Bishop's Stortford Independent Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham goes on a 10.5-mile circular walk around the parish boundary of Little Hadham in Hertfordshire
Jono Forgham goes on another of his fortnightly strolls for his Nature Notes column...
For my latest column I thought I would revive an ancient tradition by walking the parish boundary of Little Hadham.
'Beating the bounds' was used as a method for villagers to know where parish boundaries were in the days before maps. Groups of dignitaries, clergy and boys would walk the entire boundary, with the boys carrying willow wands to 'beat' the boundary markers.
Occasionally, the boys would have their heads knocked against rocks that were placed to signify the boundary. This unpleasant tradition was to help the boys remember where the boundary was!
For the church, it was an important system to record who lived in the parish, as then clergy would know if the resident was permitted to have children christened, residents to get married and the dead to be buried in the correct parish church.
Parking at Tesco at Bishop's Park, I made my way to East Wood and the path heading towards Stocking Wood and Bury Green. This path is the parish boundary, so a good start.
A chiffchaff called as I searched this wide ride for insects. Birds are now in post-breeding moult and hard to find as they spend their time in bushes shedding feathers and waiting for the new ones to grow.
The temperature was not conducive to butterfly activity and the stiff breeze meant few would be flying, so checking the long grasses was the best method. Ringlets and meadow browns were common along with several small skippers.
On the flower heads of greater knapweed and umbellifers such as cow parsley I discovered several species of hoverfly; myathropa florea and episyrphus balteatus, the marmalade hoverfly. The former is one of the easier to identify as it has a Batman-like logo on the thorax. Other insects feeding on pollen were also noted, including oedemera nobilis (swollen thighed beetle) and rhagonycha fulva (red soldier beetle).
As I approached Stocking Wood a yellowhammer called from the hedgerow and a grey squirrel darted for cover. Stocking Wood is one of the best local sites for butterflies, with one particular area exceptional. I arrived, having prepared my camera for close-up shots, but there was not much activity due to the weather. After a short wait they started to show themselves.
The main attraction here are the resident silver washed fritillaries and white letter hairstreaks. The latter is an elm tree specialist as the leaves of this tree are the only food the caterpillar will eat. Find an elm tree in July and it is likely white letter hairstreaks will be present. However, they are more likely to be seen on sunny afternoons so it was no surprise I didn't encounter any.
Several silver washed fritillaries were on the wing along with a supporting cast of green veined white, large white, small white, a solitary peacock and more skipper species. Ringlets and meadow browns were everywhere. The numbers of butterflies here is a testament to the quality of this woodland ride containing many nectar-rich plants such as bramble, lady's bed straw and greater knapweed.
I passed Lower Farm in Bury Green, heading towards Harvey's Wood and Great Hadham Golf Club. Marbled white butterflies were flushed from the long grasses and a volucella pellucens hoverfly posed on bramble flowerheads.
I came across some flowering honeysuckle and checked for leaf mine evidence of the rare micro moth pertittia obscurepunctella, but no luck. On one leaf was a small micromoth which I potted to identify later at home. This transpired to be a dicrorampha that will require dissection to name the exact species.
I then entered a field, wide and empty even though signs informed me a bull was present. On my left, the golf course, but either side plenty of deep hedgerow. Magpies and jays a-plenty here with more pasture-loving butterflies. Overhead, a common buzzard mewed and a great spotted woodpecker headed for one of two large but very dead oaks.
After a few hundred yards I passed through a gate on the right and wound my way around the field margins. Again, this path is the actual boundary. The crop here is lucerne and was attracting plenty of attention from several bee species, particularly bombus terrestris and bombus lucorum. The crop was in flower and the amount of insects was attracting the attention of insect-feeding birds. Swooping over the crop were more than 50 swifts accompanied by several house martins and swallows.
Along this footpath is a field that has been left to its own devices for many years. Ragwort was in profusion and on these the distinctive black and yellow caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. A blackcap posed in a lone holly and a reed bunting could be heard but out of sight. Skipper species a-plenty and loads more marbled whites. A large red admiral zipped by before settling for a photo.
In front of me what looked like a dust storm, caused by a harvester cutting another field of lucerne which had attracted even more wildlife. Following the machinery were several lesser black backed gulls, five red kites and three common buzzards. The dust made photography virtually impossible and caused me to postpone my picnic, which I had planned to have on a bench overlooking Ash Valley.
I crossed the River Ash to emerge on the Little Hadham to Much Hadham road and soon was on Ash Valley Golf Club's course. I headed along the footpath here towards Westland Green.
A kestrel checked me out as whitethroats called from hawthorn bushes. As I approached the green at Westland Green I stopped to change lenses, again in anticipation of much insect activity. This green is a premier site for a wide range of insects, particularly grasshoppers, crickets and burnet moths that feed and lay their eggs on the bird's-foot trefoil that grows here in profusion. I was dismayed to discover it had all been mown within the last 48 hours and was, consequently, insectless.
I crossed Chapel Lane and took the path directly across a barley field to the A120 and came out onto the road by the vets. Just before this I stopped for a picnic and enjoyed listening to the birds calling from Foxearth Wood and Ten Acre Wood. Another buzzard overhead, chiffchaffs, whitethroats and blackcaps all in fine voice. A few swallows swooped over maize that has been planted to act as pheasant cover.
My plans were now thwarted as I had anticipated, as the footpaths on the Albury side of the A120 were all closed due to the bypass construction. This meant a rather hazardous walk down the road to the Little Hadham traffic lights. This was, however, made safer by a traffic light system in operation, so the traffic was a lot slower than normal.
Having lived in Little Hadham for 12 years this was the first time I had walked this route and I was pleased to see so much flora on the verge. Insects were busy feeding but this was no place to stop for photos. I clocked an apple tree groaning with fruit which I shall return to in September. Evening primrose, parley species, creeping cinquefoil and knapweeds all doing well here.
I crossed at the traffic lights and took the footpath to opposite the primary school, whereupon the track heads off through a wheatfield to St Cecilia's Church and then on to a footpath known locally as Nut Walk, which brings the rambler out at Hadham Hall.
A nuthatch burbled from a tree as rabbits scurried for cover. Mallards and moorhens were on the ponds at the hall and plenty of house martins overhead. A coot with three young was also noted before picking up the footpath that leads to Wickham Hall.
I wandered through the orchard of Hadham Hall. Superb meadow habitat with pyramidal orchids and lots of bird's-foot trefoil. A haven for wildlife and good to see the grass has not been cut.
Again, the footpath is presently closed, so I took the opportunity to search the pond for dragonflies; a few azure damselflies were about, nothing larger.
My attention was attracted to a marbled white on top of a thistle. I shot off a few photos from afar before realising it was roosting in a strange manner, upside down and not apparently grasping the plant. I looked more closely and discovered its abdomen was in the jaws of a xysticus cristatus spider, which will have been injecting venom into the butterfly. I settled down to try to get some photos of this nature in the raw moment; tricky as the spider had now abseiled further into the grass with its prey. As I watched, a common froghopper got into the action and a migrant hawker dragonfly alighted on some dead leaves.
I arrived back at Hadham Lodge and the A120, where work on the new roundabout is continuing, took the path under the main road and retraced my steps to Tesco. A whitethroat was still calling from the same bush as it had more than six hours previously.
My pedometer registered 10.5 miles covered and, with over 320 photos to process, I headed home to begin organising them. A really pleasing wander and 13 species of butterfly spotted – a good list for any walk.