Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 21, 2021

Walls

Nature finds a way in some very unlikely places. It has to. That’s sometimes the only way it can survive the doings of human kind.

When the renowned author and naturalist Ted Benton wrote the foreword for my book ‘The Greater World of Little Things‘, he drew attention to among other things, a “long stretch of Roman wall” where he lives, within the cracks of which grows “the scarce rue-leaved saxifrage“. It is not entirely surprising to hear such a thing given worthy mention among the “nature“, which Ted informs us “breaks out from the least cracks between paving stones, the lea of garden walls, [and] the edges of [a] car park. There are a couple of walls in particular that I have come to know.

The Yellow-tailed Scorpion (Euscorpius flavicaudis) living happily in North Kent.

One has featured on theses pages before ( and will, incidentally, help fill the pages of my next literary endeavour, due out it 2022). That long stretch of wall that runs around Sheerness dockyard, within whose crumbling mortar lives Euscorpius flavicaudis – the yellow tailed scorpion, present here since its accidental introduction from shipments of Italian masonry some 150 years or so ago. They share the top of a their unlikely invertebrate food-web (which seems to consist in the most part of a thriving community of woodlice, ants and the odd earwig) with the similarly opportunistic import of the impressive and wonderful tube-web spider Segestria florentina.

A Segestria florentina sets about a torch strap with shiny green fangs.

Another wall that I visited the other week and which I have known of for many years now, is the pair that edges an old railway bridge that carries a quiet lane over and past Stow Maries Halt, a small nature reserve in the heart of the Essex countryside. The railway line itself has long gone, leaving behind its wooded embankments and small areas of flowery grassland. The bridge is a good place to look out from into the tops of the scrubby elms for the uncommon white-letter hairstreak, saving the watcher some of the neck-ache normally associated with trying to find this decidedly arboreal butterfly.

The old railway bridge at Stow Maries Halt, now an Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

But the walls themselves can bristle with life. Plants grow from the old mortar – yarrow and its umbels of white flowers and ferns like black spleenwort and wall rue. And on this occasion the bramble trailing across bricks was well in bloom, bringing other lives to the wall – the ringlet and meadow brown butterflies, hoverflies and bees of man kinds. What other little lives scurry among the crevices and otherwise making use of the shelter afforded by this former incongruity, steadily being assimilated back towards nature? It will be missed should it ever crumble away to nothing.

Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum) – very much at home on old railway bridge.
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) – a butterfly with a fondness for Bramble.

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