Continuing on with my exploration of small British wildlife, I decided to pay a visit to Barnack Hills & Holes Nature Reserve to see what diminutive creatures I could find, and because it was supposed to have quite the display of wild flowers this time of year.
Formed from the rubble of a medieval quarry, the reserve is one of Britain’s most important wildlife sites. Encapsulating the phrase, small but perfectly formed, the site covers just 50 acres, but its meadowland is designated a Special Area of Conservation, a National Nature Reserve, a Nature Conservation Review site and last but by no means least, a Special Area of Conservation. Partly due to the fact that the orchid rich grassland is very rare, and makes up over half of this type of habitat in Cambridgeshire.
|A field scabious and other wildflowers.|
Its unique hillocky landscape was created by quarrying for limestone, originally by the Romans over 1,500 years ago. Also known as Barnack Rag, it is most famously known for being used in the construction of Peterborough and Ely cathedrals in the 12th century. By the year 1500 all the useful stone had been removed, and the bare heaps of limestone gradually became covered by a rich carpet of wildflowers that can be seen today.
|Gatekeeper butterfly feeding.|
The traditional management of limestone grasslands is done with sheep and at Barnack, grazing is carried out in autumn by up to 300 of them. They remove the summer growth and build-up of leaves, stalks and grass tussocks that would otherwise die back to form a dead layer, or litter, on the ground. Without grazing, the build-up of coarse grasses and litter would rapidly choke the rarer lime-loving plants.
|A marbled white on a field scabious. It was just about to take off when I got the picture, which is why its |
wings are a bit of a blur.
It’s impossible to get a sense of this rather bizarre landscape from my pictures, so here’s an image taken from a hot air balloon of the reserve from above, to give you some idea.
|The distinctive pyramidal orchid.|
|Marbled white on a thistle. It's not an ideal photo because its face is not in focus, |
but I like the clarity of the detail on its wings.
|The sunny flowers of a wild parsnip.|
|A gatekeeper spreads its wings.|
|Buds of the greater knapweed.|
|A very vibrant looking 7 spot ladybird.|
|Another marbled white, one of the most distinctive of British butterflies, as its the only one in black and white!|
|A collection of pyramidal orchids.|
|The ubiquitous meadow brown, which seems to call everywhere its home.|
|I spotted a small web pouch full of a baby spiders in the undergrowth, after a bit of searching I found mum, |
the aptly named nursery web spider.
|On the left is a white pyramidal orchid, which is incredibly rare.|
|The uppersides of a marbled white.|
|Wild parsnips with some purple flowers for backdrop.|
|Gatekeeper, a very close relation to the meadow brown, but easily identified because of its dual white |
spots in the wings 'eye'.
|Some crab apples on the tree.|
|And finally, a beautiful lilac field scabious.|