Dogwood

Here’s another beautiful image of autumn at Sun Rising : the dogwood in berry.  The dogwood leaves are such a rich array of colours at this time of year, the stems so bright amidst the grey of leafless hawthorn and blackthorn, but only when those leaves are a backdrop to the berries does the full nature of the plant shine out.

Dogwood Berries

Dogwood Berries

It isn’t just a hint of the colours that this picture shows, but the grace of nature, the elegance of the leaves.  Look at the leaf to the top/right of the berries: like the poised hand of a dancer.  And when the leaves fall, softly drifting down, almost in silence, it inspires us again.

Guelder Rose

Diary Date : Carols at Sun Rising

We are delighted to have now confirmed our date for this year’s Carols at Sun Rising event.  It will be held on Sunday 14 December at 11 am.  You can check our Activity Days for information on this and other events.

I know it seems terribly early to think about Christmas, but I am letting you know the date, so you can put it into the diary, let family and friends know, then return again to the glorious beauty of the autumn’s colours.

In case you need a little persuading, there will again be warm mulled wine, mince pies, and the good company of friends old and new, singing traditional carols, listening to the choir performing lesser known carols, together with some non-religious winter songs too.  There will also be an opportunity to buy our Sun Rising Christmas cards, and of course jars of Sun Rising honey, the perfect winter gift.

OK, that’s enough Christmas for the time being.  Let’s return to the exhilarating beauty of autumn, the changing colours of the trees, and the dance of falling leaves …  The rich burgundy of the guelder rose is breathtaking.

Guelder Rose

Autumn colour of the Guelder Rose

Gardening for Wildlife Week

Gardening for Wildlife Week is 15 – 21 September this year.  This is an awareness-raising initiative between the RHS and the Wildlife Trusts, as you can see on their website at http://www.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk , keen to get people involved and happily exploring the potential for habitat in their own patch.  Have a look at our local OWLs event too, by putting Oxhill into the events search towards the bottom of the page.  We’ll be making insect houses out of pretty much anything we can find …

Raking the Meadow

Haking Rakers

A note of thanks to all our lovely volunteer rakers this year.  Following problems with the machinery, our raking days were a little scattered, but we did manage to catch a group of you in this lovely photograph.  Thank you!  There is still more mowing and raking to get done, so I’ll thank those who are yet to join us too!

Raking the Meadow

Volunteers Raking the Wildflower Meadow at Sun Rising August 2014

Although it sounds like the most perfectly natural state, in actual fact keeping a wildflower meadow as a wildflower meadow takes a good deal of management.  Left to its own natural processes, after the flowering, the plants would go to seed, then die back.  Falling so they lie on the earth, the vegetation would matt in the damp, rotting, like a compost heap, all the rich nutrients of their growth going back into the soil.

Wildflowers, though, need a soil with low fertility. If the soil became richer in the areas where we are growing wildflowers, instead of that beautiful display of betony, selfheal, knapweeds, mallow, trefoils, and so on, we’d begin to get the richer grasses once again colonising the land.  Furthermore, without mowing, we’d soon get blackthorn, hawthorn, maple and birch seedlings.  Within a few years it would look like scrub land, and within ten it would be on the way to woodland.

In order to maintain a nature reserve as a patchwork of diferent habitats, offering the richest potential biodiversity to the broadest array of wild flora and fauna, we must manage the land carefully.  We mow the long growth of summer in the wildflower meadows, raking off the arisings to compost them them elsewhere.  That compost can then be used to help plant trees in areas where the soil fertility can afford to be higher.

Thistle Gall

Thistle Gall

There are so many wonderful moments of discovery when we immerse ourselves in the natural world.  On Sunday, we found a thistle gall on creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) by the pond.  It’s the first one I’ve seen, or noticed, and I was keen to explore more.

Thistle Gall

Thistle Gall on Creeping Thistle at Sun Rising

The thistle gall fly (Urophora cardui) is a beautiful black and white fly.  For readers who are interested, here are a couple of links.  http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/thistle-gall-fly . This blog gives some fascinating information too –  https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/whiteknightsbiodiversity/2011/10/15/553/.

Little Mouse in the Stubble

The Little Creatures

As we move through this late summer season, harvest-tide, we continue to cut the long dried grasses and wildflowers that have now gone to seed.  Although the strimming leaves a pale stubble for a few days, after a little rain the areas green up with soft new grasses and another flush of wild flower growth.  It is good to feel the burial ground being tidied up again.  But there are hard aspects to the mowing …

Little Mouse in the Stubble

Little Mouse in the Stubble

The areas of long grass and wildflowers, heavy and falling over now, matting on the earth after heavy August rains, are ecosystems that have developed over the long growing season since March.  They are filled with life!  On our clay soil, many of the plants produce oil-rich seeds, especially valuable to the little creatures like the beautiful little soul in the photograph above.

Although we do our best to ensure the wildlife has plenty of time to move away from the machines, and we leave patches of thick growth where they can shelter, finding new homes, adapting gently as we all face the coming autumn and winter.  That we disturb them at all hurts me, but caring for a nature reserve and burial ground means we must manage the ground, we cannot simply leave it to become wilderness, much as sometimes I feel the desire to do so …

Sun Rising Coffin Bier

Coffin Bier

When we first thought of buying a coffin bier, it was because some of the larger corporate funeral directors (and a few smaller ones too) now refuse to shoulder coffins in the traditional way.  Citing health and safety, they simply don’t carry, instead wheeling a coffin on a small metal trolley.  Such trolleys may be fine in new urban churches, but out on the bumpy stone tracks and uneven meadow grass of a natural burial ground they are wholly inappropriate.  So we had a bier designed and made.  Isn’t it beautiful …

Sun Rising Coffin Bier

Sun Rising Coffin Bier

On Saturday morning, however, in soft summer rain, we tried it out, and I realised that the value is far far greater.  The bier is so beautifully designed that it is possible for just one (reasonably strong) person to pull it alone, two ordinary folk to move it with ease, or even more wonderfully, for three or four with not much strength at all.  Suddenly it is possible for daughters to carry …

Why a ‘bier’?  It’s from the Old English bær, the same root as bear.  It’s a much more lovely word than cart …

Peacock with 6 Spot Burnet Moth

Butterflies

There are more butterflies in the wildflower meadow and grassland this year at Sun Rising than ever before.  This is a combination of weather conditions and the development of the meadow, which is richer in ecological diversity all the time.

This is a fascinating photograph.  The dark butterfly is the underwing view of a peacock (Inachis io), and the little red moth is the six spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae).  I watched them for about twenty minutes, the burnet harassing the peacock again and again, landing on its wing tips.

Peacock with 6 Spot Burnet Moth

Peacock with 6 Spot Burnet Moth

Actually, for me, one of the most beautiful elements of the photograph is the drying grass head, lying against the knapweed bud to the right.  It seems to my human mind a moment of quiet gentleness beside the insects’ high drama.

Looking West

Wild Meadow

In the earlier months of the summer, nature is such flood of colour, of life, but once we reach July that flood seems to break its bounds.  Suddenly its exhuberance looks wild and uncontrolled.  At Sun Rising, we strive to maintain a balance between the managed areas, that are tidy and accessible, and the untamed extravagance of nature: it is by mid July that I feel nature is laughing at the very idea.  The wildflower meadows are waist high with flowers and grasses, the purples of musk mallow, knapweed, red clover, meadow cranesbill, various thistles and field scabious mixed in with the brilliant yellows of trefoils, rattle and bedstraw, the occasional buttercup reaching through into the light, and the grasses are going to seed, with soft mauve and palest gold.

Looking West

Looking West

And when the wind comes, and bursts of summer rain, the grasses are starting to lie down, and suddenly it feels chaotic.  I sit in the grass, lie back and watch the clouds, listening to the grass hoppers and honey bees, and think of the human condition: the inner chaos of our thoughts and emotions which, like wild storms across a landscape, can leave us feeling totally disordered.  Yet taking a moment just to breathe in the quiet hum of the natural world, to watch the flora and fauna getting on with life in their own way, gradually, slowly, gently, nature guides us to feel how it all fits together again.

Poppies and Roses

Poppies and Roses

Both of the more mature roses around the roundhouse are now in flower, and the scent on a still day is so wonderful you can’t but pause and breathe it in as deeply as you can.  I love this photo: it shows so beautifully the calm of the place, together with the roses, a few poppies and scabious, young teasels and oxeye daisies, and of course the view towards the hills.  The gentle celebration of life that is an English summer’s day …

Poppies and Roses

Poppies and Roses