Orchids in Beattie’s Field; High Brown Fritillaries; flowers of Southampton’s bombed sites and a squawking Nightjar chick!
Gran has made a few visits to the Punchbowl area on the Petersfield Road lately, looking for orchids and other wild flowers. When describing her finds, she always uses the plants’ scientific names – but many of them are well out of date today. For instance, she finds Habenaria conopsea, which must be Fragrant orchid – a plant now recognised as three separate species, and with a different Generic name. When at the Punchbowl, she:
…resented the arrival of noisy, chattering people on motorbikes who were apparently quite unaware of the beauty of sight and sound all round them, which they had so rudely disturbed.
On June 25th, again searching for flowers, she cycles via the Hythe Ferry (I suppose) to Cracknore Hard, near Marchwood on the west side of the Test opposite Southampton docks “to look for flowers on the marshes”. On-line Aerial imagery shows this area to be highly industrialised today, with no hint of a marsh.
At this time, Dad tells me, “the whole area on the west side of the Test estuary was being reclaimed, by walling off large areas of mud and allowing them to dry out. These areas had been very good for birds and with some interesting plants nearby”.
On the way she stops at a field near Baddesley “where a good number of Orchis latifolia were in flower”. It is what she later always described as “Beattie’s Field” after the farmer who owned it.
It is a site seemingly much less interesting botanically now, though not entirely spoiled, but which in those days apparently had a fantastic variety of marsh orchid species and varieties in it, including Marsh Helleborine. Orchis latifolia is today known as Dactylorhiza incarnata, the Early Marsh Orchid.
On that day, amongst other species, she notes a record made by Dad of a High Brown Fritillary at Brockenhurst – a butterfly fairly dependent on the coppicing system of woodland management, and no longer present in the New Forest nor, indeed, Hampshire, being now confined to the Devon moors and the Morecambe Bay limestone areas. Another was recorded by him in Cranbury Park a few days later.
A large proportion of the entries throughout June are devoted to moths that she sees near the house and to various species hatching and emerging in Dad’s breeding cages in the house. This includes the transferring of tiny newly hatched caterpillars of the Eyed Hawk-moth to their food-plant, willow or sallow, using a fine paintbrush.
On the last day of June, as she writes in the evening, a blackbird is “carolling in the back garden”:
Now, unfortunately, the air is rent by the squalling of neighbouring cats, and a squad of noisy, unruly soldiers who have apparently spent their evening riotously in a public house. What hateful and unseemly noises…so much for civilisation!
Oh dear – there seems to be much of which Gran disapproves! And on July 3rd:
Cloudy and dull early. Cooler. Much noise among the blackbirds. Cat somewhere, I suppose. Horrid creature!
She doesn’t like cats – and taught the rest of her family to hate them too, until some of us began to think a bit more deeply about them as pets and their value to people. Nevertheless, in my view she was quite right to hate the amount of predation of wild birds, reptiles and mammals that their, often unwitting, owners allow them to do.
Gran records Erigeron canadensis (Canadian Fleabane) near Compton and says this about it:
A favourite haunt of the latter is on the ruins of bombed areas, and I have seen it on such in Southampton but happily such sad sights are not upon my own doorstep, and I seldom have to see them.
That was a morning trip to the Compton area. The afternoon sees her at Farley Mount, again looking for flowers. The first half of July is filled with daily outings within the local area, and the New Forest. Lists of plants are recorded, as well as butterflies seen (including many Purple Hairstreaks in Cranbury Park.
Along the river between Brambridge and Shawford Gran notes:
There was, however, one great disappointment. I was unable to find Scutellaria galericulata (Skullcap). Evidently somebody with a tidy mind but not much imagination has cut down all the flowers along the river bank on the stretch where this rather uncommon plant usually grows.
On July 15th, Gran makes a visit to Kingston-on-Thames, the first of which, I think, may be an annual pilgrimage for some time. In future years her visits extend to several days, staying with Adrian’s mother, but this time it appears to be a day trip. This is what she writes:
A truly perfect summer day! Having to rise at dawn and retire after sunset I was able to really see the whole day….I went to Kingston-on-Thames by train and started whilst the day was still shrouded in mist, which I justly maintained meant it would be warm and sunny later. All the embankments except where men had cut them, were beautifully covered with wild flowers of many varieties, and I even saw Senecio squalidus [Oxford Ragwort] between the rails outside Waterloo station. I took a wonderful bouquet of our own loveliest downland flowers for the Garden of Sleep where my own good friend lies at rest. It was very peaceful and quiet after the turmoil of Waterloo station and I hoped that he had found the same peace after the turmoil and stress of his life. On the way home I saw a Barn Owl hunting in the field at Brambridge which is clearly seen from the railway…
An entry that evening reports a visit by Dad to Farley Mount, though she does not mention him by name. This was a family that tended to address each other as “mother” and “brother” etc., though I never heard Gran call her Barry “son”:
A nightjar rose suddenly from the ground at my son’s feet and made a great fuss, acting as though injured to attract attention. Knowing the reason for this, my son looked about on the ground, and sure enough, found a youngster which he carefully picked up for examination, whereupon it opened its beak and squawked at him.
