Pollinators and Wild Flowers. Seaford Head and Cuckmere Haven. 08.09.21. A Clouded Yellow
This post is a record of a walk from Seaford Head to Cuckmere Haven (with a detour up the path at Hope Bottom, as Hope Bottom is well known for its butterfly diversity and abundance), and then up the Cuckmere Valley on Wednesday 08.09.21
I was particularly keen to observe and record the Butterflies I saw on 09.09.21; but I have also recorded the other pollinators (including Moths Bumblebees, Solitary Bees, and Flies, including Hoverflies). I have also recorded a few birds!
The photographs are presented in chronological order of the walks.
All text in italics are quotations from online sources; the sources (websites) are given.
The orange line shows my route.
Here is a Rock Pipit at the very beginning of the path up Seaford Head
As I turned round the corner from the Rock Pipit I saw this Clouded Yellow Butterfly, Colias croceus; a first-for-me sighting.
The Clouded Yellow is one of the truly migratory European butterflies and a regular visitor to Britain and Ireland. Although some of these golden-yellow butterflies are seen every year, the species is famous for occasional mass immigrations and subsequent breeding, which are fondly and long remembered as ''Clouded Yellow Years''. A small proportion of females are pale yellow (form helice), which can be confused with the rarer Pale and Berger's Clouded Yellows. Clouded Yellow (butterfly-conservation.org)
The Clouded Yellow is primarily an immigrant to the UK, originating from north Africa and southern Europe, with numbers varying greatly from year to year - an estimated 36,000 butterflies appearing in one of the infrequent "Clouded Yellow" years in 1947. In more recent years, it has been shown that this species has successfully overwintered in the south of England. However, it is believed that the majority of individuals perish, since both larva and pupa of this continuously-brooded species are easily killed by damp and frost. In good years this species can produce up to 3 generations in the UK. In flight, this species is often mistaken for one of the commoner "whites", but the orange-yellow colour is quite distinctive, even in flight, and unlike any other species. The Clouded Yellow has a distribution befitting a highly-migratory species, and can be found anywhere in the British Isles. Many immigrants remain near the coast where they feed, mate, and lay eggs. Others disperse inland and this species is found in both Scotland and Ireland in good years. UK Butterflies - Clouded Yellow - Colias croceus
As I walked up Seaford Head I saw the Wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe
It flew to the edge of the cliff ...
and then flew off - maybe on the first leg of its winter migration to Africa
Seaford Head. The ledge at the bottom right of this picture was the point on which this Wheatear perched and from which this Wheatear flew.
Over the summit of Seaford Head, on the path down to Hope Gap I saw a variety of insects; here a Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma
Probably the UK's most common immigrant moth. Each forewing has a conspicuous unbroken metallic silver Y-marking. ...
Usually most numerous from late summer into autumn, it can occur in any month with those in the winter generally associated with warmer southerly winds. Silver Y (butterfly-conservation.org)
A Herring Gull riding the thermals of Hope Gap; the Belle Tout lighthouse in the distance.
A Small Heath butterfly, Coenonympha pamphilus on Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
The Small Heath is an inconspicuous butterfly that flies only in sunshine and rarely settles more than a metre above the ground. Its wings are always kept closed when at rest. The underside of the forewing has an eyespot at the tip. Hindwing banded with brown, grey and cream. The number of broods and the flight periods are variable and adults may be seen continuously from late April to September on some sites in southern England.
This relatively widespread butterfly can occupy a range of habitat types and, although its range has changed little, many colonies have disappeared in recent decades. Widespread in Britain and Ireland. Small Heath (butterfly-conservation.org)
Centuries ago, Yarrow was used as a charm against bad luck and illness. Although it was also used to stop wounds from bleeding, it was believed to cause nosebleeds if put up the nose. Yarrow | The Wildlife Trusts
Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, also known as Queen Anne's Lace
Unlike cultivated carrots, the wild carrot's root is tough and stringy and not particularly palatable.
The flower itself is long stalked and shaped like an up-turned umbrella. It is similar in appearance to other members of the Apiacae or 'umbellifer' family - such as the highly poisonous hemlock and the commonly seen cow parsley - with white flowers and feathery leaves.
