Branch News

Welcome to the BNA Ouse & Nene Branch News


News from BNA’s Spider Expert Tom Thomas FBNA

The monthly visits to West Wood have been suspended for the past several months not only because of timber felling and clearing but also other commitments.

The Wildlife Garden (The Natural History Museum) 

A general account of the spiders found in gardens was based on those noted in Wildlife Garden at the British Natural History Museum and my garden was published in Evolve, the Museum’s magazine. (Thomas. T. Weaving a web. On the hunt for spiders. Evolve Issue 33, Autumn 2016. p 58-61). The surveying for spider in the two gardens has listed to date 134(over 22 years) and 101 (3 years) species respectively for the Luton garden and the Wildlife Garden. The results show that persistence of examining a site can produce surprising results demonstrating the unknown richness of their fauna and emphasising the importance of gardens as reservoirs for wildlife.

The maturing of the Wildlife Garden was shown in the magnificence of the spring flowering being followed by a rich colourful summer of flowers and lushness of growth in all the plants and trees. The ramsons and wood anemones covered much of the woodland floors and path verges with a strong showing of Lords and Ladies. The Chalk Hill was dense with primroses and in their turn by cowslips. Hidden in the grass of the Hill were bee and common spotted orchids. The latter were matched by the many in the meadow which was covered with yellow rattle and meadow cranes-bill. wild carrot was plentiful everywhere, particularly in the grassy edges by the ponds accompanied by Shakespeare’s long purples (a.k.a. purple loosestrife). The Main Pond was covered with white water lilies, the large leaves of which allowed the young moorhens to floppily bounce across, whilst the Chalk Pond had the large leaves and some few flowers of the yellow water lily. yellow loose strife amongst the reed bed produced a rare find of a small bee, strangely enough called the yellow loosestrife bee.

The Wildlife Garden has run various events for the public examples being a Butterfly Week End, Pond Dipping, noting the Dragonflies and Damselflies, searching for Ladybirds or other specified invertebrates, identifying trees from leaves, making Bee Hotels as well as looking for them on the various plants around the Garden. To help the visitors with identification leaflets printed with colour photographs were available. Also staff and volunteers helped to show the garden, not only at the Museum but at places such as The London Wetland Centre.

My Luton Garden

The garden has been allowed to run wild, deliberately, with infrequent cutting of the planted shrubs. Because of the rainy weather over several months in the past three years little or no mowing of the two small lawns was possible so these untended grassy areas ran wild. One consequence was that six walnuts planted by squirrels flourished and leafed had to be cut away. Some five or more years ago one in a flowerbed was allowed grow and is now about 20 feet tall and has, this year, is bearing fruit. One of the lawns has been extensively invaded by hedgerow cranes-bill seeming to swamp the daisies.

The nettle beds; one has disappeared under the encroaching brambles, by dogwood and dog rose. The dogwood has been cut back to create some space. On one side of what was the nettle bed rosebay willowherb much liked by bumblebees and honeybees and, after dark, Mother-of-Pearl moths, the latter having come from the other nettle site. This second area is still dense with nettles though brambles have begun to come in despite heavy trimming. It is from here that another moth, the small magpie, flies in daylight.

Butterflies have been plentiful in the garden. The early brimstone followed holly blue, red admiral, gatekeeper, ringlet, meadow brown, small white and many large whites, often as tumbling pairs. The buddleja (butterfly bush), though in flower, did not seem to attract any of these butterflies.

Bumble bees were not so numerous this year. They may have had a bad year but one cause may have been the poor flowering of Johnson’s blue, a favourite with bees and hoverflies. Usually at the end of the season the dead stems are removed down to the roots. This was not done in alternate years, over a four year period, to see if the lack of clearing affected the density of flowering. It was judged the flowering was affected, fewer individual blooms being present.

Of the pitfall trapping experiments in my Luton garden one has been running for twenty two years and the time has come for an assessment of the spiders and harvestmen found. This is taking more time than appreciated. The second trapping regime with ants’ mounds (Lasius flavus) is close to completion, also needing examination of the captures and the effect on the mounds.