooks which live in the woodland and flock each morning and evening in such a wonderfully haunting way.  I have noticed an absence of early pollinators this year however,  which I hope this is much more to do with a change in location northwards and the recent cold snap, and of course some of the species I would see previously aren’t as common here either.

As well as moving, I’ve also signed up to the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). The general idea is to record plants in three 5x5m quadrats and two linear plots within a 1km specified area, and do this twice a year for as many years as possible to record any plant and habitat changes. You don’t need to be a botanical expert and you are given lots of resources to help you with recording. My 1km plot is north-east of Norwich in the Broadland area, but is still relatively rural with approx 85% of the plot being agricultural fields. I made the initial visit last summer to identify possible plot locations and will be returning again in late spring to being the first year of recording. I have applied for a second, local plot which consists of a large proportion of woodland. I’ll update with the progress of recording here on this blog. If you’d like to get your own 1km square head over to the website here and sign up.

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2016

I didn’t take part this year – but read Wildlife Kate’s account of the 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch!

www.wildlifekate.co.uk

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I watch the birds in my garden just about every day and, with the cameras I have, I am in the privileged position of being able to watch all my feeders even when I am working at my desk, where they are connected to screens in my office. I can even access them via my phone app, through the icatcher software that I use to monitor and record all the footage. So, when Big Garden Birdwatch comes around, I already could pretty much predict the exact species and numbers I am likely to see!

Yesterday, I spent an hour in my hub, photographing the visitors there. This is set up for photography and the background from these feeders is on the other side of the lane, so is always nicely out of focus, making the birds stand out. I get more of a variety of visitors on the patio feeders…

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2016… Off to a botanical start

I returned to work yesterday after a Christmas break with family in Norfolk. After 10 days It’s great to be home  in London and with the new year brings the start of a new season of species recording. Given I finally got around to signing up my daughter and I to become members of the BSBI, I think this year will be a botanical one.

I haven’t really been looking hard, but I noticed cow parsley in flower and spring bulbs leafy and green in Norwich, and back home in London, my viburnum bush is bursting with flowers attracting opportunist bees foraging on the more milder days.

Sitting on the train this January morning, listening to the women next to me moan about the state of their nail varnish and what they had for dinner last night (sushi for one and the other had home made tagine), I’m sat with my chipped teal nails wondering how many flowers I can spot on my commute this month.

Happy Wednesday!

– Larissa

 A fox sneaking past my office window yesterday!