Middletown, Middletown Village Hall, Border Gossip, Middletown Church

Middletown, Near Welshpool, Powys

Middletown is a village at the foot of the Breidden Hills, the village sits astride the A458, between Welshpool and Shrewsbury.  The village is in the Montgomeryshire area of Powys, in Mid Wales.

 A month by month update of what is happening on the hills around Middletown.

February Notes

We now come full circle, a year has passed since the beginning of these nature notes from the Middletown Hills and it brings an appropriate time to end this brief glimpse into the flora and fauna of our hills.   For each entry, I have sought to bring a little knowledge and some amusement from the plants and wildlife that live on abundantly upon our hills.  Over the past eight years, I have recorded a surprising 173 different species of flowering plants, which rather took me aback.  So with no further ado, we begin the final month’s record!

Ivy berries (Buds) - Hedera Helix

A belt of straw and ivy buds, With coral clasps and amber studs:  A line from Marlowe’s - The Passionate Shepherd to His Love – a little piece of pastoral fancy or perhaps a transcendent love of nature, I vote the later!

Anyway, the berries, which do not become ripe till the following spring after flowering, provide many birds, especially wood pigeons, thrushes and blackbirds with food during severe winters. 

Perhaps we might check out the ancient practice of binding the brow with Ivy leaves to prevent intoxication.  Maybe we can have Michael hold by a stock for testing!  Medicinal Action and Uses---Robinson tells us that a drachm of the flowers decocted in wine restrains dysentery, which may prove helpful should it fail to avert the intoxication!

Snowdrop - Galanthus nivalis

The generic name, Galanthus, is Greek in its origin and signifies Milkflower. Nivalis is a Latin adjective, meaning relating to or resembling snow, which pretty much sums up the snowdrop.

Not much is noted on its medicinal use, however, from an old glossary of 1465, it is referred to as a Leucis i viola alba and classes it as an emmenagogue, (herbs which stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus) and elsewhere, placed under the narcissi, its healing properties are stated to be 'digestive, resolutive and consolidante.'  Best not try it at home!

Primrose - Primula vulgaris

The primrose is abundant in woods, hedgerows, pastures and on railway embankments throughout Great Britain, and is in full flower during April and May.  In sheltered spots in mild winters it is often found in blossom during the opening days of the year.  Therefore, we must be more sheltered spot!

Both flowers and leaves are edible, the flavour ranging between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. The leaves can also be used for tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine.  In the early days of medicine, the Primrose was considered an important remedy in muscular rheumatism, paralysis and gout. Pliny speaks of it as almost a panacea for these complaints

We also have a Primrose Day; it is the anniversary of the death of British statesman and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, on 19 April 1881. The primrose was his favourite flower and Queen Victoria would often send him bunches of them from Windsor and Osborne House. She sent a wreath of primroses to his funeral.

The Squirrel - Sciurus carolinensi

In the UK we have the uncertain honour of playing host to two species of squirrel; uncertain because one species is widely considered to be causing problems for the other. The UK is home to the native Red and the introduced Grey squirrel.  Sciurus is the Latin masculine noun for “squirrel” and stems from the Greek skia, meaning 'shadow' and oura, meaning 'tail' (as in one who 'sits in shadow of its own tail')

Although the squirrel, or ‘tree rat’ as some may describe it, is now hunted as a pest, the superstition still persist that anyone who shoots a squirrel will have bad luck and lose his hunting skill.  I am unsure if that loss includes the young buffs chances at the farmer’s ball?!

The Dunnock - Prunella Modularis

The Dunnock can be found throughout temperate Europe and into Asia.  It is by far the most widespread member of the accentor family, which otherwise consists of mountain species.   It is sometimes called the Hedge Accentor, Hedge Sparrow or Hedge Warbler. The name "dunnock" comes from the Ancient British dunnākos, meaning "little brown one".

The Dunnnock builds a small well concealed nest of twigs, feathers, grass and moss lined with hair, in thick undergrowth, bramble or hedgerows, where the female will defend a small, exclusive territory.  They tend to lay 3-7 pale blue eggs during April and May.

The Sheep –

This is Wales so it is perhaps fitting that I should end the year’s nature ramble with the sheep.   Now did you know that sheep milk is three times higher in whey proteins, than cow or goat milk making the whole milk easier to digest?  Nor did I!   They say that a cup of hot sheep milk before retiring aids a peaceful nights rest.  

January Notes


Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrines

Both the English name "Peregrine Falcon" & the scientific name "Falco peregrinus" literally mean Pilgrim Falcon. In Welsh, it is the Hebog tramor.  The Peregrine Falcon is built for speed, with long pointed wings and a narrow tail and has been recorded at over 200mph, making it the fastest beast in the animal kingdom.   They always take their prey in flight.  The favourite prey is pigeons but the Peregrine will eat almost anything it can catch. It appears to have a preference for variety and seems to go after unusual or interesting birds. 

The picture has a story – I had gone to the hill in the hope of seeing a woodcock on its winter stopover to these parts from Finland or Russia.  As the day would have it, there were none in evidence.  However, on up-loading my pictures of the day, I had among many, some of a Peregrine and it had caught its prey – a Woodcock!

Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus

I do not often catch sight of the Mistle Thrush on our hills - sometime Missel Thrush or even Stormcock.  The RSPB have them noted on their ‘AMBER’ list for birds whose population is in decline. 

It is bigger and paler than a Song Thrush and has bolder spotting on its breast and belly.   A quirky note is its link to ‘Mistletoe’- The name Mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon Mistle meaning dung.   It was noted that mistletoe grew where the Mistle Thrush deposited it’s droppings on the branches of trees.  The Anglo-Saxon word for twig was tan, so a literal translation of the word Mistletoe from the Anglo-Saxon would be ‘dung on a twig’.  The story may be borne out by the fact that the Mistle Thrush, eat the white berries, excreting the sticky half-digested remains onto branches, where they are ready to germinate.

They also crop up on Jethro Tull’s album – Songs from the Wood – Jack in The Green:-

And we are the berries on the holly tree.   Oh, the mistle thrush is coming.  Jack, put out the light

Fallow Deer – Dama dama

Fallow Deer are deserving of another entry.  Of the entire world's deer none has a closer relationship to people than the European Fallow Deer.  It has long been held that the Fallow Deer were introduced by the Norman’s back in the 11th century.  However, research and archaeology has now found evidence that the Romans brought them over in or around the 1st century AD.  The Fishbourne Fallow Deer - Excavations have revealed about 30 bones from fallow deer.    When the Romans departed around the 4/5th century, the stock was perhaps hunted to extinction.

The Fallow Deer certainly reappeared with the Normans and the hunting of it was strictly in the hands of the nobility.  From the medieval ’hunting Manuals’, we learn of the ritualistic way in which the deer were hunted and butchered.  The various cuts were allocated on the basis of rank.   The term ‘venison’ is from the Anglo/Norman word ‘venesoun’ – literally - the product of hunting.   The phrase ‘eating Humble pie’, comes from that ritual, the nobility kept the prized cuts, which included the genitals(!), the offal or ‘umbals’, were given to the lower orders – hence umbal or Humble pie, a form of social humiliation, from eating the poorer cuts.

Hairy Curtain Crust - Stereum hirsutum

No matter how many of these eye-catching bracket fungi you see, there will always be another Stereum hirsutum with significantly different coloration. The upper surfaces of these irregularly-shaped tiered brackets are distinctly hairy when the fruit bodies are young and fresh; however, they do become smoother with age.  An unremarkable, inedible little chap but they add to the diversity of life on the hills.

Jelly Ear Fungus - Auricularia auricula-judae

The fruiting body is distinguished by its evidently ear-like shape and brown colouration; it grows upon wood, especially elder.  Its specific appellation is derived from the belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree.   The common name "Judas's ear" eventually became "Jew's ear", while today "jelly ear" and other names are sometimes used.   Folklore suggests that the ears are Judas's returned spirit and are all that is left to remind us of his suicide.

It was used in folk medicine as recently as the 19th century for complaints including sore throats, sore eyes and jaundice, and as an astringent. Today, the fungus is a popular ingredient in many Chinese dishes, such as hot and sour soup, and it is also used in Chinese medicine.  Though edible, it was not held in high culinary regard in the west for many years. It has been likened to "eating an Indian rubber with bones in it”, not worth the effort!

Winter heliotrope - Petasites fragrans  

The Winter Heliotrope was introduced from North Africa and has spread throughout Europe, first recorded in the wild in the U.K. in 1835.  It forms large patches of heart or kidney shaped leaves.  To describe it technically – it’s a dioecious, rhizomatous, perennial herb, producing fragrant inflorescence in winter, so there you have it, it smells of vanilla and has distinct male and female plants (the female plant does not occur in the UK) and has a mass of roots - Heliotrope, meaning that it turns to the sun during the day.  It is the first new flower we see on the hills in January.

The Winter Heliotrope is an ingredient of a commercially produced Swiss herbal tea, said to help the eyes in situations such as soreness from dust or to ease the eyestrain sometimes suffered by computer users – I may need to pop out and buy some!

December Notes


"In the bleak mid-winter, Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone” – now what was that tune?!   That is how it seemed the other day upon Moel y Golfa, no bad thing as it does make for some bracing air!   Whilst the flowers are all gone, the hillsides are alive with colour, thus I include pictures of the top of Moel y Golfa in the frosty weather.   We still have a few birds making the most of gathering food for the coming months; I even spotted a small flight of Waxwings, alas no picture!  So here goes for December:-

Reindeer lichen - Cladonia portentosa

Being a tad Bryologically challenged, I remain unsure of the exact mosses we have in this picture.  Suffice to say that the light grey/silver one being the Reindeer lichen, so not even a true moss!  The other green species may be one of the ‘feather’ varieties; there are around 600 mosses, so more work needed to ID!  They remain one of the common sights on the hills at this time of year, intermingled here with the heather.

