It is a fact that contact with the ‘great outdoors’ is good for our health and wellbeing and at this time of year the long days and light evenings enable us to take very pleasant strolls out over the riverside. In late May and early June the riverside looks idyllic with cattle grazing the lush buttercup spangled pastures while pairs of swans shepherd their newly hatched cygnets along the river and ditches.
Many people have had the joy of hearing the cuckoo and it is fortunate that the riverside still provides these birds with a suitable habitat. Elsewhere in much of Suffolk no cuckoos will be heard. Good habitat is crucial to the success of any species and climate has a very strong influence on how species fare. The vagaries of the weather can influence the success or decline of species in quite spectacular ways.
As a result of the incredibly long, hot and dry summer last year many butterfly species did particularly well and that trend has continued into this year with the very dry spring. The holly blue butterfly has been very much in evidence and orange tips have also had a good season. Although last summer small tortoiseshell butterflies were conspicuously absent there have been plenty around this spring and their caterpillars will now be busy feeding on sunny nettle beds. The rather uncommon green hairstreak butterfly has been popping up in all sorts of places providing many people with their first glimpse of this species. Brown argus and common blues along with a number of other species are now taking to wing. Therefore, in terms of butterflies there is much to look forward to over the coming months.
On the other hand the dry conditions have proved to be somewhat of a disaster for the riverside marsh orchids. As their name implies they enjoy very wet conditions in order to thrive. The charity’s recent Suffolk Walks Festival event to view the ‘hidden orchids of Sudbury’ turned out to be almost uncomfortably true as flowering orchid numbers tumbled from over two thousand last year to around six hundred this season. Of course, with suitable conditions, numbers will recover but it is another example of how record weather conditions affect out wildlife. In summary there are winners and losers.
Other more common species of orchid will be coming into flower now and it remains to be seen how they fare. While they may not require the wet conditions favoured by marsh orchids they still require moisture to grow successfully. Common spotted, pyramidal and bee orchids are all frequent and can pop up in the most unlikely places although undisturbed grasslands and roadside verges are the best places to look for them.