Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

June 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

Celtic names for June contain words for “mid” or “middle” as this month was regarded by the Celts as the height of summer.  In Welsh it is Mehefin, in Irish Gaelic Meitheamb, and a former Scottish Gaelic name is Meadhans’ambraidh!  What a mouthful.

While walking up Manor Lane a couple of weeks ago my attention was drawn to the road ahead of me and in the morning sunlight I could clearly see something almost glowing a yellow orange against the grey background.  As I looked at it I realised it was a Hornet (Vespa crabro).  I haven’t seen a Hornet for several years.  Apparently now rare, it has almost disappeared from south-east and central England, possibly because of persecution and loss of nesting sites.   The Hornet likes to nest in hollow trees and old derelict buildings, and in fact there are several hollow trees in Manor Lane.  The Hornet is one of the seven species of social wasps in Britain, all but one of them (the Cuckoo wasp) having the same sort of life history.  The mated queens hibernate in a sheltered spot and emerge in spring to look for a nesting site, and I suspect that this Hornet was a queen doing just that.  Having selected the site, the queen starts to collect building materials.  As wasps have no wax glands, they use paper which they make from wood pulp.  They have powerful jaws and will scrape away at trees, fences and sheds, and with their saliva make a paper pulp which they spread out to make combs.  When I have been in my shed I have often been aware of a quiet scraping sound coming from the outside, and have gone out to see that the culprit is a wasp and watched in amazement as they “scythe” off a path of top soft wood, their jaws working away like hydraulic cutters.

If ever you get the chance to have a close look at a wasps nest (preferably a deserted one!) it is without doubt one of nature’s masterpieces of insect architecture.  Wasps are probably the most unjustifiably maligned of British insects.  They can undeniably be troublesome in late summer when the workers have finished looking after the young and are attracted by the ripening fruit or your al fresco meal.  But a plea; please don’t kill them or set out those awful jam jar traps, instead if they are being troublesome, place a saucer with some fruit jam on some way away from your kitchen and back door and you should remain wasp free.  It is not generally realised, and this is why you don’t notice wasps until late summer, that the wasps spend their time killing insects such as aphids and caterpillars and scavenging on dead animal matter, which they feed to their larvae.  In return the wasp feeds on the sweet saliva that the larvae produce.  On several occasions I have been sitting in my stationary car and watched fascinated as wasps have cleared my windscreen and wiper blades of dead moths and other insect “clutter”.

My Hornet was not moving and seemed very lethargic.  It had been a very wet morning and the sun was only just breaking through.  It was nearly 1½ inches in length and I didn’t want to see it squashed under a car tyre, so I picked it up on a leaf and put it on a gate post (see picture). 

W H Hudson wrote in Hampshire Days in 1903 “These large-sized October hornets are all females, wanderers from ruined homes, in search of sheltered places where, foodless and homeless … each may live through the four dreary months to come”.

On another subject entirely – it was lovely to see two pairs of Lapwings and several Skylarks nesting in the two large set-aside fields off Manor Lane, but now, sad to say, the set-aside is being ploughed.

The rose is at its most prolific and beautiful in June.  The red rose is the symbol of love, of England and St George, of the Tudors, of Lancashire, and of the British Labour Party!!  A midsummer tradition takes place annually in London.  The Knollys Rose ceremony dates back to 1381 when a fine was imposed on Sir Robert Knollys (and all his heirs) for building a covered bridge between his two properties on Seething Land without permission.  Each year the fine is still paid when a red rose is taken from Seething Lane Gardens by the churchwardens of All Hallows to be presented to the Lord Mayor.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: May 28, 2007