Summer along Roman Road bridle path has seen its ups and downs rather like anywhere else. It has been a phenomenal year for the Scarlet Tiger moths with counts of over 100 adults at the height of the flight season. However, it remains to be seen if this trend will continue next year or if the population is in danger of crashing. With so many adults on the wing, it is only natural to suppose that there are correspondingly high numbers of larvae – this is borne out by the evidence of feeding on the Alkanet which, in places has been decimated. It is difficult to find the caterpillars – I have only seen one openly feeding. However, I have always wanted to rear adults from larvae (ashamed to say I have never done this), so I planted an Alkanet in a pot this summer, with the aim of collecting half a dozen caterpillars next spring and watching them develop. Holes have also appeared in this plant and, sure enough, I found a tiny caterpillar in the soil around the base of the Alkanet. It seems that, at this early stage, the larvae disappear in the leaf litter and the soil under the plants. Hopefully the Alkanet will recover but it appears to have completely died off in places, leaving me with the quandary of whether to intervene and try to re-locate some of the caterpillars or whether to simply observe nature taking its course.
On a more positive note, there is also evidence of feeding on the nettles and brambles, so maybe the larvae will find their own way of surviving.
Then, yesterday, I was dismayed to find that the bank had been cut. Initially, 2 years ago, the bank was cut late in October, when we were certain that the larvae had stopped eating and hibernated. Cuttings were left to provide warm cover for the sleeping marauders. Last year the bank was not cut at all. Thus it seems a little early to be cutting the bank at this stage. However, in view of the state of the Alkanet and the untidy appearance of the bank and peripheral hedgerow, I can understand the decision. It may also be a good solution, allowing the Alkanet to re-generate where it can. It is known to be a very robust plant. Time will tell!
For the rest of the ‘news’ – the wild flowers planted on the traffic island and at the junction with Westwood Avenue, have been a great success with many compliments being received. Mostly the flowers have been showy, creating a spectacle but we are beginning to establish some worthy butterfly specialities and genuine English wild flowers, with Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lady’s Bedstraw, Pink Campion, Forget-me-Not, Betony and Devil’s Bit Scabious. Ashwood Nursery also kindly donated several trays of Betony plugs. Some have already been planted around my garden and in troughs ready for re-planting next spring. Around 200 have been planted in an area which was cleared with the help of Steve Harper – in the rain. I returned a couple of days later to plant out the plugs and was helped by a passer-by, returning from his allotment with his dog, Jake. I was really grateful for this unexpected helping hand.
It may not be the right time to plant out but all appears to be doing well.
Butterfly species that have thrived this year include Speckled Wood, Holly Blue and Ringlet. Second generation ‘garden favourites’ have rallied later although Peacocks have been a rare sight. There has also been a welcome influx of Painted Ladies – they were everywhere on the Isle of Wight during a holiday there in June, so I am not surprised to see them here late in the summer.
A selection of visitors to Roman Road this summer.
Now we are looking forward to our autumn work parties. The first of these will take place on from 10 am on Friday 23 September when Dudley Council will be providing the mechanical equipment to cut the wild flower areas and our volunteers will collect the cuttings. After that, we plan to hold work parties on the 3rd Friday of every month, thus 21 October, 18 November, etc. We are hoping to plant new hedgerow saplings in the area of the Russian vine and maybe some formal hedge-laying training – although that is to be decided. All volunteers welcome!