However, the foliage of wild carrot is a mix of 'bipinnate' (leaves where the feathers are feathered themselves) and tripinnate (leaves where the feathers on the feathers are feathered!), a root that smells of carrots, a hairy stem and occasionally a single red flower in the centre. Plantlife :: Wild carrot
This flower probably attracts with its colour blue bottle flies to pollinate the plant. The carrot fruits have long, hooked bristles which help the spreading of the plant, since they stick to the fur of animals. The infructescence closes in humid weather, in which way carrots differ from our other umbellifers. Wild Carrot, Daucus carota - Flowers - NatureGate (luontoportti.com)
When I first noted Wild Carrots I thought the single red flower was an insect; not realising that it was a singly flower intended to attract pollinators
Insects on Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium
The name of this tall wayside wildflower comes from its farming history, as it was once frequently collected and bundled by villagers in the summer months and used as pig-fodder
Keeping with this theme, it is also said that when in flower this plant gives off a less than pleasant, rather pig-like odour!
The umbel (flower head) can be up to 20cm across with clusters of small white or pinkish flowers. Its wide lower leaves are pinnate and can be up to 60cm in length while its upper leaves are similar just smaller, with the same toothed edges. The stem is hairy, hollow, and grooved. Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) (plantlife.org.uk)
The hogweed is one of a number of plants that have foregone the use of a sweet scent to attract pollinating insects. The plant has adopted the more unusual strategy of mimicking the scent of pigs, not that noticeable to us, but to flies it is like a magnet and flies are the main pollinators of this plant. Hogweed days | everyday nature trails (theresagreen.me)
Whilst we consider wild bees (bumble bees and solitary bees) to be the prime pollinators; many wild plants have blooms too small to be pollinated by wild bees; and use flies and other insects, such as Ladybirds, to pollinate them
Here is a snail, possibly Helicella itala, on Yarrow. Is this snail pollinating the Yarrow; this is a debated topic in biology: Resarch has suggested that some snails can pollinate plants: . Sarma, Khoisnam & Tandon, Rajesh & Shivanna, K. & Ram, Hassan. (2007). Snail-pollination in Volvulopsis nummularium. Current science. 93(6).
The path to Hope Bottom; the Seven Sisters in the distance.
A bird a glimpsed in a Bramble Bush; I can't identify it!. It's a SBJ ("small brown job")
In Hope Bottom I saw this beautiful male and female Adonis Blue, mating, in blue Viper's Bugloss
This beautiful species of butterfly is one of the most characteristic of unimproved southern chalk downland, where it can be seen flying low over shortly grazed turf (typically steep, south-facing slopes).
The males have brilliant sky-blue wings, while the females are chocolate brown and far less conspicuous. Both sexes have distinctive black lines that enter or cross the white fringes of the wings.
The white, textured disc-shaped eggs are laid singly under young, unshaded Horseshoe Vetch leaves in May-June and August-September. They can be found most easily in September where unshaded Horseshoe Vetch is growing on short turf.
The Adonis Blue overwinters as a caterpillar; it is is green with short, yellow stripes, which camouflage it while it feeds on Horseshoe Vetch during the day. It is most commonly seen during April and late July as it searches for ants to 'milk' its sugary secretions.
In April-May and July-August the caterpillar forms into a chrysalis in small crevices or hollows and is then buried by ants in earth chambers connected to the ant nest. The ants constantly attend to it for around three weeks, protecting it from predators.
This species has undergone a major decline through its entire range but, despite its restricted distribution, on good sites it can be seen in many hundreds, as it has recently re-expanded in some regions. Colonies vary in size considerably from year to year, depending on the weather. Many thousands can be seen emerging towards the end of a hot summer, constrasting with under a hundred from a spring emergence. Adonis Blue (butterfly-conservation.org)
Viper's Bugloss, Echium vulgare
The upright, blue flower spikes of Viper's-bugloss can be spotted on chalk grassland, sand dunes, cliffs and banks. Its spotted stem is thought to resemble a viper. Viper's-bugloss is a hairy plant with dense spikes of bright blue, funnel-shaped flowers. It is found on chalk grassland, sand dunes, cliffs and disturbed ground, and is in bloom from May to September. It provides food for a range of insects, including Buff-tailed and Red-tailed Bumblebees, Large Skipper and Painted Lady butterflies, Honeybees and Red Mason Bees. Viper's-bugloss | The Wildlife Trusts
Another Adonis Blue at Hope Bottom
Meadow Brown on Knapweed, Centaurea nigra
Walking up the path through Hope Bottom (south to north). The Ragwort turning to seed.
Agrimony. Agrimonia eupatoria.
