If you would like to read my Dorset nature notes about any of these featured species or sites please click on the post title

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!

17 December, 2013

The curious case of the witches brooms ...

Witches brooms on silver birch
When out walking the other afternoon I encountered a few silver birch trees in a line with these peculiar twig clusters. Against the weak winter's afternoon sky they looked quite sinister and it was easy to see why our country ancestors called these witches brooms! Whether it was genuinely believed this was the work of witches I do not know but, as always it seems, science has come along and put paid to long standing myths.

13 December, 2013

Buzzards stand out in a crowd

Buzzards can often be seen on the ground
We are used to seeing buzzards (Buteo buteo) soaring in the sky on sunny days or perhaps sitting on a telegraph pole or fence post but a report of between seven and twelve regularly standing in a field near Dorchester (just west of Compton Valance) reminded me that about four years ago there were fifteen on the ground in a field near Puddletown. Is this unusual or bizarre behavior? I made enquiries and it seems not.

05 November, 2013

Leaving no stone unturned

Turnstones do what it says on the label!

One of the first lessons I learned when I started bird watching nearly forty years ago was that where a bird is and what it is doing is often enough to know exactly what species you are looking at even if you cannot see its plumage markings and colouring. This is actually true of many types of wildlife, especially some insects, but it is most noticeable with some species of birds.

03 November, 2013

Admirable autumn activity

The red admiral can be even be seen in winter

I know the BBC Naturewatch team enthuse over autumn and what a wonderful time of year it is and I can understand their point but I find autumn very sad! I suppose it is because my main nature loves are insects and the flowers they feed on and as autumn draws on so both of these are lost until the following spring.

02 November, 2013

Gallant little soldier on parade

Galinsoga parviflora or gallant soldier

What a gallant little soldier this plant is! Despite it now being November with strong winds and frequent rain this small flower is doing its best to keep its head up. It has been flowering around here since August and I suspect it will take a frost or two to see it off.

19 July, 2013

Site Review: Broadcroft Quarry, Portland

Broadcroft Quarry is a wonderfully untidy place! In our neat and ordered world untidy places are priceless and their chaos is, to my mind anyway, really refreshing and natural.

I suppose Broadcroft Quarry is not actually a natural environment being an area human kind has exploited for mineral extraction in the past but since it was left to its own devices nature has set about recolonising it with grasses and flowers thriving in the thin soil layer. It is even more unnatural as, despite the untidy appearance, it is still a site managed by human beings under the guise of British Butterfly Conservation. Mercifully, of course, this latter management is directly aimed at retaining the site for butterflies in particular, and for nature in general, and our sincere thanks should go to the volunteers who keep this an untidy place ideally suited to our insects that are too readily excluded from much our world by our passion for tidyness.

In mid-summer it is well worth fighting your way through the Weymouth traffic and making your way on to Portland. Portland itself is a unique area and Broadcroft Quarry is one of several places well worth a visit on the isle. There is another Butterfly Conservation reserve just across the raod at Perryfields.

Broadcroft Quarry covers quite a large area and has an interesting and diverse species list. In my view it is a top site!

See more photos and my species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/broadcroft-quarry-nature-reserve

09 July, 2013

Site Review: Milldown, Blandford

So, let me see; a nature reserve within the town boundary of busy Blandford, bordered on one side by an industrial estate, on another by housing and another by a main road with a school on the opposite side of the road for good measure! It is not going to be up to much then is it? Well think again!

I was a little taken aback by Milldown. Chalk grassland is not a common habitat these days and so to find a large area of it in north west Blandford was not what I expected. Amazingly, you cannot see the road, school, industrial estate or houses and nor can you you really hear any disturbance from them. Yes, the locals walk their dogs there but I have to say the ones I saw were impeccably well behaved and very well managed by their owners.

A good mix of pure grassland with some gentle slopes where the rabbits keep the turf shorter and a good sprinkling of trees and scrub make for a fascinating couple of hours wandering around this delightful spot. Just for good measure, there is a tarmac path running right around it so it can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone. In summer expect a colourful display of flowers and lots of butterflies. Thank you North Dorset Council, well managed!

See more photographs and my species list here:
http://www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/milldown-nature-reserve

01 July, 2013

Site Review: Turnerspuddle Heath

Unless you have a somewhat obsessive mission to visit every nature reserve and wild place in Dorset you are unlikely to visit Turnerspuddle Heath; indeed you may never even know it exists! There is not much there that you cannot see or hear elsewhere with the notable exception of turtle doves!

