Monday, 23 July 2018


Up by the car park at the entrance several ragwort plants are in bloom. They are covered in these bright yellow and black striped caterpillars which are munching away in an alarming fashion.

The charity Buglife says that many insects - bees, moths, butterflies, wasps and other invertebrates are totally dependent on ragwort for food.

Looking them up I found out that they are the caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. We know that ragwort is poisonous to horses and cattle, though they would have to eat 25% of their body weight in ragwort to make them seriously ill, but as we're not keeping animals we didn't see any reason to remove them. I was very interested to find out how the cinnabar moth makes use of the ragwort poison to protect itself,

The cinnabar moth lays its eggs in large batches on the lower leaves of ragwort and when the caterpillars emerge (June to August) they eat their way up the plant. In their early stages the caterpillars are prone to attack from many insects but as they progress they store poison from their host plant in their bodies making them unpalatable to birds and they advertise this fact with bold orange and black stripes.

In August, the mature caterpillars leave the host plant and spin a cocoon in which to hibernate in the soil, at this stage they are sometimes eaten by moles.

They emerge the following summer (May to July) as adult moths when their red and black wings still advertise the poisons they contain making them safe from attack by birds.

Cinnabar moth  - photo by David Chapman

No rain

Not a great deal to report except the exceedingly hot dry weather. In the last blog post I was bemoaning the lack of rain. Several weeks later and nothing has changed. Sun every day, and no rain in sight. Of course it's wonderful to be enjoying such  a great summer, the only downside being our poor thirsty informal hedge , planted last Autumn. The rest of the wood is holding up well, even the trees we planted 18 months ago are still thriving, seemingly unaffected by the drought, though their growth might have slowed a little.  Thank goodness we had a wet spring. We expected to lose about 10%  of the hedging plants, which is normal, but fear there will be heavier losses due to the prolonged drought. Watering once a week or so helps but may not be enough. We'll have to wait and see what emerges next Spring. We might do some extra hedge planting to make up for some of the losses, and hope we have more rain next summer. The tree saplings appear to be doing well in our new  nursery 'enclosure',  only a few of the oaks have been affected by mildew but they'll probably recover. The beech, and alder buckthorn are growing apace.

The lack of water in the wood is striking. The wet wood is no longer thus, the willow grove is almost as dry,  the Pond is nearly empty of water at its Northern point, and the ghyll has all but disappeared, leaving a few puddles. 

In most places growth has stopped, but where a little water remains it is quite lush and jungly.

We went to look at three natural springs which feed into the stream and down into the Pond;   the ground was still damp but only one of them had a trickle of moving water in it, the others were dry as a bone.  

Here is a bit of refreshing video of one of the Springs in April when we had a lot of rain.

And here is what the same spot looks like now:

The other springs have disappeared underground, marked only by lines of ferns.

The bees seem to love the heat. There is an abundance of grasses and flowers for them and there are now four hives. Here is Kris in his beekeepers outfit .  We tend to keep a respectable distance from the hives , as does Herbie the dog. Maybe we should get some beekeepers gear for the three of us.