By July we are firmly in summer. Early spring flowers have passed, trees are no longer flowering, and bird calls diminish as the breeding season is over. Crops are growing taller, and as seed heads emerge, it is easier to distinguish between oats, wheat and barley. Rainfall in the spring was very low, and so crops may not be as tall as in previous years.
At Easthall Farm, all cattle are out in the fields, the calves alongside their mothers. The bulls go into the fields to serve the cows. We practice mob grazing with most of the cows running together as one large herd. The fields are divided into sections with electric wires so the livestock move onto fresh grass most days. While on a section of a field, livestock eat one third of the grass, trampling one third into the soil into the soil and leaving one third to harvest more sunshine. Once moved on, the grassland has a lengthy period of recovery and regrowth before grazing is repeated. Mob grazing is believed to support the build up of organic matter in the soil, and by allowing the grass to grow tall and set seed in between periods of grazing, it provides a habitat for wildlife.
July is all about butterflies and moths. The long-distance migrant Painted Lady butterfly arrives from North Africa and the Middle East. Its caterpillars feed on mainly thistles. The day flying Hummingbird Hawkmoth is also buzzing around flowers for nectar, resembling the tiniest of Hummingbirds hovering with their long proboscis. Their caterpillars feed on Lady’s Bedstraw and Red Valerian, both easy to grow in garden borders.
In oak woodland glades and rides you may be lucky to see a Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly fluttering and gliding along in search of nectar. Its caterpillars feed on the Common Dog-violet which is abundant on our local woodland floors.
The Purple Emperor butterfly is thought to be quite rare in Hertfordshire although they have been spotted near Hitch Wood and at Rusling End. Frequenting the tops of oak trees, they fly for about two to three weeks in July. The males flutter above the canopies of large oaks displaying to the females below. You will need binoculars to spot them but it is possible. Occasionally they are known to settle on dog poo to suck the energy giving salts! Their caterpillars feed on Goat Willow.
In the open meadows and grasslands you will see the Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Small Copper, Ringlet, and various Skippers which can be a bit tricky to tell apart, as well as the Marbled White which is actually black with white spots.
Where do butterflies go when it rains? They hide, usually going to the same places they do for the night. Some butterflies hide under large leaves, some crawl down into dense leaves or under rocks, and some just sit head down on grass stems or bushes with wings held tightly.
Julie Wise and Frances Harris
This blog first appeared in the St. Paul’s Walden Parish Magazine.