I saw my first Nightjars in the newly planted forestry at the junction of Hocombe and Hursley Roads in the 1970s. I vividly remember the excitement of first hearing the male’s unearthly song and I watched them wing-clapping over the young trees. This is a bird that has declined since then, although the new open woodland habitats created nationally when trees were felled by the storm of 1987, were of great benefit to the species, and its decline was halted somewhat.
Gran seems to be making daily visits to the Park Road garden at this time, mentioning Greenfinches singing in the wires used to support brambles, breeding Spotted Flycatchers there, and noting cabbage white butterflies laying their eggs on young plants of broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
On July 18th she reports that an interesting beetle was brought to her by a friend:
…which had come from Jamaica in a bunch of bananas. It was about the size of a female stag beetle, and quite similar in structure, the main differences being a long hard horn on the front of the head, and the presence of greyish hairs on the abdomen.
On the 20th:
As I reached the top of the hill I saw a magnificent panorama of Winchester with its grey spires, surrounded by the water-meadows thick with damp-loving flowers , and the peaceful river winding between them. Herds of cows added to the picturesque setting and I was alone on the hilltop amid the flowers and butterflies. I was loth to descend into the noise and bustle of the bye-pass again.
There is no doubt that experience of the numbers and diversity of wild flowers and butterflies on the downs (and elsewhere) in those days, before agricultural intensification, would amaze observers today. The measure of the declines in wildlife mentioned today always seems to relate the decline to the supposedly high numbers of the 1970s, but as Dad often tells me, “if they had only seen it in the 1940s – then they would have a true picture of the losses!” And I imagine that the diversity and abundance were even greater, years before that. I fear that this “generational amnesia” will allow the constant degradation of the countryside’s carrying capacity for diverse and abundant wildlife over the years ahead.
I think that Jane, Gran’s daughter, very nearly gets a mention on the 24th! Gran writes that during a swimming contest at the Winchester County High School, two house martins swooped low over the surface of the pool. I expect my aunt Jane, athletic and a keen swimmer, was competing, but there’s no mention of her by name.
Gran has another “go” at “progress” while she writes up her day on the 28th, following comments about the variety of wild flowers present on the bombed sites in “dismal” Southampton, including, Oxford Ragwort, Rose-bay Willowherb, Canadian Fleabane and Buddleia:
It is a clear beautiful evening as I write, pleasantly cool now, but the usual pleasant quiet rather rudely broken by sundry loud wireless sets, one disadvantage of “progress” in the countryside on a warm evening when windows are flung wide. I like a calm stilly night when the silence can be heard and only nature’s occasional melodious sounds disturb the internal quiet.
The last day of July sees Gran and Dad going up Kingsway, along the Brambridge Road and the River Itchen, and at Morestead:
I was rather surprised to find another entomologist here who was after Brown Argus and Common Blues, and on enquiring if he’d had any luck, we started to talk. Mentioning my son’s name, I was rather taken aback to hear the man say that he had heard of him and was anxious to meet him… It is always pleasant to meet a kindred spirit! All too rare an experience.
Dad remembers the occasion and says this chap was named Paul Holloway.
Today is the birthday of the one to whose memory this book is dedicated, the one whose patience and help gave me greater comfort in and appreciation of nature’s unfading beauty and interest. Today belongs to my friend, and in gratitude and affection I remember him.
She is “up betimes this morning for early service” to find “comfort and consolation”. Too early for the early service, Gran wanders the sunlit lanes around Compton, thinking that for herself, there could be no heaven without flowers.
After the service, it’s a lovely day and:
In many places now the harvest is being garnered, golden wheat and ripe oats, and the fields of stooked corn make a cheerful and encouraging picture.
She records that she is writing this day’s entry:
…on the top of the downs at Compton alone, that is, as far as human companionship is concerned, alone but not lonely, for I have around me the best company in the world.
She notes, and has noted for some time recently, that migrant Clouded Yellow butterflies are numerous, and that she sees them every year in varying numbers. I know it would be hard to see them every year in the same areas nowadays, and certainly not in any number. She records “myriads” of butterflies and incredible numbers of wild flowers – and she would, no doubt, be utterly depressed by the massive decline in all these things today. She again notes breeding Red-backed Shrike up there on the downs, as she writes. I too, wish they were still to be found there.
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)