A year ago my July post “Extreme” ended thus:
What can we expect in the future? More and worse of the same – extreme heat, sunshine, rain, winds – often all in the same year.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Only now on the 24th, as we’ve enjoyed 58 mm of rain in 30 hours, have I gained some respite from regular spaced hand watering to eke out our supplies, whilst trying to keep a few susceptible plants hanging on in the garden, which overall has coped well with another prolonged dry spell. Climaxing on the 18/19th when Wales, and the UK as a whole, smashed its record maximum daytime temperature records.
The advance warning and first-ever red alert for extreme heat at least had the desired effect of getting us to close windows, curtains, and door quilts all day, until external temperatures dropped below the level inside. We never dreamed that all the expense and hassle of cork-insulating the house would pay such rich dividends in summer, as well as reducing energy consumption in winter – internal readings from the February install, below:
Base lime plaster surface temperature.
Adjacent cork board surface temperature.
However, the kitchen Galileo thermometer didn’t lie on July 18th, when everything sizzled outside:
Mid-afternoon, and it was indeed a wonderfully cool 22 degrees C inside the gegin/kitchen, whilst outside all fell still.
A young blackbird hyper-ventilated, possibly also afflicted with gape-worm, Syngamus trachea.
Some of the honey bees ‘bearded’ on the front of the hive, as part of their strategy to keep the larval brood around a critically narrow range of about 34-36 degrees C, and even the odd slate cracked and slid off the roof.
The Met Office described it, not unreasonably, as a milestone in UK climate history and has some interesting graphics to illustrate why they used this phrase, and how it’s yet another example of how weather extremes are oscillating ever more violently.
“A new record daily maximum temperature for the UK was provisionally reached on 19 July, with 40.3°C recorded at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, exceeding the previous record by 1.6°C. A total of 46 stations across the UK exceeded the previous UK record of 38.7°C. Many long-running stations with 100+ year records recorded their highest ever temperature, some by extraordinary margins of 3 to 4°C… New provisional national temperature records were also set for Wales and Scotland. On 18 July, 37.1°C was recorded at Hawarden Airport, Flintshire.”
All the dry sunny weather has, aside from this critical spell, been wonderful and made haymaking once again a fairly benign and drawn-out affair, with many opportunities to continue to spread green hay around our remaining meadows to boost floral diversity.
But not before spending part of a gorgeous day on July 10th wandering around with the camera to capture what the upper meadow looked like as it reached its mid-summer peak.
The process of green hay spreading is quite labour intensive, but at least now the donor seed source is expanding exponentially, after a year like this with wonderful insect pollination opportunities – it’s really just the orchid seed capsules, pignut, and a few new select plants currently in very low numbers, that I bother collecting manually. There’s already plenty of yellow rattle, eyebright, ribwort plantain and cat’s ears widely distributed across our 2 hay meadows.
I thought I was doing well with meadow floral diversity until Fiona and I joined a small bunch of members from Carmarthenshire Meadows Group, on a visit to one of the tenant farmers who manage upland hay meadows surrounding the Elan valley reservoirs.
We were extremely fortunate to have as our guide Sorcha Lewis, who as well as living on the farm for many years, has a background as being an Elan Valley ranger, and is incredibly knowledgeable about both the history of the landscape, and the variety of plants found within just two of her fairly small meadows we visited, which are cut for hay each year. They run down to the banks of the reservoirs, which were surprisingly empty, partly due to maintenance and the lack of recent rain, and showing some of the foundations of farmhouses that flooded all those years ago.
The lakes were created in Victorian times when the land was purchased to build dams, a pipeline, and flooding the valleys to provide a water supply to the enlarging, distant conurbation of Birmingham. A major construction project, the first phase opened in 1904, and because of the height of the water source, it supplies water by gravity feed alone.
Sorcha explained that initially the surrounding farmers were all scheduled to have been evicted until the water company realised that without management, the land would quickly deteriorate, so for the last 120 years, the landscape has remained largely unchanged with no artificial fertilisers, and limited muck being permitted on the fields surrounding the lakes. The consequence is that the pasture has been spared much of the “improvement” advocated and instituted on other traditional upland farms, and so these meadows maintain an amazing diversity, typical of what would have been commonplace, pre-1950.
My guess is that many of the tourists who drive or walk around the lakes would glance into a field like this, and not appreciate just how special it is, but with Sorcha as our guide, we soon realised that what looked at first glance very similar to our own meadow, was actually full of special, and in some cases very rare, botanical gems, as illustrated in some of the photos above. I’ve not seen many of these flowers before, or certainly not in a hay meadow – Meadow thistle, Cirsium dissectum, Greater burnet, Sanguisorba officinalis, Globe flower, Trollius europaeus, Fragrant orchid, Gymnadenia conopsea, Saw-wort, Serratula tinctoria, Bog asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum, Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris, Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, Milkwort, Polygala vulgaris, Mountain pansy, Viola lutea.
So we returned with renewed enthusiasm, to our own meadows. We may already be 9 years into the project, but turning back the clock to re-create a wildflower meadow isn’t a sprint, but more a marathon. Many thanks to Sorcha for acting as our guide, for her inspirational landscape and fields, and to Andrew for organising the trip.
In our absence on a blustery cool day, what will probably be the last honey bee swarm of the year, had finally decided to move on. I’d watched and filmed this small swarm, the third from the same mother hive, for over 3 days, and it had stayed put despite some of the heavy rain and cool weather in the first few days of the month. Scout bees could be seen occasionally doing waggle dances to advertise potential new homes at various points of the compass. Other bees regularly shook those deeper in the swarm cluster. But they resolutely refused to budge.
On our return from the day out, however, there was the merest trace of wax deposited on a few apple leaves to indicate where they’d been hanging for all this time.