Gorse – Ulex europaeus

Whilst there are few if any flowers in December, gorse (Furze) goes against the rules and flowers right through the winter.  Did you know that Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads, tea and to make a non-grape-based fruit wine?  Nor did I and I have not yet ventured to try them!  Gorse is also eaten as forage by some livestock, such as feral ponies, who may eat little else in winter.  Ponies may also eat the thinner stems of burnt gorse.  (As an aside and an extra picture, I have included a shot of one of the ponies/horses who forage the hillside)   Be warned, from Doyle novel, Sir Nigel, he warns thus - “If the Welsh be like the furze fire, then, pardieu!  The Scotch are the peat, for they will smoulder and you will never come to the end of them”!!

Great Tit – Parus major

Great tits are brightly coloured birds, with their plumage of yellow, green and black. Ornithologists believe that, in common with other colourful birds, individual tits prefer the most brightly coloured members of the opposite sex when choosing a mate. This is thought to be because the brightest individuals are the best, the healthiest, the most efficient at obtaining food and the least infested with parasites. The signal that their plumage gives is, in other words, a true indication of their quality as partners.  I wonder how far we might extrapolate that idea?!

Long Tailed Tit  - Aegithalos caudatus

Other than the grey partridge, the long tailed tit sometime known as the long-tailed titmouse or even the Kitty long tail is the only UK bird to stay in a family group through the winter months.   It is a small rounded ball of bouncing feathers with a tiny beak and an unreasonably long tail.    At first glance it appears to be simply a black and white bird, but closer inspection will reveal that its plumage has many other delicate hues of brown and pink.

Treecreeper - Certhia familiaris

A small woodland bird with cryptic plumage and a quiet call, they can be difficult to spot- until they move.  Treecreepers have streaked and spotted brown upperparts, rufous rumps and whitish underparts.  They have long curved bills and long rigid tail feathers that provide support as they creep up tree trunks looking for insects.  You may note that this little chap has found his lunch!   It is known in Germany as the Waldbaumläufer – the forest tree runner.   From observations elsewhere, the Treecreeper sometimes associates with feeding tit-flocks in the winter, which is interesting; I took this picture just after taking several pictures of the long tailed tits on Moel y Golfa.

November Notes


It has been a wet month!  Not much in the way of sunshine but there were a few marvellous days with the low slung winter sun lighting up the hills and making for a good days walking.  The rain however, has made most of the lower trails very wet indeed.  The exception being the footpath around Moel-y-Golfa, it remains fairly well drained.

Oxford Ragwort- Senecio squalidus

This little chap found its way from Sicily to the UK by the efforts of Francisco Cupani and William Sherard in the year of their visit in 1700, living on the volcanic ash; it was brought to the Duchess of Beaufort's garden at Badminton.  From there to the Oxford Botanic Garden from where it ‘escaped’ into the wild where it grew well on and in the stone walls of Oxford, hence the name.

During the Industrial Revolution, Oxford became connected to the railway system and the plant gained a new habitat in the railway lines clinker beds, gradually spreading via the railway to other parts of the country. The process was accelerated by the movement of the trains.   Now we have it upon Middletown hill, not so far from a railway line!

Deer Shield - Pluteus cervinus

The deer or fawn mushroom is a mushroom that belongs to the large genus Pluteus.  It is found on rotten logs, roots and tree stumps and is widely distributed.   Although said to be edible, caution is as ever the watch word, for it can be very variable in appearance.  I am very partial to mushrooms but I have never risked taking them from the hills, I just do not have the expertise to be sure of the identity!

Fallow Deer on The Top of Moel-y-Golfa

Here’s an opportunity to show just how beautiful our hills can be in autumn.  This year seems to me to have been a tad late in delivering the full colour of autumn.  That said, the delay has rewarded us with a spectacular golden light, enhanced by the shallow angle of the late autumn sun.   Look carefully, I know that these little chaps have featured in the monthly reports before but they are always fascinating to see and track over the year, they remind me of the Bambi from the children's books by Felix Salten, strictly speaking, his were Roe Deer.  These two caught in the dappled light on Moel-y-Golfa. – Or where they?!

Deer have another endearing quality; they are rather good to eat!   You may wish to try Atul Kochhar’s,   Grilled fillet of roe deer with sesame and coriander, served with tomato 'fondue'!!  I think that I shall leave them to peacefully enjoy the hills and continue to give me that buzz of seeing them in the wild.

The Jay - Garrulus glandarius

Jays are strikingly coloured members of the crow family, found throughout England and Wales. During spring, gatherings of jays, known as ‘crow marriages’, take place in which individuals search for a mate.  Jay’s have a fondness for acorns, which they then store throughout autumn and revisit during harder times.   A single bird buries several thousand nutritious nuggets each year, playing a crucial role in the spread of oak woodlands.

I fear the picture is a little vague, as the Jay’s upon our hills are a tad skittish.   As for gatherings, I have only ever seen the odd pair on the hills, as their name suggest, I often hear their raucous calls before I see them.   I just caught this chap as he dashed across my field of view, some distance away. 