If you look for it on an Ordnance Survey map you will see it is named Tonerspuddle Heath but the label on the gate (and the entry on the Dorset County Council web-site) says Turnerspuddle Heath. It is a triangular area, not that large, bounded to the east by the Bovington tank training area and to the south and west by roads. If you do feel moved to visit then try and go at a weekend when the army are not driving tanks around!

Walking across Turnerspuddle Heath I got the feeling that I was the only person ever to do so! That said, the bridle way that you follow was fairly well marked so others must walk or ride that way from time to time. Indeed, I was left to wonder whether T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who lived across the road at Clouds Hill, near Bovington, had strolled that way, or even ridden his motorbike along that very same path some eighty years ago? May be I was treading in famous footsteps .... I will never know.

To see more photographs and my species list click here:
http://www.natureofdorset.co.uk/dorset-wildlife-blog/site-review-turnerspuddle-heath

22 June, 2013

Site Review: Stephens Castle, Verwood, Dorset

In my travels around the nature reserves and special places of Dorset I find some real gems. They take me by surprise as I set out with low expectations sometimes and I find something totally unexpected when I arrive. Stephens Castle was certainly one of those surprises and is a true gem.

It covers a larger area than I had anticipated and is a strange combinantion of high ground that is predominantly sandy and lower ground that is water logged and boggy. Heath land it may be but there is something a little different about Stephens Castle that I find it hard to define. Sadly, on the day I visited it was not really ideal for dragonflies and damselfies but I suspect later in the season they abound given the acid pools and myre.

Full credit to the East Dorset District Council that have provided a good quality accessible path around the reserve but there are also plenty of opportunties to wander off this main path and explore the marshy areas, the sandy stretches and to wander in and out of the scrub. I am sure my species list really does not do justice to this lovely reserve.

Whilst visiting Verwood for Stephens Castle why not take a look at nearby Bugdens Copse and/or Dewlands Common?

Click here to see more photographs and a species list:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/stephens-castle-local-natu...

17 June, 2013

Site Review: Worgret Heath, Wareham, Dorset

Worgret Heath is heathland but with a difference! It has been improved for farming and so, whilst many heathland plants remain, the heather has gone to be replaced by grass. That said, it is grasland with an abundance of flowers, especially buttercups of various kinds in spring and early summer.

Not a large area but it forms a pleasant walk in summer across the higher ground to the south of the River Piddle that runs out in to Poole Harbour to the north of Wareham. It is mixture of fine pasture and some damper areas where various wet species of flora thrive.

You can get to Worgret Heath by parking at the end of Streche Road in wareham, just past the hospital and walking down the gravel track alongside wareham Common and the,just under the road bridge turn left and follow the footpath. Once you get away from the road it is a very peaceful walk with many rewards.

See more photographs and a species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/worgret-heath

30 May, 2013

Tout Quarry, Portland

Tout Quarry, Portland by Peter Orchard
Tout Quarry, Portland, a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

Tout Quarry on Portland has recently (in 2012) come under the management of the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Also known as Tout Quarry Sculpture Park it was once a working quarry for the extraction of Portland stone but has been redundant for some time now. In the early 1980s it became a sculpture park but many of the early sculptures lasted only for a year or two; that said, some remain. Work is underway to restore the habitat for nature as it has become somewhat over run with invasive species such as cotoneaster and buddleia.

If you visit Tout Quarry you will get four things. Lots of flowers including the Portland spurge, a view of the history of Portland stone extraction, a look at some of the sculptures that remain and wonderful views; not many nature reserves can give you all that! There is no doubt that the flora and fauna will improve given time but it is still well worth a visit now. Although it takes an expert to tell them apart and name them do take time to look and wonder at the lichens on the rocks.

Just a word of caution. Away from the main tracks the going can be a bit difficult on loose stone chippings and some steep drops. In addition, the main path around the sea cliff has had to be closed due to recent erosion and land slips. That said, do thake the chance to wander in amongst the craggy gullies where the limestone has been removed, all sorts of things can be found there.

