Saturday, 18 May 2013

Note to self ...

... go out and buy some waterproof trousers!

I spent an extremely wet and windy morning on North Berwick Law today.  I am part of a volunteer survey team receiving training from the local authority biodiversity and countryside officers into the identification of wild plants and grasses in four locations in East Lothian.  The survey, over time, will show the effect of grazing ponies, cows or sheep on neglected areas of grasslands on the four specific sites.  I am part of the team studying five 1 metre square sites on Traprain Law. There are already Exmoor ponies on the Law, munching their way through the grasses which have taken over at the expense of smaller wild flowers and grasses.  These plants need to be encouraged to colonise the grasslands again.  These in turn will be fed upon by bumblebees which are, of course, integral to the general health and wellbeing of our environment.  There is a second survey team studying bumblebees!  

All day today the weather has been, quite simply, appalling.  Yesterday was heavenly, today was not.  We met in the car park by the Law and then set off to throw a quadrant or two on the hillside. There are moments when one wonders if one's sanity is still in there, but even when the weather is revolting, as it always seems to be during these sessions, it is great to be out in the fresh air, learning something new and, most especially, it is good to be doing something positive for the environment.

So here are one or two images of my morning.  I have to say that these photos make it look almost bright, and you don't get a sense of the weather, but I can assure you it was blowing a gale and the rain was heavy and horizontal, hence the need for waterproof trousers.  This is a thought that came to me as I felt the cold rain running down my leg inside my trousers, which are obviously only showerproof! 
Just after the photo below was taken we all nearly got blown over by a huge gust of wind!  It's a good thing we weren't standing on a mountain side, it could have been dodgy!
So this is what we do!  Throw a quadrant one metre square and then inspect what lies within. It can take a good twenty minutes for the group to discuss what looks like, on the face of it, a square patch of long grass.  But the devil is in the detail and having analysed it for a while we are then in a position to fill in the survey sheet which requests a variety of information.  By the end of the next session in a few weeks time we should be ready to be let loose on our designated areas!
Gorse always seems to be in bloom but at its best in May.  Today it shone like the sun, even through the gloom, and its warm, spicy coconut perfume was delicious and very welcome.
And here's the reward for turning out in such disgusting weather today - a lovely plant of kingcups. They have only just come out but the few glorious flowers which braved the miserable day were the highlight of my morning!
Amazingly I still remember a poem about kingcups which I learnt when I was young.  My junior school was very keen on poetry speaking.  We were entered for Poetry Society examinations and I have a few aged certificates somewhere.  This poem was not one that I had to learn but I heard it recited so many times and loved it so much that I must have just absorbed it and over fifty years later, can still remember it, just.  My apologies for any bits I have misquoted but bearing in mind I can't remember what happened last week, this is nothing short of a miracle.

'Kingcups in Town' by Eleanor Farjeon

Down the street the old man came and on his head he bore a flame.
I stopped to gaze, so he stopped too 
"Want some?" he said
"Indeed I do.  Where did you get them?
"Uxbridge way, all the lot fresh picked today.
Off of the island there" he said, shifting the basket from his head.
"You get them when the water's out
O'course you have to wait about all night for 'em,
But the bud'll bloom lovely when they're in your room".
So I took the bunch from him, still wet
And then the kingcup gatherer set the brimming basket on his old grey head
And walked off beneath the gold.
Yes, walked off in his hobnail boots and the shabbiest of suits 
Crowned in the Maytime of the Spring
More gloriously than a king!

1 comment:

  1. Your quadrant reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver's superb novel, Flight Behaviour, in which the lepidopterists/environmentalists - and the book's main character, Dellarobia - use exactly the same system to count Monarch butterflies. If you haven't read it, do - it's a wonderful book.