This morning’s walk was supposed to be looking at dragonflies but, despite last night’s rain, most of the ponds on the meadows are now dry and the wind was keeping sensible flying insects firmly attached to their nearest plant. We did manage to see several banded demoiselles (both males and females) and an unidentified (flying too fast!) blue damsel fly.
But having noticed last week how popular the meadow’s thistles were with butterflies, we spent some more searching and added another four species to last week’s list. Holly blue was actually spotted before we left the car park; then we added small skipper and a glowing small copper in the first uncut area of the meadows. Teamwork – we weren’t the only butterfly-spotters out this morning – then led to us catching one of the skippers and very close inspection confirmed that it had black, not orange/brown, undersides to its antennae. That makes it an Essex skipper: a species that arrived in Gwent in 2000 but which, at least according to the map in last year’s Gwent Moth and Butterfly Newsletter, hasn’t been seen in Abergavenny before.
A couple of weeks ago the meadows were visited by ITV Wales’s Coast and Country team. If you missed the broadcast last night, you can catch up on the ITV player (series 3, episode 18). There are two segments on the meadows – at the start of the programme Irena talks about the setting and history of the meadows, then at 11 mins 30 seconds in they return to talk to Mark about how the Meadows are managed and some of the plants that grow here.
With perfect timing, the wind dropped and the sun came out for our butterfly walk around the meadows with Jeff Davies. Much the most numerous species were meadow browns, flying over the fields of long grass and feeding on thistles. Looking closer in the same areas we spotted a large skipper and a common blue. Turning our attention to the clumps of bramble and nettle revealed comma, small tortoiseshell, and clusters of caterpillars that may be next month’s peacocks. Around the hedges that border the meadows we added large, small and green-veined white, with speckled wood in the trees below the castle. Finally a bramble bank by the river added hedge brown and a magnificent red admiral. Though none of these eleven species is rare, finding them all in just a short stroll demonstrates the diversity of the meadows.
Gardeners will know that bringing in soil or compost can sometimes produce unexpected results, and something similar has happened on the meadows. The new riverside path was disappearing under two strips of what seems to be a species of mustard – vigorous and definitely not native to Welsh river meadows! So on Saturday the Friends joined forces with Monmouthshire Council’s footpath volunteers for a couple of hours strenuous work pulling it up and carrying it away for disposal. The path is now clear again: we’ll be keeping an eye out to make sure it stays that way.