By Richard Cobden
Digital Media Officer
The summer holidays are in full swing and August is a wonderful time to get outside to see what you can spot in your local patch of Sussex nature.
Grasslands and roadside verges are dotted with the cheerful bright yellow daisy-like flowers of ragwort. This plant receives a bad press, as it is toxic to livestock and indeed is unwelcome in farmers’ hay meadows and grazing pastures. But in wild areas it flourishes and, in its defence, ragwort is the main food plant of the vibrantly black and orange striped caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. Their stripy defence mechanism boldly advertises the toxins they have ingested from the plant and predators wisely avoid eating them.
The long-stemmed violet pom poms of Devil’s-bit scabious can be seen nodding amongst taller grasses. The attractive flower heads are packed with numerous individual flowers, clustered together into a compact ball. Each flower is formed of four petals at the top of a funnel shaped tube above two whorls of oval hairy bracts. This member of the teasel family is a valuable late nectar source for several bees, moths and butterflies, including peacocks, brimstones, skippers and tortoiseshells. According to legend, the Devil was so furious at the success of this plant at curing all kinds of ailments that he bit away part of the root, leaving it with the abruptly shortened shallow root system we see today.
When out walking, glance upwards on the lookout for birds such as swifts and swallows in search of food as they prepare for the long migration south, or bats which are active at dusk feeding on midges and mosquitoes. Chalk downland flowers are also in full bloom with clustered bell flower, pyramidal orchid and wild marjoram growing among the close-cropped grass.
It is well worth paying a visit to our nature reserves at this time of year, perhaps Ebernoe Common near Petworth or Levin Down north of Chichester, both abuzz with a host of bees and butterflies busily nectaring among wild flowers. For further information please go to: www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/visit