The Legion Meadow at Littleheath continues to be an excellent place to walk and observe wildlife, and this year has been no exception. The number of species continues to expand, and this year more people than ever have walked through the site. The warm weather of spring followed by torrential early summer rains caused the many types of grasses to grow taller than we would like, as they dominate the smaller flowering plants. There are however lots of flowers that compete for the same space, and I guess the knapweed showed its ability in late summer by dominating the grasses. The meadow is now cut in Autumn and early Spring each year, following advice given to us by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. The first flowers that appear are usually yellow rattle, bird’s foot trefoil which is also yellow, and cranesbill, a wild geranium which grows in several shades of blue. This year betony and self heal appeared at the same time as our expanding group of common spotted orchids. These are all purple flowering plants, making an excellent splash of colour. Meadow sweet and various forms of wild carrot including cow parsley also grow quite tall competing with both the grasses and knapweed. We tried an experiment this summer planting small groups of beautiful bright yellow corn marigolds in the soil brought up onto the meadow by our resident moles. It is said that the Legion meadow is almost too good for wild flowers, as they tend to flourish in poorer soils, so the use of soil from deeper underground might be a way of us achieving better growth in future. We intend to continue the experiment next year using plugs of wild flowers which we hope to obtain from the C W T. wildflower seed bank. Bees have flourished on the meadow this year more than ever, and the range of butterflies is becoming really excellent. Meadow browns are common being seen in good numbers, but you can also see, ringlet, small skipper, speckled wood, gatekeeper, small tortoishell, small and large white, peacock, comma and both holly and common blues. There were no painted ladies this year despite the warm weather, but these are only occasional migrants to the UK, beginning life in Morroco and flying over the Straits of Gibraltar, Spain and France before arriving in the UK. Last year we had a superb count of 60 painted ladies on the meadow on one afternoon in August, with 30million said to have reached the shores of the UK. These amazing butterflies have one of the longest migrations of any butterfly, even rivalling the monarchs in North America, but we've lost out this year, and I haven't recorded one painted lady at any of sites I've searched.
During spring I spotted both male and female banded agrion damselflies on the meadow which is surprising in that I’ve never seen this species near the Pit at any time. They are however, very common on the River Gowy at Hockenhull, or have been until this year when the numbers were well down. There was another exciting visitor to the meadow when a large blue Emperor dragonfly, the biggest dragonfly in the UK, flew up and down over the tall grasses hawking for insects. I had already spotted it a few days previously flying over the stand of amphibious bistort which grows adjacent to the Pond Dipping Platform. This is now the third successive year that this beautiful dragonfly has appeared in Christleton. It is bigger even that the brown and southern hawkers that people might be more familiar with, as these two relatively large dragonflies have bred in the Parish for many years. I think than the Emperor dragonfly has now moved north, like several other species of wildlife, as we are seeing more and more of them in the area each year. Nothing as dramatic yet, as the recently arrived bird species, but little egrets, large white egrets, cattle egrets, spoonbills, and even avocets have now become common breeding birds at Burton Mere RSPB Reserve, and on the Dee Marshes.