The schools are out and summer holidays are in, giving us more time to get out and about to enjoy the nature on our doorstep.
The intense heatwave that we have experienced for the past month remains as an overwhelming factor affecting both us and the natural world, despite the welcome rain that finally arrived at the end of July. We will need to find ways to adapt to the changing climate that the northern hemisphere has experienced through this summer, with the heatwave made more than twice as likely due to manmade climate change and thought that it could occur every other year by the 2040s.
Turning our attention to the heavens, the night skies this month play host to the greatest meteor shower of the year, the Perseids produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which reach a peak after midnight on the night of 12-13th August with up to 60 meteors per hour. Now is also the best opportunity to see a number of planets, with the red planet Mars at its closest point to Earth for 250 years (!) as well as Venus at its highest point above the horizon in the western evening sky.
The activity of both wildlife and farmers is now at its height, as animals feast on the abundant wild food and tractors are busy out in the fields. August is the month of harvest for most crops such as wheat and barley, although this year their growth has been impacted by the summer drought. Harvest time leaves the characteristic round straw bales (used for livestock) lying on the stubble, which is swiftly ploughed back in to prepare the ground for the next autumn-sown crop.
Although the fields may now look bare and dry where crops have been grown, chalk downland continues to host a colourful display of wild flowers such as the Round-headed Rampion, known as the ‘Pride of Sussex’ with its delicate purple low-growing flowers nodding in the breeze. Less popular with landowners is the common yellow Ragwort ‘weed’, as it is poisonous to livestock but is highly attractive to the black and orange striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth – whose warning colours advise of its own toxic nature! These have been present in great abundance this year.
The Downs are also the place to go for insects to find some of our characteristic rare blue butterflies such as the pastel-coloured Chalkhill Blue. Areas of long grass are also great places to lie back and listen to the chirping of Grasshoppers and Crickets, that ‘stridulate’ by rubbing their leg to produce their inimitable sound.
Meanwhile in hedgerows, and along roadsides and any rough ground, you can forage for wild food including abundant crops of ripe Blackberries, as well as Elderberries too.
The place to go on a hot day to cool down is of course the beach. Why not venture beyond the well-known shingle beaches of Brighton & Hove to go rock-pooling on the chalk reef that runs east of Brighton Marina along the Undercliff – an area designated as a national ‘Marine Conservation Zone’? There you can find hidden amongst the crevices Goby fish, Crabs, Sea Anemones, Snails and shellfish.
Over our heads meanwhile you will start to see flocks of birds gathering to migrate back south for the winter, now that the breeding season is at an end. Swifts, Swallows and House Martins will be tumbling across the sky feeding up before their long journey, with the Swift being the first to leave. Roving gangs of juvenile Starlings congregate over farmland and woodland searching for food.
Bats too are still very active at this time of year, feeding on the abundant insect life on the wing including ‘undesirables’ such as midges and mosquitoes.
Check out our ‘Explore The Living Coast’ interactive map for information and inspiration on the world around us!