Notes from the Stiperstones: May 2017

The pleasant spring weather has brought the gorse out in wonderful profusion on and around the hill. The intensity is almost overwhelming, both with the dense, brightly-coloured flowers reflecting the sunshine and also the heady smell of coconut that the flowers produce. The gorse that we are seeing in flower at the moment is , the common gorse Ulex europaeus which flowers to some extent all year round, but another species, the western gorse Ulex gallii flowers later in the summer.
Apart from their different flowering seasons it can be difficult to tell common and western gorse apart, however generally western gorse is smaller, with small spines covering the stem, whereas the spines on common gorse are further apart showing the grooved stem in between. The flowers of western gorse are more compact and also don’t have the smell of coconut.
Also known as furze or whin, it is a plant of wild places and is often the only plant that will stand up against heavy grazing, being protected by those fierce spines. Broom, a related plant, lacks this defence and so is only found where animals can’t browse on it. The dense spines also make it a very valuable plant for nesting birds such as dunnock, stonechat and linnet. Further south it is used by Dartford warbler, which with climate change may one day move onto the Stiperstones.
A number of insects associate with gorse, and not only for the plentiful supply of pollen early in the season. The gorse shield bug lays its eggs on the flowers and the gorse pod moth lays its eggs on the seed pods and the hatching larvae eat the unripe seeds. There are also fungi that are particular to gorse such as the yellow brain fungus that parasitizes on another crust-forming fungus that grows on gorse.
Thanks to everyone who has generously supported our fundraising campaign to buy and restore Bergum Wood to oak woodland. To see how we are doing or to donate please visit the donate website (www.easydonate.org/NENG001) or have a look on the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve Facebook page. The Stiperstones Inn has also offered to run a raffle for us with prizes including some Stiperstones books and a lovely painting of Tankerville mine. Tickets available at the pub.
Don’t forget to join us and the Landscape Partnership Scheme crew at the Hay Meadow Festival on Saturday 24 June, where there will be lots of hay-related activities, stalls, refreshments and, of course, scything. All on the field opposite the Bog Visitor Centre from 10 a.m. Come along and have a go, all welcome and free of charge.
Simon Cooter and the Natural England staff at Rigmoreoak

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