Blog Archives: Britain’s Wildlife

The Wild Side of Essex with Naturetrek: late autumn at the Naze

The day dawned still and with a glimmer of hope in the eastern skies, although actually for most of the time it remained stubbornly grey and for a while a keen cool breeze sprang up, making us thankful for additional layers! But generally it was mild for the time of the year, and even warm enough for the newly blooming gorse to be giving out its alluring coconut scent.

A few more plants still in flower, and attracting the interest of flies at least, included Yarrow, Sea Mayweed, Hemlock and our local rarity, Hog’s Fennel.

Otherwise it was left to the lichens to add colour and form to the barkscapes and rewilding concrete tracks….

….along with Field Maple in autumn colour and Birch tops adorned with the knots of Taphrina fungal witches’-brooms.

Small birds were relatively few and far between , just a few Long-tailed Tits, Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches, with singing Robins, migrating Skylarks and Starlings, and a remarkable number – at least ten – Cetti’s Warblers, of course heard not seen. But then evidence that there were more birds around than at first apparent: we chanced upon the two local ringers, Simon and Pat Cox, who were happy gives us an impromptu demonstration with a Robin and a Wren, and regale us with tales of their riches from earlier in the day.

Down at the shore, there were plenty of waders, including Grey Plovers and Curlews, and everywhere, in the air, grazing on the clay and upending in the lagoons, burbling bands of Brent Geese.

The salt marshes have largely descended into their winter brown, save for a few Golden-samphires still lighting up the scene, and exciting the nostrils with their shoe-polish aroma.  Also on the marshes, we spotted several spreading plants of the very scarce Perennial Glasswort, and stands of Cord-grass, their flower-heads almost wholly infested with the fruiting bodies of Cord-grass Ergot. Seemingly increasing every year, will this parasite prove to be the nemesis of its rather aggressively spreading host?

A stroll back along the beach then gave plenty of opportunity for beachcombing, from Piddocks and their borings, Slipper-limpets and Portuguese Oyster shells among many other New Kids on the Block, intermixed with Dog-cockles and Left-handed Whelks from the 3 million year-old Red Crag, and pyritized wood and copperas nodules from the 50 million year-old London Clay.

As the light started to fade, after a recent spate of erosion, the cliffs from below revealed vivid tales of our cataclysmic past: inundation by sea water and passage of a prehistoric Thames; upheaval of the land from continents colliding, buckling and faulting; ash-clouds from Scottish volcanoes; and dust-clouds from the icy plains of glacial East Anglia.

And finally, a sunset, by some trick of the cloudscape in exactly the same place on the horizon as the sunrise eight hours’ previously. A fine end to another great day out with Naturetrek.

#WildEssexWalks – beside the seaside at the Naze

Our last WildEssex walk of 2023 was a most enjoyable event. Against a backdrop of variable cloudscapes, a few spots of rain and some warm sunshine, our group of enthusiastic ladies were treated to birds, trees, lichens and mosses, fungi, rare plants plus fossils, shells and dramatic cliffs along the beach, in fact all kinds of everything!

Autumn colours abounded – red fruits, lichens giving some of the established trees atop the cliffs an eerie green or yellow glow, and the fresh green patches of moss on concrete hardstandings, a reminder of the chequered 20th century history of the site.

As befits this damp season, fungi were to be found everywhere, including Mosaic Puffballs in the grass, Birch Bracket gently killing and rotting its host Silver Birch tree, plus several species of mini – and most charming – fungi on tree branches.

Gorse of course was in flower, as more surprisingly was Sea Hog’s-fennel, along with a beautiful pink form of Yarrow.

When the sun shone a few invertebrates presented themselves, including this harvestman and Marmalade Hoverfly.

Our afternoon session was down on the beach, enjoying that whatever-age-you-are-it’s-fun activity of beachcombing.  Pyritized wood and fossilised shells were everywhere, the rusty hue of the latter indicative of many their millions of years stuck in the sandy cliff.

Erosion is a continual event along the cliffs, and there had been several recent landslides leaving dramatic profiles against the by-now-blue sky.

