Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

April 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

The Roman Aperilis – from aperio, to open or display: the month when the Earth opens.

All Fool’s Day has been observed in England since the mid 17th century when practical jokes were played.  They generally took the form of sending gullible victims in search of something such as elbow grease or pigeon’s milk, or simply sending them from one person to another with a supposedly important message.  The origin of this tradition is unknown, but it is generally thought to derive from the French poisson d’Avril (literally, April fish).  The French term was used in the late 15th century for a go-between in an amorous liaison, and it may have progressed to sending someone on a fool’s errand.  The poisson d’Avril custom also involved pinning a paper fish on the back of someone’s clothing, without their knowledge, to make that person a butt of ridicule.

Two rather unusual incidents happened a couple of weeks ago during the last warm spell.  Firstly, I looked out of the kitchen window and to my surprise saw feeding on the rosemary flowers, a humming-bird hawk moth.  It continued to flit from flower to flower for a couple of hours.  This hawk moth is a summer visitor which migrates each year from the South of France where it is extremely common.  It is a day flying moth and feeds on flowers such as geraniums, honeysuckle, petunias and verbenas.  Exactly like a humming bird it hovers in front of flowers and inserts its long proboscis into the flower to drink the nectar.  It moves from one bloom to the next with a characteristic darting action.  While hovering it beats its wings at such a high speed that they are just a blur.  It also gives off a high-pitched humming sound that is said to be more audible to women than men.  In my butterfly and moth field guide, published in 1986, it quotes “about 50 humming-bird hawk moths are reported in Britain each year”.  Over the last few years that has certainly changed and the 50 is now probably thousands.  Last year saw a massive influx and they are generally seen in the southern counties between May and September.  Last August we saw about 20 to 30 on honeysuckle bushes at Kiftsgate.  Some moths now hibernate in the warmer areas of the country, and while this early sighting is quite rare in the Midlands, it is not uncommon in the South.

The second unusual incident was the discovery of frogspawn, which in itself is unusual now in Oxhill.  But far more curious was that it was found in one of the flash flood pools in Mrs Rodwell’s first field off Back Lane.  Neil Chick alerted me to this and we all went on an “adventure” to see if there was any more – unfortunately there was not.  As this flash flood had already started to dry out and with the danger from the Heron, the frogspawn has been moved to a safer location – hopefully Oxhill will have at least one hatch of frogs!

Those of you who walk down Manor Lane will also have noticed the rather smart piece of hedge laying, another rarity and so much better than the mechanical hedge flail, much beloved of the County Council, which not only makes a dreadful mess, but opens up the damaged trees to infection.  Did you know that not so long ago every county had its own style and height of hedge laying and gates.  The tools – slasher and bill hook – also had county characteristics.  I have all my late father-in-law’s hedge laying tools, and he was known as one of the best hedge layers in Warwickshire.  As you look at the hedge notice the “heathering” (plaiting) along the top.  The hedge layer ‘plashes’ these in a particular style, and this is the Warwickshire style.

Figures released by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology showed that the total hedgerow length fell from 341,000 miles in 1984 to 266,000 by 1990, accounting in six years for a third of the entire post-war loss.  This destruction is still going on.  Hedges still mark ancient boundaries between manors, parishes or large estates.  Saxon settlers called the hedge haga, derived from their name for the hawthorn fruit.  Many of our Midland hedges were planned and planted only two hundred years ago as common land was parcelled out to landowners and enclosed.  Max Hooper laid out a now quite well known formula, that the number of different woody species in a 30 yard stretch equals the age of that hedge in centuries.  This is only a general rule of thumb and not an exact equation (we created a hedge in our garden with 11 species – gosh, 1100 years old already!).

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: March 30, 2007