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About Me

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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

22 February, 2017

Common Valerian: let us sleep on it

There is something slightly odd about this rather lovely plant, the common valerian (Valeriana officinalis). According to my field guide it can be found on dry grassland and in damp woods. Maybe I am reading that wrongly but it seems the two habitats are as different as you can find; dry opposed to damp and grassland as opposed to woodland. Looking at the places it occurs it does seem to be that I have found it in both situations so there must be some basis to it but it still seems odd!
Common valerian is a tall, erect plant growing to as high as six feet in favourable conditions. The flower head is a loose cluster of individual five petalled flowers that start in bud as dark pink but become a much paler shade when open. The sweet scented flowers are at their best in July but can be found in June and August too.
Whilst not common it is far from scarce but it is one of those flower that is always a joy to find; a little bit special perhaps.
Apart from its uses in perfumery the roots are rich in chemicals and have various medicinal uses. It was once thought to be a cure for insomnia but there is, apparently little evidence to support that!
Common Valerian: let us sleep on it

21 February, 2017

Cerastoderma edule: the common cockle

I suppose, thanks to Molly Malone wandering through the street of Dublin selling them, that cockles and mussels are are best known shell fish. They are also the most common. A walk along Studland beach will reveal the familiar empty shells that have washed up from the sandy bay; they are the only ones with growth rings running along the shell rather than in concentric circles.
The common cockle (Cerastoderma edule) was once very common in sandy bays and estuary mud flats but are less so now due to over predation  by human beings who, strangely in my view, seem to like to eat them I tried them once and thought they were made of rubber soaked in salt and vinegar. That said I have memories of childhood holidays with my uncle, who lived in Scotland, where we would go cockle digging, shell them and hen use them as fishing bait - we seemed to have fsh for dinner every night.
Cockles can bury themselves in the sand at low tide but only down about six inches. When the tide is in and they are on the top of the sand to feed they can, apparently, jump to avoid predators; not a lot of people know that! 
Cerastoderma edule: the common cockle

20 February, 2017

Round-leaved Cranesbill: to round it all off

Members of the geranium family, cranesbills get their name from the long pointed seed box that recalls the bill of the long-legged and long-billed bird, the crane. My field guide lists sixteen species of cranesbill and a further four of the similar storksbills and that presents quite a choice to the new botanist. As always in these situations the task is never quite as daunting as it might seem as not all occur in Dorset and some are quite rare and unlikely to be encountered without a specific search for them
The round-leaved cranesbill (Geranium rotundifolium) does not occur across all of the United Kingdom but it does occur frequently in Dorset. It is quite common on hedge banks and in other grassy places where the grass is not too dominant and allows flowers to come through. The clue to identification does lie in the common name; it is round leaved. The leaf is not actually truly round, it is lobed having five separate lobes joined for about half way along the edge of each so the leaves are 'roundish!'. However, amongst cranesbills this leaf formation is unique, most are serrated or, at least, lobed but not joined. The nearest similar species would be the hedgerow cranesbill but this is a much bigger plant with bluer flowers, has seven leaf lobes and is quite downy.
Geraniums are popular garden plants and the round-leaved cranesbill is one of those that adorn cottage gardens. As a result, you may encounter it as a garden escape in other locations than its preferred habitat and it does seem to be spreading its range.
Round-leaved Cranesbill: to round it all off

19 February, 2017

Chorda filum: bootlace seaweed

The bootlace (Chorda filum) is very distinctive because, yes, it looks like bootlaces! The long thin strands. slimy to the touch, are unlike any other seaweed species. Seen washed up on the strand line on sandy beaches is fine but sadly most of us will never see bootlace at its best. For that you need to go snorkelling, something I have never done and will never do now.
Bootlace grows in clusters along the lower shore and down to about five metres and when afloat in water the strands, which can grow up to an amazing twenty five feet long, stretch out in masses along the flow of the tide. It is, apparently, quite a sight and bootlace has earned the name of mermaid's tresses although it is also known as dead men's ropes!
It grows well during the summer months and then in autumn it starts to break down and this is the best time to see it on the shore. By winter it has totally gone and will start the cycle again the following spring.
Chorda filum: bootlace seaweed

17 February, 2017

Mugwort: the natural insect repelent

It seems to me that mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is one of those plants never seems to flower because when it does flower its flower does not really look like we think a flower should look! I do not know whether that makes sense but I know what I mean ...
Mugwort is a member of the daisy family but daisy is not what you think of when you see it. The plant is a bit untidy and grows to between four and five feet tall wither several stems coming from the same root and each stem has several flower spikes coming from it at the top. Before the flowers open they are creamy white buds; when open the are a yellowish drown and then when they have gone over they are a darker brown. There is little or no colour at all which is unusual for daisies., Each flower within a flower spike is quite small, a bit like groundsel when seen close up, and is hardly a striking flower that you want to pick ans put in a vase! The flower spikes appear from July though until September and are faintly aromatic. The leaves are dark green and smooth on top and white and hairy underneath and the stems are generally tinged with red.
Mugwort grows in quite large patches on roadsides and on waste ground and is quite common in Dorset. Why mugwort? It was once known as midgewort as it supposedly repelled midges and over time midgewort became mugwort.
Mugwort: the natural insect repelent