Being a Beside the Sea day, we were also on the lookout for birdlife.  One of the magical moments was the discovery of a Kestrel having an early lunch of a smaller feathered friend, using one of the ex-wartime gun batteries as a dining table. He was completely unfazed as we stood by watching and taking photos.

Along the shore were the usual suspects of Brent Geese, Grey Plovers,  Bar-tailed Godwits and various gulls, all going about their daily business of eating and shooing each other out of the way.

We are very fortunate to have this wonderful area on our doorstep –  a veritable time-machine enabling us to witness life over the past fifty million years!

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a perfect autumn day…

In the depths of autumn, there are few places better to be than in somewhere like Beth Chatto Gardens, with the russets and gold of the season set off beautifully against a clear blue sky. Earlier this week, the air was chilled in the shade, but the sun still powerful enough to shed a layer or two and to stir the insect life into action:

Flowers are diminishing, but there are still enough to provide the insects with their basic needs before hibernation (or worse) beckons:

And the blooms seem extra-special when the leaves are also sprinkled with stardust:

As the flowers have faded so fruits and seeds take centre-stage…

… along with the foliage, its beauty magnified by the subtle low winter sunlight picking out textures that are unimaginable in the fierce light of summer.

And of course, especially dramatic when the greens are tinged with autumnal flame…

Beauty at every turn, and hope: the transition of the seasons bring promise of renewal and return next year.

This fleeting season can so easily be swept away by storm or frost, so do visit and enjoy it if you can. The gardens are open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until the midwinter closure on December 16th Entrance – Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens. Rewild your mind!

#WildEssexWalks – at the head of the Stour Estuary

Oh no!  Shock horror! That was our first reaction when we climbed the steps to the top of the sea wall at Manningtree today.  Instead of an expanse of mud with myriads of feeding waders we were greeted with an almost high tide!  Either tide tables aren’t what they used to be, or (more likely) it was an early and exceptionally high tide, as it so often is around the time of the Hunter’s Moon.

However, we need not have worried: we still managed a lot of ‘birding’ – watching them fly in on to the strips of salt-marsh on the estuary, to feed, preen, get frisky and all the things birds get up to, and as the tide came in further and covered everything, fly off again.

Cormorants hung their wings out to dry in their customary fashion, and Little Egrets struck their poses in elegant style, occasionally flying over showing their black legs and yellow feet to good effect.  Several species of gull put in an appearance – Great and Lesser Black-backed, plus Herring, Black-headed and  a single Common Gull.

Large flocks of Redshanks and Avocets entertained us with their fly-pasts, and hunkered down on the marsh and open water respectively. Lapwings flapped by and a few Brent Geese were seen too, along with larger numbers of Teals, Wigeons and a few Mallards.

Black-tailed Godwits put in a show just as the tide was at its highest, calling to each other in their inimitable ‘Wit Wit’ way, but the biggest surprise was a group of ten Greenshanks, usually much more solitary than this.

All this against a backdrop of Moorhens in the ditch to the rear of the seawall, singing Wrens and a shouting Cetti’s Warbler in the scrub, and a lovely Red Kite circling leisurely overhead.

Of course, us being us, we also looked at any other wildlife we could find – plants including the bright yellow Tansy, a favourite with visiting insects and the beautiful Teasels, some containing a ladybird or two, perhaps already thinking of hibernating for the winter.

Common Reeds were starting to assume their autumn colours and Dog-roses were absolutely laden with luscious hips, presumably testament to our damp midsummer.

A Red Admiral flew overhead, a Harlequin Ladybird basked in a brief flurry of sunlight and on our way back down the steps we narrowly avoided standing on the largest of the chrysomelid beetles, Chrysolina bankii.

Having rescued the beetle, some of us retired to the local pub for a pint and bag of crisps and chat. All in all a very pleasant WildEssex event, in spite of the often rather dull and overcast (though thankfully dry) conditions – thanks all!

#WildEssexWalks – an autumn stroll along the Colne Estuary

The sun was shining brightly, the skies were blue. But the season had noticeably changed. A spiky northerly wind dropped the temperature by maybe 8 degrees Centigrade in just a couple of days , and we were straight into the depths of autumn. It felt like autumn, and it smelt like autumn especially in Grange wood, the humusy moistness laced with a distinct fungal musk. While all we could see were Birch Bracket, Fly Agaric and Penny Bun, nature’s recycling army is now advancing steadily.

