After the intense heat of late June, including the hottest day that month in over forty years, the British summertime has reverted more to type with cooler conditions and a mix of sunshine and showers. Our wildlife is at the height of its summer glory, with a profusion of colourful flowers and insects on the wing. The beauty of the Milky Way is also plain to see in the night skies now, as well as at the end of the month a meteor shower (the Delta Aquarids, an average-intensity event on July 28-29th).
Farmers’ crops are now getting ready for harvest, starting with winter Barley and Oats and then Wheat; meanwhile the widespread crop of Oil Seed Rape pods are ready to be harvested after its bright yellow flourish of flowers earlier in the season. Soft fruits such as Cherries are also now at their peak for picking. Furthermore you can enjoy beautiful crimson Poppies and other colourful arable weeds growing in arable field margins. Many grass fields are now being cut for hay, but those that haven’t as yet or are grazed instead can showcase a diversity of wild flowers.
Grasslands are the place to go in high summer to appreciate The Living Coast’s nature at its most exuberant, from chalk downland in the countryside right down to the fringes of parks and road verges in our city and towns. Even housing estate grounds and garden lawns can be good places for wild flowers to thrive, especially if the soil is thin with chalk close to the surface – the key thing is to stop mowing the lawn for a month or two to allow the flowers to grow up and bloom!
Chalk grassland on the Downs boasts a great richness of wild flowers, including low-growing Thyme herbs and tall Scabious and Greater Knapweed, as well as the “flower of Sussex” – the mauve-coloured delicate Round-headed Rampion. Attractive Pyramidal orchids can be seen growing in patches of longer grass. Some rough grasslands are home to Glow Worms, which are actually flightless female beetles that use their luminescent abdomens to attract males – look out for their soft green glowing points of light, and report any that you find!
In urban areas, Buddleia is now in bloom with its vivid purple flowers that attract many different pollinating insects, especially butterflies and moths – including the migrants the Painted Lady butterfly and Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Butterfly diversity and numbers should now be reaching a peak, including the beautiful rare blue butterflies of Adonis and Chalkhill Blues. Whilst most birds have now finished nesting and their chicks fledged and flown the nest, sea birds are still raising their young on coastal cliffs – including the rare Kittiwake as well as Fulmars in our area. In the countryside the Yellowhammer is a prominent bird calling from hedgerow perches with its "a-little-bit-of-bread-and no-cheese" song unmistakeable. Squadrons of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins chase their aerial prey of insects overhead, and can even be joined by groups of Sparrows and Starlings in this activity. Some migrant birds are already starting to return south to Africa however, such as the Cuckoo which is the first to leave.
Lastly, night-scented flowers in your garden like Jasmine help to attract nocturnal insects such as Moths as well as their predators – principally Bats, whose new young are especially active learning where best to forage and feed at present.