Travelling back to Glos from deepest Dorset – and take the chance to tour some possible and probable mistletoe sites in south Somerset. Now, Somerset is well-known for its mistletoe, though it does rather peter out further south and east and I want see if there’s any around Montacute.
One obvious place to look is Montacute House, a National Trust property near Yeovil. Why obvious? Well it’s just within mistletoe’s normal UK range, and it likely to have lime avenues, a favourite location for mistletoe colonies. [One day I’m going to get to the root of the mistletoe in Lime Avenues phenomenon – even outside the main range mistletoe is often seen in stately home lime avenues – – which suggests it was once habitually planted – but I know of no documentary evidence for this]
Anyway, off we go to Montacute, despite the house having just closed for the season. According to the map there are two dead-straight drives to the house from the village, and if there’s mistletoe it should be obvious.
Results are mixed – no lime avenues as such – more a mixture of specimen trees lining the drive – and yes, there is mistletoe, in, predictably, the limes. The pic shows a view down the main drive with mistletoe clearly visible in the big lime on the right at the end. Nice looking house, pity about the van obscuring the entrance.
From here we take a short trip to Tintinhull, another NT property a few miles away. Now I know there’s mistletoe here as this is famous (in mistletoe biology circles) as the location for the discovery of a new (to Britain) mistletoe insect in 2003. I’d not been there before, so was keen to take a look at the small orchard I had heard about near the house.
It was well worth the journey… a wonderful little conservation orchard, festooned with both apples and mistletoe, and grazed by Soay Sheep, a miniature goat-like breed.
Unlike most sheep this lot were fascinated by our meanderings in the orchard, and some followed us around, though I think that was more to with expectation of food than any particular attachment to us.
A bit late in the year to see the insect – which is only 3mm long when mature and active. It is a sap-sucking bug Hypseloecus visci, and its discovery in Britain brought the UK mistletoe insect total to 5 – the others are a moth, a weevil, another sap-sucking bug, and a bug that specialises in eating sap-sucking bugs.
In the absence of a bug picture, here’s a friendly sheep instead (the herd are here, according to a notice on the gate, to escape the stress of traffic and people – I was tempted to stay there with them)
In Tintinhull village we saw more mistletoe in wayside trees, and also, in gardens, some Snowberry (pictured) a introduced species that has white berries. I’m not sure whether there have been any studies of what birds eat these – I have seen a Blackbird having a go at them. But I assume the species has similar limitations to the white berries of mistletoe with regard to what eats it. [see previous blog entry for more on this]
NB am getting podcast material from these sites as I go – but haven’t yet time for audio production…