Oyster Mushroom - Pleurotus ostreatus

Pleurotus is a genus of gilled mushrooms which includes one of the most widely eaten mushrooms.   Species of Pleurotus may be called oyster, abalone, or even tree mushrooms; they are some of the most commonly cultivated edible mushrooms in the world.  These beauties were growing on a fallen tree over the back of Moel-y-Golfa beneath Old Mills Hill.

As ever, I am no expert and as much as I relish the thought of fresh Oyster Mushrooms, I leave them to enjoy their habitat.

Stonechat (female) - Saxicola torquata

This little lady was flitting in and about the bracken, playing hard to get and focus on but she eventually stayed put long enough for a quick picture!  As its name suggests, birds utter a sharp loud call that sounds like two stones being tapped together, that does require some imagination on the part of the listener though.   The Stonechat is primarily insectivorous bird which perches openly on wires and fence-posts watching the ground for prey. It feeds either by swooping down on, or hawking for, insects. It is normally either solitary or found in pairs.  The picture shows her to be behaving just as specified – stood on a fence post!

October Notes


Do you remember these immortal lines –

And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

Not entirely true of this year’s summer, it was too short for sure but that old eye of heaven never made me feel too hot, I think I managed a short sleeve shirt on just four days!  The weather has impacted on the flora & fauna of our hills, several of our butterflies were missing, or in short supply and the wild flowers were not at the best.  The lower footpaths on Middletown Hill are a mess, very wet a muddy, so take care and wear good boots if you go that way!

As we move into Autumn/winter, there are more fungi about, add to that the scarcity of wild life, I thought I would concentrate on the colourful fungi for this month’s selection.  PLEAS NOTE – I AM NOT A SPECIALIST MYCOLOGIST, (MUSHROOM MAN) THEREFORE; PLEASE DO NOT GO FORAGING FOR WOODLAND MUSHROOMS BASED ON MY IDENTIFICATIONS.

Amethyst Deceiver - Laccaria amethystina

The Amethyst Deceiver can be seen growing in broadleaved and coniferous woodlands amongst the leaf litter. It is edible but is similar in appearance to the poisonous Lilac Fibrecap, so be warned. They were first described in 1778 by the English botanist William Hudson.  Apparently not a gourmet species, they are common and easily collected and the caps are firm, making them excellent for use in soups and stews. 

Fly agaric - Amanita muscaria

Very bold and undeniably conspicuous, the bright red cap with its white flaky speckles characterizes this infamous mushroom known as ‘Fly Agaric’.  A familiar image in popular culture, it is known as the ‘Glückspilz’ (lucky mushroom) in Germany and represents one of the five quintessential symbols of good fortune, i.e. four leaf clovers and the like.  Fly Agaric continues to serve as a classic symbol of enchanted forests and magical groves - the kind of places where fairies, gnomes and witches dwell.  This beast is not for eating!   In Scotland, it is said that it was used in times past as a fly killer, broken up into milk or sprinkled with sugar.

Glistening Inkcap - Coprinus micaceus

The Glistening Inkcap, typically grow in clusters on or near rotting hardwood tree stumps or underground tree roots.  These were over towards Breidden Hill, high up on the tree where a large bough had split away from the main trunk.  It is considered ideal for omelettes and as a flavour for sauces, although it is "a very delicate species easily spoiled by overcooking".  The fungus also appeals to fruit flies of the genus Drosophila, who frequently use the fruit bodies as hosts for larvae production - look before you bite! But beware, only take if you know that it is the exact species, unsure (as I would be) – don’t touch!

Parasol Mushroom - Macrolepiota procera

This particular beast was large, at least 7 inches across, the Parasol Mushroom is said to be edible, and this one would have fed a family of 4!   A savoury Slovak recipe is to bake caps stuffed with ground pork, oregano, and garlic. Italians and Austrians also serve the young un-flattened caps stuffed with seasoned minced beef, baked in the same manner as stuffed peppers.  Nevertheless, as with picking any fungus for consumption, caution should be exercised at all times.

Porcelain Fungus - Oudemansiella mucida

The Porcelain Fungus, (sometimes known as the beech tuft) is specific to beech wood and we have plenty of Beech trees on Moel y Golfa.  It appears in autumn on dead trunks and on fallen branches, and occasionally it also grows on dead branches high up in living trees.   It is said that provided that the skin is thoroughly washed to remove the mucus (or peeled from the caps), these mushrooms are edible, although their slimy covering is probably enough to put most people off.   In any event, caution is key!

Yellow Club - Clavulinopsis helvola

This simple, usually unbranched, yellow or orangey yellow fungus grows from 2 to 5 cm high.   With its habitat in woods or in open situations amongst grass and moss, these were atop Moel y Golfa, near the Gypsy monument.   As with so many fungi, the exact ID is often unsure, this specimen may be from the same Clavulinopsis group known as Golden Spindles, or to give it its full name - Clavulinopsis fusiformis.   Either way, they are not edible!

The watch word is BEWARE, if you are unsure of a species, leave it well alone for others to simply enjoy the sight of them in-situ.