See more photographs and a species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/tout-quarry-nature-reserve

29 May, 2013

Emerald Damselfly

Emerald Damselfly by Peter Orchard
Emerald Damselfly, a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

With a distinctive bright band around the tail the emerald damselfly can easily be dismissed as a blue-tailed damselfly as the emerald green colouring really shows up best in good light. However, the best distinguishing feature is that the emerald rests with its wings at 45 degrees to its body rather than along its back.
The emerald damselfly is not uncommon in Britain but it does tend to favour shallow water and is very tollerant of acidic bog pools so it is on the damper areas of Dorset heathland that you will most frequently encounter them. They are also quite able to survive in sites that dry out in late summer as it over winters as an egg rather than a larvae.
The emerald damselfly can be seen from May right through until October but are most common in August and September.
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/emerald-damselfly

28 May, 2013

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

The green hairstreak is the only truly green British butterfly and so it is unmistakable, provided you see it in the first place that is. Being green and leaf shaped they are well camouflaged and they have a fast fluttery flight so they quite often go undetected. However, it is a really lovely butterfly and a joy to behold.

They are generally in flight from about the middle of May and until the end of June. Many years go by without me seeing them at all but in 2011 by the end of May I had already seen them at three different locations. Those were my first sightings in Dorset since I moved here in 2006. This year, 2013, despite the weather, there were several along the Ballard Down footpath on Sunday.

The green hairstreak is associated with the edges of woodland, scrub, heath and downland, anywhere there are plenty of shrubs about. Here in Dorset they should be seen in all sorts of places but, sadly, this does not seem to be the case. This might be a species that could benefit from better springs should the climate change that way.

Find out more about the green hairstreak here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/green-hairstreak

27 May, 2013

Site Review: Ballard Down

Many people visit Ballard Down each year. It forms the eastern end of the Purbeck Ridge and is well known because Old Harry Rocks stand in the sea off the very end of the down. A challenging climb from some directions but the reward is stunning views away to the Isle of Wight in the east and over Poole harbour and on to the north Dorset hills to the west. To the south you can see over Swanage Bay and Durlston Point and way out to sea.

Although the top of the down provides the best views, the south facing escarpment slope provides the best natural interest with an abundance of flowers and a prime site for butterflies. Indeed, two of the rarest British butterflies, the Adonis blue and the Lulworth skipper can be found here in good numbers along with many other species including the declining wall brown.

My preferred route is to take the road from Studland to Swanage and to park in the lay-by on the left; right by the Swanage town sign. From the end of the lay-by you can go through a gate and take the path that runs up the slope. Not only is this one of the easiest routes to the top it takes you past the best wildlife.

See more photographs and my species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/ballard-down

18 May, 2013

Site Review: Stonehill Down

This is another Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve that offers you tremendous views as well as great wildlife! Set high on the Purbeck Ridge, when standing on top of the knowle you can see for miles across Poole Harbour and away to the far hills of north Dorset.

In some ways you could consider this two reserves in one. There is broadleaf coppiced woodland on the nothern slopes of the Purbeck Ridge which are a must in spring with masses of flowers across the woodland floor. This is also the place to look for toothwort in spring around the base of hazel trees. Just a word of warning, this is pretty steep in places and can be heavy going!

The Purbeck Ridge is, of course, primarily chalk downland and so the area of the reserve on the top of the ridge is rough pasture with some scrub. This is best in late summer and early autumn when the autumn ladys tresses, autumn gentian (or felwort) and nettle-leaved bellflower are in bloom. Unfortunately, a local farmer has long term grazing rights on the open downland and so the area is very heavily grazed which prevents it from reaching its full potential.

There is little parking and there are some steep slopes so access can bit a little tricky and there are no visitor facilties but then, apart from us keen wildlife enthusiasts, there are few visitors so that does not matter in the slightest. Stonehill is always worth a visit but chose a nice day for the best views.

