|Terry hunts for small heather clumps|
|A welcome break|
|Terry hard at work amongst the heather|
We found Terry and Mary under the spreading chestnut tree by the track close to the Hollow Walk. That was as expected. They had been working here for weeks, uncovering and freeing young, planted heather from a blanket of grass and bracken.
We left them to it, and went off to see what could be done to salvage another area of heather in the lower reaches of Snipes Dene. A few years back this area had been harvested of its Forestry Commission conifers and left to regenerate naturally, which it soon did – mainly with birch. But here and there grow patches of heather, and even some bilberry. The bilberry looked well-nibbled by deer, with no sign of flower or fruit; the heather all around was blooming. There is much to be done to keep the heather free of encroaching bracken, birch, raspberry and bramble. A winter’s job, we decided.
|Some of the heather at lower end of Snipes Dene|
|Patch of heather (ling)|
Back by the Hollow Walk, Mary guided us on finding the often tiny fronds of heather, and rescuing them. Painstaking work, but we found loads. Other finds included my forty-five year old Swiss Army knife – only lost for five minutes but, as any Swiss Army knife owner will tell you, enough time to induce panic – and a straggly little rose with two strange growths. Initially, we were puzzled by these hairy, red and green pom-poms, the product, it turns out, of the gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae)to house their larvae, and is popularly known as Robin’s Pincushion. Apparently they’re quite common. So much for our observational skills.
|Inside the Robin's pincushion - larvae visible|
Though we have yet to spot a Gibside grass snake, the corrugated tins we use to attract them frequently provide us with some other interesting finds. Common toads are common, newts less so. In recent weeks we have also uncovered some fine, sculptural, abandoned wasp nests, ants in plenty, a nest of angry common carder bees and, best of all, a nest of minute short-tailed vole babies.
|Delicate, paper-thin cell of wasp nest|
|Wasp and soldier beetle on umbellifer|
|Common carder bee nest under corrugated tin|
|Vole pups in nest|
Grass snakes, who needs them?
Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne