Tuesday, 30 July 2013


Despite the threatening skies, Malcolm and I ventured out this morning for a walk around Shipley Hill to Osborne's Pond, returning round Shipley Lake.  Part of this walk takes us along yet another disused railway line which once formed part of the Heanor Branch of the London and North Eastern Railway as well as carrying a mineral line which served the local collieries.
These days, things look a lot better.
The sunshine was filtering through the tree tops, casting a dappled light along our path and looking up through the trees, it sparkled among the leaves.
Further along and closer to Shipley Lake, the Teasels (Dipsacus fullonum) are all now coming into flower.  These statuesque plants seem even grander this year at at least 7 feet tall and the bees are certainly enjoying their nectar-rich flower heads.  Again, looking up at these prickly customers, they present some wonderful lines against a dramatic sky.

Saturday, 27 July 2013


With the warm weather, one invariably gets a dramatic increase in the numbers of insects.  At the moment, the butterflies and moths are doing pretty well having been decimated over the last few years.  On our walk around the local farmland this morning, we spotted several Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus).  These small, brown butterflies are still relatively common in the UK, particularly among tall grasses which grow close to hedgerows, trees or scrub.
As Adults, they favour Brambles and Ragwort as their food source, but their larval form feeds mainly on various grass species.
Along the old Nutbrook Canal, we spotted a rather beautiful insect, a male Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens).  Easily told from the female by the dark 'thumb print' marks on their wings, these broad-winged damselflies are also rather common in the UK, but still wonderful to see flitting around the water.
Finally, another 'creepy-crawly', but not an insect this time.  The arachnids are not my favourite class of animal, but this colourful little creature caught my eye as she was protecting her eggs on our grape vine.  With the tricky name Araniella cucurbitina, it is sometimes called a Cucumber Green Spider.  This is a female.
The rotund body of this little charmer, is bright green with paler, yellow streaks and a series of small dots over the abdomen.  Common in the south of the UK, it is not so often seen the further north you go, although its range has expanded further into Scotland since the 1980's.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sad Day.

It was a sad day yesterday as in the morning, we learnt of the death at 95 years of age, of our good friend Winnie, following a short illness.  Malcolm and I have been helping in a small way, to look after Winnifred for three years and it can truly be said that one could not have met a more gentle, warm and caring lady.
This Camelia was from Winnie's front garden.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


It is often said that the British Summer, consists of 'three fine days and a thunder storm'.  Well, following the sky-cracking storms we have had over night and into this morning, it would be difficult to argue with that viewpoint.  Watching the sky darken at 9 o'clock last night and the approaching apocalypse, we were ready for a good storm, but we didn't expect the lightning 'firework display' that followed.  The torrential downpours which came hot on the heels of the thunder and lightning were welcome though, as the ground was so dry.
So, no walk this morning as the rain is still falling and the thunder still rumbling.  However, if the storms were a cause for anxiety, I may have just the thing.  A small plant which grows around Mapperley reservoir, called Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata).  Well known in 'natural medicine' circles for its anxiolytic properties, an infusion of the leaves from this plant is said to calm the nerves.
If the storms bring on a headache, another waterside plant will help too.  Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) contains Salicylic acid and was first extracted and synthesised in 1897 to form Acetylsalicylic acid, the major ingredient in aspirin.  The scented flowers of this plant have been used for hundreds of years as a strewing herb.  In days gone by, the flowers were strewn over floors to sweeten the air and add a pleasant aroma.  A sort of medieval 'Shake n Vac'.

Monday, 22 July 2013


Following a much cooler and cloudy weekend, things have started to clear again this morning and the increasing humidity tells of storms to come.  So we set out for a walk this morning around Osborne's Pond.  Around the water's edge, several stands of Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
Gorgeous, tall spikes of pinkish purple flowers stood out against the water, surrounded by Hemp Agrimony, Blackberry and small Ash and Sycamore saplings.  But it was the Purple Loosestrife which caught the eye.
Further on and we started to climb Shipley Hill and another bright flower stood out against the hedgerow.  Unrelated to the Purple Loosestrife, despite it's name, the Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) is every bit as eye-catching.  Native to most of Eurasia, it is fairly common in damp places, a habit which it shares with the Purple Loosestrife.

Friday, 19 July 2013


Being the Greek equivalent of the Roman deity Diana, Artemis was the twin of Apollo and goddess of hunting and wild animals.  Among the wild flowers of the British countryside, there is a tall and attractive plant named after her, Artemisia vulgaris although the common name of Mugwort doesn't sound quite so complimentary.
Mugwort belongs to the family of plants which includes Wormwood, used to flavour Absinthe and Nicholas Culpepper, the 17th century botanist and herbalist, had it down as a useful herb for bringing on the delivery of babies as well as reducing any associated swellings.  An infusion of the dried leaves, when taken in wine was said to cure sciatica.
Another of Culpepper's herbs, found growing around here, is the Weld (Reseda luteola).  Also called Wold or Dyer's Weed, it is a stately plant.  Culpepper has this plant as a way of combating 'thick phlegm' and 'gross humours'.  Lovely..!

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Our hot-and-bothered walk this morning, took us up and round Shipley Hill.  Warmer even than yesterday and with less of a breeze to cool our fevered brows, we came across a large stand of Enchanter''s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana).  Related to the Evening Primrose I mentioned a few days ago, the diminutive flowers are held above the leaves on slender stalks giving them the look of candelabra.  Native to most of Europe and as far north as Siberia, they like to keep their roots in the moist, cool soil under the woodland canopy.
Further along, and the Great Burdock (Arctium lappa) is beginning to open it's flowers.  The flower heads are surrounded by thousands of tiny hook-like appendages which catch hold of the ridges of your fingers if you try to touch it.
More great things to come and the Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) is also coming into flower and adding it's bright colour to the hedgerows.
As part of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's work to improve the nature reserve, a couple of large, wooden sculptures have appeared adjacent to the footpath.  One - of a hedgehog - is to be found skulking in the trees, but this handsome sculpture of a mole, peeping out of the ground, is more prominently placed and looks rather good.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Hot, Hot, Hot

Having spent the last two years or more, complaining about the dreadful weather, freezing temperatures and rain-sodden countryside, things have certainly changed dramatically now.  We are still basking in almost unbroken sunshine and temperatures which suit Malcolm, but not me!
But, with sun-cream coating all our exposed bits, we set out again this morning for a walk through Shipley Park.  Passing the farm and the herds of cattle enjoying all the lush grass, we had a lovely view across to Shipley Hill and a clear, blue sky.
By the side of the path a clump of Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) has taken hold.  Normally, this highly invasive and problematical plant has pale pink flowers, but this group were all displaying a deeper, almost purple hue.  Rather beautiful, despite all the trouble they cause in the UK.
Staying with the pink theme and walking a little further on, there is a larger spread of Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius).  This plant has been here for several years now, but never seems to get any larger, or spread anywhere else - except to our own garden, where I planted some seed which I collected from it last year.
From peas to potatoes and a smaller, rambling plant found in the hedgerows along our path.  Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) is a member of the potato family and has small, but rather exotic-looking flowers which resemble the flowers of other members of the family, especially Tomatoes.
Also known as Woody Nightshade, it is famous for its poisonous qualities, although parts of the plant are used to treat chronic eczema and to halt the growth of E. Coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.  Very useful!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Flags Up

Another very warm day today, so we set out a little earlier than normal, before things got too hot, for a walk around Mapperley Reservoir.  Doing our best to avoid running in to the Hornet (Vespa crabro) which we encountered last time we ventured round the reservoir, we were rewarded with some beautiful view across the water on this still and warm morning.
A few Coots were picking their way around the lily pads and even they seemed uncharacteristically peaceful in the sunshine.
Growing and flowering in abundance around the water's edge were several large stands of Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus).  Their odd-looking flower spikes sticking out from the stems amid the grassy leaves are easy to overlook.
Heading for home after a short stop for a coffee by the reservoir, the Hogweed flowers (Heracleum sphondylium) caught my eye.  These stately plants are getting so tall in some places, that their flowers can be viewed from beneath and make a wonderful show against the blue sky.
Home again and a refreshing shower to remove the sweat, sun-cream and insect repellent!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Well, Well, Well!

We thought we would indulge in a little pagan tradition this morning, and with the sun still shining and temperatures soaring, we set out for the nearby village of West Hallam to see their annual display of Well Dressings.
With the origins of this tradition somewhat lost in the mists of time, it is thought the practice of decorating village wells with floral offerings, is either a pagan way of giving thanks to the gods for the water, or as a method of giving thanks for clean water during the Black Death in the 14th Century.
Either way, the decorative displays seem to have separated themselves from the village wells and now are just a way of entertaining passers-by and, judging by the small collection boxes set up beside each one, a way of making money for various reasons.  They also often commemorate local clubs, foundations and societies.  This one marking the West Hallam Cricket Club.
From the village centre, we had a brief stroll round the parish church and enjoyed the cool shade of the Lime-lined path up to the church yard.  St. Wilfrid's church is over 700 years old and the village itself was mentioned as being in full swing by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Rags to Riches

Our very hot walk this morning was certainly well worth it.  Managing to keep off the main footpaths as much as possible we avoided the worst of the weekend cyclists and also managed to find some shade under the trees.  Walking around Straw's Bridge lakes, we found several large stands of Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).  Tall and bright yellow, these are very common in the UK and is a very useful plant for insects of all types, particularly bees and hoverflies.  In all about 77 different species of insect rely on the Ragwort as their home and primary source of food.  Many caterpillars find it useful as the plant contains many alkaloids which are absorbed into the body of the caterpillar, thus making them unpalatable to other creatures.
Nestling among the Ragworts was a single Feverfew plant (Tanacetum parthenium).  Of the same family as Ragwort, it is a useful plant in traditional medicine, being used as an anti-inflammatory, a 'fever reducer' (hence the name) and general cure-all for headaches, gastric problems and many others.  No scientific evidence has yet to support these claims however!
From the 'rags', we walked on the 'riches' of Pewit Carr.  The thousands of orchids in this damp meadow are still hanging on bravely, but they are slowly being pushed out by the Meadowsweet, Hogweed, Sedges and Rushes.  The view along the pathway which crosses this  area is wonderful, particularly on a hot, sunny morning.

Friday, 12 July 2013


Continuing on the theme of flowers, blooming in the warmth we're experiencing at the moment, I have three more from our walk yesterday, starting with another pink one, albeit rather smaller than the Rosebay Willowherb.  This attractive little flower is the Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea).
Standing about a foot high and topped with these delightful little flowers, they were scattered among the grasses along parts of the old West Hallam Colliery walk.  Belonging to the Gentian family, they are well known medicinal plants and have been used to make an infusion to cure mainly gastric problems as well as liver diseases.  They are also a powerful antioxidant.
Growing nearby, were some much smaller flowers and ones which were easily overlooked.  With blooms no more than  3mm across, these tiny flowers belong to a plant called Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum).  Seemingly too delicate to survive among the grasses, the Fairy Flax they were also used in medicine, but for very different reasons.  Their pseudonym 'Purging Flax' gives you an idea what they were used for!
Lastly, a tall and very bright flower and another which is well known in the medicinal world.  Evening Primrose oil is widely used in medicines and cosmetics, indeed they were once known as 'King's Cure-all'.  Native to North America, they have colonised many temperate parts of the world, including our little patch of countryside.

Thursday, 11 July 2013


The hedgerows are beginning to bloom with tall, pink-flowered Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium).  Also known as Fireweed they are a picture.
The name Fireweed comes from their habit of being the first to colonise bare ground following a fire.  The flowers are spectacular.
Yesterday's walk revealed a new species to me.  a small insect, scurrying around the grasses beside the footpath caught my eye.  It turned out to be one of the many Mirid Bugs to be found in the UK.  Known as a Grass Bug, it has the wonderful name Leptopterna dolabrata and was quite attractive.  As usual, Malcolm was somewhat less than impressed!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

White and Yellow

The predominant colours in the countryside at the moment are white and yellow.  The pinks and purples of the orchids are fading and the vetches and Hogweeds are taking their place.  Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is all over the place right now and their bright yellow flowers are a wonderful sight.
The flowers start of a deep orange colour, changing to yellow as they open.  This colour change leads to their common name of 'Eggs and Bacon'.
Another yellow flower which is gracing us at the moment, is the Perforate St John's-wort (Hypericum perforatum).  The leaves of this plant are covered with tiny, translucent dots which appear to be perforations - hence the name!
On to the white flowers and the White Stonecrop (Sedum album) once again. I have mentioned this plant before, but it is so lovely, it's well worth more than one mention.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Summer Time...

... and the living is easy.
The living was certainly very easy this morning as we took a very warm walk around the lakes of Straw's Bridge.  Several families of Mallards were sunning themselves around the water's edge.  This proud mother has succeeded in raising her brood of nine youngsters to adulthood.  all look large enough to look after themselves - indeed, they;re all bigger than their mother - but, like most youngsters, they seem reluctant to leave the security of their mum's side.
With mum on constant alert, they can relax in the sun.
Towering above these slumbering beauties, a beauty of a quite different kind has begun to show its colours.  The flowers of the Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) have started to open in the sunshine and there are few more delightful to look at.
An invasive weed in some parts of the world, they can be a bit of a nuisance when they turn up where they shouldn't be.  Their ferociously spiny stems, leaves and flower buds all combine to make it a rather less-than-approachable plant, but one which rewards closer inspection.

Saturday, 6 July 2013


Yesterday's walk proved to be well worth it, despite the battle with thousands of biting Cleg Flies which seem to have taken to the wing at once.  Walking over the old, disused car parks of what was once the American Adventure Theme Park, I was treated to the sight of hundreds of Five-spot Burnet Moths (Zygaena trifolii).
Common in these parts, it is supposedly more often seen on Southern Britain and Wales, but seems to be doing well around here too.  Named after the five spots on its fore wings, theses attractive moths were all enjoying the nectar from the many Lucerne (Medicago sativa) plants which thrive here.
The larval stage of the Five-spot Burnet Moth, feeds mainly on Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), another member of the Pea family.  Lucerne, sometimes called Alfalfa is thought to have originated in the Middle East - possibly Iran, but has been widely planted throughout the world as a major fodder crop and is now found growing wild almost world-wide.  Alfalfa seed is also used as it starts to germinate, with the resulting sprouts being eaten particularly in salad dishes.