The Flora and Fauna on our hills for September

Fallow Deer
– Always worth including again, if only for their picturesque quality! The present species of fallow deer found in Britain was introduced by the Normans in the 11th century although some would suggest that the Romans attempted to introduce it here much earlier. Fallow deer were prized as ornamental species and were protected in Royal Hunting "Forests" for royal sport. During Mediaeval times many deer parks that held fallow deer were established and these and more recent park escapees have given rise to the free-living populations in Britain today. They are most active at dawn and dusk and will lay up the day.
Common Hawker - Aeshna juncea - is one of the larger species of hawker dragonflies. It is native right across Europe, Eurasia and northern North America. The flight period is from June to early October.
Dragonflies provide important values for the ecosystem and for humans. Ecologically, they are key to food chains, and as voracious aquatic predators, and also as terrestrial predators, and so help to control insect populations. They also serve as indicators of ecosystem quality.  Dragonflies are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name gwas-y-neidr (Servant to Snake). They are common on our hills, especially on the lower slopes of Moel y Golfa.

Brimstone - Gonepteryx rhamni -  This is the first that I have managed to photograph one on our hills and only the second time that I have seen them over the past few years.   (OK, so it is a Sweet Pea but it was on the edge of the footpath/garden on Middletown Hill!)
It is commonly believed that the word “butterfly” is a derived from “butter-coloured fly” which is attributed to the yellow of the male Brimstone butterfly, the female being a much paler whitish-green. The Brimstone has a most exquisite wing shape, perfectly matching a leaf when roosting overnight or hibernating within foliage. This is one of the few species that hibernates as an adult and, as such, spends the majority of its life as an adult butterfly.
Harebell - Campanula rotundifolia – Sometime known as the Bluebell of Scotland, a more ominous name given to this plant is, Dead Man's Bells. No doubt, rising from the belief that fairies cast spells on those who dare to trample on or pick the delicate blooms. More than likely, this legend came from plant enthusiasts who knew trampling the flowers one year would cause the stand to be thinner the following year. Remember, do not traipse through a stand of Harebells lest you conjure up a swarm of angry fairies and release the spells trapped in the bells. Instead, keep to the path between the blooms

Hedge Bindweed - Convolvulus sepium –
Now, you may not know this, also known as Morning Glories, they belong to Saturn, patron of Witchcraft.  It is a plant of dawn and dusk and thickets and hedges separating civilization from the wild wood, you have been warned!
The stems twist in a counter-clockwise direction. It has been suggested that unwinding the main stem and rewinding it in the opposite direction will kill the plant. When you squeeze the green bit at the bottom of a convolvulus flower saying ‘Granny pop out of bed’ the white petals pop off, so say some, I have not yet tried it!
Indian Balsam - Impatiens glandulifera -  The common names Policeman's Helmet, Bobby Tops, Copper Tops, and Gnome's Hat stand all originate from the flowers being decidedly hat-shaped. Himalayan Balsam and Kiss-me-on-the-mountain arise from the fact that the plant originates in the Himalayan mountains.   The species name glandulifera comes from the Latin words glandis meaning 'gland', and ferre meaning 'to bear', in that the plant has glands that produce a sticky, sweet-smelling, and edible nectar.   In the UK the plant was first introduced in 1839 at the same time as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed. These plants were all promoted at the time as having the virtues of "herculean proportions" and "splendid invasiveness" which meant that ordinary people could buy them for the cost of a packet of seeds to rival the expensive orchids grown in the greenhouses of the rich.

The Flora and Fauna on our hills for August

Harebell - Campanula rotundifolia 
The Harebell, or the Blue bell of Scotland is, they say, the flower of witches who used its juice as part of their flying ointment (That will save on the holiday flights).   It’s associated with seeing fairies, goblins and earth spirits.  It was also thought to be associated with the devil and to bring bad luck, it was used by witches to transform themselves into hares.  In the ‘Story of Calicoin’, Gwion Bach, servant to Ceridwen, turns into a hare to escape and Ceridwen becomes the greyhound – and so on! Not that he was a witch, but you get the idea.
In the Victorian language of flowers, bluebells of Scotland signifies grief, gratitude, or submission. The harebell is the emblem of the MacDonald’s, and its flower provided a blue dye that was used to colour the wool for tartans. The root has been chewed in the treatment of heart and lung problems and an infusion of the roots has been used as eardrops for sore ears.
Rosebay willowherb - Epilobium angustifolium
Sometimes known as ‘fireweed’, this beautiful native plant is stunning enough to be grown in any garden and yet is considered a weed. It has not been used much in medicine in recent years but was a favourite of the American Eclectic physicians in treating diarrhoea and typhoid. Its soothing, astringent and tonic action is wonderful for all sorts of intestinal irritation, and it makes a good mouthwash.
In the summer of 1941, Britain's bombsites became covered in rosebay as far as the eye could see.  The ‘fireweed’ still thrives on city wastelands, a triumph, perhaps, of life over destruction.
It is perhaps, the most common wildflower on our hills.

