Social insects, but not very sociable

Weather-wise, we’ve been through the mill in the last few working party sessions. Last Sunday, as reported in this blog, was punishingly hot. A couple of days ago, it was even hotter, being declared the hottest day of the year so far, but Chairman John and myself doughtily set out in the early hours (9.00 am – we are retired) to prepare the ground for our first session of the new cutting season. Tropical was the heat, and tropical were the biting insects. By the end, and particularly next day when all the toxins had had a chance to fester in my punctured skin, I began to feel that my role had not so much been lopper of branches and safety accompanist to our esteemed Chairman operating the ‘Grizzly’ mower, as merely insect food: and I rather resented it.

And then today, the Met Office predicted rain, and true to its word, rain was duly delivered. Fortunately, not in immense quantities, but a bit unwelcome, despite the breaking of the drought that it heralded. Perhaps it was the forecast, or just that people have other things to do on a July Sunday, but this time our numbers were halved from last week. However, the eight volunteers who came were experienced and dependable. It always pays to start with a clean sheet, and here we see that in action:

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One of our usual Grizzly drivers being absent, Kevin stepped into the breach and can here be seen in the background, hunched over the mighty mower:

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The point of doing this work at this time of year is to implement Natural England’s desire to reduce the encroaching reeds in this area, which is so rich in other, rarer plant species. All was going well; reeds were being mown and raked away, until Kevin started yelling. Then Sheila, who was wielding her pitchfork nearby, started yelling. Andrew went towards them to see why they were yelling; then he started yelling. To the interested observer, not only were they yelling, but dancing and slapping themselves. A new Morris dance perhaps? But there was no Tim with his squeezebox, so that seemed unlikely. The reason of course was that Grizzly had sliced into a wasps’ nest, and they weren’t pleased. They might be social insects, but they were very far from sociable to us, just because we wrecked their nest!

Joking aside, this was an unpleasant and potentially serious incident, so, the time also being about right, we took our break at what seemed a safe distance and applied anti-histamine cream to those throbbing areas that could be reached while preserving a modicum of decency. Even so, the wasps had it in for their victims and still pressed home their attack for several more minutes. At last, calm descended. We wondered if the wasps had lost interest or gone back to their lives satisfied that they had seen off the Grizzly threat. Me, I think they just went back to re-load. Here the victims are, supported by colleagues, and bravely not letting their suffering show.

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Following the sting break (during which tea was taken, accompanied by Tracy’s magnificent chocolate brownies), the Grizzly was cautiously approached and pulled back out of the danger area. Gingerly, we finished hauling away what had been left at the break, whilst Chairman John bravely cut some more, giving those pesky stripey creatures a wide berth.

On a more agreeable note, Cornel, one of our botany specialists and occasional contributor to this blog was very pleased to discover Lady Fern growing on this part of the Common. He had previously found it elsewhere, but this came as a pleasant surprise. Here is a picture of Lady Fern:

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This and other ferns on the Common can be seen on our Ferns Gallery at http://sctrust.org.uk/gallery-ferns

Next working party we can safely anticipate snow and a plague of frogs.

Here is Chairman John’s message of thanks:

Hello All

 I wonder what Duncan's blog will make of this morning's events; three people out of eight stung by wasps is little short of a 50% casualty rate. Nevertheless we all carried on, if a little warily, and I am considering the implications. 

 In the circumstances a special thank you is owed, and a great start to the season has been made.  All being well the next session is Sunday 12th August and two-weekly after that.  

 Thanks again and kind regards

John