See more photographs and a species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/stonehill-down-nature-reserve

10 May, 2013

Site Review: Kings Wood

Site Review: Kings Wood by Peter Orchard
Site Review: Kings Wood, a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

A visit to Kings Wood in early May reveals one of the most awesome botanical sights in Dorset, millions (yes millions) of white-flowered ramsons carpeting the woodland floor. They spread as far as the eye can see, quite amazing! Ramsons is also known as wild garlic and there is a definite scent of garlic as you make your way through the woodland.
Kings Wood is not just a one trick pony, however. Much of it is ancient woodland and there is a good display of bluebells and primroses along with a number of ancient woodland indicator species such as moschatel and wood anemone.
The path through the wood is steeply uphill and has a treat in store at the top as it leads out to Ailwood Down on the crest of the Purbeck Ridge which provides wonderful views across Poole harbour to the north and towards Swanage to the south. Whilst you can meander from the main path through the wood it takes a lot of effort and needs a lot of care, especially if you walk through the carpet of ramsons as it can be very slippery and many trip hazards lie hidden by the big green leaves.
Kings Wood is one of the little known gems of Purbeck; worth a visit anytime but especially in spring.
See other photographs and my species list for Kings Wood here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/kings-wood

08 May, 2013

14-spot Ladybird (Propylea 14-punctata)

Some creatures you cannot miss when out for a walk but others are so small that you could certainly be forgiven for never seeing. Even if you do see them then you need the advantage a close up camera lens can bring to actually see exactly what it is. This is certainly the case with little chap!

The fourteen-spot ladybird is only about 3mm long and they spend their lives on the leaves of shrubs and large leaved plants. Spotting one is usually pure chance, a tiny blob of yellow on a green leaf. Quite often then will be hidden from view anyway as well as being tiny. They are, however, quite common even if not commonly seen.

To add to the difficulties than can vary from almost entirely yellow to almost completely black, finding one that is mostly black is even more difficult as, at least the yellow ones do show up against their background. The black spots are variable too, often merging together so they do not always appear to have fourteen spots. In the text-book format, however, they have a pattern that resembles a smiling dog!

Although much smaller and mainly yellow it is a relative of our more familiar 7-spot ladybird.


Find out more about the 14-spot ladybird here

04 May, 2013

Slime Mould (Reticularia lycoperdon)

After spending quite a while thumbing through my fungi books looking for this species I reverted to puting the photograph on to the Open University Ispot website for the experts to take a look at and in no time at all I have an identification, Reticularia lycoperdon.
So why was it not in the fungi books? Because it is not a fungus, it is a slime mould! Slime moulds were once believed to be a form of fungus and do share many properties but they are now classified as a seperate life form and they are very much a specialist subject. There are not that many common species as far as I am aware but this one is quite common on dead willows and birches.
Find out more about this slime mould here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/slime-mould-r-lycoperdon

01 May, 2013

Wilkswood (Langton West Wood)

This wood is also known locally as Langton West Wood but as it is signposted Wilkswood and the National Trust sign says Wilkswood that is the name I am using on this site. The ordnace Survey map has no name for the wood.

Wilkswood is ancient woodland; it contains many of the indicator species that one associates with ancient woodland including wood anemone and butchers broom. These are plants that spread very slowly and therefore colonoies of them that exist have often been in that location for many, many years. This particular woodland appears on maps that date back before 1800 and the woodland itself is almost certainly much older.

A stream runs through the wood which has steep banks on each side which form a wooded valley and that is why it has escaped agricultural improvement, it would be very difficult to farm this area. This also means that the paths are often very muddy and quite steep in places so, sadly, this is a site for the more physically able- bodied only!

The best time for any woodland of this nature is the spring, before the leaf canopy opens. The woodland floor is ablaze with golden lesser celandines, yellow primroses, white wood anemones and green dogs mercury. Birds are then singing as they feed amongst the scrub and early insects, especially hoverflies, abound. There are few better ways to spend a warm spring day than wandering slowly through ancient woodland and Wilkswood is certainly one of the best in southern Dorset.

See my species list and more photographs of Wilkswood here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/wilkswood-langton-west-wood

23 April, 2013

Caddis Fly (Brachycentrus subnubilus)

Walk by any water course in spring or summer; a slow moving river, a fast flowing stream, a pond, a lake, even a drainage ditch and there is a pretty good chance you will encounter a cloud of smallish, fluttering insects. Always active and rarely landing but when they do land on vegetation they just seem to disappear because their colouring and markings provide such good camouflage.
If you witness this, the chances are they are caddis flies, and one of the first to emerge each spring and one of most common species is Brachycentrus subnubilus. It does not have a common name so that might be a bit difficult to remember! This is a species of slow moving rivers and so can be seen along our chalk streams as they near the sea.
Caddis flies spend most of their live as larvae in the bottom of the river. Some species are known for covering themselves with small stones and grit, this species uses dead vegetable material. This provides them with degree of protection but many millions of larvae become fish food! They emerge and mate, then die quite quickly.
Find out more about this species here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/caddis-fly-b-subnubilus

16 April, 2013

Black Hill and Turnerspuddle

Black Hill is a ridge to the west of Bere Regis with a fairly steep climb to get to the top. It is predominantly gorse and heather sandwiched between agricultural land, mostly rough pasture.

