Dowdy ducks, cannibalistic caterpillars and dainty damsels – look out for all these, and more, in Rushcliffe in July. For more details, please follow this link: http://www.southnottswildlife.org.uk/content/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/What-to-look-out-for-in-July.pdf
It is noticeable that the Common Blue is rare locally, yet Birds Foot Trefoil the food plant for the caterpillar is, if not common, certainly widespread. But the following story suggests why this might be so and also suggests that in the natural world the answers may often be less obvious and more complicated than you might think.
The Large Blue butterfly went extinct in southern England due to the price of wool and myxamatosis. The LB lays its eggs on Wild Thyme, but after feeding up the caterpillar seeks out the nest of a specific species of ant and using pheromones convinces the ants into taking it in (well usually !). The caterpillar thanks it`s host by predating the ant lava and suitably fattened turns into a chrysalis. Emerging from the transformation the LB emerges in all it`s splendour (the largest of the Blues) and leaves the nest to start the cycle again.
But here`s the problem, reduction in sheep and rabbits in areas of the South Downs led to the grass getting longer. Not a problem for the LB, or the Wild Thyme, but for the specific ant species the slight cooling of the ground temperature caused that species of ant to abandon the hillsides. They still colonized the heavily grazed fields in the valleys, but Wild Thyme did not. So the chain was broken and the LB declined and went extinct in Britain, subsequently re introduced and surviving on specifically managed sites.
So the Large Blue had a breeding cycle that depended on two other species living close by, but the overlap of their habitat requirements was at best marginal, neither species needed the other and as the LB predated both of them it`s absence could be seen as a bonus. So the low numbers of Common Blue my well be a product of it`s specialist life cycle – it can only successfully breed if Birds Foot Trefoil and a specific species of ant are both present in the same location.
Road verges form a significant wildlife resource in Rushcliffe. They provide interconnectivity for a wide variety of species ranging from the wide tall grass and Cow Parsley verges in the south of Rushcliffe or the colourful daisy and dandelion flower dotted verges elsewhere. They provide food, shelter and support for many different invertebrates, small mammals and birds etc. They can also look good, providing they are not over mown.
However, it is fair to say that not everybody sees it that way: some see leaving verges uncut as untidy or as cost cutting. The point is people do write to councillors to complain, getting their attention. So it is incumbent on fans of flowery, abundant roadsides to also write into councillors praising verges that are looking good, grumbling about verges cut in their prime. Either way you are making the case that road verges matter and making the case for restraining the mowers.
The Highways Agency are responsible for mowing trunk roads, namely A453, A52 and A46 in Rushcliffe. But all other road verges (rural and urban) are the responsibility of Notts County Council. The standard NCC regime is a one metre wide cut along the road edge twice per year (wider on bends and junctions). There is a full width verge cut once every three years, carried out on rotation. Overall this is not bad and reasonably in line with Plantlife guidance on a mowing regime that is a compromise between wildlife and road management.
But whilst it is County Councillors who can most influence mowing policy, Rushcliffe Councillors will also get adverse comments about verges and discus them with their county counterparts, so we would advocate contacting both your Borough Councillor and County Councilor, speaking up for road verges. In addition you can raise the issue on social media particularly by commenting on Council Facebook pages etc.
Whether you are pleased with how verges look, or feel Councils could do better. please stand up and be counted for wildlife friendly road verges.
We have produced some sample words that you might like to use in your communications, which can be found on Road Verge Letter
Gordon Dyne on behalf of South Notts Local Group (NWT) and Rushcliffe Nature Conservation Strategy Implementation Group