Summer has definitely arrived in the Lake District and the Matson Ground Estate is in full swing. The holiday cottages are full of guests enjoying this beautiful part of the world and life on the farm is as busy as ever.
We’ve had great weather and made lots of silage, a store of winter feed for our cattle and sheep, while our colleagues have been conducting surveys on grasses, flowers and moths.
Grasses and Flowers Surveys
As part of our Countryside Stewardship agreement, we regularly survey the grasses and flowers. This provides us with vital information about the health of the fields and wetland areas. The scheme helps us to look after and improve the environment by, amongst others, conserving and restoring wildlife habitats, increasing grassland biodiversity and preserving historical features on the landscape.
One plant which we have in our wetland areas is this pretty, yellow Bog Asphodel, Latin name Ossifragum. Did you know that Ossifragum literally translates as bone-breaker? This unassuming plant acquired this violent name because it was believed that the livestock that grazed on it developed brittle bones. But don’t worry, there’s no truth in it. It was actually the calcium-poor pastures that caused the problem.
Reedbeds and wetlands are important habitats for many species of moths throughout the British Isles. As July is a particularly good time for moth populations in these habitats, we were looking forward to the survey results. And with the weather on our side we were not disappointed!
Our surveyors trapped the moths in a lightbox overnight, catching 515 moths in total, spanning 100 different species. The best moth find of the night was the round-winged muslin, which was only the third recording for South Cumbria since 2000. However, the prettiest moth of the night was this lovely Elephant Hawk Moth.
We were thrilled with the findings. Moths are a fascinating yet often overlooked group of insects and an important part of the UK’s biodiversity, as they pollinate plants and provide food for birds, bats and other wildlife. However, since the late 1960s total moth numbers have declined by around a third. We hope our wetland projects, and many others nationally, will help the recovery of moth numbers.
Every year, as the cold, dark days of Winter begin to take their toll, we are buoyed by the arrival of snowdrops on the Matson Ground Estate. The sight of their tender, green shoots is a sign that Spring is finally on its way. No wonder the snowdrop has been labelled the ‘Flower of Hope’.
While we look forward to seeing their pearly, white heads, how much do we actually know about this pretty little flower which brightens up the Matson Ground Estate every February? Well, very little actually. So, we thought we’d look into it in a little more detail.
One of our favourite tales is one from ancient German folklore. Legend has it that when everything on earth was brand new, Snow needed a colour, so it asked the flowers. One by one they turned their backs on Snow, believing it to be cold and unpleasant.
The tiny snowdrops took pity on Snow and offered their colour, which Snow gratefully accepted. In return, Snow rewarded the snowdrop by letting it bloom first and making it impervious to the ice and bitter temperatures. Ever since, Snow and snowdrops have lived side by side as friends.
Actual Snowdrop Facts
- The scientific name for the snowdrop is Galanthus Nivalis, which literally translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’.
- Other names for the snowdrop are: Fair Maids of February, Candlemas Bells, White Ladies, Little Sister of the Snows, Snow Piercers and Dingle-dangle
- Snowdrops were named after earrings and not drops of snow. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, women wore dangly, white drop-shaped earring known as ‘eardrops’.
- Snowdrops produce Galantamine, which has been found to be effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
- Snowdrops contain a natural anti-freeze which means that even if they collapse in freezing weather, they can recover once the temperature rises. In fact, they were harvested during the First World War to make anti-freeze for tanks.
- Snowdrop enthusiasts are called Galanthophiles and they have been known to pay an awful lot of money for these sweet, little flowers. In fact, in 2015, a single Galanthus Plicatus (Golden Fleece) sold for a whopping £1390 on eBay. Nowadays, you can pick one up for about £200.
- When temperatures reach 10°C, the outer petals open up, revealing the nectar inside, perfect for bumble bees who come out of hibernation when the temperature rises above 10°C!
- There are over 2,500 varieties of snowdrop. They vary in height from 7cm to 30cm and are divided into approximately 20 species
- Collecting snowdrop bulbs in the wild is illegal in many countries, so please don’t go digging any up.
- On a sunny day, snowdrops are highly scented and give off a honey smell.
Finally, we’ll leave you with this. Hans Christian Anderson wrote a short story called ‘The Snowdrop’, which follows the fate of a snowdrop from a bulb striving towards the light to picked flower placed in a book of poetry. You can read it here.
We’ll certainly be enjoying the snowdrops on the Matson Ground Estate while they last and we hope that you have some pretty pockets of this fabulous little flower wherever you are. Spring is on its way.