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Scarlet Tiger Project (Stourbridge) Update

Another spring has arrived, so it seems a good time to summarize our work parties over the autumn/winter along Roman Road and update you all on the next generation of Scarlet Tiger moths.

IMG_20170217_152436.jpgOne of the major tasks we identified along the bridle path, was the regeneration of the much neglected hedgerow.  An area along Romany Way was selected as a good place to start, using the existing aging trees – mainly hawthorn – to lay a hedge using the services of a professional hedge layer.  Three of our team of volunteers had attended a course led by Paul O’Hagan, so we knew how to prepare the area ready for him to start work 23/24 March 2017.  The idea was that we could tackle some hedge-laying ourselves but without either a chainsaw or the necessary certification to operate such dangerous equipment, we decided the best course of action would be to get the professional in!

Thus our February work party focused on preparing the stretch ready for the work, by removing all the scrub around the base of the trees.  Unfortunately this caused quite a furore with the locals living along Romany Way.  The hedge was in a much worse condition than we had feared, with lots of dead wood, so the result looked terrible.  We had posted notices explaining our action but did not give the local residents sufficient advance warning and they were rightly angry.  On the face of it, their hedge-row had been destroyed.  An additional work party had been arranged for the next week to continue preparation work.  However, in view of the angry reaction, this was changed to a discussion with the residents with a possible change in our plans to lay the hedge.

The main problem, it transpired, was the lack of consultation with the community.  This was a major stumbling block.  The primary aim of Scarlet Tiger Project is an initiative to benefit the community – if that community is upset by our actions, then we have got something badly wrong.  Fortunately the adage “it’s good to talk” rang true – the locals were able to vent their frustrations and we were able to explain our plans and reasons.  They were, in fact, quite keen for us to continue with our original plan to lay a hedge and from that point onwards, took an interest in the work and were most accommodating to Paul during his work.  The finished hedge is a work of art, a reflection of Paul’s pride in his trade.

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More native hedge-row whips have been planted to improve the hedge and the bio-diversity along this stretch.

On the Scarlet Tiger front, the news is not so promising.  You may recall that last autumn I expressed concern that maybe they had been too successful in 2016.  That may sound odd but the Alkanet was being destroyed by the newly emerged caterpillars and the danger was that they may starve due to insufficient food resources.  The Alkanet has bounced back and is currently a picture.  There are Scarlet Tiger larvae present but nowhere near as many as this time in 2016.  My best count last year was 500 – to date this year the maximum in one count was 21.

Above photos show last year’s ‘crowd’ scenes – compare these with the photos below taken this year.

The Alkanet is blooming – there were 3 caterpillars on this particular plant but mostly they have been singles scattered along the length of the road.

Our project is still in its infancy – in fact I was astonished at how rapidly the colony grew – so it is still a learning curve.  Whether the larvae have indeed been the architects of their own downfall, whether the earlier cut of the Alkanet last year has had an effect or whether there is some other factor, is not clear.  One thing I have noticed this spring has been a large population of spiders – see photo below.  Could they have predated the larvae?

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On the plus side, the number and varieties of bees, hover flies and other insects, visiting the Alkanet has been most encouraging.  During our winter work parties we have planted more wild flowers and hedge row saplings, including primroses, betony, ox-eye daisy, hawthorn, field maple, ornamental cherry, briar rose, blackthorn, …

Butterflies have been emerging very early.  The second generation of Peacock was a cause for concern nationally, so it is lovely to see them, even this battered example nectaring on dandelion.

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The lovely weather over the weekend encouraged the Orange Tips and Holly Blues plus the first Speckled Wood.  Even today, with the drop in temperature, it has been warm enough in the sun to tempt out the odd butterfly.  The Speckled Wood below managed to find a sunny spot on the Alkanet.

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Thus mixed fortunes along Roman Road/Sandy Lane.  Looks like we may not get the amazing spectacle of 2016 but monitoring and education continue.

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