Bradlaugh Fields in the Northamptonshire Natural History Society Newsletter

In a combined meeting on Sunday 14th June over thirty NNHS Botanical Section members and various local friends of Bradlaugh Fields came to hear the University of Northampton’s Professor of Biodiversity Jeff Ollerton give us an insight into bees, flowers, pollination and the natural history of the Quarry Field and the unfortunately mis-named Scrub Field Wildlife Trust Reserve. The Reserve itself is managed by the Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust, and along with the other Wildlife Trust Hills and Hollows Reserve down the hill near the Kettering Road, it is part of the large (60 Ha) Borough Council-owned Bradlaugh Fields Park. The Quarry and ‘Scrub’ Fields are in the most elevated areas of the park, on Blisworth limestone, and as such have a wonderful calcicolous flora very special for this part of Northamptonshire, and with many rarities including knapweed broomrape (Orobanche elatior), bee orchids (Ophrys apifera), and the very un-fernlike adder’s tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum)

We found out that plants, despite their innocent looks, are actually pretty cunning and can manipulate animals, such as bees, into serving the plants’ needs for fertilization, by luring them with attractive, eye-catching colours and odours and paying insects off with sugar in the form of nectar, for energy, and with pollen which supplies the insects’ brood with nutrients like protein and fat.

Some plants, famously, even trick insects into thinking the flower is a potential mate! However, more prosaically, the common Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) is a bumblebee favourite, after which the Blackberry fruit tops it off by then persuading mammals to eat it and disperse the seeds.

We also discovered some useful tricks of our own, like the use of binoculars upside down to turn them into magnifying glasses in the field. A very handy tip.

We looked at a range of attractively bright-petalled insect-pollinated flowers such as Birds’ Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) which changes colour from yellow to orangey-red after pollination, Black Medick (Medicago lupulina) and Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) and compared them with grasses and plantains which are wind-pollinated, and so lack bright petals as they do not need to attract insects.

We then finished with some general botanising and photography. During the walk our Botanical Section Hon. Sec. Sean Karley also drew our attention to galls caused by a small grey aphid called Dysaphis devecta on the leaves of one of the many wild Apple trees (Malus domestica) as well as some caused by a fungus, Taphrina pruni, on the young Blackthorn fruits or Sloes (Prunus spinosa), while Roger Warren found and photographed a very unusual-looking and attractive beetle, later identified by Tim Newton as the Scarce Fungus Weevil (Platyrhinus resinosus) whose larvae develop inside the king Alfred’s Cakes fungus (Daldinia concentrica).

It was a great turn-out, introducing many new to the study of natural history, including young people and their families. We would like to extend many thanks to Jeff Ollerton for a fascinating afternoon discovering more about the hidden life of Bradlaugh Fields

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