The start of meteorological summer this year sees us basking in some hot sunshine whilst dodging the occasional heavy shower, which is welcome rainfall after the prolonged drought-like conditions that have prevailed for the past six months. June is the month to enjoy the spectacle of the natural world at its most pleasant and colourful – so do get outdoors during these lengthy summer days whatever the weather! The days continue to extend in duration right up to the summer solstice on 21st June, which marks the longest day and shortest night of the year.
In farmers’ fields the winter cereal crops of wheat and barley have their ears of grain fast maturing, with a smattering of brightly-coloured arable wildflower weeds at the field margins. Farmers will also be starting to cut the first hay crops from grassland areas, which they will keep and store as winter feed for livestock.
Now that our deciduous woodlands are in full leaf and the plants of the woodland floor in shade, hedges and scrubby patches are good places to appreciate Elderflowers with their show of pungent creamy white blooms – great for making cordial or champagne!
The main nature interest however turns to more open areas of wildflower grassland on the Downs, as well as wetland areas. The giant flowers of Ox-eye Daisies are a delight to behold in the countryside and towns lining road verges. Downland chalk grassland contains a huge diversity of wild flowers, with as many as forty different species being possible to find in a single square metre! A carpet of sweet-smelling herbs including Thyme and Marjoram grow amongst a short grass sward grazed by sheep and rabbits. A rich assemblage of different Orchids are now evident, including Common Spotted and Pyramidal standing out from the crowd.
Butterfly numbers have been somewhat suppressed to date this year, but June heralds many new species emerging as adults in flight, including common species such as the Meadow Brown and Common Blue as well as the beautiful Marbled White. Keep an eye out for migrating insects arriving from across the Channel also, such as Painted Lady butterflies and the amazing Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Look out too for the remarkable large caterpillars of Elephant Hawkmoth amongst the fuschias of your garden. In wetter places meanwhile, scores of dainty Damselflies of various species can be seen on the wing during this month.
Many of our garden birds will have hopefully successfully managed to fledge a brood of their chicks, with some already on to a second round of egg production. 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. Swifts and Swallows are now present in numbers, following their migration from Africa, swooping over our towns and countryside respectively. Bats are also giving birth to their live young in building roof and tree roost sites, and then foraging throughout the short nights to gather enough insects to fuel their milk production for the newborns back at the roost. In fact the common Pipistrelle bat can eat as many as 3000 insects in a night, no mean feat!Meanwhile out to sea, Cuttlefish – not a fish, but a highly evolved invertebrate ‘cepahlopod’ related to octopus and squid – are at their peak and are the target of local fisheries.