Meadows and Wetlands
Path way veers left
NOTES FROM A LANCASHIRE COUNTRYMAN.
We commence this part of our tour of the Beacon Country Park where we concluded in the hub-THE BEACON COUNTRY PARK -PART FOUR-
Then as now we are walking along the meadow footpath which veers to the left towards a group of trees that conceals the first pond we are to explore. As we take the left hand bend along the path we will notice that in the grassland to our left ,the small but eye catching, white flowers of the lesser stitchwort. This plant flowers much later than its larger spring flowering cousin the greater stitchwort. The happy little faces peep through the tall grasses enhancing the meadow land where the beautiful orchids compete for room. The lesser stitchwort has linear grass like foliage that blends in with the surrounding herbage. The plant takes its common name from its one time use in medicinal preparations which was said to ease the pain in the side commonly known as the stitch.
As we reach the trees we are to divert in to the grassland to our right to explore the pond that is situated in this secluded locality. Within a couple of yards or so the pond is revealed to us. During the winter the pond takes on a bleak and barren appearance, however, during the spring the locality responds to the call of spring and the suns warmth.. Then the pond sparkles in the sun light, tranquil to the eye, a pleasant place to sit and savour the ambience. Trees in the vicinity of water always have birds about them and this locality is no exception. I have sat with my back to a tree trunk and observed the feathered fraternity going about their business among the boughs clad in the their fresh spring greenery. Birds such as the nuthatch, members of the tit family, and the soft cooing wood pigeon welcoming spring in his fine breeding plumage in full courting garb.
A body of water attracts the eye and continually draws your eye back to it. All kinds of aquatic life may be observed for those with the eyes to see and the receptive ear. On lovely spring dawns the pond's water is like the proverbial mill pond. Until the frog comes a courting. Then the water is turned into turmoil has a frenzy of amphibian activity occurs. Hundreds of frogs descend on the pond. There may not be one the day before, then an invasion occurs during the dark dewy hours. The smaller males are to be observed clinging to the backs of the larger females. This activity is so frenzied that males will try to mate with other males causing even more chaos in this once quiet water.
The result of this orgy of activity is the glutinous frog spawn eagerly harvested by school boys intent on watching the transformation from egg to tadpole and then to baby frog, all occurring within the confines of the jar or bucket chosen as their temporary home. The adult frogs will leave the pond once the mating season is over and the frog spawn will be left in quieter waters to continue its evolution alone.
Other denizens of the pond include water boat men, pond skaters, and the fearsome looking dragonfly larvae a ferocious predator of the murky depths. I have observed the miracle of emergence as this ugly nymph crawls up a iris stalk to leave its skin behind as the adult dragonfly appears to face the terrestrial world. Only the denizens of the pond will ever remember its former life as this impressive insect darts away from through the trees.
Pond and wildlife
In the muddy confines of the pond margin thrives a plant with thick succulent stems and foliage- the brooklime. This plant has my favourite Latin name - Veronica becca bunga. The flowers that are borne on long stalks that arise from the leaf axils are blue with a white eye. They flower from May until September. The anchored roots send out stems that are capable of rooting at intervals to form new plants . They have an invasive nature. They have a superficial look of the water cress and have been used as a substitute for them by country folk in days gone by. The leaves are taste tangy and have an acquired taste, but the blooms can be admired for their beauty. As we walk around the perimeter of the pond along a narrow path always leading to the left . Towards the end of this short pathway we will see on our right a ditch that divides the pathway from the grassland at its summit. In this shady ditch there grows a plant, which, during spring can not be mistaken for any other- the wild garlic. The whole locality has the pungent smell of garlic. The flower heads are globular consisting of many individual six-petalled white flowers. the dark green leaves are broad and elliptical, growing directly from under ground bulbs. They may be used in salads. Most book suggest that they have a mild taste of garlic, however, I find the taste to be very strong.
To the right of this locality we find that a few small steps carry us up back onto meadowland. At the top of these steps to the right another shade loving plant can be encountered-the bugle. the foliage of this plant may be found through out the year but it is during the months from April until June that the densely packed flowering stems rise up above the foliage to enhance the banking. The flowers are bluish-purple that are surrounded by short leaves which are often tinged with bronze or purple especially higher up the stem. The square stems are hairy on two sides only. This is another plant that spreads by means of runners. The runners die off during the winter but in the following spring new shoots that have rooted from the runners produce the flowering spikes. This plant is sold in garden centres and similar outlets as Ajuga.
At the top of these steps we are to turn left to walk towards a row of trees which are on our left while the grassland of the meadow is to our right. In summer these gentle fields are redolent with country flowers, before the grass is cut, giving rise to that "sweet" smell of newly mown hay. This meadow plays host to many species that we will explore during part six of this series.