Diario del proyecto Meanwood Valley bioblitz

Archivos de diario de junio 2023

07 de junio de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 37: Cow Parsley

Possibly the most abundant flowering plant in Meanwood right now, Cow Parsley is a classic plant of the English countryside. However there is more to this plant than meets the eye.

Cow Parsley has fern-like leaves and small white flowers arranged in umbrella-shaped clusters called umbels. The umbels consist of multiple individual flowers, each with five delicate petals. Also known as Wild Chervil, it is commonly found in meadows, hedgerows, and along roadsides.

After the flowers are fertilised, Cow Parsley produces small, flat fruits called schizocarps. These schizocarps will split into two parts, releasing the seeds within. The seeds are then dispersed by wind helping the plant colonise new areas.

It is a larval food source for the caterpillars of the Orange-tip butterfly and attracts other pollinators including bees and hoverflies and overall is an important part of the biodiversity of the Meanwood Valley.

This all sounds lovely and bucolic doesn't it? However...

Whilst is native to Europe it has been introduced to other parts of the world including North America where nasty Cow Parsley can become invasive, outcompeting native plant species and disrupting ecosystems. Cow Parsley sales are actually illegal in Massachusetts and it has attained the status of 'noxious weed' in Washington.

It is visually appealing - but also technically edible. The leaves and young stems can be eaten raw or cooked, with a flavour similar to - surprise surprise - Parsley. Sounds yummy? DO NOT EAT IT! Cow Parsley is very similar to the deadly poisonous Hemlock so - unless you want to risk tremors, paralysis, breathing difficulties, muscle damage and kidney failure - leave it well alone.

One person's innocent flower is another person's deathly invader it would seem.

Publicado el 07 de junio de 2023 por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

14 de junio de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 38: Swift

Swifts are incredible birds. I love Swifts. Here are some amazing Swift facts:

  • Swifts could very nearly could keep up with you on the M62, as their top straight-line speed is 69mph.
  • Swifts migrate to Africa and back each year, a distance of some 6,800 miles - which they do non-stop.
  • Newly fledged Swifts don't land at all for 2-3 years. They then only land to breed,. (They bathe by flying slowly through rain).
  • The hardened spit of a different cave-dwelling Swift species is the basic ingredient of birds-nest soup.
  • The oldest known Swift lived to be 16 years old. It had probably flown over 4 million miles.

The UK's swift population is suffering a worrying decline, with a fall of more than 60% between 1995 and 2020. One of the reasons for this is loss of spaces to nest in modern or refurbished older houses. There is a campaign to get house builders to include Swift nest sites in new housing.

I'm pretty sure that there aren't any colonies of Swifts living within the footprint Meanwood Valley Bioblitz area - which roughly stretches from Buslingthorpe Lane to Stonegate Road - but I would be delighted to hear otherwise.

However if you keep your eyes up you can certainly see these acrobats of the sky above Meanwood. They may well come from the colony in Gledhow, which is also the base for Leeds Swifts - an organisation with fantastic ambition to "make Leeds the Swift capital of the UK". You can keep up-to-date with all Swift related news on their Facebook page.

You can tell Swifts apart from superficially similar Swallows and House Martins by their scythe-like swept back wings and screaming calls which are an iconic sound of late summer. Although similar, Swifts aren't actually related to them and in fact are more closer related to to Hummingbirds. Who'd have thought?

Publicado el 14 de junio de 2023 por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

20 de junio de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 39: Green Silver-lines

This week is National Insect Week. Organised by the Royal Entomological Society, its website has lots of fun insect-related content under the strap line of "the little things that run the world".

Not only are they little things but there are loads of them. One estimate is that there is an average 40 million insects per acre of land. Another that for every single human on the planet there are 200 million insects.

Let's just concentrate one one.

The Green Silver-lines (caught in our Meanwood moth trap recently) is one of the more remarkable - as well as being a bit of a looker as you can see.

Male Green Silver-lines are experts in stridulation, and ten points are available if you know what stridulation is. For everyone who now has zero points.... it is is the act of producing sound by rubbing together certain body parts. A bit like grasshoppers do.

Unusually, Green Silver-lines stridulates using specially adapted abdominal organs called tymbals which it contracts with its muscles to produce a click. A second click is created when the tymbal returns to its original shape. If you want to hear it then climb up to the top of a Meanwood beech tree at dusk, which is where they like to hang out, stridulating at leisure. Some other moths also produce sounds (probably as a survival method to confuse echolocating bats) but it is though likely in Green Silver-lines it has a reproductive/mating function.

Want to know more? Then Google yourself over to the research article by Niels Skals and Annemarie Surlykke in Volume 202, Issue 21 of the Journal of Experimental Biology!

We shall be seeking out more magical Meanwood moths at the second of our moth and wine events on Sugarwell Hill this Wednesday from about 9.30pm. We'll be in the grassy area behind Meanwood Valley Urban Farm. It is also a good way just to meet and chat with other Meanwood residents. Everyone welcome. BYOB (and ideally a camping chair). Moth trap provided.

Publicado el 20 de junio de 2023 por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

27 de junio de 2023

Species Of The Week Number 40: Ragwort

Our most controversial species to date?

We have plenty of native Ragwort in Meanwood. We also have horses in Meanwood. In 2003 an influential report stated Ragwort poisoning killed 6,500 horse every year and the plant should be removed . The report was widely publicised and the danger of Ragwort to horses has become accepted common knowledge.

However, the 'science' behind the report was based on a very small sample size and a flawed methodology. The authors translated 'possible poisonings' in a survey - to which only 4% of equine vets had responded - into reports of death. They then multiplied the results by the total number of vets there were. They didn't consider the possibility, for example, that vets didn't respond to the survey because they hadn't seen any poisonings.

Ragwort certainly isn't risk free - it is mildly toxic (so are many plants) but other research shows significant risk to horses only when it is dried as hay and/or consumed in large quantities. We don't know exactly how many horses die each year from Ragwort poisoning, if any, because it would need post mortem examination. The best evidence from abroad suggests very low numbers.

Also, Ragwort tastes bitter and horses actually avoid it unless there really is nothing else to eat. A horse needs to consume between 2% and 7% of its bodyweight for Ragwort to be fatal. That's a lot of Ragwort (or a tiny horse).

In 2007 Leeds City Council was spending £14k per year on Ragwort removal. I don't know what the situation is now with the increased awareness of biodiversity, but to this day Ragwort remains the only native species that the Council says you shouldn't put in your brown bin (if indeed you have one).

The Ragwort flowering in Meanwood is, conversely, a vital part of our ecosystem. A non-scientific survey by me this week found lots of bugs and creepy-crawlies using our Ragwort as their home or food source. The list included Meadow Brown and Large Skipper Butterflies, rather stunning Thick-legged Flower Beetles and Red Soldier Beetles, Red-tailed Bumble Bees, Black Ants, Ragwort Fly, 7-spot Ladybird and Potato Myrid. There were a few other bugs I couldn't identify accurately. Ragwort is also known to be the home and food source of the colourful Cinnabar Moth, but I didn't spot any of them this time.

Some of the photos were even taken in fields that had horses in them. Apparently all still alive.

Publicado el 27 de junio de 2023 por clunym clunym | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario