September – what’s out and about

Moorland. 75% of the world’s heather moorland is found in Britain, but this area has declined over the latter part of the twentieth century. The distinguishing feature of moorland is the presence of dwarf shrubs of the heather family such as common heather (ling), bilberry, bell heather and crowberry, with cross-leaved heath predominating on wetter sites. Moorland is not entirely natural, but was created as a by-product of human activities.

Ling – Calluna vulgaris. This is the commonest heather found in the British Isles and will be seen flowering through the summer until October. The flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects but also by the wind. A tea can be made from the flowering stems which have an antiseptic property and is used to treat coughs, colds, bladder and kidney disorders. The young shoots have been used instead of hops to flavour beer and it is often used as a liniment for treating rheumatism and arthritis.

Bell heather – Erica cinerea. This is one of the three common heathers and found throughout the British Isles. It is a ture heather species having a tubular or bell-shaped flower. It is usually found growing on dry heath, on very acid, dry peaty soils and on rock ledges. Its flowers have been out since June and should continue through to the end of September.

Bracken – Pteridium aquilinum. Anyone walking in the mountains will not fail to notice this abundant and aggressive plant with its almond scent. It is the commonest fern in the British Isles and its fronds contain cyanide as well as other poisons and carcinogens. Once important in the rural economy it is now seen as an undesirable weed. Its former uses were providing bedding for cattle, transporting slate, thatching, covering potato beds and dressing leather.

Rowan – Sorbus aucuparia. This common mountain and woodland species has a wide distribution across Europe from Iceland as far south as the Caucasus, Spain and Maecdonia. In the British Isles the rowan has a long and still popular history in folklore as a tree which protects against witchcraft and enchantment. The berry is edible; however, it has been know to cause vomiting due to the seeds containing hydrogen cyanide.

Common nettle – Urtica dioica. The nettle has given its name to the rash (urticaria) and to place names across the UK including Nettlecombe Court. Nettles like fertile soils and disturbed ground so is commonly found near human settlements and in agricultural land. A tea made from the leaves has been used as a cleansing tonic and blood purifier. It has also been used in the treatment of hay fever, arthritis, anaemia and skin complaints such as eczema.

Fox – Vulpes vulpes. This member of the dog family is the most widespread carnivore in the world. It has inspired many literary characters. The term Twentieth Century Fox has been used to epitomise the way that the fox has changed its habits to adapt to new environments. Even in the wild foxes rely heavily on scavenging but will eat almost anything that comes in their way. The surplus killing that occurs when a fox enters a hen house is probably a means of providing for times of hardship.

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