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Wildlife to see in August – Streaked Golden Hogs and Granny’s Pincushions

Have you visited Risby’s Roadside Nature Reserve? (It’s opposite the Lackford Lane entrance on the west part of the village). If you have recently walked on this special bit of large chalky soiled verge you will have seen small (3cm wingspan) orangey butterfly type insects flitting around amongst yellow headed flowers. Traditional names for the insect are Streaked Golden Hogs and Granny’s Pincushions, which are now more commonly known as Small Skippers (Thymelicus sylvestris) and Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria). This bit of grassland has been allowed to grow long for the past 3 summers and the change of management means that this wildlife is now flourishing, thanks to Risby Parish Council and the residents who kindly mow it. Skippers are in the Lepidoptera order along with moths and butterflies but are in fact neither. They are classed in the separate family of Hesperiidae. They are seen as an evolutionary intermediary between moths and butterflies. They are quite hairy and have a unique appearance as they sit on flowers with their forewings lifted up like other butterflies, but the lower wings sit below more like moths. They also differ in their antenna, which are short and smooth, ending in a tiny hook, whereas more evolved butterflies have slenderer antenna and moths have feathery ones. There are several different native Skippers in the UK and around here we have the Large Skipper, Small Skipper and the Essex Skipper, which looks very similar to the Small one, but has black tips on it’s antenna. The Small Skippers’ black streaks, chunky body and golden-orange colouring are the reasons for its traditional name of Streaked Golden Hogs. Kidney Vetch is a pretty, yet unusual looking plant compared to the cultivated plants of today. Its flower heads are small, ball shaped clusters of yellow flowers held together by cotton wool like material. It thrives on dry soil in full sun all over the UK and is an important food source for many insects. It is also important as it is the only food source for Britain’s tiniest (2-3cm wingspan) butterfly the Small Blue, which has declined by 44% since the 1970s. This protected species lays its eggs in the cotton wool like ball. Its this structure that gave the traditional name of Granny’s Pincushions.

What you can do to help these species: 1. Allow areas in your garden to grow wild, you never know what is in the natural seed bank in the ground and the Kidney Vetch has grown naturally here. 2. Allow grasses to grow long, as the Small Skipper caterpillars needs almost exclusively, Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus), to survive. Having flowers for the adults is important but we also need grasses for the juveniles and for many other insects to complete their lifecycles. To find out more please visit: https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/small-skipper https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/discover-wild-plants-nature/plant-fungi-species/kidney-vetch

Wildlife Group News Management of the Long Grass Areas: Over the summer, the wildlife group are meeting up to gradually reduce the height of the areas ready for the autumn. If you are interested in meeting up with people who are interested in helping Nature, please email Sophie: wildlifefriendlyvillage@gmail.com




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