After the Rain at Barnwood

Dear Readers, it’s always interesting to see what has and hasn’t thrived during the drought of the past few months. At the Barnwood Community Orchard, some of the trees and fruiting shrubs are still doing very nicely, even the recently planted ones (largely due, I suspect, to the care and attention given to them by the volunteers at the site. On the other hand some plants, such as the hazel to the left of the photo, are covered in crisp brown leaves and look very sorry for themselves. I wouldn’t give up hope just yet, though – native shrubs such as this can be very resilient, and it’s more  than possible that it will resurrect itself after the recent rains.

Many of the other plants are looking very healthy. This guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) is full of berries. What good value this plant is, with its white flowers in spring, its red fruit in late summer and its fine golden colour in the autumn. It’s also one of the national symbols of Ukraine, and so it couldn’t be more appropriate.

I love the way that small fruit trees look when they have a few pears or apples on them – they often look almost overwhelmed by what they’ve produced. This little apple is called ‘Ellison’s Orange’, and is apparently a cross between Cox’s Orange Pippin and a variety called Cellini. It’s said to develop an aniseed flavour in storage (unlikely to be a problem this year as I imagine these apples will get munched up very quickly), and to be more disease-resistant, and juicier, than Cox’s. However, it is said to be prone to apple canker (a fungal disease of apple trees that attacks the bark) and therefore requires good drainage. The variety was first seen in 1905, and is believed to have been developed by C.C. Ellison, a Lincolnshire priest who clearly had a fondness for apples.

Ellison’s Orange

Now, as usual I was keeping my eyes open for invertebrates, and I found a very fine spider on some dried-up teasel. It seemed to be feeding on a shieldbug nymph, and at first I thought it was something exotic – look at that lovely lacy pattern on the abdomen.

But no, this our old friend the Noble Spider (Steatoda nobilis) – I normally have a couple of these living in my sash windows in the kitchen. The good folk at the UK Spider Identification Group on Facebook, along with many other people, have been trying to rehabilitate this rather fine spider by changing its common name from ‘Noble False Widow Spider’, which was rather playing into the sensationalist headlines of the tabloid press. Schools have been shut down because of this spider, people have accidentally burnt down their houses by trying to get rid of them with flame throwers and they have been blamed for people losing their limbs.

It’s true that they can bite, but only if provoked or trapped next to skin, and in most cases the result is no worse than a wasp sting. There have been cases of infections after ‘spider bites’, but this would be the case with any puncture wound, and in none of the cases has the initial cause been proven. In short, if you leave these guys alone (the male is more prone to bite, but only because he wanders further in search of a mate, and is therefore more likely to come into contact with people), and just admire them from a safe distance everybody will be ok. And just think of all the midges and mosquitoes and houseflies that they consume! Spiders are some of my favourite house guests, and I don’t even need to change the bed.


And finally, here is a Barnwood-related puzzle. A moth trap has been run in Barnwood for several months, but when Leo, custodian of all things Barnwood-related, opened the trap to inspect it a few days ago, he found that all  the Jersey Tiger moths had been beheaded and partially eaten. What could be causing this crime? We did wonder if the culprit was the mosquito who was found alongside the ‘body’, but only briefly.

Jersey Tiger with completely innocent mosquito

The murderer is likely to be a wasp – they are voracious hunters, and I believe that they can learn about food sources, and how to exploit them. They may even communicate with one another to reveal where food is. Leo is currently considering how to manage this new problem – he notes down the moths that he finds and releases them safely, but has never had dead moths before. It will be interesting to see what happens next.


2 thoughts on “After the Rain at Barnwood

  1. Anne

    What a strange find: beheaded moths! We host numerous spiders in our home – it is simply not worth trying to get rid of them. Interestingly enough, it is usually the smallest ones that inflict the worst harm: I bear a scar on my knee from a spider that must have got trapped in my clothes. No real harm done, although the area of the bite flared up and turned black … I am still here to tell the tale 🙂

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Your spiders are a bit more ‘interesting’ than the ones in the UK, Anne – I’m glad the bite didn’t do you any serious harm!


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