Hearing an unusual rattle can be a worrying thing. As I write, the wind is making a more welcome rattling sound as it shakes the dry, paper bag-like, seed-pods of our Yellow Rattle flowers (clue’s in the name!), before they burst and scatter to produce next Spring’s attractive yellow flowers.
Yellow Rattle seed-pod next to an unusual white Heath Spotted Orchid
There are lots of other seeding flowers and grasses in the meadows (including all but a few of the late flowering wild Orchids), being dispersed by insects, birds, wind and rain to ensure that we all have something to enjoy next year. The large white seed-heads of the Cow Parsley along the pitch edges are alive with mini-bugs waiting to be discovered by our enthusiastic young bug hunters.
Meanwhile, the next wave of flowers have appeared to feed the butterflies and bees and we have lovely stands of bluish-lilac Field Scabious, Red Clover and purple Common Knapweed taking us on into late Summer. This natural succession is essential to the breeding cycle of many birds, insects and animals and is the main rationale for creating species-rich habitats such as our meadows.
Insects love the open flower-heads of the Field Scabious
On my late night round this week, I was delighted to find a baby Hedgehog on one of the North Paddock paths, feeding on the small slugs that emerge from the damp grass at night. We have released two lots of adults in the past but, apart from occasional sightings of their droppings full of beetle shells, they have disappeared from view. Obviously, nature has been at work without our knowing it.
Baby Hedgehog (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust)
Another example of the secret wildlife of Greenhillock!
If you have already stayed with us at Greenhillock you will have noticed two things about our night-times. Firstly, the quiet – apart from the wildlife and occasional all-night agricultural activity you can only hear the wind in the trees. Secondly, how clear our night skies are – we have very little light pollution and have been named by the Met Office as one of the top ten UK campsites for stargazing (quite often you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye).
Roe Deer at first light, helping himself to the duck food
In reality, however, nearly as much wildlife activity happens during the night and most of it is unobserved. What we do see regularly are the Pipistrelle Bats as they skim low at dusk over the Wildlife Pond and hedgerows hunting down moths, gnats and midges (yes folks, bats are your friends!) What we often hear are the Tawny Owls in the Beech trees calling either to attract a mate or to defend territory. The characteristic ‘twit-twoo’ is actually the two sounds of a male and female calling to and answering each other. Rarely we hear the eerie screech of a Barn Owl.
Night visiting Fox at the back of the Field Kitchen, shot with infra-red
Largely unseen and unheard are the near nightly visits of the Roe Deer, Foxes and Badgers, even when campers are sleeping close by. We capture these on wildlife cameras in our garden and keep a record so we know quite a lot about these secret unpaying guests. We have also had rare visits from Otters as they travel along the burn.
Tawny Owl resting after hitting my office window in a snowstorm
At Greenhillock Glamping you are closer to nature than you might ever think!
You all know the back story – no bees, no food! Einstein’s version was harsher in that he predicted the end of human existence within a short time of Bee Armageddon. Right now, expensive mobile pollination units are criss-crossing America to keep the food production wheels on. Just to complete the Doomsday scenario, without pollinators many of our essential medicines, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals would not be available.
Hoverflies prefer open flowers like this Ox-eye Daisy
So what are pollinators and what do they do? Nearly all flying, hopping and crawling insects play a part in pollination – solitary, bumble and honey bees, wasps, hover flies, moths and butterflies, dragonflies and damsel flies, beetles, flies and a whole kingdom of mini bugs. In exchange for collecting nectar food, they fertilise the flowers, grasses and plantains that they visit, ensuring that they fruit and set seed for future years. Without this process none of these vital human food and other plants could survive. The message is both stark and simple – look after the little guys!
Rich meadow flora; each flower shape will attract its own range of pollinators
Our meadows at Greenhillock were created to provide food for pollinators from early Spring through to late Autumn. The flowering plants emerge in succession in a variety of colours and shapes to provide both food and shelter for those essential mini-helpers. The grasses, hedges and trees also flower, adding to the food bank and extending the season. Even the Late Autumn cut of the meadows, after all the seeds have set, will sustain insects and birds well into the Winter.
A Red-tailed Bumblebee buries itself deeply in the pollen-rich head of a Thistle
Each pollinator will have favourite food plants and will be adapted to exploit the design of the flower heads, from the flattish Daisy and Scabious to the tunnel shaped Vetches, Orchids and Yellow Rattle. Many will lay eggs and pupate among plants of a particular type, ensuring their own survival.
Now who says that grasses don’t have flowers?
So when you’re strolling along the winding meadow paths or doing a spot of bug-hunting, remember to salute the pollinators (some almost too small to see) and respect their key role in our own survival.
We had a helpful visit from our enthusiastic Wildlife Consultant Kaye during the week and now know that there is even more to see at Greenhillock than we thought! The headline news is that we actually have three types of Wild Orchid growing here – Early Purple, Heath Spotted and Northern Marsh – as well as some hybrids between the latter. All are still in flowering profusion in colours ranging from deep purple, through pale mauve to white with many right alongside the camping and glamping pitches. They may only last another couple of weeks so do make a special effort to see these increasingly rare plants whilst you can.
Species richness in the meadows, featuring two of our types of Wild Orchid
Elsewhere in the Wildflower Meadows, colours are gradually changing from the predominantly yellow of Field Buttercups and Yellow Rattle to the white of the Ox-eye Daisies with hints of purple from the emerging Common Knapweed. Standing by are the Field Scabious with their striking blue flowers and, low down, are the Yellow and Purple Vetch. To help young people get around the site to see all these lovely things, we have just created the Wildlife Wander game (a sort of nature treasure hunt) and we are working on a harder version for adults!
A newly fledged Blackbird goes for the All-You-Can-Eat breakfast option!
With the greater food supply from the flowers have come more mini bugs (noticeably Hoverflies), bumble bees (mostly Buff-tailed just now) and butterflies – the chocolate brown Ringlet seem to enjoy being out and about whatever the weather. So, lots to see and hear by taking time out from busy lives to wander in a unique habitat or simply by sitting quietly in the special tranquillity of the deep countryside.