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“Naturalist at Large”

by Don Smith

There is not much to report on the lichen front. To the best of my knowledge the first discovery of the yellow European montane lichen, Acarospora chlorophana which I found in Bilsdale in 1991 has not turned up since anywhere in Britain. It therefore joins the Lady’s Slipper Orchid as the sole (so far discovered) representative of the species in the British Isles. Having to look back at my records to get the date right I was somewhat shocked to realise how far back it was, thinking that it was only a few years ago. I recall how, when I was a youngster, the days were immeasurably long and summers seemed to last for ever. Now the days seem to have slipped into top gear and one’s children’s children are stepping out into the world. Still! that’s quite enough of that! It’s enough that it’s happening without dwelling on it.

Churchyard surveying goes apace with the usual break over winter until the warm dry weather returns. I have to admit to being a warm weather naturalist. When I don my entomologist’s hat my excuse lies in the habit of invertebrates to hibernate so I have every excuse to do likewise. As a lichenologist the organisms I study swell up in the damp, change shape and display an almost universal shade of green due to the algae showing up through the translucent surface, making identification difficult.

I have covered some 1,330 churches, chapels and cemeteriesto date. One of the most lichen-luxurious sites is almost on my doorstep: Kirkdale, in fact. A few years ago the count was around 60 species, rising to 75 the following year. Then two months ago accompanied by an expert from Suffolk, the count rose to 81. My friend stated that he wouldn’t be surprised if, with more visits, the total topped 110. This always happens: every re-visit adds more species to anysite. This is probably due to many factors. Bad weather, haste, carelessness are always possible but the main reason is not the influx of new (incredibly fast-growing) arrivals but rather the impossibility of examining every square inch of every stone and bark surface in one visit. Plans are afoot to make part of the churchyard into a conservation area and I shall be providing an insect list for the site.

Having exhausted all the sites within a 50 mile radius and with reservations about driving further afield, for instance up the west Lancashire coast, due to petrol costs, I have begun to return in earnest to my original field. I went, as a member of the old Hull Scientific & Field Naturalists’ Club, on a club visit to Welwick saltmarsh in 1958. This site has recently been purchased by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust so I dug out some old filing cards and found about two dozen records. Among them was a record of a small Red Data Book moth whose caterpillar feeds on Heracleum – I recall hatching the moths out from chrysalids hibernating in the dead stems. So I revisited the site this September just in time to catch the dying flush of the pale purple Sea Aster, Aster tripolium. Most of the species found were either common or mildly local. However I did find a tiny Lace-bug, Piesma quadratum or Beet-leaf Bug, which was at or slightly above its most northerly limit. It is called a Lace-bug because of the fine, lace-like network of dark veins in the forewings.

At Upper Dunsworth Carr, another recent YWT acquisition, a very local, entirely black Cranefly or Daddy-long-legs was noted. It is quite unnerving to traverse this site: if one makes a (small) jump the ground depresses slightly and a sluggish ripple moves outwards, tussocks and herbs moving up and down in slow motion. I kept expecting to find some of the cattle (brought in to ‘manage’ the site) down to their ribs on the grass with all four legs poking through holes in the floating raft. It was somewhat disappointing to find them all happy with life in a munching fashion. Perhaps they were a special breed with hooves splayed like camels. By comparison Fen Bog is as stable as a limestone pavement.

I keep computerised records of flora and fauna on many YWT reserves and the total at Ellerburn Bank now stands at 635. Though it will be a long time before any of the YWT reserves approaches my count of 1270 species for Bridestones, that for Ellerburn is very good considering that there has never been a determined all-round survey, especially for fungi and invertebrates. I added some new ones to Ellerburn in August, one a small moth new to Yorkshire and a rare solitary wasp, Crossocerus cetratus, – plus a number of common ones.

The old Hull Society lapsed some years ago, presumably as membership declined below an acceptable threshold. It was restarted again under the new title of the Hull Natural History Society. They visited Ellerburn Bank in July when, as Chairman, I was able to welcome them and found to my delight that I could remember one of the visitors when she was a young girl riding behind her dad on his motorcycle to Club meetings. They too added a number of botanical records.

I would greatly welcome any botanical records from Ellerburn Bank, Fen Bog or other local YWT reserves by members who remember to take a pencil and paper with them. Common species are as welcome as any since I attempt to display records in graphical form which, in the case of Ellerburn, commences in 1964. All such records will go into the ongoing surveys and be passed on to headquarters at Toft Green in York.

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