When I plan my wildlife walks each September I always hope that on the day there will be some sunshine and a nice bit of warmth. It seems sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for! A walk on Iping Common is inspiring and beautiful on hot days but the landscape here is unforgiving. Out on the open heath there is little shade and the dry, sandy conditions underfoot radiate heat.
My walk here on June 21st coincided with the hottest day of the recent heatwave which saw temperatures across the south-east rocket. When I arrived at the Iping car park my car’s temperature gauge was registering 30 degrees. People were telling me that it was going to be “the hottest June day for 170 years” (it turned out to be the hottest day for . I was sure to pack plenty of water. I had also packed some umbrellas for shade and other people retrieved golf umbrellas from their cars. So, after slapping on some Factor 50 suntan lotion, 25 of us armed with binoculars and umbrellas braved the heat and headed out onto the heath.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky – and there weren’t any birds in the sky either. What was noticeable about the day was that even the birds were ‘lying low’, keeping themselves cool in the shade. There was a general lack of insects flying too. The flowers were devoid of bees, hoverflies and butterflies. The recent lack of rain has left them stressed and not producing nectar.
The dark, acid pond in the damp part of the heath however was buzzing with activity as Emperor Dragonflies, Keeled Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers hunted for mates and fought over the pond. Right on cue a Tree Pipit climbed to a tall birch, his song-post, and serenaded us with his cheerful warblings. We trekked along the sandy paths and we watched the amazing sand-digger wasps (Ammophila pubescens) as they hunted amongst the heather. These wasps lay eggs in underground burrows and feed their larvae on moth caterpillars. Lurking along the path were Mottled Bee-flies. The intricately patterned wings of the fly are amazing but this this fly leads a sinister lifestyle as a parasite of the Ammophila wasps.
The stars of the show were the Silver-studded Blue butterflies. These are one of the UK’s rarest butterfly species and Iping Common supports a nationally important population. Despite the heat the butterflies were active and their gorgeous blue wings twinkled amongst the heather. We all made it back to the car park alive – we had survived the great heatwave of June 2017. It may not have been "the hottest June day for 170 years" - but it was the hottest June day since 1976. Thank you to everyone who came along.