A recent trip to look for bats in Harlaxton railway tunnel didn’t reveal any – it’s still a little early for them to be hibernating – but plents of moths and butterflies were preparing to hibernate for the winter. The tunnel gets cold but the conditions are stable and this allows the insects to enter a torpid state until the weather warms up again. Herald moths prefer dark places and where you find them, the chances are conditions will be good for bats too! Several of the herald moths were hibernating on old spider’s webs – this isn’t something I’ve seen before but seemed to be a populat location, at least half of them were hanging in this way. The peacock butterfly was recently arrived as he was still quite active, flapping his wings slowly when the torch fell upon him, but plenty more had their wings folded tight and looked set to sleep out the winter already!
There are a few woods around Grantham where you can go and see wild bluebells. I saw a few plants flowering as early as the end of March when we had the week or two of glorious weather, but the majority are looking beautiful now in May.
Belvoir Woods, accessed by footpath from Stathern, a village several miles to the west of Grantham, is a good location to see carpets of bluebells within the woods – this is where the photographs on this page were taken. The map below shows where within the woods the largest abundances can be found.
Belton House, the National Trust property to the north-east of Grantham also has them in their woodland beside the river. You need to pay entry to get into the house and gardens unless you are a National Trust member (but, it goes without saying, it’s well worth it!)
This Sunday, the 20th of May, Harlaxton College will open its woods to the public to see the bluebells there. The college is based at the large manor just outside Harlaxton, visible on the left of the A607 as you leave Grantham heading west. The college is an outpost of the American University of Evansville. Access is through the village and the woods are open between 1pm and 3pm.
For other locations of bluebell woods, why not check out the National Trust’s Bluebell Map here.
For more info on the difference between native and Spanish bluebells, have a look at my recent post here.
The Woodland Trust has digitised a book recording all of the trees planted across the UK in 1936/7 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI.
According to the record, there were no trees planted in Grantham. The closest record however is from Harlaxton, a small village a mile or so to the west of the town. Here, two copper beech (Fagus sylvatica cuprea) were planted, one in the churchyard and one in the rectory garden.
I wasn’t able to find the tree in the rectory garden (at least without trespassing) but the tree in the churchyard has grown into a fantastic specimen, 75 years on. It stands close to the boundary wall on the right hand side as you enter the churchyard from the road.
The tree has a diameter at breast height (dbh) of 2.62m. There are a number of old well-healed scars where branches have been removed from the trunk, and a couple of scars it has made itself where the branches have twisted and grown around one another over the years.
In the winter it doesn’t look so very different from its native relative, the common beech, although you can clearly make out the tinge of purple. Copper beeches arose as mutants in the wild populations where they were first recorded in Germany around the 15th century*. The purple colouration to the leaves is caused by a buildup of the pigment anthocyanin which is sufficient to mask the chlorophyll which usually colours the leaves green. Scientists have identified a single gene mutation for copper colouration which is dominant*. Crossing the copper beech can even create trees with variagated or semi-purple colouring.Birch is another species where natural mutation has led to copper varieties being identified and bred for ornamental use.
Copper beeches are now found growing extensively throughout Europe now as ornamental trees in towns and gardens – there is another fine specimen in the centre of Grantham, in front of the council building. I will be back in the summer and take a photograph of the tree in all is copper glory!