I guess it’s a safe bet that you know what bumblebees look like and you’ve probably seen them cruising around flowers if you’ve a garden and, like me, you’ve been outside impersonating a lizard by basking in the recent, lovely sunny weather.
If I asked you what bees are vital for pollinating a third of our food crops and most of the UK’s flowers, I’m sure you’d say the bumblebee and honeybee. However, they’re not the only ones – there are around 270 types of bee in the UK and one of these is almost 200% more efficient at pollinating flowers than even the honey bee.
The end of May and beginning of June is a bit of a quiet time with regards to wildlife spectacles. The dawn chorus is still in full swing and, thankfully if you’re not one of those early birds and prefer your cosy bed as I do, so is the dusk chorus albeit not as loud as the crack-of-dawn one. So this hiatus makes it a good time to get to grips with trees – no, not hugging them but seeing and appreciating the different types we have in this country. A great place to go is Breakheart Quarry near Dursley as there’s a fabulous range of trees growing there, it’s very family friendly and the flat footpath circumnavigating the site may even be suitable for people with restricted mobility.
Stratford Park must be the jewel in Stroud’s urban wildlife crown. It has a small area of lovely, more ‘wild’ woodland tucked well away from the formal bit of the park and I’d bet a whole pile of money that most people using the leisure centre don’t know of it’s existence. But in May, the woodland floor becomes covered in ‘spring snow’ as the glorious garlic spectacle erupts and, because of the park’s location and footpaths, it’s one of the easiest to reach and enjoy.
Often when people think of orchids, the image of the big ‘n’ blousy type come to mind. That was certainly the picture I’d conjured up when a friend first pointed out a native orchid to me. As she was mad-keen on plants, I think my initial reaction and obvious disappointment crushed her enthusiasm. Ah well, I was only 18 at the time and had yet to learn to appreciate plants and native flowers in general. Now I, too, get as excited as my friend when I see our orchids start to re-appear every spring.
I heard a sound to gladden the heart yesterday – screaming. No, it wasn’t me finding a spider (I have to confess that the long-legged ones make my skin crawl, excuse the pun) but it meant that the swifts have made it back to Stroud for another year. For me, that signals the start of summer despite the grey clouds and cool wind. During my younger years when I lived in the outskirts of York, I never heard this evocative sound as swifts weren’t to be seen. There were oodles of house martins nesting under the eaves of houses all around us, and swallows zipped to and fro, but it wasn’t until I moved to Stroud that I hear this unmistakable sound. This has given them the nick-name of Jackie Screamers – if anyone knows why ‘jackie’ is used, I’d be interested to know.
On a beautifully sunny day, it can be hard to tell where the bluebells end and the sky starts when gazing at Cam Peak at this time of year. This hill, which is shaped unlike any other in the district and can be seen from miles around, is cloaked with vivid blue all the way round and is truly worth a visit. Especially as it’s so easy to drive to and to park. Local legend tells the story of the Devil pushing a wheelbarrow of soil through Cam with the intention of using it to block the estuary. The Devil stops to ask a local man how much further is the estuary. The quick-thinking man, realising what the Devil is plotting, says that he still has many miles to walk, so the Devil gives up in frustration and empties the wheelbarrow content on the ground creating Cam Peak.
June is busting out all over, so the saying goes. I reckon whoever said this first was a month late. May is the month when nature springs into life, seemingly all of a sudden after the long, slumbering stretch of winter. Flowers and birdsong flare up all over the place in an explosion of activity: bluebells, orchids, cowslips, red campion, yellow archangel, sweet woodruff and many others add bright colours to the backdrop of fresh green vegetation. Nightingales and cuckoos proclaim their presence – elaborately in the former whereas the latter sticks to two simple notes. Many other migrant birds add their song to the cacophony of the dawn chorus, but only until they find a mate when they stop singing and concentrate on the demanding job of raising youngsters. That’s why the later summer months are deathly quiet compared to the soundtrack of May.