Lady's Bedstraw - Galium verum
This proliferates over our hills, often towards the tops where it can be found in some profusion.   Used in Scandanavia as a sedative and associated with the goddess of married women, Frigg, hence it is also called Frigg's grass.  It is used in folk medicine as a wash over entire body to make childbirth easier. (No warranties here!)
The common name, Lady's Bedstraw is derived from its use in days of old, when it was dried and used for making bedding.   According to a Christian legend, this was one of the Cradle Herbs, hence it was the hay used in the manger at Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
Lady's Bedstraw is considered to be very useful in treatment of bladder, kidney stones and cystitis.  Lady's Bedstraw tea clears the liver, kidney, pancreas and spleen of toxic wastes. It is also beneficial for anaemia and dropsy. Externally, Lady's Bedstraw is used in case of psoriasis, and other skin disorders, wounds, boils and blackheads. It is also recommended as a remedy for epilepsy.
Please remember that these herbal remedies are mostly from old herbal books and should not be taken as fact!
Gatekeeper - Pyronia tithonus
The Gatekeeper, also known as the Hedge Brown, is a golden butterfly that provides a welcome sight in the middle of summer, when the fresh adults start to emerge. This butterfly spends much of its time basking with wings open, when the sexes are easy to tell apart - only the male has the distinctive sex brands on the forewings. This species can be found wherever shrubs grow close to rough grassland and they are fairly common on Middletown Hill.   Often found on the brambles, one of their preferred feeding plants.

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui
This species is a migrant to our shores and, in some years, the migration can be spectacular. The most-recent spectacle, in 2009, is considered to be one of the greatest migrations ever, with sightings from all over the British Isles that are definitely on a par with previous cardui years. The picture is of one in that same year, atop Moel-y-Golfa.
This species originates from North Africa, and it has been suggested that the urge to migrate is triggered when an individual encounters a certain density of its own kind within a given area. This theory makes perfect sense, since this species can occur in high densities that result in food plants being stripped bare on occasion with many larvae perishing as a result. Some believe that it may now be overwintering in small numbers on our shores.
Green Veined White - Pieris napi
This is a common butterfly of damp grassland and woodland rides and is often mistaken for its cousin, the Small White.  It can be found from spring through to autumn and is pretty common over our hills.  The first brood has lighter upper side markings than later broods, but darker underside markings. The so-called green veins on the underside of the adults are, in fact, an illusion created by a subtle combination of yellow and black scales

The Flora & Fauna on our Hills for July

Hazel Nuts (Filberts)
Hazelnuts, sometimes known as filberts, have been grown in Britain since at least the 16th century. Children played an early version of “conkers” with hazelnuts; the game was called cobnut, and the winning nut the cob.

For the chesty and folically challenged among us - Fylberds be profitable for them that have the olde cough yf they be bet with honey and eaten; yf they be stamped with the outwarde huskes and olde grece of a sow or a beare this will cause heere to come up in the balde places. Peter Trueris, AD 1526

Common Mallow
The Common or Blue Mallow is a robust plant 3 or 4 feet high, growing freely in fields and hedgerows. Its stem is round, thick and strong, the leaves stalked, roundish, five to seven lobed, downy, with stellate hairs and the veins prominent on the underside. The flowers are showy, bright mauve-purple, with dark veins.

Common Mallow has been much superseded by Marsh Mallow, which possesses its valuable properties in a superior degree, but it is still a favourite remedy with country people where Marsh Mallow is not obtainable. As a rule, only the leaves and flowers are used, mainly externally in fomentations and poultices. The infusion has been a popular remedy for coughs and colds though they are still employed as a decoction for injection, which made strong, cures strangury and gravel. Gravel refers to kidney stones – strangury, best not ask!

Corn Chamomile

Corn chamomile is a native annual, locally common on light arable land and waste places throughout the UK. It can sometimes act as a biennial. It is locally common in southern England, the central Midlands, Wales and East Anglia. It prefers dryer areas with low summer humidity (we have got that wrong this year!) and is relatively tolerant of dry conditions.
The infusion, made from 1 OZ. of the flowers to 1 pint of boiling water and taken in doses of a tablespoonful to a wineglass, known popularly as Chamomile Tea, is an old-fashioned but extremely efficacious remedy for hysterical and nervous affections in women and is used also as an emmenagogue. (Don’t ask)   The U.S. National Institutes for Health says that pregnant and nursing mothers should not consume chamomile – you have been warned!
The Comma Butterfly
The Comma is from the family Nymphalidae, this family contains species more commonly known as "aristocrats", "fritillaries" or "browns".   We often see it on Middletown Hill, looking like a tatty Small Tortoiseshell, it is a familiar sight throughout most of England and Wales and is one of the few species that is bucking the trend by considerably expanding its range. The butterfly gets its name from the only white marking on its underside, which resembles a comma. They appear in June and July with a variation known as the ‘hutchinsoni’, go on to produce another emergence in late August/September.

