More of the same – this weeks adventures

This week has been another busy week, I’ve been setting up bumblebee transects around the island so that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Beewalk surveys can be included in our survey programme this year.

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Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) queen laden with mites. These don’t harm the bee unless there are so many they become too heavy for her to fly. They feed on pollen and other debris in bumblebee nests. When the nest dies off in the autumn, they hitch a lift with the queen as she hibernates and wait for her to emerge and set up a new nest in the spring!

Warning: Lots of acronyms coming up!

The Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT) participate in a number of regular surveys every year including Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) Field Surveys in July, The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)’s Breeding Birds Survey (BBS) and Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) and our own Long-Eared Owl monitoring programme. As well as adding bumblebee surveys to the programme this year, I also hope to be able to carry our baseline vegetation and floralistic surveys in our Longis Reserve using Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Phase I and National Vegetation Classification (NVC) methodologies. Add some dabbling in moth trapping, pond surveying and pitfall trapping for beetles and I’m going to have a pretty busy season!

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View down to Crabbie and the breakwater from the Community Woodland at dusk

On Tuesday I went out for the first Long-Eared Owl survey of the year. No owls sadly but I did take a bat detector with me and discovered that there is a fair amount of activity on mild days now. I led an early bat and hedgehog walk this Friday for some visitors but unfortunately the weather had turned colder and the wind picked up meaning that there was no sign of any bats or hedgehogs!

On the practical side of things I have got in some good practice at using the tractor and topper and flail in the last couple of weeks and also got going on our garden at the farm and my veg patch. I’m very excited to see how things grow over the next few months!

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Tractor time on a sunny day
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My new raised bed with some rows planted with veg already – beetroot, cabbage, broad beans, carrots, turnips, spring onion and lettuce
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All sorts of veg sown and waiting for germination – courgettes, tomatoes, lettuces and broccoli

Every day there have been more and more signs that spring is here – some of the things I have spotted this week:

Local flora happy families

  • Boraginaceae
  • Geraniaceae
  • Brassicaceae

Some interesting invertebrates

I was especially excited to find the Glanville Fritillary nest as this is a rare species in the UK, confined to a few populations on the south coast. They are a pretty butterfly with complex patterning on their wings like most fritillaries. The larvae feed solely on Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and the butterflies can be found at a few spots on Alderney. These were right by the road in the Longis Reserve, I’ll try and keep my eye on them over the next few months. The caterpillars will mature towards mid-April and pupate between mid-April and May. Adults are usually seen on the wing around the end of May to beginning of June.

Of course there have also been some wild food adventures this week including wild salads and fresh nettle soup!

 

Finally I’ll finish again with this weeks moths: Only 3 this week, Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) and Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) again and a new one – Early Grey (Xylocampa areola). Apologies for the repetition but I’m doing this so that I learn to recognise them and get familiar with their names so you’ll have to bear with me!

I’m looking forward to next week and getting some more tractor time and enjoying the spring sun (hopefully!)

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The sun beaming down on the inner harbour last week
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Wild food, sea life and mothing

It’s been another busy week with another mixed bag of weather.

I’ve done a bit more foraging and cooking this week, finding an assortment of treasures including jelly ear fungus and fresh young radish shoots.

Wild rabbit will also be on the menu at some point. It ran out into the road as I was driving back to the farm one evening last week. There are no foxes or other mesopredators here so it was still there the following morning and as rabbit is a rather lovely meat for cooking in.a stew I thought I may as well make use of it!

This week has also been one for exploring our shores here. We’ve had a couple of survey sessions looking for Green Ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) at Clonque bay and Longis Bay, the former in our Ramsar Site and the latter being one of the Wildlife Trust’s Reserves.

Although we found no Ormers at Clonque and only one at Longis, it was still great to get out and explore the rocky shores and the creatures that live there. I’ve picked a few of my favourites here, some of these are pictures from earlier rockpooling trips too.

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Clonque Bay at low tide

Here are the Ormers we found when we last had a survey back in October – they’re tiny! Ormers have been a traditional food in the Channel Islands for centuries but now they are becoming more scarce. They can be up to 10cm long and can be gathered during any month with an ‘r’. They are important on Alderney because this the most northerly site in Europe that they are found, they are not present in the UK.

 

Finally: mothing.

I ran the moth trap on Friday for the first time this year. Despite the dry and mild night there were only 4 moths in the trap, these were Engrailed Beauty (Ectropis bistortata), Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi), Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) and Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria). The Early Thorn is a particularly distinctive moth as it holds its wings closed like a butterfly when at rest.

