Wild and free

Summer brings warmer days and with them an increased opportunity to get out and enjoy the countryside, wherever you may live. And although they’ve been out and about since spring, it’s during the summer months that we notice the butterflies. In parks, gardens and fields, red admirals, peacocks and large whites, among other species, will be busy gathering nectar.

The plentiful insect life will be welcomed by bats, which are very active during warm summer evenings, and some birds. Although bats can strike fear into many people, there is nothing to be worried about, and if you are lucky enough to know someone with a bat detector, it’s fascinating to listen to their echolocation clicks.

As the season progresses, heath and moorland will take on a purple hue as the heather comes into full bloom. Large areas of open land like this look stunning in the summer sunlight, as do the increasingly rare wildflower meadows. Sadly, these hugely significant habitats have declined by something like 95% in recent years. The pressure on farmland to produce food and/or financially viable crops has resulted in many of these previously untouched areas being ploughed up.

The diversity of life that exists within them is astounding, not only in the wide variety of wildflowers but also the insects that feed off them. These in turn attract birds and even reptiles to feed on the abundance of food. Further up the food chain, rabbits feed on the vegetation, and they in turn become food for foxes. Even deer are known to visit, as wildflower meadows provide both food and valuable cover. These meadows also offer nest sites for the insects and breeding birds, provide us with oxygen and, in some areas, help to hold rainwater and thus reduce flooding.

Many recent reports have highlighted just how few truly natural meadows of this type there are. It has been said that there is only an area the size of Bristol left, so if you find one be grateful. Many conservation charities and other organisations are doing their best to preserve what’s left and plant new ones, and thankfully there are now many seed mixes and turf suppliers who can help anyone with the space to create their own.

Until recently, I was lucky enough to live next to a wildflower meadow and can vouch for the fact that they are stunning locations. Although some are home to rare plants, the majority are home to daisies, buttercups and more common plant species. Despite this, they make a spectacular display in summer, so if you are lucky enough to know where to find one, and can enjoy visiting it without damaging the delicate biodiversity, I recommend doing so. And if you can create your own, so much the better. What a great legacy that would be.

Magazine of the Ramblers