Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

May 2003


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Nature Notes

May – named after Maia, a Roman goddess of growth and increase.  May Day is 1st May and is also Beltane, the Celtic festival of summer’s beginning.

 “May” – which should be gathered at or before sunrise can be any kind of flowering greenery, though hawthorn (or May blossom), birch and rowan are the favourites, while blackthorn is ill omened.  To leave a branch of hawthorn at a friend’s door is a luck-bringing compliment, but gifts of other kinds of tree can be insulting.  Here’s a little sixteenth century tip for young ladies:

                A fair maid who, the first of May
                Goes to the fields at the break of day
                And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree
                Will ever after handsome be

Some of you walkers may have noticed an entertaining family of rats by a pond in the village.  They live in the base of an old willow tree and can often be seen running around and climbing along the willow branches.  These are the common Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus).  Extremely good swimmers, they originated in central Asia and came in on trading vessels and swam ashore.  They were first recorded in England in 1728,  By the end of the 18th century they had almost completely replaced our indigenous Black rat (Rattus rattus).  Many people seeing a rat swimming assume it to be a water rat, or more correctly a Water vole (Arvicola terrestris formerly A.amphibius).  The water vole has longer dark brown fur, a shorter tail and a stubby face and is now unfortunately a rare animal to see, and I have yet to see one along the brook in Oxhill, although they used to be present.  A survey done about 12 years ago reported that Water voles had declined by 70% since the 1940s, probably due to predation by mink and water pollution.

Can I make a plea to those of you who enjoy outdoor eating?  I have recently noticed in several of the gardening catalogues that come through the post an “outdoor insect killer” offered for sale.  These ultra violet lamps lure all flying insects including moths and hoverflies to a “fried alive” death.  They were developed for the meat and catering trade, but somehow have found their way into the retail market.  It is very important to keep all our flying insects, which are part of nature’s cycle and food chain, and of course plant pollinators.  If you feel as strongly as I do, perhaps a letter to these companies might have some effect.

24th May, Whitsun, or Pentecost was originally “White Sunday” from the white “robes of innocence” worn by converts who were traditionally baptised at this season.

Grenville Moore  

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Last modified: November 29, 2003