You can approach Black Hill via a footpath from the centre of Bere Regis and from a footpath to the south of Bere Regis at the junction of the road to Briantspuddle although parking is difficult here. My preferred access is from Turnerspuddle where there is limited parking by the church but this is not a busy spot so I have never had a problem during the week. From Turnerspuddle there are various routes up to Black Hill that provide alternative habitat types and make for a more interesting walk.

The main path on the ridge itself is well made but in winter suffers from puddling and becomes very muddy thanks to four wheel drive vehicles, mountain bikes and horse riding! That said, it is not a busy place at all, popular with locals for walking.

See my species list and the location map here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/black-hill-and-turnerspuddle

12 April, 2013

Common Whitlowgrass (Erophila verna)

Common whitlowgrass is not a grass at all, as you can see it is a flower. It is a tiny flower at that but one that is worth a closer look under magnification.

The flower head of this plant is so small it is very easy to not see it in the first place! It grows where there is very little soil, often on concrete or tarmac in gutters of roads or car parks. Not only does it grow in harsh conditions it thrives in February and March, long before the majority of other flowers have even started to appear above ground. It can be pollinated by small insects but, flowering so early in the year, the species is basically self-pollinating.

The four deeply lobed petals make this a member of the cruciferae (or cress) family.

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Find out more about common whitlowgrass here:
http://www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/common-whitlowgrass

04 April, 2013

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

One of the many delights of living here in Purbeck is seeing the many Blackthorn trees and bushes come in to flower.

They are just about coming out now and for the next three weeks or so the hedgerows will look as though they have had a heavy dusting of flour!

Blackthorn is unique in that the flowers come before the leaves whereas the other hedgerow shrubs are all the other way round. Blackthorn is invariably the first to flower as well.

Close up the flowers are really lovely; pure white petals with what, at first, seems to be two small black dots on each. The black dots are, in fact the tips (or anthers) of the white stamens. Early insects will pollinate these flowers to give us sloes in the autumn.

The colder winter means that the Blackthorn is a little later this year. If we get another cold snap then it undoubtedly will bring to mind the country saying of it being a 'Blackthorn winter'.

You can find out more about the blackthorn here:
http://www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/blackthorn

02 April, 2013

Kinson Common, North Bournemouth

To me Kinson Common is the epitome of an urban nature reserve. An area saved from development whilst the urbanisation of the surrounding area was taking place because it was too wet for building on and is now just a tiny fragment of a lost precious piece of countryside. Surrounded on all sides by housing it gets extensive use from local people and is blighted with dog mess (and this revolting habitat some dog owners now have of putting it in a plastic bag and hanging it on a bramble) and litter. It is a favourite playground for local children, adults and their dogs.

Despite this the site has an impressive species list and provides a very pleasant hour or so to the nature lover who is happy to meander and look. Lots of work has gone in to this site to try and strike a balance between nature and people and those involved deserve a lot of credit for their work, especially the volunteers; they deserve better support from the local population who should show the site more respect. In the cause of health and safety large damp/wet areas have been fenced off denying access and this, of course, is where the key natural interest is. A beneficial byproduct of the need to protect people from themselves and thereby giving protection to the plants and animals of the boggy areas and main stream.

Kinson Common is well worth a visit, why not go on one of their guided walks to get to know it better.

See more pictures of the site as well as its species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/kinson-common-local-nature...

01 April, 2013

Common Daisy (Bellis perennis)

The ubiquitous yet humble common daisy, one of the first flowers we can name when, as youngsters, we are taught to make daisy chains! When a bit older we pull the petals off one by one saying \"She loves me, she loves me not\".

Love them or hate them if you have a lawn you almost certainly have the daisy growing there. Surely everyone has daisies on their lawn apart from one of my neighbours whose lawn is like astro-turf. Cutting the grass gets rid of them for an hour or two but it is not long before those familiar white and yellow flowers reappear. I like them and have no problem with them, my wife hates them and wants them cut off by the mower.

