At this time of year, there’s a female that shamelessly flaunts her figure and desire to attract a male for the night. She certainly doesn’t hide her light under a bushel and turns parts of Stroud into a ‘green light’ district with her unbridled desires.
But a one-night stand is all she craves and once that’s satisfied, her light is extinguished as she crawls away to lay her eggs and then die. More tragic heroine in a Charlotte Bronte novel than a Jilly Cooper pot-boiler.
This flagrant display is shown by the female glow-worm. Firstly, let’s get rid of a misunderstanding – the glow-worm is not a worm, it’s an insect (a beetle) and the female can’t fly but has a clearly segmented body giving her a worm-like appearance from a distance.
The male, however, can fly but virtually never glows. From late June to late July, he cruises around at night looking to mate with a female shining in the darkness. He, too, dies shortly after mating making this more of an ecological Romeo and Juliet but with less angst. Her light (which generally doesn’t break through yonder window) is created by a chemical called luciferin reacting with oxygen to create the glowing oxyluciferin. The first glow-worm I ever saw was at the base of a farm gate and I honestly thought it was part of a security system – the light was such a luminous green. It looked more like an artificial light than one we’re used to seeing in nature.
Glow-worms usually live in grasslands growing on top of limestone rock or chalk because the young beetles eat snails, and these need limestone or chalk to make their shells. The glow-worm young don’t eat nicely (mothers, look away now) – they paralyse a snail, pump enzymes into it which ‘dissolve’ the snail’s insides and then suck out the snail soup. And you thought the plot of ‘Alien’ was made up…
Senior citizens describe how road-side verges looked like ‘fairyland’ during July when they were kids because of the sheer volume of glow-worms around. Sadly, this isn’t the case today as glow-worms numbers have crashed in recent decades. Ecologists think it’s a culmination of the dramatic decline in limestone and chalk grassland in the UK during the past 50 years; an increased use of pesticides which obviously kills both glow-worms and snails; and light pollution which means the females can’t be seen by the males.
In Stroud, there are two places where glow-worms can be found and I’m pleased to say both are easy to visit: Rodborough Common and Bisley Road Cemetery. The former is a Special Area of Conservation and the latter has recently been designated as a Local Nature Reserve.
When to visit: from late June to late July. Remember to take a torch with you!
Time of day to visit: when dusk is turning into darkness. A useful indication is when your clothes stop having any colour and look like shades of grey – that’s the time when the glowing starts.
How much time to allow: an hour or so as not all the females start glowing at the same time and more will start the darker it gets. If you’re not worried about ghosts or sleep, stay a couple of hours.
PLEASE NOTE! If you haven’t visited the Rodborough Common site before, I’d recommend you go whilst it’s still light so you can familiarise yourself with the path. It’s stony and uneven in places and it’s also possible to get lost. Plus, go with someone else to either site for safety reasons so you’re not wandering around in the dark on your own.
I saw 34 glow-worms last night (Saturday 11th) and 43 on the previous Monday (6th) on Rodborough common. Count how many glow-worms you see and then send this number to the Glos Centre for Environmental Records. They’re building up a massive database of what wildlife lives in the county, and so would be very grateful for your record. They need grid references of where you’ve been to log precisely where wildlife is seen. If you’ve been on the common, say that your walk began at OS grid reference 854027 and finished at 848026, OS Explorer Map 168. Email your sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BISLEY ROAD CEMETERY
After passing through the entrance gate, follow the path past the area of lawn and head for the lower part of the churchyard where the grass is tall. Then just stroll around looking for the tiny green lights – once you’ve spotted one and ‘got your eye in’ (as naturalists say), you’ll probably start to see lots. They really are bright green and impossible to mistake for anything else. But please keep to the paths as wandering through the grass will disturb them and other wildlife.
Terrain: the wide paths are surfaced with tarmac and the whole site is on a gentle slope downhill. There shouldn’t be a problem pushing wheelchairs or prams around, and the entrance gate is wide and usually kept open.
Facilities: none, but there are some good pubs nearby such as the Crown and Sceptre on Horns Road, just below the cemetery (in the current situation, you’ll have to book a table in advance if you want to have a drink before heading to the cemetery).
Directions: at the roundabout on the Waitrose end of Dr Newton’s Way where it joins the A419, turn left and then almost immediately right into Field Road. Follow this road past Stroud hospital on the right hand side, then at the cross-roads, take the second turning on the right – Horns Road (where the Crown & Sceptre is) and Bisley Road join the cross roads here to form a V-shape. Bisley Road is the upper road. Drive approx a mile up Bisley Road and then look out for the cemetery on the right. There’s no parking in the cemetery itself, park nearby on Bisley Road. There’s very limited parking space so parking in Stroud and then walking would be better, if possible.
On the main road running across Rodborough Common away from Stroud, there’s a small layby on the right hand side just before the Bear at Rodborough hotel and the road junction down to Bear Hill. Park here if you can, otherwise park near Winstones ice-cream parlour and walk to the layby (it’s only a short walk).
From the layby, walk over the grass away from the road (there are obvious paths in the grass so please keep to them) with a house on your right-hand side. Although this isn’t a main area for glow-worms, I have seen some here so keep an eye out. The path will head off to the right along the top edge of the common with the slope of the common on your left-hand side. You’ll be walking alongside the garden walls of some big houses for a few hundred yards. Keep a careful look-out for glow-worms as I have seen a few along this stretch, and in past years there have been lots in the area around the wooden seat (which is on your left hand side).
When the wall turns sharp right and the common stretches off to your right, keep to the path that heads off to the left (almost straight-on really). It’ll continue to run along the edge of the common with a slope down to the road (which is Bear Hill) on the left hand side, though it goes through a bit of trough further on with small slopes on either side. Follow this path until it reaches a wooded area and then turn back. I’ve never seen any glowing beyond here as glow-worms prefer to be in short-ish grass.
Terrain: the path is generally flat with a few small up and down bits between the layby and the start of the path running alongside Bear Hill, and then runs downhill though it’s not a steep slope. The surface grass-covered in some stretches and stony in others. On the whole, it’s not good for wheelchairs but all-terrain buggies or tough prams should be able to deal with the terrain OK.
Facilities: none and at the moment, the Bear of Rodborough isn’t open. When it is, it’s a great place for a drink and a meal before you head out.
Directions: from the A46 heading from Stroud to Bath, turn left shortly out of Stroud onto Rodborough Hill. Keep on going past the Prince Albert pub, head out of Rodborough and the road takes you onto Rodborough Common. Drive for half-a-mile or so and at the T-junction, turn right and after a few hundred yards, you’ll see the Bear of Rodborough Hotel on the right-hand side. The layby is just before the hotel, on the right. Alternatively, after the T-junction, turn almost immediately left onto a little road with grass either side and you can park at the side of this road. Walk back to the road you’ve just left, and walk carefully on the common alongside this road to reach the layby a few hundred yards on your right.
Happy glow-worm hunting!