Rain this week has interfered with taking the hay from the fields at St George’s Farm. We were lucky to have fine weather though on Sunday for the Butterfly Picnic, the third in our series of public events at Ruskin Land. Chloe, along with her butterfly-shaped sandwiches and biscuits joined over 4o local people, including an enthusiastic group of guides who were staying at nearby Cooper’s Mill.
The group met at the car park off Dry Mill Lane, the start of the official butterfly trail through the Wyre Forest. Under the expert guidance of Scott Martin from the West Midlands Butterfly Conservation Society we walked along the old railway track and then down to Knowles Mill, one of at least five water driven corn mills which once operated along Dowles Brook. The mill which retains much of its machinery is now owned by the National Trust and cared for by volunteers who are part of the Midland Wind and Water Mills Group.
At this point, the weather was a little grey and threatening rain so there were few butterflies to be seen apart from some Ringlets and Large Whites. By the time we reached the field just beyond Cooper’s Mill, however, the sun was breaking through and the meadow came alive. We were fortunate to be able to study close up three types of skipper (Large, Essex and Small), a Speckled Wood, and a Green-veined White butterfly. Some fritillaries, including a Silver-washed and a possibly a Dark Green, were also spotted on the wing. Scott’s enthusiasm was infectious.
The group ended up at St George’s Farm for sandwiches, tea and cake donated by participants (Marion’s Balinese Carrot Cake was a personal favourite). Depending on age and inclination, food was followed by art activities or an informative talk by Scott on the butterflies of the Wyre Forest. The young people made beautiful butterflies, had their faces painted and created creatures of the forest with clay.
Amazingly, the Wyre Forest is home to 34 of the 59 species of butterfly found in Britain. It was pleasing to learn that the Wyre Community Land Trust’s grazing herd of Dexter cattle are vital to the good management of the meadows which provide essential food sources for many of the species found here. The maintenance of wide, open rides also helps, along with the creation of new coppice areas. While butterfly populations in the Wyre are doing relatively well, across the country many species have seen a significant decline over the past 40 years. The national Butterfly Count, taking place right now and ending on 7 August, is helping to monitor the situation. Overall, these worrying trends appear to be slowing but continued improvements depend on the kind of environmental grant schemes available as part of the European Union’s farming policy. Following the recent referendum, it is vital that such schemes are maintained at the UK level if our wildlife is to flourish.
Traditional hay-making also has a part to play. With help from the girl guides, staff and volunteers at the Wyre CLT managed to get all of the grass cut, turned, baled and undercover, from the wildflower meadow at St George’s Farm and the orchard at Uncllys before the rain arrived a few days ago. We hope to bale the grass from St George’s orchard before the end of the week but, as I write, we are waiting for a decent spell of dry weather. Let’s hope it comes soon.