The common daisy flowers from March to October on short grazed (or mown) turf everywhere and they are so familiar we take them for granted but looked at close up they are attractive flowers.

Find out more about the daisy here: www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/daisy

17 March, 2013

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

What can I tell you about the hedgehog that you will not already know? One of our best known and most loved of animals, most of us will have been familiar with the hedgehog from our earliest days. When I was young Rag, Tag and Bobtail were 'big' on children's TV , Rag was the hedgehog!

Nowhere near as common as they once were I rarely see one these days. Quite often we see their 'calling card' on the lawn but that is about it.

They were also once frequently seen squashed on the road but that does not seem so frequent these days either.

One of only two true hibernating mammals in the UK (the other is the dormouse) they emerge from their deep sleep in early spring and are desperate for food. Normally nocturnal, when they first wake up they can be seen by day, just like this one, rummaging around for something to eat, especially after rain.

The gardeners friend, they consume vast numbers of slugs and snails as part of a varied diet.

Find out more about the hedgehog here: www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/hedgehog

15 March, 2013

The Trailway, Stourpaine, Dorset

One of the railway lines closed in the early 1960 period was the Someset and Dorset railway which ran from Bath to Bournemouth through Sturminster Newton and on to Blandford and beyond. The rails were taken up as salvageable material buy the course of the track remained and in recent years has been recovered and improved to make a long distance footpath and cycle route known now as the Trailway. It is till work in progress but there as a substantial amount now accessible and part of that is at Stourpaine.

Mid March in cold weather is possibly not the best time to see it but it has the advantage of being dry, easy walking in pleasant surroundings. Later in the year it will be very good for flowers and insects so another visit to do some further recording will be needed.

I hestitate to recommend pubs as tastes differ but we parked in the White Horse car park at Stourpaine, popped in and booked a table for lunch and then went for our walk before returning to dine. We thought it was a nice pub; good food, reasoanably priced and nice people too.

Find out what were this is and what we saw here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/stourpaine-and-trailway

12 March, 2013

Dog Lichen (Peltigera canina)

My book says this is a very common lichen found on walls, on rocks, on soil and amongst grass, even on lawns and sand dunes. That may be the case but in five years of looking I have only encountered it twice (so far!) It is a large foliose lichen, that is to say, the main body of the lichen, the thallus, are a bit like leaves.

You may be wondering why this is called dog lichen? Even if you are not I will tell you anyway as I went to a lot of trouble to find out! In amongst the leafy bits are root-like structures that resemble dogs teeth. Because of this it was used as a potential cure for rabies but, of course, it did not work. Early chemists thought that if things looked alike then may be they were connected no matter have far apart they are biologically!

Find out more about dog lichen here:
http://www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/lichen-p-canina

05 March, 2013

Bestwall and Swineham, Wareham

One days time a bitter easterly wind would not have kept me indoors but these days it is a sure fire way to running eyes, breathlessness and bad temper! So, after two weeks of cold winds and grey skies today was an opportunity not to be missed and this afternoon we headed for one of our favourite local walks that we do when we do not have time to go much further afield, from Wareham past the gravel pits and out to Swineham point.

Not a lot to see today, and the path quite muddy in places, but a joy to be out again and it is just so peaceful at Swineham Point as you are so far away from the nearest road there is no sound of traffic and in winter you are spared the chugging of boat engines too!

I have done this walk many times but I never ceased to be amazed by the lichens, they cover every available branch and twig in places.

Find out more about Bestwell and Swineham here:

01 March, 2013

Brands Bay: Poole Harbour

Much of the Purbeck shore line of Poole Harbour is sadly not openly accessible to the public but in the south eastern corner there is National Trust land that gives access to a part of it known as Brands Bay. At low tide this gives good views across the mud flats of the harbour and is a good spot for waders and wildfowl in general however, it seems that every time I go there the tide is in so my species list is not that good (yet).

You can access Brands Bay from anywhere along the Studland Road near the Sandbanks Ferry. It lies to the west of the road of course and you can park along the roadside (although it is pretty busy in summer) and there are various paths across the heath to the shoreline. There are no footpaths as such but it is open access land and there are well worn paths you can follow although it can be rough going in places and becomes quite wet in winter.