And galls are now more in evidence than at any other time of year:

Down at the estuary, at was the highest of tides, the water barely moving during our two hours, so waders were few and far between, save for a scattering of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits, with a sixty-strong knot of Avocets hunkered down on the Fingringhoe mudflats. Looking inland, a few Meadow Pipits dashed around the grazing marsh as the ever-reliable Little Egrets stalked the borrowdyke and ditches.

There were still a few flowers, from Strawberry Clover on the sea wall to Cord-grass wantonly hanging its naughty bits to the wind…

… while the clocks of Sea Aster lit up with every ray of an ever-lowering sun.

But on the saltmarshes, the signals of the season are more in the form of colour changes, from greens to a kaleidoscope of yellows, russets and purples. The different species of Marsh Samphire each show their own characteristic autumn tint…

…while the sole species of Annual Sea-blite turns to every colour on the rainbow spectrum.

And even Shrubby Seablite, for so much of the year a stolid, matt-green presence on the sea walls, is touched with shining salmon highlights:

The fires of autumn are stealing across our landscape, and with early frosts in the forecast, those flames will surely be fanned. The next few weeks are full of promise, so enjoy them while you can! Thanks to all who joined us; our next couple of walks are detailed here.



#WildEssex on Tour: Harlow and the Stort Valley


After the success of last year’s three-day event to Burnham-on-Crouch, we decided a second one was in order – this time to the not-usually-associated-with-wildlife Essex town of Harlow.  Our band of enthusiastic ladies were game for anything, and we’d like to thank them all for their interest in all we arranged and their sense of fun!

Our base at the Harlow Mill Premier Inn was most comfortable, and sitting outside with a drink hearing the running water from the mill pond into the Stort Navigation Canal was just delightful.

We mixed some walking along canals with visits to gardens, a mill, a museum, churchyards and pubs, plus a train ride and a walk to the most odd, brutalist, (but exciting to Chris!) zig-zag bridge…

The main focus of course was the wildlife which we found at every turn – from our second-only sighting of a Southern Green Shieldbug to the exploding seed pods of Himalayan Balsam to Ivy Bees enjoying every Ivy bush we encountered.

Everywhere were bushes and trees absolutely laden with fruits and berries. And plenty of those fascinating structures, galls and leaf-mines, too.

Water played an important part of the trip, us spending a considerable part of the first two days enjoying walking along the banks of the River Stort and Canal.  Listening out for birds we heard the ‘peep’ and then the blue flash of a Kingfisher or two, the high pitched tinkling of Goldcrests, the screech of Parakeets (though no sightings, sorry Jean!), plus ubiquitous Robins and Chiffchaffs performing their autumn songs.  Ducks and Moorhens on the river were showing signs of Spring-friskiness – no doubt due to the day-length being similar to that of Spring when they would be getting up to such activities!

Insects along the way included dragonflies and damselflies, bees, hoverflies, grasshoppers, and an Alder Leaf-beetle (only the third record for Essex, but well established here judging from the number of holes in the leaves) and ladybirds of many types in various stages of their development.

The flowering season is coming to a close, but along with the beautiful but invasive Himalayan and Orange Balsams, there was plenty to see from festoons of Hops to strong-smelling Water Mint, and emerging fungi hinted at what looks like shaping up to be a bumper autumn.

A pleasant walk away from our hotel was the famous Gibberd Garden – a mixture of wild and more-tended areas, lots of sculpture and a castle with its own moat.  My heart went into my boots when, on arrival, the board outside stated it was ‘Closed for Private Function’ but that turned out to be an admin error  (phew) – so we got in OK and were virtually all alone to explore as we wished. Coffee and cake in the Barn were very welcome as the afternoon went on.

En route to the garden we had encountered several Juniper Shieldbugs (one trapped in a web, which we of course rescued) on an Ivy bush.  This is puzzling given that they are meant to spend their lives on Juniper and related species, and so we will be asking the experts about this unusual behaviour. There was a Cypress tree across the road, but why they should be branching out we don’t know.