The Ringlet

This is a relatively-common butterfly that is unmistakable when seen at rest - the rings on the hind wings giving this butterfly its common name. The upper sides are a uniform chocolate brown that distinguish this butterfly from the closely-related Meadow Brown. Despite this uniformity, a newly-emerged adult is a surprisingly beautiful insect, the velvety wings providing a striking contrast with the delicate white fringes found on the wing edges. The dark colouring also allows this butterfly to quickly warm up - this butterfly being one of the few that flies on overcast days.
These are very common on our hills and especially this year, where I have seen them in profusion, over the back of Moel y Golfa in the meadows beneath Old Mills Hill.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
So often seen in our gardens, I thought it worth submitting for July. Did you know that as with other woodpeckers, the stiff tail feathers are used as a prop when it is clinging to a tree, and its toes are specially arranged with two pointing forwards and two backwards. In the summer, they will take bird eggs and nestlings from nests (including those in nest boxes, in to which they gain entry by increasing the size of the hole).
Did you also know that the woodpecker's tongue is extremely long and sticky for extracting insects, such as ants, from their nest chambers and crevices? The tongue is so long that its muscles wrap around the rear of the skull and back to the upper mandible.

The Flora & Fauna on our Hills for June

Monkshood - Aconitum napellus – Also known as Wolfbane, this is a beast to avoid, very toxic and best given a wide berth. No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist Wolf's bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine …John Keats Ode on Melancholy – you have been warned! For the Harry Potter fans, the werewolf Remus Lupin forgets to take his dose of Wolfsbane Potion that Severus Snape prepared for him and ends up turning into a werewolf during the full moon! Take care.
Foxglove - Digitalis purpurea – The Foxglove or Fairy's Glove are common on our hills and they are known to be poisonous. However, the properties and beneficial effects of digitalis were discovered by an English physician William Withering, in 1775. In his research on herbal medications, he came to know of an old woman in Shropshire who was a practitioner of folk medicine mainly using wild herbs. They commonly grow to over six feet tall on the slopes of Middletown Hill.

Common Spotted Orchid - Dactylorhiza fuchsii – Despite the name, this is a rare one for Middletown Hill, it appeared just once in June 09 and I have found a second plant this year. That sighting has been recorded by the Montgomery Wildlife Trust as a first for Middletown Hill. If you spot another, no pun intended, do let us know.

Dog Rose - Rosa canina – We all know this classic from our summer (what summer!) countryside. In the absence of citrus fruits, it was used during the Second World War as a rich source of vitamin C from the rose hip. Many of us may also remember that the dried seeds from within the rosehip provided the very best itching powder! It is also popular as a tea infusion where it might facilitate fat metabolism – I had better collect a few this year! It also known that it was used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to treat the bite of rabid dogs, hence the name "dog rose", may result from this.


Great Tit - Parus major – This one is a youngster, it is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae.  It is a widespread and common species throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central and Northern Asia and here too, it is pretty common.   So what is a passerine bird you may ask – well it is from the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines form one of the most diverse terrestrial vertebrate orders, with over 5,000 identified species – Now we know! It is a very vocal bird with perhaps over 40 types of calls.   In print they are described thus – ‘tsitut, ‘pink’ tschere-r-r-r’, ‘dedede’, along with a two to four syllable piping motif ‘tsitsibeh’ tsipe’ – or similar! I always thought Welsh to be difficult.

Large Skipper - Ochlodes faunus – I like this chap, the male of this species alternates between perching, patrolling, basking and feeding. Now where have I heard that before?! It also has another typical male characteristic – he has a distinctive sex brand on its forewings containing specialised scent scales – now that brings back memories of the days of old spice and cider!! Sadly, I see fewer of these little beast on the hill, again, perhaps the land management or lack of, has a role to play.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee - Bombus terrestris – These big hairy bees of the genus Bombus live in colonies. Only the queen hibernates and starts a new colony next year. Their nest is sometimes underground, perhaps up to a metre deep but it can also be built between clumps of grass. They are very common in and around all of our gardens at this time of year. Bees are primarily northern hemisphere dwellers and if you were about to say ‘what about New Zealand honey?’ well, my ‘Manuka’ honey from New Zealand is as a result of the bees being introduced there back in 1839. 

The Flora & Fauna on our Hills for May

The Common Dog Violet
– Last month we saw the emergence of the Border Fritillary and one of their favourite flowers, is the Dog Violet. This may be a concern, the availability of the food plants and nectar sources may now be less than optimal for this species. The site on Middletown Hill is becoming overgrown and action to save the site has been halted over the past few years, unless there is suitable habitat nearby, we may lose the colony. Back to the Violet, a tea can be made from the leaves and the flowers and leaves are powerfully cathartic and emetic. The plant has also had a reputation for curing skin diseases.
Green Alkanet – Dioscorides (Pedanius to his Greek friends) saith, it helps such as are bitten by venomous beasts, whether it be taken inwardly or applied to the wound, nay, he saith further, if any that hath newly eaten it do but spit into the mouth of a serpent, the serpent instantly dies.... It also kills worms. So there we have it, I do not recommend you go spitting into the mouth of the Adder anytime soon!

