Buxton Heath in bloom

The heathers finally bloomed extensively. The bright violet colors of bell heathers and ling heathers were so eye-catching.

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In the summer, there was not much conservation work. Summer is the season of flowering and thus in summer, the volunteers spent most of their time on recording the types, the numbers and the location of the rare plants for monitoring their growth. The major rare plant they are working to protect is the marsh gentian, a rare plant of wet heathland that has declined markedly this century. Before summer came and from April, they made wire cages to cover the new leaves of the plant for protecting them from treading by the rabbits and other animals.

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Early August, the plant finally flowered. Their delicate blue flowers did not come easily.

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Then in mid August, their flowering has almost finished and volunteers removed the weeds surrrouding them and hoped their seeds could be dispersed and there would be more flowers next year.

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I never like snakes, especially the poisonous ones. However, the volunteers of Buxton Heath are fans of insects and reptiles such as adders (the only poisonous snake native to Britain and are protected animals in Britain, see the left picture below) and slow worms (legless lizards and are protected animals in Britain, see the middle picture below).

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April – May is their mating season when they come out from hibernation. The volunteers recorded and monitored the number of adders and slow worms during that period. They also created some basking places for these animals – tin sheets (see the right picture above). Whenever they found them, they were always excited while I usually just glanced at them and walked away.

Last week, I have done something I could not believe myself – I cut off the gorses along the bank, just for those adders and slow worms! The reason is that they are cold-blooded but we human beings are warm-blooded (full of love). They hibernate from September to March and they need basking (sun bath) for keeping their bodies warm. They are living along the bank in Buxton Heath. If we do not cut off the gorses, they may grow so densely to block the sunshine reaching them. Anyway, I have done something good for them and for their offsprings even though I do not have a heart for them (the left and the middle pictures below show the gorses bushes before and after my cutting respectively).

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Buxton Heath in early summer – ready to bloom

Buxton Heath is a heatherland – an open habitat of low shrubs dominated by heathers and gorse with scattered trees. In the summer heathlands are a picture of purple, pink and yellow flowers.

Now is early summer. Heathers start to grow and insects start to become active.

The Heathers

Heathers are actually small woody shrubs.  They are the most frequent plants on heaths, covering usually about 30-50cm deep.  Three common heathers can be found in Buxton Heath:

img_4436.JPG ling heather (has a flowering spike of pale pink flowers)

img_4454.JPG bell heather (flowers are deep purple, bell shaped and hang downwards)

img_4510.JPG cross-leaved heather  (leaves are in fours up the stem – if you look down on the stems the leaves look like a cross)

Orchids

img_4135.JPG img_4217.JPG img_4213.JPG Although orchids are commonly used for decorating the home and offices, various species are easily found in heatherlands. Buxton Heath is no exception.

Sundew

img_4095.JPG Sundew look attractive – bright red, but they eat insects! You cannot blame them – they live in wet bogs which have very little nutrients. Their weapons are their sticky tentacles. When an insect is stuck in their tentacles, they exude digestive enzymes and dissolve the insect.

Ragged Robin

img_4604.JPG Ragged robin has five petals deeply divided into four lobes giving the flower an untidy, ragged appearance.

Cottongrass

img_4094.JPG img_4150.JPG The seed heads of cottongrass are covered in a fluffy mass of cotton which are carried on the wind to aid dispersal.

Yellow rattle

img_4167.JPG The yellow flowers of yellow rattle occur in spikes. After they die, brown seed pods remain. When these pods are shaken, the ripe seeds inside rattle, hence the common name.

Silver-studded blue butterfly

img_4237.JPG img_4254.JPG Silver-stubbed blue butterfly is so named due to the silvery blue metallic spots on the underside hind wings.

Dameselfly

img_4585.JPG img_4583.JPG  Damselflies are resting on the new pond made by us. We have especially added some sticks in the pond to give them more resting place. (Damselflies are similar to dragonflies, but all four wings of damselflies are near enough equal in size and shape whereas the hind wings of draonflies are usually shorter and broader than fore wings. Also, when at rest, most species of damselflies hold their wings along the length of their abdomen whereas dragonflies hold their wings out from the body, often at right angles to it.)

Buxton Heath VIII

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The mission for this visit in Buxton Heath was to dig a pond for the breeding of the dragonflies.

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I had never expected that digging a pond was sooooooo difficult! The hardest part was to dig out the surface mud which was so deeply and intricately connected with the roots of the plants down into the surface. The clever way to do this was to use the sharp end of the shovel to cut into the mud and make a square, and then use the shovel to lift up the cubic shape of the mud. Sounds easy? Not at all. First you needed to have enough weight to make the sharp end of the shovel go into the mud. Although it was mud, its hardness was comparable to a rock! So the best way to overcome this was to jump your feet onto the shovel and so using your entire body weight to push the shovel down into the mud. Well, although I knew this was the best way to do it, I did not follow it because… I knew if I did I would slip over the shovel and fall over – the surface area of the shovel was very small and I was quite clumsy at this kind of “stunt”.

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If digging the surface mud was so difficult, digging the non-surface mud should be easier, right? Yes, less difficult, but… still difficult for me. The non-surface mud was softer and less intricated than the surface mud, but nevertheless heavy, plus the weight of the shovel, god, I wish I could ask help from Giant Goliath.

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If digging mud was difficult, maybe transporting the mud dug-out with a barrow would be easier. That was what I thought at first. So when the volunteer who worked with the barrow took a break, I volunteered to transport the mud with the barrow. My god! It was so heavy that at first I could not turn around the barrow which was pointing at a backward direction and then I could not make it move even for an inch! What made me feel ashamed was that that volunteer was an old man and he had moved the mud with the barrow back and forth for several times. (In fact, one of the volunteers who participated in digging the surface mud was also an old man.)

Due to the hard work of the volunteers (except me), we finished the pond-digging in about an hour. But we did not need to fill up the pond with water. It would fill up itself with water in one day – the water from the neighouring mud would slowly diffuse into the pond. Amazing.

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Strumpshaw Fen

This was my second time to visit Strumpshaw Fen. But unlike the last visit which was purely for a leisure walk, this time was for conservation work – trail maintenance.

The trail we worked on had a small slope at the start. So we spreaded some sand to make that slope more even and less easy for the people to fall over. Some parts of the trail was also spreaded with sand to help water draining otherwise the trail will be too boggy in winter. The amount of the sand used should not be too much, just enough for making a thin layer over the trail, or it will impede the normal grass growth in the trail.

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Th sand was dug out in areas adjacent to the trail. The pictures on the left and right below show the look of the trail at the start and at the end of our work respecitively.

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The tools we used were shovels and rakes. It was my first time to use a shovel and I found out the shovel was… soooooooooooo… heavy!! Although the shovel I used was already small sized, shovelling the sand was not at all an easy job, so heavy! Fortunately, there were too many volunteers there, so most of the time I had chosen to use a rake to spread the sand even – this was a lot easier.