August 2021 Field Trip to Arnos Vale, Bristol

In August Mary Wood, an extremely knowledgeable guide from the cemetery, took members of our group on a 2-hour guided wildlife walk around Arnos Vale Cemetery, Brislington. The site, which was established in 1839, has considerable ecological and heritage importance, and at that time was considered “the place” to be buried in Bristol!

On our walk around the Vale Mary first pointed out a magnificent Hornbeam tree (Carpinus betulus) which pre-dates the cemetery. Its fruits were cascading in loose clusters. We heard a great tit, magpies, chiffchaff and coal tit nearby.
Most Yew trees lining the paths are clones of one original Fastigiate Irish Yew from County Fermanagh. Photo below shows Taxus baccata "Fastigiata" showing the flat top beloved by the gardeners!
Mary then taught us how to differentiate between Holly and Holm Oak – not easy as they both have spines and are evergreen! The trick is to look at the leaf undersides; holly is lime green, whereas Holm Oak is grey.

We turned our attention downwards, and found ragwort (a favourite foodplant of the cinnabar moth caterpillar as we heard last month, but none were found), scabious, hemp agrimony, meadow vetchling and the compass plant, so called because the leaves orientate in all directions! All of these flowers were surrounded by flying insects including white-tailed bumblebees, hoverflies, holly blue, peacock and speckled wood butterflies. There were so many flowers which thrive here on calcareous grassland that I cannot list them all.


Common Restharrow (Ononis repens) is also found in chalky grassland (here amongst hedge bindweed).
The tough underground stems used to slow down the harrow of ox-drawn ploughs, so were disliked by farmers; however these stems were sometimes harvested and chewed like wild liquorice.

Most of the grass is only cut in late summer nowadays so the flowers and the insects they support can thrive. Nature conservation is taken seriously, but unfortunately tree felling has to continue due to ash dieback disease (the wood is recycled on site).

We heard a family of sparrowhawks calling to each other high up in the tree canopy; I'm sure the youngsters were saying “feed me! feed me!” and the adults replying “wait your turn!”

Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinus) is very attractive to all kinds of insects. Its common name comes from the resemblance of its leaves to Hemp, although it is not related to it.

We were shown how to distinguish between the male fern and soft shield fern (two very similar varieties of fern), by the degree of segmentation in the fronds.
Gravestone showing carved lily with fallen flowerhead (the body) and a butterfly flying away (the spirit).

Finally we came across some huge hornet-mimic hoverflies (Volucella zonaria) in a Japanese Spindle (Euonymus japonica). What a way to end the tour!

Liz Wintle

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