September at Belfairs

Heather

This month we are looking at Lost Words; wildlife words that are sadly disappearing from new editions of children's dictionaries. Here we are looking at five Lost Words that are particularly significant at Belfairs in September.

Acorn

The first of the Lost Words is Acorn. At this time of year at Belfairs, there are plenty of acorns about; providing a food source for a range of wildlife. Squirrels and corvids caching acorns to come back to through the winter is a familiar autumnal sight in our woods.

However, there are some slightly more unusual animals that feed on acorns too. Many of our oaks here at Belfairs have significant numbers of strangely misshapen acorns. These are Knopper Galls; induced by Knopper Gall Wasps to provide the larvae inside with a safe, nutritious environment for development.

These wasps have an interesting life cycle. They alternate between sexual and asexual generations; the asexual generation develops in the Knopper Galls on native oaks, while the sexual generation develops in galls on Turkey Oak. The Knopper Gall Wasp has therefore only been able to spread to the UK due to the introduction of the non-native Turkey Oak. The species was first recorded in the UK in the 1960s and has now spread across much of the south of the country.

Knopper Gall

Knopper Gall

Bramble

Bramble is another of our Lost Words, and like acorns, brambles are also affected by gall forming wasp larvae. The galls most likely to be seen at Belfairs at this time of year are those of the Bramble Stem Gall Wasp. Like the Knopper Gall Wasp, the larvae of the Bramble Stem Gall Wasp cause the plant to produce a growth that provides a protective and nutritious environment for development.

Bramble Stem Gall

Bramble Stem Gall

Willow

However, not all galls are produced by wasps. Fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, mites and a variety of insect groups are all known to induce growths in plants to provide habitat and a food source. Here at Belfairs, you may see galls on the leaves of another of our lost words; Willow. These galls are produced by sawflies rather than wasps; though both sawflies and wasps belong to the insect order Hymenoptera.

As well as providing a food source of gall forming sawfly, willows are the larval food plant of the large and beautiful Purple Emperor butterfly. This magnificent butterfly is increasing its range across southern England and this summer we had a first sighting of a Purple Emperor at Belfairs. It would be great to see this species colonise Belfairs in years to come. However, there is not a huge amount of willow on site, so in the near future we are hoping to map the distribution of willows. This will help to inform our management; potentially we may leave areas of willow uncoppiced with overwintering Purple Emperor caterpillars in mind.

Willow Gall

Willow Gall

Ivy

Like the Purple Emperor, the Ivy Bee is currently increasing its distribution across the south of the UK. Like the Knopper Gall Wasp, this is a species that has only recently colonised the UK from mainland Europe, first recorded in 2001. The species has been spotted in Essex, so is one to keep an eye out for here at Belfairs over the coming weeks. As its name suggests, much of the pollen that this species collects comes from Ivy; another of our Lost Words.

Ivy is a really important part of our woodland ecosystem; providing roosting and nesting habitat for birds and small mammals, and producing winter ripening berries that provide an important food source in the leaner months of the year. At this time of year, Ivy is especially important as it is one of the last plants to come into flower, providing an important pollen source for insects like the Ivy Bee.

Ivy Flowers

Ivy Flowers

Heather

Like the ivy, another of our lost words -Heather- is in flower at the moment and looking particularly spectacular. Although we are in the Belfairs and Daws Heath living landscape, there is not a huge amount of heather around- making those areas we do have extra special. Here at Belfairs we have a few nice patches in the south west of Hadleigh Great Wood. Within the rest of the Belfairs and Daws Heath Living Landscape, it is definitely worth a visit to Little Havens in September, as there they have some really nice areas of acid grassland, with the Heather and Goldenrod looking amazing at this time of year.

Heather with Brown Argus

Heather with Brown Argus