I’m going back to my roots for this edition of the blog. My ecological roots, not the plethora of grey ones on my head!
For many years I was fortunate to undertake conservation work on many farmland bird species from tree sparrows to stone curlews. For this blog I want to take you further down the food chain at Rathfinny Wine Estate.
Spurred on from my recent presentation to the annual gathering of Sussex Biological Recorders I thought I should share some of my finds.
Only last summer I came across this tiny specimen. Less than 5mm in length and being nationally scarce, this chap wandered alone under our Riesling vines. He’s known around these parts as Cassida nobilis. Close up he’s fascinating, but more often than not he’s overlooked. Quietly munching on the vegetation growing between the vines, he casually gets on with his business.
Our business is making Sussex sparkling wine, and in order to do that we have planted 64 hectares of vines (so far). We don’t plant vines into the ground straight after harvesting the arable crop of wheat or barley. We give the soil a chance to recover by using a ‘break crop’ and on this Estate we use mustard. This is allowed to grow over a whole calendar year and therefore effectively has two flowering periods. These vivid yellow fields are simply an incredible attack on the senses. The fields positively hum with life. This hoverfly was just one of the beautiful flyers that caught my eye one day.
Chrysotoxum festivum Hoverfly
Usually I am attracted by the heavy cargo planes of the insect world – the bumble bee. This hoverfly may be common, but definitely worth a closer look.
Flowers and bees go hand in hand, but always take time to look where you are walking too. Take this tawny mining bee as an example in its stunning deep burnt orange foxy fur coat.
As the name suggests this bee’s nest is formed by burrowing into the earth. This troglodyte bee has made its home just below our Flint Barns.
For the arachnophobic of you, this next section comes with a viewer warning – spiders to follow. Spiders are not dangerous (in this country) and mean us no harm – unless you are a fly. They are creatures amazingly adapted to their chosen habitat.
My favourite is the zebra spider which is a common little one found on the outside walls of our cellar door the Gun Room and thankfully on my house on the Estate – much to my daughters delight.
This is a great spider to introduce to kids. It’s a jumping spider. So if placed (gently) on your finger tip, once it has focused on your other hand it will jump across. Brilliant. Makes me smile every time.
Finally, two types of spider from different ends of the spectrum. Firstly the nursery web spider, which is a delicate and very common visitor to many gardens.
This particular one came out to play on my decking last weekend. A very apt name for a spider in the presence of my triplets!
At the other end of the spectrum we have the Steadoda spiders or more commonly referred to as the false widows.
These are Nobilis and Grossa. Svelte like specimens which grace my house and garage at Rathfinny. To a fly, these spiders are the ultimate grim reapers. Unfortunately, the flies have infected the media and the spider has been given a poor and rather ‘dark’ write up. These spiders have been present in the UK for hundreds of years and are masterful hunters in the wild but are not a threat to humanity.
In essence – make time for nature and view it in all its forms from the parachuting call of a skylark to the tiniest spider. We have it all here at Rathfinny.