WILD EUROPE 2012 – UK & FRANCE

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK…home to the warm ale, winnie the pooh, dry quick-witted humour, historic churches, castle ruins, and incessant miserable weather; in which a typical summers day involves a casual stroll in the meadow, followed promptly by an ale in the pub, and a long drive home along narrow country roads to arrive at red-brick house barely noticeable beneath a curtain of Virginia creepers…a cup of tea and off to bed.

While this may sound tame, maybe a little boring, compared to a hot humid day in the tropical rain forests of Borneo, my recent experience  in the UK, during a three-week trip, has convinced me that the UK is almost certainly NOT boring!!

Corfe Castle (Dorset)
Church at Portchester Castle
Corfe Castle (Dorset)

Contrary to what some may believe, blue sky does exist in the UK, and it is this sunlight that penetrates the atmosphere and provides energy for a varied diversity of ecosystems, as well as a rich and interesting assemblage of native plants and animals. And best of all, they are easily observed, even on a cloudy day, by any keen naturalist!

Lee-on-the-Solent
Larus ridibundus (Black-headed gull) juveniles

Travelling 18,325 km’s, from Auckland (NZ) to Lee-on-the-Solent (UK), is no relaxing journey. Especially when you are dealing with overcrowded aircrafts and 18 hour stopovers in Guangzhou airport – where money exchange machines are non-existent, you need a Chinese mobile phone before you can connect to the internet, lying down on the transit seating is prevented by annoying armrests, lying on the floor is prevented by fellow travellers’ habits of spitting and stomping their fluids into the carpet, and a long black and 250 ml water costs you NZ$ 30!!!

There are much better ways to undertake this journey, notably travelling east across the Pacific to Tahiti, while enjoying the inflight poisson cu (coconut marinated raw fish) and being serenaded by ukuleles upon arrival in Papeete airport…as my partner expressed joy in pointing out.

We…eventually…arrived in Lee-on-the-Solent, a beautiful seaside town at the mouth of the River Hamble, Hampshire, where Sarah’s parents looked after us very well for the extent of our trip.

The following describes some of my wildlife experiences in the south of England in July 2012.

 

DORSET HEATHS

Comprising ~ 8,000 ha of valuable and important wildlife habitat, and the majority of this area officially classified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the Dorest Heaths are a must-see for wildlife enthusiasts alike. Once covering about 50,000 ha in area, the Dorest Heaths have become severely contracted in size due to ever increasing pressures from urban development, changes in agricultural practices, road construction, and fire damage. On the receiving end of this habitat reduction are hundreds of species of plants and animals, many of which are now solely confined to the Dorset Heaths, and are therefore at risk of disappearing forever.

Heathland habitat

My partner (Sarah Wells), her mother (Sue Wells), and I spent the good part of a day scratching around in the heathlands in search of some rare and beautiful creatures.

Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved sundew)
Saturnia pavonia (Emperor moth) caterpillar
Gerridae (Pond skater)

The species we were most looking forward to seeing was Lacerta agilis, the sand lizard. The UK’s rarest and arguably most beautiful lizard. Although this species is widespread and common in many parts of Europe, it is now confined to pockets of heathland and coastal sand dune in southern England, northwest England and north Wales. Given their rarity in the UK, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC-Trust) have spent the good part of 20 years monitoring and reintroducing sand lizards in order to bolster population numbers. Today, both the sand lizard and their Heathland habitats are protected by law.

Lacerta agilis (Sand Lizard) – male
Lacerta agilis (Sand Lizard) – female
Coenagrionidae (Narrow-winged damselfly)
Coronella austriaca (smooth snake)
Syrphidae (Unidentified hover fly)
Anguis fragilis (slow worm)
Coronella austriaca (smooth snake)
Coronella austriaca (smooth snake)
Aricia agestis (Brown Argus)

THE NEW FOREST

The New Forest, in the south-east of England, is a truly magical place, and is a mecca for those seeking to enjoy the tranquility of nature within a half hour drive from the surrounding heavily-populated towns. The New Forest covers ~ 56,600 hectares of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and woodland forest, making it one of the largest remaining tracts of contiguous habitat in lowland Britain.

New Forest woodland

I initially spent a few days exploring the Forest by myself, after I was dumped at the Ashurst Camping Grounds by a carload of giggling women, excited about spending the weekend catching up on three years of gossip with Sarah. I definitely wasn’t complaining, despite how delightful a weekend with the girls would have been :p

The New Forest wildlife was fantastic!

Bufo bufo (Common toad)
Eritharcus rubecula (Robin)
Polytrichum commune (Common hair cap)
Lissotriton vulgaris (Smooth Newt)
Lissotriton vulgaris (Smooth Newt)
Rhagonycha fulva (Soldier beetle)
Sciurus carolinensis (Grey Squirrel)
Lucanus cervus (Stag beetle) female
Rana temporaria (Common frog)
Lissotriton vulgaris (Smooth newt) larva
New Forest Pony

Wild ponies (horses) roam freely throughout the New Forest, and are often the cause of rural traffic jams when a small mob of horses decide to saunter across the road. It is not uncommon for campers to be woken up in the early morning by a horse releasing an almighty neigh right outside their tent, or have their tent chewed by a nosey pony. The best has to be, a story Lucy (Sarah’s longtime friend) told me of how she was causally ordering a drink in a New Forest pub, when she was startled from behind by a pony that had decided to enter the pub and socialise with the local ale drinkers!

Arion ater (Black slug; orange form)

CORNWALL PENINSULA

Another interesting and stunning part of the country is the county of Cornwall. Cornwall forms the westernmost part of the south-west peninsula of the island of Great Britain, and is home to the famous…and delicious…Cornish pasty! Cornwall is also the UK’s surfing mecca, and Sarah and I spent three days traveling the peninsula in search of waves, wildlife, pasty’s and pub ales.

Mousehole
Gwenver Beach…and adder breeding ground!
Porthcurno
Zootoca vivipara (Common lizard)
Porthcurno
Cetorhinus maximus (Basking shark)
Photo by Sarah Wells
Abraxas grossulariata (Magpie moth)
Cetonia aurata (Rose chafer)
Unidentified spider

Heading back to Hampshire we stopped in at Charlie’s parents house in the country for a relaxing couple of days. Great food, company, and adventures. Thanks Charlie.

Muscidae
Araneus diadematus (Garden Orb-web spider)
Araneus diadematus (Garden Orb-web spider)

Too soon, our UK trip came to an end and we had to say goodbye to Sarah’s relatives, friends, and also to the newts in Sarah’s mom’s garden pond. We had the most amazing trip and am very thankful to all of Sarah’s family and friends for their kindness and hospitality. A very special thank you to Sue and Jerry Wells for looking after us and making sure we got the most out of our time in England. We hope to visit again in the not too distant future 🙂

FRANCE

On our way back to New Zealand, we stopped into France to attend a friend’s wedding in Toulouse, and spent a couple of days on the western coastline looking for waves, and a couple of days in Paris checking out the sites.

Eiffel Tower
Musée du Louvre
La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre
Notre Dame de Paris
Musée du Louvre
Bufo bufo (Common Toad)
Baetidae (Unidentified small mayfly)
Cerambyx cerdo (Great Capricorn beetle)
Macroglossum stellatarum (Hummingbird Hawk-moth)
Chrysopidae (Unidentified Lacewing)

The UK and France delivered way more than I could ever have imagined, with regards to the wildlife, food, landscapes, surf, and people.  There is no doubt that we will be back there in the near future.

 

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