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up a weekly moth trapping session from now on to work on my ID and learn more about the species we have. There will be more surveys starting soon to and spring begins in earnest so more on all sorts of things to come!

Spring greens – a foragers paradise

The last week or so it has really felt like spring has sprung. We’ve had a week of unsettled weather, defying any attempt to predict what it will be like from one hour to the next. We’ve had hail, rain, gales and thunder storms interspersed with unexpected periods of glorious sunshine!

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One of those life-affirming sunny intervals over Longis Bay

Today I had a nice relaxing morning after bellringing taking a walk around some places I haven’t been for a while, intent on restocking my fridge with some greens for this week.

I started with a visit to Ladysmith – a historic ‘Lavoirette’ and ‘Abreuvoir Publique’. This is a shady wooded site rampant with Winter Heliotrope and Three-Cornered Garlic. Here I found my 3 main spring veg plants: Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and of course, Three-Cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum).

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Hogweed (top) and Cow Parsley (bottom) surrounded by Three-Cornered Leek at Ladysmith

Three-cornered Garlic is one of my favourite wild vegetables. It’s not native to the UK and spreads rapidly and can be invasive. Here on Alderney it’s ubiquitous, flourishing all over the island. This is one plant you can pick as much as you like of, the entire plant is edible with a sweet and subtle garlicky onion flavour when cooked, next time I go out I might take a small trowel with me to get the bulbs too. I eat it sparingly in salads and cheese sandwiches or in generous amounts cooked as a vegetable in all sorts of dishes from pasta to omelettes. The one thing to watch for when picking it is where it grows in proximity to bluebells in wooded areas – make sure you know what you are picking! If it smells garlicky it’s ok 👌

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Can you separate your Three-cornered Garlic from your Bluebells?

Hogweed and Cow Parsley are both in the Carrot family (Umbelliferae). This is a family of plants which includes some of the tastiest vegetables but also some of the deadliest so make sure you know what you are picking!

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Young furled hogweed shoots are the best ones to pick

Hogweed and Cow Parsley are both very common and found in a variety of habitats and they are both at their best at this time of year. The young leaves are picked when still mostly furled and a bright fresh green. To identify the plants correctly make sure you have at least 2 point of identification and compare carefully with potential imposters. For Hogweed, the main plant it might be confused with is Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) which is an invasive species found mostly along rivers in the UK. Cow Parsley can be trickier and can grow alongside similar looking and very poisonous plants such as Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). If you want to know more about these plants and what to look out for, there is a good guide at Galloway Wild Foods.

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From L to R: Cowparsley, Hogweed and Three-cornered Garlic

I also picked some other bits and bobs which are useful greens either cooked or in salads. These include:

  • Dandelion leaves (Taraxacum agg.) which have a bitter taste but are good mixed with other greens in salads.
  • Oxalis leaves – I’m unsure of the species without any flowers but it’s likely to be a non-native introduction, there seems to be plenty around! This is related to Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) which is native to Britain and has a sour tang, similar to sorrel.
  • Chickweed – a weed of bare ground and shady places, it has a fresh mild taste and is great in salads, there is a fair bit of it around but it can be difficult to find in places that would be safe to pick – there’s lots along the roadsides which is also where the dogs walk!
  • Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) – most that I’ve seen here is Sea Radish (ssp maritimus) although without flowers or seed pods I can’t say for definite which this is. Like many Crucifers they have a cabbage-y flavour and are great as a cooked vegetable when the leaves are young and tender.
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a common sight all over the island and the fresh fronds have an aniseed flavour which can be used to flavour all sorts of dishes, it’s particularly good with pork.
  • Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) also known as Wall Pennywort is also a common site around the island, particularly in damp shady places where the leaves can grow up to 3” across. It’s edible and although I’m not convinced it’s particularly tasty it can add a pleasant texture to salads.
  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a classic wild vegetable with a distinctive flavour. The stings are neutralised on cooking and it can be great to add to pasta bakes or used like spinach as well at the classic nettle soup.
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a frequent sight all over the island. On footpaths where the vegetation is regularly trampled, the leaved don’t grow very large but in some long grassland areas they can be very worthwhile. I like them in a cheese sandwich where their sharp lemony tang goes wonderfully with a rich nutty hard cheese.

 

Here’s looking forward to a good years foraging on Alderney and some tasty meals!