Dear Readers, my copy of British Wildlife (which includes all things living, not just animals) often makes sober reading, as habitats change and species decline. This month, however, there are some very bracing success stories and I thought I’d share them here to cheer us all up.
First up is the red helleborine (photo above) – this is a critically endangered orchid in the UK, known from only a handful of sites, so it was a real treat when a new population of the plant was discovered in West Gloucestershire. Orchids are vulnerable to idiots with spades digging them up so the exact location is a secret, but the landowner, the local recorder and those with expertise in managing the habitat of this rare plant have been informed. Let’s hope that it thrives!
And while we’re on the subject of orchids, a small-flowered tongue orchid (Serapias parviflora) has cropped up on the green roof of Nomura Internation in the City of London. The seeds of orchids are incredibly light and can travel a long way, so it might well have been blown here from across the Channel (it’s a plant of the Atlantic coast of mainland Europe generally), and climate change is making the southern part of England much more amenable to plants that require warmer, wetter conditions.
And here’s a very surprising story. Mousetail (Myosurus minimus), a Red-listed threatened species of buttercup, was spotted growing at Reading services on the M4 motorway – the plant was growing in a strip of gravel between two parking bays. The person who spotted it (Simon Leach) contacted a botanist who told him that it had been spotted on the other side of the motorway too so, with the zeal that only a true plant enthusiast can muster, he checked out the grass verges on the return journey, only to find that there were literally tens of thousands of the plant growing in these most inhospitable circumstances. Nature will indeed find a way.
Moving onto insects, there is exciting news to report from the world of grasshoppers and their relatives. For one thing, the Large Conehead (Ruspolia nitidula) has become very well established in the south of England, and bat detectors have been used to pick up the calls of the males. There is a recording of their high-pitched call below – you might need to turn up your speakers!
This rather splendid fly was found in Wytham Woods near Oxford – it’s a Forest Silver-Stiletto (Pandivirilia melaleuca) and is vanishingly rare – it needs dead and dying wood and sap runs in which to breed) so any new sighting has to be good news. Most people are not very fond of flies, but this varied group contains insects which are essential to the well-being of the ecosystems in which they lives.
And finally (and for me this is the most exciting news of the month) a population of praying mantises has been found in a garden in Oxfordshire. The insects appear to be breeding – Richard Lewington, who wrote ‘Guide to Garden Wildlife‘, one of my favourite field guides, found several adults and an egg case in 2020. The owners contacted him this year, and he found a nymph, so this appears to be the first record of successful breeding in the wild in Britain.
So, it seems that climate change and a variety of other factors are influencing the make-up of our wild plant and animal communities in a variety of ways. Some could be predicted, but others are totally unexpected. Many species are being pushed to the brink, while others are taking advantage of new opportunities. There can be little doubt that everything is on the move.
Photo One by Björn S…, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Two By Luis nunes alberto – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6497090
Photo Three by I, Hugo.arg, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Four by Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Four byAlvesgaspar, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons