Nature Notes from the Churchyard

April has certainly proved to be an eventful month for the natural life in St Peter's Churchyard. The frostiest UK April for 60 years, a snowy start melting into above-average sunshine duration (NCIC*) has concluded with a mainly dry spell broken now by chilly showers. All these conditions set challenges for emerging seasonal flora and fauna.

Sadly, the magnificent old white-blossomed cherry tree met its demise when a huge bough broke away after high winds. On inspection, Hart District Council declared it diseased and dangerous, so it was safely removed a few days ago. Its wood will be up-cycled as log piles and a stag-beetle stumpery to continue the tree's vital role in supporting biodiversity. The bat-boxes it sheltered have been safely retrieved and will be repositioned in due course.

Meanwhile, our feathered friends have been busy pairing off, and Mr and Mrs Blackbird have started to nest, (would you believe?), in a conifer ABOVE one of our nest boxes! This is still good news as the juveniles often return to the habitat very close to where they've been reared, so we could well have occupants next year!

Interestingly, this season our pair of noisy nuthatches decided against nesting as usual in the trunk hole half-way up the stricken old cherry. Instead, they have settled inside an oak just beyond the west perimeter hedge. Perhaps they sensed the cherry's days were numbered!

Having found a girlfriend, the male jay is enjoying shelling last Autumn's acorns for her as a romantic touching to observe. Meanwhile our blue- and great-tits still regularly nosey (or should I say 'beaky') around our boxes, but as yet have not committed to settling in. As they occasionally have a second brood there still may be time.

Of course, the floral April churchyard highlight, in addition to the abundant, blousy cherry blossom (our other cherries are healthy and blooming!) has been the carpet of pale lilac-blue, light mauve and frothy-cream bluebells. For the most part, these have been the invasive Spanish variety, but there have emerged a few sparse patches (in shady corners) of the native species too with their strongly bent-back 'tepals'. These are sadly in decline throughout the UK due to natural cross-pollination with the invaders. Still, the colour-rich show has been reminiscent of a beautiful impressionist painting in the the early evening dappled light, and plentiful insects have enjoyed exploring the bell-shaped clusters.

Warm April afternoon sunshine has wafted along a series of colourful butterflies, usually playing pantomimes with me (behind you!) as I have attempted identification verification. So, eventually I was able to confirm a pair of small blues as Holly Blues (not the official Small Blue who inhabits our nearby heathland). The female will probably lay eggs on the churchyard ivy clambering up various conifer trunks and standing tree-stumps. In addition, several flighty orange-tips and even an early Painted Lady have fluttered past, settling to sunbathe in the mellow sunshine. Meanwhile, in the native east hedgerow, I managed to spot a shy speckled wood, fluttering low and altogether much more reticent.

Just by our foxes' den (aptly called an 'earth', bearing witness to the huge mound of soil excavated by its occupants) my 4 year-old granddaughter noticed a seven-spot ladybird...extra special as it was the real deal, not an invasive Harlequin!

There are advantages to being a tiny tot exploring closer to the ground!

More Nature Notes next month, when hopefully our Hedgehog-in-recovery will be ready to be introduced to his new luxury home.

Janette Jolly (on behalf of the Creation Care group).

*National Climate Information Centre

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