Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

August 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

August comes, and though the harvest-fields are nearly ripe and ready for the sickle, cheering the heart of man with the prospects of plenty that surrounds him, yet there are signs on every hand that summer is on the wane, and the time is fast approaching when she will take her departure … But, far as summer has advanced, several of her beautiful flowers and curious plants may still be found in perfection in the water-courses and beside the stream – pleasanter places to ramble along than the dusty and all but flowerless waysides in August.

Chambers Book of Days, 1864

Well, I’m afraid the only thing that will be found in water-courses and beside streams this August is mud and debris!  However, over the last couple of weeks we have seen several grass snakes.  Grass snakes are very much at home in water and are often found basking on stones or rocks next to water, as indeed were the two we saw at Upton House gardens a week ago.  They were good-sized adult snakes and we thrilled for as we watched, one was ‘sloughing’ its skin.  They do this by pushing between two rocks or bush stems, and rather like slipping a stocking off (oh! that dates me!) completely slips out of its old skin.  They do this every year and we were lucky, this skin was intact and complete.  We laid it out on the grass to dry and hopefully to intrigue and amaze any children who found it.

 Part of a grass snake’s diet are shrews and in Back Lane the other week I found a dead Pygmy shrew (Sorex minutes).  Sometimes called the lesser shrew, it is paler in colour than the common shrew and is the smallest British mammal, its body measuring 2 - 2½ in length and weighing just a quarter of an ounce.  [For our younger readers, The Mammal Society quotes a body length between 40 and 60 mm with a tail between 32 and 46 mm, and a weight of 2.4-6.1g, decreasing by up to 28% in winter.  This is about the weight of a 1p coin.  Ed.]  They were not recognised as a distinct species until the mid 1800s and were previously thought to be young common shrews.  They do not burrow and are found in open habitat and are the only shrews found in Ireland.

Whilst walking a footpath the other day, I was aware in the evening setting sun (yes, it has been out on occasions!) beautiful long shadows in the undulating land.  This was ridge and furrow, long waves in the land with crests eleven human paces apart and a length of 220 yards.  These strips or ridges gathered together made a furlong, a now familiar distance in horseracing.  The undulations were made by oxen or horses pulling ploughs and throwing the earth up to a ridge.  It was though that oxen could pull for 220 yards and then needed a rest, when they would be turned for the return.  Ridge and furrow was mainly confined to the flatter midland or heartland counties and is middle Saxon or medieval in origin, and was the standard up until the Enclosures Act.  The pattern and direction was designed to maintain natural drainage across the contours, but in the Midlands by 1999 just six places were found to retain forty per cent of their original open-field remnants.  David Hall confirmed “what has long been suspected anecdotally – that ridge and furrow which was most characteristic and a commonplace sight in the Midlands, is now very rare and becoming rarer by year.  If ridge and furrow is rare and threatened in its primary areas, then its survival as a significant component of the national heritage must be in some question.  We have let something ordinary become hard to find.”

We are lucky in Oxhill to have ridge and furrow within the centre and around the village.  Let’s hope that that this too is not lost forever.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: July 30, 2007