Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Fri 11 - Wed 16 Mar 2005
Was down in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, for a few days. Did not have much time to study nature, in fact my explorations were confined to Tunbridge Wells Common, an extensive wooded area near the centre of town. The vegetation was about as advanced as that of Skye. This is in contrast to last year when, at Gatwick, fairly close by, Spring seemed much further on than in Skye. The Common is on acid soil and I didn't find any plants that weren't familiar from Skye, though I'm sure there are plenty there in the summer. Well, there was Danish Scurvy-grass along the road verges, which is rare on Skye but frequent in much of the country.
In the absence of new flowering plants my thoughts naturally turned to lichens, but the area was very disappointing in that respect. I found a few patches of what I took to be Cladonia coniocraea, and out of reach up a dead tree was something that looked like Evernia prunastri, but other than that the only lichens seen were rather uninspiring crustose or powdery species which are beyond my ID skills at the moment. What a contrast to Skye where the trees are festooned with beautiful foliose and fruticose lichens, as indeed they are in Inverness, on the east coast and with much lower rainfall. Perhaps Kent has even less rain, or perhaps the lack of lichens is due to past or present pollution. The trees themselves tend to be much larger, and probably older, than those found on Skye, and one can only imagine what a collection of lichens some of those trees would have acquired if they had grown to that size here.
I did find some interesting leaf mines though...
This Holly leaf mine, made by the larva of the fly Phytomyza ilicis, was very common, and just about every Holly bush had examples of it. The Bramble leaf mine on the right is caused by a moth larva, either Stigmella aurella or S auromarginella; probably the former as it is much more widespread.
I believe this one on Honeysuckle is caused by the fly larva Chromatomyia lonicerae. If you look very closely you can just about make out, in a few places, the continuous black line of frass along one side of the mine. On the right is the Oak Marble Gall caused by the cynipid wasp Andricus kollari.
A couple of "pest" species that are common on the Common. The Grey Squirrel is of course a non-native animal which drove the native Red Squirrel out of the south of England during my early childhood. The Red still occurs in the West Highlands of Scotland, and now that we have a bridge it may make it over to Skye one day. I must admit the Grey Squirrels were great fun to watch and their agility in the treetops has to be admired, but they need to be controlled if the Red is to retain its hold in its remaining refuges and hopefully even regain lost ground. The other "pest" is the Magpie, which is a native bird in Kent and most of the UK, though it does not occur in Skye. Apparently there is a bounty on the heads of Magpies in England. I can't say I approve of this. If Magpie numbers are out of control it must be a symptom of some deeper cause for which humans are no doubt to blame.
Dovecot at Burwash, Sussex, a place I used to go to as a child to visit my grandmother. And now that we're completely off the topic of nature, here is the church where her grave is, which I was seeing for the first time.
This is the house where my great great grandfather died, at Framfield, Sussex. I had not known anything about it or him until this visit. Getting hurriedly back on topic, these embedded layers of pebbles and gravel are an interesting feature of some of the rocks on Tunbridge Wells Common. A note from Gill Smith says these were probably laid down in a flood in a river system, or alternatively in very shallow seawater as a pulse of coarse material within the sands.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer