Insect of the day: the May bug

Cockchafer front view - credit Dave Skingsley Flickr

Cockchafer, May bug, spang beetle and Billy witch are all names for what used to be a common sight at this time of year. pening the curtains and switching on the living room lights after dusk to attract the cockchafers was wildlife watching made easy. But sadly, they haven’t appeared for many years now.

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English v Spanish bluebells: Spot the difference!

English v Spanish: the native, English bluebell is on the right, and the Spanish one on the left

The bluebell wood is a phenomenon particular to Britain – believe it or not, 80% of all the world’s bluebell woods are found in the UK! The sight of the glorious violet-bluey haze which carpets many woodlands (especially beech woods) begins in late April and lasts until late-May depending upon where you live. The flowering season starts earlier in Cornwall and gradually spreads up the country with Scotland’s flowers being last to the floral party.

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Wonderful wild garlic woods: 2 – Box wood near Minchinhampton

Box wood - wild garlic carpet in wood May 18 C Aistrop
Carpet of wild garlic in Box wood, near Minchinhampton, Stroud. credit – C Aistrop

Box wood is twenty-five acres of glorious woodland covered with a carpet of wild garlic flowers during the mid-two weeks of May. This site differs slightly from the others I’ve written about as there isn’t a circular path through the site – the footpath is one-way leading from Box village down through the wood to the Avening road. The big plus about visiting Box wood, though, is the choice of not one but two fab eating places, one at each end of the wood: the Halfway cafe sitting on the edge of Box village with its views over Minchinhampton Common and incredible cakes, and the Weighbridge Inn at the other end on the Avening road and its delicious speciality, the ‘2 in 1’ pie.

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Glorious wild garlic: 1 – Conygre Woods near Tetbury

Conygre woods - footpath through wild garlic May 18
Footpath winds its way through the wild garlic spectacular in Congyre woods near Tetbury. Credit – C Aistrop

If you’re desparate for some fresh air and to escape the television having sat through the marathon of THE wedding and the FA Cup Final, there are plenty of woods around Stroud offering peaceful solice and a place to restore your equilibrium. Wild garlic flowering is at its peak right now and as the bluebell woods die down, nature rolls up the blue carpet and unfurls the white one. The sight of the wild garlic woods is just as spectacular as the bluebell ones with the garlic’s large, white pom-pom flowerheads making the woodland floor look like a scene from the Snow Queen.

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Snow on the cycle track – in May?!

Cycle track Stroud-Dudbridge - pussy willow fluff covering ground May 2018 C Aistrop

The stretch of cycle track from Dudbridge heading towards Stroud is looking glorious at the moment, its carpet of wild garlic resembling a layer of royal icing spreading out left and right from the track. However, whilst walking along the Dudbridge end, I noticed a unusual sight as if a strange kind of snow had fallen amongst the white pom-poms of the garlic. Had Stroud-based special effects company, Snow Business, been testing their latest type of snow ready to coat the film set of a new Hollywood blockbuster?

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Bluebells and beer

Siccarige wood - close-up bluebells amongst coppice 6.5.18 C Aistrop
A carpet of bluebells in Siccaridge wood near Frampton Mansell. credit – C Aistrop

The Frome valley must be the closest we have in the Stroud area to a feeling of wilderness. It stretches from Chalford village (near Stroud) for a few miles towards Cirencester and, running along its bottom, the disused Thames & Severn canal offers tiny glimpses into an age of industrial triumph. But its state of decay atmospherically demonstrates how, in the end, nature subtly claims back and subsumes everything. One of the rare bits of human intrusion in the valley is a very welcome one – it’s the excellent Daneway pub, and a return walk from Chalford along the canal towpath taking in lunch at the pub is a popular summer Sunday activity.

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Fancy a wildlife spectacular this weekend?

Bluebells on Cam Peak
Bluebells cloak the slopes of Cam Peak near Cam, Dursley. Credit – C Aistrop

Despite us still being in a state of shock at the news that this coming bank holiday will be both sunny and warm (when did that last happen?!), a bit of planning means that you could make the most of this and see quite a few wildlife spectacles. May is the month when nature seems to awaken with a start and bound out of bed. It’s May that’s busting out all over, not June. Bluebells, wild garlic and orchid meadows are at their best; nightingales and cuckoos are singing; the dawn chorus is at full crescendo; migrant birds are arriving back from southern climes by the thousands; and hawthorn hedges become coated with the ‘white icing’ created by the profusion of may flowers.

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Trees and tranquillity at Breakheart Quarry

Map of Breakhart Quarry

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.

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A cuckoo (but not a nightingale) sang at Frampton Pools

Nightingale - Kev Chapman

I love visiting the Severn Vale, it’s so different to the character and look of the landscape around Stroud and on the Cotswold escarpment that I feel as if I’ve been in another part of the world for a few hours. Once you’re off the main road, there’s a tranquillity and restfulness that I find so soothing. Last Friday evening strolling around the woodland near Frampton Pools was no different and was enhanced by a glorious sunset over Frampton Court.

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Wild garlic in the heart of Stroud

Stratford Park woodland entranceStratford 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.

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