Spiky and yellow, this perennial plant grows in single stems to 80cm in size. The small yellow petals reveal themselves in stages from the bottom up. It is sometimes more visible for its rust-coloured hooked fruits than for its flowers. The leaves have jagged edges and whitish undersides. The leaves and stems are softly hairy and the stems often reddish. Lower leaves are pinnate with 3-6 pairs of larger leaflets interspersed with smaller leaflets.
Some people use agrimony to represent thankfulness or gratitude.
Partly due to its astringent qualities, it has many uses in herbal medicine including for ulcers, to stop bleeding and for gallstones. Also for unsettled digestive systems and catarrh.
Dioscorides recommends it against snake-bite, dysentery and upsets of the liver.
Local names include Aaron's rod, Church-Steeples, Clot-Bur, Fairy's wand, Money-in-both-pockets, Salt-and-pepper and Sweethearts (from the clinging receptacles of the fruit).Plantlife :: Agrimony
Autumnal Teasels, Dipsacus fullonum
The teasel is so called because textile makers used its spiny combs to 'tease' cloth - cleaning it (carding) before spinning and raising the 'nap' or fuzzy surface. It wasn't until the 20th century that they were replaced by metal combs. However, they have proved themselves unsurpassed in finishing cloth that needs a very fine and evenly raised pile such as some hats and on the baize covering used for billiard tables. It is superior because of the small hooked spikes covering the conical flower-heads which have 'give' and bend over irregularities or snags unlike steel brushes which tend to tear through it indiscriminately.
The seeds, which develop inside the flowerheads, attract birds including Goldfinches.
Local names include Barber's brushes, Donkey's thistle, and Venus' basin. The latter refers to the way the leaves join around the stem and hold water and hence also the Roman calling teasel labrum Veneris (lip of Venus). Plantlife :: Teasel
Here is a Carder Bumblebee on Knapweed ; it is probably a Common Carder, but it could be a Brown-Banded or Moss Carder; but as I didn't have my net and specimen jar with me I wasn't able to inspect it close enough to determine its species.
This is a Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, in flight.
Records indicate that it may be the commonest and most widespread hoverfly in Britain. Marmalade Hoverfly | NatureSpot
The marmalade fly is a very common hoverfly that can be seen in gardens, parks and sunny woodlands. Adults are on the wing right through the year, although appear in large numbers in the summer. They feed on nectar, gathering together on flowers like tansy, ragwort and cow parsley. The larvae are predators of aphids. As well as being a common breeding fly, in some years, huge numbers migrate here from the continent when they can be seen busily feeding on flowers near the coast. Marmalade fly | The Wildlife Trusts
As this was spotted very close to the coast it may well be a European migrant Hoverfly.
Hoverflies are very important to pollination:
Pollinator declines, changes in land use and climate-induced shifts in phenology have the potential to seriously affect ecosystem function and food security by disrupting pollination services provided by insects. Much of the current research focuses on bees, or groups other insects together as ‘non-bee pollinators’, obscuring the relative contribution of this diverse group of organisms. Prominent among the ‘non-bee pollinators’ are the hoverflies, known to visit at least 72% of global food crops, which we estimate to be worth around US$300 billion per year, together with over 70% of animal pollinated wildflowers. In addition, hoverflies provide ecosystem functions not seen in bees, such as crop protection from pests, recycling of organic matter and long-distance pollen transfer. Migratory species, in particular, can be hugely abundant and unlike many insect pollinators, do not yet appear to be in serious decline. Pollination by hoverflies in the Anthropocene | Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (royalsocietypublishing.org)
Knapweed, Centaurea nigra, and Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, are very important to pollinators and provide a good source of nectar in late summer; and their seed heads in the autumn sun are one of the many beautiful sights on a downland walk.
The Hope Bottom Path (facing south)
Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare
This square-stemmed perennial has similar features to other plants in the dead nettle family. As with Hedge Woundwort its light purple flowers grow in separate whorls on the top part of the plant. The lip-like flowers are lobed, with two lobes on the top 'lip', and three on the bottom, these are fused into a long tube behind. The empty purple-brown sepals form the largest part of the whorls with flowers only growing from the outermost ones. The pale green leaves are typical of the mint family, they are slightly hairy, oval in shape, and round toothed. Growing in opposite pairs there are two smaller pinnate leaves at the base of the leaf stalk where it joins the stem.
A pleasant smelling plant, Wild Basil was used during medieval times as a 'strewing herb'. This means it would be scattered on the floor of homes so when it was walked upon and crushed it would release a nice aroma.
Wild Basil can also be used as a dye. It produces a yellow or brown colour depending on the dye strength.
It was traditionally used to treat flatulence! Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare) (plantlife.org.uk)
The seed heads of Spear Thistles, Cirsium vulgare, in autumn make architectural forms
This Hoverfly (species unknown) is feed on the nectar of a very tiny Yorkshire Hog Grass/Tufted Grass Holcus lanatus. The photograph is significantly enlarged - the photo below gives a better impression of the plant and insects' size.
At the brow of South Hill; views can be had to Walls Brow and down to Cuckmere Haven
Herring Gulls, Larus argentatus, and Carrion Crows, Corvus corone, foraging in a harvested wheat field on Walls Brow
The Seven Sisters and Beachy Head from South Hill
The landscape of Cuckmere Haven from South Hill
The Cuckmere Estuary is currently defended from river and tidal flooding by earth embankments and training walls. However, these flood defences are now nearing the end of their useful life. Water levels at some high tides already reach the top of the banks. Unless action is taken, it is highly likely that the defences will be broken and the area will be flooded. The Estuary | Cuckmere Estuary Partnership (archive.org)
The low-lying pastures south of the A259 form the distinctive landscape of the Cuckmere estuary that we know today, which is much loved by both locals and visitors.
The meanders that loop across the north eastern section of the estuary mark the original river course before the Cuckmere was canalised south of Exceat Bridge.
Because the culverts at either end of the meanders are not connected, water cannot flow through them, and they are essentially now a fossilised feature of still water.
Little egrets and little grebes can often be seen on the meanders, feeding on insects, larvae and small fish.
The straight cut between Exceat Bridge and Foxhole corner was built in 1846, and should be lauded as a great feat of engineering as it was dug by hand. The purpose of the cut was partly to aid navigation up the river, partly to ease the flow of water out of the river and thus to reduce flooding upstream, and possibly also to help drain the pastures either side of the river so they could be reclaimed for agriculture.
The pastures either side of the river are low grade grazing marsh and are used by local tenant farmers for grazing sheep and cattle. The meadows, particularly those on the west side which are slightly lower, wetter and less disturbed than those on the east, are also used by significant numbers of birds for grazing and roosting. The pastures on the west side are dissected by creeks and ditches which can be clearly seen if looking down from the surrounding hillsides. The straight ditches were probably for irrigation or may have been ‘wet ditches’ dug to keep stock in certain areas. The creeks are remnants from the intertidal saltmarsh and mudflats that used to cover the valley floor before it was reclaimed for farming. At that time they were formed by the sea flowing across the floodplain, and now they provide a rich feeding ground for ducks and waders.
A network of footpaths run through and around the estuary.
The Vanguard Way, which continues on all the way to Croydon, hugs the western side of the floodplain and provides a quiet route, popular with dog walkers and bird watchers. The concrete track that runs along the east side from the road halfway towards the beach provides easy access and is heavily used, particularly by families with bikes, prams or wheelchairs.
Footpaths also run along both river banks allowing people to walk right through the middle of the estuary. Although often muddy and narrow, these paths provide a great opportunity to explore the river banks and the plants and animals found there. There are also paths along the surrounding hillsides which give fantastic views across the estuary.
The large lagoon that lies behind the east beach was dug in the 1970s as a nature conservation project to attract breeding birds like waders and terns.
Unfortunately the islands within the lagoon are too vegetated for terns to nest there, but the lagoon still provides an important feeding ground for birds like the redshank.
East and west beaches
The mouth of the estuary is protected from the sea by shingle beaches either side of the river mouth. As a result of longshore drift and coastal processes, the beach on the west side has to be actively managed and is relatively small and steep. The beach on the east side is much wider and more gently sloping. As a result, highly specialised shingle plants like sea-kale and yellow horned-poppy have been able to establish themselves on the beach forming a rare and unusual habitat.
Visit this site for a fantastic aerial video of the Cuckmere Estuary River Cuckmere estuary, aerial footage - Stock Video Clip - K006/4810 - Science Photo Library
Looking toward the south-east shows the approaching thunder storm
Tea for Two: Walking down to the Cuckmere estuary I saw this Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma, and Buff Tailed worker (possible queen) Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, harvesting nectar from Knapweed, Centaurea nigra
The Silver Y moth flew off and another bumblebee joined; a faded male Red Tailed Bumblebee; Bombus lapidarius