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Looking a bit rough
At this time of year our meadows are looking a bit tired and old. Gone is the new freshness of spring . Long grass has started to lie, this way and that, and the chaotic impression can put our minds uneasy.
The docks in the meadow at Scoil Bhride national school ,were tall and flourishing, so I decided to take action. Fortunately they seem to be only in certain sections, perhaps where machinery was during the installation of the septic tank.
The docks were producing lots of seed so, rather than adding to the seed bank of dock seed in the soil ,I decided to cut down the docks this week, before the seed was shed
It is possible to pull the docks and thus remove these perennial plants altogether.
I tried this before the heavy rain we had recently and decided I was so slow that the seed would be shed before I got it finished.
After rain, I found it was a very satisfying feeling, to pull out the long tap root, however, I still got on and cut down most plants, rather than pull them, so no doubt there will still be docks next year.
We had some assistance in grass removal this week we hadn’t invited. A few cattle got in and selectively grazed, ignoring the docks, rushes and thistles of course. This didn’t help with the look of the meadow to the tidy mind !
The yellow rattle had been looking very impressive
The bumblebees were enjoying he yellow rattle as were the meadow browns.
DIY wild flower seed
Nothing is guaranteed when wildflower seed are DIY collected and sown on grassland. This makes me all the more chuffed that I can report a very healthy population of yellow rattle plants now growing in the wildflower garden in the grounds of Scoil Bhríde Killeshandra.
Unsure as we were , of how well the seed would take, we only prepared and sowed a small area (10mx10m approx). If we manage the grassland correctly now this plant should spread.
The seed had been gathered, still within the seed head ,in September and October in dry weather. The field I collected from , near Cavan town , had been grazed by horses in the spring which may explain why the flowering of the yellow rattle was probably late. The seed was still there to be collected in September.
To remove the seed from the all seed heads I had gathered, I simply shook them about, it a large closed plastic box. This seemed to do the job fairly well.
Winter work at Scoil Bhride, Killeshandra national school
The seed is relatively large as flower seed goes. It is known that yellow rattle seeds need a time of cold before it can germinate. This means that the seed is sown in the autumn or early winter. The sward needs to be short and open so that seed reaches the soil surface. The pupils of Scoil Bhride, worked with rakes and mattocks , hoes and spades to open up the sward, before scattering the seed.
Even in the early stages after germination the yellow rattle parasitizes the neighbouring grass plants. It was noticeable how plants in a large bare patch of soil without grass did less well than those established in grass.
This parasitism by the yellow rattle is thought to reduce the vigour of the grasses and help increase the diversity of the sward. Since yellow rattle is an annual . It is essential that the conditions are right for germination next spring.
Geopark rarity brings me to my knees.
In order to appreciate the small white orchid it is best to lie down. So, I prostrated myself before the plant. I did feel that ,despite it’s diminutive size, this orchid also has the same mystical enchantments as the bigger, showier, members of the tribe. It has a very limited distribution in Ireland and where it does survive it only occurs in low numbers. Added to this is the uncertainty, each June of just whether the plant will reappear in known sites. Apparently some years it lies dormant. So with these enigmatic qualities it is not surprising that this wee orchid is on the Irish Red data list of very rare and endangered plants.
Andy King, geopark guide, and Dowra resident, prepared and led, an orchid day event ,in Dowra on the 14th June. This included a visit to his own orchid sites. I am very grateful to Andy for the opportunity to visit this area at just the right time. Happily the weather could not have been any finer. We were able to see, heath orchids, lesser butterfly orchids early purple orchids,, common tway-blades and small white orchids. Not to be outdone by the orchids , the butterfly selection was good. We had small heath , cryptic wood-white and marsh fritillary butterfly. Pollination of the small white orchid is not well recorded but the suspicion is that micromoths do the job.
Our “Contempt for small places.”
The decline of the orchid population has been attributed to habitat loss,specifically by farm intensification and forestry. Andy King grazes his small orchid sites with two horses over the winter. Under-grazing is detrimental for the small orchids as is overgrazing. The land does not receive artificial fertilizer or herbicides. The decline in orchid populations is part of a general problem caused by the use of agricultural fertilizer. Each small place attempting to increase production and losing grassland biodiversity.
This is a big, world-wide problem, Wendell Berry describes it thus; “The health of the oceans depends on the health of the rivers; the health of the rivers depends on the health of small streams; the health of small streams depends on their watersheds. The health of the water is exactly the same as the health of the land. The health of small places is exactly the same as the health of large places.” Wendell Berry,” Contempt for small places” (2004)
Lying down in a Cavan field, admiring orchids ,gives me lots of reasons to humbly think of my own contribution to these world wide problems .
Silene dioica red campion , (pictured above). Google informs me that it is named after Silenus, who was the merry (winemaking ) god of woodlands
Last of the red campion flowers, were just about to be, killed off by frost. This is one of the species regarded as an indicator of the old age of the woodland ,like bluebells and wood anemone
The branches of the more interesting trees were easier to see. Birdcherry is one of the less common native species . It often seems to have this growth shape of spreading stems
This tree is struggling for light, because of conifers nearby, resulting in this stretching and rising pattern
The terminal winter buds of bird cherry are different to that of wild cherry.
In addition the young bark is a different hue
Flooded inter-drumlin landscape Co. Cavan
I recently brought lots of water creatures to Killeshandra Family Fun Day . We had great fun looking at water spiders, water boatmen, dragonfly larvae and water scorpions.
Look at the water spiders air bubble !
The spider has to come to the surface to collect the air
So where do the creatures come from ??
Of course the answer is sheugh water , or many lake edges
“Of coorse their’s ither thaveless bein’s,
saft, hairmless, feckless doits – the lea’ins.
They’re happy hokin’ in a sheugh
or dungin’ byres, or somethin’ rugh”
From the “The hiring fair” by John Clifford.
I happy hoking in a sheugh (a sheugh , pronounced “shuck” is a drain.)
This may not be every bodies idea of happiness, indeed the poem above calls those that hoke in sheughs, soft, harmless, useless, idiots (I know the language of the poem is a bit peculiar , its in Ulster Scots,).
Now the days of hard labour cleaning out sheughs are long gone, we can hoke on sheughs at our leisure!
The young (and the young at heart) find this quite absorbing, Why?
Sheughs are full of life !
It’s a bit like a lucky dip when you put the net in water,you’re not quite sure what you will get, but unless the water is very polluted you are bound to get something.
So its great fun , interesting, but it is also very important.
Since the 1950s we have been altering our streams, sheughs, rivers and lakes with nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous to make the grass grow. , This in turn has altered the plants , creepy crawlies , fishes and bigger animals such as newts and birds that live in water.
So have a hoke in sheugh water
There is a lot of life depending on it.