On a clear day the views across the harbour are lovely but I chose to take photographs on a grey day which have not done it justice but I will go back in the summer, get a better species list and some brighter photos.

Find out more about Brands Bay here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/brands-bay

24 February, 2013

Common Haircap (Polytrichum commune)

Is moss just a green carpet on the woodland floor as far as you are concerned? Take a closer look, this species is especially worth your time and attention and is quite easy to identify. Known as the Common Haircap it forms large communities (or communes) of tiny, dense, fir-tree like plants and it the density of those individual plants that make it distinctive.

Find out more about the common haircap moss here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/moss-p-commune

21 February, 2013

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Spring is getting nearer and so we are now seeing the the familiar Hazel catkin or Lamb's Tail opening up having been present but tightly closed for most of the winter.

The Hazel is not the only tree to produce catkins, others do too, most noticeably the Alder and other members of the birch family like the Silver Birch.

The catkin is the male flower of the Hazel, its role is to produce pollen which is wind dispersed. The catkin does not produce the well known Hazel nut however, that develops from the totally separate female flower.

Find out more about more about the hazel in Dorset here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/hazel

19 January, 2013

House-fly (Polietes lardaria)

A house-fly with the scientific name of lardaria - a pest found in the larder perhaps? Not true! Whilst some related species, notably the now less than common Common House-fly are known to carry disease from dung to unprotected food, many house-flies are never found in houses at all!
This species, which looks a little like a small flesh-fly, likes open country, hedgerows and sparse woodland and often occurs in well stocked gardens from April right through until the autumn. Its larvae are predatory and live in dung.
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Find out more here: www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species_panel/House%20fly%20%28P...

Stiletto Fly (Thereva nobilitata)

The pointed abdomen of this species and its relatives have led them to be called stiletto flies. This species reassembles the group known as robber flies and shares some of their characteristics. The are rarely seen on flowers preferring to wait on leaves for passing small insects which they dart out and attack. They have a lot of hairs which protects them against struggling prey.

The larvae are found in leaf litter and are omnivorous eating both rotting vegetation and taking live prey. The adults can be seen from May to August but are most numerous later in the summer when they often form large mating swarms.
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Find out more here: http://www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species_panel/Stiletto%20fly%20%5BT%20nobilitata%5D

Horse Fly (Tabanus bromius)

This fly is one of several related species that are pests to horses and so, not surprisingly, are called horse flies. It is the females that bite as they need mammal's blood after mating to enable the eggs to develop. These are large flies and present no danger to human-kind.
Their larvae can be aquatic or semi-aquatic and even terrestrial provided the soil is damp. They are predatory on other insects and worms and so are pretty formidable! The adults fly from May through to September but are most common later in the summer.
This species has been given the common name of the Band-eyed Brown Horse fly because the eyes have a dark band across them.
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Find out more here: www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species_panel/Horse%20fly%20%28T...

04 January, 2013

Sun Spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia)

If you are a gardener you will be very familiar with Sun Spurge as it is a common 'weed' of cultivated areas and it spreads willingly growing in the most unlikely places; sometimes where there is hardly any soil, even in cracks by brick walls! Specimens growing in poor or little soil tend to be much smaller than those growing in fertile soil.

It flowers from April to July but it can be seen in a 'leafy' state throughout the winter and is visible in our garden all year round. It is quick growing and soon reappears after you pull a load out! Apparently the seeds are spread by ants.
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Find out more here: www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species_panel/Sun%20Spurge

02 January, 2013

Three Cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)

The Three Cornered or Triquetrous Leek is a plant of the western Mediterranean that has found its way into the British flora having become naturalised after spreading from gardens. It is found almost exclusively in south western Britain and is quite common in the Isles of Scilly and coastal areas of Cornwall where I have seen it on visits there.

It is rare in Dorset and it does occur at Durlston Country Park, usually in flower between April and June which is in line with my reference books which all say exactly that, April to June. Imagine my surprise, then, to find it in flower at the end of December in the middle of Weymouth!

This is a plant that likes a shaded position, preferably quite damp, so you will find it in damp woods, by shaded stream sides and by stone walls and these in Weymouth were on the earth banks of the north and shaded side of the stone walls of Nothe Fort where there are tall, established trees. Perfect habitat but in flower in December - that must say something about how mild our winters are generally becoming?
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Find out more here: www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species_panel/Three%20Cornered%2...