30 Days Wild with Clive

During 30 Days Wild, we plan to share with you some of the Random Acts of Wildness our staff have done to bring a little more nature into their lives.

Each year the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Day's Wild challenge gains in popularity. Thousands of people take part, celebrating and sharing the ways they have engaged with nature, and their observations about our natural world. But, how have Hampshire & Isle of Wight staff been spending 30 Day's Wild? Company Secretary, Clive Chatters, shares with us his first wild week. 

Day 1. Spring is over. 

Spring is over. Every tree is full of leaf and Elder bushes hang heavy with flat‐bottomed blossom. There are some years when the progress of the seasons is reassuringly steady with the natural world following an orderly regime, this is not such a year. The weather has crashed through the gearbox of the last few months with the wettest, mildest winter in memory terminating with a lurch into hot sunshine and late frosts. The usual closed‐canopy of Bracken in the hedge‐bottom by my daily walk has been pinched by the cold, so freeing‐up the Bluebells to lay in extra stores for next years flowers. For everything that is set back so there is something that benefits. The frosts of early May hit us just as the annual swarm of Sawflys took flight. By now, in ‘normal’ years, the Solomon’s Seal in my garden would have been shredded by waving ranks of their larvae, instead the ephemeral beauty of this springtime favourite will fade at a different pace. This is not a normal year with the next 30 days offering no promises but with that uncertainty comes the excitement of unpredictable revelations. 

Garden hybrid Solomon’s Seal

Garden hybrid Solomon’s Seal, the preferred foodplant of the Sawfly Phymatocera aterrima ©Clive Chatters

Day 2. Pavements 

It is a short walk from home to the late‐night shop in the housing estates of West Totton. At this outer limit of Solent City, the Forest and the suburbs are separated by the Totton Western Bypass. 

A month ago, the bypass could be crossed with ease when traffic declined to a trickle as we all locked down. Pedestrians and family groups of cyclists were free to enjoy the quiet cul‐de‐sacs on the Forest ‘side’ of the road with the busy lanes sometimes looking like a Spanish promenade. 

Today, the walk to the shop is enlivened by contemplating the kurbstones which are home to the Annual Beard‐grass, once a great rarity but now spreading across South Hampshire. There is an early record of this most attractive grass from Drayton, outside Portsmouth, when in 1595 it was found growing amongst an old saltworks. Our changing climate and the wintertime use of salt on the roads is assisted the grass in expanding out of its native habitats in the scruffy margins of coastal marshes. The Beard‐grasses of the bypass set seed early in the year, so completing their life‐cycle before highway engineers douse the habitat with herbicide. 

Annual Beard‐grass Polypogon monspeliensis

Annual Beard‐grass Polypogon monspeliensis is a beneficiary of our changing environment © Clive Chatters

Day 3. Relief 

Today I woke to cool breezes and soft rain. Disappointingly, a walk down the garden showed that the ground is still desperately dry with this morning’s drizzle doing little more than capping the dust. 

The extraordinary brilliant sunshine and heat of the last few weeks has prompted the early emergence on insects of high summer. From early April onwards I have been seeing Rosy Chafers in the garden (pictured) with their wrinkled iridescence being usually associated with summertime Meadowsweet rather than spring bulbs. That unseasonal abundance has tailed off as invertebrate habitats have parched out with the drought. Let’s hope that this rain will bring a second flush of life. 

The change in the weather may also bring relief to local nature reserves and beauty spots that have been overwhelmed with people. It is heart‐breaking to see the damage and abuse being done to the commons of the Forest near to where I live. Friends and neighbours have told me of feeling intimidated during their daily walks by antisocial behaviour which neither respects social distancing nor the needs of wildlife or of the people who work on the land. 

We live in difficult times which are highlighting long standing questions as to how we make provision for green spaces for people whilst also caring for the natural world and rural livelihoods. 

Rose Chafer on finger

Rose Chafer © Clive Chatters

Day 4. Potatoes and Orchids 

What a difference a day makes, yesterday’s rain has refreshed the garden with the potato patch looking almost perky. Despite the showers, the moisture has yet to find its way to their roots. When lifting some ‘earlies’ for our evening meal I found the ground was still dusty at depth. 

Years ago, I tumbled part of our potato patch down to lawn as it had become exhausted of the nutrients that had built up when a previous owner had their chicken run there. There is a strip of lawn under the hedge, just a couple of square metres, which is cut hard at the end of the school summer holidays and then again at the close of winter. After each cut, I diligently remove the clippings and add them to the compost heap, so shifting the natural fertility to where I want it. 

This stripping away of nutrients from the lawn has encouraged wildflowers to find their way into the sward. Pride of place in early June are the Spotted Orchids which, year on year, have spread out from a shoebox‐size flowery turf that was given to me by a neighbour. 


Orchids © Clive Chatters 

Day 5. Ghosts in the hedge 

It is just a short walk from my back door to where the countryside opens up with an abundance of paths. The landscape around here is of squared‐off fields where straight hedges meet one another at right angles. This character is typical of enclosed landscapes where great swathes of heath were converted into farmland in the early nineteenth century. Enclosure fields are the rural equivalent of the back‐to‐back houses of the early industrial revolution. These are drawing‐board landscapes that were designed to replace a pre‐industrial way of life with our modern cash‐based economy. 

With time on my hands I’ve looked closer into the hedges. Every now and again something more ancient persists amongst the planted thorns. Wild Service Trees are characteristic of the richer pasture woods in this part of the New Forest, as are the stiff, waxy stems of Butchers Broom which are the most grazing resistant member of the Lily family. These woodland plants can spread through suckers which has helped them to colonise into the hedge, their presence marks out where the woodland elements of the ancient Fletchwood Common used to stand. Most of pre‐enclosure Fletchwood was open heath and in these parts the hedges shine gold in early summer with Gorse and Broom which show us what once was and offer a vision as to what may be. 

Days 6 & 7. A change of plan.

Had this year gone to plan, this weekend would have found me travelling home from the Shetlands. On my last visit I spent time looking at the serpentine heaths on the northern islands of Fetlar and Unst. The chemistry of serpentine rocks is inherently conducive to supporting great botanical rarities, as is celebrated in the serpentine heaths of the Lizard in Cornwall. Between them these two outliers of Britain illustrate the range of climate to be found in our Islands from the oceanic sub‐ Arctic in Unst to the semi‐Mediterranean warmth of Cornwall.

In central‐southern England we almost expect our best wildlife sites to have suffered from multiple local extinctions. One of the joys of Unst is that the vast majority of the species known to nineteenth century naturalists are still there, including Edmondston’s Mouse‐ear (pictured) which is a global rarity that was discovered on the Island in 1837. Virtually everywhere you go on Unst there are Wheatear which is a characteristic bird of short, open heathland. I can recall the Wheatear breeding on the remoter parts of the New Forest but those populations have since been lost. As habitats have been destroyed and degraded in the south, so the nesting grounds of Wheatear have retreated northwards, I cannot think of a breeding site that survives in lowland England to the south of Scunthorpe.

Edmondstons Mouse-ear

Edmondstons Mouse-ear © Clive Chatters