On the final morning we went into the heart of Old Harlow, through the Greenway and on into Gibberd’s New Harlow  for a tour of some of the many green spaces, ‘The Lawn’ Uk’s first residential tower block The Lawn (Harlow) – Wikipedia,  and a churchyard full of gravestones covered in colourful lichens where many interesting stories were revealed by the two ladies working in the grounds.

We concluded our mini-break in the delightful Harlow Museum.  This has so much to enjoy – from a walled garden full of interesting plantings, (where Chris saw evidence of the Figleaf Skeletonizer moth for the first time, it only recently having arrived in the UK), to a gin still, to an unusual exhibition of Penny Farthings and other bicycles. It really is the epitome of a good local museum, and a credit to Harlow Council.


As organisers, we were thrilled with how the trip went, not only for the camaraderie and pleasure of being in each other’s company, but also for the excitement of discovering new things.  We will be sending records of the Southern Green Shieldbug, Alder Beetle and Figleaf Skeletonizer moth to county and national databases so evidence of our trip will be set down in the annals of history!

During our last evening’s meal we discussed the possibility of a 3rd Wild Essex on Tour trip next year – who knows we may even cross the border into another County!  Do get in touch if it is something you may be interested in.


The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: late September, but the show goes on…

It was a breezy, autumnal start for the final Wandering Naturalist event of the year, but the sun soon came out and brought the gardens to life with the hum of insects.

As is typical  at this season, it was members of the daisy family that were the major draw for insects seeking nectar and pollen, from Black-eyed Susans and Jerusalem Artichokes to Mexican Coneflowers and (the ones that will go on and on right into the depths of winter), Michaelmas Daisies.

Verbena bonariensis too, its wispy shoots punctuating many of the beds, and a magnet for bees and butterflies in particular, together with a fleeting Hummingbird Hawk-moth (sadly not photographed!):

Other star performers for those who joined me on the walks were plants sending out a second flush of flowers, as for example Eryngium planum in the Reservoir Garden, attracting hoverflies and parasitic flies in abundance

… and on Beth’s House, Buddleia crispa with its second blooming amply demonstrating the benefits that can be achieved from dead-heading after the first flush…

… while sages and calamints just go on and on, today hosting a pristine Painted Lady, while the large-flowered forms wrapped bumblebees in their pollenial embrace.

Otherwise the baton of the summer-flowering relay has been passed on firmly to Ivy, arguably (and I would suggest indisputably) THE most important plant for wildlife there is, from its autumn flowers feeding myriad insects to its February-ripe berries, a lifeline for birds, as well as dense foliage and twisted growth for nesting, shelter and hibernation. Among the many insects using it were Ivy Bees, Batman Hoverflies and some very impressive Hornets, in between bouts of scraping wood fibres off dead trees with which to enlarge their nests.

Of course, as the power of the Sun is waning, insects are just as likely to be found basking, to warm up for their essential activities of feeding and breeding. Any surface facing south will do, from large flat leaves to paths, posts and other structures:

The more active the insect the more it needs to bask, and some of the most obvious baskers are the dragonflies, needing vast amounts of warmth and energy to feed on flying insects:

Aside from the insects, Chiffchaffs were singing as though it were spring, Swallows and Meadow Pipits migrating south overhead, and there was the amazing sight of a Cormorant overhead, using thermals from the Gravel Garden to gain altitude!

There may be fewer insects to see from now on, but they will still be there, at least until the first frosts. But don’t let that stop you visiting the garden: flowers may be fading, and greens bronzing, but there is something to see all the time and in any weather.

That’s all from the Wandering Naturalist for now, but hopefully I will be back next year. Thank you for reading, thank you for joining me on the walks, and thank you for caring about garden insects, the little things that help our world go round.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain…….. | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: September sunlight | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!

AND JUST ARRANGED, in 2024 I will be running similar events on the following dates:

April 19th

May 17th

June 21st

July 19th

August 2nd

August 16th

September 20th

All weather dependent, and between 1100 and 1300.

Two days of wildlife, culture and commemoration in and around London

At the weekend, we spent a very happy couple of days exploring parts of London we haven’t been to before as well as some old favourites, and a foray out into the Surrey countryside. Here are some of the photos from our travels, with words kept to a bare minimum…

First stop, just after emerging from the Jubilee Line at London Bridge was the Hop Exchange, a remarkable building which a friendly security man was very happy to tell us all about – as he said, ‘what is the point of learning if you keep it to yourself’! The similarities with  the Halifax Piece Hall we explored on one of our visits earlier in the year – same function, different commodity –  were very apparent.

On emerging back into the street, we noticed the Shard looking over our shoulder, a looming but kindly presence throughout our time in Southwark:

A wander around the streets took us to the delightful Red Cross Garden which gave us a nymphal Southern Green Shieldbug…

…and then to Crossbones Cemetery, one of our main reasons for this trip. With a rich but shocking history as a last resting ground for thousands of those on the fringes of society, it is a tiny haven from city life, despite its proximity to numerous landmark features.


Lunch at The George, with its galleries, before more walking the streets, peering wherever fancy took us in the manner of all good psychogeography. And of course spending as much time with the new – the incredible Shard – as the old…

Peckham next for more of the (relatively) new, with the Pioneer Centre, from the 1930s Peckham Experiment approach to community and social welfare, and Peckham Library, the product of millennial modernity:

Overnight in the Barking Ibis gave us chance for a lovely walk at dawn along Barking Creek, one of our favourite parts of the Metropolitan Essex coastline, with Jersey Cudweed, Cormorants and Cetti’s Warblers to guide our way:

Then it was back to Waterloo, and a jaunt down the Necropolis Line, or the modern equivalent thereof, to Brookwood Cemetery in deepest Surrey.

Brookwood may have been established to satisfy an urgent need in the heart of the city, but its size is so vast (it is the largest cemetery in the UK) that it is still under-utilized, with lovely acid heathland habitats within its bounds.

Special plants, such as Devil’s-bit Scabious and Dwarf Gorse, abound ..

.. along with all manner of animal life, including Small Copper, Fork-palped Harvestman, Alder Leaf-beetle. Rhododendron Leafhopper and the green spider Nigma walckenaeri …

… and a whole lot more.

A large section of the cemetery is given over to military burials; the most thought-provoking part of the whole site is the American section, the gleaming gravestones being laid out with such precision, and eliciting many conflicting emotions around the futility of war within the beauty of the natural world…

After the cemetery, there was just time for a stroll along the Basingstoke Canal….

…before heading back to Crossbones for the monthly vigil, a rather moving plea for social justice, sadly as relevant nowadays as when the cemetery was in operation.

Two cemeteries, from two eras: when will we ever learn?

Eastern Scotland by train: Forth Rail Bridge, York and the journey home…

Our final morning in Aberdeen, and the rain has arrived. Overnight the granite city has become the dour granite city! Such a monochromatic contrast to yesterday…

We broke the journey south for three hours by the Firth of Forth, changing on to a stopping train at Inverkeithing where a Hawthorn Shield-bug sidled across the platform, another insect towards the northern end of its UK distribution. We rescued it from trampling feet!

Then a couple of stops down the line and across the rail bridge to Dalmeny. A wander down through the woods, past fruiting Rowans and Speckled Wood butterflies, brought us to the shore and its wonderful views of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, with the modern road bridges further west.

The best thing was the fact that against all forecasts, the sun re-emerged, lighting the bridge and its rusty colour. Simply magnificent!

Out on the water, solitary Guillemots and small rafts of Razorbills were loafing and diving:

South Queensferry was busy (a cruise ship was moored just downstream) but lovely …

… and all too soon, it was back on the train and into a now-dismal England. Overnight in York the rain continued, so next day we had a wet wander round the walls, with Wall-rue ferns and Shaggy Soldiers.

Most interesting was the sight of snails (mostly Banded Snails with just a few Garden Snails) on certain sections, the only likely dry-weather refuges being the grassy embankments four or five metres below.

Into a pub to shelter, we suddenly realised our holiday was ticking away, and sought the wild once more. After checking numerous Senecios in vain, from Common and Sticky Groundsels to Oxford and Narrow-leaved Ragworts (it was only with close scrutiny that I realised how much the old flowerheads in rain look like sea-anemones!) …

 …. and along a steeply sloping concrete embankment of the Ouse we at last found the prize, the locally endemic York Groundsel. A fertile hybrid between Groundsel and Oxford Ragwort, it is surprisingly distinctive with eight yellow rays. What’s more, this is a de-extincted plant. First found and named Senecio eboracensis in the 1970s, by the noughties it was globally extinct in the wild, a victim of City Council herbicide profligacy. Thankfully the Millennium Seedbank at Wakehurst Place had some seeds, which were grown on and enabled its return to the wild earlier this summer.

Sadly we were unable to find the other York speciality, Tansy Beetle, except in art form, despite some good stands of the foodplant. A good reason for us to return.

And so our holiday drew to a close. Five nights, six days, and five rail journeys which thanks to early booking and a railcard cost just a couple of hundred pounds!

Eastern Scotland by train: Aberdeen, the Granite City

We saw Aberdeen at its best, at least for our one full day there, in sunlight and under azure skies. Far from being the monochrome, grey granite city of repute, the sunlight brought the stone and the city to life.


Once again it was a whirlwind mix of culture and wild. The city centre has lots of monumental buildings, photogenic in the right light …

… and especially down by the docks, the cityscape is enlivened by equally monumental street art.


Union Terrace Gardens, recently remodelled, provided a wonderful pocket of green, set off by impressive modern constructions:

And the gardens themselves are full of interesting plants, and plenty of insect activity. What’s not to love about a garden that features apparently deliberate ornamental plantings of Timothy grass!


Out then to Old Aberdeen, a world away from the bustle of the modern city into the historic seat of learning, and modern place for leisure and pleasure.

Attractive buildings and cobbled street scenes in abundance are laced with the ever-present colours of Fuchsia…


… and the lovely Cathedral of St Machar, with its impressive ceiling, stained glass and rough stone walls.

Nearby, the Botanic Garden. There is no truth in the rumour that our trips are planned around places like this! Just as with Dundee, the garden is full of light and life, colour and interest.

And almost next door, into Seaton Park, a mix of cultivated ‘wild’ and natural green space, the latter running down to the wildness of the River Don, with Goosanders  and the sound of rushing water.

But as is so often the case it was the ornamental gardens forming the main focus of insect activity:

Back to the Fuschia, it was interesting to watch the way that Honeybees were getting the nectar without delivering on their side of the pollination bargain, chewing through the base of the flower tube to get at it. In fact, on close examination, almost every flower had been on the receiving end of nectar thieves.

But as we headed back to the hotel, so the sun disappeared, cloud was spreading in, and change was afoot, ready for the next phase of our holiday, the two-day journey home…

Eastern Scotland by train: the wilder side of Dundee

Everywhere we go, whether countryside or city, we seek, and usually find, nature. In Dundee, it was right outside the hotel, with Guillemots and Cormorants fishing offshore, Shore Crabs scrambling through the exposed seaweed, and everywhere Lesser Black-backed Gulls seeking an easy meal from the outside tables.

Ornamental plantings around the V&A attracted our attention because of the dozens of Rosemary Beetles, here towards the northern end of their current range. But for some unknown reason there was not one on the various labiates (their recognised foodplants) planted there. All were on Stipa and other ornamental grasses, something we have never seen before; a plea on Twitter failed to come up with an adequate explanation, nor indeed other examples of this mystery phenomenon.

One of the main street trees around the redevelopment of the waterfront are a form of Elm, and on many of the larger specimens, the trunks were patterned with lichens and Horse Chestnut Scale-insects.

Around the old Victoria Dock, as is typical of such former industrial areas, a brownfield flora has established, Buddleia being a major component, mixed with a few maritime species like Sea Mayweed.

And the funnel of the rusting lightship has been colonised by very artistic lichenscapes, no doubt in part a result of the nutrient from bird droppings.

The Botanic Garden was just lovely, one of the better such gardens of the many we have visited in my opinion.

Of course it featured many attractive and interesting plants from around the world…

 …. many of which were feeding insects in the warm, sunny weather.

At the heart of the garden is a very impressive attempt to recreate the full range of locally native habitats, from sand dunes, to Caledonian pine forest and montane cliffs.

These habitat zones were a great opportunity to see rarities that need a hard slog and much remote searching to find in the wild, such as Dwarf Birch, Mountain Sorrel and Woolly Willow…

… while Devil’s-bit Scabious in full flower seemed an irresistible draw to numerous hoverflies.

From Birch Shield-bugs on the Silver Birch trees to epiphytic lichens in the branches, and fungi sprouting from the mulch, the whole area hosted the whole spectrum of native wildlife…

… including a distinctively shaped, blackish carrion beetle (playing dead at first) we identified as Phosphuga atrata, something we haven’t seen before although it is widespread across the country.

Always something of interest to find in a new area, but after a couple of days it was time to get back onto the train to head up the coast to Aberdeen…



The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: September sunlight

The past two weeks of unprecedented September heatwave since my previous Wandering Naturalist event have continued to prove one thing: we have changed our climate and will continue to do so unless we turn things around very quickly. Climate change (or as we should be thinking, climate collapse) is made up of shorter-term weather effects and the recent heat has certainly brought the season to a close for many plants in the garden. Likewise, the diversity of insect types is declining, although the numbers of Honeybees, bumble-bees and carder-bees in particular is still rising, presumably as their nests continue to grow. Hornets too, but not generally visiting the flowers themselves: they are working their way around the flowers trying to catch insects which they kill with a sting and take back to their nests to feed to their developing grubs.

The daisy family is really taking over as the main provider of nectar and pollen resources to the bees and a whole host of other insects, and will remain so now until the first frosts:

And a major addition in the Reservoir Garden since the last walk has been the opening of Phacelia flowers, now literally buzzing with life! A great species this to improve the wildlife-friendliness of any garden, they will self-seed merrily into any gaps.

Of course bees and the like are not the only creatures we want to encourage. Lots of others make up the garden food-web, as pollinators, predators, parasites, decayers, food for others and generally providing the services needed to turn a garden into an ecosystem. Just a few examples  are ladybirds, flesh-flies, parasite-flies and harvestmen:

Some dragonflies and damselflies also go on well into the autumn, though most of the summer species have now expired. Those we are likely to see for some time yet are Ruddy Darters and Willow Emeralds (both of which we saw mating), with a few Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers that didn’t hang around to be photographed.

And so to the butterflies and moths: during the two hours, good numbers of at least seven butterfly species were seen, taking advantage especially of Buddleia and Verbena.

Notable was a brand-new generation of  Green-veined Whites, along with two species of renowned migrant to our shores, at this stage of the year as likely to be progeny of spring immigrants rather than new arrivals: Painted Lady butterfly and a couple of Hummingbird Hawk-moths, always a delight to watch working their favoured flowers (today, Buddleia):

And all of the above set to a constant twittering background of migrating Swallows overhead, no doubt catching some of our insects to fuel their trans-equatorial flights to come, plus the squeaks of Meadow Pipits and Siskins, birds just arriving here from the far north-east to take up their winter haunts.

So summer may be over but the garden goes on, and will continue to do so until the weather turns much cooler; there are still plenty of flowers still to come and feed our creatures!

If anyone would like to join me in the garden looking at its wildlife, I am planning on repeating this walk (weather permitting) for the last time this year on 29th September, between 1100 and 1300. No need to book, just come to the garden (normal entry price – see our website for details) and ask at the Visitor Information Centre where I will be and when, and come along and find me! Nearer the time, if the weather is looking at all dodgy, please feel to contact me using the Contact tab above to check it is likely to be running.

Blogs of previous events in this series can be found at:

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: a butterfly bonanza! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the steamy jungles of Essex!! | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: the slide into Autumn… | Chris Gibson Wildlife

The Wild Side of Beth Chatto Gardens: after the rain…….. | Chris Gibson Wildlife

Each one is fully illustrated with photos taken on the day; if anyone wants to know the identity of anything depicted, please feel free to contact me through the Contact tab.

Visit the Beth Chatto Gardens and be inspired to Rewild your Mind!