Sunday, 3 July 2016

Sylvia's Meadow - without Doctor Hook

A very pleasant couple of hours spent at a local Site of Special Interest - Sylvia's Meadow, just a couple of miles from us at St Anne's Chapel. It is one of the few remaining uncultivated pasture habitats left in Cornwall and, as such, has a unique flora. It is particularly well known for its orchids and these were the reason for my visit. So, with wet weather gear on and a plastic bag around my lenses, I crawled through the undergrowth looking for orchids, flowers and butterflies. Wet but fun.

Although the Meadow had been farmed in the past, this would have been done in the days before intensive practices and the use of pesticides. During WW2 it was the site of a USA army camp but not any old army camp. It was an army camp for white soldiers only, amazingly there was a separate camp for black soldiers in a nearby field. After the war, some of the buildings were put to public use (there was a cinema there at one time) but these were eventually dismantled and the site returned to being a field. Eventually, it was taken over by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve and basically left as it was. However it was soon recognised that competition from grasses and taller plants was having an adverse effect on the orchid population and that grazing was necessary. Initially this was done by donkeys from the adjacent Tamar Valley Donkey Sanctuary but this was stopped when it was realised that the donkeys were not very discriminating in what they munched. Grazing is now more restricted, with cows being allowed to roam for controlled periods. It's an interesting place to visit and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes plants.
Entrance to Sylvia's Meadow is still through the Donkey Sanctuary. I'll admit to being ambivalent about donkeys and can't see how they arise the passion that some devotees feel.
A view looking down across the Meadow. In the distance, over the trees, Devon can be seen.
A Ringlet butterfly, looking pristine which suggests that it's newly emerged.
The underwings of the Ringlet showing why it's got its name. Ringlets like getting their nectar from orchids which strikes me as a dumb thing to do. Apparently the stickiness of orchid's pollen prevents the butterfly from recurling its proboscis after a feed.
A Meadow Brown, a very common species in this type of terrain. They never seem to alight for very long and it's not that easy getting a decent shot of one. They love foraging for nectar on Knapweed and there was lots of this plant around.

Knapweed. A source of good quality nectar and great for insects of all sorts. And as well as supporting our bee, butterflies and beetles its seeds provide food for many birds. Here's something I didn't know: in days gone by eligible young women would put a plucked knapweed flower in their blouse. When as-yet unopened florets began to bloom it would tell her the man of her dreams was near. Nice story, but did anybody actually do it? We used to call it 'hard head' in South Wales and it doubled up as a weapon as we wacked our friends with it.

Lots and lots of mounds of Tormentil were in full flower. The rhizome of this plant, whilst not being edible, can be used to produce a red dye useful for colouring leather.
Common Bird's Foot Trefoil. A nice blend of yellow and orange.
The Lesser Butterfly Orchid, with a bee coming in for a feed at the top right. There are Great Butterfly Orchids here as well but close inspection of the flowers confirms that this is one of the Lesser variety. How so? The pollen sacs are parallel with each other and are quite close. In the Great Butterfly Orchid, they are splayed and further apart.
I think this one is the Heath Spotted Orchid but I could be persuaded that it's the Common Spotted variety. One complication is that it is not uncommon for orchids to hybridise and produce flowers that have the characteristics of both parents.

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