Ragged Robin -
Apparently, the plant is associated with goblins and evil spirits in some parts of the British Isles. Some say that the fairies made dresses from their ragged petals and this annoyed the goblins whose flowers they were! The flowers were used, boiled in water and the water used to rinse hair after shampooing, to make it soft and fragrant.   The plant is rare on our hills, so please stick to your usual conditioner from boots!
Common Bird's-foot trefoil - Although disagreeable to humans, bird's-foot trefoil is an important source of food for other creatures, notably for our hills, the Common Blue Butterfly. Many flowers have a hidden code to reflect human emotions; the Victorians were masters of the art of ‘flower language’.   One could say anything to a lover in flowers, in the hope that one’s spouse was ignorant of the language. Not recommended and in any event, it wasn’t me! Bird's-foot trefoil, however, was one of the few to denote darker thoughts: it symbolised revenge.
As ever, do not try these potions at home, some details are from the www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net. And - http://herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.co.uk
Now for the fauna, the wild beast of the hills!


Chaffinch -
The name chaffinch comes from Old English ceaffinc, literally "chaff finch", and is the source of the nickname chaffy or chaffie. The bird is so named for its tendency to peck the grain left out in farmyards. It has a great many other names to note but a few - scobby, cobby, scoppy, and scop refer to this pecking. As with all birds it has a unique call which has inspired the names twink, tweet, weet-weet, chink chink, chink chaffey, and pink twink. Although in this politically correct age, caution is advised in the use of some of its nicknames!
Common Blue - As its name suggests, this butterfly is the commonest blue found in the British Isles. While the male has bright blue upper sides, the female is primarily brown, with a highly variable amount of blue and they are much harder to find on our hills. The main food plant on most sites is Bird's foot trefoil.

Orange-tip (Male) –
When we see the Orange-tip butterfly, we know that spring has truly arrived; it being one of the first species to emerge that has not overwintered as an adult. Each year, I have most often found them on the Garlic Mustard plants that grow at the top of the road, leading to Middletown Hill.
The male and female of this species are very different in appearance. The more-conspicuous male has orange tips to the forewings that give this butterfly its name. These orange tips are absent in the female and the female is often mistaken for one of the other whites, especially the Green-veined White or Small White.

The Flora & Fauna on our Hills for April

The Bluebell - It’s that time of year again, the Bluebells (or in this case, the White version) will soon be blooming over the hills. It is their habit to bloom before the leaves on the trees, omit the sunlight from their brief lifespan.   The ‘herbal’ uses of the bulb include diuretic and styptic (stop bleeding) properties. Because the bulbs contain toxic substances, they were a popular source of glue for bookbinding – the toxins discouraged attack by silverfish.

Common Stork's-bill – This one is not normally seen much before May but, it is often early on our hills, on the warm southerly slopes. In herbal use, it is apparently a powerful astringent, very useful in cholera, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Cuckooflower - Sometimes known as the Lady’s Smock is seldom used in herbalism, though an infusion of the leaves has been used to treat indigestion and promote appetite.

Garlic Mustard – The leaves have been used as an antiseptic poultice on ulcers etc, and are effective in relieving the itching caused by bites and stings. They may be handy for the odd nettle sting but I have never tried them!

As ever, do not try these potions at home, all details are from the www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net.

Now for the fauna, the wild beast of the hills!

Common Whitethroat – This little chap comes in from sunny Africa, where it overwinters and who can blame him. In this shot, we see him about to take lunch!

Willow Warbler – With almost all of the population wintering in sub-Saharan Africa, we get to see them in early spring. It is a bird of open woodlands with trees and ground cover for nesting, including most importantly birch, alder, and willow habitats.

Fallow deer – The origins and history of the Fallow deer indicate that they were introduced to Britain by the Normans, and possibly earlier by the Romans, for hunting. Their woodland habitat and elusive habits and lifecycle mean that the true wild fallow deer are often difficult to spot but you will often be able to see them on our hills. They can often be seen as they circumnavigate the hills foraging for food, sometimes on Middltown Hill, hiding in the gorse and then again on the wooded slopes of Moel Y Golfa.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary – This is a rare species that we are privileged to have on our hills above the village. They begin to fly towards the end of the month but its existence is fragile. It may not last if we are unable to manage the land and that has been problematic over the past few years. This butterfly gets its name from the series of "pearls" that run along the outside edge of the underside of the hindwing. This butterfly is the earliest of the fritillaries to emerge and was once known as the "April Fritillary" due to its early flight. There are other fritillaries on the hills but again, they are rare and threatened with extinction, if their habitat is not managed.

 Notes for March

Hairy Bittercress - Cardamine hirsute. Is often known as a rampant weed, however, it is also known for its excellent peppery flavour as an addition to any salad. It is perhaps less well known for its inclusion in the Pagan Anglo Saxon, nine herbs charm from the 10th Century!

Lesser Celandine - Ranunclulus ficaria. It was said that the flowers bloomed when the swallows returned and faded when they left. It was also known as Pilewort because it was used to treat haemorrhoids! (Apparently!)

A young Pine cone covered in morning dew atop Moel y Golfa.

Spring also heralds the birdsong, despite the Robin's tendency to sing through the year, most sensible birds await the warmer weather as spring approaches, before venturing into song. A couple of shots for March include
the ubiquitous Robin and a Meadow Pipit, sometimes known as the 'mippit' among the bird folk.

The view is from the top of Middletown Hill, extending towards Cadair Idris
to the west.