ALL the nature reserves of the district have at least one resident species of plant or animal which are really special or unique, whether it’s the orchids of Puxton or the grey hair grass of Burlish Top or perhaps the sheer number of reptiles found on Vicarage Farm Heath.
Habberley Valley in particular has two or three of these; however all are so secretive they are rarely if ever seen.
On a recent weekend we carried out a bug hunting event for our Young Rangers group at Habberley Valley, with the specific goal of surveying some of our newly created grassland areas for their resident invertebrates.
The whole group eagerly set off into the furthest part of the valley, the areas where the first few stages of grassland creation had taken place. The group sat in amongst the tall swaying flower heads belonging to the wavy hair grass, while their equipment was dished out. Sweep nets were the tool of choice and they set off to explore the bug life.
The first group returned and emptied their net into the white trays for identification. Amongst an unbelievable number of caterpillars were some striking Cardinal beetles, so named for their striking red and black livery. These predatory beetles are quite an eye catcher, but not one of the valley’s specialities.
We then moved to an area with many more bare sandy patches and it wasn’t long before the first shout of ‘I’ve got one’ rang out.
I rushed over to see that one young ranger had caught my number one heathland insect, a green tiger beetle.
A voracious predator, but unmistakeable and beautiful, with its metallic, bottle green wing cases, set off with cream spots, and quite possibly the largest eyes, of almost any beetle your likely to see in the UK.
Famous for being the fastest land invertebrate, they are rarely seen, their larvae even less so.
The young of the beetle live underground, with just the top of their heads at ground surface, acting as a cap to their burrow.
But when suitable prey wanders too close, the larvae lunges out and drags the unsuspecting creature back into its burrow.
Unbelievably, within minutes of the first find, I was called over to identify a spider, a common wolf spider, but underneath it on the sand, was a true rarity.
Tiny and visually, pretty insignificant the land caddisfly is not only rare but a bit of an oddball too. There are many species of caddis in the UK, however all the rest are aquatic.
What makes the one at Habberley special is that it is a terrestrial caddis and never enters water.
This particular individual was superbly disguised against the sandy soil, as it had made its case from sand particles, had I not been called to look at the spider, I’d never have spotted him. I have seen them in the valley before, but only ever in the woodland, so was particularly surprised.
We never did find the third wonder of Habberley Valley, what is it?
I’ll save that for another instalment!